John Lesson 36 - The Promise of Suffering
God gave us so many amazing promises in Scripture that pertain not only to life in heaven but also to life on earth. But at least one of those promises isn't so easy to swallow. In John 15 Jesus promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life will suffer persecution. Are you suffering persecution today? If so, you're living the life God intends for you to live.
“The Promise of Suffering”
By the way, these quotes, at one time, reflected the average opinion - and you can see how contemporary thought has repeatedly been turned on its ear.
Jesus Christ is in the process of turning the tables on popular Christian thinking. . .
We've learned that we are not producers of spiritual fruit but bearers of His fruit.
We discovered last Lord's day that love is not a feeling but a decision . . .
Now, after telling us several wonderful things about our relationship to Him - we are His closest friends, we are attached to his life giving joy. . .the conclusion would be - we've got it made in the shade. . .what a life this Christianity will be - surely, as our closest friend he will smooth out life's bumps, correct life's mistakes, give us health and wealth, prosperity and privilege. We will be sought after, loved, appreciated and promoted by the world in which we live.
About the time you reach that conclusion, Jesus holds out His hands and shows His scars.
He continues on in John 15 with a jarring statement - v. 18. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
19. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world (remember, you're attached to the vine, you're a friend of the court) therefore the world hates you.
Now the phrases beginning with the word "if" does not imply that it might not happen. Such as, "If you don't set your alarm, you'll be late for work..." "If you don't take out the trash, you're wife will feed you leftovers for supper."
No, these "if" statements are true to life.
-v. 22. If I had not come and spoken to them. . .and I did
-v. 24. If I had not done among them the works which no one
else did. . .and I did
-v. 19. If you were of the world. . .but you're not
-v. 18. If the world hates you. . . and they will.
These are not possibilities. . .these are assumptions.
Jesus says, "If you make me your closest friend, the world is going to hate you, revile you, disdain you, ridicule you, desert you, ignore you, pity you. . .any one of the things they did to me.
Frankly, we're presenting a distorted message when we try to sell Jesus to the masses for all the positive reasons and yet hide from them the scars. . .the cross.
Discipleship is impossible without a cross.
Pat Robertson in his book, The Secret Kingdom writes from the popular vantage point of guaranteed prosperity. He urges Christians to employ the "laws of prosperity to which God Himself is bound. It's a bit like tuning into a radio or television station," he writes. "you get on the right frequency and you pick up the program." And what are we to say of those who are never healed or who never get that financial miracle "He has either failed to grasp the points we have been making about the operation of the Kingdom, or he is not living according to the principles we have been exploring."
Michael Horton, a reformed theologian, wrote a scathing rebuke of prosperity theology in his book "Made in America" He wrote, "The gospel is now consumer-centered rather than God-centered. . .It is as if God must be justified before the sinner; now it is the unbeliever who has to be satisfied with God and his terms. . .and so we package our gospel in attractive terms and with attractive promises to sell Christianity to the people of Vanity Fair.
You want to see prosperity theology? Turn or just listen to Hebrews 11 and take a look at our forefathers in the faith - first and second, third and fourth century Christians worldwide. . .Hebrews 11:36 They (early Christians) experienced mocking and scourging, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, illtreated, of whom the world was not worth, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
The theology of Robertson and Hagin, Hinn, Copeland and a pack of others is, indeed, "Made in America". Consumer oriented, consumer driven.
The incredible thing about Jesus Christ is that here, in John 15, He is turning the tables on contemporary Christian thought.
If Jesus Christ is your closest friend - you may lose your job, not keep it;
You may lose your friends when you come to Christ, not make more.
We have teaching in Catalyst a professor who faced incredible pressure and from his peers and superiors to be silent about his faith. We have students who because of their testimony received a lower grade in that college class. . .we have Christians here who have been outcast from their extended family because of their faith.
For the sake of the Lord, John 15 reveals, you will face derision, reviling, pity, scorn and a host of other responses from the world - and Jesus is saying here, in effect, if you haven't faced it - I'm really not your closest friend.
Did you know that Missiologists estimate that at any given time 60% of the worlds Christians are facing persecution?
Detrich Bonehoffer opposed Hitler's regime and as a result this pastor/theologian paid with his life. One of the many statements he wrote was, "Jesus Christ invites a person to come and die."
Notice the last part of this chapter 15:26. When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness of Me.
27. And you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
The word witness is the same Greek word which is translated martyr.
We need to talk this morning about something we'll call, Stepping over the line. That is, stepping over the line of secret Christianity to public Christianity. . .
And by the way, putting a fish on your bumper is the beginning, not the end of public disclosure.
In order to understand John 15, we have to stop and look backward. . .
We need to remember that by this time, in the life of the church, there was the constant threat of persecution. Christianity was actually illegal. A city official needed only to ask whether or not a man was a Christian, and, if he was, no matter what he had done or had not done, he was liable to punishment by death.
By the time John wrote this Gospel, the hatred of Christianity had already long begun. Tacitus wrote of them as "a people who were hated"; Seutonius wrote of a "race of men who belong to a new and evil superstition."
The point was, in a day when many gods were worshipped, Christianity was out of step - it was different - it was a convicting challenge to the politically correct Roman society.
You see, the unifying principle which bound the vast empire of Rome was religious. It was in Asia Minor that people began to think of Caesar, the Emperor, as the god who embodied Rome, and they did so in sheer gratitude for the blessings Rome had brought - the pax Romana - the peace of Rome - stretched from Germany to North Africa - from the Euphrates to Britain.
At first, the Emperors discouraged this worship...but they saw that they could not stop the movement. At first, Caesar worship was confined to Asia Minor, but soon it spread everywhere. Then the government realized this could be used . . . nothing unifies like religion. So there came the day when once a year every inhabitant of the Roman Empire burned his pinch of incense to the godhead of Caesar, saying, "Caesar is Lord!" By so doing, he showed that he was a loyal citizen of Rome. When he had done this, he actually received a certificate to say that he had done it . . . and he could go back to worshipping his many other gods, or no god at all.
This is precisely what a Christian could never do - he could call no man Lord except Jesus Christ - they refused conformity - therefore they were considered dangerous and disloyal.
William Barclay has compiled the many accusations against the early Christians - they were said to insurrectionaries; they were said to be cannibals - a misinterpretation from outsiders who observed their communion practice; they were said to be incendiaries. They often looked to the Second Coming of Christ and preached that the world would eventually burn up with fire (2 Peter 3).
When Nero, the Roman emperor (Paul's executioner) wanted to rebuild Rome, he secretly ordered the city to be burned. Tacitus and Suetonius, first century Roman historians agree that it was Nero himself ordered the fires. After the firese were out, that had finally burned 2/3rds of Rome to the ground, Nero would accused the Christians for doing so in order to fulfill their sermons on a future fire.
Tacitus wrote, "Nero looked about for a scapegoat and found one in a race of men commonly called Christian. The name was derived from Christos, who in the reign of Tiberius, suffered under Pontius Pilate. Nero proceeded to force confessions from some of them, and on such false evidence a number of Christians were convicted. . .they were put to death with exquisite cruelty, and to their sufferings Nero added mockery and derision. Some were covered with skins of wild animals, and given to be devoured by wild dogs; others were nailed to crosses; number of them were burned alive; many, covered with inflammable matter, were tied to rasied poles and then set on fire to serve as torches during the night for Nero's garden parties...
How the words of Jesus must have echoed in their hearts, "The world will hate you as it hated me. . .and without cause."
By the way, one other trumped up reason for Christians being persecuted was that they were charged for tampering with family relationships; dividing families, splitting up homes. . .young people were renouncing idolatry and coming to faith in Christ - wives were being saved, husbands were coming to Christ - society was so topsy turvy that the early disciples were referred to as people who have turned the world upside down."
Jesus had prophesied, "I do not come to bring peace but a sword - to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. . .a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. an he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me... Matt. 10
Jesus is saying, "You want to follow me - understand, I don't offer you riches and prosperity and health and promotion and peace - I offer you a rugged cross.
Now that was persecution then...what about now. . .
Obviously we aren't burning at the liberals stake, being fed to the democratic lions. . . nobody's tied to stake to serve as a torch for Clinton's evening parties. . .at least not yet.
Does Jesus intend for this passage to apply to us? ABSOLUTELY!
Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)
We need to go back to verse 18 and begin by clarifying.
What did Jesus mean by "the world" in verse 18. This term is used a number of different ways in the Scriptures.
1) world = the created world "the world that was made by Him"
2) world = the world of humanity "for God so loved the world"
3) world = the world system. . .that is the world's plans, activities, philosophies, values, agendas. As Christians, we are told not to be conformed to the world - Paul is referring to the world system of values, plans, lifestyle. Romans 12:1,2
Other passages inform us that this world system is authored and controlled by Satan. In I Cor. 4 Paul calls Satan the god of this world. Look back a page at John 14:30 where Jesus says, "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." Turn back another page to chapter 12:31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out." Now look ahead at chapter 17:14. I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world (system), even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.
Truth is, as long as you conform to the world - with it's fads, fashions, values - you'll get along. But when you begin to shine as a light of righteousness and you act as salt that confronts a decaying society, you will soon discover that you are not only out of step but out of place!
John MacArthur writes an interesting thought here. . .he says that "Christians are the conscience of the world; our testimony confronts the world system with a righteous standard that exposed its selfish wretchedness. We are its conscience. So when we leave the world at the rapture before the Tribulation, all hell will literally break loose on earth because the conscience of the world will be gone."
That's the point of John 15:21. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
22. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now
they have no excuse for their sin.
This is critical to understand here. Jesus is not talking about sin in general, because whether He came or not, men would still be sinners; he's taking about the guilt of willful rejection in the presence of total revelation. The most tragic sin a person could ever be guilty of is to have the specifics of God's revelation and then reject it.
That world had come face to face with God's standard - and they rejected Him - they hated what He had exposed them to be.
That standard is now in print - they had the full revelation of the living word, we have the full revelation of the written word - and our world hates it still.
In 1971, a revival came to many churches in Western Canada. It made news in the secular press because of the number of people going to stores and other businesses to make restitution for past wrongdoing. Whether it was paying unpaid income tax, or admitting dishonesty in business dealings, or going to the Canadian border to confess they had lied about goods brought over from the States - hundreds of people were willing to do anything to be fully right with God and man. One author writing about the incident recorded, "When these Christians displayed such a desire for righteousness, the world both admired and hated them. On the one hand, the people of that world were thankful that the Christians had the courage to make past wrongs right; but on the other hand they deeply resented such integrity. For in the process of seeing righteousness at work in the lives of others, they saw their own hidden sins exposed."
You ever lived with the guilt of sin and a conscience that just wouldn't be quiet? That's what you and I are to the world as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ - he came to die for sinners.
So as a result, the world will respond to it's conscience in a number of differing ways: Jesus calls their response, persecution.
-You will be ostracized from you peers
-You will be denied a promotion because you refuse to place the -company first on your list of priorities
Chuck Colson said once that we're a lot like Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. When asked by the New York Times what he believed in he responded by saying, "God, my family, and McDonald's hamburgers" then he added, "And when I get to the office I reverse the order."
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you refuse to reverse the order and keep God before hamburgers, you will be walking out of step with the world system.
-You will be ridiculed for being some Victorian relic from previous generations
-You will personally be disliked for your nonconformity to the group
-You will not be considered an authority in your field because of your "religious fanaticism"
-You will be considered intolerant and bigoted because sinful lifestyles are not accepted by you
-You will be pitied by others for your simple lifestyle
-You will be ridiculed whenever a public figure falls
-You will be betrayed and stepped on in the ladder climb because you would not fend for yourself
-You will be laughed at for your purity and mocked for your values
I think of the policeman who was denied a promotion because he wouldn't share his bosses drinks; the man working in a warehouse who knew that certain goods were damaged by mishandling warehouse employees and then wouldn't sign slips that declared the goods were damaged on arrival.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although we may be exempt from torture and death, the basic contempt of mankind for Jesus Christ comes to the surface in every culture where the Christian and the church shines brightly in the world.
A few days ago my kids brought home some papers from school. Attached was a letter form the Wake County Board of Education explaining a new program called Character Education. My wife and I read it over and were frankly amazed at the contents and even more by it's stated purposes:
And when you stand for Jesus Christ in a secular, greedy, selfish, godless society it may cost you everything - but in the end you have lost nothing and gained everything.
Erwin Lutzer wrote, "This message in the upper room effectively puts an end to the widespread belief that success and wealth are the inevitable result of living a committed Christian life...Christ promised that in the world we will have tribulation."
Lessons Learned from Persecution:
1) We should remember that, while hatred is unfounded
and unjustified, it is to be expected.
Did you notice verse 25, "But they have done this in order that the word may be
fulfilled that is written in their Law; "They hated Me without a cause."
This is a quote from two of David's Psalms.
Why was Jesus rejected? Sum total all the reasons given - he declared Himself to be equal with God, out of envy they delivered Him up...are any of them good, reasons? No. . .in the light of history and future, the nation Israel was unreasonable - close minded - self-centered.
But hatred for Christ was not only expected, it was prophesied. . .and He prophecies the same for you!
2) We should always be aware that being ridiculed, ignored,
rejected, despised and any other form of hatred is an evidence
that we are fulfilling our mission as Christ's witnesses.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "Now I don't mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show our Christian colors, if we are to be true to Jesus Christ."
The point is, don't run from that job, that family, that neighbor that dislikes, ignores, reviles you...you are the light...there is where you shine
3) We should constantly be concerned that the worlds hatred for us is balanced by our love for each other.
Notice the beginning of verse 17. This I command you, that you love one another.
WHY?! Becuase everybody in the world system won't ever love you; so make sure you love each other.
I read recently of Jackie Robinson...he was the first black Major Leaguer to rise from what was called the Negro Leagues. He would become a hall of famer in 1962 for his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It wasn't an easy beginning for this young man - the prejudiced crowds jeered and threatened him. During one game before a Cincinnati crowd the jeers were especially harsh. . .Peter Golenbock tells how something happened that challenged the crowd and encouraged Jackie Robinson. Pee Wee Reese, a teammate of Robinson's, strolled out before the heckling crowd, out to where Robinson stood at second base. When he reached Robinson, he threw put his arm around Jackie's shoulders and just stood beside him. . .the heckles didn't stop, they were just shared now, not by only lonely player, but two friends.
The world, Jesus says is going to heckle, to jeer, and maybe even to kill. Encouragement will come as you throw your arms around each other's shoulders and share the weight. . .and stay the course.
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