SynopsisThis passage is a continuation of the last one and the one before; Jesus is preparing the Apostles to go out on a missionary trip.
The last passage ended with Jesus telling the Apostles that they could expect to be maligned, because he himself was maligned. And the first verse in this passage tells us what their response was supposed to be (and, hence, what our response should be): “So have no fear of them …” (verse 26 (ESV) ). Why? Because:
- “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (verse 26 (ESV) ). I believe Jesus’ point here is that God knows what’s going on, and knows what the people are doing to the Apostles (and, hence, to us); he’s not unaware of what’s going on.
- Similarly, Jesus also tells the Apostles that anything he tells them, “in the dark,” they should go out and say “in the light,” and what he whispers they should proclaim from the housetops (verse 27 (ESV) )
- There is no need to fear those who can do nothing worse than kill the body, but can’t touch the soul; instead, they should fear the one who can destroy both in hell (verse 28 (ESV) )
- Even tiny sparrows—so insignificant that two are sold for a penny—are under the control of God, Who knows even the number of hairs on each of our heads. So, since we’re worth a lot more than sparrows, we shouldn’t fear (verses 29–31 (ESV) ).
ThoughtsJesus has told the Apostles about what is going to happen to them on this missionary journey, and not all of it has been pretty. He’s warned them of persecution and flogging and other unpleasant things. But the point of this passage is that they shouldn’t fear any of this, because God is in control. Especially striking might be this verse:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (verse 28 (ESV) )
Don’t worry about people; the worst they can possibly do to you is kill you. “Er… but Jesus,” we’re tempted to reply, “that’s the worst thing that can be done to us!” But of course it’s not. Murder is a serious thing, but your soul is more important than your body. Maybe that’s why martyrdom is such an amazing thing; that someone is willing to die for their faith—to give up their body—is a powerful testimony.
The other part that grips me is the part about God being in control of everything—even sparrows, which are comparatively worthless. Even the hairs on your head, which are worthless. (Apologies to any bald or balding readers, who value every single hair.) A passage like this can spark controversy, with people arguing about how in control God really is, and bringing in questions of free will vs. sovereignty. But if we keep the context in mind, Jesus isn’t saying this to the Apostles to make a religious point—he’s saying it to comfort them. Because God is in control, you don’t have to worry about anything. “When you go on this journey,” Jesus is telling them, “and you’re persecuted, don’t worry, because God is in control of the situation.” There is nothing that will happen to them that was unforeseen by God. There will never be an occasion when an Apostle gets flogged in a synagogue, prompting God to fret and say, “Wow, I never saw that coming! If only I could do something!” The Apostles can be confident, when these bad things happen, that they’re happening for a reason, because God is in control.
And what’s the worst that can happen? They might die? There are worse things than dying.