Persecuted by the World

 Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 1, 2001

Persecuted by the World
John 15:18-16:4a


This morning we come to a text that will challenge your understanding of the gospel and your commitment to it.

Over the past several weeks we have been dealing with a section of Scripture often referred to as the Upper Room Discourse. Jesus has met with His disciples for their last meal together before His betrayal and crucifixion. Jesus has washed the disciples feet. Judas has left to perform his evil betrayal. Jesus has given new meaning to the elements of the Passover meal they were celebrating. It would no longer be a celebration about freedom from bondage in Egypt, but the bread and the cup would now be a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice to free them from the bondage of their sin.

The disciples were sorrowful at the thought of Jesus going away and Jesus has been comforting them. The promise of His preparing a place for them in heaven. The promise of His return for them. The promise of the coming of another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. All of these did bring comfort to them. There was also the relationship that they would continue to have with Him. He was the vine, they were the branches and they were to abide in Him and bear much fruit as a result. Jesus would not only be their friend, but as they would follow in obedience after Him, Jesus would consider them to be His friends. Their prayers would be answered because of Jesus’ ministry of intercession on their behalf. All those promises comforted them and they continue to bring comfort to us in our day.

Then, as we discussed last week, there would also be the relationship they would have with one another. The command to love one another as Jesus had loved them would also bring much comfort. That is still a comfort to Christians today.

But the section we will look at today would not bring direct comfort. It was a warning given to keep them from stumbling later when they faced the hardships in the future. Their changed relationship with God and each other in following Jesus Christ would bring about a changed relationship with everyone else too. This is still true today.

Americans tend to be pragmatic. At one time, Americans were also an idealistic people. Tragically, much of the idealism has been lost and we have become even more pragmatic. The reality of this is seen in the modern politics where there are few statesmen who will stand up for what is right simply because it is right while there are many politicians who determine what they believe by the direction the political wind is blowing. Even more tragic is that this pragmaticism has affected the church resulting in a distorted gospel message.

In order to attract people to Christ, evangelists and pastors tone down or even eliminate any negative aspects of the gospel, including the passage we are studying today, John 15:18-6:4. Instead, a man centered gospel that promises to give you a wonderful, comfortable, healthy life is presented. It sounds great and many people respond to it, but the fact is that it is not true. It is a false gospel that damns people to hell, and as Paul says in Gal. 1:9, let those that preach such a perversion be anathema, accursed.

The gospel message is not about man, but about how the Holy God is willing to deal with His sinful creatures. It is popular to evangelize by telling others, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” but that does not tell the truth. What we should be telling people is, “Be afraid, for you are under the just judgement of the Holy God that created you. Do not delay to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ that God may extend His grace to redeem you from your sins through Christ and make you part of His family. If you fail to do so, God will condemn you to eternal hell. If you do turn to follow Christ, understand that the world will hate you.” In a real sense, the question that is left is, “do you want to be loved of God and hated by the world, or loved by the world and hated by God.”

Jesus, unlike so many evangelists and preachers in our time, did not leave His disciples with any false illusions. Turn to John 15:18 where we find that He gives them very clear warning of what they would be facing in the future.

The Hatred of the World (18-21)

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before [it hated] you. 19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Hatred for Christ. The hatred the disciples would experience would arise because of the world’s hatred for Christ Himself. This hatred for Christ has been obvious throughout what we have already studied in the gospel of John. The hatred of the religious leaders toward Christ began even before He started His public ministry, for they hated John the Baptist who came as Jesus’ forerunner. Why did they hate John? Because John called for them to repent of their sins and they refused to acknowledge that they had need to repent of anything, after all, weren’t they the leaders of God’s people, Israel? Weren’t they the ones that had and taught the law of Moses to the people? Who then was this that would challenge them so? That same attitude carried over to Jesus very quickly since Jesus also called on people to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4).

When Jesus cleansed the Temple the first time (John 2), the religious leaders developed even more hatred for Him. They were making a lot of money in the corrupt businesses that were operating in the temple – money-changing and selling of approved sacrificial animals. By John 3 we find that Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews, comes to Jesus at night, at least partly because of fear of what the other Pharisees would think or do. Jesus does many miraculous healings, but the Jews are angry with Jesus and persecute Him when Jesus heals on the Sabbath (John 5). That hatred just becomes more intense over the course of His ministry and become serious plotting to murder Him after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:53).

Jesus’ teaching came directly from the Father, so He did not hold to the views and ideas of either the Pharisees or Sadducees. They in turn rejected Jesus as being a qualified teacher. They were jealous when people started to pay attention to Jesus. They were greatly offended when Jesus would apply the law to them or would demonstrate their unrighteousness. They were incensed when Jesus declared Himself to be equal with God. The disciples had been with Jesus since early in His public ministry, so the hatred expressed against Him was something they had first hand knowledge of.

People still hate the Lord Jesus Christ. They don’t like the fact that His teachings do not match their own. They don’t like their sinfulness being exposed by either teaching which reveals their errors or by a life example which shows their evil by contrast. They reject Jesus’ claims because they want to be autonomous and do not want Jesus to have authority over them. To this can be added the Satanic element of the devil’s hatred for Jesus that gets expressed through those under his control.

Hatred for His Followers. Those who hate Jesus will also hate Jesus’ followers for the same reasons. They don’t want their sinfulness to be exposed. The teachings of Jesus’ presented by His followers contradict their own and expose their falsehood and lies. The life of a follower of Christ will also expose sinfulness of others because of the contrast between them. You can have white sheets that look pretty good until you compare them to new sheets that are clean. Suddenly, the old sheets are seen for how dirty and stained they really are. So it is with many in false religions and cults. They look pretty good until contrasted with true righteousness. People reject Christ’s claim to be God in human flesh, so they also reject those that believe Jesus’ claims as being foolish or even dangerous.

People love those that are like themselves and dislike those that are not like them. The greater the contrast, the greater the dislike. Most of us have experienced this to one degree or another. You’re the only Christian in a group of people, and suddenly there is a tension because you are not laughing at their dirty jokes. Your co-workers start taking bad about you because your Christian work ethic is causing them to look like they are only mediocre employees (which they are, but would refuse to admit it). You are graded down in school because you write a paper that refutes the evolutionary, humanistic philosophy of the teacher. Sometimes you can feel like the only cat in a dog show.

The world loves those that espouse and live by the standards of the world. But the world hates those that contradict its teachings and standards. That is why the world hates Christians so much. God has chosen us out of the world and we are no longer like everyone else around us. We are different and the world reacts to us.

Jesus is direct. If a person hates Him, then that person will hate those that follow Him. They persecuted Him. Expect that you will also be persecuted. The opposite is also true – if they loved Jesus and kept His word, then they would keep that of the apostles too. They would accept you. However they treat Jesus, they will treat His followers.

The reason for this hatred is simple. They do not know God (vs. 21). They may be very religious people and make all sorts of claims about how much they love God. But the truth will be seen in their actions. The Jewish leaders of that time made much claim to love God and keep His commandments, but their lives were lived in contradiction to God’s laws. Those who love the Father will love the child born of the Father and they persecuted Jesus. They loved a god of their own creation. One that they could manipulate to their own desires so that they could do evil and claim it to be good. The same is still true today.

People who hate Christians do so because they do not know the God who created them. They have a different god of their own making. They may reject the God of the Bible completely. They may only give lip service to Him, or they may even use the Bible, but it will be just as the Pharisees did. They reinterpret it and pervert it so as not to have to believe what it actually says. They take the precepts of God and exchange them for laws of their own making.

This is not a pleasant thought, but it is the truth. As 2 Tim. 3:12 states, “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As Jesus says in John 16:33 – “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

The Christian life is not one that is to be marked by ease of life. There are no promises that you will have great health, wealth and prosperity. You could have a multitude of medical problems, poverty and adversity. Success by the world’s standards is not the mark of success as a Christian. Success as a Christian is marked by faithfulness to Christ, and enduring persecution will be part of that. We can be thankful that severe persecution is not upon us in the United States at the present time, but it is the normal way of life for Christians around the globe. In Islamic countries, Christians gather together in small groups to worship at the risk of their lives.

In the normal sharing of the gospel, we are negligent if we do not warn those considering the claims of Christ about this reality. If they truly understand the gospel and believe its claims, such warning will not deter them, but it will strengthen their resolve when it comes.

The Witness that Condemns (22-25)

Jesus goes on in verses 22-25 to explain the condemnation that those who reject Him are under. “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.

Witness of Speech (22-23). Jesus had come and revealed the words of God to them, but they rejected what He said. The idea that if Jesus had not spoken to them “they would not have sin” is not the idea that they would not have had sin at all, for they already had the law of Moses which condemned them for their sin (Jn 5:45). It is the idea that their sinfulness would not have increased by the increased revelation that had come to them through Jesus. But they had been given the additional revelation which left them without excuse. They were not ignorant in anyway. They could claim to love the Father, but their claim was false, for those that love the Father would love His Son, but their hatred of the Son proved their hatred of the Father.

Witness of Actions (24). The same is true of Jesus’ actions. He had done marvelous works among them that no one else could do. Works that only God Himself could do. Jesus had demonstrated that He had authority over disease, sickness, demons, nature, and even death as well as authority to forgive sins. Again, the idea here is not that if Jesus had not performed the miracles they would have been sinless, but that the miracles increased their culpability. They would have no excuse. They saw the works and even claimed that they were being done by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons (Mt. 12:24). Their reaction proved their hatred for Jesus and the Father.

Witness of Scripture (25). All of this was in keeping with what the Scriptures has already said. “But [they have done this] in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.” They would hate the Messiah without a cause. The quote comes from either Psalm 35:19 or Psalm 69:4. Both Psalms could have been in mind. In Psalm 35 the suffering is at the hands of those who had forgotten the past good things that had been done for them. In Psalm 69 the persecution is coming from those that cannot stand David’s zeal for the Lord. Jesus was persecuted by those who had forgotten and rejected the good things Jesus had done for them because they could not stand Jesus’ zeal for the Father. They hate Jesus without cause other than their own sinfulness.

The Witness of the Spirit (26)

In verse 26 Jesus brings back up the subject of the Holy Spirit who would be sent to them. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, [that is] the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.”

Here the purpose of the Holy Spirit is explained as being one that would testify of Jesus. Jesus’ departure from them would not end the witness about Him. It was the hope of the Religious leaders that in killing Jesus they would put an end to their enemy and His influence. They could not have been more wrong. They would still be fighting God Himself even after Jesus ascended into heaven for the Holy Spirit’s ministry includes bearing witness of Jesus.

In John 14:26 Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father in His name. Here, Jesus says that He would send the Holy Spirit. Here Jesus also says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but Jesus also proceeds from the Father (John 8:42), and several verses refer to the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus or the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Pet. 1:11). All this demonstrates once again that the eternal Godhead is triune. Jesus is deity for the Holy Spirit is sent and proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

Here the Holy Spirit is again called the Helper. He is the one that would come alongside them. He is also again called the Spirit of Truth. This was important for the Spirit was being sent to bear witness of Jesus and what He bears witness too must be true. As we shall see next week, part of the Spirit’s witness will take place through the disciples He has been sent to help.

The Witness of the Disciples (27)

But the Holy Spirit was not the only one that was to bear witness. The disciples were to bear witness too. “and you [will] bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” There is some question as to where this is an indicative telling us that they were already bearing witness, or an imperative giving them a command they were to follow. I hold that this is a command they were to carry out and would carry out after the resurrection. It would be frightening for them to bear witness of Jesus. He had just said that those that hated Him would hate them too, but they were to do it anyway despite the persecution that would come. The Holy Spirit would help them in doing this, but the reason cited here for doing so is that they were the ones who had been with Him from the beginning. They were there eyewitnesses. They had not come later and been fooled. They were on hand to experience all that Jesus had said and done. John later described this in 1 John 1:1,2 saying of His own experience with Jesus, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life– 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” John was an on hand to see, hear and even touch Jesus. His witness would be true.

We are also called to be witnesses of Jesus. No, we cannot tell people our personal experience of being with Jesus since the beginning, because we were not. But we can be faithful to declare the witness of those who were with Jesus from the beginning that is recorded in the Bible. And we can tell others of our own personal walk with the Lord. Yes, it is still frightening because the fact still remains that doing so will bring about the hatred of those who hate Jesus. But that is what we are to do regardless of the consequences.

Prepared for the Future (16:1-4)

Jesus was direct with the disciples about the persecution they would face because He did not want them to stumble when the persecution came. John 16:1 “These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling. 2 “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 “And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me. 4 “But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.”

These very things did happen to the disciples. Saul of Tarsus, who later became the Apostle Paul, was one of those that persecuted the church in this very manner. The story of this is told in Acts 8 & 9. Saul was a zealous Pharisee who believed that he was serving God by persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ. Not until Jesus revealed Himself and confronted Paul in a special revelation did Saul change his mind and become a follower of Christ.

There are still people around like that today. They have such a perverted understanding of God, that they believe they are serving Him when in fact they are persecuting His children. They do it because they do not know the true God or Jesus. Those who do love God would not do such things.

The disciples would have their faith tested in the near future for they would suffer this kind of persecution, but because they would remember Jesus’ warning about it, they were not shaken. Instead, they were bold in faith.

Peter was bold in his preaching on the day of Pentecost and after (Acts 2 & 3). He did not mince words. The result was that the people would cry out in repentance and many were saved. Not long after this Peter and John were arrested, and though threatened, they boldly proclaimed that they could not stop speaking about what they had seen and heard (Acts 4). They were being Jesus’ witnesses. It was not long before they were arrested again and threatened. Again, Peter boldly proclaimed that they “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and after they had been flogged they “went their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). The persecution recorded in Acts 8 did not slow the early church down, it just spread it around the world.

This is the way it has always been with true Christianity. The unrighteous hate the righteous, but the righteous continue to live holy lives and proclaim Jesus Christ. It can be no different in our lives.

The persecution you endure may not be the physical threats that so many others have had to endure, but persecution is part of the Christian life. If there is not some, then you have reason to wonder why. Perhaps God is just being very gracious to you at the present, in which case thank Him for that. But perhaps it is because you are more like the world than Christ. The world loves those who are like it. If that is the case, ask God to change you and step out in faith to obey Jesus’ commands and then be prepared for the reaction.


Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “world” is used 2) Talk with your parents about what it means to be persecuted for Jesus’ sake. What persecution have you experienced? How have they dealt with persecution?


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context of John 15:18-16:4? How has pragmaticism changed the proclamation of the gospel? Why did Jesus warn the disciples about future persecution? Why did the Jewish religious leaders hate Jesus? Why do people hate Jesus now? Why do people hate Jesus’ followers? Have people hated you since becoming a Christian? What will happen to those who strive to live godly in Christ Jesus? How does persecution fit in with the presentation of the gospel? Should you warn people you are witnessing to about persecution they may receive if they follow Christ? Why or why not? What did Jesus mean in verses 22 that “they would not have sin” if He had not spoken to them/ done works among them? What did Jesus speech/works bring upon them? How did their hatred toward Jesus fulfill Scripture? What purpose is given in verse 26 about the coming of the Holy Spirit? What would He do? Where does the Holy Spirit come from? Did the disciple obey Jesus’ command to be His witnesses? What affect did Jesus warning have on them when they were persecuted? Do you experience persecution? If so, why and how? If not, why not?

Sermon Notes – 4/1/2001 A.M.

Persecuted By the World – John 15:18-16:4a


American Pragmatism

A perverted gospel

The Hatred of the World (18-21)

Hatred for Christ

Hated by the Religious Rulers

Hated by people today

Hatred for His Followers

Contrasting lifestyle

A righteous life gives contrast to and thus exposes the wickedness in others


Contrasting Teaching

The world hates those that contradict its teachings and standards

Hatred because they do not know God.

Normal Christian life

2 Timothy 3:12; John 16:33

The Witness that Condemns (22-25)

Witness of Speech (22-23)

Witness of Actions (24)

Witness of Scripture (25)

Psalm 35:19; 69:4

The Witness of the Spirit (26)

His purpose in bearing witness

Sent by the Father and the Son (John 14:26)

Proceeding from the Father and the Son (John 8:42; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11)

The Witness of the Disciples (27)

Their Witness

Our Witness

Prepared for the Future (6:1-4)

The Persecution of the disciples

The Boldness of the disciples

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