Matthew 10:26-31

THE KING’S MESSENGER’S FREEDOM FROM FEAR

Matt. 10:26-31

“Do not fear them; for there is nothing which is covered which shall not be unveiled, and there is nothing hidden which shall not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops. Do not fear those who can kill the body, but who cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are two sparrows not sold for a penny, and not one of them shall light on the ground without your Father’s knowledge? The hairs of your head are all numbered. So then do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Three times in this short passage Jesus bids his disciples not to be afraid. In the King’s messenger there must be a certain courageous fearlessness which marks him out from other men.

(i) The first commandment is in Matt. 10:26-27, and it speaks of a double fearlessness.

(a) They are not to be afraid because there is nothing covered that will not be unveiled, and nothing hidden which will not be known. The meaning of that is that the truth will triumph. “Great is the truth,” ran the Latin proverb, “and the truth will prevail.” When James the Sixth threatened to hang or exile Andrew Melville, Melville’s answer was: “You cannot hang or exile the truth.” When the Christian is involved in suffering and sacrifice and even martyrdom for his faith, he must remember that the day will come when things will be seen as they really are; and then the power of the persecutor and the heroism of Christian witness will be seen at their true value, and each will have its true reward.

(b) They are not to be afraid to speak with boldness the message they have received. What Jesus has told them, they must tell to men. Here in this one verse (Matt. 10:27) lies the true function of the preacher.

First, the preacher must listen; he must he in the secret place with Christ, that in the dark hours Christ may speak to him, and that in the loneliness Christ may whisper in his ear. No man can speak for Christ unless Christ has spoken to him; no man can proclaim the truth unless he has listened to the truth; for no man can tell that which he does not know

In the great days in which the Reformation was coming to birth, Colet invited Erasmus to come to Oxford to give a series of lectures on Moses or Isaiah; but Erasmus knew he was not ready. He wrote back: “But I who have learned to live with myself, and know how scanty my equipment is, can neither claim the learning required for such a task, nor do I think that I possess the strength of mind to sustain the jealousy of so many men, who would be eager to maintain their own ground. The campaign is one that demands, not a tyro, but a practiced general. Neither should you call me immodest in declining a position which it would be most immodest for me to accept. You are not acting wisely, Colet, in demanding water from a pumice stone, as Plautus said. With what effrontery shall I teach what I have never learned? How am I to warm the coldness of others, when I am shivering myself?”

He who would teach and preach must first in the secret place listen and learn.

Second, the preacher must speak what he has heard from Christ, and he must speak even if his speaking is to gain him the hatred of men, and even if, by speaking, he takes his life in his hands.

Men do not like the truth, for, as Diogenes said, truth is like the light to sore eyes. Once Latimer was preaching when Henry the king was present. He knew that he was about to say something which the king would not relish. So in the pulpit he soliloquized aloud with himself. “Latimer! Latimer! Latimer!” he said, “be careful what you say. Henry the king is here.” He paused, and then he said, “Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! be careful what you say. The King of kings is here.”

The man with a message speaks to men, but he speaks in the presence of God. It was said of John Knox, as they buried him, “Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.”

The Christian witness is the man who knows no fear, because he knows that the judgments of eternity will correct the judgments of time. The Christian preacher and teacher is the man who listens with reverence and who speaks with courage, because he knows that, whether he listens or speaks, he is in the presence of God.

THE KING’S MESSENGER’S FREEDOM FROM FEAR–THE COURAGE OF THE RIGHT

Matt. 10:26-31 (continued)

(ii) The second commandment is in Matt. 10:28. To put it very simply, what Jesus is saying is that no punishment that men can ever lay upon a man can compare with the ultimate fate of one who has been guilty of infidelity and disobedience to God. It is true that men can kill a man’s physical body; but God can condemn a man to the death of the soul. There are three things that we must note here.

(a) Some people believe in what is called conditioned immortality. This belief holds that the reward of goodness is that the soul climbs up and up until it is one with all the immortality, the bliss and the blessedness of God; and that the punishment of the evil man, who will not mend his ways in spite of all God’s appeals to him, is that his soul goes down and down and down until it is finally obliterated and ceases to be. We cannot erect a doctrine on a single text, but that is something very like what Jesus is saying here.

The Jews knew the awfulness of the punishment of God.

For thou hast power over life and death. And thou leadest down to the gates of Hades, and leadest up again. But though a man can kill by his wickedness, Yet the spirit that is gone forth he bringeth not back, Neither giveth release to the soul that Hades has received (Wis.16:13-14).

During the killing times of the Maccabean struggle, the seven martyred brothers encouraged each other by saying, “Let us not fear him who thinketh he kills; for a great struggle and pain of the soul awaits in eternal torment those who transgress the ordinance of God”(4 Maccabees 13: 14-15).

We do well to remember that the penalties which men can exact are as nothing to the penalties which God can exact and to the rewards which he can give.

(b) The second thing which this passage teaches is that there is still left in the Christian life a place for what we might call a holy fear.

The Jews well knew this fear of God. One of the rabbinic stories tells how Rabbi Jochanan was ill. “His disciples went in to visit him. On beholding them he began to weep. His disciples said to him, `O Lamp of Israel, righthand pillar, mighty hammer! Wherefore dost thou weep?’ He replied to them, `If I was being led into the presence of a human king who today is here and tomorrow in the grave, who, if he were wrathful against me, his anger would not be eternal, who, if he imprisoned me, the imprisonment would not be eternal, who, if he condemned me to death, the death would not be for ever, and whom I can appease with words and bribe with money even then I would weep. But now, when I am being led into the presence of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is he, who lives and endures for all eternity, who, if he be wrathful against me, his anger is eternal, who, if he imprisoned me, the imprisonment would be for ever, who, if he condemned me to death, the death would be for ever, and whom I cannot appease with words or bribe with money–nay more, when before me lie two ways, one the way of the Garden of Eden and the other the way of Gehenna, and I know not in which I am to be led–shall I not weep?'”

It is not that the Jewish thinkers forgot that there is love, and that love is the greatest of all things. “The reward of him who acts from love,” they said, “is double and quadruple. Act from love, for there is no love where there is fear, or fear where there is love, except in relation to God.” The Jews were always sure that in relation to God there was both fear and love. “Fear God and love God, the Law says both; act from both love and fear; from love, for, if you would hate, no lover hates; from fear, for, if you would kick, no fearer kicks.” But the Jew never forgot–and neither must we–the sheer holiness of God.

And for the Christian the matter is even more compelling, for our fear is not that God will punish us, but that we may grieve his love. The Jew was never in any danger of sentimentalizing the love of God, and neither was Jesus. God is love, but God is also holiness, for God is God; and there must be a place in our hearts and in our thought both for the love which answers God’s love, and the reverence, the awe and the fear which answer God’s holiness.

(c) Further, this passage tells us that there are things which are worse than death; and disloyalty is one of them. If a man is guilty of disloyalty, if he buys security at the expense of dishonour, life is no longer tolerable. He cannot face men; he cannot face himself; and ultimately he cannot face God. There are times when comfort, safety, ease, life itself can cost too much.

THE KING’S MESSENGER’S FREEDOM FROM FEAR–GOD CARES!

Matt. 10:26-31 (continued)

(iii) The third commandment not to fear is in Matt. 10:31; and it is based on the certainty of the detailed care of God. If God cares for the sparrows, surely he will care for men.

Matthew says that two sparrows are sold for a penny and yet not one of them falls to the ground without the knowledge of God. Luke gives us that saying of Jesus in a slightly different form: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God?” (Lk.12:6). The point is this–two sparrows were sold for one penny. (The coin is the assarion, which was one-sixteenth of a denarius; a denarius was approximately four new pence; therefore the assarion was about one quarter of one new penny). But if the purchaser was prepared to spend two pennies, he got, not four sparrows, but five. The extra one was thrown into the bargain as having no value at all. God cares even for the sparrow which is thrown into the bargain, and which on man’s counting has no value at all. Even the forgotten sparrow is dear to God.

The thing is even more vivid than that. The Revised Standard Version–and it is a perfectly correct translation of the Greek–has it that not one sparrow will fall to the ground without the knowledge of God. In such a context the word “fall” makes us naturally think of death; but in all probability the Greek is a translation of an Aramaic word which means to light upon the ground. It is not that God marks the sparrow when the sparrow falls dead; it is far more; it is that God marks the sparrow every time it lights and hops upon the ground. So it is Jesus’ argument that, if God cares like that for sparrows, much more will he care for men.

Once again the Jews would well understand what Jesus was saying. No nation ever had such a conception of the detailed care of God for his creation. Rabbi Chanina said, “No man hurts his finger here below, unless it is so disposed for him by God.” There was a rabbinic saying, “God sits and feeds the world, from the horns of the buffalo to the eggs of the louse.” Hillel has a wonderful interpretation of Ps.136. That psalm begins by telling the story in lyric poetry about the God who is the God of creation, the God who made the heavens and the earth, and the sun and the moon and the stars (Ps.136:1-9); then it goes on to tell the story about the God who is the God of history, the God who rescued Israel from Egypt and who fought her battles for her (Ps.136:11-24); then finally it goes on to speak of God as the God “who gives food to all flesh” (Ps.136:25). The God who made the world and who controls all history is the God who gives men food. The coming of our daily bread is just as much an act of God as the act of creation and the saving power of the deliverance from Egypt. God’s love for men is seen not only in the omnipotence of creation and in the great events of history; it is seen also in the day–today nourishment of the bodies of men.

The courage of the King’s messenger is founded on the conviction that, whatever happens. he cannot drift beyond the love of God. He knows that his times are for ever in God’s hands; that God will not leave him or forsake him; that he is surrounded for ever by God’s care. If that is so–whom then shall we be afraid?

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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