When I escaped from the Middle East more than 40 years ago with only the clothes I was wearing, I had every reason to turn my back on the people who persecuted me. But God changed my heart. And that’s why I want to share a key verse that the Lord used to help me understand why I had to love those who hated me.
Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Jesus did not say, “I want you to domesticate the wolves so you can love them.” He did not say, “I want you to speak well of the wolves so that you might befriend them.” Or as many in the media and some in the church would say, “I want you to tell others how peaceful the religion of the wolves is.” Jesus did not say, “I want you to speak of how wonderful the wolves are.” Or “I want you to declare that the wolves are just like sheep, only different.”
No. Jesus told us that we must know the price of discipleship. You and I must understand the cost associated with obedience. We must sacrifice in serving Him. In saying so, He challenges us to love the unlovable. But also in this passage, Jesus is pointing the disciples and us to a paradoxical truth that is throughout the Bible; it is a tension between our vulnerability and our invincibility at the same time. It is a tension between our weakness and the strength that is in Him. Tension between the power of a hateful persecutor and the power of a loving and obedient disciple. Tension between the worldly power of the flesh and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus knows exactly what we’re made of. He really does. No one is more amazed at how the Lord works, and I’ve been walking with Him since 1964. The Lord knew that given my selfish instincts, I would rather see the enemies of the cross suffer than be saved and become saints. Given my instincts I would rather choose the easy, convenient and comfortable way than the dangerous way.
And that’s why Jesus deliberately uses the image of the sheep – the most dependent, helpless and stupid of all domesticated animals. They are easily disturbed by harmless things, and they are easily disturbed by dangerous things. And when danger comes, sheep have only one natural defense: running. And they’re not very good at it. The sheep’s greatest enemy in ancient Palestine and in many parts of the world is, was and always will be the wolf.
In fact, the number-one task of a good, faithful shepherd is to protect his sheep from wolves. And that’s why I have no understanding or even comprehension of why a pastor would turn his pulpit over to an imam to talk about the wonderful things about Islam. I have heard of it happening many times since September 11, and they are literally opening the doors for the wolves to come in.
But amazingly in Mathew 10:16, Jesus did not say, “I’m going to keep you from the wolves.” He did not say, “I am going to keep the wolves away from you.” No. He said, “I actually am sending you into the wolves’ territory. I am sending you into the enemies’ territories. I am commissioning you to go to the wolves.” Again, He did not say, “The wolves’ religion is really a peaceful religion. You just misunderstand them.” Or “I am going to de-fang the wolves so you can love them.” Or “I am going to educate and sophisticate and misrepresent the wolves so you can accept them.” Jesus is saying that you will be hated by Jesus haters for His sake.
We are seeing it every day in this blessed land that I longed to come to as a boy to breathe the air of freedom. I escaped Islamic ideology in the Middle East, and now I’m facing it here in America. I never thought I would see the day.
Acts 20:28-31 tells us: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”
The wolves will try to deceive you. The enemy will try to trick you. They will try to put on sheep’s clothing. They will try to lull you to sleep. But the irony in all this is that the Good Shepherd is sending His sheep into wolves’ territory. The perfect Good Shepherd is sending them into hostile territory.
What a contrast to what Jesus is saying in those few words to the preaching of today. Pastors today are preaching ease and comfort and no cost of discipleship. They’re preaching about going to heaven on the cheap, and it’s not going to happen that way. They teach that we can have salvation without repentance and sanctification without surrender. They are preaching about a Jesus who gives them everything but demands nothing.
My friend, that is a false gospel – one every believer should refuse to accept and identify with. Because if you don’t, someday the wolves will come for you and you will not be able to defend yourself with the Truth.