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Serpents and Doves - 3

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman
The Truth Network Radio
October 2, 2023 8:00 am

Serpents and Doves - 3

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman

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October 2, 2023 8:00 am

This is the third in a series -Christ and Creatures- from Dr. John McKnight.


We'll be returning to Matthew Chapter 10, if you wish to open the scripture to that passage this evening, focusing on the subject of Serpents and Doves. Wonderful to be together tonight.

I'm enjoying so much my time with you, your faithfulness, your focused attention to the preaching of the Word, the fellowship we're having together over meals, and just the overall kindness that I'm experiencing. Let me just say one big excuse me now. In the event that a sneeze comes on, I won't have time to say excuse me, so I'll get ready now.

And of course, all you need to do when you're going to sneeze is talk about it, and it goes away. So there we took care of that one real quick. I've learned something in 67 years. But the kindness that you've shown to me in so many ways, I realize that having a hillbilly come and preach to you might be embarrassing to you as a congregation, so some of our brethren hastened today to see to it that my muffler was fixed on the pickup truck so that the evidence would be disguised. I'll put it that way. But such kind, kind gestures are deeply, deeply appreciated. And I thank you for your kindness and for the opportunity to be with you again.

The last time that I was here in 1991, on my way home, rather than taking Interstate 85 and 95 North, I took a westerly route in order to pick up a great Pyrenees puppy that had been advertised in that part of the state of Virginia. And so Polly is her name. That is an LGD. How many know what that stands for, LGD?

Who said that? Livestock guardian dog. That's what it is. And I took her home in order to guard the chickens from hawks and eagles. She killed 13 before she learned what it was all about.

I have to say it that way. And it's not that she was vicious or violent, but that she's a puppy. And puppies play. And chickens make great things to play with. They act funny. They sound funny.

They respond funny. But dog play and chicken play are two different categories of play. She will depend on the acre lot where the chickens are. She will keep hawks and eagles and anything else away. Mammal predators as well.

So I mention all that because I took a quick look at something this afternoon online. And some of you have asked me about the farm. The farm work.

Well, I don't really have a farm. But my daughter and her husband live on a 17-acre farmette that they are developing with heritage breed turkeys. They are sheep. They are my sheep and theirs.

We kind of share them. Some chickens. And my dog's puppy, Maggie, is in pictures on the website.

So if you want to look at Candlelight Farm, just Google that and you will find a lovely little farmette space and web page and Facebook page up in Darlington, Maryland. And you will see Maggie the puppy. And you will see Marshall, her father. And you will see Joe Corby the cat. And several other cats and chickens and sheep and turkeys and whatnot.

So that shameless plug of advertisement I delivered to you. And now let's get serious and get down to business with the subject of the evening as we are considering our Lord's focus upon animals as he taught and as he spoke. And all of you, I'm sure, were certain what the focus and subject would be this evening with the title of Serpents and Doves. And we have read together there in Matthew Chapter 10 in the 16th verse where the Lord Jesus says unto his disciples as he instructs them, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

That's what we want to consider this evening. Let's bow once again and ask our father's kind help. As we search the word together, our God and our father in heaven, we give thanks that we are here tonight and not in hell. But grace has prevailed grace that is greater than all of our sins to save such as we are to take us as lost sheep from among the walls that would devour and to place us in the fold of safety in Christ. I grant that tonight we might gain greater understanding of what our Lord taught when he gave these words.

An understanding that is not simply the equipping of the mind, but an understanding that is the experience of the heart. May we know an experiential communion with thee in the word tonight, an experiential reception of the word of God. May we believe before us to live within us and to live large within us, that we might be conformed to the image of Christ, that we might truly be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Help us, Lord God, for without thee we can do nothing. We pray in Jesus' name.

Amen. When we look at this passage, we find four animals named. Two of them are mammals, one a reptile, the other a bird. And you cannot get much more diverse animals put together in one list as our Lord brings together here. Behold, I send you forth as sheep among wolves. Be therefore as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. I do have an outline tonight and I'll give the entire outline. Some of you have wondered if I do in past nights, I'm sure, but I'll give you the whole outline as we start because I'm not sure I can follow it or anybody else can either.

It'll probably be jumbled up and mixed hither and yon, coiled like a serpent, let me say, but let me simply give you what I intend to, what I hope to do this evening and then proceed to do it. First of all, here, point one, our God, our savior provides information. I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Then he does that information by providing, second, an illustration. The illustration being the serpent, the dove, the sheep, the wolf, each illustrating a concept, an identity, a set of qualities that our Lord wants to be understood as the information that he presents. And then the third point will be the anticipation of a violent rejection, an anticipation which fuels this warning, which prompts our Lord to give this information and this illustration. Now, the information is that the disciples will not have a rosy pathway in what they are being sent forth to do. It will not be great delights and pleasures along the way.

It will be a way that is strewn with dangers, with challenges, with difficulties. We are not called unto a party. We are called unto warfare, spiritual warfare, and that's what is portrayed in the wolf and the lamb or the sheep together. And so as our Lord presents that to them, he says that he is sending them forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. And you don't need a lot of explanation at all to get the picture of what he is saying, because you know what happens when certain animals are put in the presence of other animals.

I cannot help but remember a number of years ago when our five children were at home and we were traveling up through Nova Scotia where Daniel Freeman grew up, and we stopped at a zoo of sorts up there. And we were looking at the various animals, and there was an exhibit which had a large area for Arctic foxes to run, and there were several foxes in the exhibit. And we were standing there watching them, and what do you know? Lo and behold, as we're watching the foxes, all of the sudden a rather large seagull just comes gliding down right into the fox pen. Stupid place to land for any kind of a bird, but there it went. And the seagull was of such a size, and the foliage naturally in the enclosure was so close that it could not get its wings flapping sufficient to get any lift to escape. And so there it was, and here came the foxes.

What need more I say? You can imagine what the outcome of that would be. The seagull in the midst of foxes, certainly it would be something of the same concept as a sheep in the midst of wolves. The wolf is a predator.

No two ways about it. The sheep, by contrast, is always the prey when there is a predator involved. You put a sheep and a wolf together, the outcome is predictable.

You know what's going to happen. The wolf is a vicious animal. Any animal that will sink its fangs into the flesh of another and rend it while the life is still within it in order to eat it is vicious. By contrast, the lamb, the sheep, is a very docile animal.

Oh yes, rams, sometimes I think I know why they're called rams. They will run at you and butt if they think they have a harem of ewes to defend and keep away from you. But by and large, a sheep are very docile.

They'll run from you unless they are very tame, and then they will come and rub up against you. No threat, the docility of a sheep equals the ferocity of a wolf. The wolf is a carnivore. He eats meat. The sheep is an herbivore, won't touch meat, is going to eat grass and hay, and grain if they think they can get a hold of it. The wolf wants none of that.

He wants only bloody meat. Because the wolf is a carnivore, he is fanged. He has those canine teeth that you see in your dog, and they are there for the purpose of grabbing, holding onto, and ripping meat off of the bone that he might consume it. By contrast, the sheep, though it has teeth, they are ever so small.

They are made simply to snip off the grass from the ground. They are in such a state that compared to the wolf, we could say the sheep are toothless, fangless, and so the contrast continues. The wolf is stealthy.

They function in disguise and in hiding if it's possible to do so. They have their own crouch and crawl by which they approach the prey that is unsuspecting and doesn't see them. And by contrast, the sheep is basically clueless, hasn't an idea what's going on, what's coming, or the fact that he happens that night to be on the wolf's menu. The wolf exercise is a strategy. If you ever watched any of those videos that are taken out in the West, Yellowstone National Park, where you will see wolves ganging up to pursue an elk or a bison, they don't randomly run. There is a strange and eerie strategy to those animals as they grow up together in the pack and learn how to head off an animal so it will go in the direction of the rest of the pack that can then leap to its throat and drag it to the ground with great effort but with great success. Stealthy creatures they are, they strategize. The sheep, by contrast, are not only clueless but they are mindless.

They just don't think of consequences. My father, a farmer who was called to preach, would often refer back to the farm events and there was one saying that you've probably heard many times, if you give a calf enough rope, he'll hang himself. You put a rope around his neck and tie him somewhere and the poor thing doesn't have enough rope.

He can't get to the grass he wants. Well, give him enough rope and he'll find a way to hang himself. Well, sheep are much the same way. They are not cautious concerning their own health, their own well-being. They're mindless.

They will hang themselves if they have a half a chance and so you have to be careful not to do so. The wolves function with a pack mentality. Together they are going to achieve a certain objective. They are set on doing so. They are relentless in their determination.

They are practiced. They are physically adept and ready to go while the sheep have a herd mentality. Everybody does what the other one does or they can be scattered and there is no structure, no defense to them. The sheep will be led into great danger.

They will find their way into danger. Reminds me of another story my father would tell. He told about the boy in school in math class and the teacher says to him, Johnny, I don't know why they always use the word Johnny.

That was my name. But Johnny, if there are 10 sheep in the field and one jumps over the fence and gets loose, how many sheep are left? Johnny says, none. Johnny, you didn't hear me. If there are 10 sheep in the field and one gets out, jumps the fence, how many are left?

None. Johnny, you don't know your math. Johnny answers, teacher, you don't know your sheep. If one jumps out, they'll all follow. And to their own damage, fences around sheep are for their protection indeed. And so sheep live recklessly.

As we might say, they take their lives into their own hands. So the wolf is a victimizer by instinct and the sheep is instinctively the victim. The wolf is described as being an unclean animal in the scripture, whereas the sheep was especially designated as a sacrificial animal to be brought before God. And this is how our Lord presents the matter to his disciples. I send you forth as sheep. Among wolves, doubtless sacrifice is what will ensue.

And indeed, as we read the history of the disciples, one of them lived to old age, John, exiled, as if imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. And others became martyrs, died before their times, sheep in the midst of wolves. And so with those two illustrations, our Lord teaches the disciples, I send you forth as sheep among wolves. The fact that he calls them sheep cannot but have some reference in their minds to what the Old Testament scriptures had said concerning man as sheep. All we like sheep have gone astray.

We have turned everyone to his own way. That was the description of every one of the disciples and of every one of us as well. And while Christ sends these sheep, these disciples as sheep to the slaughter, that's what Christ who became one of those sheep to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. That's what Christ instructed the disciples with.

Now we needn't think that such instruction would apply only to the disciples. It is applied to God's people throughout the history of God's dealings with his people. Recall what was said among the Old Testament prophets. Let me read to you words from Ezekiel, which were part of his prophecy concerning the apostasy of the people of Israel.

God spoke to Ezekiel, Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey. How it is in the scripture that Satan and his minions are described as various carnivorous animals. Our adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Ezekiel continues like a ravening lion ravening the prey. They have devoured souls. They have taken the treasure and precious things.

They have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law and have profaned mine holy things. They have put no difference between the holy and profane.

Neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean. And they hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey to shed blood and destroy souls to get dishonest gain. Zephaniah, the prophet as well, spoke in a similar way. Her princes within her are ravening lions, roaring lions. Her judges are evening wolves.

They gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons. And so the people of God throughout their history have been warned about false teachers as enemies to be likened unto lions and wolves preying upon sheep. And so it is well for us to recognize that there is among mankind an instinctive prejudice against God first, and therefore also against his word and the gospel second, and therefore also against those who would endeavor to speak or live the gospel. You see, the gospel of Christ is by its very nature confrontational.

And it brings the ire of the wicked to the surface very quickly. I wish you could be with me on some experiences in the past, just so you could see for yourself what I'm going to tell you about. I, of course, feel that I've lived a very sheltered life. I've not worked in a workplace where there is cursing and swearing and profanity and vile language or actions.

I've worked with believers in the ministry of the church, but on those occasions when I am out in certain circumstances, the hostility of man toward God, his word and anyone who would seem to represent his word becomes very evident. My wife and I occasionally have had opportunity to travel. And as we've been introduced or introduced ourselves within the tour group we're traveling with, the customary thing is to tell who you are, where you're from and what you do. And so my name is John McKnight. I'm from Whiteford, Maryland, and I'm a pastor. A what? I'm a pastor. Oh. Oh. And a blank look comes over the face like, what in the world do we have here? And I'm not imagining these things. In fact, I can see it. And while there is a lament that people are so uncomfortable with that, there is an amusement to it as well.

I probably laugh at things I shouldn't laugh at, but oh, OK. Or if I'm introduced to someone and he's a pastor, such and such, and it's kind of like the people don't know what to say or what to do. And I recall sitting around a table on one of these tour groups with what was called a dumpling feast. It was in an area that was known for making and eating dumplings.

And so part of the tour was a dumpling feast and we're seated around the table. And one of the couples there, by his speech, it became evident that the man probably had had one beer too many. And so he belts out how he has read the Bible and got nothing out of it. I said, read it again. I didn't say it in that terminology, but I said it and there was no doubt what I was saying. And across the table was a woman traveling by herself who leaped at the opportunity to let it be known. She had grown up in church and she had seen this and on and on she went with her hostilities against the gospel. And all I had said was, read it again.

What would she have done if I had stood up on the chair and started preaching? You see what I'm saying? And you have seen it as well, no doubt. Many of you in the workplace, perhaps in your neighborhood, where people are simply intuitively and instinctively prejudiced against the gospel of Christ. They don't have that feeling necessarily toward a political philosophy that has come true to theirs. But all when it comes to the things of God, there is that rebel spirit within every human being. And unless it is subdued by the Spirit of God, it will make itself known. And these disciples, Christ is sending them forth to a world of religious leaders, very influential men, who will see to it that Christ is crucified, no matter how many lies they have to tell to make it happen. Truth is not their concern. Power is their concern. And they are determined to hold on to it, just as professed Christian churches have been throughout history. The history of Christianity, if it be called Christianity, is primarily one of religious institutions and their leaders trying to hold on to what power they have and get more of it.

I have said to my own congregation at times that the medieval Roman church, as it continues even to this day, is in fact the world's largest, oldest political party, functioning in the venue of international politics. And wherever a political party exists, its number one concern is not truth, never, but power. And truth can be set aside if its revelation may threaten power.

And consequently, we have such horrendous things as the pedophilia scandal that was covered and hidden for years, and in pockets where it's not been exposed, doubtless is still hidden and covered, because the purpose is not truth, the purpose is power. And that is the history of religion. And Jesus is sending these disciples out into a world that is controlled by the religious establishment that will have him crucified. Wolves they are, wolves in sheep's clothing they are, and you, disciples, are going out among them as sheep.

What then do you do? Well, I find an interesting phenomenon here. On the one hand, what we see is the sovereignty of God. And on the other hand, we see it coming into connection with the responsibility of man. Christ says, I send you forth as sheep among wolves. Christ knows where he's sending them. He knows what they will face.

There will be no surprises. And they are not doing it of their own accord. They would do something very different. He has ordained this. He is the sovereign sending them forth.

But how are they to face these things? Well, that is where human responsibility comes in, and Christ sets that forth as well. He tells them, therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Sovereign God, I send you forth.

Responsible man, you do this. And he tells them, thus, that their approach to these wolves in sheep's clothing is to be the approach that is as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Now, what is implied in these descriptors? You might ask yourself the question, what is wise about a serpent? I don't think we usually sit down and think, my, that snake is wise. What a great radiant mind and intellect he has.

We don't think like that, of course. And yet there are elements here that are so real and so true and so evident and I believe so instructive to us to be as wise as serpents. This summer I was doing some work at my son-in-law and daughter's farm that I mentioned to you a little bit earlier, kind of building a stone wall. There on the farm there was a retaining wall probably built 200 years ago that's crumbling and falling apart, and so it was my delight to dig into it and begin taking it apart so that I could rebuild it. And as we would go removing stone by stone, we found I don't know how many little snakes about that long, little black snakes about the size of a pencil, a very neat little yellow ring around their neck, and no doubt those snakes were hatched in that wall. Did their growing up in that wall and would still be there if I hadn't have taken them out and given them to the chickens.

There they were in the wall, probably in the course of the project, 15 or 20 of them. They knew how to survive provided a human being didn't come along and interrupt their situation. They would have lived out their lives in safety and in the shelter of those stones. In the freezing cold of winter they could crawl far enough into the side of the wall where the Earth was and would retain the heat of the Earth so they wouldn't freeze to death, they could hibernate but survive well there. In the blazing heat of the summer they could lie back there under those stones with the coolness of the Earth, plenty of worms, crickets, insects, the kind of thing they could manage to eat, they couldn't eat a big cricket, they were hardly big enough themselves, but they could make it there.

They knew where to be, they knew how to be, they could survive very well there. One day as I was working I just turned my head a little bit, I'm working on a stone wall and all of a sudden I see a black snake coming down slowly and quietly and very gracefully through the grass and in underneath a pallet of stones as if he didn't even see me, he didn't make a sound, but I watched him recognizing my daughter probably didn't want him that close to the house and eventually I was able to get him and move him further away. But have you ever watched a snake as it slowly crawls along through the grass?

You talk about poise, about, can I say, sophistication? The smooth ease with which they can move without legs, you try crawling on your belly and looking as good as they do. Crawling along and slithering through the grass and at the same time if you startle them as I did that black snake, they can take off again as quick as, I said it this afternoon, as quick as greased lightning and off they go. I would surmise that there are people here tonight who do not like snakes and I'm not one of these who advocates that everybody needs to have one as a pet.

I would probably advise against it. But what you have to recognize is that as much as snakes have been hated, I remember the stories of my grandmother breaking out a kitchen window trying to kill one with a hoe on the farm and remember the day that my mother-in-law came home and killed five of them in her yard. People have hated them, but you know something? Snakes are surviving pretty well. In fact, I would surmise that on your property in places where you frequently move, they are there and you have no idea they are. They can hide away.

They are not out being obnoxious, getting in the way. If one meets you, chances are it's more eager to get away from you than you are to get away from it. As one fellow said once, he said a snake might not hurt you, but he'll make you hurt yourself.

And indeed, that's the case. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden before the curse of sin had come upon them, the universe is described as having a serpent that was the most subtle of all the beasts of the field. There was a time when snakes were the very top of the intellectual pyramid among animals, if I can put it that way, so subtle it could communicate with Eve, communicate convincingly and persuade her that it was right and good to do what God had said was wrong and bad, and Eve fell for it. Now the curse of sin came, and we do not know all that was lost by the fall of that curse and the fall of Adam and our father, but just as the image of God in man remains, though marred by the curse of sin, so some of the beauty and poise and wonder and fascination, the coordination, the ability to move in an inconspicuous way, the non-threatening I'll hide rather than cause a scene temperament of most of the snakes continues there. The writer of Proverbs wrote, There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not, the way of an eagle in the air, find the place where I left off, there it is, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea and the way of a man with a maid, the way of a serpent on a rock. Ever watched a snake climb rocks?

Once again, I would say you try to do it as gracefully and successfully as they do. The point is this. The serpent, though he can be venomous and dangerous and is to be watched and guarded, yet there are qualities there which are very becoming, beautiful, coordinated, appropriate, not seeking trouble but seeking to escape those who may cause problem for them. The wisdom of serpents is what we're talking about. Christ tells the disciples that they are to be as wise as serpents.

Here is some of that idea put in very different words. Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow from thee, turn not away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his Son to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. The temperament that is described there, the outlook on life, the view of others, is certainly, I believe, an explanation of what is involved in being as wise as serpent. He doesn't go out looking for trouble, doesn't confront unless confronted, and with poise, with grace, with dignity, conducts himself even though he is as a sheep among wolves. He is not fighting back at his enemies.

He's not trying to get in the last punch or the last word. Wise as serpents and harmless as doves. And I didn't go into any description concerning the harmless nature of a dove, but rather to point out that the gentleness of the dove is of such conspicuous evidence that when God would reveal the invisible bodiless Holy Spirit among men, he had the Holy Spirit descend upon Christ in the form of a dove. And there, the peaceable, gentle embodiment of peace descended upon our Lord as he and his human ministry was anointed from on high above his fellows.

With these things, Christ instructs the disciples. I said a while ago that the gospel of Christ is always confrontational. It confronts the sinner with this fact. All have sinned. There is none righteous, no, not one.

There's none that seeketh after God. To present that before an individual is indeed a confrontational presentation. The gospel not only does that, but the gospel makes it clear that if you do not trust in Christ, you will perish. Everlasting wrath and torment awaits those who perish outside of Christ.

And such confrontation runs against the grain of man. And so while the gospel that the disciples are to bear forth will indeed be confrontational to those that they face, they as persons are not to be confrontational. It's not about me.

It's not about you. It's about the glorious saving gospel of Christ. And if that offends, well may it. For before there can be a conversion of the soul, there must be a humbling of the soul with the reality that I am lost and undone. And that is the reality the gospel brings to them. I understand the temptation when we kindly gently present the gospel to someone who responds with a hateful snarl and perhaps profanity and rejecting it. There is a personal pride that is touched upon.

There is that instinctive desire to lunge back verbally or at least an expression in body language. Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves. Yes, you are as sheep among wolves.

What else do you expect? Sheep are sacrifice animals. God has made them to be sacrificed. And the one who became one of us, even incarnate God in the person of Christ, he was led as a lamb to the slaughter.

Yet he opened not his mouth. And this is where we, as sheep among wolves, must be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. What appropriate animals Christ chose to illustrate these things and to instruct us in them. And so, indeed, we go forth as sheep among wolves, as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves and motivated, encouraged by this great truth.

Isaiah 65, verse 25. And the wolf and the lamb shall feed together. There's a kingdom of truth and light that shall come. Christ, the good shepherd, will there have tamed every wolf and lion and adder. And indeed, the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, the ox and the lion.

And it is about that day of peace where the qualities of the serpent in its grace and the dove become the norm of life. It's to that destination that we journey. And so between here and there, though we are sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, let us be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Shall we pray together? Mighty God and loving Father, how gracious that we are included among your people and called upon to be ambassadors for the King of Kings. How encouraging it is that when Christ says, I send you forth, he is indeed deputizing his ambassadors to speak the truth, which, when they speak, bears the very authority of Almighty God. Grant to us the courage and commitment and willingness to present our bodies a living sacrifice as sheep among wolves and to do so as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-03 14:09:44 / 2023-10-03 14:23:37 / 14

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