The kingdom is God with his creatures (Matthew 10:29-31)

If a little bird falls in the forest, does anybody hear?

Open Matthew 10:29-31.

What was your first pet? A puppy? A kitten? A budgie? Remember its name? What did it mean to you?

How deeply we feel responsibility for a creature in our care! It’s beyond commercial value: even if you paid for it with pocket money, its precious life depends on you. Where does this sense of responsibility come from?

Jesus believed this tenderness is a glimpse of something beyond, an echo of God’s heartbeat for the creatures in his care:

Matthew 10:29-31 (my translation)
29 Isn’t a pair of sparrows sold for a pittance? Not a single one of them falls to the ground without your father. 30 But you: every hair of your head counts! 31 So don’t be fearful: you are more precious than many sparrows.

A mate of mine is passionate about finches. He knows every variety: their plumage, what they eat, what they need to be healthy, and what to do if they aren’t doing well. His book, Finches in Australia, reads like a lifetime labour of love.

Just as you know and care for each creature in your care, your heavenly Father knows and cares for every creature in his kingdom. He understands you better than you understand yourself — every detail, right down to each hair crowning your head and the unvoiced thoughts within.

The kingdom of God is this relationship: God as sovereign, and we (his creatures) as his kingdom. We’re carried in his care. And we’re designed to help him care for his creatures (Genesis 1:26). We are  the image our sovereign when we feel responsible for creatures in our care.

Then life knocks the stuffing out of us. That’s when we question God’s care. Why doesn’t God guard us from tragedy? Why didn’t he save John the Baptist from Herod? Why didn’t he prevent Jesus’ crucifixion? Why didn’t he rescue Jesus’ disciples when they faced martyrdom?

Our lives are in danger, Jesus said (10:16-39). He called it, “sheep among wolves.” It can feel like swimming with sharks.

Where is God when it hurts? Is life so cheap that it can be snuffed out so easily? Is that all that Jesus’ life meant? Was his death cheap?

Don’t underestimate the significance of Jesus’ life. Shouldering his cross was the most meaningful moment in history. He expected the twelve to do the same, to take up their crosses and follow him. Their deaths signified not that they were worthless but worthy: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:38).

A small bird may fall to the ground. It may be trapped, or shot, or assailed by a bigger bird. Its strength may give out mid-flight, or as it roosts. Most of the time, we neither know nor care. God does. He’s there: the least of his creatures lives in his care. Even the small bird, the most defenceless one, doesn’t fall and die alone. In its last moment, your Father is there with the bird.

If the kingdom of God is anything, it is God with his people. That “withness” defines the story of God’s people in all their struggles, e.g.:

  • Threatened by famine, Isaac heard God saying, “I will be with you” (Gen 26:3).
  • Fleeing from this brother, Jacob heard the Lord say, “I am with you” (Gen 28:15). Others saw God was with him (26:28; 31:3, 5, 42).
  • In an Egyptian prison, Joseph had a cell-mate: God was with him (Gen 39:21). Did you ever picture God in jail?
  • Moses alone did not confront Pharaoh: God was with him (Ex 3:12; 4:15). And with his people (Ex 6:7).
  • What defined the nation of Israel was the Person who dwelled among them (Ex 29:45).

God-with-Israel never gave them an easy safe ride. They constantly swam against the current of the rebellious world.

Then God became physically present: Immanuel, literally God with us (Matthew 1:23).

God never met the force of his rebellious world with force. He became a small creature in his own realm — a helpless baby, threatened by Herod. What a strange way for the sovereign to reassert his authority!

The danger is just as real for us. But we don’t live in fear of the powers that cause so much pain. We recognize the sovereign who is with his people, who holds their lives as precious. We give allegiance to the one who reasserts his reign through powerlessness, through crucifixion. We give our lives to no one else.

Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father. And your life is far more precious than many sparrows.

What others are saying

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 404:

The pregnant phrase “without your Father” has been variously translated as “without your Father’s knowledge” or “consent” or “will” or “care,” depending on the view of divine sovereignty and providence which the translator holds: does God simply know about the death of the birds (and therefore also of his people), or does he allow it, or does it happen because he has decided on it, or is the point that even in their death they are not outside his loving concern? … Nothing happens to the children of a loving Father which falls outside his providential care; it neither takes him by surprise nor frustrates his purpose. This saying does not, of course, promise immunity from death or suffering for God’s people, only the knowledge that it does not happen “without your Father.”

[previous: Where’s God’s justice in an unjust world?]

[next: Where’s your allegiance?]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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