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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Christian: don't be surprised when the world hates you
Text:John 15:18-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Persecution
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-12-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 150

Psalm 79:3 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 69:1,2

Hymn 53

Hymn 23

Scripture readings:  Luke 6:27-36, 1 Peter 4:12-19

Text: John 15:18-25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Some time ago in the African country of Mozambique, jihadists beheaded a Christian fisherman.  Around the same time in the Asian country of Myanmar, three deacons from a church are believed to have been tortured to death by the military.  The pastor had also been arrested and tortured, but he was able to escape.  In Nigeria, more than 40 Christians were murdered by Islamist extremists.  The attacks had been pre-planned and the Christians had warned the state security service, but they did nothing.  Every month dozens of Christians are martyred in Nigeria by Muslim extremists.  The persecution of Christians around the world is really happening.

Compared to Mozambique, Nigeria, and Myanmar, our lives here are peaceful.  We don’t face the persecution that Christians do in those countries or in other countries like China and North Korea.  Whatever opposition we currently face, it hardly qualifies as persecution compared to what our brothers and sisters in other places are dealing with.

But that doesn’t mean things will stay the same here.  In fact, according to what Christ says in our text this morning, we should expect the hatred of the world.  Peter was there when Jesus first said it.  And he says the same thing in 1 Peter 4, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”  The hatred of the world, its persecution of Christians, is something par for the course.  We should be prepared for it – and this passage from John this morning helps us to do that.  So I preach to you God’s Word, Christian: don’t be surprised when the world hates you.  There are four questions this sermon will answer:

  1. What does our Lord Jesus mean by “the world”?
  2. How does the world show its hatred for Christians?
  3. Why does the world show its hatred for Christians?
  4. How should we respond to this hatred?

“The world” is a concept we frequently find in the Gospel According to John.  For example, it’s found in the most well-known verse of the whole book, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  In that passage, “the world” is referring to sinful humanity in rebellion against God.  God loved that world and showed it by sending his Son Jesus to pay for the sins of those who would believe in him.  John 3:16 shows a strong contrast between a loving God and a rebellious, hateful world. 

And the way the word “world” is used here in John 15 is exactly the same.  The “world” refers to the sinful mass of humanity that doesn’t love God and doesn’t obey God.  Rather than being like God and characterized by love, this world is characterized by hate.

Now when we think of the “world” we often think of the people out there, the people outside of the church.  We’re not wrong when we think that.  After all, most of the people out there outside of Christian churches aren’t Christians.  There may be a few who haven’t yet affiliated with a church, but generally a non-church member is going to be part of the world.  In the days of Christ and the apostles, we could think of the Romans.  The Roman Empire was made up mostly of people who didn’t love God and didn’t obey God.  The vast majority of Romans were living in rebellion against God.  As faith in Christ became more popular, the Roman Empire paid attention and hated it.

However, we’d be wrong if we limited “the world” to the people out there, outside of the church.  After all, who hated Jesus more than anyone else during his ministry on earth?  The Jewish religious leaders.  Now you have to remember that until after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the Jewish people made up the Old Testament church.  There is one church between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  There’s one people of God in history.  But in the Old Testament period, that one church was almost entirely made up of Jews.  There were a few exceptions, people like Rahab and Ruth.  In the New Testament period, the church is now multi-ethnic.  But in the days of Jesus, when he spoke the words in John 15, the church consisted mainly of the Jewish people.

And it was the leaders of the Jewish people who hated Jesus more than anyone else.  They wanted him dead more than anyone else.  These were the leaders of the church.  They instigated the members of the church to cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the day after Jesus spoke these words in John 15.  These hateful church members showed themselves to be part of the world when they did that.   

That teaches us how we have to be careful when we think about this concept of “the world” here.  There are two takeaways. 

First, if we’re Christians we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter hatred out there or, also, in here.  Hateful sinful rebellion against God exists outside of the church, but it also exists inside of the church.  It translates into hatred for true Christians.  Sometimes it’s more subtle.  Inside the church this hatred is often hidden and disguised.  But it can be seen every now and then.  People inside of the church can sometimes even be more brutal and hateful than people outside.  It shouldn’t be like that, but sadly it sometimes is and we have to be honest about it.  This is because the church is a mixed body.  There are believers, true Christians in the church, but there are also unbelievers and hypocrites.  And the unbelievers and hypocrites show their true colours with their hatred.  It was that way in the days of Christ and it still is today.

The second takeaway here:  where do you fit in?  Even though you’re a member of the church, are you also still in the world?  Are you still part of the world that doesn’t love God and doesn’t want to listen to his Word?  Are you still in your sins or have you repented and turned to Christ with a true and living faith?  Please think about that for yourself.

The second question I want to answer is:  How does the world show its hatred for Christians?  Well, as our Lord Jesus says, if the world persecuted him, it will also persecute his servants.  The hatred is shown in persecution.  The feelings of hatred come alive in the action of persecution. 

So if we want to know what to expect as Christians, we should look at how our Lord Jesus was persecuted.  He was mocked and ridiculed.  The world, the leaders in the church, they said he was Satanic, that he was demon-possessed.  Even his family thought he was out of his mind and should be taken away somewhere.  His opponents were constantly trying to trap him in his words.  They lied about him.  Someone supposed to be one of his disciples betrayed him for money.  He was then beaten and scourged.  Finally, the world put him naked on a cross to suffer and die.  While he was on that cross, they continued to mock him.

Jesus reminds the disciples of his words from John 13, “A servant is not greater than his Master.”  If that is how the Master was treated, his servants should not expect less.  Loved ones, if we’re Christians we should expect to be persecuted.  If we’re open about our faith, we should expect mockery and ridicule.  We should expect the world – including maybe even people in the church – to think us to be evil or mentally deranged.  Don’t be surprised when the world tries to trap you with your words.  Don’t be surprised when the world lies about you or twists the truth about you and what you believe.  They did it to our Lord Jesus, so they’ll do it to us.  We should expect betrayal.  If someday we see state-sponsored persecution, we shouldn’t be surprised if some church members would betray others for money.  We should expect there to be violence and even death – just like many of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing at this very moment. 

You might say this sounds overly negative.  We don’t want to be told such horrible things on a Sunday morning.  Maybe you’re thinking we should only have joyful sermons.  But loved ones, this is what our Lord Jesus says here in John 15 and it’s in God’s Word for a reason.  We have to pay attention not only to the comforting and encouraging parts of Scripture, but also to the confronting parts.  We need what’s called the “whole counsel of God.”  Part of that is preparing us mentally and spiritually for experiencing the hatred of the world for Christ and Christians.  We shouldn’t expect that being a Christian is going to be easy or that it’s going to make us popular.  Look, it might not even make you popular in the church.  Wanting to be a true follower of Christ is always going to make it a struggle to gain acceptance with people who don’t really follow Christ, whether in the church or out there.  Sometimes such people will even have a go at you in various ways.   Our Lord Jesus warns us here so we would have realistic expectations and count the cost of following him.

Next question:  why does the world show its hatred for Christians?  Jesus really says more about this than any other question.  There are two reasons he gives.

First, the world hates Christians because they’re not of the world.  Christians don’t conform, they don’t fit in.  Have you ever heard of crab-pot syndrome?  When you boil a pot of crabs, you boil them alive.  If one of the crabs should try to escape the pot, the others will drag it back in.  If they’re going to die, they’re all going to die together.  I saw this all the time when I was a missionary.  If there was someone who was serious about quitting drinking, other people would hound him and hound him until he drank again and got back into those destructive ways of life.  They couldn’t handle it that one person was trying to get better.  Well, the same thing happens with the world and Christians.  By God’s grace, Christians have gotten out of the boiling pot, so to speak, but those still in the pot hate them for it.  They have been chosen out of the pot by God’s grace, but this stokes the hatred of the world.  The world wants to take everyone down with them, just like Satan does. 

Second, the world hates Christians because they don’t know the God who sent Jesus into this world.  What he means by “knowing” is “knowing in a friendly relationship.”  This is because “knowing” in these verses is opposed to “hating.”  Instead of knowing God, they hate him.  

That happened through Christ’s ministry.  Verse 22 says he came and he spoke to them.  Jesus spoke to the world the words he had been given to speak by God.  When you hear Jesus speak, you are hearing his Father speak.  Jesus came to reveal what the Father wanted people to know.  He made them uncomfortable by confronting them about their sin.  Jesus made them angry by pointing out their need to repent and turn away from sin.  He infuriated them when he called them to believe in him.  When they heard his words they refused to listen and thus showed their hatred not just for Jesus, but also for his Father.  Remember again that Jesus is speaking here about the world – but that it was really the worldly people in the Old Testament church.  They’re the ones who hated Jesus and thus also hated God. 

But Jesus also did works no one else did.  He speaks about that in verse 24.  He performed miracles – healing the sick, raising the dead.  But also in his whole personality and how he conducted himself, he revealed the Father.  These works could have led people to see him for who he is and the Father for who he is.  But their stubborn sinful hearts refused to see. 

And for all this, Jesus says, the world is culpable.  They’re to be blamed for what they’ve done.  They’re responsible.  They’re guilty of the sin of unbelief because they’ve heard and seen Jesus and also seen and heard the Father, and yet they reject them and hate them.  And this hatred is irrational and unjustifiable.  That’s why Christ quotes from Psalm 69:4 in verse 25, “They hated me without a cause.”  They hated him for no good reason. 

Now again, remember who Jesus is speaking about.  It’s the world, but here the world is mostly made up of church members.  And you can see that also in verse 25.  He’s speaking about the world and yet he says, “the word that is written in their Law” – whose Law?  It’s the law of the Jews.  It’s the Law of the Old Testament.  Sometimes the whole Old Testament is referred to as the Law and that’s how it is here.  Jesus says that this Law here belongs to the world, showing you again that the church is in bed with the world here. 

When that happens, Jesus says more than once in the New Testament that there’s a deeper level of guilt for those involved.  One such instance is in Matthew 10.  There Jesus was speaking to his disciples, sending them out to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  They were being sent to preach the gospel to the church of that day.  And Christ said that it may happen that some will not welcome the gospel.  Some in the church will not believe.  And then he said these powerful words in Matthew 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”  What was the notorious sin of the land of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Jesus said this is worse.  It’s worse when God’s covenant people, the church, hear the gospel and reject it.  There will be worse judgment for such people at the end.  This remains true today.  It’s true for you and me.  Loved ones, this adds urgency to the preaching of the gospel in the church today.  Don’t be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah at the end, instead listen to what Jesus says to you in his Word and in the preaching, turn from your sins, believe in him, and follow him as one of his disciples.

And when we do believe, we should realize that it’s our affiliation with Christ which arouses the hatred of those around us.  Perhaps you’ve heard the term “persona non grata.”  It’s a technical term from Latin used in politics and statecraft.  If a diplomat is no longer welcome in a country, he is said to be “persona non grata.”  Well, our King Jesus was declared persona non grata by those who hated him.  If the King was declared such, then what about us, his ambassadors?  We represent him and his interests in this world.  If the King isn’t welcome, then neither are his ambassadors.  If the King is hated, so are his ambassadors.  This is another reason why we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter hostility from the world. 

Last of all, we briefly want to look at how Christians should respond to the world’s hatred.  This is going to hold true whether we’re talking about hatred out there or hatred in here.  Wherever there’s hatred from unbelievers against Christians. 

Look at how our Lord Jesus responded to the hatred he experienced.  He showed love, even to the point of dying for his enemies.  Jesus never responded with bitterness or anger.  He didn’t retaliate or seek revenge.  He was known by his love, a love which reflected the love of God. 

There was a group of Jews known as the Essenes.  This Jewish sect existed around the time of Christ.  In 1947, a significant document was discovered from the Essenes at a place called Qumran, near the Dead Sea.  This document is known as the Manual of Discipline.  In this Jewish community, the Manual of Discipline was rigorously followed.  It included love.  Members of the community were to love one another.  But for those outside the community, the Manual of Discipline said there was to be hate.  Essenes were to have “eternal hate for the men of the pit.”  That’s so contrary to everything Jesus characterized and taught.

We read from Luke 6.  Jesus teaches his disciples there to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, to bless those who curse them, and to pray for those who abuse them.  We’re to love our enemies and do good to them.  It doesn’t matter who these enemies are or where these enemies are, whether out there or in here, our Lord Jesus calls us to love.  We’re to love like he does, to love others as we have been loved by him.

That doesn’t mean we’re forbidden to pursue justice when wrongs have been done.  Rachael DenHollander talks about this in her book What is a Girl Worth?  She was molested by a gymnastics doctor when she was a teenager.  Later she was involved with bringing him to justice for his crimes against her and literally hundreds of other girls.  Justice needed to be done because this was a horrible crime, but at the same time Rachael didn’t pursue it out of a desire for retaliation.  She could have a spirit of forgiveness towards her abuser, pray for him, pity him, and yet want to see him called to account for his evil deeds.  Love and justice are not mutually exclusive.  God has both and we can have both too.

Loved ones, being a Christian brings with it many blessings.  We have peace with God and we can have peace in our consciences.  We have the hope of heaven and we have the joy of knowing the love of Jesus.  It’s good to be a Christian.  Really good.  Those who are Christians wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  But at the same time, we realize that following Christ is the most counter-cultural thing in this world.  Because it’s so counter-cultural it gets attention and a lot of negative attention.  Our Lord Jesus teaches us that this is normal for Christians.  Being treated unfairly, being maligned and persecuted – that’s the way it is today for many brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.  That’s the way it’s been for many of our fellow Christians throughout history.  So we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens to us too.  When it does, our Lord will be with us.  His Spirit will strengthen us.  In his strength we will have the power to stand and reflect him.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

O God our Father,

Thank you for the joy and peace we have as Christians.  We’re so blessed in being reconciled to you and being able to call you our Father.  Thank you for Jesus who’s made that happen for us.  At the same time, we recognize that we now face the hatred of the world.  Please help us to keep the right perspective on that.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to stand fast when we’re hated and mocked for our faith, or maybe even worse things happen to us.  We pray especially for our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who regularly have to face horrible persecution and even martyrdom.  Please hold them up and keep them faithful.  We pray for those who hate them and for those who hate us.  We pray that you would soften their hearts with your Holy Spirit and bring them to Christ, just like you did with Saul of Tarsus in the book of Acts.  You took a persecutor and made him a disciple of Jesus and we pray that you would do this again and again in our day.                                               




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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