Jesus Warns His Followers of Rejection but Asks them to Love
Journeying Through John (chapters 15-16)
Jesus’ disciples had been with Him constantly for three years and Jesus knew that that was about to change. Within hours He would be arrested and put to death. Jesus still had so many things to share with the disciples (and with us) and there was so little time left. After their last supper together, He continues talking to them as they walk down the valley and climb up the hill to Gethsemane.
Jesus is telling them that He is the vine and they are the branches. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) He emphasizes that His followers are meant to do good and make a difference. (bear fruit). But He also insists that they (we) can’t do anything in our own strength! After all, we are branches and a branch broken off or out of contact with its vine withers and is lifeless.
Some of us may have a hard time believing that we are just branches and we can’t do anything on our own. We think we have most of the right answers and we trust our own abilities. We live in a individualistic culture that encourages us to think highly of ourselves. But Jesus pleads with the disciples not to strike out on their own; “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself: it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” (John 15:4) No rugged individualism here, our job is to remain, to stay (do everything, keep His commands) in Him.
Jesus adds that if we remain in Him : “…whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 15:16b) He also tells the disciples that if they remain in Him that He will give them joy! “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Worshiping God and believing His Word brings a joy that nothing else can come close to. Over and over again I have seen that joy shining in the faces of God’s people. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and it follows after believers.
But then Jesus warns the disciples (and us) that because they (we) belong to Him , they (we) will experience rejection. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) “If they persecute Me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20b) And “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. …I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you…” (John 16:2 and 4a) The believer’s whole being, his new life comes from God and he is not the same as those who oppose God. Persecution is inevitable because Christians do not belong to the world and don’t fit in. So Jesus is warning His disciples (and us) not to be surprised when we are hated and rejected, because He was hated and rejected. Every Christian must take up his/her cross and follow Him. And sometimes that cross includes the pain of rejection.
Sometimes for believers the rejection can surprise and shock us by coming from places we would have never expected – our family and loved ones. Jesus speaks to us again on this subject in Matthew 10:34-36. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Heavy words! But I have known more than one Christian who through no fault of their own has been cruelly rejected by children/parents. As Matthew 10:34 warns, was it because of their faith? Perhaps!
Jesus had much to say to His disciples just before His death, and He admitted that there wasn’t time to teach them everything they needed to know, but after He left them physically, the Holy Spirit would come and lead them into all truth. (John 16:12) In the same breath that Jesus was warning His disciples to expect rejection, He was also commanding them to love one another. “”My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you. “ (John 15:12)
On that last terrible night before His arrest, in one breath Jesus asks the disciples (and us) to love one another, and in the next breath He warns them (and us) to expect rejection. Did He put these two teachings about love and rejection together that night for a reason? When we have been rejected, don’t we need to be reminded to love? When evil comes against us, don’t we need God’s help? Scripture says: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) We need God’s help to overcome evil by returning good for evil. It’s so natural to return evil for evil and to reject the people who reject us. But Jesus commands us to live differently and love. And He never commands us to do anything alone but He always supplies the means and the help. So He promises the Holy Spirit in our lives to strengthen us and give us that supernatural love when ours has run out.