By Stephen Terry
Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Luke 10:3, NIV
As we sit in our ecclesiastical conclaves of Christianity, this command from Jesus seems pretty radical. After all, aren’t we supposed to avoid contact with the world to avoid contamination and the subsequent loss of our salvation? Better to stay in the fold and work on my own perfection than to endanger it by exposing myself to the world and its salacious temptations. Surely, Jesus would not want to see that happen, would He?
This command to the seventy, or seventy-two, depending on which Greek text you are translating from, is an echo of the command to all followers of Christ found in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." NIV But there is more here than simply a command.
In the book, “Christ’s Object Lessons,” Ellen White wrote on page 333 that “Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings.” This is what happened with this passage in Luke. The disciples returned, glorifying God at the power that was manifested when they went forth as Jesus had indicated. This begs the question: are we missing a blessing when we remain cloistered in our churches instead of going forth to reach our fellow human beings with the love of God?
But what of the dangers? What of the temptations? How will we survive? Those “wolves” are scary!!! Some of them even have tattoos and wear piercings!!! And the words I might hear!!! And the music, worst of all the music!!! Surely God would not want to expose me to that!!!
The verse in Luke leaves no doubt that God is fully aware of the presence of the wolves, and still He says “Go.” But what does it mean to go? First of all we should notice that He is not sending us to the wolves but to the lost sheep. While it is necessary to travel among the wolves to reach these sheep, we are not sent to the wolves. This is not our mission. If we lose sight of the mission and focus on the wolves, we will fail. Also, it is our mission we must focus on, not on anyone else’s. The wolves have a mission, too. Their mission is to eat sheep. Obviously, if they succeed in theirs, we fail in ours. There must be a way to prevent them from succeeding.
First, though, let’s look a little more closely at who is involved in this mission besides the wolves. There’s the sheep. Lost sheep to be exact. (See Matthew 10:6) Do they know they are lost? Maybe. But they are among the wolves also, and while they may or may not know they are lost, they may be worried by their circumstances. They may have seen other sheep disappear and noticed the wolves getting fatter. They may have tried very hard to please the wolves hoping to be spared. Yet in the end, the wolves never abandon their mission, and all attempts to conform to the wolves wishes are futile. Lamb chops are on the menu and always will be for the wolves.
What about us? The verse says that we are “lambs.” Wait a minute!!! Lambs? We are not even full grown sheep. If the sheep are in danger, what can a lamb do? If a wolf has a choice between a tough old ewe and a tender young lamb, what will he choose? This mission looks more foolish by the minute. Yet, there is a purpose.
These sheep have been living among the wolves. They probably have learned something about wolves by now to have survived until now. They may have learned you cannot trust a wolf. If God had sent us as powerful creatures capable of killing wolves and anything else that threatened, how would the sheep know they could trust us? They might run from us, also. No, he had to send their own kind. They could trust another sheep, perhaps.
But sending another sheep could be a problem as well. No doubt, the sheep had all sorts of ideas for avoiding the wolves. Some seemed to work better than others. And if one had survived this long, why would it listen to a new idea from another sheep. Maybe that sheep was trying to assert itself to lead the flock astray. No, it had to be a lamb. A lamb is no threat to anyone. Only a lamb could carry the message and be heard.
Besides, a sheep might be tempted to take the glory for delivering the message. A sheep might even see itself as the deliverer. But a lamb could never assert itself like that. A lamb would only carry one simple message that could save all the lost sheep. “I know where the Shepherd is.” That knowledge would electrify the sheep with hope. The wolves did not fear the sheep, but they certainly feared the Shepherd.
The wolves would not be afraid of the lamb. In fact, they would probably tell themselves “I can kill and eat this tiny creature anytime I want.” Since the lamb was not threat, it could get through to the sheep. After all, what is one more sheep to wolves except more mutton for later. The power in the lamb is not in itself, but in its message. The message that not only does the lamb know where the Shepherd is but that He is on His way.
The lamb’s presence is a symbol of the Shepherd’s presence to the sheep. In a sense the Shepherd is already there. As King David put it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4, NIV As the lamb walked among the wolves, seeking the lost sheep, Jesus was with it. Nothing that the lamb encountered was unknown to the Shepherd. This was a witness to the sheep. That witness said to them that if the lamb can survive the wolves, maybe they can, too. They could begin to trust the Shepherd because the lamb had trusted Him first.
The presence of the Shepherd leant power to the lamb’s story; not power to destroy wolves but power to heal sheep. The power to heal and comfort belongs to the lambs who follow Jesus, but the power to destroy evil belongs to God alone. Moses taught this truth before the Israelites went through the sea on dry land. He said “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14, NIV The battle against the wolves belongs to God alone. But we can have a part in saving the sheep. Our part is to bring healing, comfort and deliverance by bringing the good news of the Shepherd to the sheep. We must come humbly as young lambs before fully grown sheep. We know that the Shepherd is the Deliverer and not we ourselves. We have no strength to even save ourselves. We cannot save the sheep. Only the Shepherd can. If we place all of our trust in the Shepherd, others will, too.
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-7, NIV
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