All over the world today, Christians are persecuted for their faith. It is a fact of life, and it should not be a surprise to true believers. It is the pattern in the Bible. In the first century and today, Christians are imprisoned, tortured, ostracized and even killed simply because they unashamedly follow Jesus. In his book, The Insanity of God, missionary Nik Ripken documents the powerful witness of those who are enduring persecution in the name of Jesus in some of the most difficult parts of the world.
Jesus warned his first followers that they would need to be ready to endure persecution, and his words hold true with us today.
18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke 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. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they don’t know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this happened so that the statement written in their law might be fulfilled: They hated me for no reason.
26 “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father — he will testify about me. 27 You also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.
You may be hated because of Jesus (vv18-19). As crazy as it seems, when you follow the teachings of the most amazing teacher who ever lived, the one who loved people unconditionally and calls us to love others, some people will hate you. A big reason for this is that Jesus tells us that there are certain things that are right and other things that are wrong, and Christians believe this too. The Bible clearly explains these things.
For instance, stealing is wrong. According to the Bible it is a sin, and in most parts of the world it is also a crime. Christians declare that stealing is wrong. A thief will not like hearing that. He may hate you because he holds a different set of values. If your boss asks you to operate the business in a way that steals from your customers or the competition or the government, as a Christian you would morally object. Your boss may accuse you of being disloyal to the company and threaten to fire you, but in reality you know that this is a type of persecution you must endure to live for Jesus, even if your commitment to Jesus costs you your job.
You may be persecuted because of Jesus (v20). The first followers of Jesus were prepared to follow him no matter the cost. Many lost their lives as martyrs because of their unwavering devotion to Jesus. In the Roman empire they were asked to declare that Caesar was their Lord, but for the Christians they would only declare that Jesus was their Lord. In some countries of the world today, the predominate religion is Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. In other countries, atheism reigns supreme. To publicly declare yourself as a Christian in those countries could result in physical abuse, being ostracized from the community, or being imprisoned, tortured or executed. And those who try to convert others to Christianity in those Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheistic nations are in the direct line of attack of the persecutors.
But the gospel of Jesus compels us to tell others of the forgiveness, salvation and love that they can have in Jesus, so what shall we do? Be his witnesses! Witness in the name of Jesus. Be ready to endure whatever persecution may come your way. Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Trust in Jesus every moment of every day for the strength, guidance, wisdom and perseverance that you need.
Haters and persecutors do not know Jesus (vv21-25). In verse 21 Jesus clearly says that those who hate and persecute his followers do not know him. Jesus’ followers choose love over hate, blessing instead of cursing, tolerance over persecution. Jesus’ followers love their persecutors so much that they pray for them, serve them, share the good news with them, bless them, and do whatever it takes to try to help them see the offer of salvation available in Christ.
If the people thought they had excuses before Jesus came, they did not (see Romans 1:18-20). Furthermore, his life, death and resurrection shows all people how to come to the Father (only through him!) as John 14:6 clearly states. When Christians endure persecution, they are declaring that even haters and persecutors can come to faith in Jesus Christ and experience life-changing faith in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit will help you as you testify about Jesus (vv26-27). Persecution leads to witness. A person who is persecuted for their faith will have opportunities in many different ways to testify about their love for Jesus. Some of these opportunities may be with their persecutors. Some may be in courtrooms. Some may be in churches, encouraging other believers to stand strong in their faith. Some may be with unbelievers who are incredibly curious why you would endure persecution in this way.
If you will stay close to Jesus by reading the Bible, praying and remaining close to him, you will find that you will be ready to be a witness for him, no matter the opportunity. God will direct your mind, your heart and your words. He will use you as a bold, humble, unashamed follower of Jesus.