Witnesses for the Sake of the Name – John 15:21-16:4

 

Witnesses for the Sake of the Name

Nick Esch, 5/13/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

In 1839 John Williams and James Harris, from the London Mission Society, went to the New Hebrides (islands about two-thirds of the way between Australia and Hawaii) with the intent to take the gospel to the people there… But, within minutes after going ashore, both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals… Less than 20 years later John Paton, a Scottish Presbyterian, would boldly go to those same people with the gospel. He knew the cost would be high, but he also knew that the need was great, and that Jesus was worth it…

When Paton was getting ready to head out there, and was raising support for this great mission, one man named Mr. Dickson protested. He told Paton, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” After all, it had only been 19 years since that had happened. But to this Paton responded: “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”

Paton would not be shaken… He was convinced by God’s Word and the world around him that he must go and bear witness… So he did; and it cost him much… He gave up all the comforts of the western world, he was criticized for going on the mission field, and—worst of all—he suffered the tragic loss of children and his young wife… But, we easily forget that there are worst things than dying… Death is nothing compared to eternal wrath; and without Jesus that is what everyone is destined for… So Paton counted the cost, and went. And he saw a whole island come to Christ; he saw the hardest people reached, and he had the deepest joy in Christ… Again, he knew that the need is great, and the cost is high, but Jesus is worth it… And today, Lord willing, we’ll see these same things in our passage…  So with that in mind let’s look at John 15:21-16:4 together…

John 15:21-16:4

The closing of our passage in John 16:1-4 actually sets up the context of our passage; there Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”

Jesus is telling His disciples that persecution is coming. He’s speaking to them on the night before the cross; so in just a few hours Jesus will be arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. And so Jesus is getting His disciples ready for what is coming for Him; but He’s also seeking to prepare them to live by faith after the cross and after He has gone into glory, because then persecution will come for them… He wants all of His disciples to know the cost of discipleship, and to stay faithful, come what may. And He’s telling them that persecution will indeed come.

Now let’s go back to John 15:21 and think about why all of this is happening and going to happen. There Jesus says, “But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” When I read that verse my mind immediately goes to an Old Testament text that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. In Isaiah 48:9-11 God tells His people, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Here God links His name to His own sake, to His praise, and to His glory… His name is His reputation, it’s who He is in all of His glory. And the praise of His name here is tied to the salvation He grants His people… It’s like Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He saves us for His glory, for the praise of His name…

With this in mind it makes sense to link this idea of God’s name’s sake in the Old Testament to the name of Jesus in the New Testament, because God restrains His anger and restores our souls because of the person and work of Jesus—we have salvation in Christ. But also, since God’s name and His glory go hand in hand, this makes even more sense. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3-4). Jesus is God the Son; He is God in the flesh. He shines out the glory of God. He makes God in His glory known. When we read of the name of Jesus, or of His name’s sake, our minds should immediately go to the glory of God—especially the glory of God displayed in the cross of Christ and the salvation that comes as a result. As Peter says in Acts 4:12, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Not long after saying this Peter and the other apostles displayed how much they really believed this truth by being persecuted for Jesus’ name’s sake. In Acts 5 the apostles are arrested; but an angel of the Lord shows up in the middle of the night and gets them out of prison and tells them to, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20)… By Life, the angel seems to mean the person and work of Jesus: who He is, what He has done, and will do… So that’s what they do. They go out and proclaim the gospel and preach and teach all about the glories of Christ.

When the authorities find them out of prison and in the temple preaching and teaching, they say to the apostles, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name” (Acts 5:28)… But the apostles, led by the Spirit, boldly respond, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And as you can imagine, the Jewish leaders did not take kindly to this… They beat them and charged them, once again, not to speak in the name of Jesus… But the apostles weren’t discouraged at all. After this we’re told, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-42).

The name of Jesus meant everything to the apostles… They rejoiced over suffering for it… Why? Because they associated the name of Jesus with the glory of God, and the gospel of God which is the power of God for salvation to all who believe… And this is what the people who persecuted them associated the name with as well; and that’s why it was so offensive to them—it challenged everything they were and believed… The glory of God was offensive to them, but it was beautiful to the apostles… In suffering for Christ they were reminded that knowing Christ is far better than comfort or ease, or anything this world could give them or take away from them… Knowing Him in His glory and being used for His glory, even if that meant persecution for Him, brought them more joy than anything of this world… And in knowing this, they knew that what the world needed in their day, more than anything else, was to know this glorious Jesus… They needed to truly know this name… And beloved, the same is true in our day as well… As Jesus says here, the world will persecute Christians because of Him, because of His name, but what this world needs more than anything else is to know Jesus; and if they are to know Jesus that means we have to make Him known; and if we are going to make Him known we must be willing to suffer for His name’s sake… But, like the apostles, in suffering for Him we will find great joy in Him…

Now look at what Jesus says next in John 15:22-24. “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.” This goes right along with what Jesus says in John 15:21, that people persecute Him and Christians on account of His name, because they do not know the Father…. They show they don’t know God by the way they treat the One who makes God known… Whoever hates Jesus hates the Father also… If they truly knew God and loved God in all His glory they would have gladly accepted the One who is the radiance of the glory of God…But instead they crucified Him.

But look at what Jesus says here. He says that if He had not come and spoken to them, and done great works before them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Now we know from the rest of Scripture that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus Himself says, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18)… So this can’t mean that if Jesus would not have come, these people—the Jews specifically—would have continued on in sinless perfection… No… The only One who is sinless is Jesus…

The phrase, “they would not be guilty of sin,” in the Greek, is more simply put, “they would not have sin.” And the idea is not sin in general, but the great and most central of sins: unbelief in the gospel, rejection of Jesus, and decisive rebellion against God… You know those words of that old hymn, “Take the world but give me Jesus…” Well the sin here is decisively saying, “Take Jesus but give me the world…” Jesus has come to the world, He has done great works and proclaimed the gospel, and yet so many have utterly rejected Him… Jesus says, He has done so much for them and in front of them, He has revealed the glory of God to them, yet they have rejected Him, and so they are completely without excuse…

Now don’t misunderstand what’s being said; no one ever has an excuse for sin… In the last half of Romans 1 Paul basically lays out the reality of all of mankind since the fall of man in Genesis 3. And what he says there is that there is enough proof in creation for everyone to see that there is a good and holy God who created all things. The creation proclaims this to us. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The world was designed in such a way that we can see that there is a God whom we should be living for, whom we should be worshipping. Whether a person has heard the name of Jesus or not, they know enough to know that they should be living for God, they should be worshipping God. Romans 1:20 basically says every single person on the face of this earth, whether they live in Terrell Texas or in the Amazon is without excuse; over seven billion people, who have absolutely no excuse not to be worshipping God. Yet Romans says that instead of worshipping our Creator we worship and serve the creation… But, we have no excuse for our sin…

In one way or another, when we sin against God we are choosing the creation instead of the Creator… But the Jews here are out right doing this, as they will soon reject Him by nailing Him to a cross… John tells us that Jesus, “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11)… And that’s the great sin that Jesus is saying the Israelites are guilty of here. There is no excuse for anyone to sin against God, but Israel here is especially without excuse, because Jesus came to them, did great works before them, and taught them, yet they rejected Him. They saw Jesus face to face, and instead of worshiping Him, they crucified Him…

Now it may be easy for us to look back at them and think to ourselves, “How could they do such a thing? How could they reject Jesus like that?” But friends, this is still happening today… Of course we all know that people reject Jesus all of the time. We share the gospel with people, and call them to repentance and faith, and they look at us like we’re crazy… And that’s certainly bad; but how much worse is it for people like us who go to church all of the time, who sit under sound preaching, and go to Bible studies and the like, and yet still refuse Christ? Now you might be thinking, “I’m not refusing Christ?” And maybe you aren’t… But understand that if you are living in open rebellion against God, living in known unrepentant sin—you know those pet sins that we like to keep around that we think no one knows about or cares about—if we’re living in sin, no matter how small the sin may seem, we are choosing that sin instead of Jesus… Look at that sin, whatever it is, and think about what it offers you, and there you will find your idol… An idol is something more important to you than God—it’s that created thing you’re worshipping instead of the Creator.… And if you’re putting anything in the place of God, anything in the place of Jesus you are essentially rejecting Jesus…

On some level this describes all of us… Every single one of us still sin everyday; but, true Christians are seeking to repent of their sin… So I’m not trying to make you feel bad for being imperfect. I’m addressing those of you who are living in unrepentant sin. If this is you, understand that on judgment day you will give an account for every time you did not heed God’s Word, for every time you chose sin instead of Jesus. You are committing the same great sin that Jesus accuses the Jews of here: you are rejecting Him, and there is no excuse for it… And if you carry on in it, there is no coming back from it… So if that’s you, would you, right now, in the silence of your heart cry out to Him and beg Him to save you, and enable you to turn from your sin, and trust in the finished work of Jesus… None of us have an excuse for our sin, but if we repent and believe in the gospel, we do have a Savior from our sin and the wrath due us for our sin… But rejection of that Savior is the great sin that Jesus is speaking of here…

Now Jesus isn’t caught off guard by this… In fact, this was all a part of God’s plan. Jesus says in John 15:25, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: They hated me without a cause.” There He’s quoting Psalm 69, a Psalm of David, and applying it directly to Himself as the great Son of David. And He’s saying that—the Jews, and really all who reject Him, but especially the Jews because He refers to the Old Testament as their law—they hate Him without cause. This was a fulfillment of God’s Word. These words were written hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, yet they were speaking of Him, and they were speaking of those who would hate Him.

This shows us that God is completely sovereign and working in and through all things for His good pleasure, even in the hatred and the rejection of those who are against Christ. I mean we see this ultimately in the cross; that’s how this great hatred for Jesus will show itself… In Acts 2:23, Peter tells the Jews, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” In order words, God is sovereign, and man is responsible… The crucifixion was all a part of God’s grand plan of redemption, and it happened exactly to His definite plan, yet it was the Jews who had Him crucified; they are the lawless ones… They are the sinners who are without excuse, though it was all a part of God’s plan… Much of this great plan was laid out in the Old Testament, and it was fulfilled perfectly. Psalm 22, Isaiah 52, 53, and many other passages were fulfilled perfectly… And God’s definite plan is always fulfilled perfectly; God’s will is never thwarted; He even accomplishes His perfect will through sinful man…

But, though this was all a part of God’s plan, notice Jesus says that He was hated without cause… They were rebellious and sinful, and they unwittingly fulfilled their own Scriptures through their rebellion; but Jesus on the other hand was and is completely without sin or fault… There is nothing in Him that can justify someone hating Him… Everything about Him invites us to love Him, to enjoy Him, to delight in Him… He is eternally perfect and infinitely good… We shouldn’t hate Him, but love Him completely, above all…

Now let me just point out real quick how encouraging those two truths are beside each other: that God is completely sovereign and completely good… This tells us that 1) everything happens for a reason. God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So because He is perfectly good, whatever our God ordains is right… And 2) even though the world hates Jesus and hates Christians, and even though our own hearts are prone to wander, God is mighty to save… He has willed that He would have a people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and generation, and His will can never be thwarted—this is a part of His definite plan. The fact that God is sovereign and perfectly good is good news…

But, the goodness of God in Jesus is in part why all men in their sin do hate Him. Because loving Him means we must forsake our idols… Loving Him rightly means all lesser loves look like hate in comparison; because He is greater than all we must love Him above all… But the trouble is, we love our idols, and we don’t want to let them go, so instead we hate Jesus… And that’s why I said earlier that rejection of Jesus is the most central of sins… At the heart of all of our sin is unbelief in the gospel and rejection of Jesus… We’re believing the lie that our sin is better than Him… And not realizing that we’re settling for so much less in our idolatry, we get hostile when our idols are threatened…

But that’s not the only reason people hate Christ and reject Him. People don’t reject Christ because of what they see in Him, they reject Christ because of what He reveals about them… His holiness reveals our sinfulness… His perfection reveals our imperfection… And His crucifixion criticizes us more than anyone else ever could… It tells the world that we are so sinful that the perfect Son of God had to die in our place to save us from our sin… And without a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit we’re not going to be able to come to grips with that… But if God does do a work in us, if He opens our eyes to our spiritual bankruptcy, and to our great need of a Savior, then He will likewise open our eyes to the great sufficiency of Jesus. We’ll see that He’s the Savior we need, and what’s more we’ll see that He’s all we need… That everything we have been looking for and longing for, everything we’ve been running to idols for is found in Him; we’ll see that really what we’ve been desiring is Jesus Himself… He is without fault… He is perfect… And the joy and the delight and the satisfaction that are found in Him are perfect also… There is nothing in Him worthy of hate, but only our complete love and devotion…

Now when we get this everything about us will slowly, but surely begin to change… God, in His sovereign goodness transforms us from haters of God to lovers of God, and we surrender ourselves to Christ; and then who we are in the core of our being gets so wrap up in Him that our very identity is in Christ… We live for Him: to know Him, to enjoy Him, and to make Him known… And this is what we see in John 15:26-27. Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Here Jesus is speaking of Pentecost, when, after He ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit comes down to indwell, guide, encourage, equip, and empower the church to be the church. The Holy Spirit is the Helper Jesus sends; that word for helper in the Greek is the word παράκλητος: it means counselor or advocate… This is legal language referring to someone who would testify, or bear witness on someone’s behalf. And that’s what Jesus says the Spirit does. He says the Spirit bears witness about Him. And that makes sense, considering Jesus calls Him the Spirit of Truth, and Jesus has just referred to Himself in John 14:6 as the truth. The Spirit bears witness to us about Christ, enabling us to see the truth of Christ rightly and to trust in Him rightly, which then brings us into Christ and grows us in Christ. The Spirit reminds us of who Christ is and reveals more and more of who He is to us again and again, and in the process He encourages us and assures us of who we are in Christ. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16)… So in that sense He testifies on our behalf, reminding us we are in Christ…

In one way or another, the ministry of the Spirit is always all about Jesus… I often hear people speak of Spirit-filled churches; and usually what they mean is charismatic churches that focus on miraculous gifts, and speak often of the Holy Spirit, and may or may not do dramatic and even chaotic things in the name of the Spirit. But that’s a complete misunderstanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work is not to draw attention to Himself, or us, but to Jesus… The Spirit’s work is kind of like floodlights on a building. J. I Packer explains this, saying, “When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior. Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’

A true Spirit-filled church is all about Jesus.The Holy Spirit bears witness about Christ; He bears witness to us about Christ, and who we are in Christ; and He enables us to bear witness to Christ. Jesus says, “you also will bear witness…” Now, first and foremost this is speaking of the apostles; but this statement is true of all of Jesus’ disciples. That’s why Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This started with the church in the first century, but it’s still happening today. Every true Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and every true Christian is a witness for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s actually what Jesus means here. He’s tying the Spirit’s witness to ours. After all, it’s only the Father and the Spirit that have been with Jesus from the beginning… The apostles had been with Jesus since the start of His public ministry, but the Spirit has known Jesus since before the foundation of the world… And He is the one that makes it possible for us to witness… Again, the Greek Word translated Helper here refers to a legal advocate; but in this time that would have typically been a good friend who knew the person well; they would have testified on their behalf… And that’s what the Spirit does… And He enables and empowers our witness as well…

And notice, when we look at this alongside Acts 1:8, we see that we don’t simply go witnessing, but Jesus says—if we are Christians—we will be His witnesses… It’s who we are… As I said earlier, when we surrender ourselves to Christ, who we are in the core of our being gets so wrap up in Him that our very identity is in Christ…  And this makes sense… If the Spirit is all about Christ, and He causes us to be born again and takes up residence in our lives and empowers us to be who we are in Christ, then our lives will be all about Christ… The life of a Christian is to be all about Jesus… Yes, we must do evangelism; but, the whole of our life is to be a constant witness, a constant testimony to who Jesus is: how great He is, how mighty He is to save, and how satisfying He is in every way… If the Spirit is always testifying, “Look at Jesus, and see His glory; listen to Jesus, and hear His Word; go to Jesus, and have life; get to know Jesus, and taste His gift of joy and peace.” If that’s what it means for the Spirit to bear witness to Christ, beloved, it means the same thing for us, because as the Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus so are we…

This is such a needed word in our day… So many claim to be Christian yet do not live for Jesus… They may speak of God in general, but the name of Jesus doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary… There’s a mythical version of Christianity in the Bible Belt that thinks you can be a Christian without Jesus, or that you can be a Christian without following Jesus… And along with that, there are others who only use the name of Jesus to name and claim health and prosperity, and that is equally false… Christianity is not about using Jesus to get whatever our flesh desires… Christianity is about giving up the desires of our flesh because we get Jesus… It’s about knowing and treasuring Christ above all else, because He gave up all for us, and gives us Himself… It’s about countingeverything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, even our very lives if necessary… That’s what every true church and Christian should be about…

And this brings us back full circle to the end of our passage, which is actually where we started. And basically what Jesus is saying there is that if we are truly His witnesses, in one way or another, we will be persecuted… The Greek word for witness is μαρτυρέω, which is where we get the word martyr from… And you can see why these two things go hand in hand… If the whole of a person’s life points to Jesus, and the world hates Jesus, then that world will hate Christians as well… So Jesus lays all of this out to warn and strengthen His disciples; to make sure they understand the cost of discipleship… He wants them to hold fast, to keep the faith, and to live as His witnesses, regardless of the pushback they may get from the world; and He wants the same for us…

But, friends, it occurs to me that what Jesus wants for us here is something that we can’t do alone. He gives us the Holy Spirit, but He also gives us one another. It’s not merely as individual Christians that we bear witness to Christ, but in our lives together as a church. By the way we love one another and encourage one another in our discipleship; we need one another to faithfully follow Jesus. We need to be a part of the local church if we are to truly be His witnesses. We need to come together with the people who remind us that we are not crazy, who remind us that Jesus is better than our sin, who remind us that He’s better than comfort and ease, and that we must live as His witnesses no matter how much pushback we receive from the world…

And together as a church, as we live as witnesses for Christ by the power of the Spirit we’ll find that we not only receive pushback from the world, but we’ll see the gospel make an impact on the world… We’ll see souls saved, lives transformed, marriages restored… We’ll see the world turned upside for Christ… The same world that hates Christ and hates Christians can be won by the power of the Spirit… They can be saved… We are all proof of that fact…

Conclusion

So what we see here in our passage are three basic things; the same three things that John Paton saw: the need is great, the cost is high, and Jesus is worth it… Suffering is inevitable, but, as Spirit empowered Christians sent out by a sovereign God, our mission is unstoppable… So may we all give ourselves to truly being His witnesses, here and to the ends of the earth…