Be Ready for Persecution

John 15:19-20.

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.

The word world in this entire passage refers to the unbelieving world system of government, religion, and tradition. It is governed by Satan, the Prince of the Power of the Air, who hates God, hates the Son, hates the Holy Spirit. Why is he so filled with hatred? Because he wants it all for himself, and he knows his end is settled forever. He will have power for a short time, but his eternity is in the Lake of Fire. No escape. His goal is to take as many people with him as he can, because he hates what God loves simply because it is what God loves.

The earliest written records of what the world believed about Christians indicate that they weren’t impressed at all. Christians were accused of hating humanity (although they were a part of humanity!), of sacrificing babies and drinking their blood, of belonging to a new and evil superstition.

It has always been a part of human nature to fear and/or hate that which we do not understand. That fear dates all the way back to Cain and Abel. Cain didn’t see why his offering was any less valuable than Abel’s, although it clearly went against what God had commanded. So, in his anger, he killed his brother. Jealousy and rage often walk together.

Sometimes I think we’d like to believe we’re more civilized now, as a world community, than we’ve ever been. The fact, though, is that more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in any other period of history. The world system hates believers who will take a stand who won’t back down in the face of death.

The world hates us because God has chosen us, before the foundations of the world. He chose us to love Him, have fellowship with Him, and so spread the gospel to all mankind.

The warning Jesus gives His disciples here is that they will be persecuted for the very reason that He had chosen them out of the world, to be servants for Him, to reach others with the gospel.

After all, the world hated Him before they hated His followers. If the world persecuted Jesus, then surely the world would persecute His followers as well.

I’ve studied and taught a lot of history, from world history on down through the centuries. Over time, many religions have developed. Religion is created by man, not God. Religion has always fought for power, control, and position. True faith, which is from God, doesn’t worry about those things.

The concern of true believers is to obey God and serve Him.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Little Kids

I’ve taken a big step back to the beginning of my start as a teacher. In our church, we have children’s church for 3 to 6-year olds during the preaching service on Sunday morning. It’s been a VERY long time since I worked with kids that young. But there was a need, just once a month, and I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to step up.

Today we’ll be talking about the Tower of Babel. The trick with kids this age is to make a complicated story simple. Actually, I think that’s a good idea for any age group 🙂

So one of the things I’ll be doing is to use a few sentences from. Spanish, German, and French to illustrate to the kids how God confounded the language of the people so they couldn’t understand each other.

He had told them to spread out and populate the earth. But they had a better idea! They would all stay together and build a tower to heaven, and be as great as God!

Silly people! No one will ever be greater than God. And to show them how silly they were, they all started speaking in languages that very few others understood. As a result, they began to gather in groups that DID understand each other, and they wandered away from the Plain of Shinar where they had started to build their tower. In fact, they did what God had wanted them to do. They went all over the known world, and populated it, just like He said.

This is going to be a fun story to teach, I think. There are blocks we can use to build a tower, and these kids are full of energy. It should be an interesting half hour 🙂

Teaching these little ones is going to stretch me. I was just a kid myself when I first taught two-year-olds. I was 12 when my dad volunteered me to teach that Sunday school class. Over 60 years ago.

My word.

The World Will Hate You

John 15:18-19

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

See the source image

Jesus certainly knew and understood the hatred of the world (the world system) because He was not a part of it. Neither would His disciples be a part of their world system. Anyone who understands God’s Word is aware that in this kind of context, the world refers to whatever governmental authority, religious authority, financial authority that has established itself as THE RIGHT WAY will hate anything or anyone that stands in its way.

Early Christians were accused of all sorts of heinous behavior, including the sacrifice of babies. This has long amazed me, because the sacrifice of children was part of Baal worship way back in the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It existed long before Jesus came. And it still exists. Children are still being sacrificed to the evils of sex trafficking, as well as Satan worship. Never mind abortion.

Why does such evil exist? Because Satan is still the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:1-3; I John 5:19; Revelation 12:9). It is when we refuse to believe that Satan exists that we give him the most power. If he doesn’t exist, then all the evil that exists in the world has to be someone’s fault, and why not blame it on Christians? They become an easy and obvious target as Satan laughs.

Jesus was giving His disciples fair warning that, as they spread His Word, they would suffer persecution. Indeed, the only one who did not die as a martyr was John, the writer of this book, and of I, II, and III John and the Book of the Revelation. They tried to kill him, but God had other plans. History tells us that he survived to a very old age, for that time and place, probably into his 90s.

Statistics tell us, as well, that the 20th century saw the most deaths of Christian martyrs than any century before it. Satan is ramping up his cherished plan of being the ruler of all things, and Christian blood will be shed around the world to make that happen.

In verse 19, Jesus explains what should be obvious: If we participate in the world’s system, whatever it may be, they will not hate us. But if we stand for Christ, for truth, for righteousness and for His Word, they will hate us.

Most American Christians have not felt the blade of persecution. It’s coming. We need to decide ahead of time whether we will stand, or give in out of fear and hopelessness. There won’t be any options: We will stand for Him, or we will be numbered against Him.

It would be very easy for me, here, to go off on prophecies of the end times. We’re seeing some of it already building to that point. But that’s for another study. Right now I need to stay focused on Jesus, and His path to the Cross.

More than Servants

John 15:15-17.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.

Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.

These things I command you, that ye love one another.

I love v. 15. “From now on, because I have shared with you all that I have from the Father, I will call you not My servants, but My friends.”

Our knowledge of Jesus and His Words, along with our obedience to Him and thus to the Father, takes us up the ladder from being servants to being friends. A servant is not intimate with his master. He does what he is told. He obeys not so much out of love, but out of duty and sometimes fear. To disobey was to risk losing one’s position, or perhaps being sold to a new master.

When Jesus elevated His disciples from servants to friends, He was giving them, truly, a raise in status and a privileged position.

What could be better than being friends with Jesus?

Not only are we His friends when we obey Him, but we are chosen by Him for such a status. To truly know Jesus is to love Him. And His love for us, in that He chose us, is that He ordained us to bring forth fruit that will remain; and to enjoy the blessing of answered prayer.

Again, Jesus commanded that we love one another. Where there is no love among Christian brethren, there will not be the blessing of God. Mark it down: God answers prayer when we obey Him, and when we love one another.

No Greater Love

John 15:11-14.

These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.

Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends - John 15:13

Jesus had repeated His message about love and obedience many times. In v. 11 of this passage, He emphasized again that His joy and ours both depend on our obedience to Him.

I have noticed that people who claim to be believers, but who are not walking with the Lord, often turn very derisive and bitter about the things of God. They mock the Bible, mock those who adhere to it, mock those who pray and trust God through trials. “God has never done anything for me!” they state, without equivocation.

I remember asking a client several years back, “Well, what have you done for God?” He grew angry and agitated, claiming that he owed God nothing. As I recall, he never came back. I hope he found some kind of peace, because he was a miserable person.

“No one is more miserable than the Christian who for a time hedges in his obedience. He does not love sin enough to enjoy its pleasures, and does not love Christ enough to relish holiness. He perceives that his rebellion is iniquitous, but obedience seems distasteful. He does not feel at home any longer in the world, but his memory of his past associations and the tantalizing lyrics of his old music prevent him from singing with the saints. He is a man most to be pitied; and he cannot forever remain ambivalent.” (Carson)

Carson, Blue Letter Bible

I think that quote perfectly describes those who want to have a foot in both camps.

Jesus made an astonishing statement: “I want you to love each other in the same way that I have loved you!”

I wonder if that was hard for some of the disciples to hear. Were any of them jealous of John, the designated protector of Jesus’ mother, Mary? Were they annoyed with Peter for his denial of Christ? Of course, these things hadn’t happened yet, but it wouldn’t be long, and I’m sure they had some soul-searching to do as they recalled Jesus’ words.

I have, sadly, watched a church I loved change into something I could no longer support. Friendships disappeared. There was a lot of anger, hurt, misunderstanding and ugly accusations. It is heartbreaking when God’s people turn against each other. It certainly doesn’t instill joy in anyone’s heart!

Then, Jesus uttered one of His most-quoted statements: “Great love has no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.” Jesus knew that He would do that, in the coming days. He knew He would suffer and die to provide the way of salvation for all mankind. He also knew that Satan would be very busy, sowing seeds of doubt and discord, creating lies, that would lead to confusion and hatred. How His heart must have broken, even then, for what He knew was coming. He knew that the disciples would need to love each other, support each other, perhaps be willing to die for each other, in the coming years.

Again, Jesus repeated that obedience was the requirement for friendship with Him.

Obedience is the Test

John 15:9-10.

As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.

If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.

The little word as carries a huge punch. It means In the same way. So Jesus is saying, “I have love you in the same way the Father has loved Me.”

Think of all the other analogies Jesus could have used: A mother loving her baby, a husband loving his wife, and so on. None of them measure up to the love of the Father for the Son.

“But wait,” you may say. “Didn’t the Father demand that His Son suffer so terribly? How is that love? What father would expect his son to endure what Jesus endured?”

The answer is both simple and complicated. It is complicated in that we cannot conceive of the love between Jesus and the Father. Not yet. Someday we will. But the primary feature of Jesus’ love for the Father was His obedience. The Father showed His love for His Son by entrusting the path of salvation for the world to Him, and Him alone. He protected Jesus until it was the right time. He spoke in public approval of Jesus (This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased). He strengthened Jesus. He gave Jesus the grace to speak encouraging words even as He hung on the cross. Jesus was steadfast in His obedience, because of the steadfast love of the Father.

But ultimately, love is simple. Reams have been written about it; songs, plays, books, movies have centered on it. It cannot be explained away. It can only be demonstrated. Love puts self aside for the benefit of the beloved. Simple. And complicated.

Again, Jesus repeats to His disciples that the test of love is obedience. Abiding. Staying. Pitching one’s tent.

“When you keep My commandments,” said Jesus, “Then you are abiding in My love in the same way I have kept My Father’s commandments and therefore abide in His love.”

Why does Jesus say this so often? Simple. It’s because we’re a bit dimwitted. We vow to obey Him no matter what, until the first obstacle arises or the first temptation beckons us away.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Thanksgiving

Don’t you love Thanksgiving? It’s so much more relaxed than Christmas, which I also love, but there’s just not so much pressure. It’s always a nice calm day.

By this time next week, it will be another memory. When I was a kid, I always thought of Thanksgiving as being the beginning of winter, although I knew it wasn’t, technically. Often, in Minnesota, there would be lots of snow by Thanksgiving, which added so much to the fun when we went down to the farm in Fairmont. Brings up lots of warm and wonderful memories.

Norman Rockwell had a gift for those wonderful family memories. This is one of my favorites:

May you all enjoy the day, with it’s wonderful food, family, joy, and thanksgiving for the blessings we have.

Condition for Answered Prayer

John 15:7-8.

If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.

Too many times, Christians pray and ask God for something, only to be disappointed and discouraged. God’s promise isn’t working for them. The problem is, they’re only looking at the last half of v. 7, which says that whatever we ask, God will do.

They overlook the condition clause: “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you. . .”

The abiding, remember, is to pitch one’s tent, to make a permanent dwelling. The condition for answered prayer is that we must be abiding in Him; AND His words must be abiding in us.

I have an acquaintance who has called herself my friend, but I never heard from her unless she had something she needed me to do for her. I used to feel I should cooperate, in the name of friendship, but not any more. You see, there is no basis on which we can build a relationship when she only contacts me to get me to do some task she isn’t equipped to do herself. Or that she just doesn’t care to do herself. So now, I don’t respond. And my lack of response has opened a chasm between us that apparently she doesn’t care to try to cross. We do not abide in each other; therefore, there is no basis on which she can hope to ask me for help.

That’s what happens when we fail to abide in Christ. When we do not abide, then His words do not abide in us. There is no basis upon which we can ask Him for whatever it is we need. We haven’t met the condition He has set for our prayers to be answered.

Jesus went on to say that our abiding in Him, and His words in us, and thereby our fruit bearing, will glorify the Father. Our relationship with Jesus brings glory to the Father. To glorify the Father was always Jesus’ primary goal for His walk on earth.

Bring Forth Fruit

John 15:5-6.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.

If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

We have several old trees in our back yard that are slowly losing their branches. A strong wind always leaves some branches on the ground. Others have simply fallen off because they are no longer drawing nourishment from the tree. My husband gathers up the fallen branches and tosses them into a pile at the bottom of our property, away from the house and other neighboring houses. When the pile has grown large enough, he waits for a calm and windless day and sets the pile on fire in several places. He keeps an eye on the weather all day, and if the wind stirs up, he douses the pile with water. He wants the smoke to go straight up, and not blow into others’ houses. The end result is that there is no more burn pile, and the process starts all over again. Over the 26 years we’ve lived here, we’ve had to cut down a couple of trees. There will be more.

But Jesus Christ, the True Vine, will never lose His strength. No branch will cease to gain power from the Vine unless it chooses not to abide in Him. Those branches quickly show the results of never having truly abided in Him, and they wither, stop putting out leaves, and are removed and tossed into the fire.

Another good metaphor to illustrate this passage is the tomato plant. If you’re a gardener, you know that weeds tend to resemble the plants near which they grow. Tomato plants not only have unattached weeds; they also put out what we call suckers, which look just like branches from the main plant–except they never produce buds, and they never bear fruit. When the gardener recognizes a sucker, he quickly lops it off because it takes nutrients away from the good branches.

Weeds and suckers disguise themselves for a while, but a seasoned gardener will soon recognize them and get rid of them.

Is it any wonder that Jesus used such simple examples when He taught His disciples? He made earthly things take on heavenly meanings. He was, and is, the Master Teacher.

“All our sap and safety is from Christ. The bud of a good desire, the blossom of a good resolution, and the fruit of a good action, all come from him.” (Trapp)

Trapp, Blue Letter Bible

Why did Jesus repeat, “I am the Vine, and ye are the branches”? Possibly it was because these Jewish men were accustomed to thinking of Israel as the vine. Now, Jesus is telling them that they need to consider their relationship with Him as the primary source of their strength.

We can think of fruit as good character traits: love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5). But fruit also implies reproduction. My uncle in Colorado had fruit orchards. I never tasted any better peach than the one he pulled off the tree and handed to me. Still makes me smile to think of it. Part of his job was to watch the trees carefully. If a tree seemed to be slowing down in reproducing fruit, he would have it pruned way back. Often, that tree would be healthy for a long time after such pruning. Sometimes, however, it didn’t recover. If that was the case, the whole tree, with its root system, would be removed and destroyed.

Now, I want to encourage you a little bit here. Often, true believers find they just don’t do very well in leading other people (fruit!) to accepting Christ. They can become discouraged, wondering why, when they have a desire to bear fruit, that it just doesn’t happen for them. In I Corinthians 3:6-8, Paul, the Apostle, addresses this issue. In brief, he says, “One person plants the seed; another comes along and waters it. But it is God Who gives the increase.”

You and I, as branches in the True Vine, have the responsibility to plant and water. The increase of fruit, however, belongs to God. You will be blessed by whatever part you had in the work of reproducing fruit. Never give up!

There are three main interpretations of what Jesus meant when He said the branches that were not productive were cast into the fire and burned. The one that makes the most sense to me is that the fires of hell await those who were not true branches to begin with. They never bore eternal fruit, and never truly abided in Him–like Iscariot, who betrayed Christ with a kiss.

Abide in Him. Obey, grow, reproduce. You. may experience some pruning, but you will not be eternally destroyed when you truly abide in Christ.