Luke 12:1-12 (click to display NIV text)
July 14, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Indeed, not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus said that in his day you could buy five sparrows for two cents. I wonder what they cost today. I do not get into the grocery store very often. What are sparrows selling for at Mariano’s today?
When we read this passage, we need to be reminded that yes, in Jesus’ day, poor people did eat sparrows, because it was an affordable way to get a little meat into the diet. If you were invited to someone’s house for wings back then, you had to keep that in mind. This illustration that Jesus uses to speak of the care of God presumes an audience of the poor, people who were easily overlooked or forgotten. Jesus says to them that God even knows about the little sparrows they eat. So he must also know about them, he must watch them and value them. The humble are not forgotten by God. Jesus is teaching his disciples about the goodness of God.
Do you know that after your life is over, you will be judged by God, who knows all about you? It will be God who judges your life, God who knows both what you have done and also what has been done to you. Is that good news to you? Is that comforting to think that it is God who judges you? You will not be judged by your boss, or by a critical mother or father, or by a distant and uncaring king. And you will not have to judge yourself. None of these judges really knows you, and some who make a practice of judging others do it with malice. If you were to judge yourself, some of you would be very hard on yourselves, and others would go very easy or maybe you would just be confused. I am glad that I am not the judge of me.
Jesus says, God will judge. That means in your life you can fear God alone and you can trust God completely. That is Good News–even though we tend to distort it, sometimes seeing God as a wrathful perfectionist and other times imagining him to be so kindly that he lets everything go by. But Jesus, who knows the Father intimately, says you can fear God alone and not worry about the many other tyrants, and you can trust God completely. Joel Green puts it this way: “God is the only one who should be feared, but the character of God is such that one need not fear him.”
What this means for the believer is that you can live your life before God. This is done “in Christ.” You do not need to live in the shadows, or hiding in the darkness. You do not need to live a double life. You do not need to live an anxious or fearful life, always worried about someone’s approval. It is not a matter of pretending to keep all the rules, or living for the praise of other people. In Christ there is grace and strength to walk in the light, to live before God, practicing repentance and cultivating a lifelong relationship with God. It is a life marked by faith, hope and love.
“Why should I be anxious, I have such a friend, who bears in his heart all my woe? This friend is the Savior, on him I depend, his love is eternal I know.”
You can also trust God, for God both knows you and understands your experience in life. Sometimes people can experience an injustice, where they become the victim of violence or dishonesty or undue criticism. These experiences can cause great internal harm, and can be carried for a long time, influencing attitudes and behavior. Often such a person is advised to forgive the one who caused the harm. Yet that is often impossible until there is some sense of justice. Justice means that someone must speak the truth. This can be in the form of a confession of the one who brought the harm. It can be the truth spoken by a witness, someone who was present at the time and is willing to say out loud what really happened. It can come in the form of a legal judgment. And, sometimes the injustice must be placed into God’s care, for he is the one who truly and completely knows. Only then will it be possible to forgive.
Jesus stresses the knowledge of God. Because he knows us, we can trust him. The one who keeps track even of sparrows, and counts the hairs on your head, does not abandon you, does not forget you. This is the message of the resurrection of Jesus. The Father does not abandon his crucified son to the grave, but raises him to life. This is the God who knows us, loves us and upholds us. That is why we trust God, even when we go through “many dangers, toils and snares.”
A few months ago I got a call from Dan McCarrell, who was the basketball coach at North Park when I was there. It has been 43 years since those days, and I have only seen him a few times since. So it was a very gracious and thoughtful call, because he had heard I was retiring and he just wanted to check in with me. He mentioned how fast the years go by, and that it seems like we should be getting the guys together and “be getting ready to go play somebody.” It can seem like that. But what I remember about those years of “getting ready to go play somebody” is that there was an intensity about him that could be intimidating, it could make you fearful. What I learned was that he had a very good sense of when to back off, when to say “enough for today.” He knew when to push and when to stop. So even in the intensity of preparation, there was always a trust that we would be cared for.
What I have experienced over my life is that God’s knowledge of us leads to his care for us. I have learned that in choosing to believe in Jesus, I have found the care and provision of the Lord. When life would get intense and overly full and I wondered if some day the whole church might just fall apart, the Lord was there time and time again to bring peace, to bring healing or renewal, to lead us to green pasture and quiet water, to restore our souls. This has been amazing to me over the years. The Lord is able to care for his people.
There is no doubt that we go through difficult times. Jesus is here talking about times of persecution. Joel Green says that Jesus does not warn his disciples that persecution might come, but gives instructions about how to act when it does come. In the early church, some disciples did leave the faith in order to remain safe in the society. Jesus is very honest. He does not promise his followers an easy life and then see them disappointed when the troubles come. Again Green says,
“That none of them is forgotten by God does not keep sparrows from being sold in the marketplace and eaten, nor does God’s knowledge of the number of hairs on your head portend a divine guarantee on one’s safety. Sparrows can be bought and sold and humans can suffer persecution, but not apart from Gods’ attentiveness, not outside God’s care, not in a way that circumvents the redemptive plan of God.”
The key verse comes a little later in the chapter, verse 32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God’s care is present beyond our fear. Some years ago I was introduced to a hymn by a couple in our church whose adult son died of cancer.
“Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.
“You who know our fears and sadness, grace us with your peace and gladness, Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.
“Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.”
In the end, it all comes down to knowing that Jesus loves you. The Lord who knows you and the one who will judge you, loves you. He is the one who died for you, who forgives your sins and leads you by faith to eternal life.