Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Last week we saw that Christians should expect hatred and persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And we talked about some of the rapidly changing views in NZ that suggest that hatred and persecution are on the horizon for followers of Jesus.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that scary to think about. I freely admit that I am not looking forward to limited freedoms or imprisonment. The first verse of the Proverbs chapter we read earlier says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” But I wonder if I would be as bold as a lion if I was facing persecution? And last Sunday I told you about the disciples and how we are told in Acts that they preached in the temple, got arrested and told not to do that again, got released and went straight back to the temple to preach, got arrested again and told to stop preaching about Jesus, refused to obey, got beaten and released, and then went straight back to the temple and continued to preach there, every day. And I ask myself, would I be that courageous? Thomas Cranmer was largely responsible for the creation of the Protestant or Non-Roman Catholic church in England. But the next Queen was devoutly Roman Catholic and Cranmer became her Number one target. It took several years of threats and promises but eventually he signed a document that denied Reformed doctrines and agreed with Roman Catholic doctrine. Well, such was the Queen’s hatred of Cranmer, she sentenced him to die by fire anyway. But on the day of his burning, he was given opportunity to speak because the expectation of the Queen and her officials was that he would say a few words along the lines of what he had signed and it would be a triumph or the RCC. But instead, Cranmer renounced what he had signed, promised that he would put the hand that had signed that document into the fire first, and then said, “I refuse the Pope as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.” Well, he was hurriedly shut down and tied to the stake and the fire was lit. But just as he had promised, as the flames leapt up, he thrust his hand into the flames until it was burnt to a cinder before he died. And how he died became a huge encouragement to the cause of the gospel in England. But again, I find myself wondering: Where did he find the strength and courage to stand up for Jesus as he did? And I’m guessing that I am not alone in asking this. Am I right?
Well, how people find the courage to stand up for Jesus is what this passage is about.
For having forewarned His disciples about the certainty of persecution, Jesus now reveals how Timid Disciples Become Christian Soldiers. And at the heart of this transformation is the promise of the Holy Spirit. It will be the Holy Spirit who changes everything for the disciples, including empowering them to face persecution. And as we see this, we will see how we too are empowered to face persecution today. And we will see this as we consider the current condition of the disciples, the powerful promise for the disciples, and the new nature of the disciples.
- So we begin with the current condition of the disciples.
- In the sermon theme, I described
the disciples as timid. Timid means fearful
and uncertain. Most boys and girls, when
they have to give a speech in front of the class, are not comfortable and bold,
but timid. And these disciples were
timid; they were certainly not ready for persecution in any way shape or
form. And Jesus alludes to this in v4b when He says, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was
- You see, up till now, Jesus had always been with the disciples to guide them. They had not had to do any strategic thinking about ministry because Jesus made all the decisions. But soon He would be gone and the preaching of the gospel and church planting would all be up to them.
- In addition, the focus of the enemy, by which I mean the devil and the Jewish leaders, had so far been on Jesus; not on the disciples. So there had not been the need for any warning about coming persecution. But after Jesus left, the crosshairs of the devil and the Jewish leaders would be firmly fixed on the disciples.
- So the current condition of the disciples is that they had Jesus with them. But that was about to change.
as we come to vv5-6, Jesus reveals
more about their current condition as He says, “But now I am going to Him who sent me, and none of you
asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But
because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
- Now, if you look back at 13:36, you will see that Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” So the point Jesus was making here was not that the disciples never used the words, Where are you going?, but that they had not seriously thought about the meaning and significance of Jesus’ leaving. He wanted them to understand that where He was going explained Who He is and What He had come to do! But they were just upset that He was going away. It would be kind of like me telling you that I was going to my investiture at Buckingham Palace next Tuesday and you having no clue that BP is where the Queen lives and that an investiture is when a person receives a knighthood, and just being a bit miffed that you will have to find another ride to indoor soccer…
- So the current condition of the disciples is that sadness was getting in the way of understanding.
- And this is further illustrated in the interaction of vv16-22, where Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” And then the disciples asked each other about what He meant, and He used the image of a woman who gives birth to explain that they were about to go from the heaviest sadness to the greatest joy. And He was referring to His death and resurrection. When they saw Him die they would be grief-stricken but when they saw Him raised they would be overjoyed! And they would be overjoyed because this would be how they finally came to understand that He is the Son of God! But right now, they simply did not understand what He was telling them. They were just very upset.
- Well, drop down next to v12. There Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” And these are really important words. We shall say more about them when we look at the promise of the Holy Spirit. But the main point is that in their current condition the disciples were not ready or able or equipped to handle the full revelation of Jesus. It would have been pointless for Jesus to give them the content of the books of Romans or Hebrews or Galatians, for example. They would have made zero sense to the disciples at this time. Jesus first had to die and rise and something had to change within the disciples before they could understand what they needed to understand and before they could live as they needed to live. And again, we will say more about this in a moment.
- But look next at v24: There Jesus says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name.”
- And if you look at what Jesus says in the verse before, v23, about asking “of the Father in my name,” and at the end of v24, where He talks about asking and receiving, and at v26, where He says, “in that day you will ask in my name,” it becomes clear that He is talking here about prayer.
- You see, up until now, the disciples had talked with Jesus and asked Him for things, but not with the understanding that He was the Son of God and not in the sense of prayer. How they viewed the God they prayed to and Jesus were two completely different things. God? He is in heaven and you pray to God. Jesus? Well, He is from God, somehow, but He is here on earth and He is just like us.
- It’s like they didn’t yet have the right ‘glasses’ on to be able to see Jesus properly. But after He had risen and after they had received the Spirit, then they would understand that Jesus is the Son of God and they would pray to the Father … in Jesus’ name!
- So again, their current condition is one of ignorance; they don’t fully understand who Jesus is.
- And what all of this added up to was what Jesus predicted in v32. For even after the disciples had said, at the end of v30, “This is why we believe that you came from God,” Jesus said, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” Because Jesus had been with them until now, and because they were governed by sadness, and because they were not ready for the full revelation of Jesus, and because they did not fully understand who Jesus is, when He was crucified, they scattered and abandoned Him.
- And that is why we must look next at the Powerful Promise of vv7-15. For there, for the fourth time in ch’s 13-16, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. And as we have noted several times, the fact that Jesus repeatedly promised to send the Holy Spirit demonstrates how vital the Spirit is to every aspect of Christian living. But the three parts of the promise are v7’s introduction about the benefit of Christ’s departure, vv8-11’s explanation what the Spirit does in the world, and vv9-15’s explanation of what the Spirit does for believers.
- So first of all, verse 7’s introduction about the benefit of Christ’s departure. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Now, this would have made no sense to the disciples in their current condition. If they could have chosen between having Jesus stay for a few more days or this promised Helper, they would have chosen Jesus. And that is because they didn’t yet understand that as long as Jesus remained on the earth, His power was limited to wherever He was. But having ascended to heaven and being exalted and glorified as the Christ, He could pour out His Spirit on all His followers and multiply His power through them all, as they spread out across the earth. Because of the Spirit of Christ, there would soon be, in effect, many ‘christs,’ which is what we are as Christians – little ‘christs,’ representatives of the Lord Jesus. This was the great benefit of Christ’s departure.
this is what the rest of the promise explains, first of all in terms of the world: Jesus said, “When He comes, He will convict the world
concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do
not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and
you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world
- The OT often mentions the New Covenant. The people of Israel were told that the day of the new covenant was coming. Well, that’s what Jesus is talking about here. Salvation in the OT was about looking forward, by faith, to the coming Messiah. And the Holy Spirit was active in salvation in OT times. But now Jesus has come and we know what He said and what He did, especially on the cross. We know that He is risen and ascended, we know that our salvation is about believing in Him and His work on the cross and receiving His righteousness, we know that He has conquered or judged the devil through His death and resurrection. And we know all this because the Holy Spirit helps us understand and believe. That is what the new covenant is all about – Jesus has come and His Spirit convicts men and women and boys and girls of the truth about Jesus as the message of Jesus is preached.
- And we have an example of this from the very first sermon of a disciple after the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost Day. For the three points of that sermon were sin, righteousness, and judgment! Peter told the crowd of Jews that they were guilty of the sin of crucifying Jesus, that Jesus was the righteous One of God, and that Jesus was in heaven making a footstool of His enemies – judgment! And do you remember what happened at the end of that sermon? 3000 people believed and were baptized! The Holy Spirit convicted 3000 people of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
- So what is the chief task of the church of Jesus Christ today? To preach the gospel of salvation in Christ, because that is what the Holy Spirit uses to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment and bring them to faith in Christ.
- And that is the key message of this sermon and service: We human beings are guilty sinners – we break God’s commandments with our thoughts, words and deeds, and we do not keep His commandments perfectly. But God sent His Son, Jesus, to obey His commandments perfectly and to die on the cross and pay the price for our sins. The righteousness we need can only be found in Jesus and we receive this by faith, which is to believe in Him. And Jesus has conquered or judged the devil. It is Jesus who must be the Lord and Master of every aspect of our lives. Do you believe this? Will you choose to believe this today? And if you do believe this, is this the gospel that you share with others?
- Well, the third part of this
powerful promise, from vv12-15, is about what the Spirit does for believers.
- As we noted earlier, Jesus said that the disciples could not bear the many things that He had to say to them. In other words, they were not ready or able or equipped to handle the full revelation of Jesus. And this was not because they needed to do a little bit more Bible study or go on a missions trip, it was because they did not yet have the Holy Spirit living within them!
- Jesus said, “He will guide you into all the truth … He will declare to you the things that are to come … He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” So the point being made here is that we need the Holy Spirit within in order to understand the truth of Jesus and to grow in knowledge and to live the Christian life.
- Do you understand the significance of this promise? Are you beginning to see how followers of Jesus find the strength and courage to stand up for Jesus? It does not come from within themselves; it comes from the Holy Spirit! So pray, regularly, that the Spirit of truth would guide you into all the truth and fill you with the revelation of Jesus so that you serve Jesus effectively!
- And this leads us seamlessly into our third and last point, which is the New Nature of the disciples.
had promised to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples. And His final words to the disciples here were
the words of v33, “I have said these things to you, that in me
you may have peace. In the world you
will have tribulation. But take heart; I
have overcome the world.” And
with these words He was alerting the disciples to great truth that He would
soon be the resurrected and ascended and reigning King of this universe. And in vv23-26, He told the disciples that one day soon
they would pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, knowing that they would get what
they asked for. And we looked at the
significance of this promise a few sermons ago, in connection with ch. 14. We saw that praying in Jesus’ name means
believing in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, praying on the basis of His merit
alone rather than any sense of our deserving something, and praying according
to the Father’s will, with the desire that the Father to be glorified above
everything else. These are the prayers
that the Father will hear and answer. And so,
putting it all together, what made these timid, sad, clueless disciples able to
preach to thousands and defy the Jewish leaders and endure being beaten for
Christ was the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, knowing that Jesus is
the risen and reigning Son of God, and knowing that their prayers in Jesus’
name were heard and answered!
- And it is the same for you today, people of God. If you truly believe that Jesus is the risen and reigning Son of God, it is because you have the Holy Spirit living within you. And therefore, you may pray to the Father, in Jesus’ name, with the confidence that your prayers will be heard and answered. This is how the Spirit of Christ enables and empowers you to be endure persecution.
two points of application as we draw to a close:
- The first is this, and it is not just relevant to persecution but to every aspect of the Christian life: If we seek the enabling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, we must be where the Spirit works, and that place is the local congregation. The way that the Holy Spirit enables and empowers followers of Christ is through the regular preaching of the Word, Baptism and Lord’s Supper, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship in ordinary and local congregations. It is here that we learn to love each other and evangelize together and serve together. It is here that we grow in our knowledge of Christ and the Christian life. It is here that the Spirit binds us to Christ and to each other so that we are ready to endure hardship for Him and for each other.
- But secondly, I thought it would help us to hear some practical advice from someone who has faced persecution. Pastor WY is the pastor of ERCC in China. He has been imprisoned since December last year because he is a follower of Jesus. But prior to his arrest and having been arrested before, Pastor W preached about how to approach police interrogations (Now there is a sermon title that none of us have heard before!). You see, with his first arrests, he was governed by fear. And so, he had learned to put himself in a spiritually safe situation. And he explained that he did this by putting himself in a physically unsafe situation. And he does this by saying everything up front so there could be no retreat. He said if I slowly discuss things and try and delay then they get into his head and he is influenced and weakened. And that is spiritually unsafe. So now he just lays out what he believes straight away and says do what you have to do. It has earned him several beatings and arrests but the benefit is it increases your spiritual safety. And Pastor Wang has two role models for this approach. The first one, of course, is Jesus. For again and again, Jesus message to the Jewish authorities was call me God and Lord and Saviour, bow down to me, or kill me. The other role model was Queen Esther. For she too once had to go and face the King with a request that might have easily resulted in her death. But she said, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I die, I die.”
So if and when the time comes, may the Spirit of Christ enable and empower each one of us to be faithful Christians soldiers. Amen.