I Send You out as Sheep among Wolves
Jesus called his twelve disciples to do a great work. He commissioned them to go out into the world and preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. Along with His call, Jesus also gave them His authority to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits. He gave them power to work miracles for the confirmation of the gospel. They were to use this power to do good because they were sent by a good God whose mercy is over all His work.
Jesus told his twelve disciples to go to the “lost sheep of Israel”. (Matthew 10:6) But later Jesus’ followers would be called to go out to the rest of the world with the Christian message (Mark 10:11-14). These twelve disciples were called “apostles” because they were the very first ones to go out and spread the gospel, but we all follow in their footsteps. Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions, recorded in Matthew 10 about how to behave and what to expect on their journeys, were meant for all of His followers in every generation as they go out to be His people and witness in the world.
Jesus began by telling His disciples not to take money or bags or extra clothes along as they went out. The people they would be blessing with Gods’ message would supply their needs. These very first missionaries were to depend upon God to provide and make a way for them. They were called to walk by faith and not by sight. To remember that they had been called by God and He would be with them. And I believe we followers today are called to walk by faith as well.
When the disciples would arrive in a town they were told to look for people there who had a heart for God and to politely ask if they might stay with these Godly folks while they were preaching and healing. The disciples were to bless the house they stayed in with God’s peace. The family who hosted them would reap the benefits of God’s blessing. But if the family or the whole town rejected Jesus’ disciples and threw them out, those folks would lose out on that special blessing. (Matthew 10:11-14) Great blessings can be lost by neglecting what God has prepared for us. Scripture says: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3)
Bible scholars believe that Christ’s words to His twelve disciples were also words meant for all of His disciples down through the ages. We followers of Christ in every generation have all been given the commission to go into the world and preach the gospel. (Mark 16:15) Jesus calls all of His followers down through the ages to share the news of salvation with others and pray for the sick, feed the hungry and help the poor.
And Jesus also warned all of His followers both past and present that there would be sufferings and persecutions that go along with this work of spreading the gospel. Let’s listen to some of Jesus’ warnings to His followers in Matthew 10. “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be a wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Be on guard against people: because they may hand you over to the local councils and whip you in their synagogues. “ (Matthew 10:16-17) We can be imprisoned and beaten and shamed and prosecuted just because we are Christians.
Jesus tells us that we will be persecuted by some people in this world because we are “not of this world”. We are new creations in Christ and we have the Holy Spirit in us. So we don’t quite fit into the old secular worldly system anymore. Christ calls all of His own to this commission to share the gospel and do good. But we are sent out like “sheep among ravenous wolves”. And like policemen and firemen who can face danger and even death every day in the course of doing their duties, the followers of Christ can also face danger and death as they go out to be God’s people in the world.
Jesus spoke about this mystery here: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belong to the world, it would love you as its own. But now you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) When we are surrounded by this hate we are to be “wise as serpents” and remember that Jesus told us to expect this. But also we are to be as “harmless as doves” and not strike back with more hate.
Jesus goes on to say: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child: children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All people will hate you because of Me, but he or she who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” (Matthew 10:21-23a) There is a spiritual battle going on between good and evil, light and darkness, and the heavenly kingdom and the worldly kingdom. And this spiritual conflict can even occur between members of the same family! Christ was betrayed and led off to death not by an outsider but by the kiss of one of His most trusted and beloved disciples. So we can experience this sorrow also.
If we are to reign with Christ we must also suffer with Him. Christ will faithfully be with us through the periods in life of shame and sorrow and pain. The dark night of the soul will not be long. We Christians are His witnesses in this world not only in our doing work but in our suffering work. It is one of God’s mysteries. Jesus reminds us that: “Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses his/her life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Perhaps we will be best prepared to follow Christ through the bad times when we learn to hold loosely the things of this life.