Some may have seen the movie Fun with Dick and Jane. In the movie, Dick receives a huge promotion to Vice President. Little does he know, but the owner of the company has sold all of his stocks and the company is going bankrupt. On his fist day as Vice President, he is given the task of going on television. He is not aware that the company is going under and is made to look like a fool on national television.
Sometimes as a Christian, we can feel like God is setting us up to fail. Jesus in the third sermon in the Farewell Discourses warns us that when we follow him, we will be opposed to the world around us. This morning, as we continue to look at Jesus' last words of wisdom from John's gospel, we will go through this sermon together. Before we read the passage, I want to take a moment and describe the world that Christians had to deal with in the first century, which will explain some of the importance Jesus' words were for John.
When John was writing this gospel, Rome was still the dominate force in the lives of every Christian and Jew. In the Roman world, Caesar was held to be the supreme power and had been elevated to "god status." Roman proclaimed, "Caesar is Lord." The recorded history of Rome and Caesar were held to be the "Good News." For a Christian to make the statement, "Jesus is Lord" was to also proclaim the Caesar was not.
In order to maintain peace, Rome would sometimes exempt certain religious groups from participating in the worship of Roman gods and Caesar. The Jews were one such group that was exempt. Christians in the fist-century were considered to be a Jewish-sect, which also meant they were exempt from Caesar worship and exempt from worshipping the Roman gods.
It is important to note that Rome, while emphasizing Caesar worship, was also tolerant of other deity worship. The requirement was for people to first worship Caesar and then they could go and worship whatever god or goddess they chose.
The problem that began to arise as John was writing the fourth gospel was that Jews were turning Christians in for their failure to worship Caesar. They did this by telling authorities that they were not "Jewish" and should not be exempt from Caesar worship. As we look at this sermon by Jesus, this background will become clearer.
WHO IN THE WOLD IS "THE WORLD"
Jesus begins this message by saying,
18 "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world-- therefore the world hates you.
Jesus begins by using by saying that the world will hate you because it hated me. This begs the question, "Who in the world is 'The World" referring to?
The Greek word for "world" is kosmos which means generically "the created order." In John's gospel, the term kosmos seems to take on several different meanings, which can be determined through the context of the passage.
- The first usage of kosmos "seems to be the definition of "created order. An example of this is found in John 3:16-17 and 19
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall 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. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
- Secondly, the word kosmos is begins to be used in a negative way as the gospel of John progresses. You begin to have a distinction between those in the world who follow Jesus and those who do not. In our text, kosmos represents those who are opposed to Jesus.
This distinction is important because oftentimes we fail to use the fist meaning of the word kosmos and "world" takes on only a negative characteristic. If we are true to the gospel of John, we have to recognize that God loves the world and send Jesus to redeem it. John does not espouse a type of dualism where this world is bad and the spiritual world is good. When John refers world in this context, he means the people who are in opposition to God.
Jesus goes on to suggest that this hatred that the world has of the disciples is due to the fact that the world first hated him.
20 Remember the word that I said to you, 'Servants are not greater than their master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause.' 26 "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
Jesus tells the disciples to not take the persecution personally because they are persecuting them because they are opposed to him and to God. The fundamental problem as Jesus sees it is that they are hate and are opposed to God. Jesus then tells them that the problem they have with him is that he has come and pointed out there sinfulness.
Jesus ends this short message with a summer of sorts. He says,
"I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. "I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
Jesus warns his disciples that one day they will be "thrown out of synagogues." This means that the Jews will no longer recognize them as Jewish. As a result, Jesus warns them that they will be killed. To make matters worse Jesus says they will do this thinking they are being true to God.
When John's readers (or listeners) hear this message, they will be in the midst of witnessing these events in their own lives. They would have lived through the horrors of Nero burning Christians as light posts in the city of Rome in order to provide light for the Romans.
In 21st century America, Christians reading these words penned by John and doing so in relative comfort. We are not being killed because we proclaim Jesus to be Lord. In our culture, people are saying that we are living in the "Postmodern" world. Nobody is quite sure exactly what this means, but there are some trends that tend to go with "Postmodernism."
Postmodernism is named so because it follows the "modern period." Modernism was really the heart of rationalism. We approached things from a "scientific perspective." The way to solve all problems, including religion, was to set up a hypothesis and then gives proofs to validate it. We used these same approaches to prove that God existed and to validate our theology.
Trends in post-modernism seems to be backing away from the scientific method. Post-modernism places old truth claims into question and is able to find truth in multiple positions. Tolerance seems to be the key phrase for post-moderns. It places an emphasis on diversity of though.
Postmodernism does pose several dilemmas for Christianity. Christianity claims that there are some truths that are eternal. In other words, to be a Christian means that we believe there are some things that are true and there are other things that are false. Postmodernism's view of truth being relative to the individual causes some conflicts between Christianity and the current culture.
The question for us to sort out is this: How can we take Jesus' message to those in 1st century and apply the principles to our postmodern world view in the 21st century?
- Being a modern or postmodern is still to live in a world that can be opposed to the values that Jesus teaches us.
In talking with many Christians it seems that postmodernism is either the solution to all of the world's problems in that it promotes tolerant and diversity of belief or it is seen as the enemy to what God wants. Those who believe it is the enemy would like to see us go back to the modern world view where truth was clearly defined and defended. I want to suggest that both positions miss the mark. Jesus is clear that whether we are modern or postmodern, if we follow Jesus we will in some ways be opposed to the current worldview. The truth is that following Jesus means that there are some things that are true. It also means, as we have already seen in these sermons, that Jesus commands us to love each other.
- Following Jesus means that we believe some things are true, no matter what postmodernism tells us.
Jesus is very clear that the reason people hated him was that he showed them the sinfulness of their ways. In other words, things were happening that were opposed to what God wanted to happen. Jesus opposed what God opposed and people did not like that. This is a pretty simple truth, but a hard one to grasp. People, including myself, do not want to be wrong and shown that we are wrong. That does not fly well.
- Following Jesus is costly
Jesus makes no apologies in saying that choosing to follow him is costly. It was costly in the 1st century and it is costly now. It means that we may not get everything that we want. It may mean that we work because we feel called to do so, not because we will make the most money. It will mean that we stay in a marriage that is hard because it is the right thing to do. It will mean we take the time out for our families, even if it costs us a promotion. It will mean that we put the needs of others before out own. It will mean that we take steps of faith, even if we can't explain it rationally. It will mean that we give up liberties in out own lives so that others can experience grace. It will mean that will sell all we have and move to the mission field. Following Jesus is never easy and he makes no apology for it.
Get Back Up Again
As I was reading these words, one line kept jumping out at me. In John 16:1, Jesus tells them that he is giving them this bad news "so that they will not stumble." More than likely, Christians were loosing their faith because of the persecution. Jesus, anticipating this, tells them that he is saying these things to keep them from stumbling. Jesus knows that it will not always be easy.
I think there are two ways to handle persecution, in whatever ways it comes. We can gripe and wine about it, or we can rely on God's strength and endure it. When we get knocked down, we can get back up again.