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For some reason, the first four verses of John 16 have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary. Because they have, I’m including them in my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series.  (Please note that I use the word ‘forbidden’ in a tongue-in-cheek way.  They’re not banned verses, just ignored and excluded verses for public worship.  Yet, they are essential to our full understanding of the Bible.)

(For this post, my thanks go to Lleweton of the eponymous blog, who cited the following verses in a comment he made here last week.  If you enjoy reading about the England you always dreamt of, do visit his site.  As he used to be an newspaper editor, he has a marvellous way with words.)

Today’s reading is from the King James Version.  Commentary is by the 17th century Calvinist minister and Bible scholar Matthew Henry.

John 16:1-4

1These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.

 2They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.

 4But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.

————————————————————————————-

In John 15 Jesus explained to His disciples the fruits of faith and the challenges that God brings us in order to increase them.  This is a recurring teaching throughout the New Testament.  We saw it last week in 1 Thessalonians 4:1, where Paul encourages these model Christians to lead a life which is even more pleasing to God.

In the latter part of John 15, Jesus prepares the Apostles for the imminent persecution and hatred directed against them.  He continues with this line of thought in the first few verses of John 16. This would be Jesus’s final talk with the Apostles prior to the Crucifixion. Later in the chapter, He explains that He will send the Holy Spirit to guide them in His absence, but before that, He would see them very soon (after His Resurrection). He would also ensure that whatever happened to them, they would find the peace that only an abiding faith in Him can bring.

We might find it strange that Jesus uses the word ‘offended’ in verse 1.  Yet, the Apostles do not realise that He will be crucified very soon.  It will come as a shock to them.  They might not know quite what to think or how to react.  Therefore, Jesus is — as we might say today — setting their expectations.  Just as Peter ended up denying Christ without even realising it until he had done so three times, this is a similar situation.  In order to save face, the Apostles might have denied Christ had He not given them some idea as to the gravity of imminent events.

Matthew Henry observes that many people find the Cross offensive.  Over three centuries after he wrote those words, we can see it as is true today as it was then as it was even earlier at the time of the Crucifixion.  And Satan likes to use shocking situations to his own benefit, to get us to deny the Truth, to deny Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

In verse 2, Jesus warns the Apostles that the Jews will expel them from the synagogues for having believed in Him and for evangelising.  Those who have been forced out of churches when they have proclaimed the truth of Scripture appreciate and feel deeply the heartache of separation from a congregation, people they have known for many years and from whom they are suddenly cut off.

Even worse, Jesus prepares them for martyrdom.  Then — as now — those who put Christians to death believe they are doing God’s work.  We read of this happening in the developed world almost daily.

In verse 3, Jesus explains that those who kill them do not know Him or God the Father. Instead, they do the Devil’s work. This remains true today. How many Christians die at the hands of unbelievers, those of another faith or none?  Many are victims of torture, brutal murders — indescribably horrible means.  Let us remember the persecuted in our prayers.  They endure much.  Those of us in the West are getting only a small idea of what our brothers and sisters in other countries go through day after day, never knowing if they will get home at night.  They might be arrested or abducted.  The worry for them and their families must be indescribable.

In verse 4, Jesus asks them to remember His warnings.  In case they are persecuted — and some Apostles would die as martyrs — they would at least be mentally prepared.  Matthew Henry says that knowing what to expect, in some ways, lessens the ordeal somewhat:

Note, When suffering times come it will be of use to us to remember what Christ has told us of sufferings. (1.) That our belief of Christ’s foresight and faithfulness may be confirmed; and, (2.) That the trouble may be the less grievous, for we were told of it before, and we took up our profession in expectation of it, so that it ought not to be a surprise to us, nor looked upon as a wrong to us. As Christ in his sufferings, so his followers in theirs, should have an eye to the fulfilling of the scripture.

In the second sentence of verse 4, Jesus explains that He didn’t want to tell them these things earlier because He was with them.  That means not only did he bear the attacks of Scribes, Pharisees and others against Him but they were not yet ready to bear these assaults on their own.  They were still children feeding on milk.  Soon, however, they would be ready for spiritual meat and carry out their upcoming evangelism with zeal, as we read in the Book of Acts — a stunning and moving record of what happens to some of the Apostles after Jesus ascends into Heaven.

In closing, let us find out what might have happened to some of the Twelve Apostles:

St Peter died in Rome.  He was crucified — at his request, this was done upside down.  Peter asked this because he did not feel worthy enough to die the way Christ did.  Today, we still refer to a cross of St Peter, or Petrine Cross, which is one depicted or placed upside down.  (Please note that this is not the same as an upside down crucifix, which is part of satanic rituals.)

Sts Philip and Bartholomew may have been crucified upside down, although we do not know for certain.  One early account records that St Philip continued preaching from the cross.

Similarly, although we know that St James was martyred, probably beheaded, although the legend surrounding Spain and Compostella, in particular, clouds this somewhat.

St Andrew was crucified, and tradition had it that he requested an X-shaped cross as he did not feel worthy to die the same way Christ did.  We can still see the Cross of St Andrew on national flags today, one of which is the Scottish saltire.

Finally, although he was not one of the original Twelve, St Paul was probably beheaded during the reign of Emperor Nero.  Beheading was a death sentence often used for Roman citizens, as Paul was.

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