He knelt to pray. Three times a day he knelt to give God thanks. Yet, today it was different. Today, it was decreed that he could no longer pray to his God – he knelt and prayed anyway. He refused to obey the king’s decree and because of his act of disobedience, he was cast into a den of lions and left to die.
For a simple message. For a simple message that he proclaimed he was arrested and put on trial. At his trial he was deserted; no one spoke in his defense. He faced his accusers seemingly alone, but he refused to apologize for the message he shared. He was ready to give his life.
With a hammer and nails he sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Shockwaves that caused him to be expelled from his order, excommunicated from his church, and outlawed from his empire. Before the kings and princes of Europe, he stood his ground, giving faithful witness at Worms: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Three men of faith from three different time periods, Daniel, Paul, and Luther. Three sheep surrounded by wolves. Three men who stood firm against the forces of the world knowing that it could mean their end. In our lesson for today, we see how. We see how God’s people throughout history have stood firm witnessed and lived lives of faith.
Let’s take a look at what Matthew writes for us – it all starts with instructions from Jesus. And let’s be honest, Jesus’ words here aren’t super motivating. If given today, you probably wouldn’t find this speech posted on YouTube as one of the all-time speeches of the year. You almost certainly wouldn’t see it trending on twitter, unless it was being ridiculed and mocked. If anything, Jesus speech in our lesson for today is pretty discouraging.
I mean think if you were one of his disciples. “I’m sending you out”. Well, okay, so far so good. “like sheep among wolves.” Wait, wait, whaddya mean? That doesn’t sound good. “Oh, and, ah, here is what those wolves are going to do to you. they will flog you in their synagogues. They will arrest you.”’ Excuse me? Why are we doing this again? “Oop, I almost forgot, and things could get worse for you at times because brother will betray brother…children…will have parents put to death! You know what let me just summarize it for you, all, all men will hate you.”
Yikes, right? And as if to knock them while they’re down what does Jesus add toward the end of this section? “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Um. Jesus? How, how will I stand firm if I’m facing all that!? And how would they? Go back to verse 16. Jesus drops two comforting and encouraging words for his disciples, and they are this: “I” and “sheep”.
Who is the one sending these disciples? Jesus, right? Who is Jesus? Maybe that’s a dumb question, but let’s answer it, who is he? Is he not the one who cured incurable diseases like leprosy? Is he not the one who calmed storms with mere words? Did he not drive out demons and raise the dead? Jesus is God. The disciples had spent over three years watching Jesus perform miracle after miracle, they heard his Words of wisdom and power. They knew. They knew that the man before them was true God, their God, their Savior. And now their God, their Savior was calling them his “sheep”.
Maybe that wouldn’t seem encouraging to some, but how did Jesus so often speak of his sheep in the bible? Was it not in love? John chapter 10 “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me.” Also, in John 10 “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus loved his sheep. He loved his disciples. He cared for them like sheep, he sacrificed for them in a way that only he could, with his own life.
These 12 were sent out like sheep among wolves and told to stand firm as they witnessed to the unbelieving world, but they were not alone. Their good shepherd was with them. “So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” But this message, this mission didn’t end with the 12 disciples. It’s ongoing. To this day God’s people, you and I, are charged with sharing with the wolves, the unbelievers of this world, and also with each other, the message of sin and grace, the message of the Savior. But here is the thing just as the message has not changed so too has the hatred of that message remained the same.
And, so here we are, sheep among wolves. Will you stand firm? We may not face oppressive governments or the might of a powerful church body, no, our fight to stand firm amongst the wolves will often be more personal. Will you stand firm when a girlfriend or boyfriend challenges your Christian views on marriage? Will you stand firm when you’re with family at Thanksgiving and they want you to skip worship, so you can spend more time with them. Will you stand firm in a society today that wants you to keep your views to yourself or face ridicule?
It’s just easier, isn’t it? It’s easier to keep our mouths shut in those situations, to not fight it, to give in just to avoid the confrontation. I don’t want to cause any problems. I like that person I’m dating, I want to spend time with my family, I want to fit in I don’t want to explain why I think or live the way I do in private. But isn’t that just it? God never said this was going to be easy. God never said his message would win us friends and everyone would pat us on the back and say thank you for being so bold and so concerned about my spiritual wellbeing.
Yet, selfishly, sinfully, don’t we want it to be this way? We want the approval of the world, our friends, and our family, and often what does that mean, the firm foundation of God and our salvation is left so we can stand on the wood boards of sin that, though they look nice and well-oiled, are underneath molded and cracking. about to give way dropping all who thought they stood securely into the fires of hell.
But as we stand on those planks of sin, lost, wandering what do we hear? Our shepherd. Our Savior. Calling us by name. Calling his sheep. “I know my sheep…no one will snatch them.” He calls to us through his Word, his mighty Word, the firm ground of Scripture. He reminds how we were baptized into his family and how he sent us, not to join with the wolves but to be a sheep among them. But still we cry out “Lord, I can’t do it! Lord, I can’t! I can’t remain firm!” But then he looks at us and he says “I know. That is why I stood firm for you.” And he did.
Jesus stood firm for us as his friend, one of the twelve, Judas, betrayed him with a kiss. Jesus stood firm, silent, as lies and jeers were shouted down upon him as human hands beat and shoved him. He stood firm as his beaten body was laid upon a cross and he was put to death with common criminals. He stood firm as he endured the suffering of hell for all our sins and gave up his spirit. Yet even in death, Jesus stood firm in his own promise to rise from the dead three days later. By fulfilling that promise, he gave us assurance of our own resurrection when that final Day of Judgment comes.
The one who stood firm for our salvation now by faith gives us the ability to stand firm, free from the shackles of sin. By his Spirit he pulls us from the broken failing planks of sin and he sets us firmly on his Holy Word. “Study it” he says, “Grow in it, don’t ever wander from it. Keep it close. It will not fail you and it will keep you firm to the end and you will be saved. For in these Words upon which your faith is built is your salvation. Stand firm on my mighty Word.”
How do you think Daniel did it?..and Paul… and Luther? All three, sheep among wolves recognized by faith the power of God’s Word. All three by faith saw that they stood not on the shaky ground of feelings, human arguments, or clever logic, no, they stood on the rock, their Savior. And so they stood, not for their own glory, but for God’s, so that others might come to know him by their witness. This is the heritage that we have still to this day. We have that same firm ground: God’s mighty Word.
Let’s stand on it! Let’s use it! Let’s use it to rid ourselves of sin and its temptations. Let’s use it to forgive and encourage one another, but let’s also share it. Let’s remember that we have been sent out by God to be sheep among wolves. And armed with the Word it’s an unfair fight, because in that Word Jesus doesn’t just speak to us, but also through us; the “Spirit of your Father will speak through you.”
Recently, I read an article written about Carson Wentz, he is the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said this, “‘If you love your job, you love your wife, you love what you do, you’re going to talk about it. Well, I love Jesus.’ That’s what I love, so I’m going to talk about it.” Share what you love, share it with those whom you love; share it with strangers; share your Savior.
We are sheep among wolves! But that’s okay, it means we will always have an audience. Give the wolves something to talk about. But do it from the solid ground of Scripture. The same Scripture, the same Word, that has brought countless others from death to life through Christ. That is our great heritage. We stand firm in God’s mighty Word and “he will rescue us from every evil attack and will bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”