7th Sunday of Easter (B)
May 16, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
Whenever you enter or anticipate a situation, you expect certain things to occur. When I was blessed to attend a Vikings game a couple of years ago, I expected to be surrounded by Viking fans. If I were to attend a game in Green Bay, I would expect to see a lot fewer of my fellow fans, and probably be really cold. Our expectations may be positive or negative, they may or may not be accurate, but we do have them.
So, is this true when it comes to your faith? Do you have certain expectations as a Christian? Do you expect your sins to be forgiven and to go to Heaven? Do you expect to be happy, healthy, and wealthy? Do you expect smooth sailing or terrible storms? When you look around you at the world in which you live, what do you expect? I can tell you one thing: expect to be hated.
In John 17, we listen in as Jesus prays in the hours before His arrest. In His prayer, we hear what we can expect as Christians. Jesus says, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world.” Can’t get much clearer than that, can we? Jesus says not long before then: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own…but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Are you surprised? Doubtful? You shouldn’t be. Jesus has been hated since He was born and as Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
To be honest, there have been brief times in history when this hatred wasn’t quite as obvious in some places as compared to others. In 313 AD, Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Mohammad, believe it or not, tolerated Christianity in the Middle East; his followers didn’t, but he did. And since its founding America has encouraged the Christian faith. However, whether led by governments, tribal groups, or individuals, the pattern has been one of hatred and opposition. Now, I know that not many of us have faced severe suffering for our faith, most of us haven’t suffered a bit, but times are changing. If the Equality Act currently in the Senate passes, churches, Christian schools, and Christian organizations will face devastating repercussions that will force many of them to close. Doctors have already been ordered to perform abortions, regardless of their beliefs regarding the murder of the unborn.
Jesus tells us that we’re going to be hated because we’re not of the world, and we’re not of this world because we have been called out of it and we have His Word. The world hates us because we believe that the Bible, in its entirety, is God’s Word. Some Christian denominations have rejected this doctrine and as a result don’t face any hatred. But as Peter says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The world hates us because we believe and preach the Bible, which reveals and condemns its sins and pokes at its consciences.
What do faithful Christians say about the various topics we encounter? We completely reject “My body, my choice” and instead speak for the unborn. We confess that God made humans as male and female, and transgenderism or changing your gender to match your feelings is sinning. Those especially who push transgenderism on children will face the anger of God. We also teach, lovingly, that marriage was created by God to consist of one man and one woman. As Christians we vocally oppose the sexualization of children and society’s casualness towards sexual behavior, both of which are devastating to the individual, the family, and society. As Christians, we see people of all races as people created by God and worthy of love and respect.
So many behaviors, that we consider sinful, are encouraged or excused, while being a Christian is the greatest sin. And since we’re sinning in the eyes of the world, those who hate us are committed to changing our beliefs. You’re inundated with anti-Christian messages though every possible media source. These are overt attacks as well as subtle, but the goal is the same, to condition you to accept the sinful things you are called by God to reject. They say Christians are out touch with the times and that if we don’t change our beliefs, they’ll force us to accept their beliefs. Those in college, and those about to go to college, you’re going to face pressure to denounce your faith every single day. They don’t just want to hate Christianity; they want you to hate it too. Your professors will make you think you’re uneducated as they take it upon themselves to teach you what the Bible really says, or what the truth really is.
Maybe you’re confused about the truth yourself. Maybe you disagree with what I’m saying. It’s likely that some of you do question the belief that the entire Bible is still applicable to us and think that it’s out of touch. The fact is that for 2000 years, the Church has had one goal – the faithful proclamation of Jesus Christ and Bible. That mission hasn’t changed. You may not like what you hear, you may not understand what you read, but the Bible is God’s timeless Word, without error or mistakes and not restricted by the world’s opinions, attitudes, or practices.
I would even suggest to you that the world’s hatred reveals the truth of God’s Word. Islam isn’t hated like Christianity, in fact, contemporary media hides the truth about it. People who believe in the flat earth aren’t hated, mocked yes, but not hated. Those who believe in the flying spaghetti monster aren’t hated. Only Christ and His people are hated because only Jesus is the Truth. The vast majority of people martyred for their faith are Christians, and they die in places like Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
In 30 AD, the people faced numerous threats in their day to day lives. Illness and injuries that hardly cause us to miss a day of work, took lives. Robbers, murderers, and other dangers faced the disciples as they followed Jesus from town to town, still Jesus says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost.” Jesus protected His disciples while He was on earth both physically and spiritually. He lost only one disciple, Judas, who traded his salvation for thirty pieces of silver.
With Christ’s ascension into heaven, everything changed. The world wouldn’t be able to get to Jesus, they would however be able to get to the disciples, and to all the followers of Jesus. This is an intimidating thought, if not downright scary! And as we talked before, you can expect hatred and suffering, what you can also expect is protection. Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Jesus prays that the Father would keep you from being harmed by Satan. How awesome is it that the Son of God, the one who died on the cross for your sins and to deliver you from Satan, prays for you!
Sadly, as more than 5000 Christians learned in 2020, protection doesn’t mean you won’t be martyred for your faith. You could be shot, beheaded, or starved to death. You might lose your business like the Christian florist or photographer or calligrapher. You might face criminal charges like the pastor in Finland who distributed a pamphlet supporting traditional marriage. And yet, regardless of what happens, our Lord protects you. As you cling to the truth of the Bible and God’s Son, as you remain steadfast in the faith, as you refuse to listen to the lying voices, and as you turn back to the Lord when you’re led astray, you will persevere. The Lord upholds you, He strengthens you, and His Word empowers you to speak the truth when confronted by hatred. You see, your faithfulness to Christ and His Word, flow from the faithfulness that He first showed you. In his faithfulness unto death on a cross, you are empowered to be faithful to Him.
Jesus knew all along what would happen after He returned to His Heavenly Kingdom. He knew the suffering His disciples and other martyrs would endure and yet in His prayer He said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” Why not? Take us to Heaven, destroy this world and start over? Wouldn’t that have been the easy thing to do? Sure it was easy, but God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and His plan means using us to reach the lost. Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” To be sanctified here is to be set apart for a special purpose. You have been set apart by God, sanctified by Him, to engage with this world, to speak the truth. Sure, you can withdraw from the evil world and hide your faith by choosing silence and non-involvement. Do that and you won’t have to worry about anyone hating you. That’s easy! That’s safe! But it’s not Jesus’ wish, and it’s not what he prays for as our High Priest. Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is the comfort and hope in which we trust that Jesus may have ascended into Heaven, He stands with us in the face of the world’s hatred. And while we are hated, He will work through His Word to bring more and more lost people into His Church.
Christians have been hated for basically 2000 years. Some of this hatred was seen and is still being seen in terrible violence afflicted upon our brothers and sister of the Church. The violence and hatred have forced many of these Christians into hiding, still they meet as members of the Church. We’re hated, but while we can, we tell the world of Jesus, we speak against those things that are wrong because they’re contrary to God’s Word. His Word is the Truth, and it always will be the Truth. It doesn’t change with the times, it’s not sometimes applicable and other times not, Christ the Truth is rock solid. The truth though isn’t just for speaking against the world, it’s for taking to heart. Hear Jesus pray for you. Hear the ascended Son of God say that He rules over all things, and while hatred is ever present, it’s temporary, and one day it will cease to exist.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen