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Few of us who saw the image will soon forget it. Just over a year ago, a line of twenty-one Egyptian Christians dressed in orange jumpsuits, were kneeling on a beach near Tripoli in Libya, just moments before masked ISIS executioners dressed in full black beheaded them simply for being Christians.
And yet, as disturbing as those images are, when we think about persecution, it can feel distant and disconnected from our ordinary, daily lives.
What I want us to understand today is that religious persecution is not something that will remain distant and disconnected. We in the West have largely taken religious freedom for granted. But in the coming days, and even now, when we pray for the persecuted church, we will not only be praying for believers around the world, we will be praying for ourselves and our own children.
Creekstone member Bill Blankschaen has recently co-authored a book with a well-known radio personality. The title, You Will Be Made to Care, has served to raise awareness concerning the rising tide of religious persecution of Christians in our own culture in our own day.
Some Christians are losing their jobs while others are being sued for not embracing culturally acceptable, politically correct views. With these instances multiplying, it is likely that every true disciple of Jesus is going to feel the the pressure more and more, and sooner than later.
Christians are going to be increasingly tested. Like gold is purified in extreme temperatures, persecution will test our faith. For some it will purify it; for others, it will show that our profession was just fools gold.
So, as we discuss the theme of the persecuted church today, I want to ask those of you who are not Christians to stick with me to the end. If you find ffndfunffindfffinyourself offended, know that I do not intend to unnecessarily offend. But truth can be offensive. And yet the goal for truth is not to offend, but to set us free. Sometimes truth must do its work of disruption in our lives, so that grace can do its work of redemption. That is where I want us to land before we’re done today. So, stick with me, and if you still have questions or want to discuss this further, I’m glad to stick around and talk more in person.
So as we look at John 15, we need to know that this is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. His disciples are about to see what real persecution looks like up close and personal. As his closest followers, they will need to be prepared, will be tempted to resist persecution, will be called to endure it, and respond to it like Jesus.
So, first, Jesus…
I. Prepares them for Persecution (v. 18)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
Jesus does not want us to be surprised or shocked if the world hates Christians. When Jesus speaks of “the world,” he is describing humanity apart from grace, where “the world” means the ways of the world in contrast to the ways of God. Or, we could say the wisdom of the world in contrast to the wisdom of God.
For example, the world says that if someone hits you, you should hit ‘em back. Revenge is assumed by the world. The world says that it makes sense to live together before committing to marriage, and of course, God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman is now deemed an unacceptable, antiquated, restrictive position. In fact, to advocate for God’s wisdom in sexual ethics is considered hate speech. Again, this doesn’t surprise us, because, as Bill Blankschaen has written, “Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth.” But God’s design for human sexuality isn’t hate; its like the new app you download on your phone that has a few steps of orientation, that enable the user to maximize the benefit of the app so that they can enjoy it and be blessed by it. The same is true with God’s design for human sexuality and marriage. To skip his orientation or to reject his design is to undermine the design.
Speaking of design, another topic that divides is the issue of human origins: intelligent design vs Darwinian evolution. Additionally, a well documented contrast between the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the world concerns the value of human life from the moment of conception and how that bears on the issue of abortion.
Now, I know that a number of you have had abortions, and I suspect it is likely that you deeply regret that decision. I am so sorry for that wound in your soul being reopened.
I that has happened, I want you to hear something right now – and hear me clearly, even if through tears – I want you to know that is that there is ABUNDANT mercy and grace for you through Jesus. In fact, Jesus made a decision for you that far outweighs your decision to have an abortion. He made a decision to endure the penalty for your sin-even the abortion. That decision he made for you has powerful consequences — that can empower you to move forward with hope in the light of God’s grace as someone who can be convinced that you are fully forgiven and perfectly accepted by God. That is what the cross says to you. In Jesus, there is a grace that is greater than all of our sin!
The truth is that all human beings stand before the cross of Jesus as equals. In fact, the cross demands human equality and refuses to allow any room for moral superiority of one person over another.
And yet the sad truth is that there are professing Christians, some of us stand guilty here today, who have spoken to issues like abortion and homosexuality with a hateful tone of moral superiority, and in so doing have done a tremendous amount of harm to the cause of the gospel by disconnecting God’s truth from God’s grace. Now, we can’t change the truth. But we can change our tone when we speak truth – a tone of grace.
Because truth and grace were designed to go together. After all, in John 1, the apostle tells us that Jesus was full of truth and grace.
Have you ever paused to consider how challenging that is? For most of us, we tend to emphasize one or the other. Some of us find it easy to speak the truth. Others are much more comfortable with grace. But what I am learning is that grace without truth isn’t grace. It’s soggy grace, like cereal that has been sitting out soaking in milk all day. It had potential! 🙂 Conversely, truth without grace isn’t the fullness of truth, is it? Here is the point: Truth must do its work in order for grace to have its impact.
But for some of us, speaking the truth scares us to death because of the reaction we could face. Nobody wants to be hated! So, if we are honest, some of us will…
II. Resist the Pain of Persecution (v. 19)
19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Whether in junior high, in the fraternity or sorority, or among peers in the workplace, we want to be accepted. And yet Jesus guarantees that those who follow him will experience insult and rejection. They will be hated!
But insults and rejection are just surface types of persecution. What about when your lose your job because of Christian convictions? What if you were to become the object of a lawsuit for not complying with state mandated requirements that required you to fall in line with acceptable cultural views and practices? What if you or I face imprisonment, and worse?
Many of us probably think that this kind of persecution could never happen here. According to Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised, and I want us to be prepared, just in case.
Because when the heat of persecution is turned up, many of us are going to look for ways to avoid it. Just being nice will not stop persecution. We will have to distance ourselves from Jesus, from his ways and wisdom. You will be forced to put your faith in the attic and adapt to the new doctrines of political correctness. But for the true disciple of Jesus, this is not going to be an option.
So I want us to know, and not be surprised, that there WILL be consequences. Jesus says that you will be hated and persecuted.
As his disciples, we need to know this, so that we can…
III. Endure the Call to Persecution (v. 20)
20 Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
In this verse, Jesus uses strong words to describe his relationship with his disciples. They are servants. He is the master. Yes, he is also their friend. But it is a friendship with the King. And they, as followers of the King, are going to face some serious heat.
Here is the deal. Receiving Jesus as your Savior is a free gift, where Jesus totally and absolutely covers the cost, paying down the debt of your sin and imputing the record of his own righteousness into your spiritual, moral account. But following Jesus – identifying with him – will cost you. It may cost you your reputation. It may cost you a friendship. And your family may turn on you. You may lose your job, your freedom, and one day, maybe even your life.
This is what believers in China have faced for years. And yet Creekstone’s mother church Perimeter received a report from missionary partners in China recently asking for us not to pray for an end of the persecution, which they say is growing in the church dramatically. They want prayers that they may endure the persecution!
Are you ready for THAT?
If so, then you need to know how to…
IV. Respond to Persecution Like Jesus
The Greek word for “persecute” in v. 20 has nuances of meaning in the New Testament. Some of these nuances are expressed in synonyms such as pursue, hunt, seize, choke, revile and mock.
Jesus was the object of all of these aspects of persecution and more. And yet he didn’t respond to hate with hate, but with the kind of love that was willing to go, suffer, and die on a cross for the world that hated him – rejected him. Rather than curse his enemies, Jesus blessed them.
This is why Jesus can tell us in Matthew 5:10-12, “10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Or later in Mt. 6:43-45, “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
It’s why Paul could write in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
There is an old saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The gospel tells us that Jesus endured the heat for us – not of the kitchen, but the heat of the judgement demanded by the law of God.
It is only when I know Jesus as the one who took the heat for me in crucifixion as my Savior, that I am motivated and empowered to face the heat for him in persecution as his disciple– and am motivated and empowered to respond to persecution like Jesus – not responding to hate with hate, but with the same mercy toward others that I have received from Jesus.
Now, it may be that you are just now coming to grips with the fact that Jesus took the heat for you. You know that you have followed the ways and wisdom of the world… and you are waking up to the overwhelming offer of grace presented to you in the gospel and want to respond.
If you are ready for this to be the new day that leads to a new life by receiving Jesus as your Savior, Master and friend, then let me ask you to pray with me now.