“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19
It is shocking to read Jesus’ words about the world’s hatred of him and his followers. This is no melodramatic hyperbole on Jesus’ part; he is in fact interpreting the events of his own cruel death before those events transpire. Jesus would be killed by the people he came to save, and he offers little comfort when he tells his followers that they could expect the same treatment if they remain loyal to him. Why would the world hate Jesus – the healer, the teacher, the miracle-worker, the reconciler, the giver and the forgiver? We may try to make sense of it by chalking it up to jealousy or fear or partisan politics. The real answer it seems is more fundamental – and haunting – than any of these explanations.
Way back in the first chapter of the Gospel, John describes Jesus as the incarnate Word of God, and in an unforgettably beautiful expression, he writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). While these words sound comforting and strong, they actually hold the key to understanding the world’s hatred both of Jesus and of all the prophets of God – those who came before him as well as those who follow after.
Grace is the unearned love, forgiveness, acceptance, and inclusion of all persons – even the stranger, the peculiar, and the offender. Grace offends in its reckless hospitality and unmeasured generosity – giving without concern for cost, forgiving without inflicting shame, including without regard for status. Grace is inherently unfair and incredibly offensive, especially to those who are certain of their own righteousness. The world, preoccupied with scarcity and addicted to power, runs on an operating system in which grace is neither known nor welcomed.
It may be that the only thing more offensive to the world than grace is truth. The Bible calls a truth-teller a prophet. Throughout the ages, God has raised up prophets not to tell the future, but to tell the truth, and the world, which prefers nuance, innuendo, and alternative facts, has worked to silence them all. It seems that the world has little tolerance for inconvenient truth.
As the bearer of “grace and truth,” Jesus was despised and rejected by the world. Those who follow him will join the long line of “trouble-makers” and “agitators” hated by the world. The consolation comes only in knowing that they are alone and in remembering Christ Jesus’ words, “I have chosen you out of the world.”
Lord Jesus, I do love you, but I do not want to be hated by the world. Give me courage to follow you as a bearer of your grace and truth. Amen.
A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston