Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hated For Christ (RP1)

           I came across a headline a while back introducing a new book by yet another “Christian leader.” The headline quoted the author in part when it read: “Stunning Revelations About Bible-Believers Should Send ‘Shock Waves’ Through Christian Leadership.” Ok I’ll admit, the headline got my attention and I had to read the article. I’m not a “Christian leader” by any definition but it sounded like a pretty big deal and maybe something I should know about. I won’t go through all the details of the article but I’ll give you a quick summary: Unbelievers hate Christians because they focus too much of their time at war with the sinful world and not enough time being accepting, loving, and compassionate of the sinful world. Wait! I was so disappointed! Where was the shock wave? I kept waiting for the shock wave! Are Christian leaders supposed to be shocked that unbelievers hate Christians for being salt and light in a sinful world? If you want a shock wave, I’ve got my own headline: “Stunning Revelation About Christian Leaders Who Are Shocked That Unbelievers Hate Christians—They Haven’t Actually Read The Bible!” Here are a few things that are supposed to send “shock waves” through Christian leadership: ‘Christians devote too much time opposing abortion.’ Really? We’re closing in on 60,000,000 babies that have been murdered in America since 1973 when abortion was legalized! Where, exactly, is the opposition? ‘Christians spend too much time engaged in politics.’ Let’s see, did Jesus ever engage the leadership of his day? There was hardly a day that went by during Jesus’ earthly ministry when Jesus didn’t criticize or manage to pick a fight with the Jewish leaders. ‘Christians spend too much time talking about sin.’ Is sin a big deal? Since Christians know the wages of sin is death, is it possible to talk too much about sin? And since Christians believe that Jesus died for those sins, it seems like a really important topic of conversation. ‘Christians spend too much time fighting against homosexuality and not being more welcoming and compassionate toward sinners.’ Forty years ago when I was in elementary school, there was never even a consideration that homosexuality was an acceptable alternative lifestyle. In the four decades since, the percentage of Americans who have self-identified as Christians has remained right around 80%. In comparison, homosexuals, bi-sexuals, and transgenders represent a little less than 3% of the population. Even given that population context, men are now permitted to use public restrooms and dressing rooms designated for women if they happen to feel like a woman. Same-sex marriages are now legal in more than half the states in America. Some Christian businesses have been forced out of business because they refuse to cater same-sex marriage ceremonies. Christian pastors face fines and imprisonment for refusing to perform same-sex weddings. So if there really is a battle going on between Christians and homosexuals and others with abhorrent sexual behavior, Christians appear to be losing the fight. My guess is that it is more likely the 3% don’t like the light that faithful Christians shine on their sinful behavior and have gone to war with Christians, not the other way around. ‘Christians are too obsessed with judgment and condemnation and don’t spend enough time focusing on the love and grace of Jesus.’ That always seems to be the trump card doesn’t it? Don’t judge! We’re all sinners so we’re not allowed to judge even though we make judgments of right and wrong every day. We would never ignore a man who abuses his wife or children—we judge that it is wrong. We would never say that cheating on an exam is acceptable. We make judgments about the behavior of people all the time. This accusation only arises when Christians manage to condemn some cherished sin that people don’t want to give up. What unbelievers don’t seem to understand is that warning them about the dangers of sin is an act of love not an act of judgment. As a parent, I warned my girls with the most earnestness I could muster about the dangers of running out into the street without looking or the dangers of wandering away from me in a crowded place. I told them stories about children who were killed when they ran into the street without looking or stories about children who were stolen away forever from their parents when they wandered out of sight even briefly. When I warned them about these things, I did so because I loved them deeply. Some Christians may issue their warning about sin for less than noble reasons but that makes the danger of sin no less dire.

            The English author, George Orwell, not a theologian or stalwart of Christianity by any means, had a very lucid understanding of the culture around him and its long-term trajectory. Orwell once wrote, “The further a society drifts from the Truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” I am convinced more than ever that Christians are becoming more and more hated every day as society continues to drift farther from the Truth. Salt’s influence becomes all the more pronounced when applied to something that is tasteless and light seems brightest when it is introduced into an environment of profound darkness. This principle has been clearly understood throughout the history of Christianity but seems to be lost on some “Christian leaders” today. Consequently, for some, the revelation that Christians are hated for their Christian witness is now supposed to send “shock waves” throughout Christian leadership. Clearly it’s time for a refresher course on why Christians are Hated For Christ.

Subject Text

John 15:18-25

            18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If 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. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If 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. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”


            By this point, Jesus is closer to the end of His earthly ministry than He is to the beginning. In fact, in Chapter 14, Jesus promised the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit because He would soon be leaving them. Jesus spent three years trying to tell the people that He was the One who would rescue them; the One who would set them free from their bondage to sin; save them from the condemnation resulting from their sin. Many came to Jesus because they believed His offer of salvation even if they didn’t fully understand it. Many came to Jesus because they had some need and heard that He could fill that need somehow. Many others, maybe even most others, refused to believe in Him and hated Him. Some hated Him because of who He claimed to be and others hated Him because He exposed their sins. At its pinnacle, hatred would lead to His death. In our Subject Text, Jesus warns His disciples that they will be hated in the same way that He was hated, not because of who they claimed to be but who they claimed Jesus was and because they exposed peoples’ sins and need for forgiveness—forgiveness that was available only through faith and belief in Jesus.

Text Analysis

            18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.

            When Jesus makes reference to the ”world” in v. 18, He is referring to the sinful culture that refuses to believe in Him. It is important to remember that the use of the word “world” is intended to be pejorative in this case not referring to all unbelievers but specifically to those who have been given the opportunity to believe and have fervently rejected that opportunity. The “world” are those who have picked a side in the war between good and evil; right and wrong; sin and salvation, and stand in opposition to Christ and all those who follow Him. Let’s not forget that sin has caused us to be enemies of God. And enemies of God naturally hate Him. It is therefore inevitable that those who hate God will also hate those who have aligned themselves with God; friends of God. Jesus no longer considered His disciples to be His servants but instead considered them to be friends because they were faithful in doing what He commanded (Jn 15:15). Like the first disciples, Christians are friends of God when we do what is commanded of us. Consequently, we will be hated in the same way that Jesus was hated because He was faithful in carrying out His task of becoming the means to atone for humanity’s sins. “‘The world’ (kosmos) in John’s gospel is described as actively hostile to God, which illustrates sin as enmity. Jesus explained that the reason the world hated him was that he testified to its essentially evil nature (Jn 7:7). The hatred of the world is therefore assumed by Jesus, who warned the disciples to expect it. ‘The ruler of this world’ [Satan], who is judged and cast out at the ‘hour’ of Christ, has clearly usurped the place of God and has brought men into a similar alienation.’ Since the disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world even though they live in the world, it is evident that Jesus himself is the key to the division. Man’s attitude to him profoundly affects his position in the world, i.e. whether or not he becomes a target for hate.”[1]

19If 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.

            The first disciples, like all those who have come after them, are no longer part of the world in the way that John identifies “the world.” Specifically, everything the world is; what the world believes; what the world values; the world’s priorities, no longer defines the disciple. And, according to v. 19, this is precisely why the world hates Christians—because Christians no longer belong to the world and its way. “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. Christians cannot think of themselves as intrinsically superior…But having been chosen out of the world, having been drawn to the Messiah’s love into the group referred to as the Messiah’s ‘own’ who are still in the world, their newly found alien status makes them pariahs in that world, the world of rebels.”[2]

20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

            Back in Chapter 13, Jesus teaches the disciples an important lesson during a foot-washing ceremony where Jesus washes the feet of all the disciples. In doing so, He teaches them that no service to humanity, no matter how menial or degrading, should be beneath them as servants because nothing was beneath Him, the Master. Even though He was by His nature God, He didn’t come to us heralding His divinity. Instead, He made Himself nothing and took on the very nature of a servant; a man. Jesus was fully obedient to His redemptive purpose and in ultimate humility, allowed Himself to be put to death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). Jesus returns to this principle in v. 20. Where previously Jesus taught that they must be willing to serve in the same way He served, He now teaches them the principle is the same when it comes to the way people react to them. If people hate Jesus they will hate His disciples. If people listen to and obey Jesus they will listen to and obey the disciples. Disciples are emissaries; ambassadors; an extension of Christ. Since Christ was hated and put to death, His emissaries or ambassadors should expect no less. “The sayings about bearing the cross form a part of the warning to the disciples to count the cost [of following Jesus]…For Jesus the inevitable implication of being the Christ is suffering, death, and the opposition of men. Inevitably, therefore, those who associate with him as the Christ are liable to the same fate.”[3]

            21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

            What Jesus says in v. 21a seems a bit odd when He says that we will be mistreated because of His name. Unfortunately v. 21b just adds to the confusion. Let me explain it this way: In our present day, parents usually give little thought to the meaning of the names they give their children. Names or a derivation thereof are often passed down from one generation to the next. Or perhaps a name is chosen based on personal preference (that’s how we picked the names of our children anyway). But in ancient Judaism, this wasn’t the case. Ideally, a name represented a person’s personality. Names may also be prophetic in nature; foretelling a person’s hoped-for destiny. A child’s name could also be a form of prayer that the person bearing the name will live up to the potential conveyed by the name. Let’s see how this works in relation to the name of Jesus without getting too terribly deep in the weeds with the explanation.

The name “Jesus” is the English translation of the Greek name Iesous. The ancient Hebrew translation is Yehoshua which is translated back to English as “Joshua” (I know it’s weird that it doesn’t translate back to “Jesus,” but that’s not really unusual. In fact, the Greek Iesous is translated as “Joshua” in Heb 4:8 so clearly the names are interchangeable at times). The Hebrew translation, Yehoshua, is derived from the same Hebrew root as the word signifying “Jehovah is salvation.” Therefore, the name “Jesus” is significant because it means “God our Savior.” In this sense, the name of Jesus represents his personality; “Savior.” When the angel appeared to Joseph, while Mary was pregnant with Jesus, the angel said that Mary was to name the child Jesus because He would save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21). In this respect, Jesus’ name is prophetic as it foretells His divine destiny. Let’s string the words and ideas from above together: Yehoshua=Jehovah + Savior=God our Savior. Jesus=Yehoshua; Jesus = God our Savior. The fullness of God in “Jesus” (Col 1:19)! The writer of the Book of Hebrews as well as Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, say that Jesus is the exact representation of God in His nature and essence. To know Jesus is to know God. It should therefore follow that to know God is to know Jesus. And that’s Jesus’ point in v. 21b that they mistreat Jesus because they don’t know Him because they don’t know God. “The guilt of the world consists in its rejection of the revelation brought by Jesus, and since that revelation is from God it entails the rejection of God himself, which is direst sin. Moreover the works of Jesus are God’s works in and through him; hence it can be said that the world has ‘seen’ God, i.e., seen him in action in the person of his Son, but its response has been to hate both the Son and the Father in him.”[4]

22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

            It’s hard to understand v. 22 in light of the nature of sin that began with Adam in Genesis. Based on what Jesus says in this verse, it seems to imply that sin didn’t exist before Jesus revealed Himself to the world. But now that Jesus has revealed Himself and given the world the opportunity to believe in Him, if they refuse to believe then they own their sin. So what is Jesus saying about the guilt of the world’s sin before His revelation? What Jesus is saying is not that sin didn’t exist before He came. What Jesus is saying is that there was nothing the people could do about their sin. They could sacrifice animals year after year after year and meticulously keep the Law but the effect of their sins would remain—separation from God. Consequently, God provided another way; a way to deal with their sins once and for all and that way would be Jesus. Jesus was the answer to dealing with their sins and now that He had presented Himself to them as the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the means of dealing with their sins, if they refuse to accept Him then they have no excuse for being separated from God because of their sins because God has given them a way out—Jesus. “Although sin was obviously present long before Jesus came into the world…The contrary-to-fact condition also recalls what Jesus said to the Pharisees after he healed the man born blind: ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now you say that “we see.” Your sin remains. This too he said against the background of an announcement that ‘I came into the world’ for a dual purpose—not only ‘that those who do not see might see,’ but ‘so that those who see might go blind’ (Jn 9:39). In this sense the ‘coming’ of Jesus creates not only ‘friends,’ but ‘sinners’ as well. In both passages, the phrase ‘but now,’ or ‘as it is,’ brings us back to reality, and the reality is that ‘Your sin remains,’ or, here more specifically, ‘they have no excuse for their sin.’ That is, they are now fully accountable. They cannot claim innocence on the basis that they have not been warned, or have not heard the word of God! They have heard it from the lips of Jesus, but have not recognized his words as words from God. In hating him and persecuting him they have (unwittingly) hated as well the One they worship as God.”[5]

            23He who hates me hates my Father as well.

            Jesus issues quite an indictment in v. 23 against those who oppose Him. At this point Jesus has made it pretty clear who He is so when the people hated and rejected Him they hated and rejected the Father. We take this for granted today because at least most Christians have a rudimentary knowledge of the Trinity—God the Son, God the Father, and God the Spirit. But for those to whom Jesus first revealed Himself, there wasn’t even a rudimentary understanding of the Trinity. It is important to understand that this is precisely why Jesus performed the many miracles He did. It wasn’t specifically for the purpose of healing just some people or raising just some people from the dead. No, the purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to validate who He was. Jesus’ miracles weren’t a show, they were a sign; they bore the signature of God. “Jesus is the uniquely commissioned agent of God who, in his task of bringing the salvation of God to the world, exercises a unique, mediating function between God and human beings. Because Jesus is the designated agent of God, he also represents God to human beings in such a way that the Gospel can say that to encounter Jesus is to encounter God, to have seen him is to have seen the Father, or to know and receive him is to have known and received the Father. As God’s agent Jesus carries out a mission which mediates God’s salvation to the world, as is manifested in the signs which he does.”[6]

            24If 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.

            In v. 24 we find out from Jesus Himself the purpose behind the miracles He performed among His followers and others who didn’t yet believe in Him. People, usually unbelievers, tend to get twisted in knots about Jesus’ miracles. Many use the absence of miracles today as proof that God doesn’t exist. I suspect that this attitude is generally prevalent in the West or in more modern cultures. But I know that some of you are first-hand witnesses of miracles in your own lives or in the lives of someone you know. You know God’s power and it makes it difficult to deny His existence. However, many of the people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles nevertheless refused to believe in Him. Many continued to call for miracles so Jesus could prove who He said He was. But Jesus said they didn’t believe Him in the face of the miracles He had already performed. The people just used the demand for miracles as an excuse to not believe. In fact, after Jesus’ greatest miracle of all, rising from the dead, people then and now still refuse to believe. They witnessed Jesus’ many miracles and eventually they knew the tomb was empty so they had all the evidence they needed to believe yet they persisted in their unbelief. “He had not only come and spoken, but had done works which none other had done. The miracles wrought by Christ were themselves of a kind fitted to produce faith. In them men were meant to see God. So that He could say…This is their guilt, that they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.”[7]

25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”

            Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law (Mt 5:17). And, according to v. 25, the fact that the people hated Him was just another fulfillment found in Psalms 35:19 and 69:4 that those anointed by God are often hated for no reason. In the case of these two Psalms it is the anointed king David who is hated for no reason while in our Subject Text it is the Messiah (Heb. ‘anointed’) who is hated for no reason. Think about it, what did Jesus do that warranted the peoples’ hatred? Was it giving sight to the blind? Was it healing the sick? Was it turning water into wine at a wedding ceremony? Was it feeding thousands of men, women, and children? Was it raising a son or daughter or brother from the dead? It would be foolish to think that Jesus was hated for any of these reasons although I suppose in some strange way it’s possible. A pretty good argument could be made that He was hated because He claimed to be equal with God. Although I’m sure there were probably some sincere and pious Jews who were offended by this, most of the religious leaders hated Jesus because the people began to follow Him instead of them. In truth, I think that Jesus was hated for another reason unrelated to any of these things and I think it explains why His followers since then have also been hated for what seems like no reason. Jesus convicted them of their sins and their need for forgiveness that was available through Him. “God’s own action and demands are represented in him, Jesus. The world, however, like everyone who does evil, hates the light. It hates the Revealer without cause, because he bears witness that its works are evil. This hatred is directed also against Jesus’ disciples. They are counted blessed when men hated them for the Revealer’s sake. Those, on the other hand, who do no reckon themselves separated from the world are not hated.”


            It happens to be an occupational hazard that I experience the reality of this lesson every week. For example, this week I had a conversation with a young man who was lamenting the poor choices we have for presidential candidates that made it difficult for him to choose which was best. I told him that I couldn’t really help him make that choice. He said it all left him afraid for his future. I told him that I could help him with that. I proceeded to tell him about the peace that is available through faith in Jesus and trusting the future to Him. He laughed at me and implied that he wasn’t about to believe the words of a “simple-minded man.” It doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t surprise you when your witness invites insults and hatred.

            Consequently, can we stop pretending for a minute that there’s a way we can get unbelievers to stop hating us and accept the fact that Christians are destined to be hated because Jesus was hated? Do you want to know something that really should send “shock waves” through Christian leaders? That there are Christian leaders who think that the key to winning unbelievers to Christ is to get them to like us even though that is not taught anywhere in the Bible. Here’s the thing, no one wants to be hated. But serving others and preaching the Gospel does not require that people like us. In fact, the objective is for our lives and our words to be a bright light that shines in the darkness that sin has created in the world. Unbelievers don’t like it when Christians share their biblical beliefs and speak out against unbiblical practices, they don’t like the biblical ethics of Christian business owners and business leaders, they don’t like Christians to influence politics with their Christian worldview, they don’t like Christians insisting that Jesus is the only way to be saved. For that matter, they don’t like that Christians insist that people are sinners that need to be saved. So what must Christians do to be liked by unbelievers? Well let’s start by taking the inverse of all the things I just listed. Unbelievers like Christians who keep their beliefs to themselves. Unbelievers like Christians whose business practices are influenced by profits not Christian ethics. Unbelievers like Christians who don’t allow their Christian worldview to influence their politics. Unbelievers like Christians who believe that Jesus is their personal means for salvation but don’t insist that He is the only means for salvation. Unbelievers like Christians who don’t talk much about sin or the need for salvation. So the best way for Christians to be liked by unbelievers—DON’T BE CHRISTIANS!

            Finally, I have a word of instruction for unbelievers and Christians. If you’re an unbeliever and you’re waiting for all Christians to come around to your way of thinking and acting, you’re going to have to be satisfied with the few weak-kneed Christians who have given in to your demands for them to be more like you. For you Christians out there who are trying to figure out how to make unbelievers like you, stop! You’re wasting your time! You don’t belong to their world and that’s why they hate you. The only way to get them to like you is to rejoin them in their world. Instead, I would like to suggest that you change your perspective. You cannot be friends with God and friends with the world at the same time. There have been religious leaders in all ages that have tried to figure out a way around this because they just can’t accept that the two are mutually exclusive even though that’s exactly what the Bible teaches. Again, no one likes or wants to be hated. It seems counter-intuitive I know but just because we are hated doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. In fact, from a biblical perspective, the exact opposite is probably true in most cases. So here’s what you must resolve to do and be if you confess to be a Christian: Proclaim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that salvation is found in no one or nothing else but Jesus. Live holy lives according to God’s Word and the example left us by Jesus. Expose the sin and evil in the world for what it is leaving room for redemption through repentance. Hate sin but do not hate the sinner. Count the cost that comes with your allegiance to Jesus and accept the biblical fact that that allegiance will mean that you will be Hated For Christ.

[1] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), p. 194.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John—The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 525.
[3] Colin Brown, gen. ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 404.
[4] George R. Beasley-Murray, John—Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 276.
[5] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John—The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), pp. 821-822.
[6] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pp. 378-379.
[7] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), p. 833.

(Audio version; Music: "Grace to Grace" and "Open Heaven" by: Hillsong)