I don’t usually post my weekly sermon manuscript here, though it is posted weekly on our website along with the video. I felt that perhaps this week’s sermon in our “Gospel of John” series might be timely and encourage someone who ends up randomly finding it in the blogesphere. So … here it is
That You May Believe – John #47 –
The Persecuted Saint – John 15:18-25
Growing up, we would hear stories of the persecuted church in communist countries. I read and was inspired by such stories, but they were far away in those oppressed countries, or in isolated regions where the gospel had never been proclaimed.
The Persecuted Church is a reality as much today as ever. Whether in the subtlety of a politically correct work environment; which defends the “right to believe” for the unbeliever or certain lifestyles, while squelching the “right to believe” of the Christian. Often it is an overt attack on life, liberty, and the pursuit of Christ by the atheist, the terrorist, the radical, and so the Church remains under attack.
More Christians have died for their faith in the last 100 years than 1900 years before. According to www.persecution.org, 384 Christians have been killed already in 2016 in Nigeria, more than all of 2015. The same website reports that 100,000 Christians have fled Iraq alone. Father Jacque Hamel was murdered in his church in Normandy this week. I was reading last week of nearly 2000 crosses removed from churches all over China. There is no place on the earth that is immune from the potential of persecution, because evil, like the sin which causes it, is like leaven that permeates an entire loaf of bread. But there is a geographical center if you will. 2/3rd of the world’s population lives in 1/3rd of the land mass, between 10`N and 40`N latitude. It is called the “1040 window”. It is the poorest, hungriest, most unchurched, and most hostile region to Christianity worldwide. And then, I remember the words of Jesus, “if you only knew today what would bring you peace”. Jesus IS the answer today for those bent on wiping away all mention of his name.
According to www.opendoorsusa.org, 322 Christians are killed every month, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 acts of violence are committed against Christians.
The Pew Research Center says 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. The U.S. State Department says that in more than 60 countries, Christians are persecuted by government or neighbors because they believe in Jesus Christ.
And the words of Jesus ring out across 2000 years, his words to his disciples the night before his death, “If the world hates you …”. In the next chapter he will say, “… in this world you will have trouble …”
Persecution is the norm for those who follow Christ. I don’t know what you have experienced. Perhaps the ceiling at work seems to be shrinking. Perhaps the atmospheres around you is one of harassment for your faith. We may never know that we consider terrible persecution. Or, perhaps the terrorist’s hatred, even a jail cell, or funeral for your faith. Yet, no matter how it comes, it will come. So, how do we live in a world of persecution?
There are 3 realities Jesus gives … 3 things to “keep in mind”
- You Do Not Belong To This World
If the world hates you … keep in mind …
A. Do Not Belong
– to this World
Our concerns are often over acceptance, adoration, love from those around us. And Jesus says “they don’t love you because you are not of, do not belong, to them.”
“not belong” “are not of” – it is a variation of eimi = “to have existence, to have an inheritance in”
Your existence is not in this world. This is not the place of your citizenship. You do not have your inheritance in this place. If we do not experience hatred, persecution, are we of the world? A.T. Robertson asks “has the world become more Christian, or the Christian more worldly?”
You do not BELONG to this world. Hebrews 11:9 says that Abraham lived in the Promised Land “in tents” v10 “for he was looking forward to the city … whose architect and builder is God”. V8 says that he was called “to a place he would LATER receive as an inheritance”. Abraham was living looking forward. Listen folks … this world IS part of your inheritance in Christ, but NOT now, a New Heaven and a New Earth … live like a resident looking forward.
You don’t belong to this world nor …
– To Your Persecutor
the terrorist, the harasser, the racist, the hatemonger is NOT your master. You do not belong to them. They can only do what God allows. Remember Job’s story. satan tormented and tested him, but he was only allowed to do what God permitted.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV84)
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Every temptation is Common, God will provide a way, because God is Faithful. He is in charge. He allows what he decides is best and you are able to handle through him.
B. You Belong
– To Christ
He made you, he chose you, he bought you. You are his creation. You are his choice. You are his costly treasured possession. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. He told them, “you did not choose me, but I have chosen you”. You are a pearl of great price that Christ gave all he had to purchase. You belong to Christ and …
– To Heaven
Philippians 3:20–21 (NIV84)
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
The tormentor can have anything of this world because it doesn’t belong to me. Everything of this world will be burned up and recreated. Nothing in this world is worth the effort of your grip. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13, God is the One to whom we belong and the One to whom all tormentors must bow. So then, 1 Corinthians 10:14 says “therefore … flee idolatry”. When we bow to our persecutor … to our suffering … through fear, decision-making, acquiescence to their will … then we are turning our persecutor into an idol, a god in our lives to be worshiped.
But we do not belong to this earth, nor to our persecutor. We belong to Heaven, to Christ, but we have temporarily been transplanted in this world, in this place in the world. So, we are but branches of the True Vine of Heaven, for now, planted on earth. We are here so that the earth might “taste test” Heaven and say “we have never tasted anything like this.”
Keep in mind that you belong to Christ and
- They Will Persecute You
“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also …”
Dioko = persecute, pursue, chase, strive for
The question here is not “IF” but “WHEN”. The only “if” is “if they persecuted me” and just hours later Christ was being arrested, falsely accused, beaten, and crucified. “if they persecute …”. The YLT says “if they DID Persecute”. Did they? Yes. Then, “they WILL persecute”, future indicative … that is, this is a coming reality, they WILL persecute you
A. Because Of My Name
“they will treat you this way”
Poieo = to do, practice, perform, These are not accidents but actions with intent.
Dia = because of, through, on account of
My onoma = name, person, reputation, title, authority
Jesus speaking about the evil times to come says
Luke 21:12 (NIV84)
12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
“on account” – heneka = the marker of a participant constituting the event
Yes, as a Christian, you have a target on your back. It is the name, the person, Jesus, and his title as Lord, his reputation as the Darling of Heaven. That is what satan wanted and he hates all who have the name of Christ.
You will be persecuted intentionally because you claim Christ, or unintentionally because of the stand you take, and the values you have which are contrary to the values of this world. It is because Christ is in you.
2 Corinthians 2:14–16 (NIV84)
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
When you have Christ leading, affecting your decisions and actions, to those from this world, apart from Christ, opposed to Christ, they will hate what you do like a pungent odor that fills a room.
Jesus says “they have no excuse for their sin”. Don’t buy into the argument “they didn’t know”. Romans 1 and 2 say that creation and conscience testify to the truth and all men, deep down, know, they know they truth, they have heard in a witness, seen it in a sunrise, heard it in the first cry of a newborn.
Jesus says “if they hate you …”
B. They Hated Me First
Psalm 2:1-2 asks “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather against The Lord, and against his Anointed One.”
The hatred of God and his people is as old as time as we know it.
satan wanted to overthrow God’s loving rule and reign. He deceived 1/3rd of the Angels to follow him, and they were banished from Heaven.
God created this earth and a beautiful garden, and placed his image, Adam and Eve, there. satan deceived and the result was death where God created life.
God claimed a people for Himself through which would come salvation and break sin’s hold. God took them to Egypt to deliver from famine. satan took the blessing of the people and the hatred of God’s people turned from blessing into slavery.
God set them free, led them to the Land of Promise but satan convinced them that they couldn’t succeed and they wandered for 40 years.
Haman tried to get the Persian King, Xerxes, to annihilate God’s people in exile, but God had positioned Esther to save his people.
Pharaoh, Antiochus, Herod the Great, Titus, Nero, The Ottomon Empire, Hitler, and today ISIS/ISIL and so many others have all tried to stop the plans of God through his people. They have attacked his name, his authority, his reputation, his title. Chosen People Ministries point out that perhaps one of the greatest deceptions of satan was when he has used Christians to persecute Israel, sealing for many, their hearts from seeing Jesus as Messiah.
satan hates God. satan attacked Jesus from the moment of his birth. He dogged him thoughout his life. He tried to kill him as a baby. He encouraged a suicide attempt in his great temptation. He attempted to discourage, defeat, and destroy, that is always his way.
So Jesus says … if the world hates you, keep in mind, it hated me first”
Then 70 years later, John has experienced it firsthand. All of his fellow disciples died for their faith. He had been imprisoned for his faith. And he said, in 1 John 3:13, “do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.”
That use of miseo = to hate, to detest is in the indicative tense meaning it is a real state of being. It is not something that is possible, it is just the way it is. “The world hates me”, Jesus says, “that’s just the way it is, so they hate you as well because I am in you, and you are in me, and I am in the Father.”
– Expect Nothing Better
– Desire Nothing Different
Paul says “I want to know Christ … fellowshipping in his suffering.” We can’t know the power of the resurrection without fellowship of suffering and conforming to his death.
We don’t really know life if we don’t know the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We don’t know what it is to be well, if we have not been sick. We cannot know the victory of overcoming, if we don’t know the struggles.
So, finally, what of the Oppressor, the Tormentor, Persecutor? What do we need to keep in mind?
- They Do Not Know God
“They do not know the One who sent me”
The Persecutor does not know God. And we don’t say this as an indictment but mournfully, they do not know God.
– Not in salvation
– Not in a Relationship Walking with Him
A. Understand Their Station
It wasn’t that they hadn’t seen, heard, but they refused to know him instinctively, intuitively, they didn’t know God within. They knew about God, but if God walked into the room, they wouldn’t perceive it. So Jesus did and they didn’t know him as God.
Those who persecute you, do not know him in truth, or they have left the experiential knowledge of him, as he is never leading them in this torment, though he allows it.
Yet in all of this, we need to remember that …
– Jesus died for them
The context in 1 John 3:13 and the hatred of the world for us … is that we should LOVE. It is the evidence that we are alive in Christ, that we have LOVE for those who do not know him. So v16 says “this is how we know what love is, Jesus laid down his life for us …
– They don’t KNOW God, so they NEED God
Understanding that; then comes the hard part for some
B. Pray For Their Salvation
The response, of one bought by Christ, in the face of persecution, is to LOVE; and Love defends, but also prays for the deliverance, and salvation of the persecutor. Yes as a society, we have a duty and a right to protect the persecuted, to defend them. But as individuals we should show love and grace.
So, let me try and bring this to a close.
At www.opendoorsusa.org, there are resources on how to connect to those in persecution. They also give a list for “Standing Strong in the Storms”
a “Theology of Persecution”
… Let me give you their list
ii. Build Yourself a Cell
Psalm 46:10 (NIV84)
10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
A Chinese Church Leader after 23 years in prison said this to Christians who have not been persecuted
“I was pushed into a cell … you have to put yourself into one. You have not time to know God. You need to do for yourself, what persecution did for me. Simplify yourself and know God”
ii. God Keeps Secrets
Isaiah 55:8–9 (NIV84)
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
You may never know what God is doing, but our labor is not in vain in the Lord
1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV84)
58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
iii. Weakness is a Direct Path to God’s Power
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 (NIV84)
9 … my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
An Egyptian Christian Persecuted for his Conversion said “in great suffering you discover a different Jesus than you do in normal life. Pain and suffering bring up to the surface all the weak points of your personality. In my weakest state, I had an incredible realization that Jesus loved me even right then.”
iv. Overcoming Is Better Than Deliverance
Romans 12:21 (NIV84)
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Opendoorsusa says “persecuted Christians all over the world never ask us to pray that it would end, but that they would be strong through it”
v. Extreme Hurt Requires Extreme Forgiveness
Luke 23:34 (NIV84)
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” …
A Christian Iranian widow said “I only had hatred in my heart for my enemies who had murdered my husband. But one day a miracle happened, God taught me how I could love my enemies. I had been praying for this, even though on the deepest level, I didn’t want it to happen. Gradually through a process of ups and downs, God answered that prayer”
Love is the most Christ-like response to hatred and persecution
vi. Prayer Is the Ultimate Fellowship With Persecuted Christians
Hebrews 13:3 (NIV84)
3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
1 Corinthians 12:26 (NIV84)
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Every part of the body hurts when any part of the body hurts
How do we pray for the persecuted?
www.cru.com gives us some ways to pray for persecuted Christians
– Pray they would know the Hope God Gives – Ephesians 1:18
– Pray the Holy Spirit strengthen them – Ephesians 3:16
– Pray they would know how much God Loves them – Ephesians 3:17
– Pray for them to know how to share the Gospel – Ephesians 6:19
– Pray for them to fearlessly tell others about Jesus – Ephesians 6:20
– Pray for access to the Bible
– Pray for Courage to Remain
– Pray for support and family for those rejected
– Pray for God’s advocacy for women and children
– Pray for jobs and a safe place to live
Surviving and Thriving In Persecution …
… Is about Dying Before The Threat of Death before Persecution
Jesus survived the cross because he was slain from the foundation of the earth. He continued because his eyes were on the finish. He died in the garden. He died to self, “not my will but yours be done”
… Is about Lifting our Gaze
Psalm 121 (NIV84)
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
I must Fix My Eyes on Jesus
– Consider what he has DONE for you
– Consider the depth of his LOVE
– Consider the level of his SACRIFICE
Pray for those facing Persecution
Pray with Compassion for your Tormentor
When my eyes are on Jesus, my eyes are off suffering
When my heart is praying for others in persecution, I am not hurt by my trials
When I am praying for the perpetrator of my persecution, I will have the right perspective on what is the greatest priority, and away from my pain.