Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves

You can find video of the Service of the Word here. The sermon begins around the 20:45 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus looks out over the whole mess of this world, and He sees people who are scattered, aimless, wandering, lost; who are burdened by the weight of their sin and the sin of others; who are weighed down, laid low, harassed and helpless. He sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd, and He has compassion on them. He had compassion on you. And He enters this world as a lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He allows Himself to be led to the slaughter. He lays down His life for His friends. The wolf of death swallows Him up, and when He rises from the dead, He breaks the jaws of that wolf.

But still the wolf of death snaps, and bites, and snarls at the sheep. So even before His death and resurrection, He sends out His Twelve, telling them to go at that time only to the lost sheep of Israel. He tells them, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. They are no less subject to sin and death in the world than their Lord was. The slaves are not above their Master and the disciples are not above their Teacher. The wolves are pursuing them as well. So Jesus says, Be as wise as serpents and as innocent, as pure, as doves. They have to look in two directions at once: at themselves and at the world; and at Christ.

Be as wise as serpents: the serpent was more crafty than all the other creatures that God had made. Be wise to the Serpent. We are not ignorant of his designs. And so that they will be wise, Jesus instructs them about the nature and reality of this world, of this creation in this age. Brother will deliver brother to death; fathers and children will be divided against each other. You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. Don’t be naive about the way this world is. Don’t be surprised that sinners continue to sin, and that unbelievers will continue not to believe, outside the miracle of God by His Holy Spirit. Be wise as serpents: don’t give in to this world and don’t pretend that the world—as the world—will ever be friendly to Christ or to those who belong to Him. Don’t put your trust in anything that belongs to this age. Don’t think that there is a single politician, a single party, a sing president, a single policy that will save you, or the church, or the world. It is all passing away. Be wise as serpents. See the world for what it is.

But see Christ for who He is. Be innocent as doves. The apostles were not to seek martyrdom, because Christ had given them the command to go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. They were to proclaim the Kingdom of God and Christ as King to all people. It was persecution, in fact, that pushed the Word of Christ into exactly the places where Jesus said it would go. He told them that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And after Stephen was killed, and Saul approved of it, a great persecution arose against Christ’s people in Jerusalem. And the people were scattered by that persecution to Judea and Samaria, and there they preached Jesus. The Church was scattered, except, strangely, for the Apostles, who stayed for a while in Jerusalem. But their word still went out, because their word was the word of Jesus.

Be innocent as doves, He said. You are like sheep among wolves. You are no more protected from suffering in this world than your Lord was, though He is often more gracious than we deserve. In the Scriptures, doves are flighty, even silly, easily snared. But do not be afraid, Jesus says three times. Don’t be afraid of those who hate those who bear Christ’s name. Don’t be afraid of them, because everything will be revealed for what it is. What looks like power and importance and life in this world will be revealed for weakness and worthless and death. What looks like weakness and defeat and foolishness will be revealed for its true worth in Christ. The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Be innocent as doves; do not be afraid of those who can snare and kill only your body. Fear God alone! He is able to destroy both body and soul in hell, though that is not what He wants for you. What is death when you have Christ your life? Though we are small and weak, what’s the worst that can happen to us? That we die and are with Christ while we wait for Him to raise our bodies? It is better to depart and be with Christ, if He should will it, than to be subject to sin and death in these bodies in this world; and it is far better even than that to be raised from the dead in bodies no longer subject to sin and death. Be innocent as doves. Do not be afraid. Sparrows are cheap, but not a single one falls to the earth apart from the Father. You are worth more than many sparrows; how much more can you trust that your Father cares for you? Precious in the sight of the Lord are the deaths of the saints, because they die in Christ, having endured to the end.

Confess Jesus as Lord and do not deny Him. Fear Him more than the people before whom you might be tempted to deny Him. And every single one of us has, in word, or thought, or action. And Peter did both! He confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus said that Peter hadn’t gotten that from people, but that His Father in heaven had revealed it to him. And then, not too long after, Peter denies Jesus in front of all the people gathered outside the house of the high priest. He denied that he knew Jesus, that he had anything to do with Him. And then Jesus restored Peter from denial to confession.

Confess Jesus. Confess Him by being where He is, by hearing His word, by believing it. Confess Him before those who ask you for a defense of the reason for the hope that is within you. Confess Him against all sin, including your own. Confess Him as the only Savior and Lord this world has. And the one who endures to the end in that confession will be saved. Do not be afraid: Christ has given you everything you need to endure. He sustains you now and tomorrow and in the days to come. He gives you His words of eternal life. He gives you His own living Body and Blood. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means that not only will He bring that good work to completion on that day, He is bringing it to completion until that day.

And if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes and is justified; with the mouth one confesses and is saved. You are confessing Him, and He will confess you. But He will confess you before His Father by His blood, not yours. And that confession of His, His intercession on your behalf by His blood, death, and resurrection—it is exactly that Jesus who you are confessing. And what is there to fear if you belong to a Jesus like that?

Be wise as serpents; know this world for what it is, and don’t be naive about it. But be innocent as doves. When you are harassed and helpless, beaten down, burdened, scattered—know Jesus for who He is. All who are weary and heavy-laden, come to Me, He says, and I will give you rest. Here, o doves, hide yourselves in the clefts of the rock and in the crannies of the cliff. Do not be afraid; in Him, you will endure to the end and be saved.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/19/20

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