God’s Attention to Detail – Providence at Work
God’s Attention to Detail – Providence at Work
September 29, 2019

About This 

The audio and transcript are of a sermon delivered by Mubuso Zamchiya at the Anacostia River Church in Washington DC.

Introduction

Good morning Church. What a joy it is to be among God’s people today. I find myself thinking of the Apostle Paul and about his first letter to the Thessalonian church. There is a passage I like where Paul shares his gratefulness for the people of God. It is in chapter one verses 2 to 4:

We give thanks to God always for all of you. Constantly mentioning you in our prayers. Remembering before our God and Father, your work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you. Because our gospel came to you, not only in word, but also in power. And in the Holy Spirit. And with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us. And of the Lord. You welcomed the message, in midst of much affliction, with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Later in chapter 2 verse 19, Paul poses this wonderful question to the Thessalonians. He asks,

For what is our hope, or our joy, or our crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.

Well, friends, as we gather here today at Anacostia River Church, as a body of believers who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ – we too, by God’s grace, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, have received the gospel for what it really is. Praise God that his word is alive, active, and at work in us. No matter what trials or challenges or difficulties we may be facing, we are here! To celebrate his name! That’s Providence!

By knitting us together as a small representation of the greater body of Christ, God has given us each other. We are each other’s hope, each other’s joy, and each other’s crown of boasting before our Lord at his coming. That indeed is something to celebrate.

And as we celebrate, I thank the Lord for you, brothers and sisters of ARC. For your work of faith in my life. For your labor of love for my salvation. And for your steadfast hope for my eternal life. Not just me. Your faith, your love, and your hope extend to my family as well. To Jennifer, my excellent wife. The woman who is the crown upon my head. And to my sons, Chengetai, Taurai, and Simukai. The boys who are arrows in my hand. Thank you, church for being our glory and our joy in Christ Jesus.

And thank you to the pastors and to the entire church for allowing me to share the Word of God with you today. I pray that by God’s Providence, each of you will draw at least some small kernel of grace from today’s message. Something that may contribute to the fruit the Word of God is already producing in your life.

With that in mind, let us turn to God in prayer: Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Pastor T’s Email

When Pastor T invited me to preach, he did so by email. It came on my phone and it kind of caught me by surprise. I looked at it. I read it. And then suddenly, I was catapulted back into the 70s. In an instant, I became Arnold from Different Strokes: “What you talking about, Pastor?”

Well, his email was well written. He explained that he was inviting me to preach the second sermon in the three-part series about the attributes of God. He reminded me that Steven Harris had kicked us off on September 1st with the sermon encouraging us to give Praise to the Sovereign God. You all remember that, don’t you? Of course you do! How could we forget?

Steven absolutely kicked us off! Yes he did. The brother kicked us off. If you missed it, I’m sorry. But that sermon was off the chain! Which brings me to an important question. Who in their right mind would want to follow that? Not me, church. Not me. So I quickly came up with a plan. I was going to respond to Pastor T and tell him, “No sir, I’m not going to do it. I’m not. In fact, stop harassing me. Email again, and I might just change my phone number.” But then, I remembered the words the Lord had spoken to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 9:

My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.

So I did the only wise thing I could think of. I consulted my wife. And she also encouraged me to preach. By Providence, I had been reading through the Gospel of Luke. And I felt drawn to chapter 12 verses 4 to 7. So I told the pastor I would preach that particular text. And that the attribute I would focus on was God’s Attention to Detail. I felt pretty good about myself after sending that email. Well, at least until Pastor T wrote back again. His response came in real quick. He said, “Well, I mean, I see where you’re going with that attention to detail stuff. But how about we try something more traditional. You know, like Providence. Or Omniscience, for example. Something that will actually fit on the sermon card.

Church, you ever kick yourself because you realize you been trippin’? Man, I forgot who I was talking to. This is Pastor T, after all. He’s the type of cat who likes to role with the big words. That’s what I forgot. Pastor T likes to role with the big words. So in the end, what choice did I have? I wrote back and I said. “That’s cool, Pastor T, That’s cool. I can do that. I can roll with the big words.”

The Theme

So this morning, church, we’re gonna roll with the big words. Our theme today is Providence. (But between you and me, I’m also going to talk about God’s Attention to Detail. Just don’t tell Pastor T.)  Also, please don’t read this as me being rebellious. Because, as it turns out, God’s Providence and God’s attention to detail are basically fruit that share the same seed. Providence is just a big word that means God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. God’s got this. And by this, I mean everything. From the heavens that declare the glory of God, to the skies that proclaim the work of his hands. And right down to the very steps of his saints, which he orders faithfully in his word. God’s got this. And by got, I mean God has complete, ever-knowing, always-aware, all-understanding, all-perceiving, ever-foreseeing, and ever-purposeful care and direction over the universe, and over the lives and affairs of all mankind and everything that he has made in the heavens and the earth.  There is no such thing as chance or happenstance. God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. That’s Providence.

And that’s what we’ll see in our text this morning as we examine Luke chapter 12 verses 4 to 7. If you are planning to take notes, here is the summary: God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. Say no more. But I like this text in Luke, particularly because it demonstrates that God’s Providence is not only alive within the overarching dimensions of his actively watchful care over the entire heavens and the earth. It also very much manifests materially as an intimate concentration of attention to detail in the day-to-day lives of both the creatures and the people he has created.  I’ll say that again. God’s Providence is not only alive within the overarching dimensions of his actively watchful care over the entire heavens and the earth. It also very much manifests materially as an intimate concentration of attention to detail in the day-to-day lives of both the creatures and the people he has created. God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. Say no more.

The Text

Well, let’s look at the text. Luke chapter 12 verses 4 to 7. If you are new to the bible, Luke is the third book in the New Testament. The chapters are the big numbers and the verses are the small numbers.

Luke chapter 12 verses 4 to 7. If you are with me say, “Amen.” The passage reads as follows:

I tell you friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are worth more than many sparrows.

The speaker in the passage is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This account of his teaching was written by Luke, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Like the other gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, and John), the Gospel of Luke provides an account of the Lord Jesus’ incarnate life, his death, and his resurrection. The author, Luke, tells us in chapter 1 that he has carefully investigated everything from the beginning and that his intention is to provide an orderly account of things. A trustworthy record of the life and ministry of Jesus. He wants his readers, which includes us, to have certainty of the things being taught by the Apostles in the name of Christ. The authenticity of Luke’s gospel account is supported by the fact that he was a companion of Paul who labored with him in ministry. Luke, who is the penman of both this gospel and the book of Acts, shows him to be a masterful historian and a magnificent writer. One whose vivid and descriptive prose washes over with incredible attention to detail. His writing makes the scenes that he narrates come wonderfully and brilliantly alive.

Now, our particular passage takes place at a climactic point in the gospel narrative. The scene occurs in front of a pressing crowd of thousands of people, right after the Lord has scolded the Pharisees and the lawyers for their hypocrisy, for their obstruction to the gospel, and for their blindness to their own sin. In our passage, Jesus turns to his disciples and addresses them as friends.  

I tell you friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Verses 4 and 5 – Fear God

We know that Jesus is the Son of God. He is a member of the Holy Trinity. Therefore the attribute of Providence (which includes Omniscience – the power to know all things), is present as much in him as it is in God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus therefore knows that the Pharisees and the lawyers are out to set a trap for him. A trap they hope will lead to his death. Jesus also knows that into the future, his own disciples will experience trials and tribulations even unto the point of being killed. Thus, the imperatives he gives here in verses 4 and 5 are not generalized ideals. Rather, they are specific encouragements that offer powerful contrasts.

On the one hand, he says: do not fear those who can only kill the body. On the other hand, he says: fear him, namely God, who can cast you into hell. Now listen church, for the unbeliever, verses 4 and 5 present a frying pan and fire type of contrast. To be killed is horrible. But to be cast into hell is so much more indescribably worse.

But the message in verses 4 and 5 is addressed, not to unbelievers, but to Jesus’ friends. And to Jesus’ friends, these are words of uncontainable hope and comfort. That’s because the fear of the Lord is a very good thing for the friends of Jesus. Proverbs chapter 9 verse 10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The friends of Jesus are those who have been convicted by the Holy Spirit. They have become aware that they are sinners. They understand that they have fallen short of the glory of God. Romans chapter 10 verses 9 to 10 explain that the friends of Jesus are those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. For it is with the heart that we believe and are justified, and it is with the mouth that we profess our faith and are saved. Now, if you are listening here today, and you are not a friend of Jesus, I pray you, do not harden your heart. Instead, allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin. Receive the grace that God is extending to all who will believe. Repent, therefore. Turn from your disobedience. Believe in Jesus. And be grafted into the family of God.

And if you are a friend of Jesus, the message in Luke chapter 12 verses 4 and 5 is as we said, a clear and present comfort. Those who can only kill the body have got nothing. But God’s got this. He has all power. Not only over physical life and death. But over eternal life and death as well. God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. Say no more.  

Verses 6 and 7 – Like Iverson

The call to fear God instead of men should resonate with us all. Especially since trials and tribulations are rather commonplace in life. But it is probably fair to say, especially in our community, that some people face the threat of death more immediately than others. This is not a judgment. It is simply an observation. The point to draw is that those closer to the threat may possibly relate to the Providential message in verses 4 and 5 more easily than those further away. In my mind, that is what makes verses 6 and 7, so important. They amplify verses 4 and 5 with a vivid expression and an intimate attention to detail that bring the assurance of Providence very much alive in our mind’s eye.

Verses 6 and 7 say this:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Before we go on, church, I have to confess that verses 6 and 7 had me trippin’ for a little bit. I mean, in verses 4 and 5, the Lord is talking about fear. Don’t fear man. Fear God. Don’t fear man. Fear God. But then in the next verses, it appears that the Lord suddenly flips the script. This threw me for a loop. As I was preparing for this message, I got a little bit confused. And – a reference for those of you who are basketball fans – the Allen Iverson inside of me came out and kicked a fuss [just like he did in his famous retort on practice]:

“Lord, if anybody tells me that I misunderstood the passage. If the church tells me on Sunday that I misunderstood the passage. Then that’s that. . . Man, if I can’t understand the passage, I can’t understand the passage. If I’m hurt, I’m hurt. It’s as simple as that. But it ain’t about that. It’s not about that at all. The passage is easy to talk about, it’s easy to sum up when we’re talking about fear or providence. But, we’re sitting here, I’m supposed to be preaching on Sunday, and we’re in here talking about sparrows and hair. I mean, Lord, we talking about sparrows and hair. Not fear. Not providence. We’re talking about sparrows. Not the providence that I told Pastor T I would come out and preach. Not providence. We’re talking about sparrows, Lord. And hair. I mean how confusing is that?”

Well, thanks be to God who leads us in triumphant procession. The Lord met me in my eleventh hour and revealed to me the meaning of the text. It turns out verses 6 and 7, are indeed talking about sparrows and hair. But they are also talking about Providence.

Verse 6 – Sparrows

But how? How does Jesus make the connection between sparrows and hair and Providence? Well, the sparrow part is comparatively easy to understand. Verse 6:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.

It’s like that song. You know the one I mean. I’m not going to sing it. Leave that to Amos. But I’ll read it:

Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart feel lonely? And long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion. A constant friend is he. His eye is on the sparrow. And I know he watches over me.

Verses 6 and 7 are essentially telling us, God’s got this. He’s even got the sparrows covered. That may sound cute if you nothing about sparrows. And I certainly didn’t know very much about them until I looked them up. Basically, sparrows are like racoons with wings. Their pests, especially around human dwelling places and domesticated animals. They harbor parasites that spread disease. Their feces deface and damage structures and contaminate walkways. Their nests can clog drains. They can cause roof leaks. And are also fire hazards. Sparrows are bullies among other birds, and often chase away the native songbirds. The long and the short of it is that sparrows are less than desirable birds.

Both the Old and the New Testament speak to the reality that sparrows were of very little value in Jewish society. The pesky nature of sparrows may be one of the reasons the writer of Psalm 84 says in verse 3 that even the sparrow finds a home in the temple of the Lord. As if it is surprising that a bird of such low value might be welcome in the house of God. It is probably why, in the prayer of the afflicted found in Psalm 102 verse 7, the writer compares himself to a lonely sparrow on a roof. And why, in Proverbs 26 verse 2, a fluttering sparrow is compared to an undeserved curse.

It makes sense then, that in Luke chapter 12 verse 6, the Lord would make the detailed point of stating the actual monetary value of sparrows. Five sparrows for just two pennies. Or in Matthew 10:29, two sparrows for just one penny. The point is that sparrows were cheap. Because nobody wanted anything to do with them. Only the poorest of the poor would have no choice but to buy them for food and for sacrifices. The emphasis in Luke chapter 12 verses 6 and 7 is this:  If God does not forget even the most despised among birds, how much more will he remember and care for us? God’s got this, fam. He’s got the sparrows. And he’s got us covered too – even more so. That’s Providence.

Verse 7 – Hair

Well, let’s deal with that powerful qualifying statement in verse 7. To this point, we had assurance in verse 4 that God’s Providence covers us even under the threat of physical death. We had a reminder in verse 5 that God also has Providential power over eternal life and death. We know from verse 6 and the end of verse 7 that God’s Providence extends over even the most insignificant of birds. And that our confidence in his Providential care should greatly be amplified because we are more valuable to God than mere sparrows.

But what about that section at beginning of verse 7? Church, can we talk about hair? You know I’ve got to ask for permission, right. Can we do it?

Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered.

What is the Lord talking about? Well, I think it’s this. Not all of us have people out to kill us right now. And many of us have never seen a sparrow. Probably couldn’t recognize one if we did. But for the most part, we all have hair – some more than others. Therefore, a message about Providence that includes a reference to hair, without a doubt, should be relatable to us all. And I think that’s why the Lord drops that powerful nugget at the beginning of verse 7.

Here’s the thing. Hair is important to us. We even categorize it. The adapted FIA system classifies hair by pattern, thickness, and volume. Pattern can be straight, wavy, curly, or nappy. Thickness can be fine, medium, course, or nappy. And volume can be thin, medium, thick, or just plain nappy. Now, of course, I added the nappy bit, but those with nappy hair know what I’m talking about.

Nevertheless, hair plays several important roles. It keeps us warm. It protects our heads and bodies. And it contributes to our sense of touch. Hair is so important, we even have movies about it. Hair (1979); Hairspray (1988); Steel Magnolias (1989); Poetic Justice (1993); The Barbershop Trilogy (2002 – 2016); Beauty Shop (2005); Good Hair (2009), Nappily Ever After (2018); and my personal favorite – School Daze (1988). Shout out to Spike Lee. We’re always talking about hair.

Come to find out, hair is important to God too. At three major points in the cycle of redemption, the Providence of God is clearly demonstrated through hair – in creation, in salvation, and while we wait for the Lord Jesus at his coming.

Providence in Creation

In creation, God made mankind in his image. He set us up as the crown jewel of all that he had made. And by Providence, he created us male and female. With different but complementary bodies and qualities. This, so that we might succeed in fulfilling his mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Also, to illustrate that we are reflections of his glory, God, in his Providence, even put physical crowns upon our heads. Those crowns are our hair.

We learn in 1 Corinthians 11 verses 14 to 15 that a woman’s hair is her glory because her hair is her covering. In other words, if you are a woman, your lovely hair – whether straight, wavy, curly, or nappy – should remind you of God’s Providence. God’s got this. And by this, I mean you. He’s got you covered – and in a really beautiful way. Like the bride described in The Song of Solomon chapter 7 verse 5: “Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in its tresses.” And if you are a married woman, 1 Corinthians 11 verses 1 to 15, should remind you of God’s Providence in providing you, not only hair, but also a husband as your covering.

And if you are a man, know from Proverbs 16 verse 31 and Proverbs 20 verse 29 that gray hair is the splendor of old men. Gray hair is the crown of glory gained in through living a righteous life. And, if you are a young man, don’t worry about it. You may have amazing hair like Absalom, but your glory lies in your youth. The strength of your youth.

So for both men and women, the thought of hair should fill us with awe and wonderment. God has given us hair as a reminder that we are the crown of his creation and the reflection of his glory. 

Friends, hair should make you realize that God’s got this, fam. He’s got you covered. Say no more.

Providence in Salvation

So what about Salvation? Well, church. There is so much we could say about the Providential connection between our hair and salvation. But we only have time for a short exploration. Think about the redemptive arc of history. God makes man. Man disobeys God. And as Lamentations 5 verse 6 tells us, sin causes the crown of glory to fall away from man’s head. God banishes man from his presence, but not without a Providential plan for his restoration. But man continues sinning. Yet God forebears and does not pour out his full wrath against man. God establishes the law through Moses, so that man can clearly understand the nature of sin. And know the difference is between holy living and the depravity of sin. But man continues sinning. Pretty much ignoring all the priests and prophets God provides to turn man back to him. So God sends his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to fulfill all righteousness. And to die a wretched dead on a raggedy cross. Christ trades his own crown of glory for a twisted-together crown of thorns. One that is forced upon on his head in the midst of much mocking. And the Son of God dies. But then, by Providence, he rises again. So that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

And for those who submit to the Lordship of Christ, 2 Timothy 4 verse 8 reveals that there is a crown of righteousness laid up for them. One that the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to them on that day. In fact, as Isaiah 28 verse 5 explains, that in that day, the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people. And Isaiah 62 verse 3 says, in return, the Lord’s people will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of their God.

However, for those intoxicated by sin, who foolishly think they will escape judgment, Psalm 68 verse 20 and 21 present a sobering truth. Although God is a God of salvation, and although deliverance from death belongs to him, he will indeed strike the heads of his enemies and condemn the hairy crown of him who persists in his guilty ways. Friends, hair should remind you of God’s Providence in salvation. He made you. You rejected him. He saved you. And if you surrender to him, Christ will be your crown of glory and you will be his. God’s got this, fam. He’s got you covered. Say no more.

Providence while we Tarry

One more thing. There is an interesting association between Luke chapter 12 verses 6 and 7 and Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. It relates to all this talk about sparrows and hair. Let me give you the cliff notes. Those two chapters in Leviticus outline the law regarding the identification and cleansing of leprosy. In Leviticus 13 verse 45, we see that:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes. He shall let his hair hang loose. And he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling place shall be outside of the camp.

It was clearly a tragic thing to be exiled like that. But by God’s Providence, the story does not end there. Leviticus 14 verse 1 assures us that there is indeed a day of cleansing for the leprous person. If a person’s leprous condition were to be healed, and healing was confirmed by a priest, then the law provided that the person could cleansed and restored to the camp. Now this is the fascinating part: The cleansing process actually involved two sparrow-like birds. One bird would be killed in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. The live bird would be dipped in the blood of the sacrificed one, along with some cedarwood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. The person would be sprinkled seven times with the blood. Then the live bird would be released into an open field. And the person being cleansed would shave off all his hair, wash his clothes, and bathe himself. After all that, the person would be allowed to go back into the camp. There would be a guilt offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering – with lambs, or turtledoves, or pigeons. And the priest would make atonement for the person being cleansed.

Now church, what does this bring to mind? Well, here’s something worth noting. The leprous condition – as it was treated under the law – while obviously a physical disease, also served as a vivid metaphor. It was a powerful illustration of the unclean nature of mankind’s persistent sin condition. Now, given that context, what do we think? Doesn’t the killing of the sparrow remind us of the death of Christ? And doesn’t the dipping of the live bird in the blood remind us of washing our robes in the blood of the Lamb? And doesn’t the release of the live bird remind us that God makes the sins of his children fly far away? And doesn’t the shaving of hair remind us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation? The old has passed away. And behold the new has come. Gone is the sinful hairy crown. And doesn’t the priest making atonement remind us that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus himself, the Son of God? And, finally, doesn’t allowing the person back into the camp remind us that God allows his saints to enter into his rest, finally and forever?

Church, I don’t know about you. But the Providence of God and his attention to detail overwhelm me. I now understand why that woman was weeping at the feet of Jesus in Luke 7 verse 38. Why her tears soaked his feet. And why she wiped them with her hair. I think get it. I also think I understand why the scriptures encourage us so earnestly to fear God and not men. It doesn’t matter if those who hate us, because of Christ, are more numerous than the hairs on our heads. It doesn’t matter if strangers, friends, or our own family members threaten to kill us. God will not forsake us. Even if we die, he will keep us well into old age. Not a hair on our heads will perish, says the Lord. But blessed be the man who remains steadfast under trial. For when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life. The crown which God has promised to those who love him. That’s why we wait for the day of his coming!

And the last thing, friends. Did you know that there are over a hundred thousand hair follicles on the human head? That’s a hundred thousand reminders of the Providence of God. Right there on your noggin! Let’s pay attention to detail. And let’s not take Providence for granted. God’s got this, fam. He’s got us covered. Say no more. Let us pray.

Lord let us fear you and nothing else. You are our glory. Thank you for your providence. Amen.

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