The Cost of Discipleship - John 15:18-27

This is a sermon by Tim Benstead from the evening service on 14th July 2002.

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"Life has taught me that it is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated, but for our qualities."

Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)

An article in the Times Educational Supplement was headlined as 'Anger at minister's Christian intern'. The story was about a researcher for Stephen Timms MP who is partly paid by CARE. The researcher is only employed on constituency business and is part of a programme that gives political experience to graduates. The one who was angry was the Lib. Dem. Education spokesman, Phil Willis. Apparently he is "staggered at the naivety of the minister." (The implication of the quote being that this researcher will affect government policy).

Why is this so staggering? Why is it that Christians who hold to the Word of God are pilloried as being psychologically unstable at best and dangerous at worst, who are bracketed with those who bomb buildings and kill?

Why is it that to be a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country is dangerous for your health? Convert to Christianity in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran etc. and see how long you live. Where the punishment for becoming a Christian can range from execution at worst to utter social exclusion at best. A woman in Turkey becomes a Christian and decides to change her passport so that it no longer states she is a Muslim but a Christian. What troubles will she have and what troubles will come the churches way because of this courageous stand for the Lord?

It has been stated that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th Century than in all the others combined. This passage is immensely relevant to such a time as this as it will ever be until the Lord Jesus returns. It deals with hatred.

Be sure the world will hate you:- Because we do not belong to it; Because we belong to Christ; Because the world is ignorant.

The world hates Christ:- To alleviate the trouble of his followers; To aggravate the wickedness of this unbelieving world.

A message authenticated:- Witness of the Spirit; Witness of the apostles.

Be sure the world will hate you.

Because we don't belong to it.

19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

The Lord Jesus had expressed the great kindness that he had for the disciples. Vv 14-15 of this passage have shown just how much Jesus cared for his disciples. They are his friends. Yet here we see that we are rejected by the world in which we live.

Why should we be rejected? For the simple reason that we no longer belong to this world; we have been chosen by God and removed from the world.

What is the world? It is not the things that we see around us, or even the people that live within it. We are called to be stewards of the environment in which we live and to love those that surround us. No! This world is the system. It is the mindset of society that rejects everything that is of God; that sees good as bad and bad as good. So a world rejects Gods values for the family and what we see is greater dysfunction in society such that government tries to operate forms of social engineering equal to what the Victorians tried to do. Where it is acceptable for a politician to rail against a Christian worker in a minister's constituency office.

The world will always hate Christians that hold to a counter cultural view. When Christians stand for what is right then we will be ridiculed. When Christians show integrity we will be grumbled at, and when a Christian fails the world will rejoice. (And doesn't the media rejoice in it?)

We don't belong. It reminds me of the story Chris Hobbs told some years ago. Imagine that we are travellers. We get to the airport and we are waiting for our flight. There are shops and activity going on all around us, but we don't get involved in them because we belong somewhere else. (We don't forget to get on the plane because we are so enamoured of the duty free!). Our problem is that we so often start to enjoy the airport departure lounge. We forget we are passing through and start to set down roots. We need to wake up. We don't belong! The world hates us because we belong to someone else.

This is of course why the world ignores us when we lose our distinctive voice. We are not more relevant when we water down the message we are simply cosying up to the world. We don't get more relevant by dressing up or down; we are not to be heard by simply agreeing that all religions are the same; we are not accepted when we put tellies in church to see the football. We are heard and hated when we stand up for what is true and then live it out. If our studies in James on a morning have told us anything, it is that we are called not only to believe the message, but to live it!

We belong to Christ.

21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

The world hates us when it hears the message. We are hated because of the name. When we stay silent then we are ignored. When we proclaim the message then we are hated. When Jesus is seen to be more than a swear word and relevant in the lives of people then we are hated. We are hated because of the name!

Never lose sight of this.

It was Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. He was carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.

The proconsul then urged him, saying, "Swear, and I will release thee; reproach Christ. Say away with the godless". Polycarp said, "Away with the godless". He was then asked to "execrate Christ".

Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?"

It was the English poet Algernon Swinburne who wrote, "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey at they breath;

We are hated because we proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified. We belong to Christ!

Because the world is ignorant.

21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

Ignorance is bliss. This is what I believe stop bothering me with the facts.

A world whose leaders and opinion formers are at heart atheistic leads naturally to a common ignorance in understanding who God is. So when Ann Robinson asks whose army did Goliath fight for against David; the contestant answered 'Oliver's'. (Elvis Costello song).

As it is written in Rom.1

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualitieshis eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

The world is ignorant of the God who made it, and so we are hated and ridiculed. The problem for a world in wilful ignorance is that we are a constant witness that there is a creator with whom they must do business.

The world hates Christ

To alleviate the trouble of his followers.

18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.

We might be forgiven for throwing up our hands and quitting. It can so very difficult. How often have we seen TV programmes of people who have lost their faith when hard times strike? Is it reasonable for us to lose our faith in such circumstances? No! Faith fails because Christ was never at the hub of their lives. Faith fails when 'I' am the focus of my life and Christ is left out. When hardship comes then 'I' fail me.

We are given a warning however. As so often happens, before something occurs God gives us a timely warning. This enables us to get prepared. We cannot be surprised that things seem to go wrong. What we can be is prepared.

Why should we be any different from the Lord who saved us?

20 Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

The Romanian Pastor Joseph Tson put it like this, 'I am an extension of Jesus Christ. When I was beaten in Romania, He suffered in my body. It is not my suffering: I only had the honour to share His sufferings'.

It is no accident that the church expands when it is persecuted. Take a look at the church in China. Look at the church in any country where Christ's name is desecrated and you will see men and women, boys and girls coming to know Him as Lord and Saviour.

When will we in our comfortable homes and cushy jobs waken up to reality. We are given a warning. When we proclaim Christ, trouble will come. If we fail to proclaim Christ then we will be left alone, but we will only be the empty husk of what used to be a church. But we are given a warning, so let us keep awake.

To aggravate the wickedness of this unbelieving world.

22 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.
24 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.

Allied to the idea that ignorance is bliss is the principle that when we become aware of a situation we become responsible morally for that situation.

The Bible quite clearly shows that when the law as defined by the Ten Commandments had not been written then man's responsibility was less than when the law was given. Sin was still sin yet it was only when the law came that it was plainly seen as sin. The law came to tell us how good we are not. It came to set a benchmark based on the character of God.

The same is true in principle here. Now that Christ has come in the flesh men are without any excuse. Before they might have argued that 'we didn't know'. Now we all know. We have seen the miracles, maybe not ourselves, but certainly we have the written record of them. We could have seen the miracles if we had been around 2000 years ago. We were not at the crucifixion or the resurrection but we have the written record. We are without excuse.

So when the gospel is preached we become aware that it is so often rejected for almost any reason. But now ignorance is no excuse.

Be warned when the gospel is rejected then there is no hope. In a church where the gospel is not preached then be in no doubt it is no church of God. Christ came to highlight or aggravate the wickedness of this world.

A message authenticated twofold witness

Witness of the Spirit.

26 When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

We have received the warning and we should be prepared. However, our God is so gracious that he sends all the necessary help. The Holy Spirit has not been sent by God the Father and God the Son so that we can have the thrill of the fill. His work is to point us to and witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus may have died and risen again, but still he is being made known by His Spirit. The message is authenticated by God himself.

How is this happening? Primarily the witness of the Spirit is seen when men and women come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. When men and women, boys and girls turn from their old life of sin and turn to Jesus their old self dies and new life is given to them; they are born anew! This is the particular work of the Spirit and it is one we would do well not to interfere with. We cannot work up emotions so that people respond and as quickly turn away. Jesus is looking for disciples and not well-wishers.

Witness of the apostles.

27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

The initial witness the Scriptures have in mind here is the apostolic testimony. When Jesus was taken back to heaven the message was entrusted to the apostles. It was Peter at Pentecost that preached that first gospel message authenticated by the Spirit. Once they had started to proclaim the gospel then others joined in and more and more people came to trust in Christ.

All of us are part of that same apostolic witness. We have received the message when we came to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and now we are called to send it on. We need have no truck with some of the nonsense that the established churches have. The key work is the proclamation of the gospel. How? By telling others of what Jesus has done for us, and what he means to us.

I would argue that the use of the church to propagate the 'apostolic succession' for its ministers (priests) is unbiblical and works against the use of all Christians in the extension of the kingdom of God. It is a principle that should never have happened and simply creates a power structure in an organisation where power structures should be anathema. In reality it is more akin to Gnosticism that sought to keep out the uninitiated from the 'secret' knowledge.

I am a witness. I came to know the Lord Jesus Christ one Easter Sunday when I was aged 27. This church is filled with fellow witnesses who can tell of the time when they came to trust in Jesus and what he means to them now and how he is at work in their lives. Where is the apostolic succession? Is it in the line of 'Priests' like Don Cupitt who don't believe, but who have been ordained? Or in the line of all those who witness to what God has done in their lives through Christ?

There is a cost to discipleship, but not the one we can sometimes think about.

When we stand up for Jesus the cost is to be hated by the world but loved by God;

When we stand up for Jesus we are witnesses of him and act as his mouthpiece and peoples lives are changed;

When we stand up for Jesus we proclaim Jesus to be Lord in a world that has thrown off all authority.

Let us stand for Jesus in this sin-sick world knowing that Jesus walks with us and we are pleasing him.

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