Charles Colson, in a radio broadcast this past week quoted an avowed atheist columnist named Jonathan Rauch who believes America is in the midst of major cultural advance but this so called “advance" is one I trust we not would applaud.  According to Colson, Rauch, writing in the Atlantic Monthly claims statistics show that Americans are “going to church less, and when they go its more to socialize or enjoy a familiar ritual than to worship.  And as Rauch observes, they’re refraining from sharing their faith with their friends and neighbors.”  Rauch calls this religion “apatheism.  He defines “apatheism” as “a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.”  As an atheist, Rauch is very pleased with this trend because he says, “If you must have faith, it’s better to be lukewarm about it than to be controlled by godly passions.”  This lack of godly passion is manifest in the North American church not only in the vast silence in the area of personal evangelism but also in statistics that show that America, which has long been THE great sending nation in the cause of world missions, is now being put to shame by sending countries like South Korea and other nations that do not have nearly the resources we have.

          Our study of the mission of the church is an attempt to put down an anchor deep in the ground of God’s truth to stop the lethal drift toward this self-centered, godless apatheism personally and corporately.  In the area of the mission of the church we must fight tooth and nail against the apathy, which a lost world encourages us to manifest.  We have fought the past several weeks by proving that missions and personal evangelism lie at the heart of the church’s purpose.  More than that, it is an essential part of what it is to be a follower of Christ and the church of Christ.  If an individual or church is healthy, they will be impassioned about the greatest cause and if they lack this passion there is something wrong with them.  Given that truth about the church we have been asking the question, “Since mission lies at the very heart of our purpose as individuals and as a church why is it that so many of us have so much apathy about it?”  We have given several answers to that question.

          The one we looked at last week from Matthew 10 was because we live without an eternal perspective.  In Matthew 10 Jesus sends out the 12 to spread the message of the kingdom and he repeatedly warns them that as they go, they will encounter sometimes-hostile opposition.  He says, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.”  Even though he warns them of the opposition, three times he commands them, “Do not be afraid.”  Last week, we looked at the first two commands to not fear.  They are each accompanied by a spiritual truth to use as a shield to fend off the temptation to fear as we seek to witness for Christ in a hostile context.  Both of these truths we are to use to guard against fear are rooted in having an eternal perspective for our lives and for our mission.  In verse 26 he says one reason we are not to be afraid is because we must know that we will one day be vindicated for living out and giving out the truth.  Jesus says, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”  The truth is that now the world lies with a dark cloak over their minds as it relates to spiritual truth and when the church confronts them with the truth, they strike out in hatred and opposition.  But there is a day coming when the dark cloak of deception about Jesus and spiritual truth will be pulled back and truth will be vindicated as well as anyone who bears the truth.  Jesus says, don’t be afraid because God will one day in eternity settle the argument once and for all and the discussion will be over.  Truth and those who stand firm for it will triumph.

          Another reason we don’t have to be afraid that involves an eternal perspective is in verse 28 where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Jesus says a healthy fear of God will trump the temptation to fear man and in this text he grounds that fear of God in God’s future judgment of the wicked.  We said there was no way for us to know the vast difference that exists between, on the one hand, dying only a physical death at the hands of men and dying spiritually under the wrath of God.  We said the difference would be far more vast than the gulf separating a barber who wants to give you a haircut and an executioner who wants to decapitate you. We must have a fear of God that trumps our temptation to fear man. The fear of man stops our mouths from testifying of God’s work in the gospel.  We said two ways to increase our fear of God is to ask God for a healthy fear of him and also to think much about heaven and think much about hell.  Having an eternal perspective is crucial for us to fend off the fear of the hatred of man as we go with the gospel to the nations or to our neighborhoods. 

          With those reasons Jesus first gives the command to not fear and then gives the truth shield.  In this third instance, he first gives the truth and then follows with the prohibition to fear.  Beginning in verse 29 he says, “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 [or therefore] don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (29-31) Jesus here makes what is called an “a fortiori” argument.  That is an argument that says, “Since this is true, then how much more is THIS true.”  This third truth shield God gives us to deflect the temptation to be afraid to speak the gospel is because God providentially cares for his children in all circumstances.  To drive this truth home, Jesus gives two examples of God’s providence-that is, his sovereign care and guidance over the circumstances of this world.  First he cites God’s providence over the sparrows and then the hairs on our head.  He makes the point that if God is sovereign in his care over those two comparatively insignificant things, then how much more he cares for us and how much more he is in full control of the circumstances that flow out of the response a hostile world has to his own children.  Let’s think about just how comparatively insignificant are these two examples Jesus cites.

          In order to see the intensity of this providence, first, let’s think about sparrows.  Jesus says, “not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”  There are according to my research 290 separate species of sparrows and finches in the world.  None of the several sources I went to would even guesstimate what the worldwide number of sparrows is—it must be in the billions.  You and I can’t keep tabs on even ONE of them for more than a few minutes before they fly away and we see them no more.  On the food chain sparrows exist to eat bugs and small worms and to provide food for cats and other small predators as well as hawks and other smaller birds of prey.  That’s pretty much their purpose in life on a biological level.  In Jesus’ day if you were very poor, you might consider a sparrow a source of food but you would have to be very poor and it would take a lot of sparrows to make a meal for even one person.  Jesus says their monetary market value was a half a penny apiece. 

Of these incredibly numerous, comparatively insignificant creatures, Jesus says NOT ONE of them falls to the ground apart from your Father and I think the NIV correctly supplies the words, “apart from the will of your Father.”  Any sparrow in any part of the world at any time—when they die or are killed, the Father not only knows about it, but it is part of his providential working that it happened.  It isn’t an accident or happenstance for that one single sparrow to choose, at one moment in time, to land on that one section of small section of uninsulated power line and get instantly fried.  It’s part of the expression of God’s providence.  It isn’t mere chance for another sparrow to be ambushed and eaten by the Murphy’s tomcat; it is the part of the planned, intensely coordinated outworking of God’s sovereign, providential care over his planet.  And those are only two examples of billions that occur every day.  We see only the smallest, most infinitesimal percentage of those sparrow casualties but God not only sees them; he is superintending each and every one of them. 

Now, let’s think about the hairs on our head.  The average person has between 100,000 and 150,000 hair follicles—some who are follicly deprived have far less.  I believe one source I consulted said that works out to about 1000 hairs per square inch on the average person.  The point is--that’s a lot of individual hairs.  When you brush out your hair in the morning and put your brush down and notice there are several hairs that have accumulated in it you think, “I need to clean out my hair brush.”  But when God looks at that hair brush he can say, “You have 34 hairs in that brush and the first one that came out when you were brushing them was number 34,529 and the second was number 17 and the third was…”  And he could tell you the number he has assigned to each and every one of them because he not only knows about it, but he exercises sovereign control over that.  He superintends that loss of hair, the growing out of hair, which shampoo you choose to wash it and everything else about it.

We can make the point about the extent and intensity of God’s providence over creation even more sweeping from other Scriptures.  Colossians 1:17 says of Christ the Creator, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  The key word there is “all.”  That means that without God’s sovereign, providential care holding us together, not to mention everything else, every one of the trillion cells in our body would disperse.  Every one of those teeny little proteins on the strands of our DNA would unravel apart from God’s providential care.  Ultimately, it’s not gravity or other forces explained by physics that keep those in place. God providentially uses gravity and those other forces to do that.  Gravity belongs to God and all the laws of physics belong to God and he uses them providentially to keep us held together.  But if his hand of providence were to be removed—we (and everything else) would just come apart.  The disciples lived in a day and age before the microscope so Jesus used sparrows and human hairs to describe God’s providence, but now he could use microscopic illustrations.  Now he could say, “not one amoeba expires or procreates or bumps into any other single-celled animal apart from the will of your Father.”

Jesus is saying if God is providential in his care over the small stuff like the fate of sparrows and human hairs and by extension, DNA and cancer cells and viruses, then how much more will he superintend you, his children created in His image as you execute his mission for His glory?  Notice that he uses the term for God, “Father.”  J.I. Packer says, “Father is the Christian name for God.”  One reason he says that is because in the Old Testament, the word “Father” is almost NEVER used to describe the personal relationship between God and human beings, even his people Israel.  He will describe himself as the Father of the nation, but not the father of an individual—not even those like Moses and David who were clearly intimate in their knowledge of Him.  “Father” is uniquely a New Testament word describing God’s relationship to a person and Jesus uses this term very often to refer to God.  It obviously implies intimacy and nurture and protection.  Jesus wants us to know that we are not only higher on God’s list than sparrows and hair because we are created in His image but also because we are his children.  If He providentially cares for each one of the billions of sparrows, then how much more will he care for his own beloved children?

Jesus says, given that kind of “how much more” providential care God gives to you, “do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Jesus’ point here is not to increase our self-esteem by a favorable comparison with the value of sparrows—it’s about his sovereign providence—the utter intensity of the control and care he exerts over the universe.  Can you see how this truth will help shield us from fear?  There are at least two major applications to this.  One has to do with God’s care of us in the midst of trial and conflict and the other is the control he exerts over our circumstances.  First, God is going to providentially care for you.  If you think, “If I go as a missionary to teach or give health care or to preach in Indonesia I may never see my parents or grandparents again.”  Apart from the fact that God is WORTHY of being deprived of contact with our parents,  He will in his providential care of you, address whatever needs you have may have in that area.  He may do it providentially through emails with your parents or he may give you a better father figure in Indonesia than you have here—He is a father to the fatherless.  He can and he WILL take care of your need for family or your struggle with a severe change in diet or whatever protection you need in a hostile context or deprivation of friends or any other thing because he takes care of sparrows (!)—He’s got the hairs on your head numbered.

Second from this truth we can know that he’s got everything under control.  He is the GREAT KING and that implies that nothing is outside of his sovereign control.  There are NO accidents or unplanned calamities.  When we feel led to share the gospel with our neighbor or dad or co-worker or whomever—we don’t have to be afraid because whatever opposition they show to us will have already passed through our loving Father’s sovereign plan and purpose for you.  If he providentially leads you to do something or go somewhere, he has already sovereignly sifted out anything that he doesn’t want for you.  If you follow God’s will to go to Saudi Arabia and he providentially leads you to a man who stabs you to death when you tell him about Jesus, then it is God’s will for you to bring glory to him by being dead by stabbing in Saudi Arabia.  This ultimately wasn’t about you making a huge mistake and missing God about his will.  No, it was his will that you die for His glory in Saudi Arabia. That does NOT dismiss the murderer from his responsibility before God.  The Bible teaches BOTH God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  Jesus says in Luke 22:22, “The Son of man will go as it has been decreed—that’s God’s sovereign plan established from eternity—he will go to the cross.  BUT  “…woe to that man who betrays him.”  That’s human responsibility—Judas was held responsible for what he did to Christ.  BOTH God’s sovereignty AND human responsibility are taught in the scriptures.

Some would respond, “You shouldn’t pin that on God—that’s Satan working to oppose God.”  To that I would say that the bible teaches that Satan and all his work is sovereignly controlled in such a way that Satan’s work is not excluded from God’s providence.  Look at Job.  We know God gave permission for Satan to steal wealth from Job and kill his family and destroy his health.  When Job’s time of suffering ends and God restores Job, listen to what it says about Job’s suffering from Job 42:11.  All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.”  We know from chapters one and two of Job that Satan attacks him, but here it says “God” brought this trouble or affliction or evil upon Job. When Satan attacks Job or us, it is never outside the providence of God.  In Job’s case GOD is said to have brought the trouble upon him.

          We see the same dynamic in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24 where David fails to show trust in God’s military might by telling his general Joab to take a census of the army.  The truth that David chose to ignore is if God is fighting your battles for you, what difference does troop strength make?  David chose to overlook that truth. Joab tried to dissuade him from taking the census but David refused to listen to him.  The account in 1 Chronicles 21 says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”  There is the adversary working on David.  Samuel’s account of the same incident is different in 2 Samuel 24:1.  There we read, “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”  Here we read it is GOD who incites David.  This is not a contradiction; it is merely a difference of perspective.  The author of Chronicles is writing from a perspective of the immediate causal circumstances.  The specific circumstance in this case is that Satan incited David to take a census.  The author of Second Samuel is writing from the broader perspective of God’s providence in the world.  Satan did not operate outside of God’s providence in this incident any more than he did in the case of Job.  God is sovereign over Satan—he is on a very tight leash and his work in this world ultimately serves the purpose of God.  Satan and evil cannot be excluded from God’s providence.

This is part of what is implied in texts like Amos 3:6 where Amos says, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?  When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?  Other translations read, “has not the LORD done it?”  It’s the same truth.  Given the absolute scope of God’s providence, that’s a valid statement and God intends that this should bring comfort, not confusion to us.

          One thing this means by application in this context is--if you in the providence of God and out of love for Him and your neighbor share the gospel with your lost older brother or your mom or dad or neighbor or coworker and they hate you for it, you don’t need to fear that because that’s part of God’s providential plan for you and ultimately we know from Romans 8:28 it will work for both your good and His good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Now, this does not give us a license—a blank check to do stupid things in the name of God.  If God is not calling you to be a missionary or prompting you to share the truth, you will be much happier if you do NOT do those things.  God’s providence also operates over our own stupidity and impulsiveness, but our agenda should be to bring Him maximum glory in what we do and that includes following His leading for us in dependence upon his guidance and strength.

          The point of this teaching is not to try to figure out God’s relationship to evil or the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  There is mystery here.  We simply have not been given all the information on those topics and when we reach the end of our understanding, we are called to trust in the sovereign goodness of God.  And that is the point of this teaching.  When we go out or are sent out bearing God’s gospel message in a hostile context, we don’t have to be afraid.  And one final reason we don’t have to be afraid is because the One who is over it all and in it all and through it all is the One whose good providence cares for and guides even the sparrows—the One who has the hairs on your head numbered.  May God give us the grace to go and speak boldly and faithfully in His good and indestructible providence.  


Page last modified on 6/15/2003

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