So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
The fear that Jesus speaks to is real for those who he is sending out. The disciples eventually were put to death for proclaiming the good news. These risked all to proclaim Jesus' message. To these, and us, Jesus speaks about trusting God with our very lives. This is a tough message when persecution is at hand.. when a loved one is on their death bed.. when "those who kill the body" knock on our door. There is much to fear in life, yet Jesus tells us to "fear not".
To these disciples, and us, Jesus then speaks to how much we are loved and valued by God. He tells us that God really knows us and even numbers our hair follicles. God knows our capacity to believe when we are faced with fear laden circumstances. Jesus tells us that when we stand up to fear we acknowledge his presence in our lives. When we give in to fear we testify to our lack of faith.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Jesus' words about the consequences of our life choices in the afterlife. I do not believe that Jesus is using a fear of afterlife punishment to motivate his followers to not be afraid. And Jesus is not using the threat of hell to intimidate them or us - fear cannot produce faith. I believe that Jesus mentions hell to give his disciples, and us, a needed eternal perspective about death, persecution and suffering.
Lord, help me to have an eternal perspective. Give me grace to not be afraid.