The Rev’d Derek Arnold
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‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
With these words, Jesus wanted to help the disciples focus their attention, not on the things that they may encounter, but on the spiritual things that would give them strength. Jesus wanted the disciples to focus on the power of God’s holy word. And to understand the imperative that God’s Gospel must be preached, and with as much urgency today, as it was then.
First, he said to them, ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them.’ Because the opposition of the Pharisees would be like ravaging wolves, but that they should not be sheeplike in their attitude but sensible and prudent. Neither gullible pawns, or those that are deceitful. We need to find a middle ground between wisdom and vulnerability to accomplish God’s work.
Later the disciples would indeed face these hardships first-hand, not only from the outside, by government and courts, but also from within by family and friends. Living for God often brings persecution but with it comes the opportunity to tell the good news of salvation. Jesus said that the disciples should not worry about what to say when they are arrested, because the Holy Spirit would speak through them.
Jesus then goes on to say, ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’
Standing firm until the end is not a way to be saved, however, it is the evidence that a person is really committed to Jesus. Persistence is not meant to earn salvation, but it is the by-product of a truly devoted and faith filled life.
Christ warns the disciples against premature martyrdom and said that when they did experience persecution which was too great to endure they must flee to the next town. Like the disciples of old, we too have plenty of work to do and many people still to reach. Our work won’t be finished until Christ returns and only then will the world understand his true identity.
I guess the disciples would have felt a bit concerned as they heard Jesus’ words, but he wasn’t trying to scare them, he wanted to prepare them. So whatever hardships or persecution we face or will face we can be confident that Jesus has gone before us and ‘overcome the world’. Stand firm in our faith and we will be saved.
THE COLLECT (alternative)
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.