Scripture Reference: John 15:18-27
A Courageous HeartDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 3, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
The better the world understands Christ, the more they will hate Him. Why? Because people are robbed of any and every excuse they’ve made about their sin; because the righteousness of Jesus exposes and judges their sin. And in John 15, Jesus tells His disciples that they too would face the hatred and persecution that He faced. And so will all Christians who live Christ-like lives.
You know, if you were to stand at the corner of State and Madison and ask people what they thought of Jesus, probably most would be very positive. People would say, “Well, He was a good teacher. He taught us how to love, everybody knows that.” And, they would probably think He was a very, very, nice man.
The problem is if that is all that He was, He would be a liar and that would be demeaning of Him. Could I give you today an axiom that I don’t ever want you to forget? And that is this: that the better the world understands Christ, the more they will come to hate Him.
You see, the reason that Hollywood can come out with some movies and people can write some books, who are not believers, and say wonderful things about Jesus, is because they misunderstand Him. If they understood Him, they would reject the centrality of His message because there are two conflicting philosophies with very little common ground. What Jesus loves the world hates, what the world hates Jesus loves.
Now when we speak of the world, we mean the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It’s that whole system of the world apart from God, the values of the world. And as a result of that, worldly people (and that’s another name for unbelievers) have a certain set of values. And, they dislike very much the implications of the Christian faith and what Jesus is all about.
The root of the conflict is between Satan and God. F.B. Meyers said, “Between such irreconcilable opposites is the church and the world. There cannot be but antagonism and strife. Each treasures and seeks what the other rejects as worthless. Each is devoted to the ends that are inimical to the dearest interest of the other.”
In fact, it says that you cannot love the world and God simultaneously. There is this conflict. And today we see it in terrifying clarity in our text. We are going to talk about the relationship that we have to the world. And, we are going to end with the optimistic knowledge that at the end of the day, Jesus triumphs. And because He does, we do too.
Take your Bibles and turn to the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, John chapter fifteen. And what we are going to do is to see this basic principle. Jesus just told the disciples that they were His friends. And we too are His friends, because He brings us into the inner circle and tells us the secrets of God.
Having told them that, what He’s saying is, and here’s the basic premise now, that the way in which the world responded to me is the way that the world will respond to you. To be a friend to Jesus means we get the same reaction from the world as Jesus got. He’ll say in a moment that, “A servant is not greater than His master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.” So, that’s the direction that this message is going.
What are the responses that we get from the world, and how do we respond to those responses? This is really the essence of the message today.
First of all, we will be hated by the world. I’m picking it up in verse 18 of John, chapter 15: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love its own. As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That’s why the world hates you.”
Well, let me say first of all that the world is very apt to hate anyway. If you have values such as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, why there’s so much conflict and antagonism and jealousy and betrayal that the world very naturally hates. Hatred and the potential of it are in every human heart.
But why hate Jesus? There are a couple of reasons: first of all because He exposed the world. He himself said that. He said, “I am the light of the world,” and people hate the light. Someone has said that when dirty men, and all of us are dirty and that includes women too. It’s speaking of mankind I’m sure, let’s be equal opportunity employers at this point. Someone has said that dirty people, let’s put it that way, in the presence of Jesus either must get cleaned up or they must reject Him.
You know, people don’t like someone who exposes them. We’ve had instances here in the city of Chicago where people exposed what was happening in the fire department or people expose what happens in a factory when tires aren’t made according to specifications.
And those who are in charge absolutely loath people like that, sometimes ostracize them or punish them because we are supposed to keep all of our little dirty secrets to ourselves. Jesus comes along and exposes all of us. And in His presence we cannot stand. We must kneel, we must bow, we must say that my sin has found me out.
And none of us likes the process, but the world absolutely hates it. Why did Cain kill Abel? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s deeds were righteous. There’s the antagonism going right back to the beginning. So Jesus comes along and exposes their sin.
He also judges the sin of the world. I’m picking it up now at verse 22, where He says these words: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.”
Wow! Jesus doesn’t mean to say that if He had not come then these people would have been sinless. What He is saying is that His coming highlighted their sin. His coming was a light that shone into the darkness. And as a result, the sin was exposed; it became evident. It took it from under the rock so to speak, and brought it into daylight. Jesus is saying that He has robbed the world of any excuse they might have about their sin.
In the Old Testament you see revelations of God. You see God coming sometimes in fury and even in Glory. But, that is nothing in comparison to the New Testament where Jesus comes.
“God who in various ways and sundry times spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” it says in the book of Hebrews, “as in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, the blazing light of God’s revelation was found in Jesus, and now they have no excuse.” Their sin is exposed; it is highlighted because of the coming of Christ. So Jesus said, “Don’t be so surprised if the world hates us.”
Now, what form should this hatred take? Should we be antagonistic with the world? No, we don’t have to spark that kind of antagonism. It exists there already. Is it really the issue of prayer in schools or even prayer before football games that antagonizes the world? Is that really the battle that should be fought? I don’t think that that is the battle that should be fought today.
I think that it would be wonderful if we had prayer in schools, if everyone believed in God and Jesus, so that we could close the prayer “in Jesus name.” But some kind of a nebulous prayer “Whoever you are up there, please help us,” etc., that’s not really what we ask.
What we ought to be doing, by the way, is making sure that rather than fighting that battle, that we have prayer in our churches. And, that we have big prayer meetings and that we have prayer in our homes where we seek God.
Where then is the battle fought? Well, let me just look into your eye today, and I hope that no matter how far back you are sitting you can see at least my face if not my eyes, because I’m speaking to you even as I speak to me. The battle is fought in every factory, in every home, in every bank, in every place that you find yourself.
And you live that life of integrity, and you will not compromise, and you will not participate in the things that the people there are participating in. And even though you are ill thought of and whispered about and called names, you represent Jesus where He planted you. And you say joyfully, and that’s a key word now, “I will joyfully accept the hatred of the world.” Jesus said, “If they hated me they are going to hate you too.”
Where did we get this idea? It’s an American idea largely in the West where Democracy has been very hospitable to the Christian faith. We get the idea somehow that the world is supposed to accept us, and love us, and think that we are just as cool as they are.
And, so what do we do? We do everything that they do to make us think of how wonderful we are. We lose our witness. Don’t be antagonistic, but living a life of purity will always breed an unsettling view in the world.
Many years ago I remember someone who bought a 99 cent bag of potatoes, but didn’t pay for it because it was on the bottom of the shopping cart. The shopper (who happens to be someone who is related to me somewhat distantly) knew that the bag was not being registered, but she just didn’t say anything. She got home and she began to be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Christians are.
You see the world looks at a thing like that and says, “You know that’s really neat. I really pulled a good one over Dominick’s.” No, Christians know that that’s sin. So, she went back and found the manager and told him that she had to pay the money and so forth. And he said, “You know, either it’s my lucky day, or there is something happening in this town because you are the second person who has come today and has done that.”
It happened that there were special meetings in a church and people were getting right with God, and that is the kind of righteousness. But you see, as she began to share with him what God was doing and how God was bringing about new integrity and honesty in the lives of people in his city, she said “He was visibly shook.”
You see, the world has so many sins and skeletons in their closets, that when Christians become open and honest and trusting and dependable and will live lives of moral integrity and faithfulness, the world begins to be shook to its core. And in the end, they will hate us.
Secondly, the world will persecute us. We’re taking it a step further now, we’re ratcheting it up. Their emotions of hatred turn to actual deeds. And you’ll notice here that Jesus emphasizes that. I’m picking it up here at verse 20: “Remember the words I spoke to you. ‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed My teaching, (which they largely didn’t,) they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent me.’”
Jesus said that you can expect persecution, and He did. The Herodians, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, they all got together. Though they were individual enemies and antagonistic when it came to putting Jesus away, they laid aside their differences and said, “We have a common enemy.” And they sought Him like a hawk seeks its prey. So Jesus knew whereof He spoke.
But what He is saying here is that we can expect persecution because of spiritual ignorance. Notice what the text says: “They do this because they do not know the One who sent Me.” That is the last part of verse 21, and it’s a crucial phrase.
Have you ever wondered whether or not you personally would have accepted Christ as Messiah or not if you had lived during the days when Jesus was here on earth? I’ve often thought about that. So easy to look back and criticize those people and say, “Why didn’t they see it?” But the question that you have to ask is, “Would you have seen it?”
Now, what Jesus is saying is this: that those who knew the Father before He came in the Old Testament sense of the word, were in contact with God. Yes, they had offered the sacrifices, but their hearts had also been given to God. Jesus said those were the ones who recognized Him to be the Messiah when He came. “If they would have known the Father, they would have known Me. But they don’t know Me because they never knew the Father.” They were into religion, but they were not into knowing God, with all of its implications.
And so Jesus said that one of the reasons they can persecute you is because of spiritual ignorance. They don’t know the Father, though they think they do. And therefore, they don’t know Me.
You know we are living at a time when we hear that word said a lot: “tolerance.” Political candidates may say something like “You know, I really believe in religious tolerance for all religions.”
I want you to be very wary of that. Hidden behind that sanctimonious slogan is concealed a deadly hook. Because the way that is interpreted often times, it really means that, “I believe so much in religious tolerance that I don’t think that you have a right to witness to anyone about their faith because faith should be entirely private.” And, often under the guise of tolerance you have the withdrawing of religious freedom.
I saw this most clearly when we were in China, way back in 1984. In those days, and things have changed somewhat now, but in those days there was what we now call “freedom of religion.” Though we did go to church, and the churches were constantly monitored by the state and so forth. And when we complained to the tour guide and said, “Why don’t we have freedom of religion in China?” she said something very interesting.
She said, “We do have freedom of religion in China.” And then she said, “The people in China can be as religious as they want to be within their own minds.” In other words, within your mind, which we can’t control yet, you can be as religious as you like.
Therefore, we have freedom of religion. And she might have added, “We are totally tolerant of people of all religions, because you can accept any religion that you want in your mind.” And I don’t want to be melodramatic, but my dear friend, not until religion is confined to the human mind, will some of the enemies of religion in American be satisfied.
And, what are we going to do about it? Well, Jesus tells us that it’s okay, that is has been predicted. But I want you to notice that we are persecuted because of spiritual ignorance, and also because of spiritual deception.
People are deceived. You’ll notice in chapter 16 the same thought continues. And, He says in verse two, “They will put you out of the synagogue. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think that he is offering a service to God. And they will do such things because they have not known the Father nor Me.”
Wow. In other words, they’re thinking they’re doing God a service. And, what you are going to have today under the banner of religious tolerance is restriction on religious freedom under the guise of doing what’s best for America, and what is best for God. And so you hear today that there are many paths to the divine. And, in our age of spirituality you can get to God in whatever way you want to get to Him.
Remember the words of Jesus? “If you do not honor the Father, you do not honor the Son. If you honor the Son, you honor the Father.” You can’t get to God in any way you choose.
If you are listening to this message today either here or by cassette or by radio or whatever, let me give you this test. If you believe that there is more than one way to God, and everybody can get to God his own way, I can assure you that you are not honoring the Son. And therefore, you do not know the Father.
What a message. No wonder it breeds and elicits antagonism from the world. And Jesus said, “Yes, there are those that are going to think that they are doing God a service.” You come to the fulfillment of that in the early church where you have all those persecutions. Until under Diocletian it became so bad that even the pagans said, “This has to stop.”
And then you leave the time of Diocletian, and you get to the Reformation. And, you remember the re-baptizers who believed that one should be baptized upon profession of faith. They were put to death; whole villages of men, women, and children were massacred because they believed that one should be baptized as an adult rather than an infant.
In fact, as Pastor Worley will confirm, a church historian and theologian who wrote a book on the Reformation told us something that was startling, and I can only repeat what was said: “More re-baptizers were put to death during the 16th century right after the time of the Reformation than died in the early persecutions of the Christian church in Rome.”
Now, you think about that. And these people that did that thought they were doing God a service, the text says. They did it in the name of God, they did it in the name of Christ, and they did it in the name of the Bible. And they thought that they were doing God a favor.
There are many places in the world that I’ve been, but still many that I desperately want to go to. And one of them is the Palace of Versailles, Louis the Fourteenth (XIV). Someday I want to go to Versailles and see it because its history is awesome.
But, Louis XIV persecuted the Christian church. In fact, he drove the Huguenots out of France. Many of them came to Germany; 20,000 of them came to the Berlin area. That’s why in Berlin today when you listen to the German, it has French accents and French words inserted.
And, there are some churches that were built in Berlin that were built by the Huguenots during those centuries. But before he died, Louis the Fourteenth said that “God owed him a favor because he had performed such a great service for God in expelling these Huguenots, these born-again Christians, out of France.
Jesus predicted it. He said that, “The time is coming when they are going to do it in My name and think that they are doing God a favor. But they do it because they don’t know the Father, because if they knew the Father, they would recognize His children.”
So, let’s keep in mind, would you, that Jesus knows all about the persecutions that are taking place today. How we ought to be praying for the churches in other lands. More people died in the 20th century, more people were martyred in the 20th century for the cause of Jesus, than were martyred in the first 1900 years of the Christian church.
And today there are people in Indonesia, people in the Sudan, people in all kinds of different countries, where you have the radical Muslim movement. And not all Muslims would agree with what is happening. But the simple fact is Christians are having their children taken from them. And, they are auctioned off to the highest bidder in the town square.
And we look at it and we say, “God, where are you?” And we should be following any leads or channels that can help us. We should be praying, and we should be highlighting their plight because they are people the latchet of whose shoes we are unworthy to unloose, these dear people. And yet I also want to remind you that Jesus knew it was coming, and Jesus has not forsaken His persecuted church.
So, let’s not become so pessimistic. And we say, “Why is all of this taking place?” And Jesus said, “The day is coming when this is going to happen. We will be hated by the world first of all.” In many instances that hatred will graduate to another level: we will be persecuted by the world. And what does Jesus say? “Blessed are you when men persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
You are at work there and you’re living for Christ and you don’t carouse around like the other people. Or, you’ve been bypassed for a promotion because you won’t play the games that are being played there in the office. And you take your Bible to work, and you have it on your desk and therefore you’re looked at as if to say you’re very, very strange. And people say, “You know his light is on, but nobody is at home because he’s got the Bible.”
Rejoice! Let’s not complain, let’s not have a persecution complex. Let’s not look at this and say, “Oh, look at what’s taken place.” My dear friend, God has promised that He will not forsake those who walk through the fire. And He walks with you in your vocation, all the way.
Thirdly, we are misunderstood by the world. There is a misunderstanding in two senses. The first one I’ve already commented on, namely that the world does not know God. They don’t know God, and that is in verse 21.
And, let’s look at a second reason however we are misunderstood. And that is because of the irrationality of the world, if I can put it that way. This is in verse 25, but I’ll pick it up in verse 24: “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. Now they have seen these miracles and yet they have hated both Me and My Father.” Verse twenty-five: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their law. ‘They hated Me without reason.’”
It’s irrational. It’s not a rational decision to hate Christ or to reject Him, or to say that there isn’t enough evidence for Him. There’s such a thing as legitimate doubt, but there’s a lot more illegitimate doubt where people simply do not want that man to reign over them. And, that is their motivation. “And they hated Me without a cause.”
Could I throw in a parenthesis? The same word is used in Romans, chapter three where it says that “God justified us without a reason, without a cause.” And so it is interesting that the same word occurs here, so they hated Him without a cause. There wasn’t really a reason.
Some time ago in Time magazine, a Jewish scholar wrote an article as to why he would not have accepted Christ as Messiah if he had lived in the 1st Century. And I read that, and I hope that there is someone who has both the knowledge, and the background, and the education and so forth to respond to what he has to say.
But, it’s very interesting that in the New Testament when you read it, Jesus was rejected for theological reasons. The religious leadership complained that He was the Son of God, and He made himself the Son of God, and this was blasphemy etc.
But, I can’t help but think that Pilate had a better sense of human nature. Pilate said that, “It was for envy that they delivered Him.” In other words, Jesus made the religious leaders look bad. That was the motivation to put Him to the cross. And, it was irrational. But, “Jesus was rejected without a cause, without reason.”
Now, I want us to look at what all this means. Should we wring our hands and say, “You know, the situation in the world is so bad that let’s just go live in a cave somewhere.” No! It says in verse 25, “This was to fulfill what was written in their law: ‘They hated Me without reason.’”
Jesus said this was a fulfillment of Scripture. In fact, it will be their hatred that is going to fulfill the will of God. It’s because of their hatred that Jesus is going to be nailed to a cross, and the purposes of God are going to be accomplished.
I know it’s so difficult when you are going through a trial to see this. But just believe me, based on the Word, when I tell you this: that hidden behind the circumstances that so discourage us are always the providential government of God. Their hatred was a fulfillment of Scripture. It was not as if this was somehow happening out there, and somehow God lost control for a while. No, this was a fulfillment of Scripture. And our struggles are a fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose for us.
So let’s not wring our hands and pretend that we are on the loosing side, and therefore all we can do is to look at the world with antagonism and our own hatred towards people. (We should hate the system and not the people.) Let’s not do that, God is greater. God is bigger than all that. It all happened in the circle of God’s providence.
But, do you understand now why it is so difficult for the world to understand us folks? You know Charles Colson said many years ago, that “For a secular newsman to do a story on Evangelicals,” he says, “is like expecting a plumber to do open heart surgery.” In other words, they just don’t understand it.
Now, let’s help them understand it. Let’s not expect all kinds of wonderful statements and comments from the people of the world. It’s okay. It’s okay. Let me give you some conclusions very quickly here.
Number one: we cannot love the world, and I am talking about the world’s system. Because the world hates Christ, we have to hate the world. I’m talking about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All that you need to do is to look at your television set, and you see all of the world in front of you. And I often wonder why do we invite the world into our home and into our lives? Because all of that is “of the world.”
And, do you know why some of us can’t be free from the world, with all of its lures? Because we have never in our lives made a fundamental decision to pursue holiness across the board, without any pockets of resistance that have not been given over to the sovereignty of Christ.
We sang a few moments ago “Reign in Me.” If we meant that, and if that meant every area of our lives, every closed closet, you would soon discover that the Christian church would be invigorated by the blessed Holy Spirit. And, we cannot love the world because it is antagonistic to all the values, ideals, and teachings of Jesus.
Second, we can’t ignore the world, and I’m talking about the world of people. Let’s not just button the hatch now and say, “Well, you know the world out there is so antagonistic and they don’t want to believe anyway, and therefore there is no way that we can fight against them. And, we are losing. Just look at what is happening politically; look at what is happening religiously. The culture war, by the way, is over. Trash has won. Therefore, let’s just go home and lick our wounds, have some soup, and get a good night’s rest.”
No! Listen to this in verse 26: “When the Counselor comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out of the Father, He will testify about Me. And you also must testify for you have also been with Me from the beginning.”
And, I am already excited about next week’s message because it picks up this theme about the fact that God becomes the Evangelist. And the Spirit of God convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment, and the Spirit of God works through the proclamation of the Gospel.
Men and women are being transformed today. There are thousands of people in America each day who become members of God’s kingdom, being translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His blessed Son. So let us not think that we must ignore the world, and not lovingly share with the world the goodness and the wonders of the Jesus that they may dislike. Many of them will come to like Him.
My final word to you is that it’s not necessary for us to win in this world to win in the next. You know, we may say that in Evangelicalism numbers seem to be dwindling. We have the incursion of moral laxness, and we have the incursion of bad doctrine, weak doctrine in our churches. We look at the world and they seem to have the money, they seem to have the personalities, they seem to have all the beauty.
I was talking to the Sunday school class that I taught today about the fact that most of us look very, very, strikingly ordinary. That’s no means for discouragement. Jesus said, “You must testify for Me, and you go ahead and you testify and you pay the consequences. But think of the reward.” There’s this life with all of its blessings, but there is a life to come. There is an eternity that awaits us. That’s why we are not discouraged, that’s why we don’t pick up and leave.
During the early time of the 20th Century, there was in China what was called “The Boxer Rebellion.” It was called that because these were actual boxers who did calisthenics. But the boxers were trying to uproot Western influence and Christianity in China. So, they came to a mission’s school that had somewhere in the neighborhood of about 90 kids as I understand it.
And they said to the kids, “We are putting a cross out front of the door, laying it flat on the ground. If you trample on that cross, that is a sign that you are despising it, and so you will live. If you respectfully walk around it, you will be put to death.”
The first seven students trampled on the cross, they walked on it, and they lived. The next student, a girl, prayed before she took her step and then respectfully walked around the cross and was shot. And according to the story I read, all the other students through that example followed her, and they were all put to death… all the rest of the students.
You know you look at it and say, “That’s crazy to throw your life away. All that you would have needed to do was to walk on the cross. And, you could even say, ‘Lord Jesus in my heart I am not really doing this. I’m just doing it physically; I’m not doing it mentally.’” There are a dozen ways that you could have rationalized it.
So, are they winners or losers? Well, it depends. Looked at from the standpoint of this world, of course it appears as if they are losers. But my dear friend, you don’t have to win in this world to be a winner in the next. Look at Jesus who was nailed to the tree at the age of 33. What a loser. Yeah? What a winner… what a winner.
So, we don’t superficially judge things. The world of man may hate us, at times they may persecute us, and they misunderstand us. But the words of Jesus spring out to me today and stick in my heart. “You must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.” And that’s what we are called to do.
And for those of you who may be here today who have never trusted Christ as Savior, I would not want the opportunity to go by. But you must believe in the Savior. You must honor Him, because if you don’t honor Him you don’t know the Father.
I don’t care what religion you are connected with, I don’t care what guru you’re learning from. He that honors the Son honors the Father. There is no other way to get to God. Give it up and come to Jesus Christ, acknowledge your helplessness and transfer your trust to Him alone.
Let’s bow in prayer. Our Father, today we confess that to be hated by the world is uncomfortable. But it is infinitely more damning to be ignored, and overlooked, and dismissed. And sometimes we know that the world looks at us as a set of children playing their futile, childish games, doing no good but neither any harm.
Would you, Father, invigorate us today? Help us to go into the world with confidence because of the gift of your Spirit. There are men and women out there who are seeking, who need to know the message. Oh Father, deliver us from a persecution complex. May we rejoice in every opportunity to be reviled for the name of Christ. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts that we know how it will all turn out.”
Now if you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, you may do that even where you are seated. Simply reach out to Him and say, “Jesus I am a sinner and I want to receive you as mine.” Would you tell Him that? “Father, complete the work that you began. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”