John 15:26-16:4: Christian Persecution

COPTIC CHRISTIANS PRAY INSIDE CHURCH IN CAIROIf historians are correct, the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history.  Of course, we understand that conclusion while the 21st century is still in its childhood.  The 20th century saw the rise of three evil “isms”: Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.  All three of those movements wanted to set up an ideal culture or society, a self-made utopia, based on their ideology.

But whenever someone wants a perfect society, a self-made form of perfection, one result always happens–people have to die!  For people aren’t perfect.  They always get in the way of the perfect society that someone is trying to create.

Those three movements in the 20th century were atheistic at their core.  The Nazis didn’t pretend that they were doing God’s business on earth.  They were trying to create the ubermensch: the perfect man.  Neither did the Communists cloak their mass killings behind the guise of some religion.

But throughout most of human history, that was not the case.  Usually, when the world lines up against something, it wraps itself behind pious-sounding words to do so.  When the world attacks something, let’s say even Christ’s Church, it usually does so cloaking evil behind what seems and sounds good.

Here’s what I mean.  Let’s just look at life in our culture and unpack what many say against Christ’s Church.  We’ve all heard it, and sometimes we’ve haven’t even had a good response to those charges.  We’ll hear:

Don’t you say, “God is love”?  Well, then, how can you be so unloving to say that homosexuality is wrong?  That’s not loving!  How can you tell me that having sex with another man’s wife is sinful?  We’re in love; and, after all, God is love.  How dare you say that anyone who doesn’t believe in your version of Jesus is going to hell!  That’s hate speech!  And no God of love would send anyone to hell anyway.

And so, what Jesus said to His Apostles on the night when He was betrayed is fulfilled: “The time is coming when someone who kills you will think that he is doing a service to God” (John 16:2).  The world has it upside down and backwards because the world is turned 180 degrees away from God.

The world doesn’t know Jesus and His Father.  That’s why the world is against the Church and Christ’s true followers.  The world is at war with God’s truth.  And so they (or should I say we in our own culture) set up our own ideas of God as our own idols.  And so the world does not worship the one, true God but a false idol of its own making.

And it’s no surprise that the god that the world sets up to worship is the mirror image of that world.  Such a false god simply reaffirms what the world wants to believe.  It’s a self-licking ice-cream cone.  God made man in His own image and, since then, man has been returning the favor, making new gods after his own image.

So, what is the god of our American culture like?  He’s never judgmental.  He’s always nice, never condemning, and always on our side.  At least the god of American popular culture says he’s not judgmental.  But we know that’s not true.  Our culture may hold up tolerance as the greatest good–but then is intolerant to God’s standards of right and wrong.

The primary commandment of this god, the god of our culture, is “Be Happy.”  The primary sins are “Not Being True To Yourself” (at least our culture’s understanding of that) and “Not Following Your Dreams.”  The only person this god has ever sent to hell was Hitler.  And he’ll probably get out early with time off for good behavior, for even Hitler built the Autobahn.  This god understands.  He doesn’t mind.  It’s OK.  We love this god because he wants what we want.  He has taught us to pray, “Not thy will, but my will be done.”

So, what are we to do about this, especially when we like much of what the god of our culture is selling us?  We do what God has always called us to do–repent!  Flee from such false idols.

For who can say that some of the world and the worship of its god has not infected his heart?  Who has never tried to cover up evil with the pretense of good?  Who has never justified gossip with, “Well, it’s the truth”?  Who has never justified an outburst of anger and hurtful words with, “I have a right to be angry”?

Flee from those sins you wrap in the guise of righteousness.  For, today, Jesus comes to remove such pretense and posturing.  He is not here to help you rationalize or excuse your sins.  He tells it like it is.  He calls you away from your self-justifications to bring you into His truth.  He calls your sin a “sin” and He invites you into the freedom of calling it sin, as well.

That’s what repenting means.  It means giving up on your own excuses and, instead, coming to Jesus and saying: “Lord, you caught me with my pants down.  I’m a sinner.  I’ve messed up.  I do not ask for what I deserve, but for your mercy.”

And when you do that, that’s when you humbly come to the Lord.  That’s when the Holy Spirit brings you to the Father in the love of the Son, and you then live as a Christian.  It’s then that you place your will, your intellect, and your wants beneath what God wants for you.  And when you live such a life for all to see, the world will often hate you fiercely and turn against you even more.  For the world cannot stand a true follower of Christ, just as it could not stand Christ Himself.

The world must rid itself of Christ because He exposes the lies of the world for all to see.  The world says, “Money and possessions will make you happy.”  Jesus says, “No, they won’t.  They will only trap you into pouring yourself into what will not endure and last.”

And so the world brands Jesus as a traitor.  He turned His back on its glory when Satan tempted Him.  And so now, Christians, too, are traitors to the world.  When you turn toward Jesus, you turn your back on the world.  And this enrages the world.  And so as the world attacked Christ, so also does the world attack Christians.

Sometimes this hatred is open, like our brothers and sisters in Syria and Egypt, who are being martyred for the faith.  Sometimes it’s more subtle, like our brothers and sisters in Canada and Australia whom governmental-rights commissions fine or imprison for speaking against sin, which they brand as “hate speech.”  And sometimes it is subtler still: It may be the quiet persecution from a friend or family member who distances himself from you or their mockery behind your back.

But it matters not, dear Christians, for what the world means for evil, God will use for good.  For remember that God used even the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the greatest good.  The hatred of the world killed Jesus–and God used that death to bring forgiveness and love to the world.

As Jesus died to the world, by the hands of the world and for the benefit of the world, so also it is with you.  Every day, the Lord will train you to die to yourself, to die to the world, all so you may rise with Him, and in rising with Him, draw all people to Him.

This is God’s plan for His Church: that we become united to Jesus Christ in His death–and life!  It is a plan of death and resurrection.  It’s not the plan of the latest religious book, fad, or church-growth technique, for man-made plans or techniques do not bring this to be.

In truth, God brings about His plan for His Church in ways that seem crazy, even insane to us.  God disciples us into His Church by killing us in the waters of baptism.  God then continues to disciple us by teaching us what it means to be baptized.

That’s what the Bible says.  Jesus told His Apostles to disciple the nations by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).  And Romans 6:3 says, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

And then God restores you to live in that baptism, day in and day out, again and again, through Confession and Absolution.  For Confession and Absolution is repenting and being brought into Jesus’ life-giving forgiveness.

And then God connects you to Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.  It’s as Jesus says:

For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me [John 6:55-57].

Jesus lives in you, and you live in Him.  His death counts for you.  His life enlivens you.  That is God’s plan for you.  That is the Christian life.  That is where the action is–where Jesus connects you to Him and Himself to you in the Lord’s Supper.

So what can the world do to you?  If the world attacks, the Lord still gives you everlasting life.  If you lose all your earthly possessions, the Lord will still keep you and your little ones.  If all else falls apart, Jesus will hold you in His hand.  For He cannot deny himself.  And He lives in you.  And you live in Him.  That’s His promise to you in this Holy Supper.  And that is enough.  Amen.