Gunning For Jesus?
Robert Wurtz II
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: therefore be as wise as serpents, and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:14-16)
Our passage contains some powerful statements — sadly of which few Christians seem to take seriously. Why shake the dust off of our feet when we can try again later? And again and again and again. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve as many opportunities to respond to the Gospel as they want? Not according to this passage. Certainly the notion is completely foreign to the New Testament. I’m not saying people only get one chance to respond to the Gospel, but clearly our Lord’s attitude about it was much different than in modern times. Nevertheless, how are Christians supposed to respond to harsh rejection beyond shaking the dust off? Are they to take up arms and defend their faith? What is the nature of our commission? Jesus said it plainly, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: therefore be as wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.
Sheep in the midst of wolves sounds like a slaughter waiting to happen. Sheep are basically defenseless creatures, especially when contrasted with a wolf. Understand that our Lord is not talking to men who are sissies; He is talking to rugged grown men. They were rough characters — believing that soon Messiah was going to lead a revolt that will likely become an Old Testament style blood bath. Nevertheless, they are hearing it said that they must take on the harmless disposition of sheep and doves rather than wolves and serpents. What a shocking thing in their ears! Can you imagine how confusing this was for Simon the Zealot? The Zealots were the world’s original terrorists! These people could kill without batting an eye.
As a small child I read these words of Jesus in Matthew 10 from our old family Bible that decorated our coffee table. I’m not sure how many times I read this passage as a child; but is was enough to nearly memorize it. Long before anyone had a chance to interpret this words for me, I just took them in their plain common sense meaning. I was no theologian. As far as I was concerned, if Jesus said “suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not” — He surely intended me, as a child, to understand what He was saying. No concordance. No Greek dictionary. Just the common sense of a small child reading an archaic KJV.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Disciples of Christ were not warriors. They were not to be crusaders wielding swords and killing people. In time I learned that disciples are called to be “witnesses” — a Greek word that has “martyr” for it’s root. You shall be my martyrs not warriors. When it comes to the Gospel, The sword is in His mouth — not in our hand. This is why in 70 AD when the Zealots brought about the first Jewish Revolt, many Christians who lived in Israel were forced to flee. They could not get caught up in the warfare of the times. Their Kingdom was not of this world. The Romans ruled Israel at that time and the Zealots wanted them out. When that rebellion was put down, another one took place in 135 AD under the false Messiah Simon Bar Kochba. Many Christians who were left in the land were mocked and considered traitors because they would not fight against Rome under this false messiah. And while this was all going on Christians were being killed like sheep to a slaughter all over Rome, because they refused to say “Kurios Caesar” a phrase making Ceasar a god. From the Colosseum at Rome to the being burned on poles under Nero, the seeds of the Gospel were watered in the blood of countless martyrs.
But things changed a few hundred years later. In the early 300s AD Constantine became a Christian with a vision of the cross being a means of conquering. It was pure madness. For centuries Christianity was spread with the sword and gun (as it were). Even the Reformer Ulrich Zwingli died leading a charge in battle! As a “learned” man it makes me wonder what Bible he was reading. Certainly he was not reading our old family bible. Christians fighting in the name of Christ? God forbid.
The time would fail to even begin talking about all the martyrs who have died for the cause of Christ. John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs has much written about it. The Martyr’s Mirror is another giant book of stories of martyrs. These are filled with horrific accounts of Christian martyrdom. I have personally stood in Oxford, England where Thomas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned to death for Christ. I walked the courtyard at Smithfield, London where countless Christians known abusively as the Lollards (meaning mumblers) were systematically burned to death. Some were killed in front of their children. Some were women that died.
Right now there are images of Christians being killed in Iraq and Syria that are beyond vexing. Any human being with even a shadow of compassion would be sorely grieved beyond words. It is a throwback to the Middle Ages and even the time before Constantine. Nevertheless, should Christians in Iraq to arm themselves? In answer to this, my first thought is of the false prophet Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. He died in a shootout and is still called a martyr! Amazing. You mean to tell me you can die with guns ablazing and be called a martyr? Maybe in Islam. What madness is this?
What should Christians who are persecuted do? Flee? Yes! Run for your lives (if you can). No harm in that. It says so in Matthew 10. However, this is not the same as taking up arms against a people who are killing because you are either a Christian or you will not convert to Islam. Imagine Jim Elliot and Nate Saint going to their plane, pulling a gun and blasting the people that were killing them. Moreover, imagine Paul saying, “I am now ready for battle. I have my sword and spear. The time of my test has come. Pray I can take as many of the pagans with me as I can!” Did he say that? Of course not! We are sheep. We are not wolves. Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Were not talking about police officers with weapons — were talking about Christians arming themselves to defend their faith and avoid martyrdom. That is a totally different ball game.
Shall we read the Bible, John Foxes Book of Martyrs, the Martyrs Mirror, Tortured for Christ, and a host of other accounts of Christian persecution, deathcamps and martyrdom and then say, “We are Americans.. pass me my 45 or my 30.06! I’m going to take as many of these pagans as I can with me.” Are we going to imitate Jesus, James, Stephen, Peter, Paul and multiplied millions of others or Constantine, Zwingli and Joseph Smith? Will we rejoice that we were counted worthy to suffer for the cause of Christ, as did the Disciples? To me it’s a no brainer. Could our love for life eventually trump our faithfulness to the image of Christ?
Someday Christ is going to avenge all the blood of prophets and Martyrs, but that day is not this day. We may cry with those under the altar, “How long or holy and true…” or we may declare “Lord lay not this sin to their charge…”, but in some way persecution will test who we really are. This has always been so. If we are full of the Holy Spirit we can face these things. If the cares of this life trumps everything we have ever believed in or stood for, that will be discovered too. Remember, Jesus Christ will tread a winepress that will shed blood like rivers, but that is not now. He rides a white horse with a sharp sword in His mouth (as it were); but we are not Jesus and this is not the time.