The Strange Joy of Being Hated for Christ

July 21, 2019 Series: The Book of Luke Scripture: Luke 6:23-26 by Chris Strevel

The World Hates Jesus Christ (v. 22)

Because Darkness Loathes Light

Being hated for Christ’s sake is one of the believer’s strangest joys. Much of our earthly happiness would seem to be when others think well of us. How is it possible that we should leap for joy when we are hated for Christ’s sake? Hated on account of the One who loved us and whom we love more than our very lives? First, we must understand and embrace the great division that exists in the human race between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the lost, the church and the world, seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the children of God and the children of disobedience (Matt. 25:32; 18:11; 1 John 2:15; Gen. 3:15; Rom. 8:16; Eph. 2:2; 5:6; Col. 3:6). This is God’s great division, the hostility and warfare that he introduced at the beginning of our history, as part of the curse, but also a blessing (Gen. 3:15). If he had not declared war between sin and righteousness, the promised Christ and the serpent, believers and the wicked, the world would have been irremediably lost. The division is not absolute in this life as it will be in eternity, for God often transforms his enemies into his friends by his powerful word, for he is of great longsuffering (1 Tim. 1:16).

The seed of the woman are those who belong to God, have been called into the fellowship of his Son and called out of the darkness of this world (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). The seed of the serpent are men and woman still led captive by Satan to do his will, in whom he works and deceives (1 Tim. 2:26; Eph. 2:2). The difference between these two seeds is by God’s sovereign decree and grace – it has nothing to do with the exercise of man’s free will and certainly not to any good in man, or racial or economic advantages, or any of the other divisions that men set up to feel superior or to insulate themselves from having to deal with those who are different from them. The only reason that you and I are part of the woman’s seed, Christians, to use the new covenant term, is because God rescued us from Satan’s clutches, gave us new hearts, the grace to repent, and brought us into the light that we might have fellowship with him and live for his praise. Thus, we can take no credit that we are not haters of God, haters of Christ and of his people, and enemies of all righteousness. It is God’s sovereign mercy alone that has rescued us, so let us forgive as we have been forgiven and be clothed with gospel humility and love.

But why would men hate us for doing good to them, for loving the One who is love, saved us from sin, and taught us to walk in love? The deep gulf between the two seeds is a war that God began in Eden. Being nice does not make it go away. Finding new ways to present the truth does not make the darkness love the light. As our Lord said, “For every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Again, “If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). During some epochs of history, as when the gospel makes inroads, the spirit of persecution is an ember buried in the ashes, and for a time it seems that the old hatred has died out. It still blazes up whenever God’s truth is discussed in public, however, and especially in private confrontations. The darkness recoils from the light, and if it feels the upper hand, will blaze out in more active persecution. God’s enemies would rather, to take a modern example, be the slaves of Mohammed than the servants of Jesus Christ. Ungodly men cannot tolerate the light because its deeds are evil. Darkness fears exposure, which is the reason that Satan and sin never show their true colors but ever appear in false garb (2 Cor. 11:14). “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption” (2 Pet. 2:19). We must not be deceived. We are children of light by God’s grace; the deeds of darkness are very real, very opposed to God, and very deceptive. When even in the church we hear men say that “all people are basically the same,” or “everyone is basically good,” then we know that Satan is masquerading through wolves as an angel of light.

Believers Hated for Christ’s Sake

The hatred that is actually a blessing is specific; it is hatred for the sake of Christ. It is hatred we encounter because we love the Lord Jesus and endeavor to serve him. It is not hatred that we justly receive if we yell in the streets at those who differ from us politically. It is specifically a hatred that is Christ-centered – because we are loving Christ, speaking of Christ, standing for Christ, and refusing to back down from our allegiance to him and his word. It can take many forms. Sometimes it bubbles up in relationships with unbelievers when we have to confront sin, or because we cannot support the idea that men are basically good. In our day, since we can never affirm that “whatever you want to do is good and right for you,” we face a certain measure of suspicion that sometimes becomes outright opposition. We believe that all men are created by God and are accountable to him. This is a very obnoxious opinion to men nursed at the breast of evolutionary views of the world and of men, who have drunk deeply from the poison fountain of moral relativism. They hate the light of Christ’s gospel, for the very mention of sin, that Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin, that he is the righteous One who had to suffer in order to redeem us to God, and that he will judge the world in righteousness are doctrines that such men find appalling and dangerous to their desire to remake the world in the image of man.

The hatred we endure and for which we are blessed must be carefully distinguished from the opposition we encounter due to our character flaws and sins, such as being negative and critical, having a mean and suspicious spirit, or speaking God’s eternal truth arrogantly. Like the Pharisees, we can lay heavy burdens upon men without showing them clearly and humbly the One who will save them from the burden of sin, help them with their daily burdens, and carry them along the path of righteousness. We can shout at those who break God’s law, but it is doubtful if they can hear much of Jesus through our shouting. If the world’s hatred is a blessing to us, it is because we love men when they hate us, speak well of them when they curse us, and do them every possible good even while they are mistreating us. This is to be like Jesus, to live as children of light even in the midst of great darkness.

Varieties and Intensity of Hatred

We are sometimes thrown off course in our conflict with the world because we do not pay attention to the varieties of hatred we encounter. Christians are not loved and respected simply because civil governments are not burning and beheading in the town square. We might say, however, that the more self-conscious sin and rebellion come, the hotter the ember of persecution becomes. The darkness must either be converted or try to kill the light. It begins with simple hatred – perhaps a passive hostility that does not necessarily show itself outwardly. Exclusion often follows, for the world “thinks it strange that we run not with them to the same excess of riot” (1 Pet. 4:4). In other words, the presence of believers who do not blaspheme, Christian businessmen who will not go to seedy and immoral venues usually find themselves on the outside looking in. Jesus likely referred to the believers’ excommunication from the synagogue. Reproach occurs when darkness opposes the light with more noise – upbraiding and reviling – a very active resistance. Then, our very name becomes cursed – for the name of Love that we love, the name of Jesus Christ, our name is vilified. We see this occurring in some instances in our land, and we must be very careful that if we are going to be hated, it is for Christ’s sake, which requires that our moral stands be directly related to him and his word.

Beware Surprising Outbreaks of Hatred

The world’s hatred that most believers encounter is not the moving account of the martyr who tries to win his tormentors to Christ while they are trying to kill him. It is the hostility that we encounter in our personal relationships, in the work place, with our neighbors, even within ourselves. It can be subtle – snide remarks, ridicule, social exclusion. Each one of us must be prepared to accept a certain measure of this. But sometimes, the opposition can be in our own families. “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). Even Christian families and marriages experience some of the division between light and darkness, for the two sides are never absolute in this life. The light is not yet fully light in practice, and Christian parents, to take one example, are often shocked when their older children oppose basic truths that they have been taught all their lives. A husband or wife may fall into very dark sins for a season and express great hostility when their other half tries to call them back to Christ and faithfulness. We cannot avoid these things, but we can remember as we walk through them that we are blessed if hated and opposed for Christ’s sake – even by those who profess to be his friends. At least our sorrows can be softened by the assurance that our Lord faced marked hostility from his family and endured it. He will help us to bear this aspect of our Christian warfare with patience, if we ask him and walk in his fellowship and power (Col. 2:11).

Leap for Joy! (v. 23)

A Great Reward in Heaven

To the hated Christian who joyfully endures reproach for Christ’s sake, he promises a great reward in heaven. A reward for suffering for Him who loved and suffered for us! He humbled himself and bore our hell, and he will one day serve us (Luke 12:37)? Crown us? In our best hour, our love for our Savior is colder than a sheet of ice, but his love overcomes all our sins and his obedience make us fit for his reward (Col. 1:12). Since Jesus promises this reward, we obviously need it. Some pass over future reward as somehow beneath the gospel, as if it is pious to think we are able to serve the Lord without such mundane things as rewards. Other finds it difficult to reconcile reward with grace, but the reward is a free gift from God; it is his rewarding us for what Jesus Christ does for us and in us. Suffering for Christ does not merit heaven, but it will be crowned in heaven. The motivational heart of our love and obedience for him is ripped away if we do not look to our future blessedness. It is reminder to us also that our full glory and life are yet hid with Christ (Col. 3:3); he holds it in reserve for us, preserving it and us for the great day of coming glory (1 Pet. 1:5). Jesus’ reward is not, therefore, sub-Christian but a vital part of our present motivation to bear our cross and serve our Lord with joy.

And what shall this reward be? We cannot see it now as clearly as we would like. He calls it a great reward, which is vastly greater than our present light and momentary sufferings (2 Cor. 4:17). Our reward will be a “weight of glory:” a heavy pleasure we can barely endure, immeasurably wonderful, satisfying, perfecting. To hear his voice of pleasure with us will be like the warm sun shining on our hearts for a thousand years. His voice is like the sound of “many waters,” rushing and powerful, yes, but also life-giving and restoring. We shall hear his “All hail” with our own ears, his “Well done, good and faithful servants; enter into the joy, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:21, 34). All earthly tears will become healing balm, for we shall see more clearly his grace and peace that were upon us in all our trials, that they were truly his sufferings fulfilled in us and working for us great glory, even while we were crying. The morning of rejoicing will come. We shall be with our Savior, with his saints, delighting in one another, all the old hurts forgotten and forgiven, even seen as somehow necessary to our present happiness with the perfected Bride. Remember how Moses longed to see God’s glory – we shall see it in the face of Jesus Christ, shining in his saints, joy and health and power and perfect stretching out before us in the eternal new heavens and new earth, in which the Lamb will be the glory, the Father our sunlight, the Spirit our life and wisdom and power. It is a great reward. It lies yet hidden, so we must think often upon what is coming, live for that great meeting with our Savior, and remember that all our sufferings are working for us great glory, as we look to our Savior.

A Fellowship of Faithful Sufferers

We must gain a great sense of the honor of marching in the train of Christ’s sufferers. He brings the prophets before us. Lonely and bleak were their earthly prospects. They were despised, but they were “God’s servants.” He always took care of them, feeding Elijah from the hands of birds or the widow’s small jar of oil. It is one of the great tragedies that the present day church does not see herself as bound up with the faithful saints in the past, that we are ignorant of the lives of the saints and martyrs, that we do not think more of the unity of all God’s people in all ages in Christ our Head. We are marching together in a train of glory; without us, without our faith and steadfastness, they are not complete (Heb. 11:40). They blazed a trail of faithfulness, by receiving, believing, and living God’s word, enduring hardship and the world’s hatred. Shall we who have the full revelation of God’s great mystery, “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), offer our Lord less than they who had less than we? They had crumbs of light and hope in comparison to what we now have in a completed Bible, a redemption obtained, the Spirit indwelling. How insensible we have become to these glories! The world will do this to us. If we are absorbed in earthly cares so that we can never look up to the glory coming or set our affections upon our reigning Savior, we shall never consider it a privilege or a pleasure to suffer for him. We shall not leap for joy but walk around with drooping hearts and flagging faith, when heaven is now opened to us for every need, Christ interceding for us every moment, God’s power preserving us in every difficulty.

Four Woes to Warn and Awaken (vv. 24-26)

To encourage us to embrace our cross and leap for joy while carrying it, our Lord pronounced four woes paralleling the four blessings. This is obviously different from Matthew’s account, which was by no means an exhaustive record of our Lord’s sermon. It may be that our Lord added these woes for pointedness and personal application in the course of his sermon. Our joy is so different from the joy of the children of this world that we need his every warning not to establish our happiness in this life but in him. We walk a narrow path upon which Satan hurls many missiles at us. Since the world hates us, our earthly comforts may be few, which adds to our burden, especially since we love those who hate us and feel their danger more acutely than they can. It should never be lost upon us that unbelievers cannot see. The “god of this world has blinded them so that they should believe a lie” (2 Cor. 4:4). Because they “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,” they “know not at what they stumble” (Rom. 1:18; Prov. 4:19). Nevertheless, their ignorance is culpable, and their hatred against the light very real. Woe is upon them, if they do not repent and turn to the light.

The rich refers not to those who possess wealth but to those who attach their happiness to it, cannot live without it, and cannot be content unless all their desires gratified. It is not wealth itself that is evil, but the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. Those who have and love their possession have received their good things in this life, like the rich man (Ps. 17:14; Luke 16:25). They have their heaven on earth but will not have heaven in the life to come. God often fills his enemies’ bellies with good things now, for he is generous with his enemies and leaves them with no excuse for their ingratitude and impiety, but a gnawing, terrorizing emptiness awaits them. We must not blunt the force of this warning against the rich and full in this life. When men establish their happiness in this life, take no thought of the life to come, and are not led to repentance by God’s goodness, then waiting for them at the end of their pleasant lives are emptiness and bitterness of soul, wailing and gnashing of teeth. May God have mercy upon us and upon the world of darkness! His quickening grace in Christ is our single hope of deliverance from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).

But we do blunt the force of these woes if we believe the great lies of our age: that there is no reckoning coming, no final judgment, no appearance before the judgment seat of Christ, no hell. It is amazing that Christians sometimes look at unbelievers and their destiny with great indifference and even smug vengefulness. Ah! They will get what they deserve. It is true that the children of this world in a sense laugh all the way to judgment: indifferent to God, silencing their consciences, hating the ones who could show them the way to everlasting life. But we must never forget the horrors hanging over all who do not repent. There is a great wailing coming to those who do not weep now over their sins. The woe Jesus declares upon those whom the world approves should shock us to not run with the masses to judgment. Sin and unbelief have an uneasy comfort in the fact that so many are on the broad path that leads to destruction. Surely so many cannot be wrong. But the word of the Lord stands firm: “That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God” (Luke 16:15).

If we would more often see ourselves standing before the holy God on that final day, the ridicule and hatred of the whole world would not move us one inch from steadfast devotion to Christ. It is better for all men to hate us, for our doctrines to be despised, to be persecuted for our resistance to evil, than to gain the world’s approval. So much of the weakness of the church is tied to this desire for the world’s approbation. Remember that our Lord had to stand alone to save the world. We are never alone, of course, but it sometimes feels that way, especially in places of business and families, where our love for Christ and his word are hated and bring reproach upon us. Let us leap for joy at God’s mercy to us, weep before the Lord for the lost, and bear Christ’s reproach patiently, love our enemies, and count it a privilege to suffer for him (Col. 1:24; 1 Pet.4:13).

Jesus’ Surprising View of the World

A Great Conflict: Light and Darkness

This sermon is deservedly famous, and I live under the conviction that if we believed and practiced it more consistently, our lives would be profoundly sanctified: more joy, deeper consecration, greater strength. But it is not a sweet sermon, a sermon without doctrine, application, or bite, if you will. It is not a sermon that anyone can practice. Our Lord understood mankind as divided between those who live under God’s blessing or benediction of peace, and those who live under dreadful woes. The former are God’s children, made so by his grace and for his glory, through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. If we are under God’s blessing, it is only because he has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son. Yet, we possess this kingdom and treasure in fragile vessels. Our lives in this world will have their share of tribulation. The darkness hates the light. There are vestiges of the darkness in us, which is the reason we are admonished to walk as children of light and to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:8-11).

A Great Hope: Repentance, Forgiveness, Rebirth

It is therefore a great betrayal of our Savior to pretend that the darkness is not all that serious, or what is worse, to say that God saves men but leaves them in the dark slavery to their lusts and passions and worldliness. If mankind is not divided as Jesus says, if the darkness of sin is not really so bad, then why would our Savior suffer so horribly to redeem us from sin and become sin for us? Why would he pass through such agonies if men are really basically good and need no supernatural deliverance? The thought should make us shudder. At the same time, we must be persuaded that Jesus Christ saves men out of the darkness. Surely one reason he proclaimed these blessings and woes is to give sinners hope that there is a way out of the darkness.

The way out is to come to him. We need not remain in the darkness. He slays the darkness. He destroyed the works of the wicked one (1 John 3:8). He is the great Light of the world (John 8:12). He has defeated sin and death (Heb. 2:14). He is the Just One whom the Father raised for our justification so that we can become the children of God (Rom. 4:25). He crushed Satan’s foul head at the cross and continues to expose his deadly schemes. His kingdom of light must prevail; it is prevailing. If you are still in the darkness of sin and unbelief, ask him to deliver you. If he has delivered you, live and speak of his great deliverance through the gospel of forgiveness, repentance from dead works, and supernatural regeneration. Walk in the light, as he is in the light (1 John 1:7). The darkness cannot overcome the light. Jesus Christ has prevailed, and he will prevail in us if we turn to him.