I mentioned in my last podcast on Isaiah 6 that as I have been reflecting on our current situation and all of its implications for our present situation that I have been drawn to two Scripture passages in particular. I want to reflect on the second of them today. It is from the Sermon on the Mount as recalled by Matthew, 6:25-34. Let me read it for you.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
COVID-19 has put many of us in situations we probably didn’t think we would ever be in. It has also given many of us concerns we never thought we would have. Some of you are working from home, probably with fewer hours and less pay. Some of you are laid off entirely. Most of you are spending a lot of time sitting at home in a holding pattern waiting for the day when things can return to normal without any clue from anyone as to when this will happen. Just about everything in our lives is being affected by the pandemic – big things like holidays, weddings, etc.; and small and common things like family get-togethers, grocery shopping, etc. It is pretty standard, then, for each of us to be concerned about our own situation as well as for the situations of those around us whom we care about. But when this concern overwhelms us and consumes us, it can become a dangerous sinful spiral which can have a significant negative effect on our spiritual life.
The message of this passage is pretty clear so I won’t get into too much detail. If you want a deeper look at this text, I preached a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount a couple of years ago and you can head over to our website and listen to the sermon from these verses. I do, however, want to highlight a few things and provide some encouragement to each of you from Jesus’ words. If ever we need to hear Jesus speak about anxiety and worry and fear of the future it is now.
There are at least three lessons Jesus wants us to learn.
Being preoccupied with the stuff of this world – food, drink, clothes (we could add toilet paper and hand sanitizer to the list) – is only justified if physical survival and the stuff of this world is the be-all and end-all of our existence.
If our existence was entirely about living for the sake of living then how we sustain our body and how we enjoy life would be the proper focus for all that we do. But this is to reduce each one of us as God’s image-bearing children to nothing more than the level of an animal who spends most of his time hunting for food and shelter. Each day he wakes up and does the same thing he did the previous day, he looks for more food and more shelter. Since there is more to life than our physical existence, this-worldly cares cannot be our primary preoccupation. Our physical well-being, and surely not personal luxury, is not a worthy object to devote our lives to pursuing. Our lives have so much more significance. Jesus tells us that the Gentiles, unbelievers, seek only the things of this world and Jesus says – “Let them!” But as for his disciples, they must seek something much greater. We must not be overly concerned with lesser things, the primary things which we seek cannot be the things of this world, because as children of God, made in his image we know there is more to life than the physical world. So we must seek the supreme good in the universe, our Heavenly Father’s kingdom, and His righteousness.
Jesus is speaking about who really owns whom or what.
Jesus emphasizes that our lives are not our own. He reminds us that our lives are in the hands of our Heavenly Father. He has designed our lives. He knows the end from the beginning. He plans each step of the way to fulfill his purpose for each of us. Why worry when he has your life In His Hands? Your worry, then, is a sign that you do not adequately know Him, or that you do not trust him, or that you have not yielded to him as you should. It is only when we want to take our lives out of the Father’s hands that we find ourselves gripped with worry. The secret of freedom from worry is freedom from ourselves and the abandonment of our own plans. This is why the Bible has so much to say about the sovereign rule of God. It is God, our Father, who sets the boundaries of our existence, and he promises that when we live according to his plan we will lack nothing. When we understand that and live like that, then we will also understand the pointlessness of worry, and we will find joy in entrusting everything to him.
Jesus is identifying worry as an indication of our doubt about God’s care and generosity toward his children.
As Sinclair Ferguson has noted, in these verses we have an echo of the first temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where Satan insinuated that God had been miserly with the first couple, that he had withheld good gifts from them in Paradise by forbidding them to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that he did not have their best interests at heart, that he did not truly love them. We all know that in that situation the devil was successful in causing Eve to distrust God’s wonderful provision. She doubted that God truly cared for her. Many of our worries spring from this same basic suspicion. But Jesus wants us to understand that no Christian who properly appreciates who God is, and how he relates to his children, can possibly be deceived into thinking that God does not love him and is with holding good things from him.
Recently my family was sitting in our living room where we have a nice big window that faces the bush on our country property. Just outside that window is an ornamental crabapple tree on which we have two bird feeders and at this time of the year, dozens of birds visit those feeders. While we were talking together we heard a bang on the window and as we looked over we saw a bird falling to the ground after having flown into the window. The confrontation did not end well for that bird. By the time my son and I got to the window to see what had happened this poor bird was motionless on the ground. Dead.
So what? Given how many birds there are in our yard, and how many birds there are in general, the death of this one bird is not really that big a deal. Yet, it is exactly this scenario that God uses to remind us of his care over us. In Matthew 6 Jesus reminds us that it is God who oversees the feeding of all of the birds – “they neither sow or reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.” Later in Matthew 10:29, Jesus will calm the fears of his followers who are concerned about persecution for the sake of X’s name by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
So here this bird lays. The other birds go about their business eating from our feeders flying and hopping around without a care in the world. One dead bird among dozens in our yard and no doubt thousands within our little part of the world. Insignificant by just about every measurement. Yet God cared for that bird by directing it to our yard for its food during the winter and he knows that this bird died in our yard when and how it did. How much more valuable are we to God? It’s a question so easy to answer it is not really even worth asking. Yet the reminder in seeing things from this perspective is a valuable one.
Our worry is ultimately a faith issue. For the Christian, God is not only the Creator, he is also our Redeemer and our Father, which means that he is also our Provider. For us to become obsessed or absorbed in material things and earthly comforts is a false preoccupation. It is unproductive and it is also unnecessary – because God knows what we need before we need it. (vv 8, 32) So, Jesus asks us, if God provides for even the least of his creation, how much more is he going to provide for those of us whom he has purchased at the infinite cost of the death of his Son? We could put the question another way – When you compare your value to God with that of the birds, how can you not believe that God will provide you with everything you need in your life if he provides for them? God loves you as his own child. He knows your needs, and he will give you everything you need.
A Christian’s freedom from worry is not due to some guaranteed freedom from trouble, that will never happen. Our freedom from worry is due to our confidence that God is our Father, that even our trouble and suffering is within the orbit of his care, that in everything “God works all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) and that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Soli Deo Gloria