Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Have you ever had to listen to a sales-person? They tell you all of the reasons why you should part with your money and buy whatever it is that they are selling. And this is their sales pitch. Well, when you listen to some preachers today, they try to ‘sell’ Christianity with what is known as the ‘health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.’ Their ‘sales-pitch’ is: If you choose Jesus you will get to enjoy the good life – riches, good health, and success.
We can safely assume then that they don’t use this passage as their sermon text, for Jesus’ words in v20, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” are clearly not a promise of health and prosperity! And they must not use Matthew 24:9 either, because there Jesus says, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” or 2 Timothy 3:12 where it says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” According to the Bible then, the true ‘sales-pitch’ for Christianity is that if you follow Jesus, you can expect persecution.
And congregation, it is very timely that we consider this reality. Life has been comparatively comfortable for Christians in the West for a long time, but that is rapidly changing. As I will explain, persecution is coming. So it is fitting that we consider these words of the Lord Jesus today.
And it is fitting that we do this with the Lord’s Supper table set before us because the table is the ultimate illustration of what hatred and persecution cost Jesus. And this will leave each one of us with a question to answer: Am I willing to suffer for Jesus?
It has been a while since we were last in John’s Gospel together so let’s recall where we are: Jesus has just had the Last Supper with His disciples. Judas Iscariot has left the room to prepare to betray Jesus. So Jesus is trying to prepare the remaining disciples for what is about to happen. He has just told them that He chose them to bear the fruit of obedience and the command He emphasized was that they love one another. But now His focus shifts to the certainty of the persecution that the disciples will face.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were about to do something and someone who had done it before told you about the dangers or difficulties you were likely to face? Well, what that person did was to forewarn you – to warn you beforehand. You see, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If you know something is likely to happen you are much better prepared to deal with it than if you know nothing about it. And one reason why we forewarn people is because we love them. And Jesus loved the disciples and He loves all those who follow Him, including you and me.
So that is why, in this passage, Jesus forewarns His Followers. And He does this by preparing them for hatred and by promising them a Helper. And they will be our two main points today.
- So first of all, Jesus forewarns His followers by preparing them for hatred. And He does this by saying that just as the world hated and persecuted Him, so it will hate and persecute His followers. And just as many people rejected His preaching, many will reject the word that His followers preach. And He gets very specific, in terms of the disciples, by forewarning them in 16:2 that they would be expelled from the synagogues, which are the places where the Jews worshipped, and they would be killed by their fellow Jews!
- Now, here we are, gathered for
worship, and no one appears to be breaking down the door to arrest us or kill
us. In fact, after the Mosque shootings
earlier this year I had a visit from two police who came to talk about our
safety. Soon we will have a Holiday
Bible club and our neighbours will send their kids along. And the government even pays a large chunk of
the budget for our Christian kindergarten and for Christian schools. So was Jesus being a bit OTT? Is what we enjoy the new normal? Must we really expect hatred and
persecution? Well, let’s think about
what Jesus says here in the light of the whole Bible and church history.
- Jesus said
that His followers would be hated and persecuted by ‘the world.’ Boys and girls, I want you to listen as I read
vv18-19 and count how many times you hear ‘the world.’ Six times!
So what does He mean? What is
‘the world’? Well, He is not talking
about the planet we live on but the realm of unbelief and all of its ideas and
philosophies and behaviours.
- You see,
way back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God
came to them and He said to Eve that there would be enmity or hostility or
hatred between her offspring – the line of belief, and the offspring of the
devil – the line of unbelief. The rest
of human history would involve this conflict between God’s people and
unbelievers. And I cannot ove state how important
it is that we understand this. Unbelief
is not neutrality about God; it is to be in rebellion against or hostile towards
or opposed to God.
- This has been a major theme of John’s Gospel: For example, in ch. 3:19, Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”
- Another term for the world of unbelief that the Bible uses is ‘those who are in the flesh.’ And Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
- In OT times, ‘the world’ was the Gentile or non-Jewish nations. In Ephesians 4:17, Paul said to believers, Do not be like the Gentiles. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
- 1 John divides humanity into Christian and anti-Christ. And that is because you either love Christ or you are anti-Christ – there is no middle ground.
- So the world of unbelief hates Jesus; it is in darkness and rebellion against Jesus. That is why Jesus said, The world “hated me before it hated you.”
- And it
is important to understand this because this affects every aspect of daily
life. If everything around us, what we
see and watch and read and hear, was neutral, we could relax and enjoy and take
it or leave it. But that is not the
case, as we have seen – this world is hostile toward God.
- That is why we warned, in 1 John 2:15ff, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
- So understanding that the world hates Jesus and His followers will drastically affect how we relate to the world around us.
- You see, way back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God came to them and He said to Eve that there would be enmity or hostility or hatred between her offspring – the line of belief, and the offspring of the devil – the line of unbelief. The rest of human history would involve this conflict between God’s people and unbelievers. And I cannot ove state how important it is that we understand this. Unbelief is not neutrality about God; it is to be in rebellion against or hostile towards or opposed to God.
- Jesus said that His followers would be hated and persecuted by ‘the world.’ Boys and girls, I want you to listen as I read vv18-19 and count how many times you hear ‘the world.’ Six times! So what does He mean? What is ‘the world’? Well, He is not talking about the planet we live on but the realm of unbelief and all of its ideas and philosophies and behaviours.
- But while
there is plenty more that we could say about what this means for us today, the
key point for this passage is that the world hates Jesus and it hates
His followers and it will persecute
them. And this has been the case
throughout church history.
- Who here knows about or has read Foxes Book of Martyrs? In 1563, John Foxe published a book recording accounts of believers who were persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ. He starts with the disciples and he moves through the centuries until the Reformation of the sixteenth century. If you have not read it, you can read it online. It demonstrates that persecution is not unusual but common.
- A couple of months ago, many of us heard from Sister Winnie about the persecution being endured by believers in China. And while it sounds shocking to us, what they are enduring is actually the norm for Christians in this world. It is our situation of relative comfort that is abnormal.
- And the reason for our situation here in NZ is as follows: Since the Reformation of the sixteenth century, God graciously brought many in Europe to a living faith in Christ. And many of these believing families immigrated to countries like ours, which meant that Christian beliefs had had a huge influence on the laws of Western nations. So the principles of justice and morality and freedom and tolerance that we find in the Bible have ‘flavoured’ those nations for a few centuries.
- But this
situation is changing in Western nations, very quickly. Let me give you some examples:
- Prof. James G. Dwyer of William
and Mary Law School in the USA, an esteemed academic, wrote a book called ‘Religious Schools v. Children’s Rights.’ He said, Christian schools teach that if
children are not born again, they will face eternal damnation in hell. (And that is the basic message of the Bible,
right?) But Prof. Dwyer said this
teaching places an enormous psychological burden on children. It can lead to excessive anxiety by warning
of divine vengeance for violation of moral codes that may be difficult to keep. He said that children are harmed by Christian
sexual morality. He said that the State needs
to control Christian school curriculum. He
said that government welfare agencies should remove children from the home if they
are being taught this stuff, because the children will be in a minority and they
will be scorned by their peers.
- Now, I am not claiming some prophetic insight but I think I am on safe ground to suggest that that this type of thinking will affect the Christian school and kindergarten movement in NZ soon and we will see children removed from Christian parents.
- Not that long ago, I read an article on Stuff about the decision of some Anglican churches to leave the Anglican denomination because it had voted to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages. The author of the article commended the Anglican church for this ‘brave’ decision and had strong words for churches that still ‘discriminated’ against the LGBTQ community. The author said,
- Prof. James G. Dwyer of William and Mary Law School in the USA, an esteemed academic, wrote a book called ‘Religious Schools v. Children’s Rights.’ He said, Christian schools teach that if children are not born again, they will face eternal damnation in hell. (And that is the basic message of the Bible, right?) But Prof. Dwyer said this teaching places an enormous psychological burden on children. It can lead to excessive anxiety by warning of divine vengeance for violation of moral codes that may be difficult to keep. He said that children are harmed by Christian sexual morality. He said that the State needs to control Christian school curriculum. He said that government welfare agencies should remove children from the home if they are being taught this stuff, because the children will be in a minority and they will be scorned by their peers.
Discrimination against the LGBTQ community has become one of the defining characteristics of the Christian community… Leading rugby personality Israel Folau’s statements earlier this year proclaiming Hell as God’s destination of choice for gay people was not only quietly supported by many Christians, but publicly defended and endorsed. Statements like Folau’s and the theology that accompanies them are proof that the Christian community has a long way to go before they can call themselves accepting and affirming of the Rainbow community … (the author concluded the article by saying) We can do better Aotearoa. We don’t need to accept discrimination in our society. And we definitely shouldn’t be accepting it in our churches.
- Can you see where this type of thinking will inevitably lead? I fully expect that some day soon in NZ ministers who preach that homosexuality is sinful will be arrested and churches will lose their charitable status or be shut down, and it will become illegal for you to say such things in public.But let me also tell you about Dan Walker. Dan is a presenter on the flagship BBC news program, “BBC BREAKFAST.” Well, Dan is a Bible-believing Christian. His work contract allows him to avoid working on Sundays because he wants to keep the fourth commandment. He also believes that the Bible’s account of creation is how the universe came into being – that God created all things in the space of six, ordinary days. Well, the fact that the BBC employs him and allows him to present the news has come in for a huge amount of public criticism. His beliefs have been equated with denying the Holocaust and Climate change. One newspaper said, “Creationists cannot be trusted to report objectively, or to interact reasonably with their interviewees and with the public.” Another newspaper journalist, Catherine Bennett, mocked Walker’s Lord’s Day observance and creationism. She believes his creationism is anti-science that makes him incapable of correctly reporting the news. Listen to what she said, “Even when the news does not conflict quite so [obviously] with the final word of Walker’s God, it is likely that any breakfast guests who fall into various spiritually denigrated categories will be … aware that their interviewer thinks they are … going to hell.” So if you want to observe the Lord’s Day and/or you believe in six day creation, you are an idiot who cannot be taken seriously. And if you think that unrepentant sinners will go to hell? Well, best you be put on an Island with Israel Folau so you don’t spoil the world’s party.
- People of God, listen to the words of Jesus: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” You have been forewarned.
- So, is that it? Should we all just group hug and start crying? Are these words of Jesus’ words of defeat? Absolutely not! They should come as something of a reality shock. We need to see that the relative comfort we enjoy now is unusual and it will not last. But the message of the Bible is not a message of defeat but a message of victory. Jesus Christ is the risen and ascended king! He reigns over the world. 1 Corinthians 15:24 tells us that He is “destroying every rule and authority and power” that is opposed to God. And even though there will be times when it does not look like Jesus is ruling, we need to remember that He is. And that is why an important part of the Lord Jesus’ forewarning is the Promise of a Helper; our second and briefer and last point. For in v26, Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.”
- Chapters 13-17 are a record of what Jesus said to His disciples to prepare them for His departure. And as you read through those chapters, again and again Jesus promises to send them the Holy Spirit. We saw this in 14:16, we saw it in 14:26, we see it in this verse, and we will see it a couple of times in ch. 16. And this repeated promise should speak volumes to us about the importance of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life! To be a follower of Jesus is to have the Spirit of Christ living within you. And He is always at work to equip and empower followers of Jesus. And He does this through the reading and preaching of the Word. He is doing this right now as you listen to this sermon. As the Spirit of Christ, He is forewarning you about persecution. And when persecution comes and you are tempted to despair and doubt, He will bring passages like this one to your memory and He will fill your heart with Jesus! This is a beautiful promise!
the promise of the Holy Spirit is not just about your personal encouragement; look
at v27 where Jesus said to the disciples, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been
with me from the beginning.” So when persecution came to the disciples,
the Holy Spirit would help them tell others
about Jesus the Saviour.
- And this is exactly what happened in the Book of Acts. In Acts 4 the Jewish leaders were upset about the preaching of the disciples in the Temple so they put them in prison. The very next verse says, “Many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” So, the church grew during persecution! And then the disciples were released and they went straight back to the temple and carried on preaching and they were arrested and imprisoned again. But an angel helped them escape so they went straight back to the temple and carried on preaching. Again they were dragged before the Jewish leaders and told to stop preaching. But empowered by the Spirit, they refused to obey and preached to the Jewish leaders who were so mad, we are told, “they wanted to kill them.” But what they did instead was to beat the disciples and forbid them from preaching about Jesus. So what happened next? You guessed it! “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching.” And listen to what we are told next: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” The persecutors became believers!
- And there are accounts in the NT of prison guards being converted through the preaching of believers who were in jail for preaching! And Foxes Book of Martyrs also includes accounts of persecutors coming to faith through the preaching of those they were persecuting.
- And this is not to say that every believer who is persecuted will be miraculously kept alive and used to bring prison guards to faith. Many men and women and young people and boys and girls have simply been killed for professing faith in Jesus. But the ancient church father, Tertullian, said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The church often experiences remarkable growth in times of persecution because the Spirit helps believers to tell their persecutors about Jesus the Saviour.
- Do you know where you will find the fastest growing church today? Iran. A recent Gospel Coalition article reported that “more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together.” And this is so for two reasons, says the article: “First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution.” Isn’t that incredible? Praise the Lord!
- Congregation of the Lord Jesus
Christ, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
- Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He said in 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away,” and in v4, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
- But Jesus also said in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So now you have heard the true ‘sales-pitch’ of Christianity. And as I said at the beginning of the sermon, there is no better evidence for this than the table that is spread before us today. The bread and wine are symbols of the broken body and the poured out blood of Jesus.
The world hated Jesus and it will hate and persecute all who follow Jesus. So you have two choices:
- Verse 19 says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own.” If you want a comfortable life, if you want to be popular and liked, then forget about Jesus. But I have to tell you that a day is coming when God will judge all those who hated His Son and His followers, and He will condemn them to eternal despair and punishment.
- But if you embrace Jesus now, knowing that that will bring the hatred and persecution of the world down on you, know also that on Judgment Day He will take you in His arms and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your Master.”
So the choice is yours; which one is it for you? Have you or will you stand with Jesus? I hope so! And all God’s people said, Amen.