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Excommunicated because of Christ – the enemy from within

That you may know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God

Scripture Readings

  • Jeremiah 20: 7-13
  • John 16:1-4, Matt 10:21-33

A bit more than forty years now, towards the end of our school education, our headmaster had a talk to us.  Quite honestly, we did not like him very much – not because he was not a good teacher, he really was – but he was very strict and just could not see the funny side of life.  I can’t remember that I ever saw him smile.

That day, about the last before the final exams started, he thought it good to give us some advice for the life ahead of us.  The talk went on for about a half an hour, of which I can’t remember much, apart from this, “Your name is your most precious asset; lose your name, and you lose everything.”  I think he also talked about honesty, faithfulness, integrity and hard work.  Yet, I still remember his words about one’s name, and not to lose it.

Reputation is something we treasure.  There is always that nagging thing in our mind about what others might think about us.  We are therefore probably more keen to be on our guard when we are in the presence of others, that we would be when we are alone.

The cost of discipleship

When Jesus called his disciples and began to teach them about following Him, as it is recorded in the sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of their walk with Christ, He told them this:

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22, NIV)

What happiness it is when others hate you and exclude you and insult you and smear your name because you are mine! (Luke 6:22, The Living Bible)

We all know the expression, “He treated me like dirt.”  This is what our Lord means here.  Actually more, but we will get there in a while.

The cost of discipleship includes the price of losing one’s name – but then not for the same reason as our headmaster tried to imprint on us that day.  The Christian is always called to honesty, integrity, faithfulness, steadfastness and reliability, whatever the circumstance.  Let’s just for one moment look at Psalm 15:

The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15, NIV)

When Jesus called his disciples He forewarned them that by following Him, they will associate with Him as being called out of this world; the world will hate them, because they hate Jesus Christ.  The standard of judging this world stand diametrically opposed to the standards of the Kingdom of God.  What is good in God’s eyes, can be evil in the yes of the world; this is what the disciples had to prepare themselves for.  They would be treated like dirt for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom.

This is the cost we have to count when we follow Jesus.  Our Lord stated very clearly:

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:26, NIV)

In the same chapter Jesus taught the disciples that people will treat their name like evil, He also said:

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NIV)

The heartache of discipleship

The word of God spoke to us last week about the hatred of this world.  The church of Christ will be hated by this world, because they hated Christ first.  The world, under the control of the prince of this world, is declared enemy, because forgiveness of sin in the Name of Christ is something the devil just cannot stand.  Wherever the church of Christ proclaims the Gospel of new life in Christ, whether as individuals or as groups in the mission fields or as outreach to the lost world around us, there hell breaks lose – war is declared.

There is however another battlefield – one that causes many a solder of Christ of put down the armour and surrender. It almost without fail involves the heartache of a war between so-called members of the Church, and those who will not give in to the demands of a gospel that is watered down to appease men.

Our text verse for this morning, John 16:2 says:

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. (John 16:2, NIV)

This verse refers to a verse in Isaiah 66, which reads:

Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. (Isaiah 66:5, NIV)

Those who would put the disciples of Jesus Christ our of the synagogue, according to the quoted verse in Isaiah, are called “your own people.”  Some translations say “your brothers”.  Your own people will hate you.

Now we are not thinking about the world out there from which we could naturally expect hostility because of Christ.  This hostility comes from within – well-meant but ill-equipped churchgoers.
Just turn with me to Isaiah 66.  There is mention of two types of worshippers:  those who come before the Lord with contrite and humble hearts, those who tremble before his Word.  The second group of worshippers indeed do bring sacrifices, offers lambs and grain offerings, they burn incense, but as the end of verse 3 states, “They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations.”

So far are these worshippers living outside the will of God, that God says sacrificing a bull without thinking why that animal as killed for – to attain for its owner’s sin – equates to murdering, or breaking a dogs neck for no reason whatsoever – dogs were considered unclean and unacceptable for sacrifice.  The same with pigs, but some offered grain offerings as it was nothing and meaningless.  God says just as pig’s blood is an abomination for Him, in the same way is meaningless, proud and wayward sacrifices and worship before Him.

The sad thing is that those who revered God, humbled themselves before Him and trembled before his word were kicked out of the synagogue.  More than that, they were hated and excommunicated from worship and inclusion into the Covenant People of the Lord.

The reason why we heard Jeremiah 20 this morning is to hear something of the lament of Jeremiah before God, because God made him a prophet to a people who did not want to hear the Word of God.  He loved his people with a tender heart; he was a true Jew who loved the land, Jerusalem, the City of God and the Temple of God, and his earnest desire was that his own people would humble themselves before God and repent and be saved.  They on the other hand chose to worship other gods, they drank from cracked cisterns which could not hold any water, but they refuses to drink from the living water of God’s Word.  They rejected Jeremiah and made a spectacle of him; they put him in stocks and beat him, almost killed him trough starvation first, and later by dumping him in a well.

Now, in our chapter he stood before God:

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. (Jeremiah 20:7–8, NIV)

To be a prophet of God, even to God’s people felt like God deceived him into a job of mockery and rejection – all of this by God’s own people. They rejected his message as the Word of God and it brought him insult and reproach.  His won people terrorised him, and they reported him to the priests and court prophets.  In verse 10:

All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.” (Jeremiah 20:10, NIV)

My friends! My friends!  My people! God’s people!  Church people!  We worship together, we sat at the table of the Lord together, but now, because I stick to the Word of God in reverence and trembling, we have become enemies – and they want to get rid of me, ostracise me, yes, excommunicate me. They do so because they think they are doing God a favour.

The lonely path of discipleship

If you compare Luke 6:22 and Isaiah 66:5 you will find a striking resemblance – and keep in mind, John 16:2 has the same message.

They will exclude you and insult you.  The original in Hebrew refers to something which is unclean.  It often refers to something defiled by female menstruation.  Such things were considered unclean and therefore unfit for sacrifice, or even inclusion in the worship of the Lord.  People declare unclean had to remain outside of the camp in the wilderness and could only be reinstated after certain sacrifices were brought and the priests declared them fit for worship again.

Here our Lord in reference to this verse prepared his disciples for a life of loneliness because they will be treated as unfit for worship and service.  Their name will be treated like dirt.

There is an interesting irony in this expression, “exclude and insult.”  The words were sometimes used to describe shepherds who neglected their flocks to the point where they were forgotten and therefore not considered part of the flock anymore.  In Jeremiah 27:10 and15 the people are warned not to listen to prophets who prophesies lies, because God will in the end to to them what they did to the people as bad prophets:  He, our God, will exclude them.  Isaiah 66:5 says:

Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying his enemies all they deserve. (Isaiah 66:6, NIV)

There is an expression which says, “Call me anything, but just call me.”  In other words, don’t forget me and leave me alone, I want to part of the group, I don’t want to be rejected.  The price of discipleship is to sometimes be very lonely.  It brings pain, heartache and terrible thoughts of confusion as one needs to test yourself:  Is it worth the while.
I quote from James Montgomery-Boice’s commentary.

We usually think of Luther in his strongest moments, because he is the hero of the Reformation. We think of him as unaffected by the papal decrees. But Luther was not unaffected.  Luther found himself asking, as did Jeremiah, “Am I to stand up alone and preach against your people, your kingdom, your priests, and your Word? For that, of course, is where your name is; they have your Law, your temple, and both the spiritual and the worldly government, ordained by you yourself. Who am I to oppose singlehandedly all that is God’s? I would rather say that they are right, retract my preaching, or at least keep silence.” Luther understood the force of the taunts against him: “You are a heretic and an apostle of the devil. You are preaching against God’s people and the Church, yes, against God himself.” This must affect every sensitive Christian. Consequently, this is where the pain of this particular persecution comes in.

The reward of discipleship

Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. (Luke 6:23, NIV)

I must confess that even though the words of this verse are so plain, my sinful inclination makes it hard to understand.  When I am treated like dirt because of Jesus, my Saviour and his Word, I should rejoice and leap for joy?  Why?  Because it is a mark of my faithfulness and the authenticity of the Gospel.  True prophets of God in the Old Testament were treated the same way because they stuck to the true Word of God.

Paul writes to the Philippians:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27–30, NIV)

The apostles in Acts 5 were thrown in prison and not permitted to speak in the Name of Jesus.  The said, “We must obey god rather than men”, and continued to preach in his Name, upon which they were flogged.  What then?  Read with me in Acts 5:41

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:41–42, NIV)

Peter writes:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12–14, NIV)

Conclusion

Dear friends in Christ, disciples has its cost, its heartache, its loneliness, but it has its reward.  We need to look at our Saviour, who came to his own, but they rejected Him, nailed Him to the cross.  Stephen became the first martyr at the hands of his own people; Paul suffered much at the hands of his own people.  History is littered with thousands of Christians who were tortured, burned at the stake, even torn apart – not by the world, but by church people who thought they did God a favour.  The world was not worthy of them; their blood became the seed of the church.

I believe the time for us to make that sacrifice is not far.  Just, tremble at the word of God, fear not those who can destroy the body only, but fear Him who has the power to destroy both body and soul.  Worship Him faithfully, and He will give you eternity as your reward.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 August 2013

 

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