Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. Beware of them, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because it isn’t you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you. Matthew 10:16-20
In this section of Matthew’s gospel Jesus is sending out his twelve disciples to spread the message, that he was sent deliver, even further than it had already been spread. But he didn’t just send them out without giving both a warning and some encouragement. The warning Jesus gave is his first twelve disciples and those of us today who have chosen to follow Jesus, is that we going out into the world like sheep among wolves. But what is Jesus telling us here with this warning? He is telling us this, that just as wolves stalk and destroy sheep, persecutors will attempt to hunt and destroy those of us who are followers of Jesus. Jesus then goes on to tell us how we are to respond to those who are persecuting us. He tells us that we are to “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves”. What is Jesus telling us here? He is telling us that “serpents” are “shrewd” because they will flee from danger. Most of you probably think a snakes first instinct when confronted with danger is to attack. But you would be wrong. A snakes first instinct when confronted with danger is to flee, because almost everything that a snake sees as being dangerous is bigger and stronger than it. And the snake knows that its best defense is to make a strategic withdrawal, if it is possible. And we as Jesus’ followers must be prepared, in the same way, to take strategic action when persecution threatens us. But we should always remember that like “doves” we are to be “innocent” and not use violent means to answer persecution. This does not mean that we are to not fight, but it does mean that we are not to fight in the way that the world fights. BECASUE THE WORLD WANTS TO ANSWER VIOLENCE WITH VIOLENCE. AND THAT IS NOT THE WAY TO CHANGE ANYTHING. When we use violence in answer to our persecution then we degrade our message and we do a disservice to the world. We must remember that Jesus never answered the persecution that he faced with violence, but with love and understanding towards those who were persecuting him.
Everything we just discussed was the warning and now we come to the encouragement. In this passage from Matthew Jesus tells that we are going to be handed over to those who are in authority over us because the message that we telling the world runs contrary to what the world wants you to hear. But Jesus tells us not to worry about how we are going to respond when we are hauled before those who have authority over us, because we have someone who is standing beside us who is directing our speech. And that someone is God the Holy Spirit, who is our advocate. The word “advocate” in English literally means: a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf. In other words an advocate is one who stand with or beside you. And that is exactly what the word advocate means in Greek also. And that is why Jesus used the Greek word for advocate when in John’s gospel when he was talking about the Holy Spirit. And it is how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit here. Because the Holy Spirit is the one who guides and directs our speech when we are put into a situation of persecution.
The conclusion to all of this can be found in Matthew 10:26-28 which says:
Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Those of us who seek God and have surrendered our lives to him may feel like sheep in the presence of wolves. But we must remember, that Jesus suffered much at the hands of godless people, and those who are committed to him can expect similar treatment. But if we can preserve in following God’s will for us, we will receive a tremendous reward.
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