Not What We Signed Up For

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” – Matthew 10:16-25 ESV

Jesus is preparing to send out His disciples as laborers into the harvest. He has instructed them to focus all their attention on the Jews, forbidding them to enter into Gentile or Samaritan communities. They were to proclaim the coming of the kingdom by declaring it as being “at hand.” In other words, it was near or imminent. Jesus, the rightful heir to the throne had arrived, but He had not yet established His kingdom on earth, and would not until the end of the age.

This delay in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was never grasped by the disciples. Their impression was that Jesus had come to set up His kingdom in their lifetimes and that they would rule and reign alongside Him. While the Old Testament Scriptures clearly taught the suffering and death of the Messiah before His kingdom could be inaugurated, the Jews had missed this critical element to the divine timeline.

So, there must have been excitement among the 12 disciples as they prepared to act as emissaries for Jesus, equipped with power to perform miracles and cast out demons. It would have been natural for them to assume an air of eager anticipation as they considered the reactions they would get from their fellow Jews when they revealed their new-found miracle-working powers in front of them. But Jesus dampened their enthusiasm with a few words of warning.

In verses 12-15, He informed them that they were going to meet with resistance. Not everyone was going to greet them with open arms. But now, He paints an even bleaker and foreboding image of their future assignment. Jesus describes them as innocent sheep being sent to minister among wolves. Not exactly a confidence-building metaphor. Earlier, Jesus had described the Jews as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV), but now He refers to the disciples as the sheep. And they were going to find themselves entering into dangerous territory, surrounded by ravenous wolves, whose sole intent was their destruction.

Now, stop and imagine the faces of the disciples as Jesus shared this news. They must have been looking at one another in disbelief, wondering what in the world He was talking about. Their excitement about the prospect of being able to perform miracles was suddenly replaced by a fear for their lives. While they had seen Jesus face some mild opposition, He had not encountered anything that was remotely life-threatening. But their apprehension was about to increase because Jesus was not yet finished with His warning.

Jesus encourages them to maintain a balance between innocence and wisdom. They will need to remain free from any semblance of evil while, at the same time, living with a sense of prudence or caution. In other words, they were to stay alert to the dangers around them, while keeping themselves pure and free innocent of any guilt.

But even while doing so, they would find themselves undeservedly attacked. Jesus describes them as ending up in court, being flogged, and even having to appear before governors and kings, all for being His representatives. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that each of these things would eventually happen to Jesus Himself. He too, would end up in the court of the Sanhedrin, be dragged before the civil magistrates, and be mercilessly flogged. But the disciples were unaware of any of those future events. All they could think about was the prospects of the suffering Jesus seemed to be predicting for them.

Yet, in the midst of all the bad news, Jesus provides them with a little glimmer of hope. He tells them, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19 ESV). Yes, they will be dragged before courts, governors, and kings, and they will be expected to bear witness for Christ before them, but they will have help. 

For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:20 ESV

This bit of good news probably landed with a thud on the ears of the disciples. They had no way of understanding what this even meant. Up until this point in their relationship with Jesus, they had no personal experience with the power of the Spirit of God. They had no way of knowing what Jesus was describing. And they would not know until years later when they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So, this word of encouragement would have brought small comfort to the disciples.

And it didn’t help that Jesus followed up this news with talk about betrayal and death.

“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 10:21-22 NLT

The longer Jesus talked, the worse it got. Their little adventure was quickly turning into a nightmare. And it didn’t help that Jesus cautioned them to endure even in the face of persecution. And He warns that they are going to have to flee for their lives in order to stay alive and fulfill their commission. Even then, Jesus states that they will never fully complete their assignment before He returns.

I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.” – Matthew 10:23 NLT

This last line must have thoroughly confused them. They were the ones being sent out, so, they would be the ones to return to Jesus, not the other way around. What was He talking about? Where was He going that He would have to return? And why was He sending them out if He knew that things were going to go so poorly?

It is obvious to us who live this side of the cross, that Jesus is predicting future events. As we will see, none of these things happened to the disciples on the short-term assignment given to them by Jesus. And it is likely that they were very much relieved when they returned unscathed and unharmed. But Jesus is speaking prophetically, warning His disciples of a day in the not-so-distant future when the very things He spoke of would take place.

Jesus had come to earth in order to die. That was His God-given mission. But His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And His ascension would result in the coming of the Holy Spirit. That transformational event would be the key to the disciples being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). The Spirit would be the source behind their words when they spoke before governors and kings. They would have the strength to be His witnesses in the worst of circumstances, because they would have the power of the Spirit within them.

All of this was preparatory and prophetic. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The disciples lived with their eyes on the present, but Jesus was preparing them for the future. As far as they were concerned, the King was with them. But little did they know, that He would be leaving them. And when He left, they would be responsible for the continuation of His mission. They would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). They would carry on His ministry and preach His message of salvation among the Jews and the Gentiles. And they would suffer for their efforts, just as He did.

Which is why Jesus warns them:

“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!” – Matthew 10:24-25 NLT

They had chosen to follow Jesus. They were His disciples. And, as such, they were going to learn that their lot was closely and inextricably tied to His. Jesus had come to suffer and so would they. Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, and they would be expected to sacrifice their lives as well – all for the sake of the kingdom.

None of this made any sense to the disciples. They were probably in a state of shock. They may have been rethinking their commitment to follow Jesus. This was not what they had signed up for. But they were going to discover that Jesus had plans for them that were far greater and significant than anything they could have imagined. And while His description of the future sounded dire and distasteful, they would one day willingly and eagerly embrace His call to be like their Master.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Advertisements

Godly Leadership

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete with a clear set of instructions and responsibilities: He was to put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town as Paul had directed him. Paul communicated that first task using just two Greek words, epidiorthoō, and leipō, and the only time in the New Testament that they appear together in a sentence is in this verse. The first word means “to set in order or arrange.” But what was it that Titus was to set in order? The answer is found in the second word. It means “that which is lacking or left undone.” Evidently, Paul had given Titus some previous instructions regarding some unfinished business on the island of Crete, and one of those things had to do with the appointment of elders.

Paul placed a high priority on leadership within the local church and had given Titus the responsibility of finding and appointing men who met the qualifications of an elder. For Paul, the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was dependent upon godly leadership, and he went out of his way to find men who had the right gift mixes and leadership qualifications to effectively shepherd the church of Christ.

In the grand scheme of things, God had prescribed a very specific set of roles within the local body of Christ. And they were to share a single-minded devotion to one cause: The building up of the body of Christ.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

Paul had a strong affinity for the role of the local elder. These men were to be home-grown and faithful members of their local congregations. And they were to meet a fairly robust set of criteria before they could be considered as possible candidates for the role of elder. And Paul told Timothy that it was a good thing for men to see the role of an elder as aspirational and motivational.

If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. – 1 Timothy 3:1 NLT

Yet, this role was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. For Paul, it required that a man meet certain non-negotiable requirements that reflected the degree of his integrity and spiritual maturity.

So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap. – 1 Timothy 3:2-7 NLT

And it is likely that Paul had, at some point, shared this same list of qualifications with Titus. So, the somewhat abbreviated list found in his letter to Titus was probably meant more as a reminder than as a detailed listing of qualifications. Yet, don’t miss the similarities between the Timothy and Titus lists.

An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. – Titus 1:6-7 NLT

You can’t help but notice that character and integrity are essential in the life of an elder. Yet, when Paul states that an elder must live a blameless life, he is not suggesting that they be perfect or without sin. There has been only one man who could meet that qualification: Jesus Christ. But Paul is suggesting that any man who is considered for the role of an elder must be beyond reproach. In other words, there must not be anything in his life that would bring dishonor to the name of God or the cause of Christ. His reputation must be unblemished by even rumors of immoral activity or ungodly behavior.

These were men were expected to take their role seriously, pouring time and energy into the spiritual health of their local congregation.  And the churches they served were to recipocrate with provision for their physical needs.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT

And Paul made it clear that godly character was not only essential for a man to be appointed an elder, but it was also critical in allowing him to remain one. Paul knew that these individuals would have the capacity to fail. After all, they were men. So, if Titus or Timothy received an accusation against a serving elder, they were to take it seriously. But they were also to require that reliable witnesses confirm any accusation that might be leveled against an elder. Hearsay was not to be accepted or tolerated. But if the accusation was proven to be true, immediate disciplinary measures were to be taken.

Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others. – 1 Timothy 5:19 NLT

Paul did not consider the moral and spiritual integrity of church leadership as something to treat lightly. And just because a man was well-liked and highly respected did not mean he was to be treated with kid gloves or could escape church discipline.

I solemnly command you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus and the highest angels to obey these instructions without taking sides or showing favoritism to anyone. – 1 Timothy 5:20 NLT

And the risk of moral failure in the life of an elder was all the more reason to approach their selection and appointment with a sense of gravity and extreme patience.

Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader. 1 Timothy 5:21 NLT

The important thing about the list of qualifications in both of Paul’s letters is that they contain character qualities whose negative manifestations reflect the abuse of the power and authority associated with the role of an elder. A man who had authority over a local congregation could easily abuse his power and find himself acting toward his wife in unfaithfulness. Men who use their God-ordained authority to take advantage of others in order to satisfy their own sinful pleasures will be held accountable by God.

And a man who is supposed to manage the household of God, but who shows clear signs of failing to do that very thing in his own home, has not business holding a place of authority in the church. Paul’s reference to an elder having believing children seems to indicate that he expected an elder candidate to be more advanced in years with children who were old enough to hear and accept the gospel message. If a man failed to lead his own children to Christ, how could he be expected to lead a local congregation? And if his God-appointed role as the head of his own home had not produced Spirit-filled and obedient children, there was little likelihood that he would lead the people of God any better.

An arrogant man is a leader who lets his role go to his head. A quick-tempered man reveals a leader who gets angry when others don’t do things his way. A leader who is prone to drink heavily reveals a lack of self-control and an inability to manage his own passions. A violent man is not the kind of shepherd who tenderly cares for the sheep under his care. And a man who is dishonest with his money will end up being a leader who can’t be trusted to steward the body of Christ.

As far as Paul was concerned, the key to the success of any elder was their knowledge of and adherence to “the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:0 NLT) – the gospel message. If the saving, sanctifying message of the Good News did not saturate and motivate his life, he would prove to be a lousy leader of sheep. But a man whose life is steeped in and controlled by the gospel will be able to not only encourage others but, when necessary, correct them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unexpected and Unaccepted.

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:7-19ESV

John had questions for Jesus, but Jesus had no questions regarding John. He was not put off by John’s inquiries regarding His identity, because He knew that John was unaware of the exact nature of His ministry and mission. So, as soon as John’s disciples left, Jesus turned to the crowd and presented a defense of John. First of all, Jesus asked the people why they had flocked to see John in the wilderness. What had been their motivation? Was it to see a man who was driven by the wind and susceptible to the whims of culture? No, John had been a strong-willed and passionate speaker who was not afraid to preach a message of repentance to the people of Israel. Matthew described him as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3 ESV).

Secondly, Jesus asked if the crowds had pursued John because he dressed in fine clothes and was a man of means. Of course, the answer was no. According to Matthew’s earlier description of John, he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). John wasn’t a wealthy or powerful man. He had no reputation as a man of influence or learning. So, that brings Jesus to ask His third and final question: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet?” (Matthew 11:9 ESV). And the answer to that question was a resounding, “Yes!” That exactly what the people believed John to be. And he was. Jesus confirmed John’s prophetic role and even added that he was “more than a prophet.” What did Jesus mean by that statement? John was a spokesman for God just like all the Old Testament prophets had been. But there had been a 400-year silence between the time of the last prophet and the day when John had begun his ministry. And when John had showed up on the scene to break that silence, he had been the fulfillment of prophecy himself. That is what set him apart from all the other prophets. Jesus paraphrased Malachi 3:1 when he said:

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’ – Matthew 11:10 ESV

John was the God-ordained forerunner of Jesus, having been given the sole responsibility and privilege of announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. And by quoting this Old Testament passage, Jesus was declaring His role as the Messiah and John’s role as the prophet who would prepare the way before Him.

Later on in the book of Malachi, the prophet wrote of the return of Elijah the prophet.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

John had come in the spirit of Elijah, calling the people to prepare for the coming Kingdom and to accept the newly arrived Messiah. And Jesus declared that “he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14 ESV). But the people had refused to believe the words John had spoken. Yes, many of them had chosen to be baptized by John, but they would end up refusing to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The majority of the Jewish nation would turn against Him, denying Him as their Lord and Savior.

Jesus declared John’s superiority because he had been given the one-of-a-kind task of preparing the way for the Messiah. As far as Jesus was concerned, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). That’s extremely high praise, when you consider men like Abraham, Moses, and David. John was far greater than any of them, not because of anything he had done, but because of the extreme importance of his role as the herald for the coming Messiah. But Jesus added an important and, somewhat confusing statement regarding John. He said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). John’s ministry was an earthly one. He was relegated to announcing the arrival of the Kingdom, but was not yet a part of it. He had a very important role to play on earth, but Jesus lets His audience know that those who inherit the Kingdom will be far greater than John. Jesus is not saying that there will be degrees of worth in heaven. If anything, He is insinuating that even the least – the prostitutes, tax collectors and other worthless sinners in this life – who place their faith in Him and inherit eternal life, will be greater than John. John got to proclaim the coming Kingdom, but those who participate in it will have the greater reward.

Next, Jesus turned His attention to those in His audience, comparing them in not-so-flattering terms to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (Matthew 11:16 ESV).

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ – Matthew 11:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is accusing the Israelites of rejecting Him because He refused to dance to their tune or react in the way they had expected. They were like spoiled children who had their view of how the Messiah should appear and what He should do when He did. And Jesus didn’t meet their demands. So,they rejected Him. They were critical and impossible to please. That’s why Jesus describes them as having “neither eating nor drinking,” and the people wrote him off as having been possessed of a demon. If John was the forerunner of the Messiah, the people wondered why he dressed and ate the way he did. He was an aesthetic, set himself apart and limited his diet, so the people labeled him as demon-possessed. But Jesus had come along, and rather than being a separatist, He ate and drank with sinners, so the Jews described Him as a glutton and a drunkard. Not only that, He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. This was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.

But Jesus ends His address to the crowd with a simple statement:

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 ESV

Time would tell. The future would vindicate the lifestyle choices of John and Jesus. They were acting in unity with God and in complete submission to His will. While the people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, His status as the chosen one of God was not in jeopardy. He was no less the Messiah because of their stubborn refusal of Him. And the day will come when all mankind will realize that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:11-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Are You the One?

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  – Matthew 11:1-6 ESV

For whatever reason, Matthew chose to leave out what happened when the disciples went on their mission. He seems less interested in what the disciples ended up doing, than with what Jesus continued to accomplish as part of His messianic activities. Remember, Matthew is out to prove that Jesus is the Messiah so, it makes sense that he would ignore the accomplishments of the disciples. What they ended up doing was secondary in importance to what Jesus was doing and saying.

This chapter opens up with an encounter between Jesus and a few of the disciples of John the Baptist. John sits in a prison cell, by the order of Herod Antipas. His crime? Speaking out against the king’s immoral relationship with his own brother’s wife, Herodias. She had been incensed by John’s remarks and arranged to have him imprisoned. From his cell, John sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus an interesting question. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV). Was John’s question an indication of a lagging faith or a growing impatience? Was he beginning to doubt whether Jesus truly was the Messiah? It is likely that he was more than a bit confused by his imprisonment, wondering how it fit into the coming of the Kingdom as he had been preaching. Was he simply wondering when Jesus was going to begin acting like a Messiah and usher in His Kingdom? The passage doesn’t tell us what was going on in John’s mind, but based on the tone of his question, it seems as if John is struggling with both doubt and impatience. After all, he is sitting in a prison cell and Jesus is traveling around the countryside drawing crowds, but also drawing the anger and animosity of the nation’s religious leadership. If John is suffering from a case of doubt, who can blame him? While he had been chosen by God as the one to pave the way for the Messiah, he did not have in-depth knowledge of just how Jesus’ ministry would unfold. I don’t think John is wrestling with his imprisonment as much as he is with his expectations of just what should be happening outside the walls of his prison cell. Like all Jews, he had an image of what the coming of the Messiah would look like. John had preconceived ideas of what Jesus should be doing and he was probably wondering just what was going on.

When the two disciples arrived and presented John’s question to Jesus. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that “at that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 NLT). And Matthew states that Jesus responded to John’s disciples with a command to return to John and describe what they were seeing.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11:4-5 ESV

John was the herald, the offical God-appointed prophet, tasked with announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah and His Kingdom. But even John had to have been a little confused by all that was going on. His concept of the Kingdom was markedly different than what was going on outside the walls of his prison cell. The activities of Jesus were not lining up with his expectations.

And Jesus wants John to understand that His immediate mission was far different than any of the Jews had expected. If you recall, John had a fairly strong view of Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Part of his message to the people entailed a fairly clear vision of Jesus as judge.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. – Matthew 3:12 ESV

He had told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7 ESV). So, in John’s mind, Jesus should have been taking names and dishing out some well-deserved wrath on those who stood opposed to Him. And this encounter between Jesus and John’s disciples opens up a section in which Matthew begins to reveal that rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Which is why, when Jesus said, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Most would end up finding Jesus offensive and reject not only His message of salvation, but His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Jesus seems to be trying to assure John that His miracles were evidence of His authority and power, and that His message of Good News spoke of His agenda. Jesus encouraged John to stay faithful in the face of adversity. There were going to be bumps along the road. Not everyone was going to believe in Jesus or His message, just as not everyone believed in or took advantage of John’s baptism. In refusing John’s baptism, the Pharisees and experts in religious law were really rejecting God’s plan for them and that seems to be the real message of this passage.

The people to whom John had been sent and to whom Jesus was ministering were cynical and skeptical of this new message. They were attracted to Jesus’ miracles, but didn’t know quite what to do with His message. He tended to challenge them and raise the bar of expectation for them. He seemed to be making it harder, not easier. Jesus challenged the status quo and made them uncomfortable in their self-satisfied little worlds.

For John and all those who heard the message of Jesus, it tended to make no sense at times. It was confusing and seemingly contradictory to all that they had come to know about how to have a relationship with God. Jesus’ message was about faith in who He claimed to be – the Son of God, sent directly from the throne of God with a message of repentance and a plan of salvation for restoring man’s marred relationship with God. And the wisdom of what Jesus was saying would be proved true in time – for John and all those who chose to have faith in Him.

Jesus wanted John to know that everything was happening just as God had ordained it to happen. Yes, John was in jail, but that was no indication that the Kingdom was in trouble or that Jesus had lost His focus. John would be executed long before Jesus was tried, crucified, buried and raised again. But the disciples of Jesus would see the wisdom of Jesus’ message proved true. They would see their own lives radically changed. They would witness a literal revolution that would spread throughout the known world in a very short period of time, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, powered by the Holy Spirit, exploded onto the scene and into the lives of men at Pentecost. So Jesus encourages patience and faith. Give Him time to do what He came to do, in the manner in which He came to do it. Things would never be the same again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not For the Feint of Heart.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:34-42 ESV

The message of Jesus Christ is divisive in nature. It demands a reaction. It polarizes and stirs controversy because it is not of this world. It has already become clear that Jesus’ very presence on the earth had stirred up trouble. Satan had tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, attempting to keep Him from His appointed duties as Messiah. The Pharisees have labeled Him as a troublemaker and potential source of conflict and controversy. So, as Jesus prepared to send His disciples on their first independent foray into the world with the message of the Kingdom, He warned them about the dangers they would encounter. What they had to say would not always be well-received. But He didn’t want that to surprise or defeat them. While they must have believed that the news of the Messiah’s arrival would be met with excitement and enthusiasm, especially among the Jews, Jesus wanted them to know that His presence on earth was actually going to cause a great deal of conflict. It would divide families, pitting children against their parents, and disrupting entire households.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that the message of Gospel was going to end up causing a lot of strife. And at this point in their relationship with Jesus, the disciples had no way of knowing about His eventual death. They were still under the impression that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who was going to set up His Kingdom on earth – in Jerusalem. He would reign with power, just as David had. He would return the people of Israel to power and prominence. But little did they know that their Messiah was going to have to suffer and die. And after His death, resurrection and ascension, their message of the good news was going to become even more controversial.

Paul would later write of the incredible news regarding Jesus, that would become the essence of the good news he and the other apostles would bring to the world.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV

That message would leave many incredulous and others furious. Paul would find himself under constant attack for sharing the good news regarding Jesus. He would be arrested multiple times, thrown into jail, beaten, and even stoned and left for dead. And Paul would learn the invaluable lesson that faith in Christ would require commitment and a refusal to compromise. Those who accepted the message of Jesus Christ would have to make the difficult choice between following Him and maintaining their relationships with family and friends. Because as Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).

Each and every individual who hears the Gospel will be forced to choose between this life and the life to come. They will be required to place their faith in the message of salvation from sin and death made possible through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God. Or they will have the option of putting all their hope in this life. Jesus describes this difficult choice of accepting the Gospel message as taking up your cross. It will prove uncomfortable at times. It will result in conflict and difficulty.

But there is a reward associated with the message of Jesus Christ. The disciples would discover that their faithful obedience to their assignment from Jesus would come with some incredible benefits. And after His eventual ascension back into heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they would find themselves filled and equipped with a power like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their work would be dangerous and difficult, but they would be provided with a source of strength and wisdom beyond their wildest dreams. And the same thing would be true for all who received their message.

In their role as the messengers of Jesus, the disciples would be acting as prophets, speaking on His behalf and carrying the message of God. Those who listened to them would receive the reward of the prophet. This seems to be a reference to the good news that the prophet of God offered. Prophets tended to have two messages – one was a message of pending judgment for those who refuse to listen, and the other was a message of forgiveness and restoration to those who hear and obey the words of the prophet. In the same way, all those who would hear and obey the good news regarding Jesus would receive the reward of eternal life. And for those who receive the message of Jesus’ righteousness as the Son of God and Savior of the world, will be rewarded with His righteousness as their own.

To wrap up His message, Jesus turned His attention to those who would hear what His disciples had to say. For all those who treated His messengers with respect by offering them even a cup of cold water, would find themselves rewarded for their effort. Their kindness would be an indication of their receptivity of the messenger and their message.

The disciples of Jesus were about to enter an exciting new era in their relationship with Jesus. They would be the ones dessiminating the message and working the miracles. No longer would they be spectators. They were about to enter the game. But Jesus wanted them to know that their mission would be accompanied by difficulty. And the day was coming when He would leave them behind, returning to His Father in heaven, and assigning them with the formidable task of taking the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Misplaced Fear.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 10:26-33 ESV

In His address to His disciples, as He prepares to send them out on their first independent ministry mission, Jesus uses a number of proverbial statement that must have sounded confusing and even a bit contradictory to His audience. There were already reeling from His announcement that they were going to face persecution and even death as His emmissaries. Of course, they didn’t understand that much of what He had told them was prophetic in nature and dealing with events far into the future, long after they were gone. Jesus was addressing not only the twelve, but all those who would become His disciples after His death and resurrection. Future Christians would face persecution and difficulties of all kinds, including martyrdom. And the greatest period of persecution will happen during the period known as the Great Tribulation, just prior to Jesus’ second coming.

So, in light of His announcement that the disciples would face difficulty and possibly death, Jesus encouraged them “fear not.” Three separate times, Jesus emphasizes that they were to have no fear of those who would harrass and harm them,

So have no fear of them – Matthew 10:26 ESV

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul – Matthew 10:28 ESV

Fear not, therefore – Matthew 10:31 ESV

And knowing that His disciples would find these words difficult to obey, Jesus provided them with the reasoning that should motivate and alleviate their fears. First of all, using a proverbial statement, Jesus told them, “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26 ESV). The news that they were to share regarding His Kingdom was going to become known. They could allow their fears to silence their tongues, but the message would still become known. The news about the arrival of the Messiah would be spread one way or another, so they might as well speak up. All that they had seen Jesus do and heard Him say was to be broadcast to their fellow Jews. The Messiah had come and they were to let everyone know. And they were not to let their fear of man silence them.

And Jesus was realistic, acknowledging that there was always the real chance of death associated with their mission. Not only was there the potential for people to reject their message, there was the distinct possibility that they could take their lives. But Jesus tells them “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” His words were meant to focus the attention of the disciples on the eternal rather than the temporal. All men could do to them was kill their bodies. They could not touch their souls or impact their future destiny. Men could eliminate the disciples’ physical lives but do nothing to influence eternal life.

But while Jesus clearly told His disciples to “fear not,” He was not telling them fear nothing. They were to have a healthy fear of God.

…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28 ESV

Too often, we live with a misplaced fear, caring far more about men think of us or might do to us, rather than fearing the power and holiness of God. We are eternal creatures, whose souls will last long after our bodies have died and decayed. Men can harm our bodies, but they cannot touch our souls. And yet, the afterlife is far more important than our earthly life. Where we spend eternity is of greater importance than how we spend out lives on this planet. The disciples could allow their fear to keep their mouth’s shut, in hopes that they could avoid possible suffering, but Jesus wanted them to focus their attention on the future – on eternity.

The judgment of God is far greater and more devastating than anything man can do to us. He has authority over the physical bodies and the eternal desitinies of all men. So, it is much more important that we fear Him, rather than wasting our time worrying about what men might do to us. Jesus was not suggesting that a believer could lose their salvation if they failed to remain faithful. He was simply reminding the disciples that God was the ultimate determiner of men’s fate, and the eternal destiny of men was of greater importance than any temporal suffering they may face or attempt to avoid.

Jesus summarized the need for their fear of God by trying to get them to recognize His sovereign care for them.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:31 ESV

The God who cares for the physical well-being of birds, cares far more about the souls of men. He feeds the birds and even knows the fate of each and everyone of them. But He cares more about men. Birds and animals have no souls, but men do. And God cares deeply about the souls of every man and woman He has created. And the whole reason He sent His Son to die on the cross was in order that men and women, whose souls are condemned to hell because of sin, could be restored to a right relationship with Him. God knows us so intimately, that He has the hairs of our heads numbered. He is closely aware of every one of the billions of human beings on this planet, and He longs that their souls be preserved through faith in His Son.

But the fate of the souls of men is tied directly to their acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ. Those who faithfully acknowledge Him as their Savior, in spite of persecution and opposition, will be acknowledged by Jesus as one of His own when they stand before God. Their willingness to face possible rejection and death on this earth for their faith, will result in full acceptance by God when they stand before Him. The disciples were to take the message of the Kingdom to their fellow Jews, knowing that they would face opposition. They were to shout their message from the rooftops, refusing to remain silent even in the face of persecution. All because they trusted that their eternal destiny was in the hands of God Almighty.

The apostle Paul would later write, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 ESV). That is what Jesus is calling us to do. And it is not to be a one time event. Our confession of Jesus as Lord is to be ongoing, and it is something we should be willing to do before men. Our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ should be something we are willing to broadcast to all those around us. The good news of Jesus Christ was not meant to be kept secret or hidden from others. It is to be shouted from the rooftops and proudly proclaimed to any and all. Yes, we will face rejection and ridicule. We might even face bodily harm and death. But we will be saved. Our souls are preserved by God. Our eternal destiny is secure. We have nothing to fear.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sheep Among Wolves.

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. – Matthew 10:16-25 ESV

Try to put yourself in the sandals of the disciples. It was still early in their relationship with Jesus and He has just told them that He is going to send them out on their own with the responsibility of sharing the news of His Kingdom to their fellow Jews. Not only that, He has informed them that they will be able to perform the same incredible miracles He has done. All of this must have sounded strange to them, but also a bit exciting. They were being commissioned by the Messiah and given a level of responsibility that must have seemed way above their pay grade. After all, they were simple fishermen, laborers, and tax collectors. Yet, they were being sent by Jesus and this assignment from Him must have left them with a sense of pride. But Jesus was about to tap the brakes on their enthusiasm.

He could probably tell from the looks in their eyes that they were thrilled with the prospect of being able to perform miracles. And the idea of being able to pronounce either a blessing or a curse on those to whom they spoke must have left them with a sense of power and authority that showed up on their faces. So, He threw a bit of cold water on their enthusiasm by telling them, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). Remember, He had just described the people of Israel as “lost sheep.” Now He refers to the disciples as sheep. And that reference would have been well-understood by the twelve. Sheep were innocent and highly vulnerable animals. They were virtually defenseless, lacking no real capacity to protect themselves from harm. And Jesus told them they would find themselves like sheep among wolves. Not exactly an encouraging picture. Then He followed this up with a warning to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). What does that even mean?

The Greek word translated as “wise” carries the idea of being prudent or shrewd. It is a kind of street savvy that would allow them to survive in a very difficult environment. But to prevent them from becoming jaded and ruthless in their behavior, Jesus warned them to maintain a sense of innocence. He did not want them to become like the wolves. Rather, they were to be aware of the wiles of the enemy, without emulating his ways.

Then Jesus dropped the bomb on them.

17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. – Matthew 10:17-18 ESV

What the disciples didn’t know was that Jesus was talking about the future. He was addressing the period of time that would take place after His death, resurrection and ascension. At this point in their relationship with Jesus, they had no way of knowing that His earthly ministry was going to end in His voilent death by crucifixion. He had yet to break that news to them. And they were completely oblivious to the fact that, upon His return to heaven, they would find themselves His ambassadors and earthly representatives, tasked with the responsibility of taking the good news of His sacrificial death on the cross to the world. They would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). And they would find themselves facing stiff resistance in the form of persecution and even death.

All of this had to have left the disciples slack-jawed and dumbfounded. All this talk of courts, flogging and being handed over to death had to have left them shaking their heads in confusion. Their eager enthusiasm would have turned to abject fear and revulsion at the thought of having to endure such things. But Jesus gave them a bit of good news, informing them that the Spirit of God would be with them, so they had no reason to be anxious. The Holy Spirit would give the words they needed to defend themselves when standing before the courts. And even if their own families end up turning against them and they find themselves facing the hatred of those who once claimed to love them, they can rest in the knowledge that God will be with them. They will be saved. This doesn’t mean they will escape death, but that they will be ultimately delivered to eternal life.

None of this probably sounded like good news to the disciples. They must have been staring at one another in disbelief and confusion, trying to comprehend all that Jesus was telling them. And it is important to keep in mind that they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, but their understanding was that He had come to set up His Kingdom on earth NOW. They were looking for a new day to dawn for the people of Israel. They had joined up with Jesus because they thought He was going to restore Israel to its place of power and prominence and they hoped to get in on the ground floor of His new administration.

But now, Jesus had clouded their vision of the future. In essence, Jesus was revealing to them that God’s agenda was far different than their own. There was a divine plan in place that was going to include not only Jesus’ first coming, but a second one that would culminate God’s plan for the redemption of mankind and the recreation of the world. But in the meantime, there were some important events that would have to take place, including Jesus’ death on the cross, His return to heaven, His rapture of the church and His Second Coming at the end of the period of the tribulation.

The disciples lived with a here-and-now mentality that focused all their attention on the period of time in which they lived. They were not thinking about the distant future. They were not concerned about things that were to happen long after they were gone. But Jesus was trying to expand their understanding and open their eyes to the reality that His mission was far greater than they imagined. The redemptive plan of God went way beyond the physical restoration of the nation of Israel as a political force on earth.

The Son of Man had come, but He was going to have to come again. And it would be at His second coming that Jesus would accomplish many of the things the disciples were expecting. They would be long gone by that time. But they were the first of many who would spread the good news regarding Jesus to the world. They would start with the Jews, but after Jesus’ death, they would be told to take the Gospel to the nations. And after the disciples were gone, the offer of salvation through Christ would be carried around the world by future disciples who would face persecution, rejection, and even death. And one day Jesus will return to complete the mission He has been given by God.

In the meantime, we are called to be like our Teacher. We are to serve as He served, love as He loved, share as He shared. And, as a result, we will suffer as He has suffered. We will be falsely accused and maligned just as He was. But we have the knowledge and reassurance that one day He is coming back. We also rest in the fact that our destiny is secure and our eternal state guaranteed by His death and resurrection. We have nothing to fear and everything for which to look forward.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fake Sheep With False Motives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.– Matthew 7:15-20 ESV

Jesus has just discussed the narrow gate and the difficult path that provides access to the kingdom of God. And the numbers of those who choose that way are going to be few. But because the kingdom way is not a literal path, but a spiritual one, it will sometimes be difficult to tell who is actually walking along beside you. So, Jesus warns that there will be fakers and posers, even dangerous charlatans, whose sole motive will be to deceive and destroy those who have been approved by God. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus reiterating His claim to be the door or the narrow gate. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9 ESV). Not only had there been false Messiahs before Jesus arrived, there had been deceptive religious leaders who offered up a different form of salvation. And Jesus makes it clear that all these individuals had been motivated by Satan himself. Whether they realized it or not, these people were driven by demonic desires, not divine ones. Jesus went on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Those who preach another form of salvation or a different means of achieving a right standing with God are essentially deceivers who will end up destroying all those who listen to their lies.

And here in His sermon on the mount, Jesus warns against “false prophets” who will attempt to disguise themselves as sheep in order to infiltrate the ranks of those who have been approved by God. They will appear to be fellow sojourners on the kingdom way, but will actually be out to do harm, not good. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves, hungry predators with one thing in mind, feeding their own insatiable desires. So, how are we supposed to spot these dangerous deceivers? If they look like us and appear to be on the same path we are traveling, how will we be able to expose them? Jesus gives us a very simple way of knowing whether our fellow travelers are legitimate or not: Their fruit. He says, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). But wait a minute! If they are out to deceive, won’t they be disguising their true motives by emulating the right kind of behavior? Won’t they be smart enough to act just like sheep? The answer is, yes. Jesus will even address that issue in the very next verses. These people will act the part, but the key will be whether their fruit is in keeping with the will of God. We must always keep in mind that God sees our hearts. He knows what motivates our behavior. But we don’t have that capacity. We aren’t able to see into the heart of another human being. So, what are we to do? How are we to discern whether someone is truly a believer? Again, Jesus would tell us to look at their fruit. What is in the heart will ultimately show up as fruit. Jesus makes that perfectly clear later on in the book of Matthew.

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” – Matthew 15:19 NLT

And here, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus comapres these false prophets to thorn bushes, thistles and diseased trees. They are incapable of producing true fruit. And the fruit we should be looking for is described for us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t bear figs. And you don’t get healthy fruit from a diseased tree. Ultimately, their true nature will become evident. The true condition of their hearts will be exposed. And in the book of Jeremiah, we read how God describes those who would deceive His children.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

As we walk the Kingdom path, there will always be those who appear to be with us but who will actually be against us. They will attempt to deceive and distract us. They will be the ones who question why we take things so seriously and why we worry so much about spirituality. They will claim to love the Lord as much as we do, but will display a love for the world that reveals their true nature. Their commitment to the will of God will be minimal. Their reliance upon the Word of God will be spotty at best. They will do good deeds, but for the wrong motives. And, ultimately, their influence on the church will be harmful, not helpful. In the book of Jude, we read his warnings to a local congregation regarding these false prophets or teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:3-4 NLT

Jude goes on to describe their behavior in less-than-flattering terms:

In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he describes their sad state and even worse outcome:

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! – Jude 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus has already told us that “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14 ESV). The Kingdom life is not an easy one. It will have its moments of trials and difficulties. It will have its dark valleys. Even in the famous 23rd Psalm, we read David’s words describing the life of those who are led by the Shepherd:

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 ESV

It will not always be green pastures and still waters. There will be moments of sadness and seasons of despair. But God will be with us, guiding and comforting us. And Jesus would have us know that there will be so-called companions on our life’s journey who will not be what they appear. So, we must be discerning. Jesus would later give His disciples some invaluable advice as He prepared to send them out on their own.

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16 NLT

When all is said and done, the only way we have of discerning the true nature of those who claim to be fellow followers of Christ is to look at their fruit. And that means we must judge their behavior. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to sin or refuse to evaluate the true intentions of those who claim to be on our side. The risks are too great. The dangers are real. We must always remember that the thief intends to steal, kill and destroy. The false sheep have false motives. The fake followers have sinister plans. They will attempt to lead the sheep astray. They will try to undermine the gospel. They will minimize the will of God and replace it with the will of men. So, we must constantly evaluate one another based on the fruit of the Spirit. This kind of fruit can’t be replicated. It can be mimicked, but not manufactured. It can be faked, but not fabricated. And eventually, fake fruit will be exposed as what it is: unhealthy and undesirable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Tale of Two Visions.

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa..

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:1-16 ESV

Peter is in Joppa, the guest of Simon, the tanner. He is continuing his ministry among the believers there and sharing the gospel with the Hellenistic Jews who lived there. But his world was about to get rocked. While Peter had apparently become open to the idea of Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews coming to faith in Christ, he was about to learn that God had much broader, bigger plans for the gospel. Up until this point, it appears that Peter and the other apostles were somewhat reluctant to take the gospel to the Gentiles. It seems that their self-imposed requirement was that the gospel only be shared with those who had a pre-existing relationship with Judaism. Thus, they had been willing to approve of Philip’s work among the Samaritans, because of those individuals were technically part-Jewish and worshiped Yahweh. And it seems that those who came to faith in Lydda and Joppa had been Greek-speaking or Hellenistic Jews. Even Simon, the tanner, with whom Peter was lodging in Joppa, was most likely a Hellenistic Jew who had come to faith in Christ. So, it appears that some formal link to Judaism had become a necessary requirement before anyone could hear the gospel message. But all that was about to change.

 First, Luke introduces us to Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort who lived in Caesarea, a city located up the Mediterranean coast, about 30-miles north of Joppa. This man was a Gentile, but Luke describes him as “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2 ESV). As an officer in the Roman army, it is doubtful that Cornelius had taken steps to become a full proselyte of the Jewish religion. That would have required circumcision and would been an extremely dangerous thing for a man in his position to do. After all, he was part of the Roman army that occupied Palestine and whose responsibility it was to enforce Roman law. But Luke makes it clear that this man worshiped the God of the Hebrews and was favorably disposed to the Jewish people. He regularly gave financial gifts to the poor and needy and even prayed to Yahweh. And it was during the ninth-hour, the Jewish hour of prayer, that Cornelius received a vision from God.

It is significant to note that God appeared to Cornelius long before any human representative did. In essence, God was giving His divine approval of not only Cornelius, but of all those who, like him, were outside the Jewish faith, but predisposed to having a relationship with God. This man had been drawn to God. He worshiped and prayed to God. Now, he was actually having an encounter with God. And the word he received from God, through the mouth of an angel, was quite clear:

4 “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” – Acts 10:4-6 ESV

Cornelius received instructions to send for Peter. God was very specific. He wanted Peter to be the one who to play a part in this man’s conversion. And so, Cornelius, petrified by what he had seen and heard, obeyed and sent two men to Joppa to find and bring back Peter.

Meanwhile, 30 miles away in Joppa, Peter was given his own vision from God. And his was dramatically different, and no less disturbing. Peter had gone up the roof of Simon’s house in order to pray and, while praying, he fell into a trance. It’s important to note that Luke describes Peter as having been hungry when he started his prayer time. His physical condition of hunger is going to play an important part in the overall context of the vision he was given by God. While waiting for his lunch to be prepared, Peter fell into a trance and had a dream about food. Not exactly an abnormal or unlikely scenario, but it is the nature of the food in Peter’s dream that make it significant. In his dream, he saw a giant sheet being let down from heaven, and in that sheet “were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12 ESV). And we know from Peter’s reaction, that these creatures were all considered uncommon and unclean to Jews. They were all from the list found in Leviticus 11.

You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. The camel chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The hare chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. – Leviticus 11:4-8 NLT

10 But you must never eat animals from the sea or from rivers that do not have both fins and scales. They are detestable to you. – Leviticus 11:10 NLT

13 “These are the birds that are detestable to you. You must never eat them: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, falcons of all kinds, 15 ravens of all kinds, 16 the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the seagull, hawks of all kinds, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18 the barn owl, the desert owl, the Egyptian vulture, 19 the stork, herons of all kinds, the hoopoe, and the bat. – Leviticus 11:13-19 NLT

Added to this list were various winged insects. Any and all of these creatures were forbidden and declared unclean by God. The Jews were not allowed to eat or touch them. To do so would make them ceremonially unclean. And yet, when the sheet descended from heaven, it was filled with nothing but these kinds of creatures. To make matters worse, a voice from heaven commanded, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” The sheet had come from heaven. The voice had come from heaven. But the creatures were unclean. They were unacceptable and unholy. Why in the world was God commanding Peter to satisfy his hunger by consuming what was forbidden? Peter, shocked and outraged by the mere thought of doing such a thing, vehemently told God, “No!” and proudly stated, “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14 NLT). This little exchange between Peter and God reminds me of another awkward moment that took place some time earlier between he and Jesus.

Jesus had just finished telling Peter and the other disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem, where He was going to be arrested, tried and executed. But He had also informed them that He would be raised from the dead. But Peter wasn’t listening. Instead, he took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.

But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Later, on the very night Jesus was betrayed, He told the disciples that each of them would end up denying Him. But Peter had responded, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT). But Jesus broke the news to Peter that he would actually deny Him three times. To which Peter responded, “No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 NLT).

Peter had developed a habit of arguing with Jesus and now, he was doing the same thing with God the Father. Three separate times, God told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). And I don’t think Luke’s mention of these three repetitive declarations by God is unimportant. If you recall, Peter had ended up denying Jesus three separate times on the night that He was betrayed. And, when Peter had encountered the resurrected Jesus, they had had an exchange, where Jesus asked Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter had responded, “Yes!” But with each of Peter’s statements of affirmation, Jesus had repeatedly commanded him to “Feed my sheep!” In fact, His exact words were:

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.– John 21:17 NLT

Peter had been commanded by Jesus to care for His sheep. And now, Peter was going to learn that his definition of what it meant to be one of Jesus’ sheep was quite different than that of Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus had clearly spoken concerning His sheep:

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. – John 10:14-16 NLT

There were sheep, “that are not in this sheepfold”, for whom Jesus had died. And Cornelius was one of them. Much to Peter’s chagrin, the gospel message was not reserved for the Jews. It was not restricted to those who had some kind of ethnic alliance with the Hebrew people. It was for any and all. Peter was about to learn what Paul would later write: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Avoid At All Costs.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

In describing the false teachers who were negaively impacting the believers to whom he is writing, Peter uses some comparisons that are reminiscent of Jude.

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

They are not what they appear to be, and they don’t deliver on what they promise. Like a waterless spring, they can only offer the hope of refreshment, but they lack the means to make it happen. Like a reef lying just below the surface of the water, they are a hidden danger, waiting to reek havoc on and all who come into contact with them. They are cloudless rains, suggesting the hope of much-needed rain, but failing to deliver. They are as unreliable as a wandering star. In a day when people used the stars to direct their paths by focusing on their location in the night sky, a wandering star would be a pathetically poor marker on which to base one’s journey. You would only end up lost and nowhere near your intended destination. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to say about these false teachers.

They were proud and arrogant, filled with boastful words that were little more than proof of their own foolishness. These men were ignorant, not knowing what they were talking about, but putting up a good front. They were persuasive and able to convince others that what they were saying was true. But Peter exposes them for what they really were: Liars and deceivers. “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT). Like a blind person describing the beauty of a sunset he has never seen, these men were speaking about things they were incapable of knowing. They could talk a good game, but it was meaningless, because they had no idea what they were talking about. These men were prisoners of their own lustful desires,

One of the things that makes false teachers so dangerous is their appeal. They have this innate ability to entice others into falling for their lies by appealing to their base desires. That’s why Peter says, “With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception” (2 Peter 2:18 NLT). New and relatively immature Christians are susceptible to their rhetoric. Those who have just recently come to faith in Christ, having walked away from a lifestyle of sin and immorality are especially easy prey to the words of these deceivers. False teachers appeal to the senses, preying on feelings and emotions. They use man’s base passions like a bait to lure immature believers back into a lifestyle they had once left behind – all under the guise of spirituality. We can see it today in the messages of those who preach the prosperity gospel message. They appeal to men’s desire for material things, promising that God wants to make them healthy, wealthy and wise. They promise your best life now, complete with all the trappings of material success and financial reward. And people are drawn to these messages like a fish to a lure, not knowing that death, not life, awaits them.

Verses 20-21 have caused many to assume that Peter is teaching that those who place their faith in Christ can fall away from that faith. In other words, they can lose their salvation, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV).  But if Peter has been pointing out the falsehood of these teachers, it would seem that he is once again addressing them. He describes them as those who have been exposed to “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, and appear to “have escaped the defilements of the world” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). In other words, they look like Christians. They talk as if they have become followers of Christ, but “they are again entangled in them and overcome” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). And, as a result, they are in a worse state than before. Why? Because they have been exposed to the truth of the gospel, but have rejected it. They never became true Christ-followers. In fact, they ended up preaching a different gospel. Paul spoke of these kinds of people in not-so-flattering terms.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

 

And he accused the believers in Corinth of willingly putting up with and buying into the message of these people.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

The people Peter refers to as false teachers were not true believers. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned about these kinds of people. “”Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NLT). He went on to say that you have to judge these people by their fruit, not their fur. They may look the part, they may say all the right things, and they may fool you into thinking they belong to the body of Christ, but “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT).

Peter makes a sobering assessment of the state of these false teachers, saying, “ It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life” (2 Peter 2:21 NLT). In other words, they would have been better off if they had never heard the truth of the gospel and the salvation from sin made possible by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But to have heard it and then, ultimately to have rejected it, only makes their immoral lifestyle that much worse. Peter makes an interesting, yet often overlooked observation in this verse. To know the way to righteousness is a reference to understanding justification or a right relationship with God is only possible through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, we don’t earn salvation by our good works. But Peter points out that our faith is to be followed by an obedience to the command of God that we live a holy life. That is the predominant message of Peter’s first letter.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Had these false teachers been truly saved, their faith in Christ would have been followed by a change in behavior. But their actions had not changed because they had never accepted Christ as their Savior. As a result, they were conformed to the passions of their former ignorance. They had heard the message of justification, but had not accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus. And having heard, but rejected the offer, they stood doubly condemned. And Peter describes their state in fairly graphic and memorable terms: “They prove the truth of this proverb: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22 NLT). Notice that he refers to them as dogs and pigs. These are not terms Peter would have used of fellow believers. He sees them as what they are: Unsaved, unregenerate individuals who have turned up their noses at the true gospel and created their own version, which they use to justify their sinful passions and to lure others into their same false sense of security.

So, what is Peter’s point? Avoid these people at all costs. Stay away from them. Learn to spot them and then keep your distance from them. Be aware that they are an ever-present danger in the church. They will always show up in a local fellowship, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, infiltrating the flock and attempting to lead the weak and immature astray. The words of Paul to the elders at Ephesus would be wise for us to hear and heed.

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:28-30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV