THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD

168

The stoning of Stephen

As Jesus and His disciples make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is conscious that He is literally on His way to His arrest and execution.  How did He arrive at this point?  And what does it mean for His disciples, and, by implication, for the church?

At this point Jesus give His disciples a foreboding notice: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; NKJV).  “The world” is the generality of the human race in its lost condition.  We sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles.  But that is not the way Christ sees it.  The United States, like every other nation on the face of the earth, is made up mostly of lost sinners who are in a state of sin and rebellion against God, and are on their way to hell.  America is a part of “the world.”

And the world, Jesus says, “hated Me.”  The great irony of the situation is that here was Jesus, the very Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins, and He is rejected by the great majority of mankind.  He was the promised Messiah, and yet He was rejected by the Jews.  And if we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ we may face the same rejection as well.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the position of the Christian in the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (v.19).  Christ’s immediate disciples were a select group of men specifically chosen by Him to be His disciples.  But in a broader sense this is true of every Christian believer.  Why do some believe and not others?  We were all lost sinners, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  But God chose some (those of us who were to be saved) to make monuments of His mercy and grace.

But in the process of choosing us He effectively separated us from the world of which we once were a part.  He chose us “out of the world.”   We are no longer a part of the human society around us.  We no longer share its values.  We have seen the light, and can no longer live the way we used to; and that puts us at variance with the world around us.  They are motivated by self-interest.  They routinely ignore God.  And when confronted with the claims of Christ they react in loathing and disgust.  And so they rejected Christ; and they rejected the apostles, and they will likely reject us if we try to bear faithful witness to the truth.  The world “hates” us, because it hates what we represent: the claims of God over their sinful, rebellious lives.

The underlying cause of persecution, Jesus says, is that “they do not know Him who sent Me” (v. 21).  Again we need to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Jesus’ immediate opponents were Jewish religious leaders.  They certainly thought of themselves as religious.  And yet in reality they did not know God, for it they did they would have embraced the One whom the Father had sent.  They had actually seen the Son of God.  They had heard Him speak.  Moreover, Jesus had “done among them the works which no one else did” (v. 24).  And yet in spite of that they rejected Christ anyway.  And the servant, Jesus says, is not greater that his master.  “If they persecuted Me, the will also persecute you” (v. 20).

One might think at this point that the situation is hopeless.  And yet we have a most valuable resource available to us – the Holy Spirit.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (v. 26).  The world cannot be won to Christ through natural, human means.   To overcome the intense opposition that the world has toward Christ, the Holy Spirit must transform people inwardly, opening their eyes, convicting them of sin, and drawing them to Christ.  Revival is the Holy Spirit’s work – we are merely instruments in His hands.  The disciples themselves, in their role as apostles, “also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (v. 27).  They were witnesses of the events surrounding Jesus.  They had heard His teaching; they had seen His miracles.  We have their testimony in the pages of the New Testament.  It leaves mankind without excuse.

Jesus then goes on to tell His disciples that He was telling them all of this in advance “that you should not be made to stumble” (16:1).  Had Jesus been like one of our modern “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, and had His disciples responded to Him thinking that the Christian life would be one of ease and comfort, when persecutions came their way they most likely would have experienced a profound sense of disillusionment and would have dismissed Jesus as a fraud.  But Jesus was honest and transparent with them, and forewarned them of what lay ahead.  He points out that “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (v. 2).

“And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (v. 3).  Here is the irony of the situation: there will be religious leaders (and here the initial reference appears to be the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem) who will persecute Christian believers in the name of religion.  Why?  “. . . because they have not known the Father nor Me.”  Unfortunately it is possible to have an outward form of religion based purely on sociology and not on an actual relationship with God.  Thus what the leader thinks is right is not always what God wants.  This is why the genuine children of God sometimes wind up being persecuted.

Most of this is utterly alien to us American Christians.  We have never experienced anything even remotely like this before.  And yet indications are already there that we are now living in a “Post-Christian” society and the signs of persecution are already on the horizon.  Will we, as followers of Jesus Christ, be prepared to suffer for Him?

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if

need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the

genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than

gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found

to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .”

(I Peter 1:6,7)