Life at its best is a creative synthesis
of opposites in fruitful harmony.
Martin Luther King Jr
A crowd began to assemble on a grassy hillside beside the sparkling Sea of Galilee. Those who were acquainted greeted one another with a loud “Shalom!” and a two-cheek holy kiss. Some were asking, “Do you know why the Master has called us here today?”
The well-known fisherman among them, Simon Peter, was telling one group, “This is where we, His chosen twelve, assembled to be briefed on our first mission trip.”
Andrew was counting the crowd that now seemed to be complete. Seventy-two people! As he announced the number assembled, his colleague, John, spoke out to those standing around him. “This is a very symbolic assembly. There are seventy-two names in the Septuagint’s first list of clans or nations in the Pentateuch. Perhaps we are somehow representing here all the nations of the world.”
Simon the Zealot overheard the comment and was quick to point out that there were only seventy names listed in the early list of clans or nations in the Hebrew Torah.[i] As a patriot, he never did trust that Greek translation of the Torah, the Septuagint, even though it had been used throughout the Jewish diaspora for more than two hundred years and pointed many new readers to the one true God of Israel.
John broke in, “It really doesn’t matter the actual number; it is indeed symbolic whichever list or number you use. Look, the Master is signalling us to come close and listen to his instructions.”
Matthias didn’t know others in the crowd very well, so he stuck close to John. This was the first time he had responded to a specific call to action from Jesus of Nazareth, even though he had known and followed Him from the day of His baptism. Jesus’s call disrupted his daily routine, but it is said there is an adventurer hidden somewhere in the heart of everyone.
Jesus gestured for them to sit down and began, “You are each specially chosen for this very different kind of mission. Here’s the big picture. I’m sending you out in pairs to all the towns and places that I later plan to visit. That includes Jewish towns and Gentile towns. You are representing me, and anyone rejecting you is rejecting me and my Father who sent me. You will go directly there with no stopping along the road. When you arrive, you will heal the sick and tell all the people that the Kingdom of God is now near you!
“Now, here are my four-step specific instructions. Note them well, as they are important to remember:
“One. You look like a sizeable crowd of my workers, but the harvest is great, and the workers are few. You will soon become very aware of this. So, your first step is to pray! Pray to the Lord who oversees the harvest. Ask Him to send more workers into His fields.
“Two. Go out remembering that I am sending you as lambs among wolves!”
Matthias shuddered. He had never suspected that working for Jesus of Nazareth could be dangerous. His family were shepherds and he had seen plenty of wolves take lambs from the flock. Unless their shepherd was close by, the lambs were defenseless and helpless before a strong, cunning, and deadly wolf. This analogy Jesus was using sounded more like exposure rather than protection.
Would he ever return to his wife and children? Yet he was impressed with Jesus’s honesty. He trusted Jesus with his life, even though Jesus did not elaborate further on this “lambs among wolves” imagery.
Jesus was continuing: “Three. Travel light. Don’t take any money, food, extra clothes, or sandals.
“Four. In each town, find a man of peace and stay with him, eating and drinking whatever is provided, and give him God’s blessing. If you are ever unwelcomed, make a public and symbolic shaking off the dust from your sandals, abandoning them to their own fate.”
Matthias was pleased when Jesus paired him with His closest disciple John. And despite the “lambs among wolves” warning, they had a safe, positive, and life-changing trip.
Upon their return, Matthias was so excited about the results of the journey, he said to Jesus in front of the others, “Master, we had a great trip. Even the demons obeyed us when we used Your name!”
Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy … But don’t rejoice in what you can do for God. Rejoice in what God has done for you.” (Luke 10:18–20 The Message)
All the way back home, Matthias contemplated what Jesus had said. Even though Jesus had not accompanied them, He was there all the time in a spiritual sense as the Good Shepherd and was aware of the spiritual battle that was ensuing. Matthias sensed that a day was soon coming when Satan would be defeated and ultimately someday destroyed. In the meantime, he would make every effort to continue to live like a “lamb among the wolves.”
He never stopped praying daily that the Lord of the harvest would send out more workers into His harvest fields. And he continually rejoiced in what God had done for him through following His Son, Jesus.
The story above is my paraphrased and imaginary expansion of Luke 10:1–20. If you study the preceding context, you will see that in Luke 9, Jesus sent out just the twelve disciples on a similar mission. Matthew’s parallel account says they were sent out only to the Jewish people, the “house of Israel.”
This second sending out of a larger group in Luke 10 to all the Jewish and Gentile places Jesus would later visit Himself has one additional aspect mentioned that is not in Luke 9. Jesus added, “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves!” (Luke 10:3).
Author John Teter writes,
Clearly the Lord used this animal-kingdom metaphor to show a lesser and dominant pairing. The sheep are vulnerable because they don’t have the predatory nature of the wolf; they aren’t as cunning and crafty in their hunting and defense, and they are outnumbered. Enemies surround them, enemies that want to hurt, maim, and devour …Without the shepherd standing with the sheep, protecting the sheep with the rod and staff and strategically moving them, they are vulnerable.[ii]
Matthew’s parallel account of the twelve disciples being sent out has similar imagery and adds: “So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Then Jesus went on in Matthew 10 to describe the coming persecution they could expect, but He also promised that the Holy Spirit would be there to provide whatever was needed for their ministry and success.
A snake perceives sound by vibrations, always has its eyes open, and averts danger by concealment. Doves are known for their commitment to home and family and do not pick fights with others.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr using this text preached one of his more celebrated sermons titled, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.” He began it by saying, “Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” Regarding the tough mind, he preached it was characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement:
The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crusts of legend and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He or she has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.[iii]
Dr King then said we need more than just cultivating a tough mind. “The gospel also demands a tender heart. Toughmindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.”[iv] Having both of these opposites, he added, enables us to oppose injustice yet still love the perpetrators of the injustice. And he modelled that in his own life and leadership using a non-violence platform.
Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon gave this interesting comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such a union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies.”[v]
Jesus was not proposing that His followers are to be weak, passive, or fearful. Nor are they to avoid actively defending religious freedoms or oppose tyranny. Rather they are to be wise, shrewd, and cunning as well as harmless and non-violent. You are possibly asking; how do you live this way in our modern day and age?
We will make a considerable effort in answering this question biblically as well as practically. But the very first question to assess is: Are we Western followers of Jesus actually living in a twenty-first-century world of wolves?
[i]. Genesis 10 in Hebrew contains a list of 70 clans (somehow the Septuagint Greek translation ended up with 72 names of clans) from the three sons of Noah from which all the nations of the earth descended. In Jesus’ day and in Jewish thought, this number was a symbolic representation of the nations of the world.
[ii]. John Teter, The Power of the 72: Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 61.
[iii]. Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 14.
[iv]. King Jr., Strength to Love, 17
[v]. Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Matthew, vol. 11 (London: Holdsworth and