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unfulfilled expectations

John 15:17-16:4

     There are few things more devastating to human experience than unfulfilled expectations.  Every child, like Ralphie Parker in Christmas Story, who didn’t get the Christmas present he wanted -- the “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time” -- knows what I’m talking about.  And the impact of unfulfilled expectations on our relationships is inestimable.  The girl who expected the boy to call her last night, the child who expected Dad to make it to the big game, the employee who expected the promotion, the husband who expected his wife to be faithful… Ask any of them and they will all tell you the same thing:  There are few things that have more power to devastate us than when what we expect to happen – hope to happen -- does not happen.

     Jesus was very aware of this reality.  When you read the four accounts of Jesus in the four Gospels, you see again and again that Jesus often did not fulfill the expectations of the people in his society – especially of those who were in positions of religious or political power.  And, it becomes very clear to me, as I turn to John 15:18-16:4 that Jesus wants to make sure we know what we’re in for when we place our faith in him. 

     Out of love for all those who follow him, Jesus took up the topic of expectations on his last day before he would die on the cross.  He knew that unanticipated pain and opposition would lead to disappointment and would make many who claim to be Christians go astray.  This was true in the first century.  It’s still true today.  How many people have quit going to church and have given up on “religion” because their religion did not do for them what they expected it to do?  The answer?  Many.

     It’s clear to me when I read Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s text, that our relationship to him should make a difference in our lives when things don’t go the way we expect. And, truthfully, many of you in our own church family have been teaching me about how to walk with Jesus in those times when things don’t go the ways we had hoped they would.  So, right at the beginning of my message, I want to show you one powerful example of this, the story of Terry La Bossiere, who serves us so faithfully week-by-week out in the plaza.  (Video.)

A Clarification

     Terry has found life and meaning in the midst of huge challenges through faithful service to the Lord.  Her testimony sounds like she was reading John 13-17 long before I started this series of sermons.  Of course, as we come today to John 15:18, we quickly see that the main unfulfilled expectation that Jesus knew the disciples would soon face was opposition from people in the world simply because of their faith in Him.  So, just after giving us the command, “Love one another!” in v.17, Jesus immediately says in v.18, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” 

     My clarification is this:  Jesus is not saying that every moment of every day and in every encounter, we should expect to experience pain and opposition.  But Jesus does make it clear, that each of us should anticipate times in which it seems like the whole world is against us.  The “if” clause in v.18 makes that clear:  “If the world hates you…”, he says.  Jesus knew there would be good days when people see us loving as Jesus loves and acknowledge that this is good. I discover that we at LAC experience a warm response from many in our community when they see us involved positively in our public schools, caring for the homeless, and providing counsel for those who are struggling or alienated.

     But, I read John 15:18ff and envision Jesus looking with great compassion at those who would carry his message from Jerusalem out in to the world and wanting them (and us) to be prepared. Jesus had always experienced this kind of persecution and soon would be put to death. When we live life according to Jesus’ commands, we should expect that we sometimes will experience exactly what he experienced. As Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you (15:20).”

     In the moments we have today to look at what Jesus said we should expect, I want to help you grasp two things: 1) why opposition happens to Christians and 2) how you can handle it when it comes.

Why Would Anyone “Knock Down” Jesus-followers

Reason #1:  We’re Like Aliens to the World – “You are not of the world.  I chose you out of the world.  Therefore, the world hates you (15:19).”

     Remember that Jesus’ words that we do not belong to the world flow directly from his teaching that, when we place our faith in him, we become connected to Jesus like a branch is to a vine.  In other words, his life flows through us.  As Paul put it in Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  This reality always changes us.  What is it like?

     At the end of JRR Tolkien’s Return of the King, the two main bearers of the “one ring to rule all rings”, the formerly very ordinary and unremarkable hobbit heroes, Bilbo and Frodo, return to the Shire.  But, when they return, they discovered that they are changed.  Oh, they still love the Shire.  They fight to clean up the evil in the shire.  But, they no longer seem to belong.  After their contact with the great supernatural leaders like elves, trolls, trees and the great wizard Gandalf, a different life force has entered them.  A greatness of heart fills them.  They laugh louder.  They cry more deeply.  They see into the future and seem to know where things are headed and what things matter.  They have a perspective on everything that is bigger than those around them who have never known another world. 

     They seem strange.  They sit for hours and look out over the sea in contemplation.  They love their homeland but the citizenship of their hearts has shifted.  The rootedness of their inner beings is no longer in the Shire.  It’s over the sea.  They no longer belong to the shire.  And, they sing songs of their new home:

We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees.
Thy starlight on the Western Seas

     At the end, they leave their former land to go to the place where know they belong.

     Jesus is saying here that we who are Christians now are connected to God.  He really is saying in these verses, “You do not fully grasp what’s happened to you.  Through your faith in me, the life of God has entered into you.”  When you trust Jesus, your approach to everything changes: your view of life and death, your values, your security, the way you look at life and think about people, your political convictions probably won’t fit easily into any particular party in the word, your moral convictions are guided by God, etc.  You are so changed that, more and more, people in the world won’t be able to figure you out.    So, your relationship as a Christian to your old homeland, family and friendships is complex.  You will love them and serve them.  But, they’ll never fully understand you – not when you are following Jesus.  Sometimes, their lack of understanding will lead to hostility, and some times even to persecution.

     Listen to me carefully here: I am afraid that our churches in the USA have become so big and successful that we may not be as counter-cultural as we should be. We may be far, far too much at home in this world.  Many among us are not yet as fully committed to Jesus as Jesus tells us we must be when he lives in us.  He’s saying, “Don’t miss the radical nature of what is happening to you when you follow me.”  We become citizens of heaven and live by God’s directives.  We will feel like aliens in our own land.

Reason #2:  We insist on living as God commands us -- If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours (15:20).

     It’s interesting how Jesus links persecution to the willingness of people to keep his words.  The reason is because Jesus brings the authoritative commands of God into their lives.  In Jewish synagogues, the main religious leaders sat and listened to the teaching.  If they found the teaching acceptable, they said at the end, “Amen, Amen!”  But, Jesus started his declarations with “Amen, Amen!”  In doing so, he was declaring that his teaching had authority that was not subject to human authority.  When he spoke, God spoke. 

     So, what did Jesus do?  Jesus corrected false teaching. He called people to faithfulness in their marriages.  He commanded them to love enemies, to value children and to turn from evil of all kinds.  Everything he commanded was good.  But, people hated the fact that he called them away from self.  Fallen human beings did not want anyone to tell them how to live – even Jesus.  And the same is surely true in the 21st C.

     Here in Southern California, self is god and the main commandment is “Thou shalt not tell me anything that I shalt not do – unless someone might be hurt by it.”  There is a deep commitment in our culture to the idea that there is no truth outside ourselves that should compel us to obey.  But, when we meet Jesus, we (as Jesus said in 15:10, 11,12,13 & 17), keep his commands.  So, in our culture, the ultimate determining point for our moral decision-making is, “I feel this or that is right for me.”  If you say, “God’s Word says no” – you will be viewed as a bigot.  And this will lead to scorn -- and sometimes to persecution.

     Listen carefully here – because of the size and significance of the church in the USA – so different from the small and under-resourced church in the 1st C – when we stand for God’s ways, we can come off as self-righteous.  Being persecuted for being self-righteous and seeking to wield power is not what Jesus is talking about.  He is calling us as a church to keep his commands and to give testimony to the goodness of his commands to all the people of the world.

Reason #3:  We Give Witness to the Only One Who Can Save Us --  You will bear witness about me… And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me (15:27; 16:3).

     One of the claims that Jesus made and that he calls us to make is what we read back in 14:6: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This exclusive claim, that Jesus and Jesus alone lived the sinless life that we all should have live (but haven’t) and then was willing to die in our place the death we should have to die, is both beautiful and off-putting.  It’s humiliating to the proud human heart to say that we are in trouble and are so sinful that we need someone to die in our place.  And, it’s repugnant to a self-centered and pluralistic world to declare that only Jesus can save.  But, a significant part of our calling is to be witnesses to Jesus because have no eternal hope without him.

     Notice at this point that Jesus tells you such things because he loves you. He knows how devastating it would be if scorn, pain and persecution come and you are not prepared for it.  Jesus said first in 16:1 -- “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.”  He could see into the lives of his people and knew that the unexpected realities of pain and persecution would be a main cause for people turning away from him.  And, Jesus repeated his conviction in different words in 16:4 – “I have said things to you, that when the hours of persecution come, you may remember I told them to you.”

How Do You Handle the Knockdown When It Comes?

     Throughout his teaching on this last day before his death, he has directed us to the three resources that should sustain us through whatever this world throws at us so that – as Paul wrote in 2 Cor 4:9 -- although we may feel we have been knocked down by the challenges of the world, we will never be knocked out.  Let me remind you of them here because that’s exactly what Jesus seems to have done:


Resource #1:  A Loving Family – The command to people in a church family like this one to love one another fills the entire teaching that Jesus gave on this last day of his life.  And, do not miss the fact that he repeated the command in 15:17 just before talking about the persecution we should expect to face in the world.  Jesus said, “These things I command you so that you will love one another.”

     We all need other people committed to Jesus to support us in this world.  You will need me and I will need you.  I have found that, when heavy burdens come in this world, carrying a part of someone else’s load seems light than carrying my own.  God seems to have built us that way – and he’s given us to one another.  So, please get as closely connected to your church as is possible for you.  Find a small group that will pray with you.  Find a place to serve – as Terry has – and you will discover just what she discovered, i.e., that is in in serving others in your church family that you find your own burden lightened.

Resource #2: A Trustworthy Lord Another think that Jesus called us to remember throughout this final day of teaching is that we must learn to trust him.  Remember John 14?  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  You trust in God.  Trust me.  I know where I’m going and I know what I’m doing even if you do not.  I’m doing what I’m doing for you!  Trust me!  And, while you trust me, wait for me.  And as you wait for me, be faithful to live for me.”

     In his insight-filled book, Disappointment with God, Phil Yancey points out at much greater length than I can in a sermon how necessary it is to put suffering into the context of a much bigger plan. I recommend it to you.  But in these few moments, let me ask you -- Do you understand why Jesus says in 16:4, “I have said these things to you so that when the persecution comes you will remember them…”?  He says it so that you will know that he knows all about those difficult times.  They are all under his control!  And, just as he will use a cross to bring about salvation, so too he will use whatever difficulty comes your way to do more than you could ever imagine.  Yes, as Paul declared in Rom. 8, God will work all things together for a greater good until all is made new.  He is worthy of trust.

Resource #3:  An Ever-present Divine HelperEarlier in his time with his disciples, Jesus had made the point, “I am leaving but I will not leave you alone.  I will come to you through my Holy Spirit.  He will guide you.  He will sustain you.”  Here again, in vv.24-26, Jesus says, “Hatred may come to you but the promised Holy Spirit, i.e., the Helper or ‘the one like me who comes alongside to stand with you’ will come.  You will never be orphaned.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

     It’s clear to me that with the family of God in your life, the trust of Jesus in your convictions, and the Spirit of God in your heart, you can withstand anything this world throws at you.  That’s what Jesus is proclaiming.

     Jesus always made it clear that following him will be costly, that it may cost life itself.  When Christ calls you, he bids you come and die.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.

    What is the big thing in these words Jesus spoke just before going to die for you?  The main thing is there will be opposition when you are faithful to him.  Jesus wants you to be ready for it and faithful in the midst of it.  Are you ready?


To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

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Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church