He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Saturday, February 13, 2010 

Wise as Lizards

“Be wise as serpents,” Jesus says. How?

The first wise serpent in the Bible is a deceiver. Is Jesus encouraging His disciples to use deception to protect themselves? In part, the answer is qualified Yes. Jesus wants us to let our Yes be Yes, and our No No. He exhorts us to straightforwardness.

But there are times when deceit is righteous. Paul escaped the ethnarch Aretas in a basket let down through a window in the wall of Damascus, and we can be certain that he didn’t inform Aretas of his plans beforehand. Deception is a tactic of war, and the apostles were at war. When the disciples leave a town where they’ve been persecuted, they don’t leave a forwarding address. They slip out and go somewhere else. They might wear disguises, as Calvin had to do at times when he traveled.

Behind these tactics of deception is an eye-for-eye justice. The serpent deceived Eve, and as a result Adam and Eve were cast from the garden. It’s just that Satan the deceiver be deceived. We receive Satan and Satanic oppressors as a strategy of protection, but also as an act of just retribution against Satan.

But there is more to the wisdom of serpents. Solomon observed that one of the four small things that are “exceedingly wise” was the lizard who can be grasped with the hands “yet is in kings’ palaces” (Proverbs 30:28). Reptiles are shrewd in their ability to slip into places designed to keep them out. This is the wisdom of Jesus’ serpentine disciples. Persecutors lay hands on believers, drag them before kings and governors, and – magically – Christians have slipped into king’s palaces, ready to speak a word inspired by the Spirit.

Through persecution, the mission to Israel will become a mission to the Gentiles. The Jews will not only “scourge you in their synagogues,” but will bring them “before governors and kings” (vv. 17-18). Without persecution, Jesus’ disciples would never gain access to Gentile rulers. The Twelve don’t have to prepare persuasive speeches; the Spirit will testify to the Gentiles through them (v. 20). So long as Jesus’ disciples remain as innocent as doves, their Lord will give them surprising access, and Spirit-filled speech, before the highest of men.

- Peter Leithart

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