Monday, March 24, 2003

The Upper Room Discourse

This is the fifth post in a series that explores the Upper Room Discourse recorded in John 13 - 17. To start from the beginning, click here.

Our Challenge

As I have begun each of these studies on the themes in the Upper Room Discourse, I begin with its beginning:

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. (John 13:1-5, The Net Bible)

As you should now be seeing, these introductory verses set the tone and foreshadow much of what was to follow in the next 5 chapters of John's gospel. This lesson is foreshadowed by these words, "the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, that he should betray Jesus."

Simply put, Jesus had enemies and, by association, we do too. Jesus told His disciples:

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. But they no longer have any excuse for their sin. The one who hates me hates my Father too. If I had not performed among them the miraculous deeds that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen the deeds and have hated both me and my Father. Now this happened to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:18-25)

The truth of Jesus' words was brought home to me in an interesting way, when I embarked on a study of humanism. The works of Francis Schaeffer had introduced me to the term. I certainly could derive what Schaeffer meant by humanism, but I was interested to see if there were people who would call themselves humanists. In other words, did Francis Schaeffer coin a useful term or was he using a term defined by others? 

I quickly discovered the Humanist Manifesto and the Humanist Manifesto II. I was struck by several things. The signers of the documents, for one thing, included Julian Huxley, John Dewy, Alan Guttmacher, Andre Sakharov, and others. These are very prominent and influential name. For another thing was the express purpose to restructure society along non-religious lines. Take for example, the thirteenth affirmation in the first manifesto:

THIRTEENTH: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control, and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.

The manifestos are roadmaps, signed by prominent intellectuals, to engineer a world without religion in general and Christianity in particular. In them, you will find the seeds of gender feminism, sexual freedom, socialism, and internationalism. 

I continued my study by subscribing the The Humanist magazine. This magazine is obsessed with Christianity. I did not receive a single issue, in the years that I subscribed to it, that did not have some article or opinion telling its readers how bad this Christianity and Christians were. To put this in perspective, imagine if every issue of Christianity Today were to have a diatribe against humanism. Imagine, also, that a humanist reading Christianity Today would quickly realize that no effort had been made by any of the authors to read and study humanism as humanists see it. The Humanist magazine creates a caricature of Christianity that is hardly likeable, and then bashes it.

And so I remembered Jesus' words, "If the world hates you..." and "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own." I also deduced at least two things from those who strive to remove Christian expression from modern culture. The first is that they understand the power of our message, perhaps, more than we do. They fear it. Second, they will not succeed. I have said on several occasions that the most significant revival of Christianity could be happening outside the CNN center, and it would go unreported. It is neither good nor correct nor wise for us to assess our strength from the media. These thoughts have been recently born out by three recent editorials: Recovering Secularist, God in the News Room, and God, Satan and the Media.

Jesus also said this in the Upper Room Discourse:

“I have told you all these things so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you will remember that I told you about them. “I did not tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you. (John 16:1-4)

Humanism represents an outside enemy of Christianity. It is overt in its disdain. But there is a covert system that is just as problematic to the truth: highly legalistic forms of Christianity and near Christian cults. They have a two fold danger. They can directly trap people within their sphere and they deflect others from considering the real claims that Christianity has.

As John records, Satan put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus. Satan also empowers the world system. He is ultimately behind the external and internal fronts against the truth. And so, we have suffered down through the ages and continue to suffer today. In this, we must rejoice and seek to become strong and able to stand firm. In the USA, we have it pretty good. In China and other places, being a Christian carries a clear and present danger and one for which they gladly suffer. Their reward will be great. But let us not think that it will not happen here, nor that it could not be in our lifetimes. Jesus warned us, so that we can be prepared.

Fortunately, we have help.

Tuesday: Our Resources.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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