“Check it out! I’m sending all of you out like sheep in the middle of a pack of wolves! So have some street sense, but make sure that your conduct remains impeccable! Watch out because there are a lot of people who will want the legal authorities and church officials to condemn you. They’ll beat you with whips! You’ll be forced to appear before governors and presidents because of your loyalty to me, and you’ll testify against them in front of the whole world. Don’t worry about anything when you are arrested and don’t worry about how to defend yourselves when you appear in court. God will let you know what your line of defense will be when all this happens. Words will come out of your mouths, but it will be the very spirit of your Father who is speaking through you.
“Brothers will betray their own brothers, and will even try to have them executed! Fathers will betray the very children that they raised! Children will rebel against their own parents, and will even try to have them executed! Everyone will hate all of you because you honor my name, but anyone who doesn’t crack under the pressure until all this is over will be granted clemency!
“When they pick on you and threaten you in one city, then flee to the next one! Amen! I’m telling all of you that the Son of Man will arrive before you have run out of cities in which to hide.
It is generally accepted by scholars for a variety of reasons that Mark’s Gospel was written first. Mark’s Gospel presents Jesus from the time of His baptism until women find the empty tomb. In the original version, the Gospel ends with the women being told by an angel that Jesus has been raised, and the women run off afraid. Later Christians did not like the original ending and added endings to it in which Jesus appears to the disciples and commissions them for ministry.
So Mark presented no post-resurrection material in his telling of the story, other than to announce Jesus was raised and that the women were terrified. The endings that eventually get tacked on to Mark’s Gospel appear to have been influenced by the Gospel of Luke. Luke was smart in his telling of the story about Jesus and the Church – he divided it up into two books. In the first book he tells about Jesus’ ministry; in the second book he tells about the Church’s ministry. This telling allows Jesus to be Jesus and the Church to be the Church.
Matthew, using Mark as a guide for his Gospel, and not knowing about, or not having, Luke’s Gospel as a source, combines post-resurrection material with Jesus’ ministry. In Mark’s Gospel, nobody clearly sees who Jesus is until he dies on the cross; in Acts, the disciples of Jesus are persecuted for preaching about Jesus after Jesus had been executed and raised from the dead; Matthew often presents a post-resurrection Jesus within the context of Jesus’ pre-resurrection ministry, and he presents the post-resurrection persecution of the church as a pre-resurrection mission.
The disciples were persecuted by their fellow-Jews and by their religious leaders. We think that the Romans persecuted Christians, and they did – later – but for decades, the Romans provided security to the Church that was being persecuted by Judaism. The Romans could not see the difference between Judaism and early-Christianity, and thought it was an argument within a religion; therefore, the Romans felt that they had no jurisdiction to judge religious matters, especially a religion that they did not understand. The Romans only cared when that argument caused riots or civil unrest. Such an argument in Rome caused the Emperor Claudius to expel all the Jews from Rome.
So what does this history lesson have to do with anything? Jesus warns us that we will probably be hated and persecuted for following Him – not just for going to church and calling ourselves “Christian,” but for ACTUALLY FOLLOWING HIM – and history warns us that the persecution will most likely come from other “Christians.”
There are a lot of people who claim to be Christian, and most, if not all, of them probably believe that they ARE Christian in spite of the fact that they do not follow Jesus very closely. Many of them confuse Christianity with being Republican, or Democrat, or Conservative, or Liberal, or Capitalist, or Communist, or some other “ist” or “ism” – and when others push back against their ideology, they use it as evidence that they are authentically the Church because they are being “persecuted.”
CHRISTIANS WHO FOLLOW JESUS WILL BE PICKED ON AND OFTEN PERSECUTED IN SOME WAY, AND IT WILL MOST LIKELY COME FROM CHRISTIANS WHO DO NOT FOLLOW JESUS, OR WHO DO NOT FOLLOW HIM VERY CLOSELY. BUT JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE FEELS PERSECUTED, DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE FOLLOWING JESUS.
During the L.A. Riots of the early-nineties, Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten by four young men. It was caught on video and the men were arrested. Denny was beaten so severely that he had to undergo years of physical rehabilitation and speech therapy. During the trial, Denny said he forgave the men. He did not even want to press charges against them. Everyone, including the majority of those who called themselves Christians, started making fun of Denny and calling him names because he took the absurd route of forgiving those who attacked him. When asked why he forgave them, he cited his faith in Jesus, who told His followers to forgive those who persecute them.
SO JESUS SENDS US OUT AS SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WE OFTEN THINK THAT THOSE WOLVES ARE THE NON-CHRISTIAN WORLD, BUT IT SEEMS AS IF THERE ARE AS MANY WOLVES WITHING THE FLOCK OF SHEEP AS THERE ARE OUTSIDE THE FLOCK.
The truth is that followers of Jesus are a threat! A message of non-violence is a threat to a world that worships violence. Many Christians share the world’s belief in the Myth of Redemptive Violence that declares that the use of violence from good intentions is a good thing. Followers of Jesus do not use violence, they do not threaten violence, and they do not resist violence – they are sheep among wolves in that wolves attack, and the sheep appear helpless. A flock of sheep has no defense against the wolves that would rip them apart and devour them. Their only protection is the shepherd. The sheep do not fight the wolves; they run close to their shepherd, who fights the wolves and protects the sheep.
SO TO BE SENT OUT AS SHEEP AMONG WOLVES DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE HELPLESS AND UNPROTECTED, IT JUST MEANS WE HAVE TO STICK CLOSE TO OUR SHEPHERD.
A world that is run by greedy people, managed by competition and injustice and exploitation and violence, is threatened by a message of love, sacrifice, justice and peace. If the message alone is a threat, then those who accept the message and live it are even more of a threat.
In a world filled with violence, where might makes right, and violence with good intentions is seen as noble, a message of non-violence is radical and revolutionary – it is at odds with the way of the world, and if allowed to continue or take hold, could overturn everything as it is. Those who are in power like the world as it is, and they do not tolerate any threat to the world they either have created, or the world from which they benefit.
Sharing is a radical message to a world that worships competition; love and forgiveness are dangerous concepts to a world that loves revenge and hatred. Love is a direct challenge to a world that is indifferent. Sacrifice is offensive to a world that is motivated by greed and that declares that the one who dies with the most toys wins. Peace is a threat to a world that treats violence and war as fetishes.
CHRISTIANS WHO FOLLOW CHRIST ARE OFFENSIVE BECAUSE LOVE, JUSTICE, PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE, SACRIFICE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS ARE OFFENSIVE IDEAS – AND THEY ARE MOST OFFENSIVE TO THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE CHRISTIAN, BUT WHO DO NOT FOLLOW JESUS.
I know I’m on dangerous ground when I say something like that. I know it sounds judgmental, and I know it sounds as if I am the one who gets to decide who is “authentically” Christian and who is not. I AM NOT DOING THAT! I HAVE NO INTENTION OF DOING THAT! AND I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT – BECAUSE JESUS ALREADY DID IT!
Jesus has told us that it is not those who call Him “Lord” who enter into the Kingdom of God, but it is those who do the will of His Father (Matthew 7:21). He says that those who love Him will follow His commandments (John 14:15) — do what He said to do and live how He said to live. Jesus says that everyone will know that we are His disciples because we love each other (John 13:35). We are told in the Bible that those who say they follow Christ, but hate others is still in darkness (1 John 2:7-10). We are told that where there is light, there can be no darkness, and we are told that Christ is the Light of the World, so if we hate, and are still in darkness, we are not in Christ, regardless of what we think or say. We are told that it is impossible to love God, whom we have never seen and hate another, whom we have seen (1 John 4:12). And the Book of Revelation defines those who are authentically Christian as a person who keeps God’s commandments and who have the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). The testimony is not simply that we testify about Jesus, but that we testify to the God revealed to us by Jesus – the God who is love – and we testify to that God by living how Jesus told us to live – seeking Justice, refusing to use violence or seek revenge, forgiving others, praying for those who hurt us and persecute us and pick on us, and showing love in all things to all people.
When we live the way Jesus tells us to live, when we meet violence with non-violence, we expose the violence of the world, and we show the world for what it really is; when we meet injustice with justice, we expose the injustice of the world, and show the world for what it really is; when we meet persecution with forgiveness, we expose the intolerance and hatred in the world, and show the world for what it really is; when we meet conflict and coercion with peace, we expose the fury of the world, and we show the world for what it really is.
WHEN WE LIVE THE WAY JESUS TELLS US TO LIVE, WE EXPOSE THE WORLD FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS, AND WE SHOW THE WORLD WHAT IT IS CAPABLE OF BEING.
The world will probably hate us, but they are supposed to. We shake their complacency and intolerance and injustice and we expose their apathy and greed – of course the world will hate us. Jesus warns us that our fellow-believers will hate us. Those who want to be Christian and yet want to live in the world as it is. We challenge them time and time again, and they will hate us for it. They will attack us and try to get the authorities (civil and religious) to punish us, and they will be convinced that they are doing it for God and for our own good, but they are doing it because they love the world and their comfort and their apathy more than they love God, and definitely more than they love us. Our enemies will be those who are in our own house – those in our own religion, or church, or denomination.
AND WHEN THEY PICK ON YOU FOR DOING WHAT JESUS TOLD YOU TO DO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? DO IT MORE!
It comes down to this: we are told to love unconditionally, whether they love us back, whether they attack us, threaten us, try to kill us, we are told to love them; their love for us is conditional, they will only love us if we conform to the way they think we should be.
IF WE HAVE TO CHANGE TO BE LOVED, THEN IT IS NOT LOVE, AND IT IS NOT WORTH IT!
Because there will always be a new demand on our love and we will have to keep changing until we are no longer us anymore.
Regardless of who I am and how I live, I am going to be hated in this world. That’s just the way the world is. If I am going to be hated regardless, then I want to be hated for doing what is good. If I can keep doing good things regardless of what the world does to me, or threatens to do to me, then I win. The wolf may devour this sheep, but this sheep will give it heartburn and an upset stomach – and once digested, I will be a part of the wolf forever, whether the wolf likes it or not.
The wolves of the world may kill me, but they cannot destroy me. The threat of death is the only threat the world has. Jesus challenged the world, and it meted out its punishment: it killed Him. But then Jesus got back up, dusted Himself off, and said, “What else do you got?” and the world had nothing – it had no power over Him. The worse thing this world can do to me is kill me, and once it does, it has no power over me.
Those who follow Jesus have died to the world. The world has no power over them. They have made their lives a living sacrifice. They sacrifice how they want their lives to be for how God wants their lives to be. This new life is a threat to those who are tied to the world and to the things of the world. But fear not, Jesus Christ has conquered the world (John 16:33), and so have we! The Bible tells us:
Everyone who trusts that Jesus is the Anointed King has been fathered by God. Everyone who loves the one who does the fathering also loves the one who is fathered. Here’s how we know that we love God’s little children: when we love God, and when we keep God’s commandments because keeping his commandments is exactly what loving God is. And his commandments aren’t that hard to follow because the person who has been fathered by God conquers the world. Our faith is the victory that conquers the world! Who is the one who conquers the world except the one who trusts that Jesus is God’s Son? (1 John 5:1-5, The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament).
WE ARE SHEEP SENT OUT AMONG WOLVES — AND THE WOLVES SHUDDER WITH FEAR!