17 These things I command you, that you love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 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 keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
Sometime, in the spring of 2020, I awoke one morning with this song playing in my head:
There's a flu bug getting passed around
Spreading like fire through this town
There's a virus holing up inside us
Each one that I know is coming down…
The song is La Grippe by the curiously-named music group “Squirrel Nut Zippers,” a band formed during the short-lived Jazz and Swing Revival of the mid-1990’s. The song–its name an old-fashioned term for “flu”–uses 1920’s jazz and a foreboding tone to capture the feel of fear and hysteria of a time like the 1918 Flu Epidemic. The song moves from fearfulness to wild abandon as the danger of death finally passes and a time for revelry results–in much the same way WWI and the 1918 flu gave way to the “Roaring Twenties.”
My mind recalled this strangely prescient old song from my college days and immediately related it to this modern day of pandemic and pandemonium surrounding COVID-19 and its aftermath. Our culture is truly trying to come to grips with the fear and folly, and all are struggling in some form or fashion with the reality of life as a result.
There is another “virus inside us” that the world has struggled with for far longer. A world racked with sin and darkness struggles like a host body to resist its effects. No matter what measures it takes to resist, the thing it is fighting against adapts and cannot be overcome.
This “virus” of which I speak is the work of Christ and the Christian identity found in Him.
At the risk of running afoul of the hyperbole police, I will explain. How can Christianity be a virus, you ask? It is a force for good in this world, a light in the darkness, and the hope of a fallen world. If anything, Christianity is the cure for all the horror and heartache of this broken place, and sin is the virus that infects us all.
It is very true that the person and work of Jesus accomplishes the redemption of God’s people, separated from Him by the sin of Adam, and in this way, represents a restoration or “cure.”
However, when you view faith in Christ through the lens of this sinful world, you will begin to understand how foreign and alien it seems to be to those who do not understand–or see things in the opposite light. To them, the holiness of God, the faithfulness of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit are at the very best confusing, and at the very worst, threats to the accepted order.
Noted atheists have even referred to faith in Christ as “The God Virus” as they decry religion in general and the frustratingly effective work of the Holy Spirit to preserve and grow the church even during the darkest of ages.
Even if a world lost in sin cannot or will not see Christ as savior, or the gospel as His message, the devil surely sees it all and works feverishly to undermine, frustrate, and destroy the people and message of the One he fears. The clock in Satan’s head is ticking down the moments until his final defeat.
As John, chapter 15 draws to a close, Jesus and His disciples are walking to the Garden of Gethsemane. The Judean night shimmers with starlight as the darkness surrounds them and a city struggles to sleep. It is Passover, and Jerusalem is a powder keg awaiting but a spark. Roman guards are restless, Jewish leaders plot, and every step that Jesus takes is one step closer to the cross.
In an open doorway perhaps a dog barks as Jesus and His band of disciples passes by–eleven of them now as Judas Iscariot is out doing the devil’s work. The sudden noise startles them, and Jesus reminds them that by continuing on this path as His followers, they will always be seen as intruders in a world seeking the false security of the flesh, the world, and the devil.
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you..–John 15:18-19
The disciples have seen the crowds, the adoring followers, the grateful ones who have been healed–they have seen Jesus’s goodness and righteousness. They have also seen those who have opposed Him and perhaps wondered how anyone could do so.
Jesus is telling them here that after He is gone this opposition will focus on them. The disciples will be hated by Jesus’s enemies, simply because the enemies hate Him–but this should be no surprise:
20 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 keep yours also.–John 15:20
Jesus’s mention of “servanthood” is directly related to the example He has just given them though the washing of their own feet. They are bound to each other. If they remain in Him, they will serve in His name. People will see them and know Him, and so love–or hate–them because of this:
21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.–John 15:21
Here is the question Jesus is asking you: how do you present Jesus to the world? Do you present the holy Lamb of God, or some version of Christ that suits you? Does the world see Jesus in you, and, if reacting in opposition, is it because of His holiness they see or some weakened version of His image?
In Michael Crichton’s technological thriller The Andromeda Strain, scientists scramble to defeat an alien microbe that has come to earth, threatening all of life with instant death. All efforts to defeat it fail, and during the climax, alarms go off as the door seals have been broken and the germ will soon escape.
During the panic, one doctor realizes that the virus has simply morphed into harmless form–one that dissolves rubber, forming no threat to life. A crisis is averted as what once threatened destruction was now able to be defeated because it simply adapted to a weaker form.
Has your faith simply adapted to a weaker form, one that accommodates your lifestyle or is more acceptable to those around you–or does your faith reflect a Christ who knew that He would face rejection and even death for His love of the Father and those He had been given to save?
“If the world sees me, then you will be hated,” Jesus says, “but you are not alone.” He will send help:
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. –John 15:26
The Holy Spirit will be Jesus’s own presence in your life, to comfort, strengthen, enlighten, and guide. The Holy Spirit will open hearts and lives as the Gospel works through you. What’s more:
27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.–John 15:27
Jesus is saying that you will witness for Him too. Sinclair Ferguson points out that in the ancient Near East, when a person was put on trial, witnesses were called–much like today. However, it was expected that a person would choose his closest friend to testify on his behalf. Jesus is expecting you, His closest friend, to testify on His behalf.
Can you do this? When the world turns its hatred on the threat that Jesus represents to its comfortable selfishness and pursuit of its own glory, can you present Jesus as He is? Is Jesus a therapeutically reassuring benign figure of acceptance–or a challenger to people’s fallen condition? If it came to it, would you even be worth persecuting?
Christ spoke to men at pain of death, and death itself was defeated–but at the cost of His own life.
There is, then, a cost of following Jesus. It is one thing to give up some thing we are addicted to, such as drinking, or binging on Oreos. It is another thing to give up what we may freely have and face the wrath of a guilty world. To follow Jesus is to become a child of the King, a citizen of a heavenly kingdom–and a pilgrim in a foreign land.
As John, now an old man, writes and remembers, he thinks of his churches, his friends from that night, and all that they gave up to follow their dear master:
Peter left his commercial fishing business. Matthew walked away from his lucrative tax collecting position. The blind beggar tossed aside his cloak and coins. The woman at the wall left her jar. Even John and his brother James left their father Zebedee–and the family enterprise.
Michael Card, in his wonderful song The Things we Leave Behind, captures this well:
Every heart needs to be set free
From possessions that hold it so tight
'Cause freedom's not found
In the things that we own
It's the power to do what is right
With Jesus, our only possession
And giving becomes our delight
And we can't imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.
Are you willing to give up an image or a life carefully crafted to please others around you and face rejection? Jesus is telling you that you are not alone, and He is also telling you that you are not a victim. In surrendering your comfort, peace, and even identity to Christ, you will be gaining the freedom of a life released from the world that ensnares you–and lead others to Him.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.