The 2nd Sunday of Lent February 24, 2013
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
721 [TLH alt. 501], 142, 430, 179
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen.
[Jesus said], “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 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. 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. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
In the name of Jesus Christ—who came to shed light into the world’s darkness—dear fellow-redeemed:
“The way to get along is to go along.” Sam Rayburn said that, and he was certainly the one to know! A longtime congressman from the state of Texas, Rayburn was known as a consummate politician. He was an old-fashioned, wheeling and dealing party boss, a master of political compromise. One thing that his decades in congress taught him is that the best way to get ahead in the world is to conform to the wishes of those around you. If the world wants you to fit in, then you’d better fit in. Otherwise you might not get what you want.
And that is still true today. People don’t like to stick out. Given a choice, most people will “go along to get along.” They’re willing to do what it takes in order to fit in comfortably with the society and culture in which they live.
But there’s one group of people in this world who don’t have that choice. For these people, conformity is not an option, no matter how much the world insists on it. They don’t fit into the world and never will. That group of people is the disciples of Jesus Christ—you and me! If you’ve ever felt the hatred of the world and wondered what it’s all about, then you need to hear the words of our text for today; and if you haven’t felt it—then you need these words even more! Let’s listen to the advice of Jesus, as we consider the theme: “CHRISTIANS JUST DON’T FIT” I. The world will try to make you fit, and that hurts, II. But remember: Jesus took the world’s worst pounding, for you!
Hatred is a terrible thing. Consider America’s “hate groups.” You’ve seen the news clips of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi’s, burning crosses or marching on a state capitol, spouting their hatred of ethnic minorities. Ever wonder what it would be like to be a member of a minority at one of those rallies? How would it feel to be the object of all that hatred? Well, if you’re a Christian, you already know how it feels—or you ought to! Jesus says that for His disciples the entire unbelieving world is one big “hate group.” The world is unalterably opposed to Christ and, therefore, to His disciples, as well. Jesus tells us to expect it: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” [v.18]
“If the world hates you…” In English, that sentence sounds like something that may or may not be true—the world might hate you, and it might not. Or, “If it ever should happen that the world hates you…” But if you read the original Greek, that’s not the meaning at all. Jesus isn’t talking about a possibility, but rather, a sure thing. If you’re My disciple, Jesus says, the world definitely does hate you already, and it’s never going to stop hating you! So don’t be surprised when it happens! John echoes Jesus’ words and says, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). The Apostle Peter adds, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
If this is something you haven’t given much thought to, you may find yourself rather puzzled and hurt. Why this awful hatred? What’s the meaning behind this bitter animosity? Jesus says that it’s “…because you are not of the world.” [v.19] You literally don’t belong to the world. You don’t fit into the wicked and godless ways of the world. But that doesn’t mean they’ll leave you alone. Far from it! The world will try to make you fit. The world is going to hammer away at you, trying to force you to conform to its godless ways, and that hurts! The Apostle Paul says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Now, there is a way to escape this persecution, of course, and our text actually tells us how it can be done: “If you were of the world,” Jesus says, “the world would love its own.” [v.19] In other words, you can learn how to fit into the world if you choose to. You can avoid the pounding simply by conforming to the ways of the world.
In fact, if you choose to do that, you won’t have any problem finding a church where you feel at home! We could even call them “The Fit-Right-In Christian Church,” because they fit right into the world! In particular, the world gets along just fine with churches who don’t make a big deal about being faithful to God’s Word—churches where false doctrine is tolerated for the sake of “unity.” Best of all, the world loves the churches who really don’t stand for anything important—churches where a safe, “social gospel” is preached instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The world has little problem with churches where peripheral issues take the place of the things that really matter: sin and grace, eternal life or eternal death.
As an example, we have a midweek Lenten series titled “Mementos of His Passion,” in which we focus on the great suffering our Savior endured in order to atone for our sin. I read yesterday about another “Lutheran” church in our area that’s having a special Lenten series, too. Only its series is about protecting the environment. During the six weeks of Lent, they’ll focus on recycling, planting trees, and replacing regular light bulbs with florescent light bulbs. This, of course, is completely in tune with the heightened environmental awareness of our world today. It fits right in. It’s also completely beside the point!
How do you tell the things that are really important in life? Paul says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
As I get older, I find myself more and more evaluating things “from the Judgment Day perspective.” In other words, I try to imagine how I’m going to feel about that thing—whatever it is-when I’m standing before the judgment throne of Christ looking back. Is it going to seem important then? If not, I probably don’t want to waste a whole lot of time and effort on it now.
“Seek those things which are above.” Christ didn’t call us to fit right in. Jesus says, “You are not of the world, but [on the contrary] I have chosen you out of the world.” [v.19] We Christians aren’t supposed to fit into the world. We’re supposed to be different! This is easy to say, but in order to be different, you actually have to be different.
Do you remember the Susan B. Anthony dollar? As a coin, it never really worked out very well, because it wasn’t different enough. You could hardly tell it from a quarter which, of course, was much less valuable. In the same way, if you can’t tell a Christian from an unbeliever what good does it do to be a Christian? Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
If my life and behavior fits in just swell with godless world around me, what does that tell me? It tells me I’d better take another look at what kind of Christian I am! What kind of Christian witness am I giving, for example, if I sit down at the bar and get drunk like the unbelievers? What am I really saying to them about my faith if I use the same coarse language they do, read the same dirty literature they read, and watch the same obscene movies they watch? What sort of influence am I having on the non-Christians around me if I join them in their gossip and tear down the reputation of my neighbor? How much tragic damage has been done to God’s kingdom by Christians who have “rounded off the corners” of their Christianity! That’s not what our Lord called us for! Paul tells us believers, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
We must each confess that we have not lived up to our high calling. But to the extent that you do follow Christ, you can be sure that you’re going to feel the world’s hatred; and it’s not going to be fun. If we’re the kind of people Christ called us to be, then we are going to take a pounding from the world. That’s why it’s encouraging for us, especially during this Lenten season, to once again “look to the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). If you’re discouraged by the hostility you experience at the hands of the world, just remember: Jesus took the world’s worst pounding for you!
In our text, Jesus says we should keep in mind that the persecution we face is the natural outcome of following Him. “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.” [v.20]
Jesus of Nazareth was the original misfit. He wasn’t anything like the Messiah that the scribes and Pharisees were expecting. Theirs was a work-righteous religion: do this, don’t do that, keep a certain set of manmade rules, do a certain number of good deeds, and you’ll be saved. They wanted an earthly Messiah who would rule over an earthly kingdom. They had all these perfectly-imagined expectations for their Messiah, and Jesus didn’t fit any of them! “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said (John 18:36). Rather, He said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).
Christ came to rule in people’s hearts so that by believing in Him we might be saved. Jesus came, not to do away with the Law, or to impose a new Law, but simply to keep the Law perfectly in our place. He came to provide us sinners with the perfect righteousness that we could never provide for ourselves. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). But the Pharisees felt they were plenty righteous already. They had no use for a Messiah like that—one who exposed their self-righteousness and their sin. So they hated Jesus, and they pounded and pounded on Him; and when they found that they couldn’t round off His corners, they murdered Him on the cross.
This Lenten season, we come again to that cross and see the loving Savior who, for our sakes, refused to conform. God’s plan for the salvation of mankind called for the sacrifice of His innocent Son. Jesus went through with that plan. With love in His heart for you and me, He willingly bore the hatred, the mockery, the torture and the death that He did not deserve. All the sins of the world—mine and yours included—were laid upon His shoulders, and in our place He suffered and died. What perfect love to have pity on sinners like us! What grace to surrender up Himself that you and I might inherit eternal life! Now for us—what freedom! We are able to walk out of this church today without a single sin left on our consciences for with His sacrifice Jesus has atoned for them all. To have all of your problems solved by Christ in a single stroke—at least all the ones that really matter—is amazing!
I’m sure you agree with me: this is the Savior in whom I’m going to place all my trust. This is the Master whom I’m going to follow; and if, in following Him, I share in the hatred He felt from the world, then it’s a joy to suffer for Jesus’ sake!
When the world is persecuting you because of your faith, when people can’t understand why you won’t conform and be more like them, when they hate you and call you “loveless” for not compromising on God’s Word, remember your Master. When the world is pounding you for Jesus’ sake, remember the awful pounding your Savior took for your sake. Take encouragement from the fact that Christ has promised to be with you and help you in your trials. Find your strength daily in His Word and hang in there. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). One day my friends, despite the pounding, we’re going to join Him there!
During the Watergate scandal in the early 70’s, a list was discovered on which President Richard Nixon had written down the names of all the people he considered his enemies. When the “enemies list” was published, many people actually bragged about being on it! They considered it an honor to be an enemy of such a corrupt administration. As Christians, you and I are definitely on the world’s enemies list. We just don’t fit into the world. Let’s not be saddened by the hatred of the world, rather, let us be honored and encouraged. Let’s keep the “corners” of our lives sharp and square with the Word of God. Let’s remember what our Savior told us, in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). In His saving name, Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.