We come this morning, in our ongoing study of Matthew’s Gospel to a very, very wonderful passage, chapter 10. Part of our Lord’s instruction to the Twelve as He sent them out. It tells us yet more about our Christ, gives us more to be grateful for. And I trust that the Spirit of God will use this study this morning as a preparation for our time at the Lord’s Table.
I confess to you an ongoing frustration that verses 16 to 23, like so many other texts, are units of thought and really should be understood as units, but time is the enemy in so many ways, and we cannot cover all of verses 16 to 23 in one lesson.
And so, in order to understand the fullness of impact, you must wait until next time. Kind of like those serials you used to see, when you were little, leaving you in suspended animation until “to be continued” came to pass. But this particular portion of Scripture is a tremendous portion. And we’re looking at Matthew 10, verse 16 and following, and just beginning today to introduce its truths. Let me read to you from verse 16 to 23 so that in your mind you’ll have the setting.
“‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.
“‘But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in you.
“‘And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child, and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake, for he that endureth’” – or - “‘but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
“‘But when they persecute you in this city, flee into another. For verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.’”
We are in the tenth chapter of Matthew, looking, as it were, over the shoulder of our Lord, as He instructs the Twelve on their first missionary venture. It is a part of their training. Before they are ultimately and finally sent out after the resurrection and ascension, they need to have some anticipation of what it’ll be like when they face a hostile, Christ-rejection world. And so, the Lord here sends them out ever so briefly, and not very far, but at least to give them a taste of what they’ll face.
And as He sends them, He gives them instruction. And I want to add, at this very point of the beginning of our message, that the instruction our Lord gives to the Twelve has some very specific reference to them. But beyond that, it telescopes past this, their first mission, to give them principles that will only be related to their full mission after the ascension. And it goes beyond that to touch all who represent Christ in the Church age, and it even goes into the period of the great tribulation.
There is a telescoping effect. If you look at verse 23, you will notice that it ends with the coming of the Son of Man. That is an eschatological term used by Matthew to refer to the return of Christ. And so, what He teaches her as immediate import for the Twelve as they go out, such as the statement of verse 6 in chapter 10, “Go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That is a very dispensational statement related to a very specific time in which they lived. But it begins from there to telescope, and it touches the time in which they will fully be sent, and it touches all of those who were ever sent by our Lord, even those who will be sent against the terrible opposition of the great tribulation prior to the return of Christ.
And so, what we see here is a span and a sweep of all of the history of God’s people, from Jesus the first time He came, to Jesus the second time He comes. He sees the Twelve on this first mission. But with His marvelous, omniscient, prophetic eye, He sees the Twelve again in their full mission. And then He sees all those who represent Him. And then He finally sees those who will be in the great holocaust known as the great tribulation and the terrible opposition they will face.
Now remember the first 15 verses of the chapter gave us insight into who the Twelve were. Verses 1 through 5 instructed us about who they were and the fact that Jesus called them. Verses 5, in the middle of the verse, through verse 15, gave us His instructions to them. And now verses 16 to 23 describe how the world will react to them, and how they are to react back to the world.
And finally, in verses 24 to the end of the chapter, we see the cost of discipleship. So, we see who they are, what they’re to do, how the world will react, and what the price is that must be paid for representing Christ.
So, you see here, starting with the Twelve, this marvelous telescoping effect that encompasses everybody who represents Christ until the second coming. I say that now to let you know that we’re here, we who represent Christ. Oh, there are some very specific things that relate to the apostles. For example, it says in verse 8, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.”
Now, you might want to know, very interestingly, that there’s no indication at all that they actually did raise the dead, for example, on this first brief mission. But they would in their full and final sending, after the resurrection, when the Spirit came.
It also says, in verse 17, that they would be delivered up to the councils and scourged in the synagogues. That also did not happen on this their first mission. There was no persecution of them at all until after the resurrection of Christ.
So, you see, there are some specific things that fit then, such as, “Go now to the lost sheep of the house of Israel;” some that fit later for them, such as “Raise the dead,” and, “You will be persecuted in the synagogues;” and some general things that sweep on through history for us; and some, perhaps, that are most uniquely fulfilled by those who will live in the great tribulation.
Now, the reason I take the time to explain that to you is because people have misunderstood this chapter, and particularly this section, wondering why the disciples didn’t do all these things that were done, and wondering how and where these all apply. But biblically speaking, this is a very common pattern. Many times in the Old Testament, the prophet will make an immediate prophecy that also has a full – a fulfillment in the future. Very often David will speak of something coming to pass, or an attitude that he has, or something about himself and have in mind ultimately the Messiah.
And so, you have this very common fulfillment. For example, in Micah chapter 5, in verse 2, it says, “He’ll be born in Bethlehem.” In verse 3 and 4, it says, “He’ll reign as king of the earth.” And Micah is saying, “Soon, the baby will be born, and then He will reign.” And Micah says nothing about the thousands of years in between His birth and His kingdom. Very commonly, in the prophetic literature, predictions have an immediate fulfillment and a future fulfillment, and that is what our Lord is doing. He is predicting the role and the place of the apostles, and has in mind the ultimate sense that this will sweep clear through history to the time of the great tribulation.
Now, if you don’t understand that, you will not understand this chapter. If you do, you will. Otherwise, you can’t explain why they didn’t raise the dead or why they weren’t thrown into the synagogues and beaten during their first mission. But if you understand that it’s an unfolding all the way into the future, you have the right thought.
Now, this then is our Lord’s ordination of the Twelve. And sending them out on their first internship, if you will. And I want you to see this morning, and we’ll just really deal with this, this morning, the groundwork – I want you to see the opening statement in verse 16 and see what it means. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Now, that is a very interesting statement. In fact, I got so interested in that statement that I didn’t get much past it. I am not an expert on sheep, and I am less of an expert on wolves. But I did have occasion, when I was a high school student, to be out in the desert for a few days, herding a flock of sheep. And in just that brief experience, I was exposed to the helplessness, the stupidity, the dependency, and the timidity of sheep.
In fact, sheep are so easily scared and panicked, that if a jackrabbit jumps out from behind a piece of brush, it’s enough to stampede the whole flock. They’re just real edgy animals. And it’s a good thing, because when danger comes, they’re utterly helpless. The only thing they have to do is to run. They are totally defenseless. They have no weapons at all. All they can do is run, and if you ever looked at a sheep, they’re not built for speed. Great big fat bodies and four toothpicks for legs. And yet, all kinds of dangers face sheep.
Phillip Keller, in that special little book that he wrote called A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty-Third Psalm had a lot of experience as a shepherd and has tremendous insights. He says you have to protect the sheep from poisonous weeds. So, the shepherd has to go ahead of the flock and make sure there are no poisonous weeds. Sheep are also vulnerable to weather; to parasites, which attach themselves to the sheep’s body; to all kinds of diseases; and especially to insects.
In fact, there are certain flies that are so much a problem to sheep, that sheep have commonly been known to beat their heads against rocks or trees until they are dead because of the annoyance of flies buzzing around their ears and eyes.
Very often, flies will land in their eyes and plant their eggs there, and ultimately it’ll cause the sheep blindness. Sometimes sheep will panic and stampede just trying to elude the flies, and in the stampede, the ewes with lamb will lose their lambs, and they’ll become exhausted. They’ll lose weight; some will even die.
But beyond all of these, the most severe enemy of sheep is the predator, here indicated as a wolf, the flesh-eating, wild animal. There is record that 2 wild animals – wolves or wild dogs – have been known to kill as many as 292 sheep in a single night.
Phillip Keller writes this, “Ewes heavy with lamb, when chased by such predators, will slip the unborn lambs and lose them in abortions. A shepherd’s loss from such forays can be appalling.” He says, “One morning at dawn, I found nine of my choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field. On several occasions, these cunning creatures came in among my sheep at night, making terrible havoc in the flock. Some ewes were killed outright their blood drained and livers eaten. Others were torn open and badly damaged. Some had huge patches of wool torn from their fleeces. In their frightened stampede, some had stumbled or broken bones or rushed over rough ground, injuring legs and bodies.”
Then he said this, “Yet despite the damage, despite the dead sheep, despite the injuries of fear instilled in the flock, I never once actually saw a predator on my range; so cunning and skillful were their raids, they defy description.” End quote.
Now, if you lived in the Lord’s time, in Palestine, you would have understood this. You would have understood the severity of the task of the shepherd who had to defend his sheep against all these things, and he didn’t even own the sheep. The shepherd worked for the sheep owner. In fact, if you came back and reported that a sheep had been killed, you had to have a piece of the flesh of that sheep to prove a wild animal had killed that sheep if it meant that you had to pull it out of the mouth of the wolf himself. Else you could lose your life because they feared people would steal the sheep if they didn’t have evidence that that they had actually been killed.
So, the idea of the sheep and the wolf was very common in the minds of these men. And the Lord says to them now, “Look, I’m going to send you out, and to give you a perspective of how it’ll be, it’ll be like sheep in the midst of wolves. Not sheep in fear of wolves arriving, but sheep among wolves that have already arrived. Now, that is not exactly the most thrilling call to the ministry I’ve ever heard.
Sending them out as sheep is a wonderful thought. Christ is the Good Shepherd; He knows His sheep. He loves His sheep; He cares for His sheep. They know His voice, John 10, all that wonderful stuff. But the idea of them being in the middle of or among vicious, destructive, deadly wolves is the Lord’s way of making the most graphic illustration of the helplessness and the fearfulness of confronting a Christ-rejecting, God-hating world with the message of the kingdom.
And sometimes the wolves are among us, friends. In case you haven’t remembered, Acts 20:29, Paul says, “I know that after my departure, grievous wolves shall rise up among you, not sparing the flock.
In Romans 8, Paul says, “All day long we are counted sheep, as the – as sheep for the slaughter.” Some people just view us as sheep to be slaughtered. Sometimes the wolves are on the outside, sometimes the wolves are on the inside, masquerading as sheep. Remember the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Matthew 7:15. We’ll get into that next week.
“But the wolves are out there,” Jesus says, “and you’re defenseless in and of yourselves. But that’s how it’ll be. You’ll be victims in a sense.” Now that, frankly, would be enough to panic anybody. Helpless, defenseless apostles going out among rapacious, vicious, wicked, God-hating men. Is it any wonder that the first word in verse 16 is the word “behold?” That’s a word of amazement. You won’t believe this. This is astounding.
Now, you would think the Lord would say, “Now, men, we are going out as wolves among the sheep. Get them. Tear them up for the Gospel.” After all, in chapter 9, verse 36, hadn’t He just said that when He looked at the multitude He saw them as sheep? And it would seem that they were the sheep, and we’re the wolves, and we have the power of God.
No. No, they’re the wolves, and we’re the sheep. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to lose. It just means that we don’t have the resource in ourselves. That’s why it’s so wonderful, when we read in John 10 that the shepherd, the Good Shepherd, gives His life for the sheep. He will defend us.
You know, the honesty of Jesus is so refreshing to me. I don’t think Jesus would be at home in contemporary Christianity, frankly, because there’s not enough honesty in it. You know, we are so concerned about getting people saved that we pretty well water down the Gospel. And we don’t talk about repentance, and we don’t talk about confession of sin, and we don’t talk about humbling ourselves and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and we don’t talk about the lordship of Christ. We don’t talk about obedience and a narrow way, and the cost, and the price. And then when somebody becomes a believer, we don’t talk about going out as sheep among wolves; we don’t talk like that. We say, “Let’s go share.” And we’ve got a real – nice little formulas that we use. We aren’t as honest as He is. We don’t recruit people for evangelism and say, “Look, there are some rapacious, wild wolves out there; are there any of you sheep who would like to volunteer?
It isn’t the world’s way to win adherence. The world talks about ease and comfort, and riches, and advancement, and ambition. Jesus offered hardship and death. Such honesty. Listen, people, might as well tell the truth, because if you’re dishonest in your presentation of the Gospel, or dishonest in your presentation of what it means to serve Christ, the people are coming on a false pretense and not the truth anyway. What have you gained? You’ve just clouded the issue for them and everybody else. That’s why I think it’s so clear to me that we have so many on the broad road and so few on the narrow road. But the many on the broad road think they’re saved because we’ve so watered down the reality of it.
The Lord calls people into His ministry and initiates them by saying, “You’re going to go out and get ripped to pieces. It isn’t easy. They’re going to cut you up out there. They don’t agree with you; they don’t believe your message; they don’t want to hear your message.
Garibaldi, in 1849, after the siege of Rome, said this to his soldiers, “Men, all our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you but hunger and thirst, hardship and death. But I call on all who love their country to join with me.” And they came in the hundreds.
After Dunkirk, Churchill said, “All I can offer you is blood and sweat and tears.”
And so, the Lord says, “Blood, sweat, tears, hunger, thirst, death.” That’s the way it is. And He never sends anybody out without fully telling them the truth. Sure, it’s tough being on a mission field. It’s tough being a missionary right here.
You say, “Well, I’m not suffering a lot of persecution.”
Well, it may be that you’re not really definitive in your faith. You know, “They that live godly will suffer persecution,” 2 Timothy 3:12 says. And it may be that God is gracious, and there’s a time of respite for you. But listen, somewhere in the world, at all times, the Church is being devoured, persecuted. Somewhere. And it may come here.
We can thank God for this breath of fresh air, but in the midst of it, don’t be under the illusion that there’s no persecution. A lady came to me Wednesday night, and she said, “You know,” she said, “I have a job where I do counseling and social problems. And the only answer I’ve ever found for the people I counsel is Jesus Christ. And so, I’ve told them of Christ.” And she said, “Now, they have told me that I cannot speak of Jesus Christ to anyone. What do I do?”
Well, of course, the answer is, “Just ask them whether you ought to obey God or men. You have a mandate from God.”
And she said, “I accept that, even if I lose my job.”
And it may come to that. But that’s how it is out there in the world. If we’re definitive with our faith, there’s always a price to pay. You cannot confront a God-hating world without a reaction. So much of our Christianity is locked up inside the walls of our churches, though, that I wonder whether out there they even know who we are.
Now, let’s look at the passage and at least ask some basic questions. Okay? Some basic questions. First question, who are the wolves? Who are these wolves? Now, the Twelve are told they’re going to get persecuted, in effect, and it didn’t happen till after the crucifixion, even when Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, they didn’t arrest him. The disciples didn’t experience any persecution till after the resurrection, but it’s going to come, and it’s going to come from the wolves. Now, we know who the sheep are. The sheep are the apostles. “I send you forth as sheep.”
But who are the wolves? Verse 17 tells us, “Beware of men.” Men are the wolves. Human beings. Yes, we wrestle against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies. Yes, we wrestle against a demonic foe. Yes, Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of the darkness of this world is behind the system. Yes, it is supernatural. Yes, it is hellish. Yes, it is demonic, but its agents are human, and the enemy is man – men.
Throughout the years of God’s people, it has been men who slaughtered the saints. It has been men who crucified, burned at the stake, stoned the saints of God. It has been men who threw them in jail when they preached, men who snuffed their lives out and who still do it even to this day in places behind the Iron Curtain and in Ethiopia and Uganda and other parts of Africa. It is men that are the enemy, men who talk about the milk of human kindness. It is men who are the dupes of Satan.
If you remember back in chapter 5, verse 10, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” The assumption there is that men do this. That’s why it’s included in italics. It’s on the human level.
It had already begun coming down around our Lord, if not His disciples. You go back into chapter 9, for example, and once Jesus forgave sin, forgave that paralyzed man, the Pharisees began to move in. In verse 11, they when to the disciples and said, “Why does your Master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And they began to react against Him and the plot began to brew. And down in verse 34, they said, “He casts out demons through the prince of demons.” They said, “He is demon possessed.”
There was a wolf even in the Twelve. Do you know that? Judas. He was one of those like Paul spoke of who arise from the midst. And he, that wolf, ultimately delivered the Lord to be murdered. He is responsible for the destruction from the physical human side of our Lord, as well as others.
That’s why it says, you see, in verse 17, “Beware of men.” Keep your eye out for men. They’re not your friends in one sense. Now, this is not to jade you. I don’t want you to forget that we have to reach people, and we have to love all men, the Bible says, as God loves them. And do good to all, especially those of the household of faith.
We want to keep a balance, but realize that the enemy’s going to attack you through human agencies. Don’t be surprised, then, when you’re criticized. Don’t be surprised, then, when you’re fired for articulating your faith. Don’t be surprised when people won’t invite you to the parties or the activities. Don’t be surprised when some girl dumps you, or some guy dumps you because of your faith. Don’t be surprised, because human agents represent the kingdom of darkness.
You say, “Is it very widespread?”
Well, look at verse 22, “You shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake.” It isn’t isolated; it’s standard fare. Now, the “all” here is not the all of every human being who ever lived on the face of the earth. I mean all – everybody who ever lived on the face of the earth doesn’t hate me; they don’t all know me. Maybe if they all knew me, it’d be a different story, but it’s not an “all” in that sense any more than when it says, for example, in Jeremiah 3:6, that Israel played the harlot under every green tree. Well, you understand what the author means; it’s a literary license. It doesn’t mean they actually left no tree without an adulterous affair on the face of the earth. It’s just a generic statement; it’s a general statement; it’s a sweeping statement.
David said, “All night I make my bed to swim, and with my tears I dissolve my couch.” Well, give him a break; that’s literary license. And in a sense, you have it here. “All men,” it says in the Gospels, “perceived John the Baptist was a prophet.” Well, not everybody in the world who ever lived does, but that’s a general statement. All kinds of men, all classes, all sexes, all races, all nationalities, all cultures and so forth.
And what He’s saying is this, “Look, I’m not just talking about the Jewish people going to be antagonizing; I’m talking about all kinds of people, through all the ages of history, are going to react negatively to the Gospel when it’s lived and presented.
And there’s a question that always comes up in my mind at this point, and I say, “Well, how come we don’t experience it. If I was preaching this sermon in Uganda, I wouldn’t even need to illustrate it. And I think some of it has to do with the sovereignty of God and the fact that He knows how much we can bear, and He shortens the time of trial for certain peoples in certain places, and He has His purposes.
But I actually believe, down deep in my heart, that part of the reason that we do not experience more of this overtly is because our message has been so altered to accommodate men so that we don’t confront them. The Gospel begins with lostness, because you don’t even know where the Gospel begins unless you understand that the first thing Paul says is the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness. Now how would you like that for the next class in evangelism training? You go up to someone, and what do you say first? “The wrath of God is revealed against you for your ungodliness. For you know what is true of God for the creation around you, and instead, you have turned the truth into a lie, and you’ve worshipped the creature more than the Creator, and God has given you up to your own lusts.” Then you could go on to point two. After you pick yourself up.
You see, it’s so different; it’s so different than the way we do it. But Jesus said, “When you go out and preach repentance for the kingdom is at hand, you’re confronting people with their sinfulness, you’re confronting the dupes and agents of Satan, and the world across and through all of human history, they’re going to react.”
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re looking for this, and we’ll see that next week, as we see the proper response. But, you know, when you recruit men for the ministry or the mission field, this is the kind of thing we have to remind them of: they’re going out as sheep among the wolves. People misunderstand you; they misrepresent you; they criticize you. And you have to accept that as part of it. Sometimes I think the physical suffering would be easier to handle than the emotional and mental anguish.
But look, for example, at 1 Corinthians chapter 4, and this will give you the perspective of one of the apostles added to the Twelve, by the name of Paul, who was no less an apostle. But he says this, verse 9, “I think that God has set forth us the apostles as last” – I mean sometimes he says, “I get the idea that we’re the bottom of the whole barrel.” And then he gives all kinds of interesting terms, “We are appointed to death, made a spectacle, fools for Christ.” Verse 11, “Naked and buffeted.” Verse 13, “Filth and offscouring.” Now, how’s that for recruiting? All of you who would like to be appointed to death, spectacles, fools, naked and buffeted, filth and offscouring, line up to the right. Welcome to the mission field. Welcome to the ministry, welcome to the representation of Christ.
“Spectacles” is a very interesting term. When a Roman general won a battle over another nation or another city, He was given the privilege of parading his army through the streets. This was called triumph. And he would parade his army, and they would have all their spoils, the wealth, and all of the fare that they had taken from the defeated foe. And at the end of the whole line would come a little group of captives tied together on their way to die in the arena. And that is the term that is used here for spectacle. Moffatt translates it, “God means us apostles to come in at the very end like doomed gladiators in the arena. That’s us, set for doom.”
Then he says, “Appointed to death.” Appointed to death. He told Peter later on that he would die, and almost all, with just a few exceptions, were martyrs. Verse 10, “We’re fools.” The world thinks us fools. “They think our message” - 1 Corinthians 1 – “foolishness.” Verse 11, We are going to be “buffeted,” and it’s a word that means to strike someone with your fist. It was used to beating a slave with the fists. Then it says we are “filth,” and that is a word that means a filth scab. And then “offscouring.” Offscouring is what you scour off a dirty dish. That’s us. How’s that for a call to the ministry? Paul says that’s a good definition of an apostle. What is an apostle? “He is a spectacle appointed unto death, a fool who is knocked around with people’s fists, one who is considered filth, and something to be scrubbed off a plate.
Who are the wolves? Men. Let me ask you a second question, back now to chapter 10 of Matthew; why are they so vicious? Why are the wolves so vicious? Very simple. Verse 18, “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings” – here it comes – “for My sake.” For My sake. For My sake. They’re vicious not because they really hate you, but because they hate – whom? – Christ.
Look at verse 22 again, “You shall be hated of all for My name’s sake.” And the concept of name there means all that He is. In the name of Christ is the sum of all that He is. It’s because of who He is and what He’s done that we are persecuted. Now mark this; if we are persecuted for what Christ has done, it has to be very obvious that we and Christ are doing together what we’re doing. In other words, if Christ is not made manifest, nobody’s going to persecute Him in me. But when I am persecuted, it is because I represent Christ. It is because He is in me, living His life. It is because I reflect Christ in the world that I am persecuted.
Galatians 6:17, Paul said, “I bear in my body the marks of Christ.” You could see the marks, the scars from the stones, the scars from the rods, the scars from the whips, the scars from the batterings and the beatings all over his body, and to him they were the marks of Christ. They never were intended for Paul. Nobody really was that upset with Paul; he wasn’t that big an issue. They were upset at Christ, couldn’t get to Him, got to His emissary. And once actually took his life. Twice took his life. Once he came back. Finally, they chopped his head off with an ax, and it wasn’t because of him; it was because of who was living in him.
You have the same thing in Colossians 1:24. Paul says, “I fill up in my body the afflictions of Christ. I’m taking the blows meant for Him.” And I guess that’s kind of an exciting thing. Paul wanted to know the fellowship of His sufferings; he prayed his highest prayer, “That I may know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings, as well as the power of His resurrection.” Paul really identified with being able to be punished not for what he did, but for what Christ was doing through Him in confronting the world of darkness. You know, you can actually get excited. Peter says, “The spirit of grace and glory rests on you when you’re persecuted for righteousness sake.”
When the kingdom is built, Satan’s going to cause people to react. They’re going to rebel; they’re going to ostracize you; they’re going to turn you away; they’re going to criticize you; they’re going to condemn you; they’re going to falsely accuse you. And it’s okay, isn’t it, for us to stand and take the blows meant for Him, who took the blows meant for us. In fact, that’s a joy.
You know, the apostle Paul really understood this principle. And if you look with me for a moment just at an illustration of it, look at 9 of Acts. Chapter 9. Paul on the road to Damascus, literally his breath is a breath of threat and slaughter as he kills Christians. So, he comes along the road, and the Lord strikes him down. And he’s blind, and he’s on the ground. And verse 4, “A voice said to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’”
And He might have said, “What do you mean You? Have I persecuted You?” Well, in effect, that’s what he did say. “Who are You, Lord?”
“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Had he ever met Jesus? No. Had Jesus been on earth? No. Was Jesus in heaven? Yes. How was he persecuting Jesus? Because Christ was living His life through His people, and when he persecuted His people, he persecuted Him. And he never forgot that. That thought stuck in his mind so that when he recited his testimony in chapter 22 of Acts, verse 7, he said, “I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’
“And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’
“And He said unto me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.’”
And in chapter 26, when he was talking to Agrippa, he said, “I heard a voice saying in the Hebrew tongue, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’
“And I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’
“And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.’”
And, because, we are sent into the world as were the Twelve, as will be the people who come in the tribulation time to represent Christ as sheep among wolves. And the wolves are men, and the reason they are so vicious is because they hate Christ. They hate Christ.
“He that is not with Me,” said Jesus, “is” – what? – “against Me.” No middle ground. No middle ground. How do the wolves attack? How do they attack? I’m going to answer that next time. And I’m also going to answer the question, “What is our response?” And I believe it’s one of the most rich passages you’ll ever see in the Bible about how we react to a hostile world. I believe, in my heart, that it’s going to get more hostile in our own country if we’ll be faithful to declare the truth with the same honesty our Lord and disciples declared it.
Listen, Jesus gathered these Twelve around Him. He said to them, “Men, I’m going to send you out, sheep among wolves.” And later He said to them, “I’m going to be with you, and I’ll never leave you, and I’ll never forsake you, and you’ll win in the end. And the sheep will defeat the wolves.” A great promise. Not on their own strength, but on the basis of His power. They wanted to stay close to Him because they knew He was the resource. They never wanted to drift away. They huddled around Him. They hung onto Him.
When He said He was going to leave them, they panicked. They panicked. When He told them to go away, they said, “Where would we go?” He was the source of their food. He fed them on the side of the hill. He was the source of their tax money on at least one occasion; He took it out of the mouth of a fish. He was the source of their human need for love. He poured His love upon them. He cared for them. He turned nature into one huge parable so that every time they saw a field, or a tree, or a mountain, or an animal, or a leaf, or a flower, or a piece of grain, instantly they thought of spiritual truth. He taught them. He was everything to them.
And when He told them He was going to go away and leave them to the wolves, they panicked, because they so longed for His fellowship. But He said, “Look, I’ll send My Spirit, and He’ll dwell in you, and He’ll be your strength and your power. And with His power, you’ll overcome.”
And through the resident Spirit in the life of a believer, he communes with the living Christ. And He gave them a way to remember that in this, the Lord’s Table. And He said, “Come to the Table and remember Me, the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. And every time you do this, remember that I died to save you from the wolves, and that someday I’ll come again to take you to Myself.”
This becomes not only then a Table of remembrance, but a Table of fellowship. It says, “This is what Christ did in the past,” and it says, “This is our living communion in the present until He comes again.” He said, “Someday I’ll come back and we’ll do it together in My kingdom.” But until then, He communes with us here.
As close as we ever come as a family, as close as we ever come to each other, as close as we ever come to Christ, as intimate as we ever get with our Shepherd, we get at His Table, because here we partake of His body and His blood in memory, in remembrance, and in living communion as He meets us here. And so, as we stand in our world, sheep among the wolves, we need His presence, and we need to come back for the cleansing, the reaffirmation of our faith, the reuniting of our fellowship to this Table. Let’s bow in prayer, preparing our hearts.
Father, thank You for meeting us in Your Word, meeting us in prayer, meeting us in the praises of Your people. Thank You for meeting us at Your Table. And oh, God, we pray that our hearts must truly be committed to You in this moment.
Lord Jesus, we know that we cannot come to this Table with sin in our lives. We pray that we might examine ourselves, and if there be anything in us that stands between us and full communion with Thee and with the fellowship of believers, that we might confess it, that we might put it away, that we might see it cleansed.
Pardon all our sin, known and unknown, felt and unfelt, confessed and unconfessed, remembered and forgotten. Make us clean. Thank You that we can meet You here in a special way; commune with Your presence; come into the fold, as it were, for a moment of respite with the Good Shepherd before we go back among the wolves. Infuse us with Your strength. Cleanse us with Your power. Blend us into one. Give us courage to speak, knowing that You have died for us, and the victory is ours. Give us the boldness we need to confront the world.
As we take the bread, may we remember Your body, the incarnation that God became a man. As we take the cup, Your blood, that You died our substitute for sin.
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