Summary: Christians will meet opposition today justas they did in Jesus day. The Holy Spirit is given to help them meet that opposition.
There’s no doubt that for the early Christians, opposition and persecution were a fact of life. We only have to read a few chapters into the history of the early Church, as we find it in Acts and we discover Peter and John being arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin to explain why they’re proclaiming Jesus as Lord. A few chapters on we find Stephen being stoned to death. As we follow Paul on his missionary journeys, he’s subjected to beatings, stoning, gaol, arrest, he’s thrown into prison and probably ends his life in chains. So the words of Jesus, as he begins to talk about the world hating them and about persecution are brought into sharp focus by what we now know of their immediate future.
But as we move further into history, past the early centuries, we find that, in the west at least, the danger of persecution diminishes as Christianity is adopted as the official religion of the empire. And by the time we get to or own age, it seems that the prospect of harm coming to any of us in the developed world for our faith is negligible. So as we read these words the focus seems to blur a little. We ask ourselves whether these words are relevant any more.
Well, let me suggest that yes, they are still relevant. Even though we’re probably not going to be subject to physical persecution, Jesus’ statement that the world will hate us, is as true today as it was in his day. Why, because we follow Jesus, and the world takes the same attitude to Jesus today as it did back then. You see, Jesus’ death and resurrection are the climax of Jesus’ mission on earth. The Kingdom of God is about to be born. That means that there can be no more sitting on the fence. As Jesus said "From now on, you’re either for me or you’re against me." From now on there will only be two types of people in the world: those who love Jesus, and those who hate him. And those two groups of people will be at enmity with each other. He says: "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world -- therefore the world hates you."
The picture he’s using is of us being gathered in the midst of a world that’s opposed to God, to form a new world, of those who are his followers. But we’re not physically removed from that world. Rather we’re called to live within it, to be salt and light, a purifying and enlightening influence on it. So we’re left to live in a world that’s opposed to us, just as it’s opposed to Jesus and it’s not going to be easy. In the context of first century Judaism, the opposition they’re going to face will be opposition from the Jews who saw them as undermining their Jewish faith, of denying the one true God through their claim that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. But, he says, that’s no more than I’ve experienced. You can’t expect them to understand you or accept you any more than they’ve understood and accepted me. If you take my name you’ll be treated the same way I was. And why? Because they don’t know the one who sent me. There’s such an irony there isn’t there? The Jews thought they knew God. They thought they were doing the right thing, defending the honour of the only true God. But they didn’t know God at all. Why? Because they had rejected his only Son. Remember what Jesus said to Philip back in Jn 14:9: (John 14:9-10 NRSV) "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ’Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" If they’d known Jesus, they would have known the one who sent him. And this failure of the Jews to know Jesus, to believe in Jesus is compounded by the fact that he’s come and lived among them, taught in their midst and done the amazing works that he did, works that no-one else has ever done.
So there are two types of people in the world. Those who know and love Jesus Christ as Lord, and those who are opposed to him, and therefore to his followers. Well, that was clearly true in the first century, but what about now? How does that dichotomy manifest itself in our situation? Where do we see Christians at odds with the world?