Date: 20 Aug 2017
Text: John 15:18-16:16
My aim with this series of sermons under the general title of Living in Christ is to show how we can live as Christians in a hostile modern world and to show how relevant the Bible is to modern living. Although most of what we have looked at so far was written in the 1st century I believe it is still valid and applicable to today.
Now whilst I’ve read quite a long passage (John 15:18-16:16) I only want us to concentrate on a few verses, specifically 15:18-19, 23 and 24b-25, a fascinating few verses that say a lot in very few words.
How do you view the world if you view it at all? Do you look at the global events and let them influence you or do you focus on local issues that have a much more direct influence on your daily lives? Trying to keep up with world events can be both interesting and difficult especially as we try and interpret what is happening in various parts of the world. When we look at what is happening in North Korea and Venezuela it is very easy to become deeply depressed. Then if we look nearer to home and consider the numbers of ‘refugees’ flooding into Spain having been prevented from landing in Italy and Greece, we see more problems building up for the EU. Add to all that the activities of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, and we can only see a world in turmoil.
Things don’t appear to be much better here in the UK with political unrest over Brexit; multiple examples of sexual abuse by gangs of Muslim men and terrorist attacks happening despite all the preventative work being undertaken by the security services. The growing secularisation of the state should also be a major worry to Bible believing Christians. However, if we only focus on all the bad stuff we would soon become very depressed indeed.
Sadly though this is the world in which we live; it is the world that we are part of whether we like it or not and we have to make the best of it. It is also the world in which we have to try and live out our faith, something which isn’t easy given the anti-Christian rhetoric that emanates from the written and broadcast media and various politically motivated pressure groups. No matter which way we look or what we say or do, Christians are ridiculed for their faith and mocked for believing in Someone Who many think is an ‘invisible’ God; a God Who sent His Son to die a cruel death only to be raised to life again three days later. Many in the world in which we live find all that too difficult to comprehend to such an extent that they won’t even try to understand. Not only that, but at a time when we supposedly have equality and diversity rules and laws, such laws seem to exclude anyone with a faith in Jesus Christ.
It is important for Christians to remember that whilst in legal terms we may be citizens of the UK; and there are those who also regard us as citizens of the EU; as Paul reminds us, “... our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20). The Apostle adds in Ephesians 2:19 that we are, “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household”. If we really are Christians and really have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour then we do not belong in the world in which we live; our citizenship is held somewhere else; it is in heaven with our Saviour. Jesus says very clearly, “you do not belong to the world” (15:19). That means that we should avoid following the ways of the world tempting though some of them may be; but rather follow His ways and the ways in which He wants us to behave. Paul says something similar in Romans 12:2 where he tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” If we follow Jesus then we should have no desire to follow the ways of the world; rather, we should let Him transform us in heart and mind.
The Apostle Peter sums up the change in our lives when we come to faith in Jesus and helps to explain why the world hates us. In 1 Peter 4:3-4 he reminds us that, “... you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do — living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.”
That was the modern lifestyle in the 1st century. Now, just think for a moment about what goes on in our modern society. Think about what happens on Broad Street, Birmingham on a Friday and Saturday evening. Those activities can undoubtedly be linked to some of the programmes currently shown on TV. Then there is the ever present problem of crime with the latest activity being to use acid as a weapon. We’ve also seen the terrorist attacks that have taken place in London and Manchester in recent months. There is growing social unrest caused by the housing crisis and the seeming lack of interest shown by a large number of officials and politicians. Add to that the huge breakdown of what we might call the regular or nuclear family caused by a huge growth in the number of single parent families living in the country. I read an article in the August 2017 issue of Christianity magazine that quoted from a report by the Centre for Social Justice. In this document the CSJ reports that there are between 1 and 2 million children who never see their father at all. That sad fact has damaging consequences for the future of such children in terms of education, behaviour and employment. This is the UK in the 21st century and it is part of the world in which we find ourselves living.
And yet when Christians attempt to get involved in helping with these and other social issues they are ridiculed and laughed at for their ‘do gooder’ attitude even though it is what God calls us to do. After all, it was the Apostle James who told us to put our faith into action. What better way to do that than by trying to help those who are in need in one way or another? The problem is that when Christians try to help the world hates us and cannot understand that we would want to do something solely for altruistic reasons.
Just as we are hated in our world today, so Jesus was hated in the world in which He found Himself. We mustn’t forget that Jesus was hated from the moment He was born. In Matthew 2 we can read about how Herod was concerned at the apparent birth of the long awaited Messiah. So worried was he that he tried all he could to find and kill the baby Jesus. When he couldn’t find Him Herod ordered that all boys under the age of two were to be killed. In that way he hoped to get rid of Jesus once and for all. As I think is fairly obvious, that plan failed!
Later, as He conducted His earthly ministry, Jesus was hated by the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, because He saw them for what they were, hypocrites. Meanwhile, the people were at first sceptical simply because they had seen it all before with any number of false prophets and preachers claiming to be the Messiah. They soon warmed to Jesus though when they saw what He could do. However, that love soon turned to hate when they were stirred up by those hypocritical and vociferous Pharisees.
The attitude of the world around us hasn’t changed and isn’t exactly encouraging is it? And yet, in 15:18 Jesus reminds us that we are to “keep in mind that it hated [me] him first”. In the main the people who hated Jesus were the Jews who totally rejected Him. Interestingly enough David more or less prophesied that this would happen when writing in Psalm 35:19 where he spoke of people who “hate me without reason” and then in Psalm 69:4 where he added that “many are my enemies without cause”.
I’ve already mentioned that the Pharisees hated Jesus because He could see through them and their attitudes. Add to that the fact that no matter what Jesus did in terms of teaching, healing people or any other miracle, all aimed at sharing the kingdom of God with people, the world came to hate Him. It was, after all this deep seated hate that led to Him being crucified.
It’s amazing to think that despite having seen Jesus perform so many miracles, including healing people and making blind men see, the people still hated and rejected Him, by doing that it meant that they also hated and rejected His Father. As Jesus Himself reminds us in 15:24b-25, “As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'”
The modern world is the same. People can look around and see God’s creation; they see the major changes in people’s lives when those people come to faith; and yet they can’t be bothered to even contemplate faith in any way shape or form. People today find it far easier to hate than to love; and that despite Jesus’ regular command to “love one another”.
Jesus was different to any other religious leader and teacher. He taught with authority; He was humble and didn’t seek material rewards; He loved people and demonstrated that love by helping as many as He could. He did all that and more and yet the world turned against Him and hated Him. The world hated Him because He was different and didn’t conform to the expected norms of the society of the time; His standards were higher and heavenly based.
Not only does Jesus remind us that the world hated Him first but He also confirms why the world hates us too; it is simply because by following Him we do not belong to the world. We don’t conform to modern society and the immoral lifestyle that seems to be growing stronger each day. We don’t join in with the growth in materialism, in greed, and in a lack of caring for those less fortunate. Despite denials by the government there has been a growth in the number of food banks and the numbers living rough on the streets of many major cities, and yet, generally speaking, it is Christian organisations which are the forefront of trying to help in these situations even though the world looks on and mocks by turning its back on such problems.
All of that explains why Jesus was at pains to tell us that if we follow Him then we “do not belong to the world”. Why is that? Why don’t we belong to the world? It is because He “has chosen [us] you out of the world” and that, quite simply “is why the world hates you” (15:19).
I find that to be a wonderful thought; we have been chosen by Jesus to be with Him and in His world and not in the world that surrounds us. Even before we take that step of faith and become a Christian by placing our faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, He already knows us and has chosen us to make that decision. Remember that God knows our thoughts long before we even think them and so He also knows those who will come to faith in Jesus. Jesus has already touched on this thought in 15:16 where He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last”. What a truly amazing thought and something that we would do well to remember when times get hard; we have been chosen.
The Apostle Peter has something similar to say in 1 Peter 2:9 where he says, “... you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Just notice that; we are a “chosen people”, a people who God has called “out of darkness into his wonderful light”. That darkness is the modern world in which we are living whilst the wonderful light is the world in which we will live with Jesus. What a wonderful thought and what a great prospect awaits us when we join Jesus in the bright light of paradise.
Living as a Christian in 21st century Britain isn’t easy, although I don’t think any Christian leaders ever said it would be. The world of Jesus’ time hated Him because He was different and the world in which we live hates us because we follow Him. Following and serving Jesus means that we are different and therefore don’t conform to the pattern of living demonstrated by the modern world.
Many years ago there was a musical written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse with the title of Stop The World I Want To Get Off. It was a great success and I sometimes agree with the sentiment of that title and think that it would be a great idea to just jump off the world. However, that is a bit of a daft idea especially given John’s words in 1 John 2:17, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.”
Remember, we are in the world but not of the world. If we remain faithful to Jesus and follow Him and not the world then, as John says, we will live for ever.