The Danger of Disappointment
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 16:1 (Holman) “I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling.”
Jesus told the disciples persecution would be inevitable. He did not want the disciples to be surprised. One of the most dangerous stumbling-blocks we have to confront is disappointment. Frustrated expectations can undermine us, and disarm our defenses. When optimism collapses, faith often goes down with it.
Forewarned is forearmed. Thank God for advance notice. We would not view a life filled with struggles as God-given had He not told us it would be the case.
Christ was honest with His followers. He told them difficulties would come. This way they could sit down and realistically count the cost.
Tyndale was severely persecuted for translating the Bible into English. As people clamored for his death, he calmly said, “I never expected anything else.”
Difficulties dog the Christian road. Temptation to turn back is ever near, but hard times can also be seasons of strengthening our faith.
Garibaldi told his soldiers, “Our efforts against superior forces have been unavailing. I have nothing to offer you, but hunger, thirst, hardship, and death; but I call on all who love their country to join with me.” They did, by the hundreds.
Jesus still calls us to risk for His cause. He never offers a way of ease, but rather a way of valor ending in glory.
John 16:2a “They will ban you from the synagogues.”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day built graves to honor prophets of yore. These leaders’ ancestors had persecuted the very prophets now being honored. The descendants of the former persecutors proved they were doing the same to current prophets by the way they treated John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Twelve.
The world likes Godly examples far away, not sold-out Godliness nearby. Bunyan dead is Bunyan applauded; Bunyan alive is Bunyan ridiculed. Elijah Lovejoy dead is a revered martyr; Lovejoy alive is an ostracized fanatic.
The religious leaders revered ancient prophets, but threw contemporary spokesmen out of the synagogues. This excommunication was a severe persecution. It caused everyone to shun the banned person. The outcast lived with disgrace.
Few trials could have been worse to these Jewish fishermen than this particularly vicious cruelty from their countrymen. It would be hard for the disciples to be alone, shut out. It hurts to be ostracized. But Christ-followers sometimes have to learn the truth of Joan of Arc’s words, “It is better to be alone with God.”
John 16:2b “In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
Persecutors easily proceed from unkind censures to cruel actions. If we are convinced a person is of no consequence to God, it is easy to eliminate them. In doing so, people often think they’re “offering service to God.”
This was a technical phrase used to describe the offering of sacrifices in worship. Persecution is often deemed holy. A Rabbi said, “Whoever sheds the blood of the wicked, does the same as if he offered a sacrifice.” The devil’s work is often done in God’s name. The Lord is often blamed for man’s cruelty to man.
Paul thought he was doing God a favor by persecuting Christians and trying to eliminate the name of Jesus. The horrors of the Inquisition were carried out in Jesus’ name with a perfectly good conscience. When Cranmer, the Anglican Archbishop, was burned at the stake, a sermon was preached. When Charles IX of France massacred Protestants, their enemies rejoiced, and thanked Almighty God.
Thank God for the religious liberty we enjoy in our country. We occasionally need to be reminded how far we have come. A main lesson of history is, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
John 16:3-4a “They will do these things because they haven’t known the Father or Me. But I have told you these things so that when their time comes you may remember I told them to you.”
Jesus warned them. His words came true. Tradition pictures awful deaths for the disciples. Matthew was martyred by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark died at Alexandria, after being dragged through the city. Peter was crucified upside down at Rome. James was beheaded at Jerusalem (Acts). James the less was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple and beaten to death below.
Philip was hanged against a pillar in Phrygia. Bartholomew was flayed alive. Andrew was bound to a cross, whence he preached to his persecutors until he died. Thomas was run through the body at Coromandel, in India. Jude was shot to death with arrows. Matthias was stoned, and then beheaded.
James 16:4b-7 “I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and not one of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ Yet, because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.”
No one was now asking Jesus, “Where are You going?” Earlier in the evening, the disciples had shown keen interest in the subject, but now they were too trapped in their own sorrow to ponder what was about to happen to Jesus. They knew He was leaving, but were totally absorbed in self-pity.
Sorrow blinded them to the significance of His departure. They could not grasp it at the moment but in the long run, Jesus’ leaving would improve their lot.
The Holy Spirit’s coming to them would be better for them than Jesus’ physical presence had been. Even Mary and Martha had felt they could have God at hand only when Jesus was physically present. Incarnation entailed limitation.
Ascension brought expansion.
It is significant that Jesus shared these words about the Holy Spirit in a discourse filled with warnings of coming trouble. The Spirit is not a meanderer, a happy stroller taking a carefree walk among us. He is an Advocate who comes to assist us in the thick of battle. The powers that oppose us are stronger than we are. He more than makes up the difference.