Sheep Among the Wolves

Intro: What is going on? What will the life of Jesus’ disciples look like in 10 years, the next generation? What can we expect? The events of the past few years have given us reason to be concerned about the future. Maybe we wonder what God is doing, and how we should react.

I am convinced that many who claim to follow Christ are perplexed because they do not understand the nature of their own calling, and the job that God has called them to do. They have never faced persecution, never been on the outside, never been tested in the mainstream of their lives. But things are changing. Is it possible that you and I will be put in jail for taking a visible stand for the word of God?

I. Behold I Send You Out… Much of Jesus personal teaching was for the purpose of preparing his Apostles for the job He called them to accomplish. Although their commission was unique and involved the direct companionship of the Holy Spirit, His words to them provide lessons for us as well. How does Jesus want us to do our job of teaching the lost? In Matthew 10Jesus sends out the 12 apostles on the limited commission. Matt 10:5-75 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ This is a preparation exercise for the coming task of taking the gospel message to the whole world as recorded in chapter 28. He sends them out to the Israelite cities to preach a specific message of the coming kingdom. “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (vs. 7). Now Jesus did not send them out empty-handed. Matt 10:1– He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. They were witnessing Jesus work miracles and his increasing popularity. They may have anticipated an easy task with few obstacles.

A. Jesus tells them what to expect. Notice the specific and comprehensive nature of Jesus’ instructions. He tells them where to go, and not go, what to preach, what to take, or not take with them. He even gives them precise instructions on how to respond to their audience – Matthew 10:12-15 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

1. He calls on these disciples to be discerning. Let your peace be upon it… and Let your peace return to you” were an Oriental expressions signifying bestowal or withdrawal of favor or blessing. Those who would accept the message would be blessed by God, but those who do not accept the message could not be blessed by God. God’s gospel is offered to all the world, and it has power to save all the world, but it is powerless to save or help even a single person who will not respond to the message of the gospel. – John 5:40 – 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. Jesus’ words of instruction emphasized the personal responsibility of the people to listen and respond to the message, and took the weight off the disciples themselves (shake the dust off your feet, v. 14). Our task is not about us, for glory or blame. It is the message that matters.

II. As Sheep in the Midst of Wolves. Where was Jesus sending them? Read that again. Jesus does not just say they will be like sheep among the wolves, He says He is sending them there! What shepherd sends the sheep where the wolf roams? It is not natural or consistent with their nature for sheep to voluntarily walk into the wolves’ own den. And it is unnatural for a shepherd to send his sheep into such certain peril. Yet that is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sends His disciples–into the hostile world of ungodly souls, because that is where they can serve Him best and be most effective in winning others to Him. God is willing to put you in danger to get the message out. This is the nature of this job that many today do not see.

Rarely-are Christians called to take up their crosses and follow Christ in moving out into the world as sheep led to slaughter. The popular appeal is to ease, comfort, riches, advancement, and ambition–and the church often uses that kind of enticement to motivate unbelievers to trust in Christ and to motivate believers to follow Him. But Jesus makes no such offer. To the disciple He promises hardship, suffering, and death. – John MacArthur.

A. The very characterization of sheep may have been surprising to these disciples. Jesus had just spoken of the nation of Israel as “weary and scattered, like sheep have no shepherd” (9:36) They may have seen themselves more as the needed shepherds rather than sheep. After all, they were the ones with the truth and the power of God. But Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding. This will not be an easy task, and taking God’s message to a lost world in risky business. What are the risks?

1. Rejection: Matt. 10:1717 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. I wonder if there were some who wanted to back out? Could it be possible that God would give them miraculous powers, and yet allow them to be scourged for using them? Everyone who takes the truth to a dark world risks rejection. In fact, most of our efforts to convert the sinner or restore the wayward Christian will fail. Jesus promises these disciples that they will be opposed with violence and injustice. The government of their own people will punish them for the message they preach. We must recognize risks involved. The mockery and harsh looks we have already experienced may be nothing compared to what lies ahead. Jesus sends you out. Will you go, or will you turn back?

2. Estrangement: Matt 10:21-22 –21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved…. Vs. 34-37 – “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. These are some of the most difficult words that Jesus ever voiced. Isaiah called Jesus the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and the Jews did not expect their Messiah to cause such division. But the preaching of the truth to a lost world would be divisive. Even to the point of dividing families.

a. Some of us here today may have suffered estrangement from dear friends and family because of the gospel. Our ability to teach our family is gone and even the mention of the church creates further animosity. Galatians 4:1616 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? For the apostles and early Christians, the estrangement was a matter of life and death. Christians were betrayed to the authorities by their own families and put to death. But Jesus understood such betrayal. Christians are never called to create disharmony or animosity. We must pursue peace with all men. But the truth itself will divide men. Holding to the truth is set in opposition to human relationships. Do you love God more than anyone else? How is the Christian to view such discouraging information?

III. Harmless Wisdom: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”(vs. 16) I don’t think you can fully appreciate this verse unless you know your animals. (sheep, wolves, serpents, doves). Jesus demands that they exhibit “harmless wisdom”.

A. Wise as Serpents: n the ancient world serpents represented wisdom or cunning. The word “shrewd” is a good description. This seems to involve 2 important attitudes and abilities:

1. The apostles were not to be naïve or ignorant of the ways of the world (wolves). God has always been willing to let us know what we were committing ourselves to. We are to prepare ourselves so as to be able to answer the scoffer and seeker alike. Paul elsewhere said that Christians should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11) (this is why we study such things as Calvinism, and take notice of supreme court decisions; we have no political agenda, but need to be wise concerning the wolves). We need to do our homework in the scriptures, so as to be able to make the truth plain to others, especially when it is being maligned. Acts 18 describes Apollos as a man mighty in the Scriptures, who after he learned the way of the truth more accurately, vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:24, 28)

B. Harmless as Doves: But the apostles were to teach is such a way as to do no harm. Doves represent peacefulness and purity. A dove posed no threat to others. Uncompromising preaching does not require or include abrasiveness, rudeness or belligerence.

1. The basic idea is that of saying the right thing at the right time and place. To act appropriately to achieve the highest good. 1 Peter 3:14-16– 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

2. Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for him at the end of his letter to them. Col 4:2-6Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, 4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. We need to speak with grace – [To speak with grace means to say what is spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, purposeful, complementary, gentle, truthful, loving, and thoughtful. – MacArthur] using words that seasoned with salt [words that heal, halt corruption, and are accepted easily by others]

IV. Fearless Conviction: Matt 10:26-28 – 26 Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. One of the chief obstacles we face in our life as disciples is fear. We fear losing popularity, prosperity, peace and approval of others. Satan’s efforts to intimidate Christians are escalating around us. It may be that God is sifting us.

A. Disciples ought to have the courage to shout their faith from the rooftop and not just whisper it in the closet: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). The message is what matters.

B. But Jesus call for courage is not spoken in a vacuum. (Notice the “therefore” at the beginning of verse 26) He demands courage in the face of persecution because He has led the way. Twice (v. 18, 22) He tells them that what they are going to endure (rejection & persecution) are for “His sake”. In vs. 25, He says if they call the Master of the house a devil, they will certainly call you that.

• John 15:18-21 – “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘AA servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

C. Our Persecution is an opportunity to trust God more. Matthew 10:19-20 – 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Don’t worry about what you will say, I will do all the talking. This is a clear reference to the inspiration promised to the apostles, but the Christian today can have confidence and peace (as opposed to anxiety) when he allows the Spirit to speak for him through the scriptures. Trust in God’s word.

Conclusion: At the end of Chapter 10 Jesus presents one of the great paradoxes of all scripture. It fits well into our discussion here. Matt 10:3939 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. The uncommitted Christian, when faced with persecution of the greatest order, will be tempted to deny Jesus in order to save his life. If we deny Him He will deny us (Matt 10:32-33 – “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.)

But there is a reward to being faithful to God. He who loses his life for my sake will find it. It is obvious that Jesus uses the word “life” in 2 different senses here. Physical life may run counter to spiritual life – you must denounce one to obtain the other. But the clear teaching is that it is worth it. Are you ready to lose your present way of life on Earth for Christ that you might find a better life.

• 1 Peter 4:14-16 – 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.