“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (St. John 15:19)
There is a lot of false advertising on television these days. Sad to say, much of it comes from people claiming to be Christians.
Flip through the channels some evening and listen to many of the so-called “TV. evangelists.” All you need to do, they say, is to come to faith in Christ as your Savior, and those debilitating migraine headaches will abate. Your debt will disappear. Your family life will improve. In short, you’ll have clear sailing all your days.
Yes, there are everlasting blessings that arise from believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer. The blessings that come from Christ cannot be matched by this world and all its pleasures.
But this morning, you and I need a draught of reality from our Lord.
The world is going to hate you if you follow Jesus. The world – al those who are not Christian, despite what they might claim – will actively oppose you, because you stand for Christ.
In our passage from Christ’s final discourse in St. John’s gospel, the Lord says nothing of debt being erased or familial relations flourishing. Not a word about physical healing or earthly prosperity.
Yet Jesus does talk a lot about the world’s opposition to you as a Christian. He talks about rejection because you believe in grace. He talks about hate for you who are supposed to practice love.
Following Jesus has some consequences, consequences that place sometimes difficult demands on you. First Jesus says that if you follow him, you will be hated by people who ought to be intimate with you. Second, Jesus teaches that if you follow him, you must love people who are sometimes unlovable.
But if you follow him, you will have a witness to the world – a witness with eternal repercussions.
Following Christ places sometimes-difficult demands on you; but follow him nonetheless. Eternal life is worth the cost.
The Lord doesn’t mince words in this passage. When he says “if,” concerning the world’s active hatred of you and me as his followers, he’s not leaving your persecution up in the air. It’s a fact that you will suffer for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The world, which is how Jesus describes all those who don’t believe on him as their Lord and Savior, hated Christ long before it hated you and me. St. John says in the beginning of his gospel that Jesus came unto his own, the Jews, those who should have known who he was and delighted that God had come to save them from their sins – but his own received him not.
His own, in fact, killed him.
Why did the world hate Christ and, by implication, you and me, his followers? Simply because the Lord came and spoke God’s convicting truth to them, and they could not stand to hear it.
Now, notice who’s doing the hating: the “religious” people. Christ quotes Psalm 69 to say the Jews hated him without a cause. The world hates him and you and me without cause, but it’s especially heinous to see so-called “spiritual” people hating God incarnate.
Being in this church this morning doesn’t make you a follower of Christ. Sometimes those who have been around the Scriptures and the church all their lives have no living faith in Christ. Sometimes they actually hate Christ.
Jesus came to be with us, God in the flesh, to “explain” the invisible God to us, St. John says in the beginning of this gospel. In his miraculous works, and especially in his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, Christ revealed God’s majesty, holiness and love to us. In his words that he spoke, he told us God’s eternal truth – all you need to know to be in a right relationship with the Lord who created you to love Him.
But when Christ came, he made a claim on human lives – yes, yours and mine as well – that makes us uncomfortable. When Christ came, he showed himself to be who he claimed: the eternal Son of God, who rightly deserves your worship and total obedience.
He showed himself to be the eternal God – and the people of the world didn’t like it.
If the definition of “success” for the church is in fact what so many Christians wrongly conceive it to be – big numbers in attendance on Sunday morning – then Jesus failed miserably. The crowds dwindled steadily during his three years of public ministry. His own disciples abandoned him in his time of greatest need.
Why? Because you and I don’t like it when God gets close and makes his rightful claim on our minds and on our hearts and on our bodies.
Oh, the Jews had God’s Word, and they knew what sin was before Christ came to earth. They and all humans had sin; everyone is born into this world rebelling against the eternal God.
Yet when he came and taught, they could see God before them, convicting them of the pride of self-worship, revealing their spiritual deadness and calling them to humble trust in him. They saw Jesus laying claim to every aspect of their beings, and so they killed him.
You and I are no better. We are not above our Master; thus we can expect to be rejected by our bosses when we refuse to take part in dishonest business practices. Young people, expect to be rejected by your friends when you refuse to get drunk or to engage in immorality. You will be called a “stick in the mud,” and you might lose so-called “friends.” Expect to have family members avoid you because of your Christian convictions.
You might even expect to face death, as did 150,000 believers around the world last year.
This world, despite its claims, knows nothing of the eternal God. Humans, apart from the saving grace of God in Christ, would much rather craft idols and please their flesh instead of offering all to God.
His suffering will, in some measure, be your suffering as well.
Following Jesus will require that you follow his suffering. Secondly, Jesus says, following him means demonstrating his type of sacrificial love for your fellow Christians.
Jesus said that his followers were no longer servants but friends, because he had explained his divine mission of salvation to them. They were in his inner circle.
Yet they were to demonstrate that they were his friends by loving one another in the same manner that he had loved them.
They of course could not offer themselves as the atoning sacrifice for sins to God the Father. Only Christ himself could make that tremendous a sacrifice. The greatest love of all, though, was for Christ to lay aside glory for a time and to suffer a humiliating death for his friends, who at the time were his enemies because of their rebelliousness.
You and I could not choose to love this Savior. Jesus says in this passage that he chose you to bear fruit for him, and part of that fruit is to love your fellow Christians self-sacrificially.
Now practicing this type of love isn’t easy. As a matter of fact it’s foreign to the natural human being. You and I seek to serve self first; place two sinners side-by-side for the last cup of water in a desert, and guess what happens. Sharing? Not quite.
A person in the church makes a snide comment about your casserole or your prayer. Jesus says to put yourself aside, to forgive and to love – even as he put himself aside and loved you. You want the lead role in the church musical, as does someone else. You gladly let that person have the lead role. A Christian friend needs to unload her worries to you. You’re busy. Instead of scurrying away, though, you listen to her concerns and pray for her.
This type of sacrificial love would be impossible had not Christ chosen you, saved you, transformed you from the inside out and equipped you with his Word and with prayer.
But he has chosen you to follow him – and to be a witness to a hateful, hating, self-serving world of just how freeing and transforming the love of Christ really is.
It is possible that you are not a Christian. You might have attended church – but worshipped your own God instead of the God of Scripture. Examine your heart this morning and see who your Lord really is. Do you hate Christ because of the absolute claim he makes on your heart, mind, soul and body, or do you rejoice in the life that only he can bring you?
It is possible also that you are a real believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer and Friend, yet you have been living in a fantasy world. You have avoided serving him, perhaps for fear of rejection, or you have tried to make peace with the sinful ways of this world while thinking Christ will make your life smooth sailing from hereafter.
This world hates you. Be sure that you know this fact, because you will feel that hatred in your life. Even in an ostensibly “Christian town” like Leakesville, even from so-called “Christians.” And you will find it hard to love your fellow believers some days, because they will say and do mean things despite the genuineness of their faith in Christ.
But when you choose to put self aside, to take up your cross and to put others (and Christ) before yourself, you are witnessing to the glorious grace of Christ to this sinful world. You are pleasing God.
You’re not alone: God has given you His Holy Spirit, who also bears witness to the truth of Christ. The Spirit will guide and strengthen even the weakest of believers.
So why suffer rejection and potential pain, both physical and emotional, for Christ? Why love others before yourself?
Because this cause is an eternal, blessed cause. This Savior brings life, and he brings it more abundantly. For when you see the love of God poured out for you – yes, you! – on the cross of shame, you have seen perfect love and perfect forgiveness, the sort of love that deserves your all.