Turn out that light!

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:18-25 ESV)

Why would anyone hate Jesus, or his actions? Is he just being dramatic or overstating the issue to make a point? At first glance, it might seem so. If he can get the disciples motivated and focused on a common enemy (the world) then they might survive the coming conflict and prosper in the aftermath of the cross. But that’s not the case, especially if you consider Jesus’ character and His own words from the following verse:

“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:20 ESV)

Those who do wicked things are the ones most opposed to Jesus’ teaching and most threatened by his actions and leadership. The Jewish religious leaders, who were the most opposed to Jesus’ teaching, were also the most targeted by his comments. Those who hated his presence were those most exposed by his actions. As the John 3 passage points out, the light exposes their evil deeds. It is somewhat like the rats scattering when you suddenly turn on the lights in old house. You don’t realize how bad things really are in the old house until you put some light on the problem. Peel back the veneer and look at the underlying floor joists, rafters and you’re likely to uncover some dry rot. Real problems that will eventually cause the entire structure to collapse. In many ways, that describes our lives. Peel back the veneer and you begin to realize just how close to collapse our lives really are. The foundation is rotten and the whole thing is about to fall down.

While this truth was obviously fitting for Jesus’ day and the religious leaders he was addressing, it still holds true in ours. Those most offended by biblical truth in our day are those most exposed by its teachings. Our culture embraces the teachings of Jesus it likes, and ignores or outright rejects those that offend them. For example, we laud and embrace his admonition to love while rejecting the actual definition of biblical love. We applaud his call to truth and faithfulness until it collides with our marital infidelities or desired business success. We even marvel at the world and its diversity while rejecting his authority over our personal identity. They claim to love and serve God, while denying His right to define their sexual identity. It’s my body, not His. We profess to be His servants, but only on our terms. There’s something really askew with that idea. Who really is the servant and master in that relationship?

Of course, there are those who outright reject His teachings and authority because it runs headlong into their own. As Jesus said, nobody can really serve two masters for he will always show greater loyalty to one more than the other (Matt. 6:24). That is precisely the issue that Jesus is addressing with the disciples. They are going to face opposition from the world because His teachings run counter to the world’s beliefs. Most folks today assume that Jesus came simply to call good people to a higher sense of goodness. We are all basically good, we just need some education or inspiration to make us capable of achieving our best (fade to photo of famous preacher with amazing white teeth smile).

However, scripture says that the way of the world is the way of death and the truth of the world is really a lie.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16 ESV)

“…As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

In fact, the entire story of scripture is about this conflict between God’s truth and man’s perception (for a great example, see Matt. 5:19-20). We think that following the rules will make us good, but the rules just show how broken we really are. The rules tell us we shouldn’t commit murder and we think that’s sufficient to make us good, but Jesus tells us murder begins in our hearts when we hate someone else and desire their death. Why? Because we are all in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Why would the world hate Jesus for revealing such truth? Because it exposes our hearts, who we really are, and makes us vulnerable and weak. The world doesn’t really value truth as much as it values affirmation. We don’t we really want someone to reveal our failures and weaknesses but would rather they lie and tell us what we really want to hear. God says we are all sinners in need of a savior while the world says we are all good and only need inspiration and opportunity. We rarely reveal our true self to anyone (not even ourselves), but God knows our hearts.

Now, this is where this passage really gets good… Jesus knows the hearts of the disciples, but he has also expressed His deep love for them. In fact, he has just told them (see last week’s post) that he no longer calls them servants, but friends. If you don’t get anything else from this lesson, get this truth: God knows your heart and loves you enough to do something about it. Jesus tells them that He has chosen them “out of the world.” They were right in the middle of all this messy stuff called the world, sin, or what we call just plain, ordinary life and He “chose them out of it.” Here’s the good part… He chooses you and me to come out, too.

“Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”” (2 Corinthians 6:17 NIV)

This is what holiness is all about. It isn’t about sinless perfection, but is all about pursuing God with a devoted heart. Even then, when we become unclean because of our failures, we confess our sin and find cleansing and forgiveness (see 1 John 1:9).

Next, Jesus reminds the disciples of a simple but necessary truth, a servant is not greater than his master. In other words, the disciples (servants) can expect the same treatment as Jesus (the master). In the coming days, the disciples would need the strength this truth provides. Why? The disciples will face the same fate as Jesus. How can this possibly provide strength? Well, Paul sums it up nicely:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:7-10 NIV)

If Jesus suffers in obedience to God’s will, then my life is really worthless until I am willing to become like Jesus. The servant is not greater than His master. I will completely miss life as God has meant for it to be unless I acknowledge my own sinful pride and refuse to eat the “fruit” of my own destiny/purpose/identity/knowledge and pursue God’s perfect will for my life.

But why would following God involve suffering? Because man has rejected God’s will so he can follow his own will, then he ridicules and persecutes those who would embrace God’s way. When we pursue God’s will then the world rejects obedience to God as mere foolishness. Why would you turn the other cheek when someone strikes you in anger? Why would you keep your word when everyone else is lying to get a better social or financial position? Why would you stay married for life to the wife of your youth when someone younger expresses an interest in you? Why would you forgive someone who mistreats or injures you?

Why? Let me quote Joe Holcombe, father of the family in Sutherland Springs, Texas who lost 8 members of his family in the recent shooting: “It’s of course going to be difficult. We are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.”

In the verses I quoted above from Philippians, I cut the passage short… let me show you the part I left off:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)

Joe Holcombe’s quote and Paul’s admonition In Philippians both point to the same conclusion, there’s more to life than what you can see, touch, hear, taste or feel. Which is why Jesus says it is vitally important to recognize and understand this truth. If this life is all there is then we should live for the moment, as the world claims. But, if there’s more to life than just this physical life then we should be living in the light of that truth, and therein lies the issue.

We want the best of both worlds. We want to enjoy this life on our terms while still trying to reap the benefits of eternal life according to God’s terms. Those are mutually exclusive, and that brings me to final point today…

Jesus tells us in this passage, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” Jesus’ teaching exposes them (and us) to the truth and we can no longer plead ignorance as an excuse for our sin. We live in a world full of excuses. We like to blame others for our own failures. It is convenient and popular. We blame the government for our financial failures, we blame Hollywood for our ethical failures, and we blame each other for our cultural failures.

But Jesus lays the blame for our condition at our own feet. Our sin is a choice we’ve made and we have no excuse. Our failures are our own fault. That’s blunt enough to get you in trouble with the political, religious and cultural elite and that’s the heart of Jesus’ message in this passage. When you speak the truth, it isn’t going to be popular. In fact, it will get you persecuted and even executed. Which is where this passage leaves us… confronted by the truth and deciding which side we will take.

When the light gets turned on, it exposes a lot of problems. When it is turned on in a crumbling house it reveals structural problems that must be addressed or the entire house will collapse. When the light of scripture and truth is turned on in our hearts it exposes our sin. It reveals our failures. Fortunately, it also reveals the solution. A Savior who has loved us and taken our failures upon himself. My hope and prayer for you, today, is that you’ll let this truth penetrate your heart and you’ll listen as the Spirit of God leads you into a prayer of confession and submission where you’ll discover God’s love and forgiveness…

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