THE FIFTH SPARROW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-29-79 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio, and in the great throng in this auditorium, will you turn to Luke chapter 12; the twelfth chapter of the Book of Luke, and we are going to read out loud verses 6 through 9 [Luke 12:6-9]. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the title of the message is, The Fifth Sparrow. Are you ready? All of us turning to Luke chapter 12, reading verses 6 through 9, all of us together:
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God:
But he that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.
And the text that gave title to the message: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” [Luke 12:6]. A farthing would be a little tiny copper coin, worth in our money about one half of a cent. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” In our money, about a penny.
Now the title of the sermon came from a comparison of what the Lord said in one of His addresses reported in Matthew, and what the Lord said in the passage you just read in the Book of Luke. In Matthew 10:29 our Lord asks, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” [Matthew 10:29].
Then the passage that we just read: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” [Luke 12:6]. Now look at the arithmetic of that: if two sparrows cost a farthing, then two farthings ought to buy four sparrows. Two sparrows cost a farthing. Then four sparrows ought to be sold for two farthings. But the Lord says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” That fifth sparrow is just thrown in for nothing, to seal a sale, to make a little purchase.
I can just imagine in my mind, in that day when Jesus lived, I can imagine an aged Jewish woman. Let’s say her name is Martha, an aged Jewish woman named Martha. And she is making her trek to the market where the poor buy, walking up a steep narrow alley of a street. And she comes to a little place almost like a cubbyhole in the corner, where a meat-market man sells meat for the poor. He knows exactly what she is going to buy, for she has been there many, many times before, this poor woman named Martha. So as she stands there before the little market, she looks at all of the meat. And she prices all of the lamb, and all of the beef, and all of the pigeons, and turtledoves, and the sparrows. And after she goes through all of that ritual, as she has time without number, she reaches down and takes her apron. And she unties a little knot in the apron and takes out a copper coin, one farthing. And she lays it on the counter to buy two sparrows. And the meat keeper pushes across the counter two sparrows that Martha buys with a farthing.
Then the aged, poor woman, Martha, unties another knot in her apron and takes out another copper coin, a farthing. And she puts it on the counter. And when she does, the meat keeper pushes across the counter two more sparrows. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” [Matthew 10:29].
Then Martha asks in a ritual so ofttimes repeated as to be lifted into a proverb—she asks, “But are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” [Luke 12:6]. So that man who has the little shop takes a fifth sparrow, and he pushes it across the counter for Martha, that the sale might be sealed and the purchase might be made; the fifth sparrow, thrown in for nothing, just to complete the purchase.
And the Lord, seeing that, points out that fifth sparrow. And He says God noticed it, when it fell to the ground [Luke 12:6]—the fifth sparrow, so small, so insignificant, so worthless; then the Lord, pointing it out, says, “But not one of those sparrows that fell to the ground is forgotten before God. And fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows” [Luke 12:7]. So the teaching of our Lord, the fifth sparrow; what apparently is small and worthless and forgotten, but dear and precious to the heart of God.
There are so many things in our world that argue for our worthlessness. For one thing, these advances in astronomy and in modern science. By these electronic telescopes they have been able to sweep the infinitude of the sky. There are great galaxies, billions of times bigger than our Milky Way. There are great galaxies that are billions and billions of light-years away. Light travels at the speed of a hundred eighty-six thousand miles a second. And these are so far away that light, traveling at a hundred eighty-six thousand miles a second, are billions of light-years away.
This universe, God’s creation, has no boundaries; it is immensely immeasurable. And our universe—our Milky Way even—is tucked away in a small insignificant corner of this great infinitude of creation. And in the Milky Way, our earth is a tiny inconsequential speck. And on this earth, we live and die. In the vastness of the macrocosm above us, we seem to be so small, our lives so brief and so worthless.
Many things argue for our worthlessness: modern philosophies and modern political governments. You think of the totalitarian state, whether it is communism or Nazism or fascism, modern political philosophies look upon the individual as being absolutely nothing. A communist state like China or like Russia will sacrifice millions, and millions, and unknown, uncounted billions for the advancement of their ideology. They are literally cannon fodder, the citizens in those totalitarian states.
And it is no less true with modern existential philosophy. The humanistic teaching that lies back of all modern secularism is existentialism. That is, there is no purpose, and there is no worth, and there is no reason back of life. We live like orphans; we live alone in the universe. And how things are ultimately does not matter. There’s no meaning and there’s no purpose in it. That is modern, secular, humanistic philosophy.
So many things argue for our worthlessness; the harsh providences of life, and all of us are introduced to them, and all of us face them. One time, I held a funeral service, and there was not one person present, nobody came, not one. And the funeral director said to me, “Would you go out on the street and persuade somebody to come and to be present in the service, so that if the question is ever asked, whether the dead was buried in decency and in dignity, that somebody would be a witness?”
I went out on the sidewalk. And there happened to be a hamburger stand across the street. And I stopped the hamburger man as he was walking away from his establishment. And I said, “Would you come into the funeral parlor and would you sit down for the memorial service that it might be said, a witness, that the man was buried in dignity and in decency?” So we had the funeral service for that man—one hamburger joint owner present—the worthlessness and the purposelessness of life.
I remember having a service—practically no one present. And when I had finished and stood down there for the little two or three present to come and to look on the face of the deceased, there came forward a poor, wretched, bent, old, rag-dressed woman. And she came and stood over the silent face of that old man, and wept, and took her hands and tenderly stroked his brow. And I just wondered, “Could it be that he did matter to at least one somebody in the earth, even though she was old and poor and bent and ragged?” So much in life argues for our inconsequential, insignificant nothingness.
But this is the Christian faith: the Christian faith is that every man is made in the image of God [Genesis 1:26, 27]; that every soul is of infinite matter and worth to the Lord God who made us, and that Jesus came into the world to die for the humblest and the poorest among us [John 3:17; Hebrews 10:5-14; 1 John 2:2]. And the teaching of our Lord is that fifth sparrow, thrown across the table as though it were nothing, to consummate a purchase, absolutely worthless. But God saw it, and the Lord followed its fall to the ground [Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6].
I’m only a little sparrow,
A bird of low degree
My life is of little value,
But there’s One who cares for me.
I have no barn or storehouse.
I neither sow nor reap,
God gives me a sparrow’s portion,
With never a seed to keep.
My meal is sometimes scanty,
But working makes it sweet.
I have always enough to feed me,
And life is more than meat.
I fly through many a forest,
I light on many a spray.
I have no chart or compass,
But I never lose my way.
I fold my wings at evening,
Wherever I may be.
For the Father is always watching,
And I know He cares for me.
The fifth sparrow, God saw it when it fell to the ground [Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6]. Who are those fifth sparrows? One: a little child is a fifth sparrow. How small a little life, and how helpless, but God watches over that little child. The Lord says the guardian angel of that little child beholds the face of the Father in heaven forever [Matthew 18:10].
How anyone could be cruel to a little child, I could never understand—so small, so helpless, so dependent. God watches over that little child and when you are good to that little child, God sees it. And the Lord writes it in His book in heaven. And it is an eternal remembrance before God, your kindness to that little boy or that little girl. Oh, that we might so remember it!
Did you know I went to a big revival meeting one time? And up there was a big preacher. And as he spoke, he told about his conversion. And when he was presented to the church to be baptized, he said, as a little child he was very, very small for his age, very small. So, when he was accepted on his confession of faith to be baptized, he said, he stood there before the congregation with all of those—to him—big grown people who had come forward. And he said, as he stood there, and the people came by to shake hands with those who had responded, he said, “I put out my little hand, being very, very small, I put out my hand for the people to shake my hand.” And he said, “In all of the throng that passed by, they shook hands with that big man and they shook hands with that beautiful woman. And they shook hands with all of those adults who came forward.” But he said, “There was hardly anyone who reached down to shake my hand, though I held my hand out for the people to tell me they were glad that I also had come.” It is easy to forget that child. Blessed is the pastor, and blessed is the staff member, and blessed are the people of God, who notice that little child.
One of the things that I heard about Dwight L. Moody that I liked, he came back and was asked, “Was anybody saved today?”
He said, “Yes. Two and a half.”
And they said, “Two and a half? What do you mean two and a half?”
“Well,” he said, “Today at the service, I had a man and I had two little children.”
And he explained, “The man, half of his life has been given to the world, and so just half of him was saved for God. But,” he said, “the two little ones, they were saved, and all of their lives now are hid with Christ in the Lord Jesus; two and a half!”
Blessed is the church that will magnify the care and the ministry to little children. Isn’t that what the Lord said to Simon Peter who represents the shepherdly ministry of our Lord in the church? “Simon, Simon, lovest thou Me?”
And Peter replied, “Lord, You know that I love You.”
Then the Master said, “Feed My lambs. Take care of My sheep” [John 21:15].
Then He said the second time and the third time: “Simon, lovest thou Me?”
And he said, “Lord, You know that I love You.”
Then the Lord said, “Shepherd My sheep. Shepherd My sheep.” But first, the Lord said, “Take care of My lambs. Take care of My little ones” [John 21:16-17].
You know as I go over this world, preaching the gospel in evangelistic conferences, in pastor’s meetings, in national convocations, I’m asked, world without end, “When you went to the church in Dallas, how did you do? How did you start?”
I said, “I started exactly where the Lord Jesus said to start. I started with our little children.” When I came here, they had one big nursery, an enormous area back there, just one. And that’s where I started. I started multiplying those nurseries.
I asked her tonight, “How many do we have now?” We have sixteen. May the Lord grant it that someday we have thirty-two. “Take care of My lambs” [John 21:15]. The fifth sparrow is that tiny little baby and that precious little child growing up in your home, and growing up here in this dear church.
The fifth sparrow, who is that fifth sparrow? That fifth sparrow is an old man or an old woman that the world has forgotten. Oh dear, it is so easy for us to neglect and to forget these who in days past were stalwarts and strong in the church! Now they are old and decrepit, and they are pushed aside in some place where they are just cared for, and that’s all. As the days pass, their friends are gone or are ill and so many times there are tendencies on the part of modern families to take their older people and push them aside, and forget them.
Who is that fifth sparrow? That fifth sparrow is that old man and that old woman that weeps in loneliness all night long. And Dr. Leon Simpson, who is seated there next to me, your great assignment as our minister to adults is to help us remember in loving prayer, in precious ministry, these who have served God so faithfully in days past and now are unable even to walk anymore. Use us. We’re here by the thousands in this church. Use us. Let’s go see them. Let’s go read God’s Word to them. Let’s kneel down and pray by their sides. Let’s keep them in our loving remembrance as long as God gives them breath. The eye of the Lord is upon them; that fifth sparrow is an aged man, an aged woman.
Who is that fifth sparrow? That fifth sparrow is the downtrodden, and the neglected, and the forgotten, and the poor. No church, in my persuasion, will ever be ultimately blessed who forgets the poor. The Lord preached the gospel to the poor—one of the signs of His messianic ministry [Matthew 11:2-5].
And our people, for the most part, do not realize how extensive is our ministry to the poor of this city. We have chapels all through the city. We have preachers who are now preaching the gospel, right this minute, in sub-marginal areas of this city. And every time you make a gift to this church, a large part of it goes for the ministry to the poor in our city. We invest more than five-hundred-thousand dollars a year in those ministries to the poor in our city, and I rejoice in it! Every time I make an offering to this church, I rejoice to think that a worthy proportion of that goes for the ministry to the poor in our city. And the Lord says, “The poor ye have with you always” [Mark 14:7]. There will never be a time when all of the people are affluent. Some of them will always be poor.
Let me tell you something that maybe contributes to that in my own attitude. When I was in Baylor, I loved courses that those pre-med fellows took, getting ready to be a doctor. I told you that my mother’s father was a doctor. And she taught me to say when I was a little fellow growing up—you know, they put your hand on your head when you’re a little bitty guy and they say, “What are you going to be when you grow up to be big?”—she taught me to say, “I’m going to be a doctor like my grandfather.” And that’s what she taught me to say.
So when I was in Baylor, I loved to take those courses that were taught those pre-med students down there at Baylor. Well, one of them was called “the cat course.” You had to go out and run down a cat. And then you took the thing and put it in some kind of a tin can and smothered it, put chloroform all over it. And it went to sleep—forever. And then you skinned it. And then you stuck it in a barrel of formaldehyde. And then every day of the week we’d pull out that skinned cat in formaldehyde. And we would follow through all of its nervous system and follow through all of its circulatory system, and follow through all of its gizzard, and its insides and outsides and everything, and write it and learn about it and take a test on it. Well, that’s the cat course. It was a course in anatomy.
Well, in those days Baylor was up there on Fourth, and Fifth, and Sixth and Seventh Avenues. It was up there, you know. And then down there, just beyond, from Fourth Avenue down to the Brazos River, was a slum section of the city—rather extensive section, poor, poor people.
Well, I went down there to get my cat. So when I chased it under a house and finally cornered it under a house, why, I got it in my tow sack and had it across my back, going back up to Baylor with my cat. As I went back up the street, going to school, why, I passed a shanty of a house, just like many others there, but this one especially bad. And there were two or three black people standing around. And I stopped and spoke to them. And I asked them, “What you doing?”
And they said, “There’s an old black man who lives in this shanty. And he lives there by himself. And we are just standing here waiting until he dies. He’s dying, and he’s dying now. And we’re just waiting until he dies.”
Well, I went on up the street with my cat. But somehow, that stayed in my mind. They were standing around waiting for that old man to die. And they said, “He’s dying now.” And I begin to think, was he saved? Did anybody say anything to him about Jesus? Anybody talk to him about heaven? Anybody talk to him about how it might be on the other side, anybody there to minister?
They said, “He was in there by himself, dying.”
That just stayed in my heart. And you know what I did? Out of the remembrance of that man, dying in that poor shanty, for the rest of the years I was in Baylor, every afternoon, every afternoon, from two to four or two to five o’clock, every afternoon, I took my Bible and I went down there in all of that slum section of the city of Waco. And I knocked at those doors every afternoon, from two o’clock to four, or two o’clock to five, and I would introduce myself. “I’m a young minister of the gospel,” I’d say, “and my name is . . . .” And then I’d ask, “Could I come in and talk to you about Jesus? And could I read the Bible to you, and could I kneel with you and pray?”
I was never refused. In all of the years I did that, not one time was I ever refused. And some of the sweetest, dearest, most heavenly experiences any young fellow could ever know were mine, as I visited among those poor in the city. Dear people, if I could do it, and if I had an opportunity, I would love to go to every house of the poor in the city of Dallas, and knock at the door, and pray with them, and read the Bible to them, and talk to them about Jesus. The fifth sparrow is somebody who is poor. A lot of reasons why people are poor, and a lot of those reasons lie outside of themselves. I must close. It’s far beyond the time.
Who is that fifth sparrow? That fifth sparrow is somebody who is lost; they don’t know Jesus, they’ve never been introduced to the Lord, and we pass them by. Could be a milkman that comes to your house, could be a laundry man who stops at your door, could be a yardman, mowing the grass, cutting the hedge; it could be the man to whom you take your car when you have it mended or washed or repaired. Could be that fellow that works by your side; it could be that girl who waited on you at the store. It could be that neighbor next door.
The fifth sparrow is that somebody who is lost. And Jesus died for them [John 3:16, 6:51; 1 John 2:2]. They are precious in His sight. And He has saved me that I might witness to them. How tender and how beautifully precious is the love of God poured out onto this world! He made dear our families, and our homes, and our children, and our fathers and mothers, and our poor as well as our rich—all are precious in His sight. That’s the gospel and it’s the dearest and most comforting of all of the messages in this earth: that God cares for us.
And that’s our invitation to your heart tonight. In the balcony round, a family, a couple, a somebody you; in the press of people in this lower floor, a couple, a family, or one somebody you, “Tonight, God has spoken to my heart, and I want to take Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. “I want to come into the fellowship of this dear church.” “On a confession of faith as God has written in His Holy Word, I want to be baptized [Matthew 28:19]. I want to belong to the family of the Lord.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision, and do it now. Down one of these stairways, down one of the aisles, “Here I am, preacher. God has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life [Ephesians 2:8], and here I stand.” Take your sweetheart or your wife by the hand and say, “Dear, let’s go.” The whole family, “Pastor, my wife and my children; all of us are coming tonight.” Or just one somebody you. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor.” May angels—“The angels have led me in the way; God has spoken to me, and the Holy Spirit has encouraged me to come, and here I am.” Do it. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
sparrows for a farthing; five for two farthings (Luke
12:6-9, Matthew 10:29)
The market scene in Jerusalem
Lord points out the fifth sparrow
Apparently small, worthless, forgotten; but dear and precious to the heart of
II. So much argues for our worthlessness
A. The disclosures of
B. Modern philosophies
C. The harsh
providences of human life
III. The words of Jesus
A. Jesus came into the
world to die for the humblest and poorest among us
B. God saw the fifth
sparrow when it fell to the ground
1. Poem, “I’m
Only a Little Sparrow”
IV. Who are those fifth sparrows?
A. A little child
is the church that will magnify care and ministry to children (John 21:15-17)
B. The aged
C. The downtrodden,
poor (Matthew 26:11)
1. Poor man dying