- Isaiah 66:1-6
- John 15:18-16:4
My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Last week we heard from the Word of God of the perfect and complete joy our Lord gives to his church. This joy is to found in the Word of God, prayer and being fruitful in the service of our Lord. We heard that joy is no option for the Christian – it is part and parcel Christian. Our joy rests in the complete work of our Lord and Saviour: we read about this in the Bible, we express our gratitude towards God for it in prayer and the way we are fruitful in His service. We don’t become joyful Christians we because or after we have done these things; we are joyful because we are Christians. Joy is a gift from God. When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison with their feet in stocks, they were praying and signing hymns in the darkest hour of the night (Acts 16:24-25). This teaching and proclamation from the month of our Lord about complete joy came hours before He would be arrested, handed over and be nailed to the cross.
And then, almost in one breath the tone changes (keep in mind there were no verses or chapters or paragraph headings in the original). So let’s read verses 17 and 18 together:
This is my command: Love each other. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.” (John 15:17–18, NIV)
The World: Inescapable conflict
The world hated Christ first
The explicit teaching of our Lord to his church is not to go out into this world to hate those who are not part of his family. No, listen to his teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43–44, NIV)
And yet to be on Christ’s side means to be on the wrong side of this world. When Jesus uses the term “world” He refers to those under the command of the prince of this world, those opposed to God and his Son. There is an inevitable clash between Christ and this world; there is also an inescapable enmity between those who belong to Christ and those who worship the prince of this world. The Bible describes this animosity in terms of love and hate.
It all started in paradise. Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the Devil, sinned against God and lost their innocence and free will. After paradise things got worse and even nations fell to the deceit of the devil.
In the fulness of time God fulfilled his promise and the promised Seed was born – Jesus Christ the Son of God. When He was born, so writes John, the world was a dark place with no light. Jesus was the light coming into this world. Those the Father gave Him, not those born from natural descent or the will of a man, but those born of God, those who believed in His Name received the right to be called children of God. This was the beginning of the end of the reign of the prince of this world. As Christ proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit opened the hearts, mind and spiritual eyes of people, Satan started to lose ground. For the devil this meant war.
The death and resurrection of Christ meant forgiveness and freedom for those held in bondage. This was the end of Satan who loves seeing people held in sin. He loves reminding and accusing people of sin. But Christ cancelled sin and disarmed the devil – He triumphed over him by the cross. Now, with Jesus as the head of his church, the task of the church is to go to the nations with this promise:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:18–19, NIV)
One can say, because of this, all hell broke lose upon the world: Satan hates Jesus and he hates his church.
But don’t despair. Listen:
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. (John 15:19, NIV)
I have chosen you out of this world. This means that our victorious Lord saved us by his blood, He gave us his Spirit, and He is with us, never to let us go. “No one will ever snatch them out of the hand of my Father.” This is no hollow promise; it is written in the blood of Him who crushed the head of the serpent by dying for the sins of those where were once in the clutches of the devil, and who destroyed the enemy. He once said, “The prince of this world has no hold on Me.”
There is a war raging; there is blood, persecution, difficult times, death and false accusations, God will keep us in the hollow of his end for all times.
I didn’t bargain on this
Yet, there might be some who say, “I really want to go to heaven one day ,but I did not bargain on this. I’d rather not sign up for battle.” Some preachers proclaim a cheap Gospel that only speaks about how God loves us and how his love would then make our dreams come true. Old Testament prophets tried the same recipe, preaching,”Peace! Piece!”, while there was no peace.
The Gospel calls to commitment, and that commitment includes the inescapable reality of conflict with this world. There is not really any choice: it is either with Christ, saved from sin, loved by the Father, being part of his family, bearing fruit in his name, and being hated by this world, and then being welcomed into God’s eternal Kingdom when He calls us home. Or, take it easy, not pick a fight with this world, be fruitless, and be thrown in the fire of eternal hell when God calls the end of our days.
Up to now we have heard about the battle with the world. But there is another.
The war from within: excommunicated for Christ
There is however another battlefield – one that causes many a soldier of Christ of put down the armour and surrender. It almost without fail involves the heartache of a war between so-called members of the Church, and those who will not give in to the demands of a gospel that is watered down to appease men.
A lonely road
When Jesus called his disciples and began to teach them about following Him, as it is recorded in the sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of their walk with Christ, He told them this:
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22, NIV)
We all know the expression, “He treated me like dirt.” This is what our Lord means here. What is good in God’s eyes, can be evil in the eyes of the world; this is what the disciples had to prepare themselves for. They would be treated like dirt for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. This is the cost we have to count when we follow Jesus. In the same chapter where Jesus taught the disciples that people will treat their name like evil, He also said:
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NIV)
Our text verse for this morning, John 16:2 says:
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. (John 16:2, NIV)
This verse refers to a verse in Isaiah 66, which reads:
Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. (Isaiah 66:5, NIV)
There is mention of two types of worshippers: those who come before the Lord with contrite and humble hearts and tremble before his Word. The second group of worshippers indeed do bring sacrifices, offers lambs and grain offerings, they burn incense, but as the end of verse 3 states, “They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations.”
The sad thing is that those who revered God were kicked out excommunicated from inclusion into the Covenant People of the Lord. My people! God’s people! Church people! We worship together, we sat together at the table of the Lord, but now, because I stick to the Word of God in reverence and trembling, we have become enemies – and they want to get rid of me, ostracise me, yes, excommunicate me.
In John 16:1-4 our Lord prepared his disciples for a life of loneliness because they will be treated as unfit for worship and service. They name will be treated like dirt.
Remember the words of Christ
Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:23, NIV)
I must confess that even though the words of this verse are so plain, my sinful inclination makes it hard to understand. When I am treated like dirt because of Jesus, my saviour and his Word, I should rejoice and leap for joy? Why? Because it is a seal on my faithfulness and the authenticity of the Gospel. True prophets of God in the Old Testament were treated the same way because they stuck to the true Word of God.
Dear friends in Christ, disciples has its cost, its heartache, its loneliness, but it has its reward. We need to look at our Saviour, who came to his own, but they rejected Him, nailed Him to the cross.
I believe the time for us to make that sacrifice is not far. Just, tremble at the word of God, fear not those who can destroy the body only, but fear Him who has the power to destroy both body and soul. Worship Him faithfully, and He will give you eternity as your reward.
Sermon Preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 March 2017