Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 8 January 21:
Matthew 10:16, 24 — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
Jesus came as the Ultimate Passover Lamb, the perfect and wholly sufficient sacrifice to pay for our sins. (John 1:29, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19) — “Christ… offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14) For our sake, with all authority in His hands (Matthew 28:18), with the power to call “twelve legions of angels” to His rescue (Matthew 26:53), Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7, 8) “For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:12)
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Jesus came to bring salvation to sinners, and during His earthly ministry, He walked humbly, serving, giving, forgiving, and healing. Yet, most rejected Him, hated Him, abused Him, and maligned Him. Prophetically, Isaiah wrote of Jesus –
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:2-11)
Now, as His “offspring,” His disciples, and His ambassadors to a sinful world, Jesus has called us to ‘deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him.’ (Mark 8:34) Entrusting us with the message (words) and ministry (works) of reconciliation to a sinful world, He understands that He is also entrusting us with a ministry of suffering, that He is sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” While many inspirational books have been written recounting the many promises of God, few mention His promise that those who truly follow Him will suffer for His name’s sake. We are called to suffer for Christ, but we are not called to suffer foolishly and without hope. Today’s readings teach us much about how to be good stewards of suffering:
1) We shouldn’t attempt to face suffering in our own strength. Jesus appointed sheep to defeat wolves, contrary to all human reason. How do sheep defeat wolves? Only through the power of God.
What do we know about sheep? They (we) are weak, dumb, smelly, submissive, and defenseless. What do we know about wolves? They are powerful, ferocious, ravenous, and work in packs to devour the weak and helpless. So, how are sheep protected from wolves? They are protected by the shepherd. Our shepherd is the Good Shepherd –
- John 10:14-18, 27-30 – “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father…. 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. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
- Psalm 23 — The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus calls His disciples by name (Matthew 10:1-4), and under His authority, which is all authority (Matthew 10:1, Matthew 28:18), commissions them to go and make disciples, to turn wolves into sheep. He leads them through trials, He restores them through trials, He comforts them through trials, He brings all things (especially trials) together for good for His loved ones (Romans 8:28, 29), and He promises to be with His disciples forever, that nothing at all can separate them from His love for eternity. God uses sheep to overcome wolves in order to reveal His power, not to reveal the ‘power’ of sheep. When sheep overcome wolves, it is clear that only God could have done that. Trust the Good Shepherd to protect, and trust Him with the victory.
- Romans 9:17 — For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
2) We shouldn’t go into trials alone. Jesus sent his disciples out in teams. Mark 6:7 adds to Matthews accounting of the sending of the Apostles – “And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 — Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
- Proverbs 27:17 — Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
- Amos 3:3 — “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?
With whom are you teaming with to share the Gospel in your community? How many people will the two of you share the Gospel with today?
3) Suffer wisely. Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” You will be persecuted for sake of His name, but you don’t need to invite a beating because of your own foolishness. First, there is a difference between suffering for His names sake and suffering because you are simply wrong, disagreeable, defensive, selfish, or unloving in some other way. Second, there are times when it is best just to walk away. How do you know who to engage and who not to engage, and how do you know when to stand your ground and when to leave? The Holy Spirit must guide you here.
Concerning Holy Spirit wisdom in discerning when to face persecution, John Bunyan in 1684 offered the following:
“Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly; if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled, Ex. 2:15; Moses stood, Heb. 11:27. David fled, 1 Sam. 19:12; David stood, 1 Sam. 24:8. Jeremiah fled, Jer. 37:11– 12; Jeremiah stood, Jer. 38:17. Christ withdrew himself, Luke 19:10; Christ stood, John 18:1–8. Paul f led, 2 Cor. 11:33; Paul stood, Act 20:22–23. … There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly…. Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word.”
4) Finally, don’t be surprised by persecution – “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
- 1 Peter 4:12-19 — Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name…. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
- 1 John 3:13 — Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 — For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
- Philippians 3:18 — For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Have peace and rejoice through persecutions. Jesus has overcome the world –
- John 16:33 — I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Revelation 6:15-17 – Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 8 Jan 21: Today, find a partner in Christ who will be willing to go with you to share the Gospel with others daily.