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JOHN 16:1-3,33

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 21, 2002

Please turn with me to John 16:1-3.

In the years before 1915, the Muslim Turkish government suppressed its ethnic minorities by periodic pogroms of murder, theft, and the destruction of personal property. Between 1850 and 1915 over 375,000 Christian Armenians were murdered. On April 24, 1915 the Turkish government ordered the final solution to the question of what to do with these Christian Armenians. The result was a planned - premeditated - genocide - by the Muslim Ottoman Turkish government - a systematic attempt to exterminate our Christian Armenian nation - 1,500,000 plus Armenians brutally murdered.

Today we often hear the phrase, “The worlds great religions” - which generally refers to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Thinking through the genocide - and Muslim persecution of Christians today - it’s difficult to consider Islam one of the great religions of the world. Mohammed endorsed killing infidels. Islam - the religion - sent Muslims to enslave and conquer Europe and Africa. The same goal is true today - even here in America. Statistically, Islam is about 20% of the world’s population and growing. But, how “great” is a religion that promotes killing others in the name of God.

On the other hand - Muslims - without fail - will point to the Crusades as the example of Christian brutality - religious leaders who repeatedly sent Christians to kill Muslims. They ask, “What kind of religion is Christianity that it promotes such atrocities in the name of God?” In the name of Christ - how many people have been killed - Muslims, Jews, and others? Even Christians killing each other in the name of Christ.

Then there’s Judaism. Someone sent me pictures from inside Jenin - what “was” a Palestinian refugee city in the northern West Bank. “Was” - because its not really there anymore. What the Israelis - what the children of Abraham did there was an atrocity. Sadly - just one of many atrocities. Jews vs. Muslims. Muslims vs. Jews. Christians vs. Muslims. Muslims vs. Christians.

Three of the world’s great religions - Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Webster’s Dictionary defines religion this way, “The service and worship of God. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

Coming to John 16 - a scene familiar to us. Jesus is sharing with His disciples. It’s the Passover Meal. The night of Jesus’ betrayal - just before the events leading to His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. It’s a serious - solemn time. Jesus knows what’s coming. He’s sharing about what’s about to happen - trying to prepare His disciples.

John 16:1: “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling." These are things you need to know so that you won’t fall away - so you’ll hang in there when it gets tough.

Verse 2: "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but and hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God." That’s religion - rituals - traditions - practices - people killing people as a service to God. It was their religious attitudes, beliefs and practices that led “religious” people to crucify Jesus - led them to persecute His disciples.

Verse 3 - "These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.” “Religious” people doing all these “religious” things. But, they don’t know God. They have no relationship with Jesus Christ.

What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” - with everything you are (Matthew 22:37). True religion isn’t religious. True religion is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ - lived out daily in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians are proud of how many times they’ve read the Bible. How they went to Sunday School or brought their kids. What they’ve given. How they’ve served. Living by good Christian morals. Some have degrees - doctorates in religion. Some have studied many religions. Studying about the things of God. Very religious - spiritual - people. Maybe you know someone like this?

But, when it comes to their own personal relationship with God they have no idea what that means. Or, they just don’t want to discuss it. “Don’t complicate my life with that. I’m okay the way I am.” They have no idea what it means - the joy - the freedom - the strength of knowing Jesus - not just intellectually - but personally. They carry around the burdens of their sin - guilt - questioning. They have no hope - are they going to Heaven or Hell? They don’t really know.

Tom White, Director of Voice of the Martyrs, writes this, “The persecuted believers whom we serve are happy to have escaped from religion. One man who found Christ and escaped the laws and rituals of Islam said, ‘Don’t ask me why I have changed religions. I have not done that. I have been saved,’” (1)

Recently I read this poem:

Religion enslaves.
Christ liberates!

Religion condemns.
Christ pardons!

Religion brings tears.
Christ wipes tears away!

Religion leaves a heart empty.
Christ fills the empty heart!

Religion searches for meaning in life.
Christ gives meaning to life!

Religion asks questions.
Christ is the answer!

Religion seeks truth.
Christ is the truth! (2)

America today is a very different country than it was. Today we’re a post-Christian nation. There’s a plethora of religions and beliefs. With it a growing intolerance for those who believe in salvation only through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is a growing movement to be “politically correct” - to speak of faith journeys and religious traditions - our common spirituality. To participate in “interfaith” councils pursuing godless agendas uselessly discussing religious similarities and how we can all promote peace and harmony among mankind.

The cross is offensive. The Gospel of salvation only in Jesus Christ is abhorrent. Its not politically correct to speak of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But, Jesus wasn’t politically correct. Jesus hated religion and all that it binds people up in.

This Jesus calls us to testify of Him regardless of what it costs us. If respect from others means backing off of the Gospel - toning down the truth - accommodating the various viewpoints of others - seeking the approval of family and friends - man rather God - then that religion comes from Hell - not Heaven. It dishonors our martyrs and has no business being called Christian.

Today - honoring the memory of our Christian martyrs - its our turn to not stumble - not to fall away from our faith - but to keep going. Not in the name of religion, but, because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. To do so is to honor them. And most importantly - to live as our Savior has called us to live.

That’s hard to hear. True. But hard. How can we live like that?

There’s a story about a man driving a truck down the road. Every time he came to a stop he would get out - run around the truck pounding on it’s side - jump back into the truck and drive to the next stop. Where, he’d get out and do the same thing all over again - running around pounding on the sides of the truck. A police officer was following this man - watching this go on for a while. Finally, he pulled the driver over and asked what he was doing.

“Well,” said the truck driver. “You see I’m carrying 2 tons of canaries in a 1 ton truck. So I have to keep at least half of the canaries flying or the truck will break.”

Sometimes life is like that. Keeping it all up in the air - trying to live out the Christian life - struggling against a society that is increasingly anti-God. Balancing family and responsibilities and service to God. What happens if they all land a the same time? How do we keep going?

As I’ve been thinking this challenge through I’ve been drawn to the words of Jesus in John 16:33. As Jesus is finishing what He’s been sharing with His disciples - just before He prays and they go out - Jesus has one last word of encouragement. John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

“With all the unrest - the tribulation - the struggles - all that you're trying to keep in the air - all that is against you in the world - take courage, I have overcome the world.”

Several years ago I participated in the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge Run - running the 7 plus miles across the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. I’ve never been a great runner. But this was a field trip for a physical education class I was taking - so I went. When we started in Oakland there were thousands of runners. We were grouped by how fast we could make the run. The fastest runners were in the front right at the start line. I was in a group someplace towards the back. Once the race started - from where I was - it took at least 10 minutes to actually get to where I could see the start line.

Maybe you’ve heard on the traffic reports - the Bay Bridge on the Oakland side is called the “incline section.” There’s a reason why they call it that. 4 plus miles - up. Puffing up that hill I started asking myself why - why in the world - why I was doing this to myself? What ever got into my mind to torture myself this way? My shoes felt like lead. My lungs felt like they were being ripped out from the inside. I was positive I was going to have a heart attack. The downhill side wasn’t much better.

The finish line was at the Hyatt at the foot of Market Street. I got there long after the winners had crossed the line. The TV cameras were gone. People were sweeping up. I felt like an Olympic champion - the whole world watching - with tremendous joy I crossed that line. I’d endured and finished the race.

In life - Jesus has crossed the line - victoriously - triumphing over every obstacle and temptation in life to quit - even death. Our courage - in testifying of Him - as we run this race called life - is that our victorious Jesus - Jesus that we have a relationship with - Jesus is there at the finish line. We need to look up from the course - all that we struggle with - and see Him waiting there for us - encouraging us to keep going - to the victory that is ours with Him.

Satan loves to get us focused on everything else but Jesus. Religion and the things we do for God. But relationship - who we are and what we do because we know God through Jesus Christ - that relationship is what we really need to keep us from stumbling - to testify of Jesus - to be victorious no matter what we may go through.

Which brings us to two questions.

Question number one: Do you have religion or do you have a relationship with Jesus? Which one is the foundation for how you live your life?

Question number two: Will you stumble or will you keep going? Consider that going on may cost you your life. But, this is our moment. Are you ready to testify of Jesus? To follow the example of our forefathers - to live out your relationship with Jesus before your family - to stand up for Him in our community - in a nation - in a world which has enough religion - a world which desperately needs to see the reality of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. The Voice of the Martyrs, April 2002
2. Hovsepian, Hovsep, God’s Workshop, page 195