John 15:18-16:3 (spring AD 30, Thursday evening of Passion Week)
Our experience of becoming a Christian involves choosing Christ, and we come from all kinds of different places to get there. Some through trauma, some in comfort; some through reason, some through emotion; some gladly, some with initial reluctance; some through reading, some through talking. But in the end, all Christians have chosen God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is also true, in the engine-room of theological reality, is that God chose us. This is a theme that crops up throughout the epistles and is mentioned by Jesus in today’s reading when he said of his disciples, “I have chosen you out of the world” (v.19).
That’s significant, because it’s our chosenness that serves reassurance that we can definitely be used by God (i.e. bear fruit for him), because that was part of why he saved us. Because of that, being hated by people for your faith isn’t odd, and it doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’re doing anything wrong. The world hated (and still hates) Jesus, and you were chosen to be like Jesus, so if you’re anything like Jesus at all, the world will hate you too.
Remarkably, Jesus’ talk of opposition and being hated was “so that you will not fall away” (16:1). Given that Jesus had been persecuted for much of the past three years and was about to be killed, you might think the disciples would be expecting hard times. In reality, Jesus knew that persecution would come as a terrifying shock, and they needed to be prepared for it. Similarly, we need to be theologically prepared for grief and hardship. Not because we can comfort ourselves with greater knowledge, but so that we can know something well enough to feel its reality. In particular, our chosen and beloved status with God.
Four days after this, Jesus triumphed over death. Six weeks later he ascended into heaven in front of the disciples, when they reached peak encouragement. It has echoes of Elijah’s state of mind after being fed by ravens, raising the widows son, and defeating and killing the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 17-18).
Immediately after those great triumphs, after Queen Jezebel said she was going to kill him, Elijah fled, and when he “came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:4).
How did God encourage him? With his presence.
“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’” (1 Kings 19:11)
Persevere as you tell people about Jesus, even as you are opposed not just by atheists, but by religious people, even some who call themselves Christians (16:2). Persevere, knowing that Jesus has been there, that it’s really him they hate not you, and that he is with you, right now.