Than Many Sparrows
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
Note that there are two quite distinct sections to today’s post. Don’t think you’re done just because you got to the first ‘Hallelujah’!
Thinking Through Matthew 10 Again
As I told Jaimie tonight, I have long found Matthew 10:31 to be one of those verses that is simultaneously comforting and a little funny. There is simply something a touch odd about the way it comes through in English:
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)
Even in translations which generally prioritize a smoother reading (rather than the more literalistic approach favored by e.g. the ESV, NASB, etc.), end up with a phrase that is just, well, a little funny to read:
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (NIV2011)
As I worked through the surrounding chapter more carefully, though, the verse came home in a way that it never had before (even if I still think, and probably will always think, that it reads a little funny in English).
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples1 to do the same kinds of work he had been doing: casting out demons, healing people of their diseases, cleansing lepers, and even raising people from the dead. The comments that follow were his commission statements to his disciples. These are, notably, not exactly the cheeriest commissioning statements one might think to offer: they include not only the strong implication that the disciples would be rejected, but the promise of persecution even from within one’s own family and an incredibly heightened sense of the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus and taking his name to the nations is not child’s play, but hard and costly work.
And it is in this context that we find the somewhat amusing quote cited above—specifically, as Jesus warns his disciples not to act out of fear of man. The context makes the sentence much more serious: Jesus has just said that they should not fear men, who can kill only the body, but should instead fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. He follows the statement with the promise that he will acknowledge before the Father those who acknowledge him before men… and deny before the Father those who deny him before men. The word about the sparrows, then—the promise that God cares about even the sparrows, and so much more for his children—is an enormously comforting thought when situated as it is in its context of prophesied persecution and hardship for those who follow Christ.
I am worth more than many sparrows. Hallelujah: I can proclaim Christ without fear of man.
Genealogies Are Fun, Right?
I also read Genesis 10 today. This is one of those lists of names that we generally find boring and pointless. However, if we affirm the divine inspiration of Scripture—that is, if we really believe that the Holy Spirit superintended the composition of these books so that we have everything we need, and we need everything we have—then there is a reason that there are lists of names in the Bible. I can think of several immediately: First, they are important in many cultures, even if not our own, as markers of historicity and authenticity. Second, they serve as markers for the reality that God is and always has been aware of the minutiae of even our genealogies. Third, and perhaps most significantly, they are part of the framework by which God communicates his ongoing work in history, culminating in the lists of names that come early in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel accounts. These are not mere random lists of names; they are part of the way God made sure that everyone could see that he kept his promise.
Tonight, I noticed one more of the tiny little pieces of Scripture that goes along with that. At the end of Genesis 10, Moses makes a neat little literary move that I had never caught before: he introduces the word “nations” into the narrative for the first time. Now, that might be mildly interesting if I didn’t know where things were going—but I do. I know that in just a matter of a few chapters, God will promise explicitly to make a nation that blesses all the families of the earth through Abraham. Just chapters after that, he will use the same word to promise that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. This idea grows ever more prominent throughout the Old Testament: God will use Israel to bless the nations. It flowers into full fruition in the coming of Christ and his commission to his disciples: to preach the gospel to all the nations. Again: God keeps his promises, and even the dry little details like genealogies fit into the big picture of his glorious redemptive work in history, culminating in Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God.
- The list here has at least one interesting thing in it: it unsurprisingly highlights Peter and Judas, first and last in the list respectively—all the lists of the Twelve do likewise—but it also highlights Matthew. Not just his name, but his role: Matthew the tax-collector. “Yes, I wrote this book; but no, I have no grounds for pride. Jesus called me from abusing my own people for material gain to follow him. Here we are.” ↩