Last month in France 85 year old Father Jacques Hamel was viciously killed in his church by Islamic State Jihadists. Utterly tragic as that was, many Christians around the world would have shown far less surprise than was shown in Europe, for Christian persecution is growing world-wide. There are estimates that, on average, each month 322 Christians are killed as a direct consequence of their faith. 214 churches or Christian properties are demolished, burnt down or in some way destroyed. Christians are subject to 772 acts of violence – including beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests or forced marriages. And Nigeria is where most are being killed for their faith. But are you surprised at those monthly figures? You should not be, as our passage for the evening will make clear. Our verses for tonight are John 15.18-27; and these are the verses with which we conclude this short series on some of the last words of Jesus before his crucifixion. Our given title is the Hatred of Jesus. So my headings are, first, The Reality of Hatred; secondly, The Reasons for Hatred; thirdly, The Response to Hatred.
So, first, The Reality of Hatred
Look at verses 18-20:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours."
But perhaps you are asking, 'what does the word 'world' really mean?' Well, it doesn't mean planet Earth or the created universe that, as created, the Bible says God pronounced "good". No! It means 'the world of men and women in rebellion against God'. John in his first epistle says this:
"We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5.19)
It is men and women knowingly or unknowingly rejecting the true and living God and so are in the kingdom of the evil one – Satan. So what should we understand from these words of Jesus about living in this world? At least four things… First, we should reckon that the normal Christian life in this world involves being hated. Sadly, many get this wrong – that the normal Christian life is not pain free. But Christ never promised that following him would be pain free. It was the very opposite. He had regularly taught that his followers would be persecuted. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said,
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5.10)
And that lesson is so important that he repeated it; and it is the only repeated beatitude. For the next verse says:
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5.11)
In fact, Jesus said you should be worried if you are never opposed or spoken against for being a Christian. He said:
"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets" (Luke 6.26)
So, the normal Christian life involves being hated for Christ's sake. Secondly, Jesus is not saying that the normal Christian life is being hated and attacked all the time. No! He says, "when others revile you and persecute you," and, "if the world hates you." Yes, there are those good times, when prayers are answered as you want them to be answered and life seems very good. But because there are those good-times, the bad times when you are being attacked for your faith, can knock you off balance spiritually. Jesus spoke about people in that situation in his Parable of the Sower. He said:
"These are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away" (Mark 4.16-17)
But how does Jesus prepare you for such times? Answer – and this is the third thing to notice about Jesus' words here - he commands you to learn an important lesson. Jesus says that when you are attacked or threatened in some way for being a Christian, or verse 18…
"the world hates you, know [get it into your head as a fundamental truth and reality] that it has hated me before it hated you."
And don't let that go in one ear and out the other; for you are, verse 20, to:
"Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."
So you may be in a committee or at some club or party or in an unbelieving family, and you are being hated for being a Christian or for the stand you are taking, as a Christian, over some ethical issue. Then remember Jesus and that he experienced all that and far worse. He, therefore, fully understands your situation and by his Holy Spirit, as we shall hear, he can and will strengthen you. The fourth thing you can take from Jesus' words is an encouragement. It is that persecution, when it is for Christ's sake and not because you are being foolish or wrong, is evidence that you are truly God's child, and truly 'born again'. Look at verse 20 again:
"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
To quote old Bishop Ryle: "Persecution is like the goldsmith's hallmark on real silver and gold; it is one of the marks of a converted man [or woman]." So much for The Reality of Hatred.
Secondly, The Reasons For Hatred.
Look at verses 21-25:
"But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause."
There are three things to notice here. First, the fundamental reason for hating Jesus and his followers is atheism and a failure to realize that Jesus is God come into the world as a real human being. Remember this was written 2000 years ago. Some forms of atheism or hardline secularism may just be a late modern problem. True, the word 'secularism' to mean 'atheism' was coined in the 19th century to sound less harsh than 'atheism' or 'infidelity' as it was then called and so generate less opposition. But practical atheism is evident in every age with people living as though God didn't exist and some saying or thinking he didn't. That is why there is nothing surprising about verse 21 that says:
"all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me."
And with the identification of Christ, God the Son with his Father, this rejection of Jesus is anti-God. For verse 23 says: "Whoever hates me hates my Father also." So what motivates this rejection? And here is the second point to note. Jesus has said, as recorded earlier in John 3.19-20:
"And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed."
The application is so clear. For coming to God's light is a red-light – a stop light – in respect of sinful disordered desires (not least sexual in today's Western world - I have written about one set of those in this month's Coloured Supplement on transsexualism). That is why too many "love darkness rather than light" and they avoid the light "lest their works should be exposed" for what they are - not something for celebration but repentance. And that is tragic, for such action gives rein to such desires and then to the hatred of those that would restrain them. But, that atheism and rejection of Christ is groundless and unreasonable. That is the third point to note. It is "without a cause" as verse 25 says:
"But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause'."
All Godlessness and the rejection of Christ, then as now, is unreasonable. It is "without a cause [or a reasonable excuse]". Some are getting more vitriolic in their attacks against Christians, all over the world. Maybe that is partly because Christian apologetics - they are ways of arguing for the truth and reasonableness of the Christian faith, intellectually - are getting stronger and stronger. It is becoming clearer and clearer in the light of modern science, sociology and anthropology, why it is more reasonable to believe and trust in Christ than not to. Even atheists or semi-atheists like Eric Kaufman, of London University, has to admit that (I quote from his 2010 study Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?):
"Not withstanding the New Atheists [he is referring to Richard Dawkins and Co], one has to admit that religion is more rational than unbelief. The root of the word rational is ratio, in which we weigh up a number of alternatives, calculate a ratio of how well each satisfies our end, and decide accordingly."
As a utilitarian, he then cites the economist Richard Layard, a pioneer in the field of "happiness research", who wrote in 2005:
"One of the most robust findings of happiness research [is that] people who believe in God are happier. At the individual level one cannot be sure whether belief causes happiness or happiness causes belief. But since the relation also exists at the national level, we can be sure that to some extent belief causes happiness."
All that is what we might call at the level of General Revelation – God's revelation that all can discover simply by human reasoning. But the evidence from God's Special revelation through Old Testament prophets and supremely in Jesus is just massive. Certainly here there is so much evidence, you must be at fault to reject Christ. Look at verse 22 – Jesus says:
"If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin."
And verse 24 says …
"If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin."
So, on the one hand, there is Jesus' amazing teaching. And, on the other hand, there are his amazing miracles. And those include the greatest miracle of all, namely his Resurrection (soon to take place) from the dead and leaving a tomb empty. All that is huge evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. That is why, a failure positively to trust in God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is, in practice, to reject him. You can't just sit in the middle, for trust must be followed by obedience. And if you don't obey God you are positively, knowingly or unknowingly, disobeying him. So Jesus said, "Whoever is not with me is against me" (Luke 11.23). But, in spite of all the reasons, people still love darkness rather than light. And as Paul said, again it is a tragedy, for …
"… the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4.4)
How you need to pray for God to give spiritual sight to those that hate you and reject the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So much for The Reasons for Hatred.
Thirdly, The Response to Hatred.
The question is, if you are a believer, or thinking about becoming a believer, 'how do you, or how will you, practically respond to being hated for your faith in Christ?' As you will see, there are only three types of response. And you need to be aware of these responses as more and more of you are, or will be, in situations where, in various ways, you face opposition for being a Christian. Certainly of concern for us all, across Europe are 'Hate Speech' laws that threaten Freedom of Speech and threaten Christians in particular. For the word 'hate' has been hi-jacked often to refer to anyone who publicly says a certain religious belief or sexual behaviour is wrong and not right. The issue is that any negative statement is, in a post-modern irrational way, tested not for its truth but its emotional impact on the feelings experienced by the listener. But how do you, or will you, respond personally when facing hatred yourself on account of this perverse use of the word 'hatred'?
Well, think of this current irrational secular drift, that describes modern Europe and Britain, as a flowing river in which you are in the middle. You can respond in one of three ways. The first response is simply to go with the flow. That seems the easiest option. Verse 19 says: "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own." We have had that option selected by some MPs claiming to be Christian, and who were clear over homosexual marriage that it is wrong, but when the crunch came, did they vote against it? No! They went with the flow and voted for it!
The second response is to get out of the river altogether. You find a nice bit of bank and sit there having a picnic just criticizing all those flowing in front of you who are going in the wrong direction. That helps no one. When Jesus talked of "choosing us out of the world", he didn't mean physically out of the world but spiritually and morally. For we are to be like him, "in" the physical world, speaking to people (verse 22) and working "among" them (verse 24).
So the third way, and only right way, is to stay in the river and go against the flow. Yes, you will be hated. But what does Jesus say to help you not only resist and maintain your position, but advance in the right direction? Look now at verses 26 and 27:
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning."
Jesus, first of all, is saying that you are to keep in your mind and consciousness the fact that you are not alone. For the Holy Spirit, if you are a believer, is with you - the Holy Spirit who Jesus sends from God the Father, the almighty creator of this universe. He (notice that it is "he", not 'it' but "he", referring to the personality of the Holy Spirit) - he will be with you, and unseen, working to bear witness about Jesus. Secondly, Jesus is saying that there is not only something to keep in mind, but, also and vitally, something to do - and that is that you, too, are to bear witness to Jesus (following the Apostles' example). You are never to use force! But you are, in whatever way is appropriate, to witness to Jesus – to his saving work at the Cross that deals with the world's sin. But also you are to witness to his current work as Lord of all, with all authority, and as that Lordship relates to daily life and all those issues which generate the world's hatred. So when you are in that committee, or other hostile group who hate Christ and Christians, remember that the Holy Spirit is with you. And then confidently, but graciously and reasonably, say what is right and true and necessary.
I must conclude. We have come to the end of chapter 15 - a remarkable chapter in John's Gospel. It is a chapter for anyone asking questions about the Christian faith and what is involved. The answer it gives is precisely Jesmond Parish Church's mission, namely, of Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain. Verses 1-11 are about Godly Living through being united by faith with Jesus as branches in a vine. Verses 12-17 are about Church Growth through loving one another in the church fellowship and going and bearing fruit. And tonight's verses 18-27, are about Changing Britain (or whatever country you come from) through, however tough it is, witnessing in the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, about Jesus as the only Saviour and Lord.