The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful message that has been spread around the world, and this is still taking place today with lives being transformed by the power of gospel. God could have made this message spread in all sorts of ways. He could have written it in the sky or personally appeared to everyone and told them the good news of the gospel. Instead, God has chosen the means in which the gospel will be spread is through His people as witnesses.
As the Lord Jesus Christ prepared His disciples for His departure He reminded them of the privileged relationship they will have with Him (15:1-11) and with each other (15:12, 17). But He also told them what their relationship with the world would be like (15:18-25). As they find themselves in the world as God’s people there will be hostility. The grounds and cause for this hostility is because of their commitment to Christ (15:19-21) and because of the world’s conviction of sin (15:22-25). So as we continue on from the passage we looked at last time, let us now see what Jesus wants His people to know about when it comes to their reaming days on the earth.
Sermon Summary: In this passage the Lord Jesus Christ prepares His disciples by proving them with two important truths regarding their remaining time on earth.
1. THE CALL TO BE WITNESSES (15:26-27)
Knowing that they will face hostility from the world, how will the disciples become effective witnesses of Christ? After Jesus told His disciples about the hatred they will experience from the world, He provides them with the promise of help. Jesus said,
“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” (15:26-27).
The help promised by Jesus is not something sourced in the disciples, but rather it is a divinely given gift in which they are then given a responsibility. The Holy Spirit will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8). The means in which this witness of the Holy Spirit is carried out is through His people.
What does it mean to be a witness? A true witness for Christ is a believer whose life and speech testify to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The apostles were called to be witnesses in a unique way. They were eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ; Christ commissioned them and they served in a foundational role (Eph. 2:20). John records this unique witness in the opening of his first letter,
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:1-4).
In a way that is different to the apostles, we are still called to be witnesses for Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are to live out and share the gospel of Christ. How we can be witnesses for Christ?
We can be a faithful witness of Jesus Christ by means of godly character. Our Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)
Paul also said, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Col. 4:5).
Another way we can be faithful witness of the Lord is by our words. Paul continued in his letter to the Colossians by saying, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). In his letter Peter wrote,
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15)
Dead but still speaks
Even after we die, our life can continue to bear witness for Christ. The writer to the Hebrews spoke of Abel. Though his life was short and he is dead, he is still a witness:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Heb. 11:4)
This is demonstrated by some of the inscriptions found on underground graves in the early centuries. On the grace of Christians who were brutally tortured things like “Victorious in peace and in Christ” and “Being called away in peace” were engraved. However, contrast this with inscriptions like: “Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else” or “Traveler, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer” on the graves of unbelievers.
2. THE CERTAINTY OF HOSTILITY
With the call to be faithful witnesses before them, Christ now warns them of the certainty of hostility. It is important to understand that what Jesus is about to say comes in the form of a prediction (16:1, 4). The purpose of this is to prepare the disciples for the inevitable and to instill confidence in them so that when hostility comes, they will remember that their Saviour is in perfect control. Jesus warned,
“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” (16:1-4a)
These verses provide the reality of hardship, hatred and hostility. There are two important lessons I would like to glean from these verses when it comes to the Christian life and hostility.
Hostility will occur in varying levels
In verse two Jesus spoke of two levels of hostility – excommunication and death. The first level refers to the act of removing someone from the place of worship and treating them as outcasts. This was the case with the man born blind (John 9). This is what happened to the disciples as recorded in the book of Acts. Furthermore, this kind of treatment shown in social shunning and mocking has occurred throughout history and is still happening. Christians have lost their friends, families and jobs because of their love for Jesus Christ.
The second, and most severe level of hostility is seen in the last part of verse 2, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you….” Jesus warned the disciples that the hour in coming in which they will be killed. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded. Thomas was speared in India, as was Matthew. Andrew, Philip, Simon, Bartholomew and Peter were crucified. Judas (not Iscariot) and James the son of Alpheus were stoned to death. The apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos and later on died.
In the Christian classic, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, beginning with the early church and the apostles, John Foxe records the horrific and yet courageous examples of Christian martyrs throughout the centuries. The deaths of these dear saints came about by them being tied to the backs of horses and then dragged until they expired. Others were placed in leather sacks filled with scorpions and snakes and cast into the sea, while others were beheaded. Example after example is given of those who wee tortured for their love for Jesus Christ.
Hostility will occur in the name of Religion
The second important lesson is concerning hostility occurring in the name of religion. Jesus said, “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God”.
This was done by the religious leaders in the early church. The horrible ten periods of persecution by the hands of the Roman emperors a lot of blame was placed on Christians. Nero blamed them for the fire in Rome, under the reign of Domitian Christians were blamed for famines, pestilences and earthquakes. Sadly, these things were done in the name of “religion”. Of course history also records things like persecutions from the papacy and those who kill in the name of Allah. These are just some demonstrations of the horrible and wicked hostility being done in the name of religion. Biblical Christianity calls for the people of God to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
This is an amazing passage reminded us of two realities concerning the people of God. We are called to be witnesses, but it is certain that we will face hostility.
For us who live in parts of the world where hostility towards the people of God isn’t at the levels seen in other parts of the world, we can very easily forget about the pain and wickedness of persecution. It is estimated that around 180 Christian are murdered for their faith in Christ every month. As noted earlier, persecution and hatred towards God’s people occurs at varying levels. Some are faced with the daily threat and fear of physical violence, poverty, rape, prison and even death. This is horrible and as the people of God this ought to grieve us.
As Christians we are a part of the body of Christ, which means whatever happens to our bothers and sisters in Christ ought to concern us. The writer to the Hebrews said,
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).
What can we do? Here are some practical suggestions:
If you are a believer, no matter who you are or where you are you can pray for your brothers and sisters that are suffering at the hands of persecution. There are so many things we can prayer for, but here are a few examples: Pray that God would strengthen their faith in Him. Pray for their faithfulness to Christ in hardship (Rev. 2:10). Pray for their deliverance. Pray for their families.
Give to to those faithful ministries that provide piratical aid and support to persecuted Christians. Those undergoing the firery furnace of persecution often lose so much. Many are hungry, without shelter and experiencing extreme poverty. Church congregations have their building destroyed and are left without a place to corporately worship. We can give of our finances to help support and provide aid and assistance to trusted ministries. Our church takes up special offerings a number of times the year and gives this to provide practical aid to the persecuted church.
Perhaps you are in a place where you personally can show practical support to a suffering brother or sister. Provide them shelter, give them food, build them up with Christian fellowship. If you are in a place in which this might not be a possibility, you can write letters to those imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.
Whatever shape or form it may take, we as the people of God are to be concerned for our brothers and sisters. Let us not be taken by surprise when persecution comes, the Lord Jesus Christ said it would happen. The world hated Him and it will be show hostility towards those who genuinely love Him. Satan will continue to rage against the people of God until Christ returns (cf. Revelation 12). Let us be sensitive to this and remember those who suffer for the cause of Christ.
 Foxe’s Book of Martyrs