Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Animal metaphors but beware of humanity ...

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But, beware of men …” (Matthew 10:16-17a)

This was the beginning of devotions for me this morning and I couldn’t help noticing the contrast. Verse 16 is filled with animal metaphors. So the next verse simply, boldly jumps out at you. Wolves, yes, we all understand, they rip and tear apart. But that’s just a picture, the real evil; evil without a picture to explain is humanity, unredeemed humanity, humanity rejecting the good news of Jesus Christ, his life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection.

Jesus has just given his disciples instructions for going out into Judea and preaching. But he expands the ministry in verses 16 through 40 to all the ages to come. After all, in verse eighteen their testimony reaches out beyond the dusty villages and cities of Judea and reverberates before governors, kings and Gentiles. This is a message for all those who follow Jesus and minister in his name.

Returning to verse 16 one begins to understand the position of the sheep by the fact that they are in the midst of wolves and well, they are sheep. They seemingly have no defense. So Jesus gives them a defense.

As John Calvin writes, “Serpents, being aware that they are hated, carefully avoid and shrink from every thing that is hostile to them. In this manner he enjoins believers to take care of their life, so as not to rush heedlessly into danger, or lay themselves open to any kind of injury.” But, as Calvin puts it, “Doves, on the other hand, though naturally timid, and liable to innumerable attacks, fly in their simplicity, imagine themselves safe till they are struck, and in most cases place themselves within the reach of the fowler’s snares. To such simplicity Christ exhorts his disciples, that no excess of terror may hinder them from pursuing their course.”

That is amazing to say the least. I would have understood those two metaphors in almost the exact opposite. May we all fly with such simplicity and not be hindered by any ‘excess’ of terror.

Jesus’ warning to beware of men (or humanity) is meant as a warning for the long expanding history of the Christian Church because he catalogs much of its persecution. Calvin understands Jesus to be preparing the coming disciples because people often are stopped by the surprise of unexpected suffering.

But the admonition in verse 19, not to worry or be anxious, is followed in verse twenty by a promise that is not found anywhere else in scripture. That is “it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” R.T. France in the Tyndale commentary understands that the disciple who represents Jesus also bears the Spirit from the Father.

Finally after all of the detail of persecution the text gives a clear definition between two kinds of fear. And this nicely fits together with my posting
Spiritual manipulation when voting on 08-b which included questions by a Presbytery about fear.

Verse 28 states “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” On this France writes, "Two types of fear are here contrasted: fear of men is a self-interested cowardice, but fear of God is a healthy response of awe and obedience in the face of the Almighty, and one which is positively commended throughout the Bible. ...Compared with the fate which awaits the disobedient and apostate, martyrdom is a far less fearful prospect"

Yet, Jesus gives comfort to his disciples telling them that they/we “are more valuable than many sparrows” who God the Father takes note of even as they “fall to the ground.”

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