Published April 12, 2007
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, April 29
In John 18 Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Jesus was not surprised. He knew the end was near and He was prepared for it. And so in chapters 14 through 16 we find Jesus sharing His final instructions and exhortations with His disciples, while in chapter 17 we hear our Lord praying for them and all who would trust Him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus knew life for His followers would be difficult. He wanted to help all believers to live victorious lives in spite of the inevitable opposition they would encounter.
It is not easy to live the Christian life. At best those who follow Christ will be slandered and vilified. Many will be persecuted. Some will be killed. According to Jeff Taylor of Compass Direct, a Christian news service, “More than 200 million Christians worldwide currently suffer persecution and discrimination for their faith.” But the good news is the Bible says we can be more than victorious through Jesus Christ who loves us (See Rom. 8:31-39).
Hated by the World - John 15:18-25
In John 15 Jesus told His disciples to expect rejection, hatred, and persecution from the world.
He said, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). John used the word kosmos or world often in his writings (108 times). Unlike the Gnostics, John did not view the world and the physical realm as totally evil. But John did understand that God’s perfect creation has been and continues to be tainted and polluted by man’s sin and rebellion. John did understand that the world has been and continues to be significantly impacted by Satan’s deception and corrupting influence.
Jesus made it clear to His disciples that if the Jewish leaders and Roman government would persecute Him, they would certainly persecute His followers. According to early church tradition many followers of Christ were, in fact, martyred. Perhaps the best known account of martyrdom in Scripture was that of Stephen recorded in Acts 6 and 7.
According to Jesus the Jewish leaders hated and rejected Him because they did not know God the Father who had sent Him. Their religion was one of ritual instead relationship. While they claimed to worship the Lord God, they actually worshiped themselves as they proudly proclaimed their ability to scrupulously keep the law.
In verse 25 Jesus told His disciples that all of this was a part of the Father’s plan. The scribes and Pharisees were unwittingly fulfilling the prophetic word of Psalm 69 that said the Messiah would be hated for no valid reason. And so He was. As believers, the world will hate and oppose us as well, but we must not allow that to deter us from proclaiming the gospel.
Testifying for Jesus - John 15:26-27
Jesus instructed His disciples that following His death the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, would come into the world to testify about Him. He said the Holy Spirit would be a counselor to both believers and unbelievers.
The Holy Spirit would convict lost men and women of their sin, convince them of their need for a Savior, and convert their hearts for a new life in Christ. The Holy Spirit would cause them to be born again. Not only would the Holy Spirit testify to unbelievers about Jesus, He would also indwell all Christians enabling them to boldly and effectively proclaim the Gospel message to a lost and dying world.
As believers we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within and empowering us to become passionate witnesses for Jesus Christ. But do we share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit or do we speak God’s truth timidly in our own weakness?
Martyred for God - John 16:1-4
Jesus instructed His disciples that when persecution did arise, the Holy Spirit would give them the courage and determination to persevere in the work of spreading the gospel.
Jesus then said that many who opposed His teaching would think they were offering God a service by killing Christians. That was precisely the way Saul viewed his own persecution of believers. In Acts chapter 8 the Bible says that Saul “ravaged the church.” He thought he was fulfilling his duty as a devout Jew. This is evident from his conversation with Agrippa in Acts chapter 26.
But when Saul was saved on the road to Damascus he went from being a persecutor to being one persecuted. Yet just as Jesus promised, Saul, known after his conversion as Paul, found the Holy Spirit was always with him to strengthen and encourage him. He wrote to the church at Thessalonica and said, “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance” (1 Thess. 1:5).
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt. 5:10). Late in his life the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
There is no “safe option” in the Christian life. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Perhaps the reason churches in America are so ineffective today is we have forgotten that truth. We have tried to blend in rather than stand out. We have tried to compromise rather than confront. We have fallen in love with the world rather than Jesus.
As a result, following Jesus seems harmless enough for many of us. But that is not the Lord’s way. It is the way of the cross that leads home. To be steadfast and faithful we must be willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). We must follow our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. The way will be steep and difficult, but we need not fear that we will walk alone.
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