So that you may believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah the Son of God
- Psalm 35:1-20
- John 15:18-16:4
After killing six million Jews and countless fellow Germans who resisted the Nazi Regime in Germany under Hitler, trails where held to bring to justice the perpetrators. At one stage the trails were brought to a halt as the defence pointed out that under Hitler there was no law prohibiting the killing of Jews – in fact, it was state policy, and those involved in the killings did so to obey the law. Of course this defence tactic did not work; the trails went ahead and they were charged with murder.
The reason why I bring this up is to stress the point that people usually have a principle which leads them to do things. Very rarely are our actions without cause, or without justification.
David in Psalm 35 David describes a time when he faced opposition of people who had no justification to pursue him. He writes a prayer:
Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye. (Psalm 35:19, NIV)
In Psalm 69 he writes:
Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal. (Psalm 69:4)
The enemy had no justification to hate; although David sinned against God, God was his refuge as he took his sins to God to be forgiven. As far as God was concerned there was nothing between Him and David, and yet his life was nothing but the life of a refugee. Saul hated him, pursued him from one end to the other wanting to kill him; then there as Absalom, his own son who turned against him. Even friends close to him in his household and palace turn against him. They hated him without reason.
David was a forerunner to Christ. David’s throne was established in the throne of Christ. Our Lord felt the full force of an enemy who without reason or justification hated Him to the point that they nailed Him to the cross where He died for those who hated Him.
Our reading from John 15 points to this in verse 25:
But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:25, NIV)
The riches of God’s promises
There is a measure of hope, more than a measure of good news in the first part of John 15.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (John 15:9, NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, NIV)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)
There is more than love and warmth in these verses: they sum up the Gospel: I loved you; I chose you; I lay down my life for you; I call you my friends; ask what you need in my Name.
One can only ask why someone whose life was dedicated in serving others, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, restoring life to the dead, picking up those downcast, bringing hope to the hopeless and proclaiming forgiveness of sin would be hated to the point that they would rather have Him crucify while a rebel was allowed to go free.
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)
Up to verse 17 good news which speaks of everlasting love and forgiveness. It speaks of a new community of love in Christ of which He is the Head, and and a family where members can count on one another for love and support. But then in verse 18 its about this family of God in Christ living in a hostile world.
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:
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43–44, NIV)
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. (Matthew 6:2, NIV)
The apostle Peter writes about the life of the church in this world:
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (1 Peter 4:15, NIV)
And yet to be on Christ’s side means to be on the wrong side of this world. When Jesus uses the term “the 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.
The world hated Christ first
It all started in paradise. Adam and Eve rebelled against God, listened to the voice of the deceiver, the Devil, sinned against God and lost their innocence and free will. When God spoke to them He made a promise of grace:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)
After paradise things got worse and even nations fell to the deceit of the devil. Millions of people were kept in bondage doing the will of the father, Satan. Even God’s own beloved people could not help themselves but follow him and the practices of the godless nations around them.
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, he started to lose ground. For the devil this meant war. He hated Christ. When Jesus died on the cross and rose victoriously again, the Bible says:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13–15, NIV)
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.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20:1–3, NIV)
Listen, Satan is bound, he cannot deceive the nations as groups of people anymore; he cannot do other than what he is allowed. Now, with Jesus as the head of his church, the task of the church is to go to the nations with this promise:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.
We belong to Christ
But don’t despair. Listen:
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. 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 came to crush 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.”
The world does not hate the church because of any other reason. They would not hate us for doing good, building hospitals, aged care facilities, caring for the blind, the crippled, or the downcast. They would love us for doing it, but it is when we do it in the Name of Christ for his glory, proclaiming spiritual freedom and forgiveness of sins for those whom we care for, all hell breaks loose.
See, the problem satan has with the work of the church is that we proclaim forgiveness in the Name of Christ – that takes away his hold on people. He knows his losing and giving away of his followers. He hates us for it.
By being truthful to our calling in Christ we understand that it is only possible because we belong to Christ: “I have chosen you out of the world.”
He holds us in the hollow of his hand – and Satan has no say over those in the hands of Christ. We need to understand this, and we need to experience this now as a reality so that when real persecution comes we would know the experience of what it means to trust Him in difficult times.
God will keep us in the hollow of his end for all times. Yes, being on Christ’s side is to be on the wrong side of the enemy. There is a war raging; there is blood, persecution, difficult times, death and false accusations. Yet, listen to the promise of our Lord:
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. (Luke 21:12–19, NIV)
I didn’t bargain on this
The Gospel of Christ is free, but it is never cheap. 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. It is a call to war.
Yet, there might be some who say, “I did not bargain on this. I’d rather not sign up for battle, but I really want to go to heaven one day.”
There is no way to say this in any diplomatic or subtle way – in any case making it sound anything less than what Jesus said:
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8, NIV)
If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:6, NIV)
There is not really much choice: it is either with Christ, being saved from sin, being loved by the Father, being part of his family, bearing fruit in his name, being hated by this world, and being welcomed into God’s eternal Kingdom when He calls us home. Or, take it easy, not pick a fight with this world, not showing fruit to the glory of the Father, and by thrown in the fire of eternal hell when God calls the end of our days.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15,17, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 July 2013