Matthew 10:28-30, “But fear rather the one who is able even soul and body to destroy in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear, you are of more value than many sparrows.”
It’s interesting to see how Jesus moves from the threatening image of God destroying soul and body in Gehenna to His care for the littlest birds and numbering of His people’s hair. How does that dynamic work?
Well, we can’t dismiss verse 28. Jesus gives this imagery specifically to encourage His disciples not to apostatize under the threat of physical harm. Those threatening them can only destroy the body, but the one whom they are tempted to deny holds the destiny of both body and soul in His hands. It is madness to save the body for a few more years by denying the one whom to deny is to forfeit body and soul forever. That is the point in this passage, it would seem (see v.32-33).
But then, Jesus moves abruptly to more intimate and consoling imagery. This is not to eclipse the threatening image of a God who destroys soul and body under judgment, but to give context. Indeed, the two images need each other to function in our imaginations. If the Eschatological Judge is not recognized also as the intimate, sovereign author, He becomes a shadowy figure of terror. Likewise, if the God who cares for sparrows and counts the hairs of His beloved people is not recognized also as the Eschatological Judge with sole authority over our destinies, then all of His intimate nearness and loving knowledge would have no power beneath it. The one who knows and cares is simultaneously the one who holds our existence in His hands, that combination of nearness and majesty, of intimacy and transcendence, is the reason we need not fear.
And in this image, I have presented those hands—the hands that have authority over soul and body even as they sustain the sparrows and count the hairs of his beloved ones—I have presented those hands as the hands of the crucified and risen Christ. But isn’t Jesus talking about the FATHER here? Why then present the hands as the hands of Christ? Simply because Jesus—Crucified and Raised—is the one in whom we see and know the Father (John 14:9). To see the slain and risen Son, by the Spirit, IS to see the Father. And so, the hands are the hands of Christ because the Father who cares for His children, cares for them in accordance with the character revealed in His Son.
So, how does Jesus support the call not to fear? By bringing the absolute, transcendent authority of God together with the absolute, intimate knowledge and care of God. These two realities—held in perfect harmony in the person of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Son—together build the argument that we are not to fear. Our Father is the one who holds our destiny—soul and body—in His hands. He is closely involved in even the smallest elements of His creation (today we would speak of atoms and electron orbits) and the most intimate details of His children’s lives (again, today we might speak of cells and blood vessels and DNA rather than hairs, but the point is the same). We are intimately known and pervasively upheld by the Almighty Lord of all people, by the One whose will is reality, whose Word is truth, whose purposes cannot be thwarted. And, not only are we upheld by Him, but our stories (down to the smallest detail) are ordered by Him. Fear not, fear not, fear not, GOD is your FATHER…and so you are free to love.