It’s a familiar enough scene: Jesus is sending out the seventy-two into towns and villages ahead of Him, and His words to them are well known. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). Ahhh. Lovely, iconic scene. We all know those words well, and we pray in church that God would do just that—send workers into His Church. What could be more rewarding than working as a laborer in God’s field? This verse is often quoted at installation services, and rightly so. But we often stop with that verse and fail to read Jesus’ very next words. “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Wait, what? What did You just say, Jesus? You do know what wolves do to lambs, don’t You? They eat them. That’s not exactly something You ought to put right there in the job description. On second thought, maybe I don’t want to be sent into the harvest field after all…
At the suggestion of my son, I recently read the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. After a plane crash which finds him as the sole survivor, Brian has to navigate the remote Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet as a tool/weapon. There are four sequels to the book, and I binge-read all of them within a week. In Brian’s Winter, the third book in the series, he witnesses four wolves attack a moose and kill it slowly, starting to eat it while the moose was still alive. It’s rather a gruesome scene, but it illustrates the power of wolves working together to take down an animal much larger than they. They are relentless in their attack, slashing at the moose one at a time from different directions so the moose cannot defend himself and eventually succumbs to their attack.
Wolves are predators, plain and simple. And if they can take down a moose like that, just think of what they can do to sheep. The picture of sheep among wolves is not a pretty one. Wolves devour sheep. Sheep cannot defend themselves. And a lamb—a baby sheep—is that much more vulnerable. So why does Jesus make this analogy? Can’t He think of something a bit more encouraging? He’s very upfront with His followers that they will meet with resistance. We will not be embraced by the world. We will encounter personal attacks, and even persecution. The world is relentless in its attack against Christianity. It always has been. Even Jesus’ apostles were not immune to this hostility. Tradition holds that all but John met with a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ. On the face of it, the situation seems very bleak indeed. We are lambs among wolves and cannot defend ourselves. We can’t rely on our own strength or cleverness to evade attack. We are helpless.
But that’s not the end of the story.
On their own, sheep would have little to no chance of survival, which is why they need shepherds to care for them. A shepherd’s job is not a glamorous one. Shepherds in ancient times lived nomadic lives, bringing their sheep from one pasture to another when the food supply ran out. They stayed with their flock almost constantly, no matter what the weather. They slept with their flock. They protected their flock. They fought off wild animals who would try to harm the sheep. Without the shepherd, the sheep would most certainly die.
Dear Christians, our Good Shepherd is Jesus. He declares in John 10:11-12,14, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” And in Luke 12:32, He assures us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We, His flock, follow our Good Shepherd, who has already given us the kingdom of heaven, and no wolf can ever take that from us.
Yes, we are as lambs among wolves in this world. The world will stop at nothing to snatch our faith from us. But rest assured. You aren’t just any lamb. You are Jesus’ little lamb, and He is your Good Shepherd forever.