Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
13 November 2016 / Ordinary Time
May God’s love be with you.
Remember where we are in the story.
It is night and we are still hanging out with Jesus and his disciples somewhere between the upper room and the garden of Gethsemane. It is possible that this conversation took place as they walked the streets through city.
Whatever the case, Jesus was counseling his disciples to hang in there and stay connected to him no matter what — even if the world hates you and haters persecute you.
Our sermon text for today is John 15:18-16:4. If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. Brace yourselves and hear the word of the Lord:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.”
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading and hearing of his word. And the church says: Amen!
Once upon a time I was a student in a missions training program. Many of our teachers attempted to ingrain in us the notion that one proves himself to be a true disciple of Christ by bearing fruit which they interpret as making other disciples. In their view, fruit-bearing meant disciple-making; and by implication, not making disciples meant getting cut off from Christ. Thus, by faulty exegesis did they motivate students to do evangelism, and by flawed theology did they (unwittingly) motivate them to do works for salvation — if not to gain it, certainly to keep it.
As much as I disagreed with their view then, and disagree more strongly now, I will concede one point: They were partially right about the missional aspect of branches bearing fruit — even if they were totally wrong about the fruit.
The fruit of the Vine is held out to the world by the branches. It is carried to the world by the branches.
The fruit we hold out to the world points the world to the Vine. As the prophet Isaiah said, “In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.” (Isaiah 27:7 ESV)
In this way the world comes to know that we are united to Christ and in communion with him.
Now, before we move on I want to clarify something.
Over the past decade there has been a lot of debate over church models. In this corner is the attractional church; and in that corner the missional church.
The attractional church model says, “We evangelize people by drawing attention to ourselves and trying to get them to come to us. We market ourselves and do outreach events that target specific kinds people.”
The missional church model says, “We evangelize by forming relationships and sharing life together. We invite people to live out the gospel wherever they are, at home, at work, at play.”
And I say a pox on both your models.
The trouble with both models is that (in practical reality) they are church-centered. They end up pointing people back to the branches, not the Vine.
In the allegory of the Vine and Branches, Jesus calls us to be missional and attractional, but only to the degree that we are pointing the world to the Vine.
When we branches hold out the fruit of the Vine — love, joy, peace — we are being missional and attractional. Attractional because that spiritual fruit gets the world’s attention. Missional because we are inviting the world to taste and see that the Lord is good.
What does all that have to do with our sermon text?
One reason we come up with different models of church is because we are always trying to figure out what works, what gets the results we desire, what makes the church grow. American Evangelicals are slaves of pragmatism.
Now, there are many problems with that, but the main one is that it totally ignores the teachings of Jesus Christ.
He makes it clear that even if we hold out the fruit of the vine and carry the fruit of the Vine out into the world, there is no guarantee that the world will like what it sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes.
We can hold out the love, joy, and peace of Christ, and the world can still hate us. We can carry kindness, goodness, and faithfulness out into the world, and the world can still persecute us.
What all this tells us that we are not sent out into the world to make a name for ourselves. We are sent out to fill the whole world with the fruit of the Vine, whether the world likes it or not.
As much as we want everyone to like us, and speak well of us, to love us, and treat us well, Jesus warns us that we should expect the polar opposite.
Now, the word “if” is repeated several times, which makes us think there is a chance the world will leave us alone. But Jesus makes it clear that world will hate us, and haters will persecute us.
Why? There’s no need to hypothesize or make up reasons. Jesus tells us plainly that the world will hate us, and haters will persecute us because:
Disobedience: they hate Jesus and do not keep his word
Intolerance: we are not of this world; we are chosen/elect out of the world and grafted into Christ
Ignorance: they do not know the Father and they hate him
So, disobedience, intolerance, and ignorance.
In other words, they do not have any legitimate reason to hate you or persecute you, but they do anyway. Why? Because sin is totally irrational.
Here in the US, in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt, we imagine that we are persecuted, but we are not. We are criticized and mocked and (sometimes) bullied, but not yet persecuted. At least not hated and persecuted the way many of our brothers and sisters around the world are.
According to reports by Open Doors USA, Voice of the Martyrs, and The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution.”
It is estimated that each month:
332 Christians are killed for their faith. 214 Christian churches or properties are destroyed. 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians, including beatings, abductions, rape, imprisonment, forced marriages.
Many of the Refugees fleeing the Middle east and risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea are professing Christians.
A Turkish friend from seminary still weeps when he tells the story of the pastors who shared the gospel with him — and were later were martyred in Turkey.
Last week, an Iranian friend from seminary shared his story of conversion to Christ while living in Iran. He became part of the under-ground church in Iran* [Note: In the sermon I misspoke and said Iraq.] When his pastors were arrested he was urged to flee Tehran. When he reached his home town, he was urged to flee the country. So he went to Turkey and eventually ended up here in Dallas where he is being trained and equipped so he can take the gospel to his people.
All these stats and stories of persecution stand in sharp contrast to life here in the US, especially in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt.
Here, professing Christians are often ashamed of Christ, betray him, and deny him — with far less on the line than their lives. They don’t want to seem weird, or look different, or feel shamed, or lose face, or face fears, whatever. Many play hop, skip, and jump with Christ and the church over silly things and petty matters. We might flee from one church to another, but not to escape persecution.
Jesus prayed, Zeal for God’s house will consume me! Evangelicals pray, Zeal for God’s house is not consumer-friendly.
On the darkest night of the world, Jesus counsels his disciples to hang in there with him and stay connected to him no matter what — even if the world hates you, even if haters persecute you, even if it kills you.
Let’s pause here for just a moment and let that soak in.
All night long, the disciples have heard one piece of bad news after another.
One of you will betray me.
One of you will deny me.
I am leaving, you cannot come.
On top of all that they hear that
The world will hate you.
The world will persecute you.
They will put you out of the synagogues. That is, you will be excommunicated from your local congregations.
And the worst news of all, is this: The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to the true and living God.
In other words, all hell will break loose against you in the name of religious zeal.
Why? Because the world does not know the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And that brings us to a conundrum.
The world does not know God, so God sent his Son into the world to show and tell who God is. They world hated, persecuted, and killed him in the name of god.
The world still does not know God, so God sends his Son’s followers into the world to show and tell who God is. They world hates, persecutes, and kills them in the name of its gods.
Now, in the face of such animosity and conflict, what are we tempted to do? We are tempted to conceal the fruit of the Vine.
Instead of holding out the fruit of the Vine to the world, we are tempted to hold it in and hide it. Instead of carrying the fruit of the Vine into the world, we are tempted to cover it up or cast it down.
There is no valid excuse for faithlessness; there is no sound reason for unfaithfulness.
We need to repent of our desire to be liked and loved by the world, and we need to rejoice that we are liked and loved by the World made flesh for the life of the world.
At the end of all things, that is all that will matter.
Now, the good news is that we don’t have to do all this all alone all by ourselves.
Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to help us. The Spirit keeps us connected to the Vine, and centered on the Vine, and connected to to each other.
And he does this by bearing witness about Jesus to us, so that we will bear witness about Jesus to the world.
Why did Jesus tell his disciples all these things that night, on the night eve of his arrest, beating, and crucifixion?
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.”
The Greek word for “fall away” sounds like this: scandalizo. Our word for scandalize comes from it. It means cause to stumble, cause to sin, cause to fall away, offend.
Jesus told us all these things to keep us from trippin’. He wanted all his followers to go on mission with their eyes wide open, knowing full well that in this world they will have trouble, bracing themselves for trouble.
As a bookend to the conversation that started in the upper room, Jesus reminds us here of something he said earlier:
“No servant is greater than his master.”
The first time he said it, he meant that his disciples should humble themselves and wash one another’s feet. This last time he said it, he meant that they should take up their crosses and follow him into suffering and death and back into life with the help of the Holy Spirit.
And that is exactly what they did. According to Tradition,
Peter was crucified — upside down. Andrew was tied to a cross and died of exposure. James was killed with a sword. John was exiled on an island in his old age. Thomas was pierced with spears. Philip was scourged and executed. Others were skinned, beheaded, stoned, or crucified.
Like their Master, they laid down their lives for their friends, and for the life of the world. May God grants us the grace to do the same.
I want to end today with a story that none of us should ever forget.
Most of us still remember the images of the 21 men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a beach in the middle east, with their black-clothed captors standing behind them. One by one, each man was brutally slaughtered, and as this happened many of them were praying “Lord Jesus Christ” with their last breath.
According to reports, one of those men was not a professing Christian when he was captured. But when his captors demanded that he follow Islam, Mathew Ayairga, an African man from Chad, turned them down. And when they asked him, “Do you reject Christ?” He answered, “Their God is my God,” — and thus he became one of the 21 martyrs who laid down their lives by faith in Jesus Christ. Source: persecution.com
Where did these men get such fearless faithfulness?
Not of themselves, it was a gift from God the Father, sent through Jesus Christ, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.
In the hour of their death, the Spirit helped them bear witness to Jesus Christ.
The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness…and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Brothers and sisters, trouble is coming. And we will need to be much more tough-minded, tender-hearted, and thick-sinned than we are now, so that when it comes, we will be able to hold out the fruit of the Vine to the world without hiding it, and so that we will be able to carry the fruit of the Vine to the world without casting it, for the glory of God and the good of others.
Remember: God loved the world — even this world of haters and persecutors and murderers — and this is how he showed it. He gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
The bottom line is this: God’s love trumps Man’s hate. Love trumps hate.
In one of my favorite films, Kingdom of Heaven, a knight named Godfrey of Ibelin finds his son and takes him on a mission. And with his last and dying breath he makes his son a knight and gives him a solemn charge, which I want to pass on to you now:
Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.
May the Spirit of Christ help us to trust and obey God in all things — no matter what.
Let us pray for ourselves, and for all those throughout the world who are suffering for the Name of Jesus Christ from Psalm 35:
O Lord, oppose those who oppose me.
Fight those who fight against me.
Put on your armor, and take up your shield.
Prepare for battle, and come to my aid.
Lift up your spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Let me hear you say,
“I will give you victory!”
Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me;
turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me.
Blow them away like chaff in the wind—
a wind sent by the angel of the Lord.
Make their path dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
I did them no wrong, but they laid a trap for me.
I did them no wrong, but they dug a pit to catch me.
So let sudden ruin come upon them!
Let them be caught in the trap they set for me!
Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for me.
Then I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be glad because he rescues me.
With every bone in my body I will praise him:
“Lord, who can compare with you?
Who else rescues the helpless from the strong?
Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?”
How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing?
Rescue me from their fierce attacks.
Protect my life from these lions!
Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly.
I will praise you before all the people. (ESV)