Text: John 15:18 – 16:4
We are eavesdropping on a meal-time conversation. However, this is no ordinary meal, and no ordinary conversation. These are the parting counsels of a man who knows that he is about to die, to his friends who are feeling bereft and bewildered.
Jesus has just been speaking of joy and of love. But suddenly, the skies cloud over. The key changes from major to minor. In an instant, the topic switches from love to hate.
1. “The world’s hatred”
V18 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
Had Jesus been hated? Yes, as far back in Jn 5:18, we read that the Jews were trying hard to kill him. And, of course, they had their way in the end. Within a few short hours of this last meal he shared with his disicples, our Lord would be betrayed, handed over first to the Jewish and then to the Roman authorities, tried and condemned on trumped-up charges, tortured and finally executed.
And now he’s saying to his disciples, “Don’t think that the world will treat you any differently.” In their case, the prediction was literally fulfilled. As far as we know, only one of those listening to these words would die in his bed.
(a) This hostility is arises out of the Christian’s solidarity with Christ
Jesus has just been speaking of the intimate union between himself and his followers: “I am the true vine, you are the branches.” Whatever the world does to the vine, it will do to the branches. You can expect the world to treat you the same way it treated me.
This solidarity between Christ and his followers comes across repeatedly in the NT. For example, when the risen Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus, the question was not, “Why are you persecuting those Christians?” but, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4.
We might think that if only people could see more of Jesus in us, they might be less antagonistic towards us. But it’s not necessarily so. Sometimes, the more we resemble Christ, the more we will be hated. That is one implication of being united to him.
(b) This hostility is irrational
V25 – Jesus quotes from the Psalms – ‘They hated me without reason’. He has just referred in v22 to his teaching which was, of course, most gracious and wise. Then he refers in v24 to his miracles, which were most wonderful and powerful. The world should have been convinced by Jesus’ words and works, but it wasn’t. They had made up their minds, and were in no mood to consider the facts. The famous hymn, ‘My song is love unknown’ asks what Jesus had done to deserve such hatred and hosility:-Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight, Sweet injuries! Yet they at these Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.
And because the world’s hatred of Christ is irrational, we will not win the world over by merely rational means. Evidences and arguments have a vital place, but it will take something more if we are going to win souls for Christ. It will take an injection of power from the Holy Spirit himsef. But more of that anon.
(c) This hostility is often fuelled by religious motives
16:2 – “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
The first Christian martyr was Stephen. He was falsely accused of blasphemy, dragged out of the city, and stoned to death, all with the blessing of the Jewish authorities, Acts 7:57-60. Saul of Tarsus persecuted the Christians not because he was a pagan, but because he was a religious zealot. Acts 8:3; 9:1f; Phil 3:4-6.
It is a sobering thought that man’s greatest crimes have been his religious crimes.
(d) This hostility continues to the present day
2 Tim 3:12. ‘Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’
It is well known that the 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. About 100 million people lost their lives in the various wars that blighted that period. And, according to the best estimates, the number of Christian martyrs was not so very far short of that figure – about 30 million.
And Holy Trinity’s mission partners continue to come back and tell us of how peacable Christians in many parts of the world are harrassed, beaten, and displaced, their children denied educational opportunities afforded to the rest of the population.
And what of ourselves, living in this country in these early years of the 21st century? Christians in the UK may not yet be suffering large-scale persecution and abuse, but there are certainly signs that the tide is turning and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand up for Jesus.
In some ways, the ‘new atheism’ associated with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others is an absolute god-send to us. When they claim that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster, or that the historical evidence for Jesus is paper-thin, or that Christianity has been a force for evil rather than good in the world, thoughtful Christians are pleased to be able to reflect on these criticisms and offer alternative points of view.
But when we hear Dawkins suggest, for example, that Christian parents who raise their children in the Christian faith are thereby subjecting them to ‘child abuse’, then we shouldn’t be surprised if some people take him seriously and start suggesting that such parents should be treated in the manner appropriate to the more usual forms of child abuse.
I’m sure that for many of us, to be referred to by the ‘new atheists’ and their followers as ‘faith-heads’, ‘god-botherers’, and ‘deluded’ is little more than a harmless pastime. But young Christians, in particular, may end up feeling hurt and rejected by such language, especially if they hear it from their peers. They will have to take very much to heart the teaching of v19 – “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
And if you are considering becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, then it is mr responsibility to urge you to consider the costs, as well as the benefits, of doing so. For following Jesus Christ involves loss, as well as gain.
But it was Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador in the 1950s, and martyred at the age of 28, who said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
2. The Christian’s response
Don’t give up. 16:1 – “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” Don’t be surprised; be prepared. Soliders much more vulnerable when ambushed, than when they have a carefully-prepared strategy of defence. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.
But give faithful testimony. 15:27 – “You must testify”.
(a) A Christ-centred testimony
“He will testify about me,” v26. “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning,” v27.
John Stott urges that when we give our testimony, 9/10 of what we say should be about Jesus, and only 1/10 about ourselves.
Dr Don Carson agrees: ‘This witness must always be about Jesus: it brings before the world the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, in his word, his works, his death and resurrection, with all its potential for both blessing and judgment.’
(b) A Spirit-empowered testimony
“He will testify about me,” v26. “You also must testify,” v27.
I mentioned before that appeals to evidence and reason are limited. This passage teaches us that people don’t believe because they don’t want to believe; because they hate the truth.
That is why testimony to Jesus comes first and foremost not from ourselves at all, but from the Holy Spirit. He testifies, and Christ’s disciples also testify. If it seems a daunting task to witness to Christ before a hostile world, then let us remember that we work with no less than the Holy Spirit as the senior partner in this work.
(c) A personally-experienced testimony
“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning,” v27.
Although Christian testimony is first and foremost about Christ, and not ourselves, nevetheless it will be meaningless unless we can show that Christ is a living reality in us.
A couple of days ago, the funeral took place of a dear Christian relative of mine. Knowing that he was dying, he chose two of the hymns that were to be sung at the service of thanksgiving. The service started with the first of these, ‘I serve a risen Saviour, he’s in the world today. I know that he is living, whatver men may say’ It’s chorus goes: ‘He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!’
I think we need more testimony like that, not only from the dying but from the living. Baptisms, confirmations, funerals, significant birthdays and anniversaries.
(d) A hopeful testimony
Even though our passage this evening is full of warning, it is not without hope. God has not abandoned the world. v20 not only says, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” but also affirms, “If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
The most famous verse in the Bible tells us that it was this very world, in all its hostilily and hatred, that God loved so much that he gave his Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
As a parent loves a hateful and rebellious child, in order to welcome it back into the family, so the Christian testifies before a rebellious world in order to win it for Christ.
Let us therefore be fore-warned and fore-armed: just as the world hated Christ, so it is likely to hate Christ’s followers. But let us not give up, but rather bear witness before a hostile world, offering a Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered, personally-experienced testimony, hopeful that God will accompany our weak and muddled efforts with his own life-changing grace.