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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bird Watching and Learning to Trust

John Stott is one of my heroes of the faith. He died just a few years ago. He was a pastor in London for many years and a brilliant author and preacher. One of the things he was known for was bird watching and he had this to say about this text in his commentary on the passage I preached from in Sunday’s sermon at Bethany Place from Matthew 6:19-34.

Next, Jesus turns to the subhuman world and argues the other way round. He uses birds as an illustration of God’s supply of food (26) and flowers to illustrate his supply of clothing (28–30). In both cases he tells us to ‘look at’ or ‘consider’ them, that is, to think about the facts of God’s providential care in their case. Some readers may know that I happen myself to have been since boyhood an enthusiastic bird-watcher. I know, of course, that bird-watching is regarded by some as a rather eccentric pastime; they view the likes of me with quizzical and patronizing amusement. But I claim biblical warrant for this activity. ‘Consider the fowls of the air,’ said Jesus according to the AV, and this in basic English could be translated ‘watch birds’! Indeed, I am quite serious, for the Greek verb in his command (emblepsate eis) means ‘fix your eyes on, so as to take a good look at’.17 If we do take an interest in birds and flowers (and we should surely, like our Master, be gratefully aware of the natural world around us), then we will know that although birds neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them, and that although the lilies of the field (anemones, poppies, irises and gladioli have all been suggested as alternatives to lilies, although the reference may be general to all the beautiful spring flowers of Galilee) … neither toil nor spin, yet our heavenly Father clothes them, indeed more gorgeously than Solomon in all his glory. This being so, can we not trust him to feed and clothe us who are of much more value than birds and flowers? Why, he even clothes the common grass which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven!

‘You see,’ writes Martin Luther with great charm, ‘he is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher It is as if he were saying “I prefer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host. Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand.”

Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 164). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

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