30 August 2014John 15:18-27
“But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (v. 21)
As Jesus goes further into his night of betrayal, this dark and difficult passage shows that he was fully aware of the troubles to come, both for him and his disciples. Hatred is a strong word, but Jesus certainly wasn't naïve. Many Christians in Britain seem bewildered that people 'have stopped coming to church', while their faithful attendance continues. At the other end of the scale, followers of Jesus in so many countries around the world encounter real torment, violence and oppression daily. We only need to look towards Iraq recently to find Christian minorities fleeing from their homes under great threat to their life. Many people, wherever they are on this spectrum of Christian experience, will find Jesus' words to be powerfully encouraging and comforting.
Back in the Old Testament, Psalm 109 is equally dark and troubling. The writer feels himself harshly persecuted and seeks justice from God. It's possibly verse 3 of this psalm that Jesus quotes here (verse 25). At the end of the cursing and vengeance of that psalm, those who are accused unfairly will find comforting words, asking them to trust instead in the steadfast love of God: "For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death" (Psalm 109:31). The image is that of God standing alongside as advocate or defence lawyer at a trial. Later that night, Jesus would stand before trial and be unfairly accused himself, so it's not surprising that this psalm (and others like it - eg Psalms 35 and 69) should be in his mind.
All who stand accused today of following Christ also need an advocate against the accusations that will be thrown at them. This will be the Spirit of Truth; the Holy Spirit. The Christian message is not easy, because following Jesus truthfully will mean clashing with or standing up against the powers of "the world". And those powers may not always be simply 'against God' (for Jesus' own accusers were very religious people), but rather persecution will come on account of the name of Jesus (verse 21); that name which we hold up as Lord of the world. Jesus implies that his accusers should have known better, and their attitudes and actions betray that (however or whatever they worship) they actually don't know God at all. This is not to belittle or damn any particular group or religion, but perhaps it is a perverse corruption of human nature that a man who did only good works should be condemned and executed as a criminal. As the psalm said, "In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love" (Psalm 109:4-5). It's precisely this degeneration in 'the world' that Jesus has come to heal and restore to God's good image.
- Do you feel persecuted or misunderstood by work colleagues, family or friends, because of your faith? How might the words of Jesus in this passage help you? Where can you go to find support and encouragement?
- Take a look at the websites of Open Doors, Release International or the Barnabas Fund and see how you or your church can help persecuted Christians in others parts of the world.