Why did Jesus point His disciples to the sparrows for comfort in the face of persecution?
Matthew chapter 10 recounts how Jesus instructed, warned, and comforted His disciples before sending them out on a disciple-making mission. He did not hide or soften the reality. He told them plainly what things they could expect on mission.
He told them to be careful with rulers and those in power. They were to expect trouble with the worldly authorities, including persecution and imprisonment. He warned them about the treachery and disloyalty they would encounter, even among family members. He prepared them to expect to be hated by those whom they tried to reach. They were to expect persecution and even being run out of town. He warned them about the slander they would face. He also told them that some would be killed for the testimony of Christ and His Gospel.
Jesus was always very open about the costs for following Him. It caused many to rethink and depart. This is quite a contrast from the message from so many corners today: “God loves you just the way you are and has a wonderful plan for your life, if you will only just accept Him.” That was not Jesus’ message. It is not the message of the Bible, and it should not be our message today. But I digress. Now to the sparrows.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
~ Matthew 10:29-31
In the midst of these plain and terrifying warnings, Jesus directed the disciples to consider the sparrows. In fact, He did this immediately after raising the prospect of martyrdom. Why? How were the sparrows to help and comfort them in the face of such persecutions? I believe there are two primary reasons.
Jesus pointed out the sparrows relatively little worth: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” He also pointed out the care “your Father” has for them. This is an argument from the lesser to the greater as Jesus concluded, “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
The lesson is plain. We go on mission in Jesus’ name and we have the care of our heavenly Father. He cares intimately about the insignificant creatures of creation. He is our Father and we are more valuable to Him than many such creatures. We should not then presume we have lost His care because we come into persecution for His name.
This is both comforting and encouraging. But Jesus had another reason for pointing His disciples to the sparrows.
Jesus said, “And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” Some would understand this to say that not a sparrow dies without the notice and care of God. That doesn’t quite capture the full picture.
The Bible is clear that God is sovereign over His creation. He ordains life and death. He appoints the times, seasons, and bounds of habitation. This is true of the sparrow and the worm and the king on his throne. The Psalmist paints the manifest wisdom of God’s sovereignty over His creation this way:
These wait all upon thee;
That thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
That thou givest them they gather:
Thou openest thine hand,
They are filled with good.
Thou hidest thy face,
They are troubled:
Thou takest away their breath,
And return to their dust.
~ Psalm 104:27-29
What is the lesson? When a sparrow falls to the ground, it is ordained of God. Likewise, when we come into persecution, it is ordained of God. He has permitted it and He has purpose in it. Even Jesus said as much to Pilate when facing His own death, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” (John 19:11)
Take comfort and find courage in the mission of the Gospel in the world. Nothing will befall us that is beyond God’s control. Whatever may come will be for our good and ultimately for God’s glory.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
~ Romans 8:28