Table Talk 4: Don't be surprised if you're hated - John 15v18-16v4 - 27th Sept 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: John 15:18-16:4

Click here to listen to the talk

Love one another. But don’t be surprised if you are hated.

In September we’ve been listening in to one of the most precious and intimate conversations – Jesus on the night before he died talking with his friends. And so much of it has been about love. We’ve had Jesus talking about his love for his Father, and his Father’s love for him. He’s been talking his love for his disciples and his disciples’ love for him. He’s been talking most recently about his disciples loving each other. Jesus is really laying it out: to be one of his disciples is to be part of this amazing community of love: loving and being loved by the Lord God; loving and being loved by one another. It’s wonderful, it’s joyful, it’s life-transforming. Listen to last week’s talk on the webpage to see just how far-reaching that is.

But then today, a bit like the tattoos on the knuckles of an aging biker, Jesus moves from talking about love to talking about hate. He’s preparing his disciples for a tough bit of reality. Because the fact is that when you put this community of God’s love in the middle of a world which is in rebellion against God, you find that very often it is hated. Love one another, says Jesus. But don’t be surprised if you are hated.

Look at your Bible and see what I mean. Verse 18: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  19 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.” He couldn’t be clearer, could he?

Now flick over the page to chapter 16 verse 1 to see why he’s telling them this: “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” Verse 4: “I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.”

He’s getting them ready for it, so that when it happens they won’t go astray. They won’t give up. That’s Jesus’ purpose in telling them this. Just like we saw last week, he wants his disciples to keep on following him. That’s the way to life, that’s the way to be fruitful, to stick with Jesus. So when the hatred comes, don’t be put off, he says. Don’t give up. That’s his message for today. It’s quite simple. It’s not complicated. Don’t be surprised if the world hates you. Don’t be put off when it happens.

Now I say it’s simple, but actually we need to take some time to think hard about this. For many Christians around the world and down through history, this is a no-brainer, as they say. It just describes their experience so well that they don’t have to think about this too much, they know this is reality, they just need to listen to Jesus and take encouragements he gives. You know, just imagine fast forwarding 30 years in the lives of those disciples, and these words of Jesus would seem totally clear. Sure enough, they were hated, they were persecuted, they were thrown out of synagogues, they were killed. Just as he said they would be. Or actually for lots and lots of Christians around the world today it’s the same. Just think of the news we’ve heard from Syria and Iraq in the last year. Christian families having that symbol painted on their doors to mark them out as Christians, being told to leave or die, masses being displaced, the kidnappings, the church-burnings, the killings. It’s all happening on a large scale. In all of the talk of the refugee crisis, the ‘migrants’ as they are called, let’s not forget the persecution which is going on. We have an opportunity to help and support brothers and sisters who have been thrown out. That’s loving one another like Jesus said, isn’t it? There’s some information over there about how we can help.

There are people here for whom this is a no-brainer. People in our own congregation who know what it’s like to be hated by their families because they have become Christians. We have people in our church from Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, who know much more about this first hand than I do. If that’s you, don’t give up. Listen to what Jesus says.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us who are not experiencing persecution, what does this say to us? Well, actually I think we’re the people who need to listen hardest. Not because we’re suffering more or anything, we’re clearly not. No, we need to listen more because we’re in danger of having wrong expectations for the Christian life. We might expect things to be easier than they will be. And if we have the wrong expectations, we are in danger of giving up when those expectations are not met. If we don’t expect any hatred, we’ll get a nasty shock if it comes along. And the big thing that Jesus is concerned about is that he doesn’t want us to give up on him. That’s his big concern. Don’t go astray. The thing that worries Jesus is not that his friends might suffer. It’s that his friends might wander away, away from life, away from God. That’s what he’s preventing here.

So let’s look a bit more closely at the why. Why does the world hate Jesus’ disciples? Well first of all what does he mean when he says “world”? It sounds all very general – everybody hates me. All a bit Eeyore. But Jesus doesn’t mean ‘everyone without exception’ or ‘the natural order’ or anything like that. “The world” in John’s gospel is a technical term: it means “humanity in rebellion against God.” Where you have people who are rebelling against God, i.e. people who are not following Jesus, that’s ‘the world’. Those are the people who might well hate Jesus’ disciples. Again: not always. “If the world hates you.” It might well happen.

Why? Well look at verse 19 again: “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.” You don’t belong here. You’re not one of us. Go home to wherever it is you come from. You don’t belong here.

It’s striking how when the apostle Peter writes a letter to Christians he describes them as ‘aliens and strangers’. Intruders, foreigners, unwelcome. It’s that sort of language. Jesus has done something to his followers, he’s chosen us and given us new birth, and that means that we’re not from round here. We don’t fit in in this world. We don’t fit in with the customs, we don’t fit in with the morality, we don’t speak the same language. If we belong to Jesus, we don’t belong here. And so, as so often is the case when people meet others who don’t belong, the response is hostility.

But it’s not just culture shock. There’s a deeper reason. Look at verse 22:

“They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  23 He who hates me hates my Father as well.  24 If I had not done among them what no-one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  25 But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law:`They hated me without reason.'

The way people respond to Jesus’ followers shows up the way they respond to Jesus. And the way they respond to Jesus shows up the way they respond to his Father. Do you see that? The key issue, says Jesus, is how people respond to the one who sent him. To God, his Father.

That’s what happened in Jesus’ ministry, isn’t it? As he says in verse 22, he came and spoke to people. And verse 24 he did things that no one else had ever done. But the more he spoke the more people turned against him. That’s the story of the gospels isn’t it? The more Jesus said and did, the more the hatred grew, culminating in his crucifixion. And, as Jesus says, that happened because he was revealing his Father. He was showing them God. And the more they saw of God, the more they hated him.

It’s that thing we were saying before about “the world.” Do you remember what “the world” in John’s gospel is? It’s humanity in rebellion against God. That’s what sin is in the Bible, rebellion against God. And when rebels get up close and personal with God, that’s when their rebellion is made clear. Think of the revolution in Libya a few years ago, or the one in Romania if you’re old enough to remember it. When the rebels met their leader the anger and hatred boiled over. The closer rebels get to God, the more the anger comes bursting out. Or, as Jesus puts it in verse 22 and 24, that’s when their sin and guilt becomes obvious.

It’s not just or fair, of course. Anyone who knows the story of Jesus knows that. It’s not rational: it’s deeply irrational. As Jesus says: “they hated me without reason.” As a great preacher called Dick Lucas put it, “The cross is proof positive that, given half a chance, man will murder his maker.”

That’s the big reason for the hatred, says Jesus. It’s because of me. It’s because people are against God. So if disciples of Jesus testify about him, which is what Jesus says they’re going to do in verse 28 isn’t it? That is, if you go out there in the world talking about Jesus, living like Jesus, trying to bring people face to face with God by showing them Jesus, don’t be surprised if you get hated. No servant is greater than his master – if they hated me they will hate you also. That’s just following Jesus. If you expect a life of success and respect then I don’t know who you’re following, but it’s not Jesus, is it?

Do you get it? It’s not fun, is it? But it’s true. This is reality. As I say, it happened to those disciples. It happens now. The Christian message, with the claim that Jesus is the only way to God, as we saw the other week, offends people. Christian morality, with its claim that God knows best for our living, offends people. That’s not surprising, if we hear Jesus right. It’s not the disciples themselves people will have an issue with, it’s Jesus, it’s God his Father.

Think of those terrible killings at the University in Kenya 5 months ago. Are you a Christian? Yes. Bang. That was it. Only for that reason. “They will treat you this way because of my name” said Jesus.

Even here in mild Britain the same deep reason exists. The whole phenomenon of internet haters, so called internet trolls, is very now. But there’s nothing that stirs up quite so many angry comments as articles in major websites or newspapers about Christianity. The comments pages go wild. I read an article this week where an atheist guy was saying how he didn’t know how to control his explosive temper on the subject of religion. And there were all these other atheist guys leaving comments saying “it’s ok, it’s only natural to get angry like that.” Jesus would say, yes. That’s what you’d expect. It’s natural for the world against God to be angry with Jesus and his people.

I remember one Saturday being out here on the street handing out free cakes and so on, when a guy came up to me, looking pretty agitated and said “Tell me, what do you think about same sex marriage?” I sort of stuttered and tried turn his question into a conversation by saying in as friendly a manner as I could that I believed that marriage as God has made it is only between a man and a woman but I’d love to talk things over with him, but I never got that far. Mid way through the sentence he turned on his heels and stormed off.

That happens, doesn’t it? When ordinary decent people encounter Jesus’ people, sometimes they get angry. There’s a cosmic clash going on, the world of sin against God, and sometimes it flares up. People will respond irrationally. Christians will be misrepresented and caricatured and mocked. That happens even here in Finchley. It happens everywhere. When it does it can be very painful. The examples I’ve used are pretty remote – people on the internet, people you meet on the street. It’s much harder if it’s a close friend, or a family member who pulls away when they find out more about what we believe. I’ve lost friends like that and it hurts. And that’s still small potatoes compared to the struggles that so many round the world are having.

Do you expect that? You see, I think that sometimes we can be much too optimistic about how attractive we think Christianity will be to people. You know, we’ve got some amazing privileges as Christians, haven’t we? Like we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks: the privileges of knowing the truth about God, of having lasting life, a secure future, and of belonging to a community of genuine love. The world around us is crying out for those things, isn’t it? Londoners crave purpose and security and community and love. But then when we offer it, when we try to share it with people, for many people it just bounces off. Because they don’t want anything to do with the God who is at the heart of it all. We hear Jesus say things like “by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” and we think, “well if we can only love each other like that then the church will be filled.” But it might not. The way we love each other might just underline to people that we don’t belong here. The clearer we show that we are Jesus’ disciples, the more we can expect the sort of reaction Jesus talks about here.

And did you notice, it’s not just non-religious people who do the hating is it? Did you see 16 verse 2? “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” It was the religious people, the God people who were most fierce in persecuting those first disciples. It’s often still the case. The equivalent for us would be that sometimes it’s church leaders, even high ranking ones who are most vocal in their opposition to Christians holding to the gospel and the morality of the Bible. Again, that’s still true. I get dismayed by the way that in this country when a journalist wants to find somebody who speak publicly against biblical beliefs or morality, all too often it seems that there are bishops who are willing to do that. In the last week we’ve had bishop David Walker – no relation by the way – going on the news and accusing Ugandan Bishops of supporting the death penalty for homosexuals, which is flatly not true – the Ugandan church has opposed the death penalty and protected homosexuals. But he was using that as a big stick to hit Christians with on national radio. Change your beliefs about homosexual practice, fit in with the secular world, get with the programme. Sometimes it’s church leaders who are pushing hardest for us to change our beliefs. They’re often the ones who are most angry.

So how should we react when it happens? Well we’ve heard Jesus’ main point, haven’t we? Don’t be surprised. Don’t be put off. As he says in verse 1 “I have told you this so that you will not go astray.” Have the right expectations. Don’t expect to be respected and admired or even treated fairly. When you are treated fairly it’s great, but it’s a bonus. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be put off.

His other instruction to his disciples is clear as well, isn’t it? Verse 26 “When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” He says to his disciples you’ve got to testify about me. That’s your role. You know about me, you’ve been with me, you’ve got to pass that on. Even though that’s the very thing that will create trouble for you. Don’t give up, go on testifying, and know that the power of God’s Holy Spirit will be with you. Testifying is primarily his work – he is all about revealing Jesus to the world, just as Jesus reveals his Father to the world. But the disciples have to join with him, to be caught up in this mission that God is doing of making himself known.

And praise God that they did, didn’t they? With the help of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised, they carried out his instructions. They didn’t give up. They testified to Jesus. And countless millions of others down through the years have done the same, passing the message on with the help of the Holy Spirit, until now it has reached…us.

So what about us?

Are we ready to join in, knowing that it could mean trouble for us? Not that we should go out seeking trouble. Indeed we must make sure that we are not inviting it by being unpleasant. Sadly sometimes Christians don’t remember that. But the Bible is very clear, when we bear witness to Christ we must do it in a Christ-like way. Peter says “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope you have, But do it with gentleness and respect.” If Christians hate there is a problem. We’re not to invite hatred. But even so, hatred might well come.

It would be easy for us to shrink back wouldn’t it? The easy way to avoid trouble is of course to blend in. If the world has a problem with Christians because they don’t belong, the easy thing would be to belong here. To take our values and our morality from the people around us, rather than from the Bible. To try to make our message more appealing to the people around us by taking the edge off it, and therefore robbing it of its power to make an impact. To try to make Christianity cool by taking it less seriously. To just keep quiet and try to be nice people, rather than testifying about Jesus. That would be easy.

But our brothers and sisters down through the years and around the world now know the truth of Jesus’ words. Are we ready too? Listen to the words of this hymn.

1.  Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?

2.  Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fight to win the prize,
And sail through stormy seas?