Monday, April 20, 2015

Real Life in the Real World (John 15:18-27)


There comes a point in adulthood when a grown man can say without embarrassment or apology that he enjoys fairy tales. It is not at a specific age, so much as at a milestone of life. Perhaps it comes when, sharing those long forgotten stories with our children, we rediscover that there was more to these stories than first met the eye in our childhood. Though we often consider fairy tales to be children’s stories, I have begun to think they originated more for the enjoyment of the adults who told them to the children. After all, as Chesterton said, “When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. In fact,” Chesterton writes, “a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.”[1]

I think one of the reasons I have come to enjoy fairy tales so much is that they provide us a brief escape from the real world in which we live. In fairy tales, the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and everyone lives happily ever after. In that regard, they foreshadow the end times when Christ will right every wrong, vindicate His glory in this sin-stained world, exercise perfect judgment, and bring His redeemed church into eternal joy. But until that time, this fallen world is the scene of suffering, tragedy, hardship, and injustice. Christians are not immune to these difficulties on the basis of our personal relationship with God through Christ. No, rather the Lord Jesus tells us that on the basis of that personal relationship with Him, we should expect to be treated harshly by the world around us. This is not a fairy tale life, it is real life. This is not fantasyland, it is the real world.

Six times in two verses of our text, we find the word “world.” In Greek, it is the word kosmos, and the word has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to planet earth, and it can refer to the human race. But, its most common use in the New Testament, particularly in John’s writings, is the system of fallen humanity operating in rebellion and opposition to the God who created them. The “world,” when used in this way, refers to the “values, pleasures, pastimes, and aspirations” of human beings who are fully driven by their sinful natures.[2] This is the “world” in which we live. And Jesus promises us here in our text, among many other places, that real life in this real world is going to be difficult for the followers of Christ.

We see it in the culture around us every day, do we not? For some of us, the recent shifts in our cultural climate have been a rude awakening. In the American south, Christian values have been the predominant cultural influence for generations. Today, that influence is all but vanished, replaced by the values of the world. As Trevin Wax has recently said, “It’s time we recognized we are no longer the “moral majority” and embrace our identity as the “missional minority.” This is particularly true of the church in the American South. Whereas once in my own lifetime, I can remember a value system, rooted in the Christian faith, that influenced even the unbelievers in our culture; today we find churches influenced by the world’s value system, with only a small remnant of Gospel-focused Christianity holding fast to the faith. This remnant is the missional minority which must confront the hostile world around it with a humble but prophetic witness for Christ.

While we bemoan the changes that are occurring in our society, the Lord Jesus promised His followers that days like this would come. Most Christians around the world and throughout history would wonder what has taken so long for it to come to us. What we are only beginning to experience has been the norm for Christians over the last 2,000 years. We have been living out a spiritual fairy tale in a relative fantasy land. But now it is time for us to live real life in the real world. And Jesus tells us how to do that here in these verses. These are His promises for living real life in the real world.

The first one is this …

I. We will experience the world’s hatred.

At least seven times in the passage before us, we find the word “hate” in some form. Every time we find it, Jesus is either telling how the world has responded to Him, or how the world will respond to His followers. So, we have in verse 18 a conditional statement, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” When we as Christians find ourselves on the receiving end of the world’s hatred, we must remember that we are receiving what Jesus Himself received. Jesus is telling us that the hatred of the world is normal and to be expected. It is what He endured, and as He says in verse 20, “A slave is not greater than his master.” He tells His disciples there, “Remember the word that I said to you.” He said it in John 13:16, but there it was as a positive exhortation. He was telling them that if He served them in love, they should serve one another in love, because the servant is not greater than his master. They will know that we are Christians by our love for one another. But here the same principle applies negatively. If Christians are known by their love, the world is known by its hate. Not only do we have the same responsibilities as our Master, but we can also expect the same response as He did. Jesus said, “I’ve told you this already – don’t expect the world to treat you any better than they treated Me.” And they hated Him, so they will hate us. We will experience this, and we must expect it because Christ has promised it. As John writes in 1 John 3:13, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”

If we were to ask, “Why does the world hate Christians?” the first answer would be because the world hates Christ. We are hated because of our representation of Him. But why does the world hate Jesus? In John 7:7, He says that He is hated by the world because He testifies of it, that its deeds are evil. In verse 22 of our text, Jesus says, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” He does not mean that they would have been innocent of all sin, but they would have been able to say that they didn’t know they were sinning if Christ had not come into the world to preach to them. But, they have no excuse. They have seen Him; they have heard Him. They cannot claim ignorance of their sinfulness anymore.

He says similarly in verse 24, “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Again, it is not that they would have been innocent of all sin, but they would have been able to plead some kind of special exception that they did not what or in whom to believe. But Jesus said, “I did works among them that no one else did.” His works were the testimony of His divine authority, the validation of His words. God had come to confront the world in its sin and save them from it, but rather than turning to Him in repentance and faith, they turned on Him in hatred and murder. But Jesus said in verse 25 that they did it to fulfill what was written in their own Scriptures, “They hated Me without a cause.”

The world hates us because of our representation of Him. As our lives are being transformed by Christ into His own likeness, we are a visible reminder to the world of Jesus Christ. Our refusal to join the world in the folly of its sin is an unspoken message of condemnation against them. Our witness to them, offering them the message of salvation in Christ, is often despised. We should not be surprised. The world hated Jesus. As we become more like Him, speak His words, and do His works in the world, they will hate us to because we represent Him.

The world also hates Christians because of our relationship with Him. He says in verse 19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.” If you had the same values, the same outlook, the same desires, motives, and pursuits of the world, you would be the most popular person in the world. In fact, if you find yourself receiving the adoration of the world, you should beware. John Calvin said, “It is not right for Him to be hated by the world and we who represent Him to enjoy the favor of the world.”[3] Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.” The love of the world is an indicator that all may not be well in your relationship with Christ. But if all is well in your relationship with Him, your desires, motives, values, and outlook have been changed. Those changes in you are a demonstration that you no longer belong to the world. You belong to Christ. He says, “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” The world hates you because of your relationship with Jesus.

William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, said that the world “would not hate angels for being angelic; but it does hate men for being Christians. It grudges them their new character; it is tormented by their peace; it is infuriated by their joy.”[4] Let’s suppose that you suddenly discovered that you could fly. You simply woke up one morning and found that by snapping your fingers, you could lift off the ground and fly wherever you wanted to go with ease. Well, this is something that can obviously not be kept secret, so you begin to tell others about your newfound ability. They snap their fingers, but nothing happens, they can’t fly like you can fly. Now, at first they may pat you on the back and smile as they say, “That’s really great for you. I am really happy that you have discovered this about yourself, and I hope you really enjoy it.” But every time you go zipping past them through the air, there is an increasing burden of bitterness in their heart toward you. “There goes that old show off again. I hope he hits a tree.” Soon, you may find that it is very lonely being the only person you know who can fly.

John Gillespie Magee was a Word War 2 pilot who wrote a poem about the sensation of flying called “High Flight” which begins, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.” This is what the Christian can say: I have slipped the surly bonds of this world, having been chosen out of it by Jesus. The rest of the world hates that about you. As Carson writes,

The world is a society of rebels, and therefore finds it hard to tolerate those who are in joyful allegiance to the King to whom all loyalty is due …. Former rebels who have by the grace of the King been won back to loving allegiance to their rightful monarch are not likely to prove popular with those who persist in rebellion. … [H]aving been chosen out of the world, having been drawn by the Messiah’s love into the group referred to as the Messiah’s ‘own’ who are still in the world (13:1), their newly found alien status makes them pariahs in … the world of rebels.[5]

When it comes to real life in the real world, Jesus has promised us that we will experience the world’s hatred. Now we come to the second promise:

II. We may encounter the world’s persecution.

Persecution is a word that seems to take on degrees of meaning. Like “beauty,” persecution seems to be in the eye of the beholder. When I was threatened with arrest in Massachusetts several years ago for handing a man a gospel tract in the street, I did not consider it to be persecution. I was not being singled out because I was a Christian, but rather it was because this guy went into a rage and began causing a scene, and blamed me for “disturbing the peace.” Thankfully the officer was reasonable and, no harm was inflicted upon me. Some may call that persecution. I wouldn’t. Last week, a 15 year old Christian boy in Lahore, Pakistan was walking to his job, and he was approached by two Muslims who asked to what religion he belonged. When he said he was a Christian, those men beat him, covered him in kerosene, and set him on fire. On this past Wednesday, he died. That is most definitely persecution, no matter how you define it.[6]

Christians do not have a monopoly on persecution. Others are persecuted in the world, and Christians have been guilty of persecuting others – even fellow Christians. But Jesus promised His disciples that they may encounter persecution. He said in verse 20, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” This is a conditional statement. If one part is true, the other will follow. So, how did they treat Jesus? They persecuted Him. There you go; you may experience it as well. It is, as one writer has said, “that the wave that began to rise with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain gathered through the ages until it ‘broke in fury on the cross, and we are struggling in its broken waters.’”[7]

Hatred is an emotional state of being; persecution is its physical outworking. All of us will experience the hatred. Some of us may encounter the persecution, in varying degrees. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12 that all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. That seems pretty certain. But Jesus says in verse 21 that “all these things they will do to you” are being done “for My name’s sake.” When the world persecutes the believer in Christ, it is still taking out its frustrations with Jesus upon those who follow Him. We are receiving the brutality that the world would give to Him if they could. But what the world does not realize is that Christ is receiving it that way as well. You may recall how, prior to his conversion, the Apostle Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christians. When he encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road, Jesus said to Him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” What Saul was doing to the followers of Christ, Christ Himself was receiving as being done unto Him. So as we suffer for Him, we know that we share in His sufferings, and He shares in ours. Thus Paul says in Philippians 3:10 that he wants to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. He suffers with us when we suffer for Him.

Now, there are a few disclaimers we need to issue here. First, just because someone is hated or persecuted does not mean that they are followers of Christ. All kinds of people are hated and persecuted in the world, and some have concluded that their sufferings must be an indication of God’s favor upon them. While sufferings are no sure sign of God’s displeasure, neither are they a sure sign of His pleasure. So, we must not think that all is well with ourselves or anyone else just because they are hated and persecuted. We should not go out seeking persecution and hatred in order to prove our faithfulness to God. If we are faithful, it will find us. Second, we must live in such a way that when we are hated and persecuted, it will be for the offense of the Gospel, and not the offensiveness of our own personalities and dispositions which may be unnecessarily offensive. So, our mission is not to go out and be offensive. I have known many pastors who were hated by their congregations, and they say, “Those people hate me because of the Word of God.” What I want to say, and sometimes do say, to them is, “No, they hate you because you are a jerk, and that has nothing to do with how they feel about the Word of God.” We are to live humble lives, saturated in love, as pleasant and joy-filled followers of Jesus, so that the reason for the world’s hatred is the name of Jesus and His Word. The Gospel is to be the great offense, not our personalities or presentations of it.

And this brings us to the final promise concerning the Christian’s real life in the real world:

III. We must engage in the Lord’s mission.

How should a Christian live in a world that hates and persecutes Christians? Should we retreat from the world? Hide in our church buildings and busy ourselves with religious activities so that we never interact with the world? Be silent about our faith so as to not cause any trouble? Maybe just do good humanitarian deeds in hopes that by so doing, someone may detect that we are followers of Jesus and want to join us? No, Jesus actually calls us to engage the world with our testimony for Him as we become part of His mission to redeem this lost and dying world.

In verse 21, Jesus says that the world will do “all these things … to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” Why does the lost world do what they do? Friends, the reason the world hates and persecutes Christians is because the world does not know God! In fact, we can see by a thread of logic running all the way through this passage that the world hates God, because it hates Jesus and His followers. So, Jesus says to His followers that in this world filled with people who do not know God and hate what they do know about Him, we must engage in His mission to rescue them from perishing.

Remember that we were once there, without hope and without God in the world (in the words of Ephesians). We too were ignorant of God and at enmity with Him. But we were rescued. Jesus says that He chose us out of the world (v19). There are some people who misunderstand the purposes of Jesus’ sovereign grace, and think that this is something to boast of. “I am among the chosen ones! Look at me!” No friends, we are looking at this upside down. Jesus chose us because we were too ignorant and sinful to choose Him. We loved darkness rather than light. We were dead in our sins and could nothing to move ourselves toward God. And so it was in grace and mercy that the Lord chose us, not because we were worth choosing, but because He had PITY on us. He loves us, not because we are lovable, but because He is loving. We are no better than the world. We aren’t smarter, more beautiful, more charming, or in any other way superior to the world. We are simply saved out of the world by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. So, this should humble us and move us to have love and pity for those who are still enslaved to the world. Someone, maybe several of those who had been rescued by saving grace, was humble enough to lovingly bring us to Jesus. We must be humble enough to do the same.

Now, we might say, “How in the world are we to engage a lost world that hates Christians and wants to persecute us?” It sounds pretty intimidating, doesn’t it? Its like when Jesus said to His disciples that He was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. I think I saw that movie on National Geographic, and it didn’t go well for the sheep. But Jesus says here in verse 26 that we are not to engage the lost world alone. He says that the Holy Spirit is coming. He is our Helper, sent by Christ from the Father, the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit is coming into the world to testify. He will give testimony to the Person and work of Jesus Christ. How will He do this? Verse 27 says, “and you will testify also.”

The Holy Spirit’s testimony to the Person and work of Christ comes into the world through the testimony of us, the followers of Christ. His testimony of truth about who Jesus is and what He has done and said begins to flow through us as we add our testimony to His. It is an interesting thing that the Spirit is here called “the Spirit of Truth.” Testifying must be rooted in truth. The Spirit is testifying of the truth, and we are proclaiming the same testimony of truth, and the Bible says that the evidence of two or three witnesses is sufficient to establish a fact. Friends, as we give testimony to Christ through our words and deeds, we are adding our testimony to that of the Holy Spirit Himself and making a compelling case to a lost and dying world.

The good news is that, though we will experience hatred and persecution, we will see some believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Look at verse 20 again. Jesus says, “If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Now, by and large, the world did not keep the word of Jesus. But, some did. It was a relative few, but there were some. He was saying these very words to some of them. Some of us are here in this room today. We have kept the word of Jesus. When it came to us we believed it and turned and trusted in Him. And Jesus said that the world will respond to His word when we share it the same way it responded when He shared it. Some hated Him, some persecuted Him, but some – a relative few – believed, and we can expect the same. There will be some who will believe. It will be a relative few more than likely. Jesus still says that the way is narrow that leads to life and few there be that find it. But thank God for a relative few! It is for the sake of those relative few whom Jesus will choose to remove from this world and make His own that we must weather the hatred and persecution and move forward engaging in His mission to redeem a lost world. We will do this as we give Spirit-empowered testimony to who He is and what He has done for us.

Jesus came into the world and spoke like no one before Him ever did. He did things that no one else can do. Most importantly, He died for our sins when He laid down His life on the cross that we might be saved. He said that if anyone believes in Him, they would not perish but have everlasting life. Some hated Him for saying and doing those things. Some persecuted Him and took part in calling for and carrying out His murder. But some believed. Some still do. I wonder if you have? If you never have before you can today. Turn to Jesus and trust Him to save you. And if you are a Christian, though you are still in the world, you are not of the world. Jesus has taken you for Himself from this world, and the world may hate you and persecute you for His sake, but you must continue to engage the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of those who will believe upon Him in response to your testimony.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Moody: Chicago, 2009), Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 4, Location 1078.
[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 4.1190.
[3] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 363.
[4] Cited in Robert H. Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 581.
[5] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 525.
[6] Accessed April 17, 2015.
[7] Mounce, citing George Reith, 581.

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