"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16 NKJV
In Matthew Chapter 10, Jesus commissions his core group of twelve disciples to go to the villages in Galilee and preach to the Israelites that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He gives them instructions on what to take, what to do, and what to say. Jesus also prepares them to expect mixed results. Some people will be open to their message and inviting. Others will be hostile not only to the message, but also towards them.
In instructing His disciples, Jesus explains that it will always be this way. In fact, He states that it will continue to be this way up until the time He returns to earth the second time. In verse 16, Jesus illustrates this principle with word pictures from the animal kingdom.
The first illustration contains two animals who are natural enemies: the sheep and the wolf. In the case of the disciples, they are described as sheep. Those who oppose the disciples are described as wolves. Wolves intimidate by howling and barking, attacking and biting, and by attacking in groups called packs. Wolves have one agenda when it comes to sheep: to fatally wound and devour them.
The second illustration is that of a serpent. The followers of Christ are to be as “wise as serpents.” Ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, man and serpent have had a constrained relationship. Almost everyone I know dislikes serpents. Yet, when it comes to dealing with people, especially those hostile to the gospel, we are to be wise or shrewd as serpents. In reality, the majority of serpents will avoid conflict if possible.
The final picture is that of a dove. Believers are to be harmless as doves when dealing with hostile people. It is interesting to note that the dove is a universal symbol of peace. The disciple’s goal then is to try to be harmless and peaceful towards those who are hostile to them.
These three similes are important for us today. Jesus is still sending His disciples into a hostile world. The message of the gospel is good news to some, but is offensive to many. We live in an ever increasing culture that is hostile to the church, Christianity, Christ, and Christians. We are commissioned by Jesus to tell others that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. We should continue to expect opposition.
Our response in facing this opposition is to be like sheep, serpents, and doves. My prayer is that we at RoS will be a flock of sheep that Jesus sends out into our city and that we are both wise and harmless as we confront people with the Gospel.
I love you and it’s a privilege to be your pastor.