The year was 107 AD. Only a lifetime after Jesus’ return to heaven. And perhaps 20-30 years after John had written his gospel.
Ignatius had been the bishop of Antioch for 40 years. And now, at 80, he’d been arrested on the orders of the Emperor Trajan, and sent to Rome to be martyred for being a Christian. The method? Torn apart by wild beasts in the colosseum.
Along the way, he had the opportunity to meet and encourage Christians in the cities he passed through. He also used the time to write at least seven letters to various churches. We’ve still got copies, and they give us a good insight into how the early church worked.
One of those letters was to the church in Rome. Some of the Christians there were quite influential, and were making noises about calling in favours with the Emperor to stop his .
Ignatius had to MAKE A CHOICE. To let them help, risking their own lives for an old man. He MAY be released. Or to REFUSE their help, to stick with Jesus, and to make his stand.
Listen to what Ignatius wrote to them. He knew what his decision would mean. But his choice was clear.
I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.— Letter to the Romans
And that’s what happened. Within days of arriving in Rome, Trajan sent him to the Coliseum. Where he was savagely mauled to by lions, to the wild cheers of the crowds.
For Ignatius, the cost of sparing his life was too great to bear. One reason was that his well-meaning supporters were risking their own lives to save an old man.
Secondly, he was perhaps the best-known and loved leader in the early church. People looked to him for instruction and guidance and example. If he pleaded for his life, the message would be sent that he loved THIS world more than Christ. And great damage would be done to the gospel.
In contrast, if he WAS martyred, his and witness would STRENGTHEN the courage of the Christians who were watching. The FRUIT of his martyrdom would be people would know he followed Jesus, and glory would go to God.
So Ignatius chose CHRIST rather than THE WORLD. And while his MOUTH was shut by the wild animals, his WORDS lived on in his letters, and HIS EXAMPLE inspired countless Christians who followed.
And when Jesus was preparing his disciples for life without him. He knew that was exactly what was coming. He could have sugar-coated it. Hidden what was ahead. But instead, he talks about a full-scale head-on crash between two completely different systems. He says (Ch 16 v18)
“If the world S you, keep in mind that it d me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you AS ITS OWN. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you OUT of the world. That is why the world S you.”
Two opposing sides. Those who belong to the world. To all that wants nothing to do with God or his kingdom.
And those who belong to Jesus. Chosen to come out from the world by Jesus himself.
And Jesus tells it to the disciples straight. There’s going to be a full on battle. Because the world S them.
And Jesus goes on (v20). They shouldn’t be SURPRISED when it happens. Because if it happened to THE MASTER, then the FOLLOWERS should expect it to happen to THEM TOO.
In fact, the hatred of the SERVANTS is nothing PERSONAL. It’s all to do with a hatred of Jesus himself. V21.
21 They will treat you this way BECAUSE OF MY NAME, for they do not know the One who sent me.
It’s not especially about YOU. It’s simply the uniform you where. Like at the cricket or the footy. You give the opposition fans a hard time because they’re wearing the opposition supporters gear. Nothing personal. It’s YOUR TEAM against THEIR TEAM.
So who was Jesus referring to? Who were those who would his followers?
He could have been talking about THE ROMANS. It certainly seems likely that THEY didn’t know God, the one who’d sent Jesus. And they were certainly after Christians BECAUSE OF THE NAME OF JESUS.
In particular, it was Christians refusal to recite the simple words, “Caesar is Lord”. Once a year Roman citizens were expected to affirm their allegiance to Rome and Caesar by sprinkling incense on the altar, and saying “Caesar is Lord”.
It was only a tiny phrase. People in every country did it. The Romans couldn’t understand why Christians made such a big deal about it. After all, why not say the WORDS, then go back and worship WHOEVER THEY LIKED? That’s what EVERYONE ELSE did!
But not the Christians. For them, there was only ONE LORD. Jesus was their Saviour, their God, their LORD. To confess anyone ELSE as Lord, meant Jesus WASN’T. To serve anyone ELSE, meant to dump Jesus.
And so Christians, like Ignatius, went to their s in the Colosseum. Willing to be MARTYRED rather than to abandon their Lord.
And Christians today will STILL suffer hatred from people because they refuse to make something else Lord in place of Jesus. It’s not just the obvious things like other religions or governments. Thousands of Christians martyred in the last decade in the Sudan, or China, or India, or Africa.
There’s less obvious “Lords” as well. Whenever Christians in Australia refuse to allow WORK to be Lord, or MONEY, or SUCCESS, or SPORT, or , or RETIREMENT. They’ll be ridiculed, ostracised, overlooked, misunderstood, D.
Is that something YOU’VE experienced? If not, WHY NOT? Perhaps no one notices because you don’t stand out. Perhaps their Lords are actually YOUR LORDS TOO.
What are YOU serving as Lord, in place of Jesus?
Jesus KNEW it would be that way. Because it was just like that FOR HIM. Rome d Christians because they d the name of Christ.
But they weren’t the only ones who had it in for the Christians. The more immediate threat came from the JEWS. They were ALREADY out for Jesus. He mentions them specifically at the start of Ch 16.
16:1 “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 2 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. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.
And within a few short hours, it would be the Jews who’d be inventing lies to prove his guilt. It would be the Jews who’d be screaming to Pilate for Jesus’ . It would be the Jews who’d be standing around the cross, nodding approvingly as the life drained from Jesus’ body.
And within a few months, it would be the Jews who’d be dragging Stephen before the Sanhedrin and then stoning him to for preaching about Jesus. Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Killed by Jews who D the disciples. Which Jesus says is simply because they’d D JESUS FIRST.
And, as is so often the case with religious persecution, Jesus says their intentions are GOOD. V2 They think they’re offering SERVICE to God. It’s the word used for WORSHIP.
The tragedy is they’re persecuting Christians because they think it will please God, but Jesus says it’s because they HAVEN’T KNOWN the Father.
They acted in IGNORANCE. Not only did they fail to recognise JESUS, but by failing to know Jesus, they actually showed their ignorance of GOD HIMSELF.
And before we’re too quick to point the finger, it’s not as if the Jews have got a monopoly on this sort of ignorant hatred either. The history of Christianity is full of plenty of dark pages too. All from people thinking they were offering a service to God, in the name of Christ.
- The Middle Age Crusades tried to establish Christianity by `the power of the sword.
- Persecutions by the Catholic Church during the Reformation were all about maintaining the purity of the church. William Tyndale was the first translator of the Bible into English. When he was strangled, then burned at the stake by King Henry VIII, a sermon was preached by the stake.
- The Spanish inquisition forced conversions on pain of .
- And more recently, the Ku Klux Clan began as a RELIGIOUS organisation.
- Apartheid in South Africa was a central plank in the theology of the Dutch Reformed church.
People HATING Christians because they thought they were offering service to God.
And Jesus KNEW it would be that way. Because it was just like that FOR HIM. But he WARNED the disciples. He warned US, So that we’d be READY. That we’d be STRENGTHENED, PREPARED. So that we wouldn’t GO ASTRAY.
The Holy Spirit
But what does that LOOK LIKE? What’s the SOLUTION? How are we to relate to a world that S us? Alienates, marginalises, ridicules us?
Is WARFARE the solution? “They US. So THEM BACK!” That’s the approach the Crusades and the Inquisition took.
Or what about ISOLATION? That’s what monasteries or nunneries do. Or the Amish in America. Separate themselves from society. Try to avoid contamination. You don’t have to DEAL with the hatred if you haven’t got anything to DO with people.
And that’s what some Christians are tempted to do TODAY. Perhaps even YOU. Not that you’re looking like Amish. But for some of us, we hardly ASSOCIATE with non-Christians. Our family’s Christian, all our friends are Christian, we relax with Christians, play sport with Christians, even WORK with Christians.
How many non-Christians do you spend reasonable amounts of time with each week?
If you struggle to THINK of any, what changes can you make to your week, so you can get to KNOW more. Step outside your comfort zone. Be a bridge-builder. Initiate something in your street, or at the school gate, or in your workplace.
But perhaps that’s BEING ISOLATED isn’t problem AT ALL. A third solution to the world hating you is simply to BLEND IN. Perhaps you’re an undercover Christian.
If you were charged with being a Christian, the prosecution would have a hard time finding enough evidence to convict you. In just about every way, you look IDENTICAL to your neighbours and workmates around you.
I heard of a comment made at the funeral of a Christian. It came from one of his workmates. “I had NO IDEA his religion meant that much to him!” What would YOUR workmates say about YOUR Christianity?
That’s A THIRD approach to the hatred of the world. If they can’t IDENTIFY you, they can’t you.
Positive engagement without compromise
But that’s not what Jesus came to do. He’s the light of the world. And it’s not what he calls US to do either. Listen to what he says in Mt 5:13. Here’ show we’re to relate to a world that s us because of Jesus. I’ve called it POSITIVE ENGAGEMENT WITHOUT COMPROMISE.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Salt flavours the food it’s placed it. Improves it. Makes a difference. Light shines in the midst of darkness, Causes it to FLEE. The two can’t exist together.
Is that what YOUR LIFE is like?
Mark gave a great word picture yesterday. Of a street sweeper coming through his street. BEFORE, it’s a mess. But AFTER, the street GLISTENS. That’s what the world should be like as Christians sweep through it.
It’s a fairly bitter pill the disciples are being forced to swallow. All this talk about HATRED and PERSECUTION and
DEATH must have been hard to take. How could they know whether they’d be STRONG ENOUGH?
But Jesus confidently leaves the future in their hands, even though he KNOWS they’re going to falter and stumble, even DISOWN him. Because of what he says NEXT.
The KEY to being salt and light in the midst of a world that s them… is THE HOLY SPIRIT. He’s the weapon to use in the Christian’s fight in the world. V26.
26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Notice Jesus is talking about a type of PARTNERSHIP. It’s the HOLY SPIRIT who testifies to the world about Jesus. But THE DISCIPLES ALSO must testify.
A few verses on into ch 16, v8. Jesus explains how it works. The Holy Spirit works in THE WORLD, and the Holy Spirit works in THE CHRISTIAN. Firstly, the world. V8.
8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
The message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is that it’s GOD, through his Spirit, who opens a person’s eyes to UNDERSTAND THEIR POSITION BEFORE GOD. Without him, we’re BLIND. . Hopeless, Helpless. No one is smart enough, or good enough, or quick enough to work out they need God on their own. It’s God’s Spirit CONVICTING them.
And the way that NORMALLY happens is when a Christian TELLS THEM. Ordinary, simple, bumbling words. Spoken by a run-of-the-mill, imperfect Christian. But it’s the Holy Spirit who makes those words RING TRUE as someone listens.
Gary Boyce gave his testimony a while ago. About how he became a Christian. And he said someone told him that God had MADE him, and expected his allegiance. Gary hadn’t given that to God, and so he was guilty, headed for God’s judgment.
As Gary THOUGHT about that. The Holy Spirit made it RING TRUE for him. He opened his eyes, brought him to LIFE. And Gary thought, I need to DO SOMETHING about that. And he turned from his rebellion. And through Jesus, God forgave him.
It was the work of the Spirit. But it also took an obedient Christian willing to testify about Jesus too.
That’s how the Spirit works IN THE WORLD. But he’s also at work in THE CHRISTIAN TOO. Down in vI3.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
The Spirit is our GUIDE, speaking TRUTH to us. Speaking the things of God. It’s the Spirit who guides our WORDS, and our THOUGHTS. Who strengthens our resolve, who boosts our faith. Who enriches our joy, and comforts our despair.
The Spirit as GUIDE. Acts is full of how the Holy Spirit guided those first disciples around the world, being salt and light in a world that d them.
But within decades, the Spirit had caused various gospels and letters to be written. And by the time of Ignatius, the turn of the first century, the NT was well on its way to being compiled and accepted. And it’s THIS WORD that the Spirit principally uses to guide US TODAY. Ephesians 6:17 says “Take the SWORD OF THE Spirit, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD”
It’s the Bible that THE SPIRIT uses as his sword to do his work. It’s the Bible which is OUR Spirit-powered sword as we do battle with a world that s us. That dismisses and mocks. That doesn’t understand.
It’s a guide to US. Shaping our priorities. Ordering our view of God, of ourselves, and our world. Convincing, rebuking, comforting, correcting and guiding.
And it’s a guide to the WORLD. It’s the message of the Bible, and our testimony, that the Spirit USES to open blind eyes in that world. To CONVICT them of sin and righteousness and judgment.
It’s how God’s people have dealt with the world. And won people for Jesus ever since those first disciples.
And how Jesus will use US, as we’re obedient, as we trust his Spirit and his Word.
/Final words of encouragement
Jesus finishes with some final wQrds of encouragement. It’s been a heavy few hours. This farewell sermon. But as he comes to the end. And just before he closes in prayer. And then heads out into the night.
He’s got two final thoughts for the disciples. But also for us. Words to comfort and strengthen and hearten. And I’ll finish with them.
First, whatever the future days and months would hold, whatever mistakes they might make. The Father LOVES them. He’s PLEASED with them. Not simply in a second-hand sense via Jesus. Look down to v26
26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf 27 No, THE FATHER HIMSELF LOVES YOU because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
There’s a connection between each Christian and the God of the Universe. God WANTS to be answering prayers from his children that seek his glory. Because he LOVES yOU. That’s an incredible truth to keep you going in the face of HATRED from the world.
And finally, ANOTHER opposite. of hatred and trouble. Jesus promises PEACE. V33
33 “I have told you these things, so that IN ME. you may have PEACE. In this world you will have TROUBLE. But TAKE HEART! I HA VE OVERCOME THE WORLD. ”
Peace. It’s a calm, trusting contentment. An acknowledgement of God’s sovereign purposes being worked out in his world. Knowing that Jesus, through his and resurrection has DEFEATED the evil in the world. Peace is knowing you’re exactly where God wants you to be.
It’s a truth Ignatius knew as he died a martyr. Died AT PEACE. Killed by a world who D him because they’d d Jesus first. But he’d chosen Christ. The one who’d overcome the world. Chosen the love of the Father, over the hatred of the world.
Ignatius knew the power of God’s Spirit working in him and through him. He knew that the Spirit could even use his to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. Ignatius had taken a nickname for himself. He was famous for it. THEOPHORUS. It means bearer of god.
God was living in him. He bore God’s Spirit. Guiding him into truth. Strengthening him to deal with a world who didn’t understand. May God give US that same courage and awareness of his presence with us.