His Eye is on the Sparrow
January 24, 2016
So don’t be afraid of them. Nothing has been covered that will not be exposed. Whatever is secret will be made known. Tell in the daylight what I say to you in the dark. Shout from the housetops what you hear whispered. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s permission. Every hair on your head has been counted. Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:26-31).
Jesus repeats himself three times in this passage. He begins and ends with the same exhortation, and he repeats it in the middle:
“Don’t be afraid” (26).
“Don’t be afraid” (28).
“Don’t be afraid” (31).
Or said in more forceful terms: “Fear not!”
It is not hard to trace the argument of these verses.
First, do not be afraid because the truth will prevail.
What is hidden will be revealed. What is spoken in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Every evil deed will be exposed in the light of God’s blazing truth. In the end, evildoers will cry out for the rocks to hide them because the great day of Judgment has come at last. No one will be able to hide; all will be revealed. God’s truth wins out in the end.
All they can do is kill us
Second, do not be afraid because God is greater than anything man can do to us.
All they can do is kill us. That’s the worst they can do. Why fear man whose power ends at the grave? Instead, fear the Lord, who made body and soul.
Third, do not be afraid because God takes special care of us.
He sees the sparrow as it falls. He numbers the hairs on our head. We are worth more than many sparrows to the Lord. So why be afraid of anything? That’s a good question, but the answer isn’t so simple. When I preached on Matthew 10 at Word of Life, a friend commented to me that we need this series because “the wolves are everywhere.” That’s exactly right. We live as sheep in the midst of wolves all day long.
We live in dangerous times
We live in dangerous times. The headlines tell a grim story:
“ISIS Tortured Hostages Before Beheading Them.”
“China’s Crackdown on Christians is growing.”
“Economic Armageddon is Coming.”
“The Criminalization of Christianity is Here.”
“ISIS threatens sex slavery for three Christian women.
“Doomsday clock for global market crash strikes one minute to midnight as central banks lose control.”
“Super Bowl 50 Terrorism Plot? FBI Warns of Security Threats, Lone Wolf Terrorism.”
“ISIS Training Newborns, Young Children to Kill.”
“Is World War 3 Coming Soon?”
“What will happen to you when the US Dollar collapses?”
Where can we go for safety when there is so much trouble on every hand? Verses 29-31 offer us three reasons why we should not be afraid.
Reason # 1: God Cares About Things We Don’t Notice.
“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” (Matthew 10:29). If you check your Bible dictionary, you’ll discover sparrows were among the humblest birds in Bible times. Because they were so cheap, the poor could offer sparrows to the Lord if they couldn’t afford a lamb or a goat or a bull. You could buy two sparrows for a penny. That’s pretty cheap by any standard. A buck would buy you a whole bag full of sparrows. You could feed your family sparrow casserole for a dime. (A friend from India told me he used to hunt sparrows and eat them. “They were better than chicken,” he said. I’ll take his word for it.)
A new insight came to me as I studied this verse. I had always thought Jesus was saying that God watches the sparrows when they fall. A famous gospel song reminds us that “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” True enough, he does see the sparrow when it falls. But this verse says much more than that. Not only does God see the sparrow when it falls, but the sparrow cannot and will not fall apart from the Father’s will. It’s not as if the sparrows fall at random from the trees and God takes note when it happens. The sparrow falls because God willed it to fall, and if he didn’t, the sparrow would never fall to the ground. This means God cares about things we don’t even notice.
Troubles come sooner or later
Note two implications of this truth:
1) The sparrows do fall. Even the little sparrows fall to the ground eventually. Sooner or later troubles do come to all of God’s children. Sometimes we fall into the romantic notion that coming to Christ will solve all our problems. Not so. He makes his rain fall on the just and the unjust. What happens to the people of the world happens to us too. They get sick; we get sick. They lose their jobs; we lose our jobs. They get ripped off; we get ripped off. They get cancer; we get cancer. They die; we die. It is the same for us as for everyone else. Though we know the Lord, we are not exempt from any of the trials and troubles of this world.
2) The sparrows fall according to the Father’s will. As the great confessions tell us, all things take place according to the counsel and decree of Almighty God. There is a very real sense in which everything in the universe must fit into God’s ultimate plan somehow. Even the falling of the sparrow is part of God’s providential oversight of the universe. This applies to our pain, our suffering, our loss, and it applies to the heartache of watching our loved ones suffer.
Everything fits somewhere
I got a message from some friends going through a severe medical crisis. They have been battling cancer for a long time, and no one knows what the future may hold. The husband wrote to say he is struggling to understand how all things work together for good in this circumstance. I told him that after all is said and done, we see only bits and pieces of God’s plan. Sometimes those bits and pieces don’t make much sense to us. It all depends on where you start in your thinking. If you start with cancer, it’s hard to reason back to God. You have to start with what you know to be true about God. Even then, you won’t know why this particular cancer struck this particular person at this particular moment, but you can know what has happened to your loved one didn’t happen by chance because there is no such thing as chance, or luck, or fate. I am comforted by these words of Alva J. McClain: “From the fall of a raindrop to the fall of an empire, all is under the providential control of God.” If we believe that, we can keep going even though fears and doubts may assail us.
Reason # 2: God Cares About the Tiniest Details of Life.
“Every hair on your head has been counted.” (Matthew 10:30). Have you ever tried to count the number of hairs on your head? Most of us probably tried that when we were children, but we quickly learned it was a futile exercise. Scientists say the average human head has 100,000 strands of hair. They also tell us fifty strands fall out each day, no matter what we do. Interestingly, the amount of hair varies by color. Blondes have an average of 140,000 strands of hair, brunettes 105,000, and redheads 90,000.
All of this is fascinating trivia, but it’s not something I think about often. And when I do think about my hair, it’s always in the aggregate: Is it too long, too short, and is it time for a haircut? I never pick out a strand of hair and say to myself, “I wonder how Number 437 is doing?” I don’t number the hairs on my head, but God does. Think about that for a moment. In my family that would mean
100,000 for me
100,000 for Marlene
100,000 for Josh
100,000 for Leah
100,000 for Knox
100,000 for Violet
I don’t number the hairs on my head, but God does!
100,000 for Mark
100,000 for Vanessa
100,000 for Eli
100,000 for Penny
100,000 for Zoe
100,000 for Nick
100,000 for Sarah
100,000 for Hannah
That’s 1.4 million for my family alone. God counts all the hairs of all his children. Millions and billions of hairs. He numbers them all. The meaning of this is clear: If God cares for things that matter so little, then he cares for things that matter much more. If God knows each strand of hair individually, he knows each of us individually as well. God’s knowledge of us is not just general; it is amazingly specific. He knows us through and through, and he knows us in minute detail. In fact, he knows us far better than we know ourselves.
God is to be seen in small things
In a sermon on this verse, Charles Spurgeon illustrates God’s minute care from the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He points out there was a “chain of circumstances” that had to happen in a particular way for the story to take place as it did. Spurgeon offers a long series of questions. Why did Jacob want to send Joseph? Why were Joseph’s brothers on this particular day in a different location? Why did the Ishmaelites come along at that moment? Why were they in the mood to purchase a slave? Why were they going to Egypt and not to some other destination? Why did Potiphar purchase Joseph? Why did his wife have designs on Joseph? Why were the baker and cupbearer in the prison when Joseph was there? Why couldn’t Pharaoh remember his dream? Why did the cupbearer first forget Joseph and later remember him? Spurgeon points out that every single one of these seemingly unconnected events had to happen in a particular way at a particular time for Joseph to be in the right place at the right time to preserve his family in Egypt during the great famine in Canaan. Spurgeon goes on to say, “God is to be seen in little things.” And he uses a lovely phrase to describe all those “random” details. They are the “minutiae of Providence.”
Many years ago I preached for a week at Dallas Seminary. When I finished my last message, Dr. Mark Bailey, president of the seminary, said he wanted to take Marlene and me to lunch. So we hopped in his car, and he headed for the restaurant. As we left the seminary parking lot, we passed a tall building under construction. Dr. Bailey said there was an amazing story associated with the building. When they needed money to get started, a couple that had never given to the seminary stepped forward to make a million-dollar gift. When some construction problems arose, the project stalled because the seminary didn’t have additional funds. That same couple gave another gift of several million dollars. Even then, the project required more money. After much discussion by the Board of Trustees about how to proceed, one man said, “It’s time we stopped talking about this and started praying about it.” Soon after that, the needed money came in and the building was completed.
“Lord, we need a parking spot”
Dr. Bailey finished telling that story just as we turned off Central Expressway and pulled into the crowded parking lot near the restaurant. Without hesitation, he said, “Lord, we need a parking spot.” At that very moment, a car pulled out right by the front door of the restaurant.
Whenever I tell that story about the parking space, I always hesitate a bit because it may sound trivial. Who knows? Maybe that kind of thing only happens to seminary presidents. But then I ran across this sentence from Spurgeon: “Blessed is that man who seeth God in trifles!” What a positive insight that is. We tend to look at the million-dollar answer to prayer and say, “What a mighty God we serve.” But the God of the large is also the God of the small. The God who hung the stars in space is also the God who numbers the hairs on your head. Why should it surprise us God arranges parking spaces when we need them? It is no harder for God to provide something large than something small. After all, they’re all “small” to him. After I mentioned that story in a sermon, a woman told me she always prays for parking spaces, especially when she is taking her children to visit the doctor. “Mothers with children need to find parking spaces quickly,” she said, “so I pray for them all the time.”
Reason # 3: God Cares About Us Even When Trouble Comes.
“Don’t be afraid! You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). Here is the heart of the matter. Tiny sparrows, worth so little, and yet God cares for each of them. But you are worth more than a bushel of sparrows. How do I know this? Because Jesus didn’t die for the sparrows. He died for you and me. His blood is the badge of his love, the proof of his everlasting affection.
Jesus didn’t die for the sparrows
What, then, should this truth do for us? First, it should give us boldness in the time of trouble. If God is for us, and he is, why should we fear anything or anyone? Second, it should give us confidence in the moment of confusion. Today many things are unclear, uncertain, and undecided. We all have many more questions than we have answers. So much of life seems like stumbling through the fog of hazardous circumstances. One day God will make all things plain, and all his ways will be proved right. Third, it should give us hope in the time of sorrow. Oh, we weep, all of us weep, the tears flow behind closed doors and in the private moments of life. When we face death, how can we not weep for loved ones who have left us? But be of good cheer. Even death itself is in God’s hands. If you are a Christian, you cannot die before God’s appointed time. A Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done.
No such thing as luck
And so we come to the bottom line. Do you believe nothing ever happens by chance? We must say what the Bible says, that “all things” work together as part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. If this is so, then there is no such thing as luck or fate or chance. As Tony Evans likes to say, everything is either caused by God or allowed by God. And there is no third category. The Bible teaches it. Do you believe it? I do.
Let this great truth be the source of your security. Rest in the Lord. Lay your soul upon the solid rock of God’s eternal providence. Rest in his control over all things. Rest there, and you will sleep well tonight.
In 1871 a great fire destroyed much of the city of Chicago, killing three hundred people and leaving one hundred thousand homeless. A Chicago lawyer named Horatio Spafford lost part of his fortune in the fire. He was a Christian and an associate of the great evangelist D. L. Moody.
After spending several years rebuilding his fortune and helping those who lost everything in the fire, Mr. Spafford resolved to take his wife and four children in England, where they could accompany Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey on their evangelistic crusades.
After purchasing tickets on a luxury liner set to sail in November 1873, Mr. Spafford was unable to go at the last moment because of unfinished business in Chicago.
He instructed his wife Anna and their four children, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie, to go on ahead and he would cross the Atlantic on a later voyage and meet them in England. On November 21 an English sailing vessel struck the luxury liner, causing it to sink in only 12 minutes. Hundreds were lost and only 47 survivors were pulled from the icy waters. In the chaos of the sinking ship, all four Spafford daughters drowned.
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Rescuers found Anna Spafford unconscious and clinging to a piece of wreckage. She and the other survivors were taken to Cardiff, Wales. From there she cabled the awful news to her husband in America: “Saved alone.”
Brokenhearted, Mr. Spafford purchased a ticket on the next ship leaving New York. At one point the captain called Mr. Spafford to his cabin and told him that according to the charts, the ship was passing over the spot where his daughters had drowned. Going back to his cabin, he composed the words to a poem that has become a beloved hymn we still sing today:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea-billows, roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
And no doubt thinking of the day when he would be reunited with his daughters, he penned the final verse:
“Lord, haste the day!”
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
These are the words of a man who has discovered the solid rock of God’s providence. Having lost his four daughters, he has not lost his faith in God. All is well because God is in control of all things, even the hardest tragedies of life. This truth does not remove the pain, but it makes a way for us to keep believing even while our hearts are breaking.
May God give us this same faith, so no matter what happens, we may still say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Lord God, we thank you that you know all things. There is so much we don’t know, and so much we don’t understand. Fix our eyes clearly on you. Let faith rise to banish our fear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.