“You will be stamped out of society,” Jesus said. And when they kill you, they will think they’re doing a service to God.”
These were some of the final words that Jesus gave his eleven disciples the night before he was crucified. I’m guessing it’s not the kind of encouragement they’d hoped to hear.
He went on. “You’ll be identified as the enemy by your own people. You’ll be considered traitors – even worse than pagans – deserving of all the misfortune that befalls you. But I’m leaving you so that a Helper will come to you. He will be on your side and in your midst when everyone else forsakes you.”
Jesus told his friends that they were to expect another Helper who would have all the authority and resources of heaven at his disposal. A tangible Presence who wouldn’t necessarily improve their highly undesirable circumstances, but would be with them and for them while they were still in them.
Try for a moment to put yourself with Jesus that night.
As a devout Jew from Galilee, you’d seen your fair share of apostates forcibly “put out” of the synagogue, and it wasn’t pretty. Already the temple authorities had threatened to put out anyone who claimed Jesus as the Messiah, preventing many from following him. Every disciple understood the cost of apostacy. When you were put out of the congregation, the consequences for you and your family were swift and irreversible.
In the first century, to be put out of the Jewish synagogue was akin to saying, “From this point on, you’re dead to us. We don’t want to see you at worship or weddings or funerals. Don’t show up for Shabbat, and don’t plan on working in this town again. Oh, and most importantly, you’re banned from sacrificing in the Jerusalem temple. So good luck with finding any forgiveness from your sins for the rest of your days.”
This sounds bad, and it was. But when a Jew was put out of the synagogue, he also became a walking target for those who were zealous for the one true God of Israel. The Hebrew who bound himself to any other god was considered charem; worthy of destruction, and there were some devout Jews who’d count it an act of service to eradicate anyone who’d rendered God’s people unclean. Indeed, Yahweh was jealous for his name, and for the purity of his people, and he would certainly be most pleased.
In all of this, I’ve been considering what all this means for the disciples of Jesus in 2020?
For many in today’s world, being a disciple of Jesus looks exactly like it did in the first century. Their futures are uncertain, their property is plundered, their good name is defamed, and they walk through life with a target on their back. Christians in many countries are considered traitors worthy of death, and their families are put at great risk.
Let us earnestly pray for these dear brothers and sisters. Their sowing in God’s kingdom is at such great cost and their eternal harvest will be great.
But what does it look like to us as disciples of Jesus in modern America? I think it means, at the very least, that we need to take a closer look at the role of the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus told his disciples they’d be thrown out from society and killed by their own tribe, he told them why. “I want you to remember this so you don’t fall away,” Jesus said. “They will do all these things to you because they don’t know me or my Father. But I am going to send a Helper so that they will come to know me.”
The Holy Spirit was being sent, with all the authority and power of heaven, to help the disciples be the continuing means that God would bring all the nations back to himself. They would do this in the midst of the most difficult personal circumstances.
As disciples of Jesus in a first-world country, we don’t share in the tangible threats of the original disciples or those who follow Jesus at great peril in dark places today. But we must also remember the words of Jesus so that we don’t also fall away. The Holy Spirit is in our midst – not to improve our personal circumstances – but to bring those who don’t know Jesus into his family.
Our Helper is with those who follow him, wherever they are, helping us to love each other in Jesus’ name.
Our Helper is with his disciples, all over his world, helping us to forgive our enemies in Jesus’ name.
Our Helper is in the midst of his people, in plenty or in want, revealing the person of Jesus to those who don’t yet know him.
Shalom to you today, for you have the Helper of heaven in your service to the King.
(text is taken from John 16)