The year was 1415, in what was then Czechoslovakia on the 6th of July, a pastor was burned at the stake by the Church of Rome. His crime was declaring that the Scriptures alone have the inspired words of God, that no bishop on earth, nor any Church council could equal the authority vested in the Holy Bible. This pastor’s name was John Huss. When we observe the history of the Church we find that there have been many – far too many – godly men and women who have died for the sake of the truth. And like John Huss, many today are persecuted and even martyred (killed for their faith). But Jesus tells us, as He speaks to His Apostles, that such a thing is not a surprise, but the norm.
Jesus never promised us that following Him was going to be easy or without difficulty or cost, quite the contrary. What He did promise is that following Him would be infinite in value, for we follow the One who is infinite in worth, beauty, joy, and glory. As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we’ve been given the great honor of laboring alongside the God of the universe. But the mission to which we’ve been called is one grounded in certain peril. Christ has guaranteed this opposition along the way, and for that reason He’s given the Apostles then, and His disciples today, an extensive list of instructions.
Jesus says, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” (Matt. 10:16 ESV) A most unsavory situation to say at the least! One need not be a simple shepherd to know that in a fight, every time, wolves devour sheep. Christ is not sending out His Apostles (literally ‘sent out ones’) into a neutral situation, but a hostile one. Therefore, His next words are that of wisdom, be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16 ESV). What a strange thing for Christ to call His disciples to resemble a creature most notably known for the fall of man! (see Genesis 3). However, in antiquity, the snake was understood as the symbol for cunning while the dove can be seen as the symbol for innocence. To favor a snakelike mind absent of the dove leads to pure cynicism, and the opposite leaves one a naive and gullible fool. However, when the two are wed, what we find are the necessary qualities for those who must face persistent peril before them. Jesus sugar coats nothing and opens up their (and our eyes) to the truth that following Him will cost us every bit of comfort, and safety we know; nevertheless, the benefits always outweigh the cost.
All the warnings that Christ presents to His Apostles in this passage comes to fruition in the book of Acts. You can hardly turn a few chapters in Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, before you find an instance where a Christian is persecuted for their faith. If you’re unfamiliar, the book of Acts describes in detail the ministry of the Apostles following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. On one occasion the high priest arrested all of the Apostles while they taught and performed miracles near the Temple. And when the Jewish council, “called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” (Acts 5:40 ESV) All of our modern sentiments would likely have responded to such a beating with frustration, anger or perhaps questioning God, “Why would you allow this?” But when we examine the text none of these modern complaints were on their mind. Instead what we find is this: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name [of Jesus]” (Acts 5:41 ESV) How many of us in that situation would see that moment as a place to rejoice? Jesus told the Apostles then, and even us today, that these things will happen “for My sake” (Matt. 10:18)
Are you afraid of what people will think if you tell them about Jesus? The worst they can do is reject you, beat you, or even kill you as many of our brothers and sisters around the world know all too well. But what we’re told throughout the Bible is that we are blessed if we are persecuted for the sake of Christ’s Name (see Matt. 5:10-12) Be not afraid. Be not silent. Be willing to be wronged. May the message of Christ burst through your lips without fear or quiver, for our God reigns and His kingdom expands through people like you.
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