“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They 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. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.” John 16:1-4a (New International Version)
Excerpted from Jesus’ parting words to His disciples, these words of warning are unavoidably unsettling. A taste of what’s to come. An attempt to prepare His followers for the realities of their commitment to the Kingdom.
“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.” (The Message)
Before we can process these distressing words of warning, it’s crucial that we understand exactly who they are…
The passage that comes before this one in John is subtitled “Hated by the World” in The Message. It’s reasonable to assume that, because our text flows out of this ‘world’ talk, that the they in this warning refers to the godless world outside of our believing circles. Jesus could certainly have been cautioning His followers to watch out for the world that views the Gospel message with attitudes ranging from animosity to skepticism (at best).
We’ve all experienced some of this, haven’t we?
People whose threshold for tolerance has been tampered with by having had a few too many evangelists show up on their doorstep over the years.
People who are so consumed with self that the idea of faith in something bigger than themselves just doesn’t compute.
People who were raised under the oppressive religiosity of works-driven theology, only to slingshot as far away as humanly possible from the church the moment they were emancipated from childhood.
People who have so bought into the wisdom of the systems of man that the mere suggestion of the spiritual elicits scorn and contempt.
Jesus’ reminder in John 15:18 deals specifically with a world filled with hate toward those who will follow in the Messiah’s footsteps:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (NIV)
Just in case you’re thinking that you can handle the haters in the world outside of the faith, there is something even more disconcerting to consider in this Literal 4 Lent text today, and it is found in John 16:2.
“They will put you out of the synagogue.”
“They are going to throw you out of the meeting places.”
The they in this sentence doesn’t seem to be referring to the people outside of the church. Why would that they care whether we attend church or not? No, this they appears to be those people who are inside the church walls with us.
People whose presence in the worshiping community might be deceiving.
People who have never really understood the Father and the way He operates.
People whose spiritual eyes have been blinded, failing to recognize the embodiment of Christ in the imperfect people through whom He lives and moves and works today.
Jesus is warning us that, as we grow into our God-ordained, Spirit-enabled callings, not everyone is going to applaud.
The world that hates the Light is going to spew its loathsome venom in our direction in an attempt to silence the Good News. Be ready.
The institution of church is going to attempt to consume the living Body of Christ, and if you’re one of His holy organs, you’d better be prepared.
Jealousy will rear its ugly head and seek to put you (and the attractive presence of the Spirit in you) out on the street, where you’re less of a threat and distraction to the well-oiled machine that is the church. Consider yourself warned.
There is no rejection like that of your family and friends.
Jesus doesn’t just say this might happen… He says when.
“When the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.”
As Holy Week approaches and as our experiment in being Literal 4 Lent comes to an end, consider yourself WARNED, my friend.
Warned so that you can get ready for whatever is coming next.