Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church
In The Meantime — Remember
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 20, 2009
Introduction Videos: Thank You, Hallelujah & My Friend Shot Me
How do we live grace in the meantime? We remember to...
Though they have lost their husbands, those women in that 1st video clip still praise the Lord. They are a part of a widows group in Kaduna, Nigeria. They meet together the last Thursday of every month for prayer and encouragement. People who wanted to harm them took their earthly spouses away from them, but in the meantime, the widows are committed to living love and thanking their heavenly father for continuing to meet all their needs.
Eighteen year old Yakubu has had a similar experience. He became a Christian in 2001. Since then, he has been actively sharing his faith, even traveling outside his city of Jos in Nigeria to share with people living in smaller villages. But on November 28, 2008, religious riots broke out against Christians. Opponents from all over the city and even surrounding communities roamed the streets burning churches and homes looking for Christians. They killed more than 500 people in two days. Yakubu was supposed to be one of them. Like hundreds of others, he was seriously injured, but survived.
It happened when he was running from the violence toward his older brothers’ house when he was spotted by a classmate. His friend and another man were shooting Christians fleeing from their neighborhood. At first Yakubu thought he would be safe since it was his friend who held the gun, but as Yakubus eyes met his friend’s gaze, his friend lifted his hunting rifle and pulled the trigger spraying Yakubu with over 20 pellets. With a single glance behind, his friend ran off, leaving Yakubu lying on the ground. But amazingly, as that 2nd video clip revealed. Yakubu invited his friend to his hospital bed. And later to his home. And forgave him. And their 8 year conversation about Christ continues. How could he do that? The same way we can. By expecting hatred and living love. Why? Because we know many people simply don’t know God! Let’s see if those points become clear to you too as we conclude this sermon series “In The Meantime” today.
“18If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' 26"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. John 16:1All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 2They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.”
What I hear Jesus saying today in point number one is we should expect hatred in the meantime. How do we live grace? By not being surprised by hatred. What did Jesus tell his disciples in John 15:18? “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” In verse 20 He added, “Remember the words I spoke to you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
But to be honest, it’s kind of difficult to remember that in America. Because unlike Nigeria, we have religious freedom here. At least we do right now. But it hasn’t always been that way. It wasn’t too long ago, even in America, that Protestants were hanging Catholics in Virginia, that Puritans were drowning suspected witches in Salem, and that blue laws were on the books in every state of the Union. And because Revelation describes the span of time from the days of Jesus to the moments before Jesus comes again, commentators from inside and outside the Adventist church have pointed out that Revelation 13:16 says persecution about worship will happen again. It’s already happening in places like Nigeria. Saudi Arabia. Belarus. China. Laos. And Malasia. I put a poster on the wall this morning near the canopy door highlighting the countries around the world today that are killing or threatening to kill people for being Christian. Yakubu is not alone.
No wonder Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 10:17-22 says, “17"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Jesus did not want His disciples then or now to be naive. That’s why He shared these words in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” But neither did He want them to become discouraged or paralyzed by fear. So He said, “Take heart! Because I have overcome the world.” In the meantime, He prepared them not only for the fact that He was going to die, but for the fact that if they were going to truly follow Him, that they would probably literally die too! As 10 of the faithful 11 apostles actually did as martyrs. Which we’ll be discussing this summer as we take a closer look at the lives of four more of The Twelve apostles of Jesus. That’s in July so come back for those.
But Jesus is not talking just spiritual death to self and sin like Paul was in Galations 2:19-20. In unmistakable language any Jewish person would have immediately recognized as ripped from the headlines, Jesus actually calls them to crucifixion because that’s what Romans did to anybody not Roman. They crucified them! There were crosses scattered all over the main roads and intersections of the Middle East. Adding to the indignity, the Romans required the criminals they were crucifying to carry their own cross to the side of the road they would be crucified. So everybody would have known what Jesus was referring to when in Luke 9:23 He actually invites them to “23Deny themselves and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”
There are other passages of Scripture that record this graphic invitation. So we know Jesus actually said it. But Luke’s startling account is the only one that includes the word “daily” in it. Therefore, this expectation of daily persecution and hatred and yes even a daily willingness to die for following Jesus cannot be limited to those hiding from Nero or Diocletian in the first century of Rome. It cannot be contained within the war torn continent of Africa. It cannot even be excluded from America because it’s an invitation that Jesus extends to the Christians of every era from Laodicea to Los Angeles. That wasn’t something I’ve always seen before. But I believe it’s there to share whether you believe in the prophecies of Revelation or not.
But before I move on to point number two, could I suggest one more thing I’ve learned about about hatred and persecution? While Jesus doesn’t want us to be naive about it or paralyzed by it, I’m pretty sure He doesn’t want us to pray for more of it either! Have you ever been around any Christians who actually pray for persecution to break out? I have! Seriously, I’ve heard people in pulpits even suggest that since that’s how the early church in Acts grew the fastest, we should pray for more persecution and hatred in America, so that the church will grow faster in America. Can we all agree that this is really bad theology? Because nowhere in the Scriptures I’ve read do I hear Jesus asking for more evil. Nowhere do I see Him pleading for more persecution. Instead, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from Me.” So no, we as Christians should not be praying for more hatred and persecution. And we should not be contributing to more hatred and persecution either. Bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors that perform them is not consistent with upholding the sanctity and dignity of life. But neither is forwarding unkind emails about Muslims but we do that don’t we! Expect hatred and persecution. Wherever and whenever you live. But don’t cause it. Or pray for more of it. That’s point number one.
And this is point number two: Remember to live love instead. “This,” Jesus said in John 15:17 is my command, “Love each other.” “You are my friends if you love each other as I have loved you.” This is what Jesus just finished saying in John 15:12-14. It’s the context of all this hatred and persecution we’re talking about today. Ironically, the world will hate you because you love Jesus and because Jesus loves the world. And from the beginning Jesus has been trying to get everybody to understand that God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.
So when Jesus says in John 15:26-27 “26When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning”, what we are testifying about is that God is love! That He loves Muslims and Catholics and Protestants and Communists and Democrats and Republicans and Charlatans and Lesbians and even Atheists. Our job is to show and tell people that. Yes, we should expect hatred. Point number one. But we should still live love. And this is point number two.
Even when the world hates you and persecutes you [and it will because it hated and persecuted Jesus] we should live love anyway! Giving other people unmerited favor, giving people grace is simple to do. But it is not easy. It is the single hardest most challenging thing God is asking each of us to do daily until Jesus comes again! And while this challenge to testify about God and live love was undoubtedly as challenging to their ears as it is to ours, it wasn’t the first time Jesus issued it. Because three and half years earlier He said something similar at the beginning of his earthly ministry.
He said in Matthew 5:10-12, “10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Happy are you when you are persecuted. Happy are you when you are hated. Happy are you if you live love. Philip Yancy in his book The Jesus I Never Knew says he used to think statements like these were impossible to do. But he doesn’t anymore. And after hearing the voices of those martyrs still singing thank you and hallelujah to God for providing for their needs after their husbands were killed, I can’t say rejoicing in persecution and hatred is impossible for us to do anymore either! I was reminded of the same thing two years ago here at Toledo First’s "Valentines 4 Rwanda" banquet when I watched those ladies who survived the Rwandan genocide teach us rhythmically impaired white people how to dance and sing! Happy are the persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward I heaven.
But if you’re like me a few years ago, and still don’t believe this “living love” thing can be done, I’ve got some good news for you. God might change your mind! I don’t’ know what else to conclude when I read the accounts of the apostles in the book of Acts. God had to have changed their minds! God had to have given them the courage they lacked and the grace they needed to live love. Because before Jesus died, at least Peter, James, and John wanted to call fire down from heaven on people. And Paul when he was known as Saul actually did by stoning Stephen and being the one who initiated wide-spread persecution of the church. But the miraculous thing is if you flip in your Bible to Acts 5 and 16, a startling new picture of Jesus’ followers emerge.
Acts 5:40 says “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” And then in Acts 16:22-25 “22The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Instead of calling down hatred on people and literally causing persecution to spread, now Christ’s followers are rejoicing in persecution and praying and singing their way through it! What on earth has happened here? I believe they learned to live grace in the meantime. They expected hatred and persecution. But they no longer caused or contributed to it. When faced with it, instead, they lived loved through it. And that’s the only logical thing you can do in the face of such evil that cannot be overcome with more evil. Redemptive violence and just wars are myths. It is only in living love that evil can be confronted. And identified. And ultimately defeated.
But just saying that these days sounds ludicrous. And Paul knew that. Listen to what he says about his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 “23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
He’s saying, “I know living love sounds crazy, but it works! I know this is true because I’ve done it!” Jesus said something similar in John 15:24. If I had not lived love among them, they would not be guilty of sin. And in verse 22 he adds if I had not preached love among them, they would not be guilty of sin. Why should we live love? Because Jesus lived love. Like in elementary school during Show and Tell. Why live love? Because Jesus “showed” and “told.”
But there is one more reason to live love in the meantime. And this is also point number three: Because the people who promote persecution and hatred don’t know God. Isn’t that what Jesus said about the crowd that crucified him? Luke 23:34 “34Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” And two times Jesus says the same thing in John 15:21 and 16:3. “21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” And 16:2-3 “2They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”
Jesus said people who promote persecution and hatred do not know God. But maybe that’s why it can be possible to pray for people who persecute you. Because we know they know nothing about God. “I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you” Jesus said in John 16:4. So we need Christians courageous enough to show and tell them about the love of God. Even if doing so costs us our very lives! That’s what eighteen year old Yakubu in Nigeria already knows. That is what those timid disciples following Jesus out of the Upper Room learned. And yes, even in America, that is what God is calling us to learn too.
Philippians 1:29 says it this way: “29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” And Hebrews 13:3 adds, “3Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” The disciples were learning how to live grace in the looming shadow of the cross. We’re still learning how to live grace in the light of the 2nd Advent. In the past few weeks, we’ve learned 15 ways to live grace in the meantime. Did you realize you learned so much at church? Here they are [drum roll please]. How do we live grace in the meantime?
All of these are simple to do. But none of them are easy. Which of these 15 ways to live grace in the meantime are you struggling with the most? Who will you share those struggles with today? Why not ask someone else you love and trust to hold you accountable to one of these areas of your growing life together with Christ? Why not talk about a few of these fifteen ways to live grace over lunch with your friends and family and children? Now that this series is over, why not order all 5 talks on CD and give them as gifts to your father for father’s day? Or better yet listen to them on CD together with him? Dads love to be included don’t they?
The topics we’ve covered and scriptures we’ve shared in John 14 and 15 are among the most significant words Jesus ever said. He shared them literally hours before He died on the cross for our sins. They were meant to encourage us. And sustain us. And keep us close to Him. My hope and prayer for each of you, my church family, is that we will choose to live like crazy in the meantime. Not to be loved or to stay loved but because you and your children and your children’s children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are loved! In response, let’s sing to our Fairest Lord Jesus in closing.