This verse is a puzzle because of what Jesus says next:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mat 10:29-31)
Be afraid? Don’t be afraid? Which is it? I’m confused. Is Jesus sending a mixed message? No, he isn’t. But there is no doubt Matthew 10:28 has been used to sow fear among the saints. This verse has caused the children of God to be insecure about their Father’s love. It has led to confusion and anxiety and diabolical thoughts like this: I know God loves me on account of Jesus, but I still need to perform lest he destroy me in Hell.
No, no, no! That is not what Jesus is saying at all. So what’s going on in this passage? What is Jesus saying?
The easiest jigsaw puzzle
Read Matthew 10:28 out of context and you’ll end up insecure and anxious. But read this verse in context and you’ll end up secure, encouraged, and confident of your Father’s great love.
The “be afraid” speech is recorded in two gospels; (1) Matthew 10:28 and (2) Luke 12:5.
– In Matthew’s account Jesus is about to send out the twelve to demonstrate the gospel of the kingdom.
– In Luke’s account Jesus has just rebuked the law experts for taking away the “key to knowledge,” a reference to the law that reveals sin and our need for Jesus. Jesus declares woe on these law experts because, “You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Lu 11:52).
The same story is told twice, in Matthew and Luke, and these two accounts are like a two-piece jigsaw puzzle. A two-piece puzzle is the easiest puzzle there is. You don’t need a theology degree to assemble such a simple puzzle. Even a small child can do it. And so can we.
The picture in the puzzle
Here’s the context: The disciples are about to go and proclaim the gospel and will likely face persecution from the religious leaders and law-lovers. Got it? Good. Now here, in point form, is everything Jesus says to encourage them.
- Go out and reveal the kingdom by healing the sick and driving out demons (Matt 10:7-8).
- But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Lu 12:1). Those guys have the key to knowledge but have not used it to help themselves or others enter the kingdom. Woe to them!
- Since you’re going to be sheep among wolves, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Mat 10:16).
- Understand that you will face opposition. You may even be persecuted and tortured (Matt 10:17).
- If these men have persecuted the head of the house (i.e., me) how much more will they persecute the members of his house (Matt 10:25).
- But don’t be afraid of these men because a day of reckoning is coming when their hypocrisy will be exposed for the sham it is (Matt 10:26).
- Ha – you want to know who to be afraid of? It’s not these clowns who can only hurt your bodies. There is One far scarier than these guys – One who is able to destroy both body and soul (Mat 10:28).
- That scary One is your Father who loves you and cares for you (Mat 10:29).
- As you encounter the opposition of wicked men, remember that Almighty God is for you and will vindicate you. So don’t be afraid (Mat 10:30).
- Indeed, don’t even worry about what you will eat and wear, etc. (Lu 12:22). As you seek the kingdom your loving Father will take care of all your needs (Lu 21:31).
- You who have acknowledged me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father. But those clowns who think they’re hot stuff – those law-lovers who have taken away the key to knowledge, have denied me and chosen to remain outside the kingdom – I will deny them before my Father (Mat 10:32-33).
- So I say again, do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom (Luk 12:32).
Do you see how it’s important to read things in context? Jesus isn’t threatening his disciples (or anyone) with Hell. He is encouraging them. Again and again he says “Do not be afraid.” At first blush this seems unrealistic. How can we not fear given all the trouble and opposition we face when preaching the gospel? “The solution,” says Jesus, “is to look at your Father. He’s awesome! He’ll vindicate you and take care of you.”
This reminds me of something Darrin Hufford said in his book The Misunderstood God:
The wrath of God should never scare you. All human beings have something in them that needs to know that their dad can beat up all other dads. It’s a security issue. (p.158)
The fearless children of a fearful Father
Only a wicked parent gives their children mixed messages. Only a wicked parent mixes love with terror. Your heavenly Father is not a wicked parent.
Jesus is not sending a mixed message to his disciples. He is not saying be afraid and don’t be afraid. There is no fear in love. Rather, he’s putting persecution into perspective. It’s like he’s saying:
Guys it’s natural to be scared of persecution and death. But there are scarier things out there. Your Father for One. He’s the scariest hombre there is! And you have nothing to fear from him. When you understand this – when you know that God is for you, not against you – it will free you from the fear of men. So don’t be afraid and don’t worry. He who cares for the sparrows cares for you. And don’t think you have to do any of this gospel-preaching stuff to earn your way into my kingdom. No, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
We live in a world enslaved to fear. Jesus came to set us free from the fear of death and every other fear (Heb 2:15). It is inconceivable that Jesus would use fear to free us from fear. The disciples understood this which is why one of them later said:
“Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. (1 Pet 3:14-15)
When you set apart Christ as “Lord” you are literally saying Jesus is the ultimate power and authority. You are saying he is the kurios, the supreme ruler, and the final word on every subject. When fear comes to you, perhaps in the form of opposition or a bad doctor’s report, this is the time to set apart Christ as Lord. This is the time to speak to your fears about the One who is above all and at whose name every knee will bow.
“Be afraid of God?” Not us, not his dearly beloved kids. But those enemies of his who hate Jesus and seek to intimidate and threaten his kids – yes, a little fear of the Lord might yet do them some good.