And the Reaching of the Nations (Part 2)

4canonsgears2016Luke 10

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 

There was an interesting article in The Capital Press entitled, “Sheep rancher ponders future after wolf attacks,” and subtitled, “Rancher Dave Dashiell moved his flock of sheep from near the Huckleberry wolf pack earlier this summer after dozens were killed and others went missing. Now he’s uncertain what his next moves will be following the winter.”

In the article, Dashiell expresses his grief and frustration at what is happening to his herd. Interestingly, he expresses real irritation at not being allowed to know where the wolf packs are, especially as one of the wolves has been tagged with a tracker.

Dashiell and the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association maintain that he should have been privy to radio collar location data on the pack so he could have moved the flock out of harm’s way. The department says it’s working on an agreement with the nearby Spokane Tribe of Indians, which collared a wolf in the Huckleberry pack and has authority over the collar data.

Dashiell was then asked what he would do differently in light of the death of so many of his sheep.

Q. Is there anything at this point you would have done differently?

DD: If we knew the wolves were there, we wouldn’t have been there, we would have gone the other direction. But you have to be some place. I don’t know if there’s tons we would have done differently, but I sure would have had (the department) do stuff differently.[1]

This rancher wanted to know one thing: where are the wolves? That is important information to know. If he knew where the wolves are he could refrain from putting his herd there. But how very different are the words of Jesus to this? When Jesus sent His followers out to proclaim the good news of the gospel. He said, “There are wolves out there…and I’m sending you among them!”

We do not talk a lot about wolves when people accept Christ or when people join the church or when people are baptized or when people want to go on a mission trip. We do not talk a lot about wolves because we don’t quite know what to do with these wolfish warnings! After all, what would it look like to talk about wolves in our day?

“Central Baptist Church: An Authentic Family around the whole… WOOOOOOLLLLLVVVEEESSSSSS!!!!!!” It just does not have a good ring to it.

Or, “Thank you for expressing interest in baptism! You know who else likes water? WOOOOOOLLLLLVVVEEESSSSSS!!!!!!”

No, we do not talk a lot about wolves, but we should. When Jesus commissioned and sent out his followers with the gospel He talked about wolves very early on.

3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

As far as that statement goes, it should be recognized that it is not necessarily the most motivational thing to say to a group of eager missionaries, at least not as we reckon motivation. But Jesus said it: “Beware the wolves!” Why? Because the wolves are out there and we must understand this if we are going to be Christians in the modern world.

The Wolves

That statement, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves,” probably made more natural sense in an agrarian society in which the sight of shepherds and sheep was common and the sound of wolves howling in the night was a consistent if disturbing reality. Even we get it, for the howl of a predatory wolf is still an ominous sound to modern folks, but we do not get it as easily as folks back then would have. Regardless, it is an important principle of the Christian life: we are sent to reach the nations and we are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves.

To appreciate what is being said fully, we need to understand the nature of wolves and how they attack. Let us begin by noting that it was a common image in the day and it was especially common among the early Christians. In Acts 20, for instance, in Paul’s beautiful farewell to the Ephesian elders, he said:

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

So we must pay attention for wolf attacks. We need to be diligent and watchful and understanding. Let us attempt to understand better today.

Wolves hunt in the dusk and dark.

Wolves will kill at anytime, and you can go online easily enough to see pictures and video of this if you are so inclined, but wolves do indeed enjoy hunting in the dark.

Here is an article from The Spokesman Review with an absolutely stunning headline: “Wolf attack kills 176 sheep near Idaho Falls.” The details are interesting.

A southeastern Idaho ranch lost 176 sheep as the animals ran in fear from two wolves that chased through a herd of about 2,400 animals south of Victor, the Associated Press reports.

Idaho Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm says it’s the greatest loss by wolves ever recorded in one instance in the state. About nine years ago, wolves killed 105 sheep on one night.

In a similar attack in Montana in August of 2009, wolves killed 122 buck sheep in a pasture south of Dillon, surpassing the number of sheep killed by wolves in the entire state in 2008, state wolf managers said.

Sheepherders for the Siddoway Sheep Co. heard the wolves at about 1 a.m. Saturday, but didn’t know the extent of the damage until they saw the sheep piled up on each other at daybreak.

J.C. Siddoway of Terreton says almost all of the sheep died from asphyxiation. About 10 died of bite wounds and one was partially consumed.

Grimm says a dozen wolves have been removed from the Pine Creek area this year.[2]

The wolves killed in the darkness, around 1 a.m. It was a fact well known to earlier people. In Habakkuk 1, the Lord says this about the Chaldeans:

8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.

“More fierce than the evening wolves…”

There are wolves out there and we are being sent into their midst.

They love killing in the dark.

Stay in the light!

John liked using the image of light and darkness. In 1 John 1 John wrote:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

The wolves are in the dark. God is light. There is no darkness in God. Stay in the light!

In his gospel, John wrote this in John 1:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Wolves kill in the dark.

Jesus is light.

Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness.

The darkness does not overcome Jesus!

Stay in the light!

Wolves hunt the weak and infirm.

Wolves also tend to hunt the weak and sick members of a herd.

The website for the International Wolf Center says the following:

…[U]ngulates [large hoofed mammals] have adaptations for defense against wolves, including a great sense of smell, good hearing, agility, speed, and sharp hooves. As these prey are so well adapted to protecting themselves, wolves feed upon vulnerable individuals, such as weak, sick, old, or young animals, or healthy animals hindered by deep snow…

Wolves require at least 3.7 pounds of meat per day for minimum maintenance. Reproducing and growing wolves may need 2-3 times this much. It has been estimated that wolves consume around 10 pounds of meat per day, on average. However, wolves don’t actually eat everyday. Instead, they live a feast or famine lifestyle; they may go several days without a meal and then gorge on over 20 pounds of meat when a kill is made…

Wolf predation on ungulates varies seasonally. It is highest during mid to late winter, when animals are suffering from poor nutrition and the snow is deep, making them easier to kill. It is also quite high in early summer when prey animals have their young, as wolves prey heavily on vulnerable young.[3]

Wolves hunt the weak and infirm.

Stay strong in Christ!

Don’t let yourself grow weak!

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul marveled at the fact that the Corinthian Christians were so content to be weak.

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

“Why are you still so weak?!” Paul seems to be saying. “Wolves hunt the weak! Grow in Christ! Grow deep in the Word! Grow strong in the faith.” The writer of Hebrews said the same in Hebrews 5.

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Those who are growing in Christ are better equipped to see the wolves! The wolves hunt the weak. Stay strong in Christ! Grow!

Wolves hunt those who stray from the herd.

Not only do wolves hunt the weak, they also hunt those who panic and run out of the protection of the herd. An article entitled, “Why do wolves kill/maul multiple sheep but not eat them?” says the following:

Surplus killing occurs when wolves find particularly vulnerable prey and exploit the situation.  Wolves jumping into a pen full of otherwise unguarded sheep is a perfect example of when and how this would occur.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact the domestic stock usually behave in exactly the wrong way when faced with a predator like a wolf…

Unlike wild animals, domestic sheep and cattle mostly panic and run. Exactly what wolves WANT their prey to do.  In fact, in a few instances we’ve even seen something called “sheep wrecks” where sheep, panicked by the presence of predators, stampede into an obstruction like a downhill drainage and literally stack up on top of each other until many animals are suffocated and or injured.

In addition, wild herbivores generally take action to protect their young, in some cases by actually forming a living wall between predators and the most vulnerable herd members.  In contrast domestic livestock not only fail to protect their young, but end up accidentally killing them in their own panic and efforts to escape…[4]

How fascinating! Domesticated sheep tend to panic and run. They do not stand their ground. Furthermore, domesticated sheep will sometimes not even protect their young. They become obsessed with survival and leave the most vulnerable members.

Church, wolves hunt those who stray from the herd, so stay close to the body of Christ and never abandon a weak and wounded member!

We may revel in our modern American radical individualism, but the fact is that we need to encouragement and safety of the body of Christ. Do not wander from the body of Christ! Do not drift away, alone. You are easy prey for the wolves when you abandon the body.

And do not abandon the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The young Christian, regardless of his her biological age, is more susceptible to the wiles of the wolves than a strong Christian, though all must be on guard. Protect each other!

The first section of our church covenant reads:

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

Love one another.

Protect one another.

Care about one another!

When the wolves come, do not panic and run! The vulnerable need the protection of the body just as we all need the protection of the body!

Wolves hunt by dressing like sheep.

There is another tactic wolves take but it is a tactic that only the spiritual wolves take. Jesus warned us about this strange tactic in Matthew 7.

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Jesus said that the wolves He is warning us against also hunt by dressing like sheep. The wolves are good at dressing like sheep. Some wolves have large, public ministries. They look and sound so very much like one of God’s sheep! But the proof is in their fruit, and oftentimes they are found out on this side of heaven to be wolves, preying on the weak. Jude described these stealth wolves like this:

12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

Sometimes the sheep are actually wolves. Sometimes the shepherds are wolves! Beware the wolves in disguise!

These warnings are crucial. We must understand how the wolves operate. The wolves are out there! Unfortunately, however, the way many of us follow or do not follow Christ, the wolves that destroy us do not even have to be that crafty. “Most church members do not give Satan enough trouble to arouse his opposition,” Vance Havner said.[5] It is a sad but true point.

Live in such a way that demonic wolves actually want to eat you! Live in such a way that they have to be crafty. There are ravenous, snarling, hungry, evil, bent-on-destruction wolves out there! And what of us? Who are we as we go among the wolves? Jesus tells us.

The Lambs

3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

Lambs.

Well.

That is a bit disconcerting.

What is a lamb in the fact of a ravenous wolf?

A lamb is weak. A lamb is vulnerable. A lamb has no defenses.

But that is not all. To put it bluntly, sheep are dumb…and Jesus calls us sheep. They are not the brightest of animals. In her fictional imagining of the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep by night, Elizabeth Scalia has one of a group of shepherds say this about their sheep:

…there is no stupider creature on G-d’s earth than a sheep…A wolf can be cunning, but does not have to be; even a lupine dullard is smarter than the filthy, stinking sheep we guard and save and lead and nurse back to health, when we can.[6]

That fact is not fictional. Sheep are dumb. So what on earth are we sheep supposed to do? What do lambs in the midst of wolves do? What could we possibly have to protect us from the wolves?

The Shepherd

Answer: a shepherd who is not afraid.

Jesus is the shepherd who is not afraid.

More than that, Jesus is the shepherd who is stronger than all the wolves in the world. Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved texts in the world. It speaks of the protective shepherding love of God.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 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.

This comforts us because the image is of our shepherd Lord using His staff to fight off and destroy the wolves. Jesus provocatively applied the image of the divine shepherd to Himself. So Christ is the Lord who is the shepherd. This too comforts us! Jesus can fight off the wolves of the devil. How shocking, then, to see the twist that Jesus put on the image in John 10:

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Jesus loves the sheep and Jesus will not abandon His sheep to the wolves. But Jesus does not kill the wolves in the way that we think He might, through brute force. No, Jesus conquers the wolves not by dashing their teeth but by running into the midst of the pack and laying down His life for the sheep! Jesus took the rage of the wolves and the weakness of the sheep onto Himself on the cross and thereby destroyed the power of the wolves and gave protection and strength to the sheep!

How unbelievable! How marvelous! How beautiful!

Are you being hunted by the wolves? Have you been attacked by them? Are they hunting you even now? There is only One who can protect you. There is only One who can keep you safe.

The Savior who is the shepherd has opened His arms wide to all who will be His sheep. Beware the wolves! Embrace the shepherd! Embrace Him and you will be saved.

 

[1] http://www.capitalpress.com/20141024/sheep-rancher-ponders-future-after-wolf-attacks

[2] http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2013/aug/20/wolf-attack-kills-176-sheep-near-idaho-falls/

[3] http://www.wolf.org/wolf-info/basic-wolf-info/biology-and-behavior/hunting-feeding-behavior/

[4] https://www.quora.com/Why-do-wolves-kill-maul-multiple-sheep-but-not-eat-them

[5] Quoted in Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. New Testament, Vol. 1 (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2001), p.210.

[6] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/12/a-shepherd-i-will-remain

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