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Please read John 15:18-6:4 in your version of the Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
Opendoorsusa.org compiles a “World Watch List” that reports on countries where persecution of Christians is strongest. According to their most recent report, the top five worst places to be a Christian are, in order, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan. Probably no one is surprised to hear those names. You may be surprised to hear that India is 11th on the list, Ethiopia 39th, our neighbor Mexico is 39th and Columbia is 49th. When you see them on a map, these countries circle the middle part of the globe, with more tolerant countries to the north and south.
Christians have established and enjoyed freedom in America for so long we find it hard to imagine state-sponsored or societal persecution of the Church. In our own country, what I would call “practicing Christians” number only 20% of the population. Given our cultural situation, this is not a statistic we can just ignore. It is not impossible to believe that persecution is ever more than a generation away. Whatever form it may take, Jesus’ followers should expect opposition from the devil and his people. At the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing His eleven disciples to deal with opposition on a worldwide scale and to a lethal degree. His teaching?
Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.
- God’s people will be opposed by the world. (15:18-25)
We can be sure the WORLD will oppose Jesus’ people as it opposed Jesus. He gave us six reasons for this persecution.
#1 – IT (the world) HATED ME FIRST (v. 18). Jesus is first in all things, including being hated. In the Gospels we see hatred being directed at Jesus, not the disciples.
#2 – You don’t belong to the WORLD (v. 19). This word for WORLD in New Testament era Greek does not refer t0 this planet, but to human culture and systems that set themselves against God. Commentator William Barclay has a great definition of the world: the WORLD is “human society organizing itself without God.”
When we are born again we are born into God’s heavenly rule and our primary citizenship is there. This is why the Bible tells us that we have been called “out” of the world though we still live in it (see John 15:19).
#3 – The relationship between SERVANT (us) and MASTER (Jesus) in verse twenty. They persecuted Jesus; they will PERSECUTE us. The SERVANT (or disciple) identifies with the master and shares the master’s life, so what the MASTER faces, the SERVANT does also.
That can work advantageously too. If they had OBEYED Jesus’ teaching, they would obey ours too. Saved folk don’t immediately go to heaven because God wants to use us to bring others to faith.
#4 – They don’t know God the Father or recognize God the Son (5:21+6:3). Sometimes it’s hard enough to remember the names of people you’ve met, say nothing of recognizing people you don’t know. What’s true in earthly life can also true in spiritual life; it’s impossible to know God without faith in Jesus (see John 14:6).
#5 – Because Jesus exposes their sin, they are GUILTY (22+24). In John 3:19-20 Jesus taught that evil people prefer the darkness because it hides the evil they do. We’ve all seen how hypocrites hate to be exposed for what they really are. They react negatively and strongly to the one who has exposed them.
Jesus exposed their sin indirectly in His teaching. He set forth God’s righteous standard and they fell far short of that. He exposed their sin indirectly in His living, as His moral and spiritual life was in perfect conformity with God’s standard. Jesus exposed their sin directly by publicly condemning their hypocrisy .
His most vicious enemies were hypocrites who resented His teaching because it blew up their self-deceptions and their public perceptions. Ironically, hypocrites don’t feel guilt because their self-deception goes so deep, but Jesus said in both these verses that they are, in fact, GUILTY people.
#6 – Because they hate God the Father and we are related to Him (vs. 23-24). There is no separating God the Father from God the Son; nor is there any way to separate God the Son from His people. The hypocrites would soon display hatred of God the Son by having Him nailed to a cross. Jesus wanted them to know hatred of Him was the same thing as hating the Father.
The WORLD will HATE God’s people. To HATE means to dislike so much persecution is the result; detest or abhor. The tense of the verb indicates the WORLD’s hatred is ongoing. In this case, Jesus and His Church are hated undeservingly.
They HATED Jesus even though He did MIRACLES among them (24). In the Bible, one of the purposes of MIRACLES is to validate the message of anyone who claims to speak for God. Jesus’ MIRACLES validated His message and still some people HATED Him.
Let’s go one further: most of Jesus’ MIRACLES were acts of kindness. He did healings and exorcisms by the dozens. He raised the dead and fed thousands. These were never displays of power intended to impress. Jesus used divine power to help people. What kind of a person is going to HATE Him for that? Not a good or godly person.
Their hatred fulfills prophecy (v. 25). Jesus quoted Psalm 35:9 & 69:4. We don’t normally refer to that part of the Old Testament as LAW, but Jesus saw it that way. It was a “law” in the sense that you could expect hypocritical people to behave this way just about every time. Notice Jesus said “THEIR LAW” to make it clear that the hypocrites do not even keep their own standards, say nothing of God’s.
- The Holy Spirit helps us keep our testimony in spite of opposition. (15:26-16:4)
He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (26). The Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to TESTIFY to the TRUTH, the words of testimony, and courage to speak them. Our part is simply to follow through and do it. The Holy Spirit also helps us under-stand and apply the Bible to our own lives and use it to help others. To what the Spirit provides, we add our personal experience, Bible knowledge, personality, and inner convictions. Put it all together and we are a witnessing MACHINE!
The Holy Spirit will TESTIFY about Jesus and with His help, we will also TESTIFY about Him (26-27). We can and should use the communication tools and technology available to us, within reason. However, we tend to think that mass media is going to be sufficient for our outreach. I have said this before, publicity and programs will never replace people.
The vast majority of people (more than 80%) who are in church are there because someone invited them personally. God has chosen you and me to make personal invitations and I fear we are not keeping up our end of the deal.
As we saw in 14:29 and in 15:19, 16:1+4 are part of Jesus’ purpose in these last minute instructions: to prepare His disciples to stand firm in the face of what was about to happen to them. Jesus’ teaching here is for His disciples in the first place. We do well to note the original context, as always. But we also need to understand the principles and apply them to our own context. This means Jesus’ words prepare us for two things: to be a witness and to suffer worldly opposition for our witness.
Opposition will even come from seemingly religious people (16:2-3). Jesus’ strongest opposition came from the Pharisees, people who were highly esteemed in their culture as scrupulously religious folk. But it’s not hard to be very religious yet not possess a bit of love: that’s hypocrisy.
Jesus warned His disciples that violent opposition will come from people who’ve convinced themselves their violent acts are a form of service to God. In the book of Acts we see how Saul persecuted the Church until Jesus confronted him on the road to Emmaus. He fulfilled this prophecy, as have other religious people in all the times since Jesus said these words. It’s particularly disappointing when family members betray one another, but Jesus wanted us to be sure that we had been warned; to expect opposition and thereby not be discouraged by the world’s opposition.