“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. 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.” (verses 28-31)
Living for the kingdom can be costly. Although the proclamation that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 10:7) is good news indeed, it raises antagonism. “Brother will betray brother to death … You will be hated by everyone because of me” (verses 21-22), Jesus says.
Some of us experience more peaceful times, where hostility to the Gospel doesn’t currently threaten life. Perhaps such peace breeds complacency. But that’s not the case everywhere, and certainly the threat to life has been the experience of many of Jesus’ followers down the years. Confronted with the reality of hard-edged opposition, hazarding life and limb, the strangle-hold of fear can tighten.
So Jesus repeats a phrase that arises often in the Scriptures: “Do not be afraid.” The fact he has to say it makes the reality clear.Body and life may truly be at risk. But in that circumstance, Jesus gives two strong reasons to put fear aside.
The first has to do with perspective. There is a limit to the extent of damage earthly hostility can bring about. Yes, opponents can kill the body. But they cannot kill the soul. So don’t let fear of these earthly opponents shape you. Put it into perspective. Be shaped, rather, by fear of the one who has ultimate power to destroy both body and soul in hell. Fear the Lord God Almighty.
“Fear of the Lord” is a common theme in the Old Testament scriptures. It’s a positive, rather than a negative, concept. Such fear doesn’t refer to cowering, quaking-in-the-boots, trembling-with-insecurity, fright. Rather, it refers to attention-grabbing awe, reverence, and respect, a perspective that re-orients the whole of life in the direction of the Lord himself. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the scriptures say (Proverbs 9:10). In other words, allow his reality to shape yours. Even though human antagonists can harm the body, don’t fear them – instead set your sights on the Lord. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts the Lord is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
The second reason Jesus gives for putting fear aside is that the One we are to fear is also our Father. Indeed, he is “Abba, Father.” He cares for us intimately. In fact, he knows every detail of our lives. In the whole of creation, not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Lord knowing. How much more, Jesus says, does your Father care for his children – “you are worth more than many sparrows.”
So, fear the Lord. Receive his embrace as loving Father. Be anchored in these realities. Do not be afraid. And when hostile opposition, even death, raises its threatening head as you engage in the mission of the kingdom, do not be shaped by it. Instead, allow the awareness of your loving Lord to loom larger still.
Father, I honour you as Sovereign over all. I choose to orient my life fully to you. You know every detail of my being – praise your name. Thank you for your infinite care. Empower me by your Spirit to live on mission for your kingdom, here and now. To the glory of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Reflect: What part does “fear of man” play in your life? Does it inhibit you in any way from living on mission for Jesus? Talk it over with the Lord. Commit yourself to him afresh.