Summary: Expository sermon on the dynamics of persecution and our response to it. Video clip from "The Robe".
Can You Take The Heat?
Fortifying the Foundations # 35
In our text this morning Jesus warns his followers about persecution. Sometimes Christians are suffering persecution and they don’t even realize that what they are experiencing is persecution. In other cases Christians think they are being persecuted for righteousness sake but in reality the trouble is their own fault. It is extremely helpful to know the difference. A good doctor determines the cause of the problem before he prescribes a solution. And when a Christian is experiencing rejection or ill treatment it is a good idea to know the cause behind what is going on.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you...” Most of us have not experienced anything like the intensity of persecution that the early church experience or that our fellow believers are experiencing in other parts of the world. It has been estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th Century than in all the years prior to 1900 combined. Approximately 150,000 Christians are martyred each year. There are some horrific things going on in the world even as we speak. We are painfully aware of the hatred and animosity that is being expressed through the rise in terrorism. The reality of terrible persecution is all around us. But we enjoy a certain insulation from all that.
There is a more subtle form of persecution, however, that most of us do face. The young people call it peer pressure. When we get older we may just refer to it as a bad day on the job. But in reality anyone who genuinely lives a godly life will suffer persecution. I remember my first job when I completed college. I was working for a large CPA firm in Dallas. Because I was one an effective producer the managers wanted me on their jobs. But because I was also living for the Lord it was awkward at times when someone told a course joke and I didn’t laugh. We worked out of town a lot as a team and it was awkward when everyone wanted to go out drinking after work and I went to my room. I did not condemn them. I simply did not participate and they knew why. So what does that have to do with persecution? In subtle ways I paid a price for my convictions. No one was mean to me. But I was often assigned to the hardest tasks and was sometimes sent to subsidiaries to work alone away from the team. It was an extremely mild form of persecution. Everyone was still pretty nice to me. But I “cramped their style” so to speak. It was more comfortable for them when I was not there. At first they tried to just get me to go along and be a part of the crowd. When that didn’t work they understandably excluded me from their click.
That persecution was so subtle that I could have easily just taken it as a personal rejection. But because I understood the underlying cause of their response it was not difficult to bear.
In our text Jesus is telling us what we need to know in order to handle the persecutions that may come into our lives whether they be extremely mild like the example I just shared or whether they be extremely harsh like what the apostles experienced in the first century. What does the Bible tell us about persecution?
1st Jesus tells us that if we are persecuted for righteousness sake we are in good company.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” In other words this is a common experience for a follower of Christ. Regardless of what we may be going through we can look at the way Jesus was treated and be encouraged to know that the ill treatment toward him was not his fault. It came because of his relationship with the Father. And when we are being mistreated because of our relationship and faithfulness to him it is nothing to be ashamed of.
In verse 20 Jesus tells us something else to keep in mind. “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master’.” That was in all probability a common proverb in the first century. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” In that statement Jesus delineates two kinds of responses. Some people when confronted with the truth will hear it and obey it and their lives will be transformed. We are to expect some to respond in that way. In fact, it becomes very unhealthy if we only expect people to respond negatively to our message. Some will receive the word with gladness. In Jesus ministry some received his word and became his follower. But others rejected it and became his persecutors. Jesus is saying you saw that in my life. Brace yourself for the same two kinds of reactions to your Christian influence.