Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
When the greatest King sends out messengers, you expect everyone to listen to them. When a person who holds power over the entire world calls people to accept him as their King, you would expect people to accept that call. When the Judge of all tells people how they can spend eternity in heaven rather than in hell, you would think they would listen up.
But it’s not that way. From the very beginning, there have been those who accepted God’s Word with eager joy, and those who couldn’t care less about it.
To those whom God has chosen from eternity to hear the gospel and believe, the gospel is an unstoppable force in their hearts. But to those who reject God’s call, the gospel message is a rock they stumble over to their eternal peril, and a stone that falls on them and crushes them.
God’s missionaries go out into the world not knowing how people will respond to their message. In our reading yesterday, Jesus spoke about the deserving, that is, people who were worthy because they accepted the apostles’ message with joy. And he spoke about those from whom the disciples were to turn away because they refused to receive them -and Christ. But the missionary never knows who will fall into which camp.
No one in this world starts out as a sheep. We are all potential sheep who can become part of God’s flock by faith in the gospel. But until the Holy Spirit changes us, we are wolves. That’s why it is so tough for God’s people. We are to treat everyone we meet as a potential sheep. We hold out the gospel to everyone, treating them with kindness and love. But we know our loving treatment of those who are still wolves will sometimes come back to bite us. Yet it is God’s will that we be as harmless as sheep, willing to make ourselves vulnerable to the wolves among whom Jesus sends us.
Martin Luther, the leader of the Lutheran Reformation, put it this way. He said that a Christian, because he is a child of the great King, is lord of all. No one has the right to obstruct his message or oppose his work on behalf of the kingdom. Yet he is also a servant of all, willing to be a sheep in a world filled with wolves, showing love to the wolves so that perhaps they will become sheep.
Martin Luther is a good example of how to be innocent and shrewd at the same time. In godly wisdom he wrote, debated, and kept the church’s enemies at bay. Yet in humble innocence he relied on God and on the power of the gospel to advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom.