Who you is depends not on your definition of you

Matthew 10:16-23

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall even 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 become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.”

Although we read that the disciples were to go to the lost sheep of Israel, Jesus now, within the same context, testifies to the disciples that they will be brought before, kings, rulers and gentiles, for his sake. Jesus also tells them how this will happen; the “wolves” will deliver them to courts and beat them in “their” synagogues. Now we are beginning to understand why Jesus talked many out of becoming a disciple–it’s a hard road. We also see Matthew’s aspiration to his audience–Jesus as the Messiah as the picture painted in Isaiah. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering…” Yet is this what Jesus meant when he told his followers that they would be sheep among wolves?

We have to understand the use of metaphors by Jesus. Both passages present the proverbial sheep; and sheep are stupid. Sheep also have wool, are often times white and like lemmings, tend to follow each other. But are these the analogies Jesus makes? Jesus may have been dumb before his sheerer but only dumb Americans think that dumb means stupid–case in point. When our Old Testament tutor uses the simile of sheep, to what is it referring? Should we consult our Old Testament tutor to examine sheep? Of course, but we must be careful not to read anything into the text. Spoiler alert: Jesus is simply making an analogy but it is always good to consider all angles. The Levitical Law concerning sheep sacrifice is extensive; for time’s sake we will hit the highlights.

“If he is going to offer a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD, and he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and slay it before the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood around on the altar.” ‘He shall also bring his guilt offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering.” “Then he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering.” And most importantly, Exodus 12, the Passover lamb. We clearly see the simile between a sacrificial lamb and The Sacrificial Lamb. But what about the disciples, were they stupid, were they sacrificial lambs? Disciple means follower and sheep are followers for sure. Nevertheless, context is king and the context does not allow for this interpretation. We will see however, that they will follow Jesus to death, but that is not quite the claim in this passage. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, as we have seen briefly, Matthew’s composition clearly demonstrates this. However Jesus’s words to his disciples were concurrent with the contemporary culture.

Jesus says, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” It’s quite common for the Lord to use animals with metaphorical meaning. Even in the law of Moses, something as simple as the phrase, “do not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” is a spiritualized metaphor according to the apostle Paul. Like we have already discussed, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. The book of Revelation is replete with imagery of Christ not only as a lamb but as a lion. We therefore must see and understand the analogy as Christ intended them to understand when he said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.”

I always remind myself to “keep it simple stupid.” And also, “used the caged method,” where;

  • Context is king
  • Author’s aspirations to audience are apex
  • Genre is the general
  • Expository exegesis of examples enlightens
  • Dividing rightly the word of truth is demonstrative.

Therefore, the first thing we must do is to consider the context. An oversimplification of the context is that Jesus is instructing his first century followers. Can we apply his words directly to ourselves? Possibly, but we’re not there yet.

I’ve been “writing” this missive for several months– severe writer’s block I guess. I had thoughts of abandoning this series on Matthew and even this blog in its entirety. But since it automatically renewed, and things seem crazier and crazier by the day, and I heard the most incredibly awful sermon, where only 5 words of Paul’s were quoted and viciously ripped out of context, I have no choice but to write. (Something in the pit of my stomach made me…)

The southern, mega-church pastor that quoted a mere 5 words of Paul, reaches 10’s of thousands people, daily.  I have the two of you. And it’s been so long that I may be writing to no one. But, “my conscience bearing me witness,” I must write. From horrible preachers to pedophiles and pariahs; predators and imposters, the church is under attack. Not by satan but by men following their own lusts. And they manipulate the scriptures, leading thousands astray, simply by taking less-than-a-verse out of context, as I have done.

My conscience bears me witness.

Thousands upon thousands of sheep were led astray by these five words from Paul. Honestly, that was it for verbatim scripture. Sure, a story was told about Isaac, Esau and Jacob but that was completely distorted as well. The claim was made, by this soft-spoken, clean-cut pastor with a million dollar smile, that Christians should not pursue activities without peace in the pit of their stomachs. Paul’s words were used as proof along with the following story: A man was supposed to fly to a speaking engagement, which he had done many times before. However, this time he couldn’t sleep the night before, nor could his wife, they didn’t have peace. But he ignored it and boarded the plane anyway and perished with the rest of the people aboard the plane when it plummeted to the earth. If he only listened to his conscience bearing him witness  (that was God telling him not to get on the plane). He ignored his lack of peace and perished along with plenty of other people including the pilots and passengers on the plane. It gets worse.

This particular pastor also preached on the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s birth right. Isaac couldn’t see, but he thought he heard Jacob’s voice. He didn’t have peace in the pit of his stomach. Isaac also wondered how Esau could have possibly returned so quickly from hunting; no peace. Isaac was lacking so much peace that he asked Jacob to let him feel his arms, because Esau was hairy and Jacob smooth skinned. Issac was fooled and the rest is history. Isaac should have listened to his gut, he should have paid more attention to his lack of peace in the pit of his stomach. That was God telling Isaac that Jacob was fooling him; Isaac’s conscience was bearing him witness. Problem: it was Isaac’s intellect that was piqued, not his conscience. He wasn’t lacking peace, he was using common sense–much like Jesus expected from his disciples. Yes, Jesus kept it simple. The New Testament was written in Koine (coy-nay) Greek that is a very basic dialect. It was not written to scholars, it was written to everyday people by everyday people. In fact, the Bible confuses the most learned among us. Don’t misunderstand me, the Bible is spiritual and the non spiritual will struggle with it but it is written to be understood. Take your vitamins and roll with me.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this

While this prominent pastor pointed to Paul’s phrase, “my conscience bearing me witness,” then told two tales, one biblicalish and one contemporary, people like sheep were led astray. Why? No context. The following is a tiny bit more of what Paul said: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Does that sound like peace in the pit of his stomach?

This is one small sample of several slick sermons made by men who are ripping words out of context and then stringing them together, creating confusion and darkening council. And, in fact, this particular preacher places little prominence on any passage of scripture. Even worse than taking scripture out of context is not using scripture at all. But what little scripture is used, is completely taken out of context. Which brings us back to Matthew 10:16-23, specifically, but considering the gospel of Matthew broadly. What is the immediate context? Remember, I already told you: Jesus instructing his first century followers. Not you, not me, not some future people alive during some future tribulation, but his contemporary disciples who understood that sheep were prey and wolves were predators; and that doves were peaceful and passive and serpents were ruthless and shrewd. The disciples were to be like both, in those respective qualities.

Are we sent out as sheep among wolves? Yes, but this passage doesn’t tell us that, Matthew 28:18-20 does. There is a reproduction in disciple making, notice; “and Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” We therefore expect similar situations as the disciples experienced, like sheep in the midst of wolves. But let’s not forgo the rest of the context. Some of us may go through Israel and some of us may be dragged into court and testify to kings. Actually, day by day this seems all the more possible. But we must not forget to whom this was said, and to whom it was written and when it was fulfilled; back then. This particular passage is intended to give us comfort. Yes we are in a similar situation being a reproducing disciple and we are evidence that Jesus was correct. They did their job. For more on this, read the book of Acts.

Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught 

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, claim that this passage pertains to a future fulfillment in prophetic people during a future great tribulation. Once again, that requires taking the passage out of context. Simply put, one must change the definition of you, to mean, not you but others. Remember the first words of this chapter, “Jesus summoned the twelve…” that’s the you. All of these words of Jesus were fulfilled by 70AD and the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. Recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:9,15-20, and 34, which most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, claim have yet to be fulfilled. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” 

Brethren, you means you and this generation means this generation. Unfortunately ripping verses out of context has become so commonplace that we don’t even detect it anymore. It’s why things seem crazier and crazier. No, we are not seeing the table set for an antichrist, we are failing as disciples, we are choking churches.

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