Wednesday, March 15, 2017
"Bearing Witness" Sermon: John 15:18-16:4a
March 5, 2017 Second Reformed Church
Last week, we saw that Jesus explains that Christians are to love one another with the same love that He loves us – we are to love each other sacrificially for the sake of the Gospel. We are even to be willing to die for each other if it will promote the Gospel and protect its purity.
We are to be known for our love of each other – and that will baffle the world, because we are not all the same. The world looks at similar groups of people who are unbelievers – and they won’t have anything to do with each other – they even try to kill each other. The world does not understand how such different people could put their differences aside and love one another for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In this morning’s Scripture, Jesus turns to the fact that the world – unbelievers – cannot understand the message of the Gospel – in fact, they are offended by it – so much so that they hate it and hate those who believe and follow it.
First, we see that Jesus’ followers are hated and persecuted because Jesus is hated and persecuted.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
We need to begin by understanding the expression Jesus uses: He says, “If the world hates you” – and the expression we don’t see in English is that Jesus is speaking in a positive and certain way – as though He says, “If the world persecutes you, and you most certainly will be persecuted” – there is no question of “if” as we would understand it. Jesus is saying that Christians – believers – will be hated and persecuted.
And Jesus explains that the reason Christians will be hated and persecuted is that He is persecuted and hated. If the leader of a group of idea is persecuted or hated, those who follow him and try to be like him and do the things he would do will be persecuted and hated. Just consider the way we treat our presidents in recent history: those who hated President Obama would oppose and hate anything his supporters in Congress would do. Similarly, we see the same thing happening now with President Trump.
The message of Jesus is terribly offensive: it says that every single person is born spiritually dead and in rebellion against God and the only way to be right with God is through Jesus – through believing in Who He is and what He did to secure salvation, and in the repenting of sins. This goes against our fallen pride – we are born believing that we can do it and we don’t need help. The ancient philosopher, Protagoras, said, "Of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not" (http://www.ancient.eu/article/61/) – there is no higher authority than humanity – and especially me – it hurts to fall off that high a horse.
God says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10b-18, ESV).
And the response of the world is, “How dare you say something like that! I am a self-made person. I have done everything myself. I am a good person. I don’t need anyone. You can’t talk that way about me.” And when they have been “pushed to the limited” by God’s Word, they will call us a hate group and persecute us and kill us for our evil speech.
Jesus tells the Eleven that they are not part of the world because God chose them and took them out of the world by making them believers – just as we who believe are not part of the world, because God has chosen us to be His and made us believers. As Paul reminds us, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6, ESV).
And so, we are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ again and again to a world that hates us and persecutes us – to one degree or another – we have mentioned that our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere are suffering at the hands of the world in a way we do not usually experience at this time – so we are to be patient. We proclaim salvation to a dying world, and until God gives a person a new heart and causes them to believe – they won’t – they will just stare us down and ask, “How dare you?”
But that should not get us down – we should not be discouraged, because Jesus was hated and persecuted first. We are in good company if we are being persecuted and hated for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are being hated for saying the same things and believer the same things and living like Jesus, then we ought to rejoice, because it proves we are His!
And, we have the same enemies as Jesus. We are fighting against the world, the flesh, and the devil – and the world will strike back because we are telling them they are wrong and they cannot help themselves – only God can make a person right with God. And so, we humbly receive hatred and persecution for the sake of the Gospel, and never back down from proclaiming that there is only salvation through Jesus Alone.
Second, Jesus says that anyone who hates Him hates God the Father.
“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’”
Jesus explains that those who hate Jesus and persecute Him and His followers do so because they do not know God the Father. They have not been reconciled to God, so the Gospel appears to them as nothing more than a philosophy to hate – a religion of intolerance.
Since Jesus manifested Himself both by word and by deed – since He did everything He needed to to prove He is God the Savior and He said everything He needed to to prove that He is God the Savior, and the reaction of the world was to reject Him, the world is guilty. There is no excuse.
If Jesus didn’t do the works of the Savior and didn’t speak the words He did to prove He is the Savior, then the world would not be guilty, but since Jesus clearly manifested Himself to the world and the world rejected Him, the world is guilty.
And the world hates Jesus as part of the fulfillment of prophecy, as it is written, “They hated me without cause.”
We find this prophecy in multiple places:
In Psalm 35, verse 19: “Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes, and let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause” (ESV).
In Psalm 69, verse 4: “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. What I did not steal must I now restore?” (ESV).
And, here, we see Jesus’ fulfills it – more evidence against those who hate Him.
Third, the Holy Spirit bears witness with us.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
Again, as we look at this promise of bearing witness, this is spoken first to the Eleven, but it applies to all believers, because we are all called to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to all of Creation.
“When the Holy Spirit comes” – which He did on the day of Pentecost – and He has indwelled every believer since then – God the Holy Spirit, sent by the agreement of the Father and the Son to indwell believers – He bears witness to Jesus being God the Savior and we bear witness with Him.
The Holy Spirit helps us to know what to say and to stand when the hatred and persecution come at us. Yet, as we bear witness to the Gospel together – it is an uneven witness: God does not equally bear witness with us. No, the Holy Spirit takes the “heavy end,” as it were. Ultimately, those who reject the Gospel are rejecting Jesus, first and foremost, so the witness is first and most heavily weighted on God’s side. God chooses to use us to bring His people to Himself, but the work, the hatred and persecution, and the glory belong first and foremost to God.
So, as we bear witness – as we have been commanded – as we are hated and persecuted – let us always remember that God bears the brunt of all things, and we find our comfort in Him, as He sustains us as a branch in the Vine and refreshes us with His love and joy. And, we comfort each other as we stand together and love each other – even to the end.
Finally, Jesus prepares us by telling us what will happen.
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
Jesus explains to the Eleven that they will bear witness to Him being God the Savior throughout the world, and the world will react by hating them and persecuting them, just as they persecuted Him. And we ought to except the same thing.
It is an aberration if we explain the Gospel and call on people to repent and believe, and they are happy with us and tells us that what we have said is wonderful, but not for them. That is not normal – and it may not be what they are feeling inside – especially if we continue to tell them that they must repent and believe or face the full-on Wrath of God for their sins.
In love and faithfulness, Jesus prepares us for what will happen if we proclaim the Gospel – as we are commanded to do – just as He told the Eleven:
The Jews will throw the Eleven – and other believers – out of the synagogues. The non-believing Jews had taken the Word of God and invented another religion out of it. We know that because, if they believed the Word of God, they would have believed Jesus and been one of His disciples, but they didn’t – the Jews wanted Jesus dead.
And the Jews wanted the Eleven and all of His disciples dead.
As Jesus promised – they were hated and persecuted:
Peter was crucified in Rome – upside-down, as he requested.
Andrew was crucified in Greece.
Thomas was speared to death in India.
Philip was executed in Carthage.
Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
Bartholomew was executed in Asia.
James was stoned and the clubbed to death in Syria.
Simon the Zealot was executed in Persia.
Matthias – the replacement for Judas – was burned alive in Greece.
Paul was decapitated in Rome.
And John died in exile on the Isle of Patmos. (http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles-11629558.html)
They were killed this way, because the world believed they were honoring God. They did not know the Father – they hated Him – they believed in something other than the Truth and wanted to destroy the Truth.
Understand, the United States is a very strange place: we are a people of all kinds of religions, but most people don’t really believe. We have to go to the Middle East – and places like it – to see people being killed for their faith – for the sake of the gods.
In the United States, we don’t tend to stand up for our faith and say there is only One Way through Jesus. No, we buy into the lie that there are many ways to God – after all, that’s what Oprah says! I have friends who tell me that God doesn’t care what we believe, so long as we are faithful. What kind of god is that?!
When people say that all religions are the same – they just teach us to love one another – we must say, “No!” We are called to bear witness to the world that Jesus Alone is God the Savior. There is no salvation except through the work He accomplished. Unless a person believes and repents, he will suffer eternally and not be received into the Kingdom of God. Christianity is not a matter of differing on the type of chip we like – it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death – between believing the Truth of God and believing the lies of the devil.
Let us be comforted by Jesus – that He has told us how the world will react as we bear witness. Let us take our comfort and hope in Him and in the hope of the restoration of the Creation to come at Jesus’ return.
Let’s go forth and bear witness – ready for people to hate us and seek to have us put to death for it. The Holy Spirit enables us to proclaim the Truth of Jesus. And we are to go!
One caveat: we are not given the freedom to be jerks. We are to love our neighbors and bring the Gospel to them with patience and persistence until they believe or until they kill us, but we are to do so in love. If people hate you because you’re a jerk, that’s on you.
Almighty God, we thank You for calling us out of the world and making us Your people. We thank You that Jesus prepared us for the reaction of the world to the Gospel, and we are humbled to be despised with our Greater Brother, Jesus. Help us to take comfort in the Holy Spirit and to rely on Him as we go forth to bear witness. Keep us proclaiming Your Gospel in love, and bring many people to salvation through us to Your Glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.