Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.” This is week 45, Matthew, part 43 in the series. Today, Pastor G talks about sheep, wolves, serpents and doves as he unpacks Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve on their first missionary journey in Matthew 10:16.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. ~ 1 John 4:1
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16a
I am sad that the term “sheep” and its counterpart “sheeple” has become the go-to insult when you want to shut down and dismiss someone who disagrees with you. On social media, the sheep emoji is popular as well. The implication, of course, is that sheep are dumb animals that follow a leader blindly. Sheep never think for themselves and always just accept whatever is placed before them as truth. Yet, Jesus often calls His followers sheep and calls the collective body of believers His flock. He doesn’t mean any of those negative connotations when He calls us His sheep. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 11:1
Or some translations say “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Paul is a shepherd or a “sheepdog.”
The sheep Jesus is referring to here, in this context, refers to people who are gentle, following the lead of their shepherd, and representing their Shepherd, Jesus as they go. Wolves are the polar opposite of sheep. When Jesus refers to wolves here, obviously, he’s also talking about people but wolf people are very different from sheep people. Wolf people are not gentle. Wolf people are combative, cruel, antagonistic, even violent. And they hate sheep people and love to tear sheep people apart. In addition to wolves there are also wolves in sheep’s clothing, both out there in the world and in the Church.
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. ~ Matthew 7:15
In addition to wolves, sheep also have to look out for lions.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ~ 1 Peter 5:8
… so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16b
practically wise, sensible, intelligent, and prudent.
Literally, it refers to controlling your body functions from the inside out. In other words, keep your thoughts private, don’t broadcast everything you are thinking. Keep personal perspective when regulating your outward behavior. Be shrewd, cautious, even secretive when necessary. Play it close to the vest. Don’t put all your cards on the table.
unblended, unmixed, pure, simple, sincere, blameless, one who does no harm.
In the Bible, there is a powerful Holy Spirit connection to the symbol of the dove. By telling us to be innocent as doves, Jesus is telling us to be guided by the pure, innocent, godly motives of the Holy Spirit. Be careful, sneaky and cunning when necessary – you are sheep in the midst of wolves after all – but do your secret agent work for God with the intentions and guidance and motives of the Holy Spirit, seeking to do only good and cause no harm.
Winston Churchill warned his people at the start of WWII that needed to expect “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”Jesus is issuing an even darker and more dire warning to His followers. We are sheep in a land full of wolves.