Sermons

November 17, 2013

The Outward Church: Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Bruce Power (North Campus) | (Downtown Campus) | (South Campus) | | Matthew 10:16-25

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 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. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 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.


“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 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 those of his household.—Matthew 10:16–25

Introduction

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” There’s the main point of this passage. But what happens when wolves encounter sheep? Here’s a couple recent examples:

In August 2013, Egypt faced what has been called the the worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries: 38 churches were destroyed, 23 vandalized; 58 homes and 85 shops were burned and looted, 16 pharmacies and 3 hotels were demolished; and 6 Christians were killed in the violence and 7 were kidnapped.

The bloodiest attack on Christians in Pakistan's history occurred in September 2013. Two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel-laden vests outside All Saints' Church in the old city of Peshawar. Choir members and children attending Sunday school were among 81 people killed. The attack left 120 people wounded, with 10 of them in critical condition.

And lest you think it’s confined to foreign lands, I’d suggest we pay close attention to the seismic cultural shifts in attitude toward Christianity in the West. A few examples: In the past 20 years or so we’ve seen homosexuality move from a scandalous sin to an accepted, “normal” behavior that’s considered good and right for those so inclined. Marriage has been successfully redefined into meaninglessness in many states, and more are moving that direction. And those who speak out against such redefinitions (that would be us) are shamed into silence or marginalized as bigots. Laws that flow out from such new paradigms can and will be eroding religious freedom.

In Germany the government is cracking down on parents who homeschool their children, even forcibly taking their children from them. This is under a law against homeschooling that was first passed in 1938—when Adolf Hitler was in charge. Not only has the law not been repealed, it was actually strengthened in 2007. Now they’re enforcing it.

Then there’s the systematic silencing of Christian scientists in academia who actually believe that God created the universe. In a great example of a no-win situation, peer-reviewed journals refuse to publish their articles, and then these scientists are disrespected and disdained because they have never been published in peer-reviewed journals.

I could go on, and I’ll give a couple more examples in a few minutes. These examples might not seem so bad right now. But they mark a significant shift in the climate of our culture’s attitude toward Christianity. The cultural you share the gospel with now is, for the most part, not favorably disposed to the message you’re sharing. The wolves are circling.

Last week, Pastor David gave us several motivations to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Our passage today looks at what that might cost us. And yet, in the midst of it, Jesus gives us some great encouragements to do it anyway. 

Now, some self-disclosure here: when it comes to evangelism, I’m hardly a shining role model. Like many of you, I struggle with the fear of man. I admit it: I want to be liked. And proclaiming Jesus in our culture is quickly becoming a way not only to be unpopular but even to be marginalized, ignored, hated, and despised. So, what does Jesus say to us timid sheep?

Here’s how we’ll approach this text. I’m going to ask three questions of the text:

  1. Why does Jesus send out his sheep into the midst of wolves? 
  2. What will happen to us? 
  3. Given the bleak prospects, what encouragement does Jesus give us to go?

Then we’ll close with some applications for us as we set out to obey our Lord.

1. Why does Jesus send out His sheep into the midst of wolves?

Look at this statement in verse 16; Jesus says “Behold, I send you out.” Let me stop there for a moment. He sends us out. He doesn’t say we should huddle together in our little sheepfolds. Our small groups, our churches, our home school co-ops, our Bible studies, our nice, safe fellowship functions. Those are fine, and we need to be together to encourage one another. But, at some point, we must go out, Jesus is sending us out. Jesus does not want us to hide in the safety of our little Christian bubbles all the time.

But look further: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” What a stunning statement. What shepherd sends his sheep out to pasture when there are wolves around? Or sends them out into a woods infested with wolves? What’s the life expectancy of a sheep when it’s surrounded by wolves? Isn’t Jesus the “good shepherd"? What’s he doing? 

To see the answer, go back up to verses 5-7. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand."

The reason he sends us out to the wolf-infested world is because there are lost sheep out there. They need to hear the message of the kingdom and how to enter it. Jesus instructs his disciples not to go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans. Only to Israel. We know from Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8 that Jesus later expands the geographical scope of the mission to include the “all the nations” and the “ends of the earth.” But the purpose of the mission remains the same: find the lost sheep. The fact that Jesus confines the scope to just Jews at this point actually makes the force of this passage more meaningful to us. This whole text (10:5-42) is often used as a missions text. But actually Jesus starts out giving these instructions to those who are going out to their own neighbors, friends, and relatives. They’re going to people who look like them and talk like them. People of their own culture.

And it’s still hugely risky. It’s dangerous, and Jesus doesn’t hide the danger from us. The only way we’ll survive even for a little while is if we’re wise as serpents and innocent as doves. The word “wise” refers to a practical wisdom. We are sheep, but the Lord doesn’t expect us to be stupid. He expects us to have creative, practical wisdom in getting the gospel to our culture. The word “innocent” means harmless, guileless. We might say authentic, you are on the inside what you appear to be on the outside. You’re not faking it. Your walk matches your talk. So, Jesus wants us to apply practical wisdom to how we approach the wolves and back it up with an authentic, real Christian life.

2. What will happen to us?

In verse 17, Jesus drops the animal metaphors and does some straight talking with his disciples and with us. He answers the question that’s on all their minds, because they all realize the prospects for sheep in the midst of wolves is not good. How does that translate into real life for them and for us today? 

In verses 17-18 Jesus begins with a general warning: “Beware of men.” Beware doesn’t mean we should (or even can) avoid them. It just means we need to go into this mission with our eyes wide open to what may happen. Jesus is not in the sugar coating business. He gives 5 specific warnings of what the wolves will do to us:

  1. First, we will be delivered into the hands of authorities both civil and religious.

For they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.

If you are a Christian business owner and don’t want to offer coverage for abortifacient contraceptives in your health care plan for your employees, you may end up in court. If you are Christian photographer or baker, and you refuse to do a same-sex marriage on the grounds of moral conscience, you will likely be sued and perhaps forced to close your business.

These examples might not seem like much persecution (unless you’re the business owner). It’s not being thrown in jail for preaching the gospel. It’s more subtle. It’s a slow, intolerant gnawing away at the moral convictions of us sheep. We are the proverbial frog in the kettle, and the heat is being turned up slowly. 

  1. Second, there will be family breakdown.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.

It hasn’t reached the point of death yet in our culture (it has in other cultures) but, the gospel can and does break up families. There is family breakdown and betrayal because of Jesus and the message of the kingdom. It may happen in more subtle ways right now. Maybe it’s happened to you. A brother or sister who won’t talk to you anymore. Parents who are tired of you talking to them about Jesus. Children who have walked away from the truth and no longer talk to you because they don’t want to hear what you have to say. Jesus is clear in verses 34-37 that he brings a sword even to families. Being a Christian may cost you family relationships, and Jesus is crystal clear about that. Be careful you don’t idolize the family lest the sword cut down your idol.

  1. Third, we’ll be hated.

and you will be hated by all for my name's sake.

Popular atheist authors are not satisfied simply stating their case for why they reject God, they often accuse religion, especially Christianity, of being the root cause of most evil, war, and poverty in the world. They don’t just disagree with us, they hate us. These are not fringe weirdos doing this, they’re intelligent and articulate and their books are regular bestsellers.

  1. Fourth, we’ll be called evil and devils.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 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 those of his household.

in vss 24-25 Jesus lays down a principle and then applies that principle. The principle is that "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master." Now here’s the application:"If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."

Jesus is alluding to what the Pharisees will actually do to him. In Matthew 12:24, after Jesus had just cast out a demon, the Pharisees said of him, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” This name “Beelzebul” was a name commonly used in Jesus' time in reference to Satan, the prince of demons. They were saying that Jesus was possessed by Satan. All Jesus is saying is, “If that’s what they say about me, you can expect the same.”

  1. Fifth, they may kill us."

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.

The implication here is that some of us will be killed. This has been happening throughout the history of the church. It’s happening today in many parts of the world. It’s not happening here yet, but don’t deceive yourself that it can’t or won’t.

3. What encouragement does Jesus give us to pursue these lost sheep?

Or, why should we be happily bold in our testimony anyway?

Let’s begin in vs. 26: “So have no fear of them.” What? After what you just said, Jesus, how am I not supposed to fear them? I’m afraid enough when I think that I just won’t be liked or accepted by my classmates or at the office. But now you’re talking even worse stuff than that? How can you say have no fear of them? How do sheep go out into the midst of wolves and have no fear?

In many places in scripture, the Lord tells us to “fear not,” and usually it’s followed by the reason “for I am with you” or some similar statement. Here, Jesus unpacks for us a little of what it means that he is with us.

  1. We will be vindicated.

Verse 26 says, “for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” The “for” is the reason we need not fear them. Their deeds will be exposed. There will be vindication at the last judgment for all that we endure for Christ’s sake. It may be subtle and hidden, as it is in our culture now. It may be well disguised by totalitarian governments, but on that day, all the truth will come out, and justice will be done by the perfect, holy, just God of the universe.

  1. The Father cares for us.

Jesus reminds us just how much the Father cares for us in verses 29-31:

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.

This is why, even as we go out a sheep in the midst of wolves who want to devour us, we can trust that our loving Father designs all that comes our way, both good and bad, for his glory and our ultimate good. But remember that he’s also concerned about those lost sheep. Since we are already heirs of eternal life, he is not being uncaring to send us out. He’ll have all eternity to comfort us for whatever we suffer here. Right now there are  lost sheep to find.

  1. Jesus will acknowledge us before the Father.

Verse 32 says, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” Whatever we suffer for identifying with Jesus in this life will fade to nothing when Jesus ushers us before the Father and says, “This is one of my own, Father.” There’s also a corresponding warning here that if we deny him, he will deny us before the Father. So, there is both positive and negative motivation to acknowledge him before men.

  1. God is sovereign.

He is sovereign even in what we may endure as we witness for him. We see this authority in his sending: “Behold, I am sending you out.” This is not a suggestion. He’s not looking for volunteers. This is the commander of the army sending out his soldiers. This is the head of the Church telling his people what their mission is. It’s a mission behind enemy lines. It’s dangerous, but the reward is great. Verss 39 says that if we lose our life, we’ll find it.

Next, we see this sovereignty in the fact that there is purpose in what we suffer. In the second half of verse 18, he says the reason we’re brought before authorities is “to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”

We see God’s sovereignty again over the very words we’ll say in such situations. In verses 19-20, he says we don’t need to be anxious about what we’re going to say in those difficult situations. The Holy Spirit will speak through us. We need words to bear witness to Christ, and that’s exactly what Jesus promises us.

Finally, we see this sovereignty in Jesus statement in verse 22b that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” And who will endure to the end? His sheep. How do we know? Hear what Jesus promises in John 10:27-28:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Suffering is a way we bear witness for Jesus. But it’s not only that, it’s also something that produces endurance in us. So, the sovereign Lord is working not only to find his lost sheep through us but also to sanctify and strengthen his found sheep in the process.

  1. They can only kill you.

Really, Jesus presents this as an encouragement. The worst they can do is kill your body. They can’t touch your soul.

Application

Finally, let’s apply what we’ve learned here in some practical ways. Not just in some future, coming persecution, but right now in the more subtle, gentler forms of it we experience even now.

  1. Accept that being identified with Jesus is going to become increasingly dangerous in our culture. Don’t be surprised by it. Don’t pine for the “good old days” when Christianity formed a shared moral and cultural base in our society. The sooner we accept this and begin to learn to bear witness in this new “post-Christian” culture, the more effective sheep-finders we’ll be. This is part of being wise as serpents.
  2. Get out among the wolves. It’s fine and good to periodically retreat into the safety of our Christian fellowship for healing, encouragement, teaching, and refreshing. But we dare not stay there, or we are in disobedience. Jesus sends us out. Think creatively with your family or your small group about how you can get out in the community, build relationships (yes, dangerous ones) with unbelievers, and be on mission searching for lost sheep and proclaiming the kingdom.
  3. Sharing about Jesus this holiday season may make enemies in your family, and that’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. I certainly don’t mean that it’s okay to be brash, tactless, and preachy in our sharing. But the gospel is offensive to unbelievers by its very nature. It may cost you in your relationships. Don’t let that stop you.
  4. Hand out some of these invitations and invite unbelievers to the Christmas program.
  5. Speak fearlessly and proclaim Him on the housetops. This is what Jesus says in verse 27, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Here’s the message of the kingdom: The king has come, and he lived a perfectly righteous life for you and died for your sins. He calls you to trust in him alone for eternal life in that kingdom. In spite of all the painful warnings Jesus gives us of what it will cost to do this, and in spite of the fact that the wolves will seek to devour us in all the ways Jesus describes here, he says to do it anyway and to do it loudly and boldly.

May the Lord give us grace to shout it from the housetops and endure to the end.

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