"When Christ calls a man. He bids him come and die." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
I don't know if you've heard those words before, but they are the uncompromising words of a young German church leader named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer refused to compromise his Christian beliefs in pre-war Germany. As a result, he was imprisoned in 1943 and eventually executed, by special order of Himmler, just before the end of the war in April 1945. In many ways, it was tragic. But these words, Bonhoeffer's whole life, was based on a sharp understanding of what his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ taught and demonstrated – not least in the passage we're going to be looking at this evening. "When Christ calls a man. He bids him come and die."
Now, these are not the sort of words that the modern western church is usually inclined to slap up on a poster outside the church inviting people in. They're not the sort of words that we've got on our church website homepage: "Come and die at JPC!" True, most of us I think have an idea what the statement means, but we're not that keen on making it a priority in our evangelistic conversations or putting it front and centre of discussions with friends and family. We're much more naturally inclined to talk about the benefits, aren't we? We're much more likely to want to mention rescue and freedom and life, because these are positive concepts. Now as part of a strategy, and we make tactical calls all the time about what to say and when, but as part of a strategy that may well be appropriate, but if we're never realistic about the hardships that come with following Jesus, then we need to heed his words in John 16.
In the first few verses of this chapter, Jesus with the intention of keeping his followers from falling away, forewarns them that they will encounter serious hardship for following him. So, let me forewarn you! It is a bit of a tough one this evening; these words of Jesus are sombre and we need to weigh them appropriately. In trying to do so I have four headings for us. Firstly, then:
1. Don't Be Surprised That The World Hates You (John 16.1)
"I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away." (John 16.1).
Now, the first thing we have to ask ourselves here is "What things? What things has he said? "Well to find out we need to briefly dip back into John 15. This is an example of where our false divisions of chapter and verse in our Bibles can actually disrupt the flow of what the original Bible writers were trying to convey. So, John 16.1-4 is actually part of a chunk of text that goes back to John 15.8. And both John 15 & John 16 are part of a longer section of John 13-17 that records Jesus' final words to his disciples before he is killed on the cross. So what we have there is part of Jesus' final instructions to his disciples giving them a new commandment: "…love one another…" (John 13.34) explaining his unique role in salvation: he is "…the way, the truth and the life…" (John 14.6); promising the gift of a helper when he leaves: the Holy Spirit (John 14.26).Then, John 15.19:
"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."
It hates you! That is strong isn't it? It's not hyperbole. It is the spiritual reality which so often manifests itself in the physical reality. And Jesus is saying the world hates us because it hated him and the world will persecute us because it persecuted him. So JPC, don't be surprised when our association with him causes us grief.
Operating in a Nimrod Surveillance aircraft at 28,000 over Iraq and Afghanistan one of my jobs was to brief the surface to air missile threat. If we knew there was one, then there were all sorts of preparations we could make to be able to help counter that threat, not least flying above the maximum range! Knowing that things weren't going to be easy, expecting it not to be easy, helps you be more effective when the trouble comes. But if there was no known missile threat and then we had encountered one, what do you think we would have done? We'd have got out of there, abandoned our mission and looked for safety. So Jesus is saying here "Don't be surprised, don't be caught unawares. The world will try and take you out with all sorts of hate filled surface-to-air missiles, but pay attention to my brief so that it doesn't take you by surprise and you can carry on with your mission!" Which kind of makes sense, but you may be thinking "Why does the world hate us? Why is the world like this?" Well, we need to understand that the world and the Kingdom of God are mutually exclusive. They're heading in opposite directions.
Ultimately the world is concerned with self in the here and now. It is preoccupied with pleasuring itself, serving itself, fulfilling itself, promoting itself and insisting that we all do likewise. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is all about serving God and serving others for His glory! The task of a disciple is to go to this self-seeking, pleasure-orientated world and proclaim the truth; the truth that says one day all sinners will be judged by the most Holy God. The truth that says that in his great mercy that most Holy God has provided a means of rescue from such cataclysmic judgement. The call of the world is "conform, conform", but the call of Jesus is "stand up, stand out, make a difference for me." Can you see why the world hates us? The gospel of Jesus Christ exposes the corruption of the world for what it is and the world doesn't like it so it responds with hatred and derision and hostility. It's always been the case. Just like Noah's contemporaries rejected his message of righteousness and just like the population of Sodom must have thought that Lot shouldn't be taken seriously, so today we should not be surprised when the world responds with hatred. If you think that as a faithful Christian you can be friends with world and be accommodated by it, sooner or later you'll be in for a rude awakening. Don't be surprised that the world hates you. Secondly, Jesus explains more fully…
2. The Cost of Gospel Faithfulness (John 16.2)
"They will put you out of the synagogues…" (John 2.16)
Now, we know from earlier in John that by this stage the Jews had already said that anyone who confessed Jesus as the longed-for Messiah would be chucked out of the synagogue. That's the immediate context for Jesus' disciples. And by the time that John was writing his gospel we also know that formal parts of the synagogue service had been changed to ensure that followers of Jesus were excluded. So that hatred was being institutionalised. Sound familiar?We are seeing this aren't we, as contemporary liberalism spreads like the cancer it is within our denomination? And there is a real danger that as that increasingly becomes institutionalised we too could be put out of our own synagogues!
We may lose privileges and property and status in the world's eyes. People with orthodox gospel views are already being rejected for training and ordination. In Scotland, we have already witnessed faithful churches being kicked out of their meeting places. But you know what? Jesus tells us to expect it. He teaches us that is part of the cost of gospel faithfulness; the cost of sticking to the true, historic, orthodox, faith and practice of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake friends, such liberalism is part of the world that hates us! Oh, it can demonstrate compassion and inclusivity and acceptance when confronted with any one of a plethora of different views…any one…except one. The one that says that Christianity is exclusive – it hates that. The one that says that there are moral absolutes, good and evil, grounded in the very nature of God, it hates that. The one that says it does matter how we live in light of those moral absolutes, it hates that. The one that says there is a hell to be avoided and a heaven to be gained, it hates that. Loyalty to Jesus and to his word may mean that we are forced to leave our churches and be kicked out of our denominational structures, but if it does, we know we are in good company. Jesus is forewarning us about the cost of gospel faithfulness.
Let's go on. Jesus ramps it up a notch as he says:
"….Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God". (John 16.2)
So, we could lose property, acceptance, recognition and now Jesus tells his disciples to expect death. I told you this was a sombre one. And I thought about this for a while, and yes, it's absolutely true that metaphorically we are called daily to take up our cross, to die to self and to follow Jesus, but that is not what is first and foremost on Jesus' mind here.
When I joined the RAF, this was a question I had to think about very seriously. Was I prepared to lay down my life for others in defence of this nation? I consciously made the decision I was, but there were times and difficult days where I had to remind myself that was the decision I made. Friends, likewise for us all as Christians. This is not a hypothetical issue.
"When Christ calls a man. He bids him come and die."
Please don't be deceived by the comfortable Christianity we have experienced for most of our western lives. Give thanks to God that through his grace that has been our experience, yes! But any long view of history will prove to you that our current experience is not the norm and it is not what Jesus tells faithful followers to expect. You may think of ancient stories of Christian persecution – believers being burnt at the stake, children drowned, men and women being maimed (all well documented) … but most analysts believe that during the last century more people died for being associated with Christ than in all the previous 19 centuries…put together. Are we prepared to literally lay down our lives for the lord Jesus? True, in all probability he may not ask us to – but we still need to anticipate the question and know how we will answer. We have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world on this. Let me just take you back less than 6 weeks. 26th May. Egypt. 51 Egyptian Christians were ambushed as they travelled to a monastery. Their vehicles were on a road that only led to the monastery. Men were taken off the buses, their identity cards checked to see that they were Christians and then at gunpoint they were told to recite the Islamic Shahada indicating that they were converting to Islam. 29 of those men refused to renounce their Christian faith and they paid the ultimate cost for their orthodox gospel faithfulness.
"...the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (John 16.2).
Do you see the deep, sad irony to his statement? He not only tells his disciples to expect to be killed on account of their faith, but the ones who do the killing will think they are offering service to God. As we look back on 2,000 years of church history we can see just how true Jesus' words were. We think of Paul, who, before he was converted, thought that he was "offering service to God" by imprisoning and killing Christians. Centuries later we think of the Roman Catholic Church instituting the Inquisition trying to stop those who preached the true gospel. We think of the fact that when reformer Thomas Cranmer was burnt at the stake a sermon was being preached! And more recently we can't help but think of the many examples of Muslim terrorism - time and again we are told of the final shouts from suicide bombers are Allah Akbar – God is great. All these people think they are offering service to God.
This is the cost of gospel faithfulness. It's total. I cannot faithfully preach about following Jesus. I cannot faithfully teach about how to follow Jesus without explaining the cost of that in this life. You will be hated. You will be persecuted and suffer hardship as a direct result of professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we can get our heads around that, then when we come to take that stand at work; when we come to the very real possibility of losing that promotion, pension or even job, when we are faced with very real and painful relational breakdown in our families, when our friends disown us, when we are kicked out of the Student's Union, or even the CU, when we suffer ridicule on social media, whenever we don't shrink back from doing the right thing, we do so because we're not surprised. We've counted the cost of gospel faithfulness and know that an eternity with Jesus is more than worth it!
Do we? Do we really know that? Paul, the persecutor-turned-persecuted wrote this to a young troubled church:
"…we do not lose heart… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4.16-17).
I think he has Jesus' teaching in mind when he penned those words. Jesus' next words pinpoint the heart of the problem. Look back at John 16.3:
"And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me".
And so our third point tonight:
3. The real issue: Not Knowing God (John 16.3)
The real issue is an ignorance of just who both the Father and Son are. Jesus says if you've seen me, you've seen the Father. Jesus says that he and the Father are one. And that ignorance of him is no excuse.
Let me explain. Sometimes being ignorant of something is an adequate excuse. So, some of you will know that when God distributed the gift of DIY amongst all men, in his sovereignty I got far from a double portion! I can just about put up a shelf, but that's it! My Father-in-law, a sparky, has been up over the weekend doing some electrical work for us! One of the things he fixed for us was a bathroom extractor fan that had stopped working. I thought it was something serious, turns out it was something quite simple and easily fixed but my ignorance of what had gone wrong is not something I could be blamed for. I just didn't know! Sometimes, however, being ignorant is something we can be blamed for. The law is an obvious example isn't it? I'm sure you've heard it said before that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse.' So as a driver it is my responsibility to know the speed limit on whatever section of road I'm driving on. If a policeman pulls me over for doing 60mph down Gosforth High Street and I say to him "Sorry officer, I didn't know what the speed limit was." it'll make no difference whatsoever. In fact, not only is my ignorance no excuse, but, in that case my ignorance actually contributes to my guilt, because I should know what the speed limit is and the fact that I don't proves how careless and dangerous I am being. The same is true with Almighty God folks.
Listen to how Don Carson puts it:
"Human beings are supposed to know God. We were made in his image, and enough of his nature and character has been stamped on our conscience that we are eternally without excuse. I ought to know God, not merely some facts about him; and if I do not, my ignorance of him is already a sign of my rebellion against him, of my pursuit of other gods or of myself. Such ignorance is culpable." (D.A.Carson Jesus and His Friends p.143)
Now, it may well be that you are with us tonight and you don't know God. I take it that you are with us because something has prompted you to find out a bit more about God or church or Christians. Maybe you've been invited. Maybe you've just come along off your own bat. If that is you, can I say to you, in the most sincere and loving way, when you stand before God on that judgement day, you and you alone will be responsible for how you have responded to him in this life. It won't do on that day to blame your parents. It won't do on that day to blame your school. You won't be able to blame your neighbourhood, your poverty, your wealth, your circumstances or whatever. We will all be responsible for how we have responded to God. And you may say ok – but on the basis of what you've been talking about tonight, I'm not sure being a Christian is really worth it.
Well yes, I can understand that. I said at the start this passage was a tough on, but it doesn't stand in isolation. The whole of John's book is about Jesus, about how knowing him means everything. It is about how Jesus has made it possible to leave the hatred of the world and be reconciled to our very Creator. Jesus said he came to bring life – life to the full – both now in this life (whether that's for 50 more minutes or 50 more years) and in the life to come for all eternity. And compared to that, friendship with the world that hates him, is nothing. And so finally and in conclusion, for those who do believe in him:
4. Whatever Happens, Jesus Can Be Trusted (John 16.4)
"But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you". (John 16.4)
Friends, the key to enduring persecution, the key to enduring hardship, the key to not renouncing you faith at the pain of death is to trust in the Lord Jesus. Keep an eternal perspective. All of this teaching, as tough as it is to swallow, provides a solid reason to trust Him: he knows the future. He knows the trials we will face as we serve Him and He warns us in advance so that we can trust in Him. Friends being a faithful witness to Christ in this hostile, hating world is not easy! But if we trust him and allow the truth of these verses to inform our living for him, we too will have vision of eternity and a stamina and courage to match Bonhoeffer's. Bonhoeffer only lived 39 years. It was a short life, but it was God's will for him. On hearing his sentence, his last recorded words to be passed to a friend were "This is the end, for me the beginning of life."On April 9 1945 in the prison yard at Flossenburg, Bonhoeffer was marched naked to the gallows and hung.
"When Christ calls a man. He bids him come and die."