The second reason we may be persecuted as Christians is our mandated separation from the world, which causes the world to resent us as nonconformists: "'I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you'" (v. 19).
When was the last time you refused to join in gossip? Or refused to lie for your friend? Or refused to go along to a movie filled with profanity and adultery?
Did such refusals cause you to be honored and loved and respected? If not, then you're getting the picture.
Third, we may encounter persecution because of the world's rejection of the truth that Jesus is God's only Son and the exclusive way to God: "'They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me'" (v. 21).
In an article in the December 2001 issue of the Christian newsmagazine World, Gene Edward Veith warned, "The enemy, we are told, is not Islam but intolerance. It is that narrow-minded, restrictive view of religion that is to blame for the terrorist attacks and the Taliban oppression. People who think 'theirs is the only true religion' are the real enemy, a charge, of course, that sticks not just to the Taliban but to orthodox Christians."
Fourth, persecution may be directed toward us because of the world's conviction of sin, which the truth reveals: "'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin'" (v. 22).
Recently I found myself in a situation similar to one I've been in many times. The driver of a cab I was riding in was lively and talkative, and his conversation was peppered with bad language. When he was getting my bag out of the trunk, one of the people who had come to greet me told him that I am Billy Graham's daughter and a Christian speaker. His immediate reaction was, "If I had known, I would have cleaned up my language."
I had not said a word to him about his language. But sometimes just our presence reveals the darkness of sin in the lives of others, and those who are convicted of their own sin by our separation from it resent us.
The fifth and last reason Jesus gave for persecution of His followers is the demonstration of God's power in individual lives: "'If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and My Father'" (v. 24).
If you and I are not being persecuted, could it be that no one has seen any real change or evidence of God's power in our lives? Have we so watered down and compromised our witness that the world around us doesn't see any reason to persecute us?
What miracle that demonstrates God's power can someone else see in your life? Is it when God set you free from alcoholism? When He reconciled you with your spouse--or your in-laws? When you experienced peace in the midst of turmoil or hope in the midst of grief?
Courage to Speak Up
After delivering the chilling discourse that warned them of the persecution to come, Jesus revealed to His disciples the source of the courage that would be theirs as they sought to speak up in a world of hatred. The source was none other than the Holy Spirit of God--the same Spirit who indwelt Jesus.
What comfort the disciples must have felt as Jesus promised, "'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'" (John 15:26). The source of power that filled Jesus, enabling Him to face His accusers and His execution with dignified compassion and courageous strength, is the same source of power that enabled the disciples to live and die for Jesus.
And it's the same source of power available to you and me today! When we have the Spirit of the living God within us, we have no less courage, no less power, than did those 11 men around the table in the upper room!
When have you spoken up for Jesus? When have you told someone about Jesus who doesn't know Him?
Are you recoiling in fear, protesting: "Anne, I could never do that! I'm afraid my neighbors would never speak to me again. I'm afraid my friends will laugh at me or be derisive about something that's precious to me. I'm afraid to speak up for Jesus because I may lose my popularity or promotion or position or prestige or possessions."
Jesus understands your fears. That's why He has sent you and me the Holy Spirit. When we open our mouths, the Holy Spirit not only gives us words, He also clothes the words with power to make a difference in the hearer. And it's the Holy Spirit who will fill you with such deep conviction, passion and zeal for the truth that you will be compelled to speak up!
One evening not too long ago, my brother Franklin and I were invited to appear together on Larry King Live, a popular talk show on CNN. Mr. King asked Franklin how it was that we were so bold in our faith. Was it hereditary?
I felt I had to say why I was bold--when my personality is basically shy. The reason is that I am convinced what I say is the truth!
And I wonder--maybe you and I don't need more courage; maybe we just need stronger convictions! Because when you feel deeply about something, you are compelled to open your mouth and speak up. Jesus stated this clearly to His disciples when He said, "'You also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning'" (v. 27).
Fewer than 60 days after that evening meal in the upper room, two of these same disciples--Peter and John--were arrested by the authorities in Jerusalem for speaking out about Jesus.
Facing the same religious court that had condemned Jesus to death, Peter--the same Peter who had been so terrified of the opinions of others during the trials of Jesus that he had denied His Lord three times--Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ as the One "'whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead...Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved'" (Acts 4:10-12).
The authorities could hardly believe their ears! "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (v. 13).
After a brief consultation among themselves, the religious rulers forbade John and Peter to speak in Jesus' name. The disciples' reply was a classic defense that rang as true in their politically correct, pluralistic, multicultural society as it does in ours: "'We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'" (v. 20).