The Matthew Series 14. Sheep among wolves
Matthew 10:16-26 English Standard Version (ESV) Persecution Will Come 16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant[a] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign[b] those of his household. Have No Fear 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
I don’t know about you, but I have noticed that there are a lot of stressed out and unhappy people out there! Life is hard right! And so you come to church on a Sunday night to escape the harshness, the craziness of life and get some encouragement and then we read a passage like this! We read passages like this and are confronted with an uncomfortable reality aren’t we? Christianity is not about making our lives better and easy. It seems that Jesus is pointing us to the reality that you must be sure that you know what you are getting yourself into; because the cost of this message is everything. One writer put it like this: “The gospel is free, but will cost you everything.” This seems like a contradiction until you see what is at play in what Jesus is saying; the reality of the message of Christ is simply this; the life Christ calls you to is not easy; but it is good. To encourage you before we dive in, easy things are never truly satisfying! In fact, I would argue it is the things in life that are truly difficult, that stretch us, that break us down a bit are the things that truly build us and make us happy! So let’s dive into the details of this life; firstly Jesus speaks of us as;
1. Helpless and Vulnerable
Jesus opens up this passage with tho ideas that we must beware of men because He is sending His church out as sheep among wolves.
Visualise the image here. What would you expect to see if someone sent out a flock of sheep into a cage full of wolves? It would be carnage! The wolves would rip the poor sheep apart. Why? Because wolves are the dangerous ones and sheep are the prey.
This is how Jesus paints the picture of the church going out because there is a simple reality that he wants to fight in us; triumphalism and the conquering spirit.
You see church, we have a message that truly can and does change the world, it is powerful, it changes the courses of nations; you won’t hear this in the media; but it Christianity that established human rights, strengthened the rights of children, specifically girls. It is Christianity that alone is responsible for the demolishing of the slave trade, the civil rights movement in the 1960 which emancipated black people in the United States.
Christianity established the idea of hospitals, orphanages, care for the old and infirmed. Everywhere the true Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached society changes for good.
Christianity is a great healer of society; but it is a terrible ruler of society; you see the same power for good creates within us a sense of triumphalism; where we want to laude our “goodness” over others. The problem is, as soon as we think that we rule, we lose what makes us good.
You see we are never sent out to conquer, we are sent out to die. We are sheep sent among wolves. Christianity can never be about ruling; it is loving people even unto to death!
The Scriptures never call us to defend ourselves, but to offer our bodies up to be sacrificed to the sake of Christ. We follow our Master who came not to be serve, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
We are sent out as sheep among wolves. Church the call of Christianity has always been to die for those who are out to hate you.
Which leads us to the second point Jesus says as we go we will be;
2. Hated and slandered
Jesus, next tells the disciples and by implication us; beware of people, they will drag you away, they will take you before governors and kings, you will be betrayed by your own family; people will hate you and slander you.
In fact, he gives us the “great encouragement” that 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant[a] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign[b] those of his household.
Don’t be shocked by this; this has always been the call of the church, in fact it is when we live out in this environment that the church gets her focus back. Because, church, our call is not to dominate our society; it is to love it and serve it unto death! In this we emulate our Master.
It was in the great plagues of Rome in 165-180AD, 250-270AD and 541-542AD, call the Antonine Plague, Plague of Cyprian and the Plague of Justinian respectively that cemented Christian influence over the west, because unlike everyone else the Roman empire who would chase away and hide away from the sick, it was Christians who were with the sick; praying for them, caring for them and ministering to them at great personal cost to themselves.
Throughout the history of Christianity it has been Christians who were willing to, at great personal cost, take up the cause of the least; because Jesus called us to care for and help the least.
Did the authorities and those in power, see this and think; what good people, let’s welcome them in? Absolutely not! Christian’s have been murdered brutally, for telling people the truth, they have been dragged into arenas and tortured!
Why? Because Christians didn’t just help people they told people the uncomfortable truth that all men are sinners, that everyone needs to come to Christ for salvation; added to this; because of the belief in a good God, Christians throughout the age have been calling people to run away from sin and rampant immorality because God’s judgment is coming!
People have hated us, killed us, maligned us, and tried to destroy us. But the message of Christ has endured.
Under Atheistic Communism in Russia and China, Christian’s were particularly brutalised; in ways I would not share on a Sunday night; but the message of Christ endures; people still believe and no matter how hard they try; they cannot stop the love of God’s people!
The question that comes to mind in all this is; how can we face this? How can I ask this of you? How can Christ demand this of His disciples?
Well he does not call us to something that He Himself has not endured. Which lead us to my third point;
3. How great a sacrifice!
The great sacrificial love that true Christians have shown throughout the ages, has not been because we are better people, or because we have gained some greater moral truth. It has been because they have experience such forgiveness and mercy! It is in light of the mercy we have received that we have given up our lives willingly for the sake of the message of the gospel.
In Romans 12 Paul gives the same call; he says:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Paul calls us to be living scarifies because of God’s mercy! In other words every day, wake up with the expectation to die for what you believe; and then he says; this is your “true and proper act of worship” the Greek word there is logikos where we get the English world logical.
In other words, to live a life of living sacrifice this is the logical act of worship! How could anything I have said tonight be logical?! Paul is right though; it is, indeed, the only logical way to live!
You see we all are dying for something; we are offering up our lives for some hope of happiness, or satisfaction or dream.
You are sacrificing yourself when you study hard to get into the right university to get the right job. You are sacrificing yourself when you save up your money to buy that thing you so desperately want. You are sacrificing yourself when you give yourself to sex, happiness, pleasure, success, I can go on and on.
The difference is this; where the all these things promise us happiness, significance, hope, they cannot deliver it; because they are not what we want! We want things that are perfect, eternal, absolute; and all these things that we are literally sacrificing for are all temporal, losable, and fallible.
You are sacrificing yourself one way or another! Either it is for the things this world offers, or it is for the things God offers.
The difference is that the world can and will turn on you in a second! You offer your life for fame, and one bad tweet and it all is destroyed! You offer yourself for wealth and security, one turn in the marked, and it is all lost!
Everything we set our hopes on are essentially illusions; and deep down we know it. yet we keep on sacrificing ourselves to it!
Christ, and Christ alone, sacrificed for you! He gave up everything His divine nature! He humbled himself; He gave up his rights of divinity and took upon Himself the evil that you have done; he bore the pain of the consequences of your evil! He lost it all! So that, in Him, you could have it all! The all that he deserved; the happiness, security, joy and completeness that was rightfully His is now available to you because he sacrificed Himself for you!
In light of that great mercy! It has always been in light of that great act of love that the right thing to do, the logical thing to do, the only thing we can do is to live our lives as a sacrifice.
We give up on our comfort, our desires, our dreams, our security because we are His!
So, go out in love, in the love that Christ has shown you and life he showed you real love by dying for you; show real love to the world out there by dying to yourself and truly living for others!