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Matthew 10:16-25 NET

16 “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. 20      For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 “Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 22 And you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 Whenever they persecute you in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave greater than his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more will they defame the members of his household!

We have been studying the commands of Jesus for some time now, and our study has now taken us to a series of commands that have to do with evangelism. First, we saw that Jesus told the twelve apostles that the harvest was plentiful but the workers in the harvest are few. So, he instructed them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers.

We are always in need of more people to do the work of evangelism. The metaphor that Jesus used – that of a field ready for harvest – is quite appropriate. When you first look at a field ready for harvesting, it can be quite daunting. It’s hard to imagine getting the job done in time. You feel better about the task if you look around and see a large group of people ready and willing to share the task.

Yet, in this context, Jesus only chose to send his twelve apostles to canvass the entire Galilean region. Why did he chose just them for that task? I can only surmise that he wanted their small number to be a visual aid so that they never forgot the need to obey that command – to pray for more workers.

The next command Jesus gave about evangelism was his instruction for the twelve to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus himself had reached out to Gentiles and Samaritans in his own ministry. So, his purpose was not to exclude anyone from salvation. But he wanted his apostles to focus their ministry on people like them for this particular campaign. I mentioned last week that we should learn from that fact that we need to be sensitive to where Jesus is particularly sending us to evangelize. We should be doing more “rifle evangelism” than “shotgun evangelism.” We see examples of this in the book of Acts. The apostles went where the Lord sent them, targeting the people he sent them to.

Let’s take a look at today’s text to see what we can learn about evangelism as it related to the sending of the twelve – and how it relates to the evangelistic work that the Lord is sending us to do.

Jesus sent the twelve out (“I am sending you out” 16a).

There are all kinds of motives that people can have for doing the things that they do. Even evangelism can be done with the wrong motives. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that some people he knew were “preaching Christ from envy and rivalry.” They were evangelizing “from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for (him) in (his) imprisonment.” But Paul rejoiced because they were preaching Christ and some people were getting saved anyway. [1]

But for you and me, the most important thing for us to know about our evangelistic work is that Jesus himself has sent us to do it. We have a personal relationship with Christ, and we want others to know that same blessing. But when it comes to the work we are doing, we have to understand who the boss is. If we think the people we are trying to reach are the boss, we are going to have problems. We share Christ out of our love and respect for Christ. We love others – not because we a loving bunch of people. We love others because God first loved us, and we want to share his love.

I have worked for a lot of different bosses in my time, but I can tell you this: I always worked harder for the bosses that I respected and appreciated. If there is one principle that is going to carry us through the difficulties of evangelistic work, it is this: Jesus is sending us out. We are not doing it for our church. We are not doing it for our families. Even our love for the lost will have to take second place. We seek the lost sheep because that is what the good shepherd wants us to do.

In fact, Jesus is the only reason any of us can reach the lost. Remember what our Lord told Peter and his brother Andrew? He said, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.”[2] Okay, the metaphor was different, but the subject is still the same. Evangelism happens when the followers of Jesus follow Jesus. He does not first call us to evangelize. He first calls us to believe in him and follow him. As we learn to obey those commands, the ability to obey the evangelism commands grows naturally within us.

Jesus warned the twelve that they would be opposed (“like sheep surrounded by wolves” 16b).

He told his apostles to expect opposition because it is going to happen. He didn’t say it might happen. He didn’t say if we are doing evangelism wrong it would happen. He says that we can be doing everything right and we will still be opposed, attacked, persecuted – even some of us will be killed.

Some people say that living by faith means that we must search through the Bible for all the promises that are there, and then claim each promise and we will succeed. Well, the problem with that approach is that in some places – like today’s text – the promise is that sometimes you will not succeed. Sometimes the bad guys are going to win.

Let me change the metaphor again. Jesus is telling his apostles that they are going to play a game of cards and they will never know whether the hand that they are playing is going to be a winning hand or a losing hand. He’s sending them out like sheep – but not in a comfortable safe pasture. He’s sending them out like sheep among wolves. They are being challenged to do evangelism among the very beasts that want to tear them to shreds and devour them.

Note from today’s text what could happen in those villages, towns and cities of Galilee where the twelve are being sent.

  • We have already seen from last week’s text that there would be some households and some towns that would not welcome them. When they encountered this kind of opposition, Jesus instructed them to shake the dust off their shoes and go on to the next house or town.
  • Some of the town councils will have them arrested and publicly flogged in the synagogues (verse 17). This is more than just rejection. It is public humiliation. It is being branded a criminal or cult member, and suffering the shame of experiencing the punishment for those crimes.
  • Jesus tells the twelve that this kind of thing is only going to escalate when they keep evangelizing. Someday, they will not only be tried by the local council and punished by flogging. Someday, they will be tried before governors and kings. Herod had John the Baptist beheaded. Caesar had Paul beheaded, and Peter crucified. Jesus was telling the twelve that evangelism is not for the timid. It is a dangerous activity that can get a person killed. Jesus elaborates on this later in this chapter, when he says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (verse 34). And “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it” (verses 38-39).
  • Jesus also tells his apostles that evangelism is not going to heal every family. It is going to divide some families. He says “Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (verse 21). Jesus warns them again about this reality later in chapter 10, when he says “I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (verses 35-37). I have known people who had to make the choice to follow Christ knowing that it was a choice to reject their family. We should be grateful that not all of us are called to reject our family in order to follow him. But we need to be aware that for some of the people we are trying to reach – they will have to go against their family’s wishes to embrace their Savior.

Jesus told them to “be wise as serpents” (16c).

The kind of wisdom he is challenging his apostles to use is the wisdom to do the right thing in the right way, and to avoid conflict when they can. A snake can attack, but usually it runs away – thank God. I think Jesus’ point is that there will often be ways that we can evangelize without ending up flogged or beheaded.

Jesus told them to be “innocent as doves” (16d).

Here, I think he was warning against those who might go looking for trouble. Opposition happens, but we do not have to ask for it. All we have to do is represent Jesus, and everyone who hates Jesus in their heart will hate us. But sometimes the attitude of the evangelist is the problem. In last Sunday night’s seminar, I quoted Rebekah Manley Pippert, who said, “I remember once encountering a zealous Christian. His brow was furrowed, he seemed anxious and impatient, and he sounded angry. Then he told me God loved me. I couldn’t help noticing the difference between his message and his style.”

There is going to be opposition when we share the gospel. We don’t need to prime the pump. If someone does reject Christ when we share him, let it be because they reject Christ, not because we have turned them away from him by our bad behavior.

[1] Philippians 1:1-18.

[2] Matthew 4:19.