Matthew 10 teaches what the first preachers of the Gospel were to expect as
they copied Jesus, going out among all the towns and villages preaching the
Good News and healing the people’s diseases. Our first reaction is to
suppose that they should have been well received. Who is more welcome than
bearers of good news? Or those who are able to drive out demons and heal
diseases? But when we remember the way people received Jesus, we know that
presuming a good reception is too facile. Jesus did all these things, but
he was “despised and rejected … a man of sorrows, and acquainted with

What the disciples were to expect is made clear – some people would receive
them; they were to stay with such “worthy” people. But others would reject
them and their message. If they were rejected, they were to shake off the
dust from their feet and leave that house or village. At this period Jews
would do this when they departed Gentile lands to reenter Jewish territory.
What Jesus is saying is that if a Jewish home refused to receive His
apostles and believe the Gospel, the disciples should consider them
Gentiles, that is, beyond the covenant blessings belonging to the chosen

This section is not only a warning to workers about what to expect as a
response to their preaching and what to do about it but also a warning to
unbelievers that rejecting the Gospel is a serious matter – similar to
Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it will be more
bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Sodom and Gomorrah were notorious for their corruption, but the cities that
would reject Christ’s messengers would not be guilty of the same sins. The
citizens would consider themselves quite godly. John Ryle wrote, “Men are
apt to forget that it does not require great open sins to be sinned in
order to ruin a soul forever. They have only to go on hearing without
believing, listening without repenting, going to Church without going to
Christ, and by and by they will find themselves in hell!” This difficult to
have to say, but sadly it is true.

The last verse of this section says, “I am sending you out as sheep among
wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Three images suggest
the appropriate character of Christ’s messengers.

The world is a dangerous place, and Christians are vulnerable, like sheep
among wolves. Yet in spite of the danger they are to remain sheep. It is
always a problem when ministers of the Gospel resort to power or savage
behavior to accomplish spiritual ends, for then they are like wolves
themselves. We cannot forget that we are sent not to overpower the wolves
or destroy them but to convert them. Charles Spurgeon argued that the only
weapons of Christians “are that they are weaponless.”

Second, Wise as serpents [shrewd as snakes]. This is the same language as
Genesis 3.1, where the word wise [crafty/shrewd] is used of Satan. But the
word innocent that follows shows that this is a sanctified
shrewdness and not a cunning one. William Hendriksen wrote, “The keenness
here recommended … involves insight into the nature of one’s surroundings,
… circumspection, sanctified common sense, wisdom to do the right thing at
the right time and place and in the right manner – a serious attempt always
to discover the best means to achieve the highest goal.”

Finally, the messengers of Christ are to be “innocent as doves.” This
refers not so much to moral purity as to a purity of manners. They are to
be straightforward, without guile, like Nathanael, whom Jesus called “a
true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” With Christians, what you
see should be what you get. Unfortunately, Christians are not always like
this. Therefore, we need to keep especially close to Jesus Christ. It is
only by keeping close to Jesus that we will become like Him.

Could anyone ever embark on a greater enterprise than the one Jesus has
given to us: to go into the entire world with the Gospel, summoning men and
women to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Nothing we can do will ever
be greater or more important than that. If this is so, however, we need to
take care how we go about our witnessing. We must do it carefully and be
sure we are actually serving Jesus Christ.

Robert Chapman pastored for decades in Barnstaple England. “A local grocer
became so upset at Chapman’s open-air preaching that he spit on him! For a
number of years the grocer continued to attack and castigate Chapman.

“One of Chapman’s wealthy relatives visited him in Barnstaple. The relative
was trying to understand why the well-bred Chapman lived in such a modest
house in an impoverished neighborhood. As the relative was leaving, he
asked if he could buy groceries for Chapman, who gladly agreed. But Chapman
insisted that the groceries be purchased at a certain grocer’s shop – the
grocer who had so vehemently maligned him.

“Ignorant of previous interactions between the grocer and Chapman, the
relative went as directed. He selected and paid for a large amount of food,
and then told the grocer to deliver it to R.C. Chapman. The stunned grocer
told the visitor that he must have come to the wrong shop, but the visitor
explained that Chapman had sent him specifically to that shop. Soon the
grocer arrived at Chapman’s house, where he broke down in tears and asked
for forgiveness. That very day the grocer yielded his life to Christ!”

We can hardly imagine what God will do when we remember that we are but
sheep and Jesus exhorted believers to live as such.