The Gospel of John XXXI:
Persecuted Like Jesus?
September 6, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· There are two kingdoms: God’s and the World’s, and people in the lands between.
· The world (in the West) no longer hates and persecutes Jesus as much as ignores him.
· While Jesus is a stumbling block to many, they first stumble over us, as we are poor witnesses for Christ – sometimes they hate us with reason!
Objectives of sermon:
· Exhort us to bear witness to Jesus’ glory so that the world may go from indifference to either love or hate.
· 010, 050, 079, 085, 037
· Skim 1 Peter; John 15:1ff
Scripture reading: John 15:18-21
The last passage was all about being attached to Jesus and his command to love one another, all very happy stuff. Now the subject is a little darker.
· By the way, I love you, but there is some folks that will hate you, and will probably want to kill you.
This is really a tale of two kingdoms, the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world.
The goal of good interpretation is to discover what the Bible says in a passage, in its own context, and then determine how it applies to us. So we will start in Jesus’ day and work to ours.
Q Do we face persecution today in America?
The world has changed so much for us – things are much easier for Christians, which is both good and bad. As we study this, help us remember Christians that are still persecuted.
· Teach us how to live in a manner that brings glory to you.
We have to begin by understanding what Jesus means by “world.”
John 15:18-19 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 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.
The Greek word kosmos can mean the earth, the created world, humanity, but it can also mean “humanity in its alienation from and hostility to its Creator.”
It may be expressed as there being two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. One is ruled by God, one by Satan. The kingdom of God is where his “will is done.” The world is where man is at the center.
· Worldliness is the system that opposes God. It is that says “my will be done.”
To many, this sounds fun, but remember sin is that which hurts. As I said last week, God’s will is the sum of what we really want, and our will (as opposed to his) takes us away from that.
· These two systems are in constant conflict, and cannot truly coexist, but overlap now.
A great illustration is “The Matrix.” The majority of humanity is controlled by the machines, ignorant of the real world. The Matrix represents the world, and Zion represents Heaven.
The two kingdoms co-exist, yet they are both at odds, hoping to destroy the other. The system of the world is in conflict with the Kingdom of God at every point, for it’s centered around the glory of God: his love, goodness, justice, etc.
· An important point: The people in the Matrix/ the world’s kingdom aren’t bad – they are deceived and held captive.
That is not to say that only Christians act in accordance to God’s glory – some non-Christians do is better, as evidence of God’s image in them.
Hate the system, not the people
· Accordingly, we are not on a rescue mission, hoping to see people defect from one to the other.
Christians are actively working to “unplug” people from the world’s system. But this doesn’t go unnoticed. Those who are freed are now a threat to the system.
John 15:19 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.
Here is a vital point: While the world is made up of people, it’s an impersonal system. That means that the enemy is the world system, not the people of the world.
There are two groups of people in the world: Those that may be reached and those that are beyond reaching and are perpetually hostile to the kingdom of God.
· We can never know which is which; Paul was one of the first persecutors, yet became one of the greatest apostles.
\ The world, as Jesus says here, is the entire system that opposes God and hence will oppose his followers. Yet we are called to reach those in it, for “God so loved the world.”
The 1st century situation
Jesus is preparing the disciples for the future. Remember that they thought of the Messiah establishing the kingdom of God in fullness. It is vital that they understood that things would not go according to plan, lest they think Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
John 16:1-4 “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 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. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 ¶ I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.
This wasn’t a distant warning. Within two years, Stephen would be martyred and Jewish persecution would begin in earnest. Just as important, to the original readers, this was their reality.
Towards the end of the 1st century, part of the daily prayers of Jews explicitly excluded Christians from their fellowship:
“For the apostates let there be no hope, and let the arrogant government [= Rome] be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the Nazarenes [=Christians] and the Minim [= heretics] be destroyed in a moment and let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed with the righteous. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.”
Being put out of the synagogue was more than losing your church, it was losing your national identify and social security. By becoming Christians, they risked everything.
· I have point out that when Christians came into power, they repaid this a thousandfold, to our shame.
Don’t be surprised
Here’s our key point: There is no promise of ease or acceptance. Our expectation should begin at rejection, persecution, and death, and we should be happy for anything better!
· Because Christians have been the majority for so long, we forget that we were never meant to be at home here.
So often I hear Christians respond with shock and dismay about how unchristian America is, but it never was Christian. It has always been part of the world’s system, in varying forms.
Not our home
There is a profound danger is expecting the political and cultural landscape to accept us – it makes us too at home here. The lack of persecution gives us a false sense of security.
· We are lulled into believing this is our home, but heaven is our real home.
Colossians 3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Our hearts, purpose, hopes, and joy should be focused on God, not earth. And it was this allegiance was one of the things that got early Christians persecuted by the Romans.
· This isn’t escapism, but holding this world lightly, while fully engaging.
Never forget how radical this is – it is still makes us unpopular. It is not surprising then that Paul places such emphasis on the resurrection – it is the evidence that there is another kingdom, one worthy of our full allegiance.
Does the world hate Jesus?
As we seek to apply this passage to us today, let’s look at the persecution we face in the western world: What persecution?
The majority of us will never face anything like real persecution. The most likely cases are where a new Christian is rejected by family and friends.
· Christians most certainly are persecuted in other parts of the world, India, Middle East, China.
Knowing what real persecution is, I have always felt a little odd when listening to sermons on this passage.
John 15:18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
John 15:20-21 If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
Q Since the western world doesn’t persecute, does it hate Jesus?
By and large, no it does not. That is not to say that it loves him or obeys him. They do something just as bad as hate:
· The world is indifferent to Jesus.
This is the both the blessing and curse of 2,000 years of Christian influence: Christian values of human rights, caring for the poor, equality for women, eliminating slavery, have all benefited the world, but familiarity has breed indifference.
Jesus is no longer the radical prophet proclaiming “repent for the Kingdom of God has come” or unplug yourself from the world system, take up your cross and follow me.
· Jesus is made to be a moral teacher: “Love your neighbor,” “judge not,” and the like.
This is why C.S. Lewis’ words ring so true:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
It is perhaps worse to call him a good teacher than a liar or lunatic. It is safer from the truth.
· As offensive as I found “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, I almost prefer it to indifference.
· Hate is less innocuous and forces a response.
Forcing a decision
What are we to do about the indifference? If we are persecuted and hated, then we endure patiently, forgive, and love.
But if we are being ignored, we shine the glory of God so bright that it cannot be ignored.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
It comes back to glorying God, showing the greatness of God as it stands so peculiar to what they mean by glory.
What they do at that point is their decision. Some will run toward his glory, some will run away. There are two types of people: those who choose God’s will and those who choose theirs.
We can’t control how people will respond, only that we give good evidence to God’s character.
· The Gospel is indeed a stumbling block; the problem is that many people stumble on us before they stumble on Jesus!
Hated for Good reasons or bad?
It’s “fine” if people reject God because they hate him and his rule, meaning we can’t do anything about it. And we should expect to be unpopular for the sake of the Gospel.
· If someone is avoiding God, they may not want to be with you.
But I hate it when we are hated for the wrong reasons, like the “God hates fags” nut job.
· Discuss good and bad reasons for being hated in your CG.
So how do we do shine God’s glory and force a decision? By demonstrating how different we are from the world. The problem is we frequently focus on wrong ways to be different.
Since we are a church that engages culture and doesn’t condemn movies, drinking, or listening to “secular music,” we’re accused of being “like the world.” But those aren’t the key differences.
· We still eat, laugh, dress, and work, and in many ways, we will be indistinguishable.
· That is not surprising, for all joys are a reflection of God’s glory, then our joys will intersect theirs.
The key difference is that everything we do is done to God’s glory by virtue of how and why we do it. It is done to reflect his nature as loving, kind, just, and giving.
· We show that God is so unlike what they think of as greatness.
This world values getting, we value giving.
This world values living for the moment, we value eternity.
This world values being served, we value serving.
This world values pride, we value humility.
This world values being right, we value forgiveness.
This world values freedom to sin, we value freedom to obey.
The key difference is our values, goal, and purpose. We are pursuing the glory of God as our highest joy in contrast to their pursuing joy and themselves as their highest god.
Q & A
Remember that we are called to “in every way make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:10)
· We can’t control the outcome, but I hope that each of us makes it harder for people to ignore Jesus!