The 17th Sunday After Pentecost September 23, 2007
540, 473, 449, 413(5-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 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; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 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. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ:
There are many situations in which we may have heartache when we send our children off into the new and unknown. At the same time there may be much trepidation on the part of those who are being sent off. Some examples are: dropping your child off at school or putting him on the bus for the first day of kindergarten, saying goodbye as your children leave for summer camp, and turning to go back to your house after you have dropped your children off for college—or even high school if they are going to Immanuel Lutheran High School n Eau Claire. At the same time we would not willingly put our children in harm’s way. Even if our children balk or even throw a tantrum at a new situation, deep down they know that we wouldn’t want to hurt them. In fact, if we let go of them it is for the very reason that we’re putting them into a situation that’s helpful to them, and we will do what we can to prepare them for it.
As children of God we can have even more confidence than children have in their earthly parents. The Lord will not put us or lead us into situations that are harmful to our souls. That is not to say that we won’t find ourselves in dangerous situations. After all, we are still in this sinful world. We are in an environment that is hostile to the Christian. We’ve heard Jesus say that He is sending us as sheep into the midst of wolves. However, He prepares us for that very thing. He warns us of the danger. He equips us so that we will not be harmed and He lets us know the final outcome so that we have courage and hope. May the Holy Spirit renew hope within us today as we study His Word.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make as Christians is to think that the unbelieving world is our friend. If we think in those terms than we will think differently and we will act differently. We will cozy up to what is dangerous for our souls. Jesus says in verse 16, “Behold, I send out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” The description of wolves and sheep is to draw our attention to the predatory nature of the world. It’s not like a workplace setting where the idea is to claw and scratch your way to the top. It’s more than a dysfunctional family setting that affects us adversely. We are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves. In some cases it’s more obvious than others. There are Muslims and others who have the stated goal of killing Christians, but there are also those who would subtly lure us away from our Savior with the misuse of alcohol, with the misuse of our bodies, with hatred, with dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of material things, and must more. But whether or intentional and obvious or not, the result is the same. If you are a friend of the world, you are an enemy of God.
Jesus warns in verse 17, “Beware of men.” Do not put your confidence in people. After Pentecost when the persecutions began, Christians were handed over to the authorities to be arrested. Family members betrayed each other out of hatred for Christ, or even to save their own skins. The world is not your friend. Expect animosity from it. Be prepared for the dangerous situations that exist.
Yet even though we are made to realize what a dangerous place this world is, Jesus says, “Get out there.” There is an emphasis in the original language in verse 16, “I Myself am sending you…” Make no mistake about it, Jesus does not want you living in a compound set apart from unbelievers. Jesus does not want you to avoid talking and working with unbelievers. He says I want you to go out. I Myself am sending you.
The purpose of this is not to toughen us up, or that we should lose our faith and our connection to Christ. It is not because Jesus doesn’t love us. It is because He even loves the wolves. He wants them to be changed through His message of love. He doesn’t send us out with weapons in order to destroy. Rather He sends us armed with the Word of God which has the power to save. He doesn’t want us to conquer the world by force. In His Kingdom He wants hearts to be conquered by love. This is so important to Him that He’s sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. He doesn’t want the world’s sinfulness and wickedness brought into His Kingdom, rather He has sent us to take the message of salvation out into the world.
It is not that Jesus tells us of the danger and then sends us out to fend for ourselves. He equips us and prepares us for the danger that we face. We go back to verse 16, “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
You would not think that being like a serpent would be a Christian attribute. But let us think about what qualities we’d be looking to imitate. The serpent is wise in that it is a survivor. It does not put itself into a position where the odds are stacked against it. Jesus wants you to use the knowledge and the common sense that He’s given you and don’t go looking to become a martyr. If God wants to you use you to die because you are a Christian, it will become apparent as it did when Stephen was stoned. There were many times when Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage to avoid being punished or even put to death. He used his knowledge of customs and knew when to open his mouth and when to keep it shut. The Lord does not want us to be abrasive sheep looking for trouble. You don’t need to come down on a co-worker in regard to live-in situation in front of twenty other people, but at the same time He wants us to be bold in proclaiming all of His Word where it is needed.
If we are as innocent (harmless) as doves, we will be cautious not to give anybody any reason to say negative things about us. There were many times when the apostles went peaceably to prison and were well behaved while they were there. There is the obvious example of Christ Himself who gave no cause for complaint. The goal is not to get people angry at you. The goal is to present God’s Word—to show people their sin and to show them their Savior.
Jesus also said in verse 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; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” Jesus had told His apostles that they would appear before governors and kings, but not for the purpose of being honored. They would be on trial. Consider what you might be thinking about if you were put on trial because of your faith, or if the governor called you in for questioning. I think that each one of us would be preparing a case. We’d look into hiring a lawyer, and make sure that we had a good argument. Jesus says, “Don’t worry. The Holy Spirit will provide you answers.” What a relief that must have been! The apostles had more than a high-priced defense attorney in their corner, they had the Holy Spirit Himself providing them answers, and giving them a testimony.
This is not lost on us today either. Many times I recall in seminary that we would bring up hypothetical cases to our professors and ask them, “What do you do or say in this situation?” Their answers were very helpful, but in no way could every situation be covered. There’s no predicting what situations a pastor might face. Those situations multiply considerably when you add pastors and laymen together. When you start out the day you don’t know exactly what opportunities you’ll have to witness. Sometimes you do know and worry about what you might say. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the words to say. Be familiar with the words that He’s already given you in the Bible. You are sent out and put into situations so that you may give testimony of what you know and that you may speak for God about the sin and grace.
Finally, Jesus prepares us by giving a preview of the final results of our time in enemy territory: “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” [v.22]
If you are watching a live football game, you fret and stew about every mistake. But if you are watching the game on tape and already know that your team has won, you don’t worry about interceptions and fumbles. Knowing the outcome makes the journey easier. Jesus has already given you the end result of your life here on this earth—salvation.
Salvation makes it all worthwhile. You will put up with problems because you are a Christian. You will feel left out and feel isolated. You feel restricted. You feel different. There will be times that hatred will come your way and not even because of anything you’ve done, but simply because you believe in Jesus as your Savior. There are sacrifices that are made because we’re Christians.
This thought is nothing new to us. If we want to lose weight we need to eat less and exercise more. If we want to save money then we can’t spend as much. We endure such things because of the goal. What greater goal is there than Heaven itself? Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life. He endured the way of the cross for the joy that was set before Him—the joy of saving you and I. He took on the taunts and jeers and the whip. He took on no less than Hell itself so that we might have a home in Heaven.
What a promise Jesus has given us: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” In heaven you won’t remember hatred and heartache. You won’t be concerned about what you’ve given up. You will simply enjoy what God has given to you. You won’t have the emotional scars of being a sheep among wolves. You will have peace and joy with your Savior and your fellow Christians.
It’s not time to give up and become one of the wolves. You might say, “I don’t want to become a wolf. I’m just tired of being a sheep.” The truth is you are either one or the other. Endure for the sake of the name of Jesus. It is in Jesus’ name that we can pray. It is that name of Jesus that alone saves us. It is because of that name that we’re hated. People hate Jesus so much that it spills out upon His followers. While it is tempting to say, “I give up,” or “I don’t want to do this anymore,” keep on enduring for the joy that is coming. It is a joy that will surpass any hardship.
If you are a sheep in God’s flock, Jesus is sending you out with a purpose. But He doesn’t send you out alone, nor does He send you out unprepared. Jesus sends you so He Himself will equips you for the task. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.