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Sermon Message


"The 'Animal' Commission"

Matthew 10:1-15
Theme: The gospel-commission Jesus sends us out on is a dangerous one that requires keen-mindedness and blameless behavior.

(Delivered Sunday, December 11, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends His twelve disciples out to the cities and villages of the Jewish people. They were to go before Him and proclaim to them that "the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." He gives them their specific orders in verses 1-15.

And then, He gave them this warning:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

It's a very serious warning; but I can't help but smile at the visual picture Jesus uses to convey it. I like to call this verse "the 'animal' commission".

* * * * * * * * * *

The group of animals in this verse reminds me of what I did a few evenings ago. My sons and I went to the theater to see the premier of "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe". It had lots of animals - mostly talking ones. And of course, it had Aslan - the most beloved of the talking animals because he is C.S. Lewis' literary figure for the Lord Jesus.

"The Chronicles of Narnia" is a story with a strong "good-versus-evil" theme. And as I watched the movie that night - and as I thought of other stories like it - I caught myself wondering why it is that we love such stories so much. After a while, it dawned on me that "good-versus evil" stories strike such a familiar cord in us because - at a fundamental human level - we know that we ourselves are part of the greatest "good-versus-evil" story of all. Many people may not admit that fact. Many people may even aggressively deny it. But like it or not, something deep within our humanity connects with such "good-versus-evil" stories because we ourselves are truly in the midst of one.

Think with me about the story that we're in, as the Bible reveals it to us. It has its beginning point in a time before Creation, and in the sin of an angelic being named Lucifer.

We're not told much about Lucifer's beginnings. But the Bible does present him as a literal, personal being - an angel. And it tells us that, out of all the angelic beings that God had created, he was the most glorious. I believe that we have a description of this glorious being in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. The prophet describes him as "the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Ezek. 28:12). He writes that he was "the anointed cherub who covers" (v. 14); which suggests that he was above all others in authority and glory. And he tells us that Lucifer was "perfect" in his ways from the day he was created (v. 15a).

What a marvelous being he must have been! He was the most glorious of all God's creatures. But all of that was - as Ezekiel writes - "till iniquity was found" in him (v. 15b). That "iniquity" was the sin of pride.

Ezekiel tells us that, because of his supreme beauty above all created beings, Lucifer's heart was "lifted up"; and he "corrupted" his wisdom for the sake of his "splendor" (v. 17). In an other place in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah tells us that Lucifer said these words in his heart:

"I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14).

Apparently, this marvelous and powerful being - so overcome with sinful pride that he thought he could be God - sought to gather other angelic beings together with him in rebellion against his Creator. "By the abundance of your trading," Ezekiel writes of him, "you became filled with violence within." Revelation 12 suggests to us that a third of the angelic beings joined him in his rebellion (v. 4); and that this resulted in a war in heaven (v. 7). Lucifer didn't prevail in this war; and as a result, he and his rebel angels were cast out of heaven and on to the earth (v. 8-9).

The Bible gives us several descriptive names for this being after his fall into sin. He is sometimes called Satan; which means "adversary". He is called "the dragon"; which is descriptive of how dangerous and malicious he is. He is called "the devil"; which means "the accuser". He's called by other names such as "the Tempter", "the enemy", "the evil one", "the father of lies", and a "murderer from the beginning".

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; there's a few important things you need to know about this fallen being, Satan. These things help you understand the great struggle between good and evil that we ourselves are in.

First, you need to know that Satan's ultimate destiny is to be cast forever into the Lake of Fire. Jesus Himself has taught us that the everlasting fire was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Many mistakenly believe that God made the Lake of Fire for people. But while it will be the eternal destiny of some people, the Bible teaches us that it was made primarily for the devil and his fallen angels. I believe that the devil and his angels are almost neurotic with fear at the thought of being cast there in judgment.

And second, you need to know that it will be the redeemed people from humanity that will ultimately be the judges of Satan and his fallen angels. The devil knows the Bible better than people do; and he knows that the Bible says he will be judged by the agency of we who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus! Romans 16:20 tells us that God will soon crush Satan under our feet. And 1 Corinthians 6:3 tells us that we believers will one day judge the angels.

I believe that, as far as the devil is concerned, it is irksome beyond description that he - the greatest of all created entities - should be judged by redeemed human beings! I believe he fears the destiny of the Lake of Fire with all that is in him; but that he also hates redeemed humanity with all his being.

And just think of the war he has waged against the redemption of humanity from the very beginning. First, in the garden of Eden, he tempted the woman in the form of the serpent; and thus sought to bring about humankind's fall from favor with God. God turned the tables on him, though; and promised that the Seed of the woman would one day come - that is, Jesus the Redeemer of fallen humanity - and deal him a fatal blow.

Then, Satan sought to so corrupt humanity during the time before the flood that the Redeemer would not be able to come through the human family. But again, God defeated the devil and preserved a righteous remnant of humanity through the family of Noah in the ark. God promised that it was through Noah's son Shem that the Redeemer would one day come.

The sons of Shem multiplied; and it came to be that God's promise of a Redeemer was passed on to Abraham, Shem's descendent. And once again, the devil sought to destroy the family of Abraham through the oppressions of Pharaoh in Egypt. And again, God defeated the devil and preserved the promise of a Redeemer.

Time after time, throughout their history, the devil inspired evil men and evil nations to try and wipe the Jewish people off the earth before the Redeemer could come. But the devil always failed; and in time, the Redeemer came into this world. Do you remember how Satan sought to destroy Jesus while still in His infancy? - inspiring Herod to kill all the male children of Bethlehem in an effort to ride his kingdom of the new-born King? And do you remember how God preserved Jesus and His family?

Think of the times that the devil sought to dissuade Jesus from the cross. He tried to tempt Him in the wilderness; but he failed. Then he tried to tempt Him in the garden; but again he failed. Eventually, Jesus went to the cross for us and died for our sins. He succeeded in being our Redeemer - and has defeated the devil!

And now - now that Jesus has died for us, and has redeemed us from our sins - now that He has commanded that His gospel be proclaimed throughout the world, and the redemption of all who believe be brought about - now, the devil throws all of his energies into attacking the followers of Jesus Christ, and into seeking to stop them from preaching the message that ensures his own doom! The Bible tells us that he now roams around on this earth in great fury; because he knows that he has but a short time (Revelation 12:12); and that he now makes war with those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (v. 17).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; you and I are key players in the midst of the greatest "good-versus-evil" story in the universe! And that's why Jesus' words in this morning's verse are so important.

Our Redeemer lets us know that we have the privilege of telling others about Him. But Jesus doesn't do any false advertising. He lets us know that He sends us out into a battle zone. The devil hates our Savior, and hates the message our Savior has given us to proclaim, and hates us for proclaiming it. And he inspires many people against the message of Christ - to hate it and resist it and oppose it just as he does.

I believe that all this is behind Jesus' words in this morning's verse - and in what follows after it. And so, look at Jesus' words again:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

How much we need this warning!

Let's look first at . . .


Jesus says, "Behold" - which suggests a call that we stop and consider what He is about to say. It indicates to us that what He is telling us is very wonderful; but also very serious. He let's us know that it deserves our full attention.

Then He says, "I send you out . . ." Literally, His words place Himself in the emphatic position. It would be as if He were saying, "Listen to Me. I - even I - send you out . . ." We do not go out into the world to proclaim Jesus on our own authority. We go out because He sent us! As He says in the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew's Gospel; "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ." (Matthew 28:18-19).

* * * * * * * * * *

Think with me for a moment about the implications of the fact that it is Jesus who sends us out. First, it lets us know that the opposition and persecution we meet with in sharing the message of the gospel is not an accident. Jesus knows that, in sending us out, He sends us out as sheep in the midst of wolves. And yet, He sends us anyway. The persecution and opposition His message meets with is no surprise. It is a part of His plan for us. Later in this chapter, Jesus will go on to say,

"But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues" (Matthew 10:17);


"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household" (vv. 24-25).

But a second thing is that we can rest assured that those He sends go under His command and authority. They go in His will; and because they do, they have no ultimate cause for fear. They are under His watch-care. Nobody has a right to expect that He will watch over them in the proclamation of His name unless it is He Himself who sends them; but if He sends them, they are in His will - and 'in His will' is the safest place to be. Later, Jesus says,

"You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (Matthew 10:18-20).

And later, He says,

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (vv. 29-31).

What a great promises these are! But we only have a right to claim them if it is He who has sent us out! And here, He tells His twelve, "Behold, I send you out . . ." He sends us out in the same way when He says, "Go therefore and make disciples . . ." (Matthew 28:18-20).

* * * * * * * * * *

So then; that's who sends us out. But next, notice . . .


He says, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . ." He doesn't merely send us out into the general vicinity of wolves. Rather, He sends us out in such a way that we are already - even now - living and working and ministering in the very midst of wolves! That makes our situation very serious.

Think of the fact that He says we are "sheep". Sheep are proverbially helpless and needy creatures. In Matthew 9:36, the multitudes of people that are gathered to Jesus are called "weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." In 10:6, the people of Israel who were in spiritual need were called "the lost sheep of Israel". And these kinds of terms describe a condition of personal helplessness, of weakness, of vulnerability, of being subject to danger - a condition of needing protection, and leading, and rescue.

And here's a sobering thought: It may even be intended to convey the picture of someone who is destined to die. Jesus warns His followers later that, in the end times, "they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). Many of Jesus' faithful followers throughout the history of the church have already experienced this! Many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are doing so even as we speak!

And then, think of the fact that He sends us out as such sheep "in the midst of wolves". Just as "sheep" are proverbial for their helplessness, so are wolves proverbial for their viciousness and hostility toward the sheep! Send sheep out in the midst of wolves, and the wolves will waste no time tearing the sheep to pieces!

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; it is a great privilege to be sent out by Jesus to proclaim His name in this world. But we must never forget what a dangerous mission it is that Jesus has sent us out to fulfill. He doesn't play the danger down for us. We must take His words seriously. He warns us that our situation is as dangerous as it would be to sheep in the midst of wolves.

It's dangerous because we are hated as His ambassadors. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus told His disciples;

If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me" (John 15:18-21).

The world crucified our Master; and we now proclaim Him to the world. It should come as no surprise, then, that the world hates us. It also hated Him. For this reason, we need to be aware of our danger.

Another reason it's dangerous for us is because of those who are - as Jesus warns elsewhere - "wolves in sheep's clothing". In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus said;

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:15-20).

These are wolves who look for all the world like sheep! But their conduct, upon closer examination, gives them away. They may give themselves away by their immoral behavior; but they also may give themselves away by their false teaching. Paul spoke of this in the Book of Acts, when he warned a group of pastors and told them,

"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:28-30).

In addition, we have to be alert to the danger because of our own weaknesses and propensity toward sin. All around us are temptations and pitfalls and causes for stumbling. And what's more, as Peter has reminded us, we must be sober and vigilant; "because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

If the devil sought to tempt our own Lord and Master to sin in the wilderness (Matthew 4); he certainly won't hesitate to cause us to stumble if we give him a foothold! Someone once said that the devil knows how to set a trap for you that springs forty years after you've thought you were safe! He's done so to many other believers - thus taking them out of the field of ministry and causing dishonor to the church's witness.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord, then, sends us out; but He sends us out as sheep in the midst of wolves. That leads us, finally, to . . .


He says, "Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." This is given as an imperative - that is, it's a command to "be" something. And it's a command to be something as a consequence of our situation - that is, "therefore, 'be' . . .!"

First, notice that He commands us to be "wise as serpents". The Greek word that is used (phronimos) is one that has the idea of being "sharp-minded" or "thoughtful" or "shrewd". And as I studied this word, I found out something interesting about it. It is the same Greek word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Genesis 3:1; where it says, "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made."

Serpents are "wise" or "cunning" in the sense that they are cautious. If I may put it this way, they think several 'chess moves' ahead. They see the danger in advance, and shrink away from anything that might be hostile to them. When I was a little kid, I used to try to catch snakes in our backyard. They're hard to catch because they see you coming and slip away. They are a good picture of "cautious shrewdness".

One of the things that Jesus warns us to do, as He sends us out to proclaim His name in this world, is that we be "wise as serpents". He reminds us that we are in a battle zone - strewn with spiritual land mines! He calls us to think ahead of the dangers, and to act prudently.

* * * * * * * * * *

But second, along with that warning, He also commands us to be as "harmless" or "innocent as doves". The word that is used here (akeraios) is one that means "unmixed"; and hence, it conveys the idea of being "without mixture of sin, or vice, or deceit". It conveys the idea of being the real thing - living "blameless" and "innocent" lives.

Doves are the opposite of serpents in that, while serpents are dangerous, doves are harmless. And these two figures convey a powerful combination: personal integrity and moral purity, along with shrewd alertness and 'street-smarts'. It's a sad fact that, often as followers of Jesus, we invert the two and are as harmless as serpents and as wise as doves! And when that's the case, we're easy prey for the enemy.

I find that the Bible calls us to both characteristics. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and told them to "be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us . . ." (Eph. 5:1-2). But then, he also told us, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:15-16). Peter likewise said, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed" (1 Peter 3:15-17).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we have a great commission to fulfill. What a great message we have to proclaim! What a great Savior we have to preach! What a privilege is ours! We should be eager to proclaim our Savior's message; because it will prevail in the end!

But let's also be careful to heed His warning. Let's remember that we're sent out to serve in a hostile battle zone. Let's remember our enemy. Let's remember the hostility of others toward the message we are given to preach.

And most of all, let's remember our Savior's sober words:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

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