Being a Christian in an Unchristian World
At Veterans Memorial Chapel
By Ch Jim Odell
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for May 30, 2021. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
Today is Memorial Day weekend. Long before it morphed into a long weekend to celebrate the beginnings of summer, it was a holiday to remember those who lost their lives in our American Civil War. It also parallels holidays throughout Europe when the living visit and “decorate” the graves of their ancestors, remembering their contributions to making the living what they are today. Europeans aren’t the only “people group” to remember the past generations. But this holiday was originally intended as a time when “all the living peoples could reflect on the contributions of the people of the past.”
In America we have the privilege of a heritage of “ancestors” many of whom came to America to make, or attempt to make a “Christian Nation.” While they (and hopefully we) have been somewhat successful in that endeavor, we have fallen very short of that nation’s goal where “our alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”
Nevertheless, most of our world, past and present, has not had the advantages of this “privileged position.” It may seem quite foreign to some of us that Christians are not only not liked, but persecuted in most places in the world, most of the time throughout history. We need to understand this clearly because the time seems to have arrived in our nation where Christianity is viewed as the problem, not the solution to our circumstances.
Jesus predicted this would be the case. Let’s read for our Scriptures this morning John 15:18-16:11.
In our ongoing study of the Discourses of Jesus in John’s Gospel, we have come to the night Jesus’ is to be betrayed. He has taken His disciples from the “Upper Room” towards Gethsemane. He has just told them that He and the Father both count them as “friends” not “servants,” because He loves them. Then He seems to abruptly change the subject and begins to discuss the hatred they should expect from the world. This seemingly abrupt change of subject is really a contrast between “love” from God and “hatred” from the world.
“If the world hates me, it will hate you also” (my paraphrase of 15:18). Keeping in mind what was about to happen to Jesus that very night, why would the world hate Him? They seem to like seeing Him feed the 5,000, heal the sick, raise the dead, and so on. The problem is that Jesus also demanded the world repent of their evil and trust Him, submit to the Laws of God, and follow His teachings. The world loved His miracles but rejected His commands.
The world today is only following in the footsteps of those who have gone before. They too “love” His kindnesses, His humility, His healings and at the same time reject His claim to be God or that He is the “only way to God.” This rejection is pointed out in verse 24, “They have seen, and yet they hate me and my Father.”
It would be easy to say, “That was then, but this is now.” We would not do such a thing in our day. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If Jesus had shown up in Indianapolis 3 ½ years ago, we would have crucified Him on a cross on some hill outside the city limits last Easter Week!!! Jesus has chided the religious leaders earlier that very week by saying, “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did: they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs” (Lk 11:47-48). The world today acknowledges the “greatness” of Jesus, but at the very same time rejects His “rule” in their lives and world.
But Christ does not leave His disciples in despair over this impending hatred by the world. He gives them two tools or weapons to help them “keep the faith” when this opposition strikes.
The first of these is the “Advocate” (parakletos), or the Holy Spirit who was coming to the Disciples and has come to all of us who believe (15:26). When we are hated for our faith, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit inside us to keep us from “falling away” (16:1), or giving up hope. We must learn to rely on this Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to give up and give in to the world’s opposition.
The second tool is a little less obvious. Jesus says in 15:27, “You also must ‘testify,’ for you have been with me from the beginning.” Testify is a legal term, used commonly in legal and contractual agreements. He is telling His disciples, “You must make on ‘official statement’ about me, because you have been with me since I began my ministry.” The disciples are being commissioned to officially tell Jesus’ story to the rest of the world. Before him stands Matthew, author of the first Gospel. They have just left the “Upper Room” owned by the mother of John Mark. As a teenager we find him hiding in the bushes during the arrest of Jesus (Mk 14:51-52). This Mark would be the writer of Peter’s stories which would make up the Gospel of Mark. John was also present. All the authors of the New Testament, except Paul and Luke a disciple of Paul, along with the brothers of Jesus, James & Jude, are present on the path to Gethsemane. They are charged with telling Jesus’ story in writing for all time.
We hold in our hands the “testimony of the Apostles” when we hold a New Testament in our hands. The second tool to defend ourselves against the hatred of the world is the “Word of God” which John calls “trustworthy and true” in his Book of Revelation chapter 22 verse 6.
Armed with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we are able to resist “falling away,” or giving up hope, amidst the world’s hatred, even when we are banned from their synagogues and put to death (16:1-2). He tells His disciples this because they need to be warned not to be “dismayed” when these things happen (16:3-4). This is a good reminder to us in America today. From many of our Christian scholars and “thinkers” today we are hearing such terms as “Post Christian America” to describe our day. We are seeing proposed legislation in Western Democracies, including our own United States, which limits freedom of religious belief and expression in favor of acceptance of what God calls immoral.
I am not calling for an alarm to oppose the world. I am merely reminding you that Jesus told us this would happen. What I am calling for is an acceptance of the belief that “this world is not our home.” Hang on and keep trusting, using the weapons of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to counter the world’s claims.
May God bless us and keep us as we live in our world today.
CH Jim Odell