Two plus two is five.
If your child came home from school with that kind of arithmetic, you would not be surprised to find a low mark on his report card. If he were actually taught that in school by his teacher, you would make a certain visit to her and if that did not avail, to the school board for allowing such things to be taught your child.
Two plus two is four.
That is what we have always been taught and practical life will bear out the truth of that statement. Always when we add two things to the two we already have, we find that we have four.
And, yet, in the Scriptures we find what appears to be such a mathematical juggling. Only, this time it is not expressed by one man, but by combining the statements of two of the writers of the gospel narrative there seems to be a mathematical error. Matthew in the tenth chapter of his gospel narrative quotes Jesus as saying in verse twenty nine, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” Luke, however, differs from Matthew and quotes Jesus in the sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of his gospel narrative as asking, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?”
Two sparrows for one farthing. Five sparrows for two farthings. It does not add up correctly. So it seems, but the faulty mathematics is only apparent, it is not real. It looks as though Luke must have misquoted Jesus, for we would not dare to ascribe such faulty arithmetic to Jesus, would we? Yet rather than to misquote Jesus, Luke brings to our attention by a faithful quoting of Jesus’ words a wonderful and comforting truth which strengthens those who live “in His fear”.
Two sparrows for one farthing. For two farthings we will then get four sparrows, except for the fact that he who buys two farthings’ worth gets a bargain. Or does he? We are accustomed (or we were) to the 5¢ a bottle soft drink that you could buy also at the rate of 6 for a quarter. You get the sixth one free.
That is not quite the case here, however. A farthing was the smallest coin used in the land of Palestine in Jesus’ day. And that poor soul, who had but a farthing and desired a little meat for his nourishment, could buy two sparrows for the little flesh that was upon them. Notice, however, that he would get two sparrows for that farthing. They were not sold for a farthing apiece. Nay, so little value was there attached to a sparrow that two had to be sold for the smallest piece of money known in that land. Even then, a man did not get his money’s worth, and when he purchased two farthing’s worth, that fifth one would be added, not as a special bargain price, not as an inducement to buy them in a larger number for the benefit of the man that sells them (that is our modern bargain sale motive) but to make the deal a little more just.
So little was the life of a sparrow valued in that day! Today you could not shoot them down for that price. The little pellet required to bring down such a little creature would well-nigh cost that price, to say nothing of the middle man’s profit. We may make the observation that the word sparrow as used here may refer to a large variety of small birds and could easily be a creature somewhat larger than the English sparrow we have in our land. And we may observe, further, that these creatures were caught in a snare rather than shot at individually. Even then, the context of this saying of Jesus shows that the life of such little creatures was of little value in man’s estimation.
Man would hardly give his smallest coin for two of these creatures. And Jesus divides yet these two and says that one of them cannot fall without our heavenly Father’s will. The man with a farthing in his pocket would refuse to buy one sparrow at such an inflated price of one farthing apiece. But the Lord does not charge even that sparrow a farthing for all the life and food it has received and enjoyed. And its life cannot be taken from it, unless God brings it into that snare. Sparrows often die also outside the snare, the trap set by man. They die in such a way that man is not even benefited. They die so that man cannot even use its flesh for food. That fall to the ground also comes by God’s appointment. And until the time that He brings about its fall to the ground as a dead creature, it will receive all its food, its feathery coat to keep it warm, its life and its song from God. A pest to man! Lightly esteemed by man! And yet it is the object of God’s care through all its life.
What a lesson for us who so frequently waver in our calling to live “in His fear”!
Compared with that little feathery friend, what a far more important creature on this earth is man! Man is a rational, moral creature. He was created so that he could live in God’s fear. He could know God. The sparrow cannot know the God that feeds him. Put your bird feeding station in your yard and fill it daily with bread. The sparrows will begin to pay you regular visits. They will even swoop down out of the trees and from off the roof tops to consume it the moment you have withdrawn a few feet from the feeding station you have erected. They will begin to look for you to come out and fill their “plates” with food. More than this they will never see. God, who gave it to you to give to them, they cannot see. But man can, and even the unregenerated by the testimony of the Spirit in their hearts knows that there is a God.
Still more, how much more precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints! If He watches over the needs of the little sparrow that is so lightly esteemed—if not despised by man—surely, He watches constantly over those whom He has chosen in Christ whom He has formed for Himself to show forth His praises, for whom He sent His only begotten Son and who according to His word are the very salt of the earth.
That the unbeliever is filled with fear and terror; that despair grows in his breast; that the nervous tension in their lives is mounting is to be understood. They do not live in the fear of the Lord. For them this life is everything. And when a few things, or even one thing of the present seems to be slipping away, they are filled with worry and fear. Life becomes one extended struggle to hold on to that which can be enjoyed in this life and a losing battle to stave off the things which take the joy out of living here below.
But what about you, the reader of these lines? Do you appreciate this care of the Almighty for the minutest of things? You worry and are anxious. Your soul is heavy and troubled. Is it because you doubt God’s power or because you doubt His love? Indeed, the days in which we live are filled with uncertainties and there is no hope that they will get any better. The Scriptures tell us that we are yet in the beginning of sorrows. If we may borrow a colloquial expression, we haven’t seen anything yet.
Surely you do not say of the things that we do see and experience that things must have slipped somewhat out of God’s control. You do not doubt His power to control all things. But, then, your heart has not throbbed with the complaint that surely He does not care about you and His church, has it?
“Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell” is what Jesus said in connection with that quotation about the fifth sparrow. Fearful men are coming. Fearful men have it in their hearts to bring bloodshed and extreme persecution upon the Church of God. And well may the flesh tremble at the awful things that the future contains for the Church of God as far as the flesh is concerned. But live in His fear, not in the fear of men. Believe Him. Hold firmly in faith’s hand the promises He has given you.
Put all your trust in Him and not in how many atomic bombs we have above the number possessed by opposing nations.
Fear Him! And that means that no matter how fierce the pressure may become that men may bring to bear upon us, we still confess Him. He who fears man will in that fear of man disobey the living God and denounce Him either by word or deed. Fear men, and you will go the way man dictates; you will join with him in his godless activities, you will say “no” to God that you may say “yes” to godless men! Fear God, Who after killing is able to cast into hell, and you will walk His way. You will dare to differ with godless men. You will say “no” to man and “yes” to God.
Fear Him, and you are not forgetting Him! And remembering Him you will remember that He does not even forget the little sparrow upon the housetop and that you, being more precious than many sparrows, will also be remembered by Him. And you will have peace. In His fear there is peace. He who lives in the fear of men knows nothing but terror, anxiety and a troubled soul. Men you cannot trust. Men depend upon the Living God for their strength and life, and outside of Him they are as helpless as they would make you believe that you are over against their power. One of our leaders once said during World War II that all we needed to fear was fear itself. How wrong! Fear God! The only ONE—we must never fear things!!—we must fear is God. We must fear to fear men. We must, indeed, be afraid to fear men.
Fear men, and you will still see sparrows fall and fear your own fall. Fear God; believe in Him; put all your trust in Him, and you will understand that He who causes that sparrow to fall considers you to be more precious in His sight, that He loves you and that when it pleases Him to take your life from you, He does it in love. Live in His fear and you will live in the consciousness of His love. You will have peace of heart and mind in the midst of war and persecution.
Remember that fifth sparrow. God does. And let that assure you that He remembers you also in love.