I still remember the evening. It was November 13, 2003 when, a bit after midnight, I turned to a friend who had been sharing the gospel with me and said, “I want to become a Christian, what do I do?” After repenting of my sins and confessing my new belief in Christ, God accepted me! Who would’ve thought that a sinner like me would’ve been welcomed home after 20 long years of rebellion? For the first time in my life my soul was at rest, happy, and joyful. And it wasn’t long before I realized I couldn’t hold this in, I wanted to tell my friends about Jesus so that they would know He could save them as He’d saved me. But a few days later when I did tell them, I was surprised to say the least. I thought they’d say “You’re right, we’ll believe in Jesus too, thank you Adam!” But they didn’t. In fact, quite the opposite took place. Within a week I had many new friends who were also believers and that was very encouraging, but I had no old friends left and that was very discouraging. As the next few weeks went on, my old friends not only rejected Jesus but rejected me for believing in Him and telling them about Him.
Perhaps you’ve experienced something of this rejection from family and friends in the past. Perhaps you’re experiencing it now and find yourself frustrated and confused, wondering why they can’t see what you see so clearly. Well if you’ve ever asked why the world rejects Christ, His Word, and His Church, you’ll find your answer in our passage this morning.
We’ve now come to the conclusion of Jesus’ famous metaphor in John 15. I’d like you to once again notice the three sections within it. While v1-11 concerns the relationship between the vine and the branches, and while v12-17 concerns the relationship between the branches and other branches, our passage this morning, v18-25, concerns the relationship between the branches and the world. The theme of love dominates the first two sections as we see the eternal and everlasting delighted love between the Father and Son, the Son and His Church, and those within the Church. But as soon as we come to v18, it is not love presented to us as the dominant theme, but hate. Hate from the world to Christ and hate from the world to Christ’s people. Or to say it another way: a faithful Church in a fallen world is promised to have persecution but must persevere.
The passage shows us this in four ways:
Persecution: The Promise Of (v18-19)
“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.”
‘If’ is an interesting word to begin this section with don’t you think? It may give us the impression that hatred from the world (or persecution) is a possibility for us rather than a certainty for us. But this thought leaves us quickly as the verse continues, “…the world hated Me before it hated you.” This is the same ‘world’ Jesus says He came into to bring redemption in John 1 and John 3, the kosmosin Greek. Not referring to specific individuals but the whole created order which from the fall has been in active rebellion against its Maker. It’s this world in view here in v18-25, it’s this world Jesus testified about saying its works were evil (John 7:7), it’s this world that hated Jesus first, and as certain as the world hated Christ, so too, it’s this world that will hate those who believe in Christ. Why? Because we’re not only associated with Him and united to Him by faith, but because as we grow in Him in intimacy, love, obedience, and fruitfulness we will have the same effect on the world as He did.v18 would’ve been immediately applicable for the disciples, for in just a few hours Jesus would be arrested and they would be thought of as criminals in cahoots with Him as well. That Jesus warned them of this shows His integrity, that He wanted them to honestly know what lies ahead of them so that when persecution occurs they won’t see it as a surprising or strange thing, but as something they’ve been warned about. Right away before we get into the promise of persecution see the contrast before us. As the Church is to be known for their love, for God and for one another, the world is known for their what? Their hatred.
Many throughout history have tried to give sociological reasons for why the Church is hated by the world, that the Church isn’t ever in step with the world or always doing the charitable works the world knows they ought to do. John doesn’t mean anything sociological here, he is speaking deeper. He is speaking to a theological reality. The world hates the Church because the Church is an in flesh reminder of the Christ they willfully hate and reject. D.A. Carson comments here saying, “The world is a society of rebels, and therefore finds it hard to tolerate those who are in joyful allegiance to the King to whom all loyalty is due.”v19 expands on this very thing. The world loves all those who are of the world, who look like the world, who believe like the world, and who live according to the principles of the world. But Christians, though still in the world, aren’t of the world any longer are we? No we’re not. Since the world is a society of rebels rebelling against the true King, the rebellious world won’t hold former rebels, who’ve been chosen out of the world by the King’s grace, as popular but as a hindrance to their persistence in rebellion.This is why the world hates and persecutes the Church.
But there’s something else we should note here. There are two unhelpful reactions to this promise of persecution. On the one hand some will soften the truth of God’s Word so as to not cause any offense in the world. While on the other hand some see this as a license to be obnoxious to the lost world because they’re going to hate us anyway. Both of these are dishonoring to God and harmful to man. Those who soften the truth to not offend the world in an effort to win the world end up losing the truth all together, while those who become obnoxious in their dealings with the world reveal their lack of love for the very world we’ve been commissioned to reach. There is a great deal of difference in wanting to reach the world without persevering in Biblical truth and wanting to reach the world by preserving Biblical truth. Just as there is a great deal of difference in the world hating you because of Christ and the world hating you because of you.
So, be cautious, we should never seek to be hated by the world, not at all. We want the world to see our love for God, for one another, and hear our gospel message, to become aware of their need and awake to the beauty of Christ and feel compelled to come to Him and join us! That’s what we all should want! So, when persecution comes, and it will, may it come because the world truly does find our love and our message appalling rather than the manner we’ve withheld it or shared it.
Persecution: A Reminder Of (v20)
“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.”
Here in v20 Jesus quotes what He said earlier in 13:16 almost exactly. There the context concerned humility and serving one another, as He was (in that very moment) serving them. If the Son of God was willing and happy to perform such lowly service in foot washing, the disciples should not be those who put up their noses at such humility but those characterized by a willingness to do the same. Jesus quotes this again to apply the same principle to persecution. He’s reminding them of how the world treated Him, and by reminding them He’s teaching them that they can and should expect the same lack of welcome from the world. More so, if the Son of God was treated such, they should be willing to be treated the same rather than try to squirm out of it. Charles Spurgeon put it like this, “If your Master was subject to all this contempt and all this pain, do you suppose you will always ride through this world in a chariot? If you do, you will be marvelously mistaken.”
Jesus puts it negatively first, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Then positively, “If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.” The benefits of coming to Christ are immense. Full atonement, a perfect righteousness freely given, adopted as God’s child, filled with His Spirit to gift us, mature us, and grow us, assurance of His eternal love, having the peace of God by being brought into peace with God, and a contended delight knowing God will finish what He began in us.And don’t miss that some did believe Jesus, and some will believe us when we share! That is encouraging. But we must count the cost of coming to Christ, because knowing Him, following Him, loving Him will cost us much, if not all, in this earthly life.
In 2 Tim. 3:12 Paul promises Timothy what Jesus promises us here saying, “Indeed, all desiring to live in a godly manner in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” When I read this I ask why. Why will those who desire godliness, to be like Jesus, why will they be persecuted? Because this world has been blinded by the prince of the power of the air (2 Cor. 4:4). Because we must enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). Because we are living in ‘violent and hard’ times surrounded by devils and evil men and women (2 Tim. 3:1-9). Because aliens do not fit in, and that’s what we are (1 Pet. 2:11). And all of this makes me examine my life because I wonder what it means if I do not experience any persecution. You ever thought of that? If I don’t ever experience persecution, discomfort, unease, hardship, or suffering, I fear I only have two options. I either a) fit in too much with this world, or b) I do not spend any real time with unbelievers. Either way, my life and my beliefs must not seem offensive to them, and therefore they might just recognize me as one of their own, not as an alien. Again, we don’t go out of our way to be persecuted, not at all. But if we’re living the Christian life the Scripture speaks about we will be persecuted, and in a true sense that persecution is evidence of our true converted state. The absence of it in our lives may just mean our lives don’t give much evidence that we’re Christians at all.
Persecution: Root & Rejection (v21-24)
We’ve seen much of why those who follow Jesus will be persecuted, but in v21 Jesus gets at the foundation of it all. “But all these things they will do to you on account of My name, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
Really it all boils down to one thing: the world hates us on account of Christ and the Father who sent Him. They ‘do not know’ the Father and therefore turn away from the One He sent. See the stages of this rejection: the world rejects Christ’s followers, which is a rejection of Christ because Christ sends us, and all those who reject Christ reject the Father who sent Him. True persecution comes to the Church because of Christ, not because of the Church. It’s our association and union with Him that brings us trouble from the world that hates Christ. The name above all names that so fills our souls with satisfaction and praise, is the same name that makes us alien to the world.
It’s like the movie Titanic or The Notebook or any other romantic movie where the young girl is smitten for a boy her father doesn’t approve of. Her father hears about it or sees it, doesn’t like the guy, doesn’t know the guy, doesn’t want to know the guy, and on account of the guy, she gets in trouble with her father. So it is with the Church in the world. Of course the example of these movies breaks down a bit because it isn’t what the Church does wrong that brings persecution from the world, but what the Church does right, our love for and obedience to Christ, that brings persecution.The world is like the strict and severe father who sees Him who’s captivated our hearts and hates us because we love Him.
v22-24 expand on this further, “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.”
The idea in v22 and v24 is not that if Jesus had not come the world would’ve continued in sinless perfection, no. Speaking somewhat proverbially the idea is that Jesus has come speaking His Word (v22) and performing His works (v24), saying and doing what no one else could ever say and do, and in spite of all the unique evidence presented to them they still reject Him. The seriousness of rejecting Christ is seen here. The greatness of the revelation in Christ shows the greatness of the guilt of those who rejected Him.And no surprise, we heard it before in John and will hear it again. Whether they knew it or not, when Jesus spoke they heard the Father and when they saw Jesus work wonders they saw the Father, which is why hatred toward Jesus, for His Word and works, is also hatred for His Father as well.And for this they have no excuse.
Persecution: The Required Result (v25)
Lest we think this trouble and persecution is outside of God’s control, or a possible hindrance to God’s purposes, or a threat to God’s glory, Jesus says persecution is God’s required result. v25 “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”
Jesus quotes Psalm 69 and Psalm 35 here to bring His point to a close. In the context of these two Psalms David is speaking of being hated without cause by enemies without number. David wasn’t a perfect king but he was and remains to be the central kingly figure in Israel’s history and in this hatred toward David, God is up to more than meets the eye. David’s suffering was deep, but his suffering was about more than just himself. In it God was giving the world a preview, a foreshadow, a glance of the new and better David, the perfect King to come Jesus Christ, who will not only endure but defeat the same hate from the world. So, in Christ’s suffering these Psalms find their ultimate fulfillment. That’s what Jesus is saying and that’s why He says this, to point out the fulfillment. Thus, the disciples (and us) shouldn’t be surprised when the events of the next hour unfold.
I’m aware that this is a hard passage bringing hard realities to bear. But though this is a hard reality, we must not soften the cost of true discipleship. Most of us are concerned for our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer these things today much worse than we do, and that is right for us. But would it surprise you that they are often more concerned about us who spend most of our lives in a carefree ease? For example Peter Kusmic, a Yugoslavian Christian who suffered under Communist persecution, spoke of us saying, “So much popular Western evangelical religiosity is so shallow and selfish. It promises so much and demands so little. It offers success, personal happiness, peace of mind, material prosperity; but it hardly speaks of repentance, sacrifice, self-denial, holy lifestyle and willingness to die for Christ.”
So perhaps we need to be reminded of a true gospel call, unblemished by the virtues of the western world. So hear me loud and clear. “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” The holy God created His perfect world, sin entered and we fell underneath His righteous and just wrath. We will remain under His wrath unless we repent and trust in Christ the Son, who humbly came as One of us to bear the curse and penalty we deserved. So with every head up and every eye open, repent and believe in this Christ, and you will be saved, this very day!
But know this. Those who think they can live faithfully and fruitfully while also gaining the world’s favor are deceiving themselves.The world hated Christ for calling out their evil deeds and they will hate us for loving Him, following Him, and obeying Him. Or to put it simply, before God’s grace revealed in Christ is redemptive, it can be quite disruptive to the world.Judge for yourselves, are you willing to be hated by the world without cause for a Christ who can set you free? We must come to Christ yes, but we must weigh the cost. The gospel is free, and any may come, but God will demand all of those who do come.
But take heart and be of good cheer, in this world we will have trouble, yes, but Jesus has overcome the world. Or as Martin Luther said in his mammoth reformation hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God“Andthough this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us, the Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him, His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth, the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth, let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!”
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 525.
Charles Spurgeon, Sermons – accessed 10/4 via, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/sermons/0089.htm.
See Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 36.
Reformation Study Bible,notes on John 15:18, page 1888.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 680.
Bruce Milne, Here is Your King! – The Message of John (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1993) page 226.
Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 313.
Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on John 15:18-16:4, page 1437.