7th Sunday of Easter (Prop B)
I John 5:1-11
May 13, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
People frequently talk about overcoming something or another. We hear about athletes who have overcome diseases and injuries to become superstars. Magazines carry articles about men and women who have overcome terrible upbringings to be successful entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’ve even used similar language to describe a situation when you had overcome something in your life. To overcome something usually means that it didn’t come easy, and nowhere is that more evident than in your life right now because, as a Christian, you’re called to overcome the world.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, I hope you have, that there is a sharp line that separates the world and the Christian. Nowhere in the Bible does God even hint that the world and Christians can live in peace and harmony. John says earlier in chapter 2 of his letter, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” The world and Christians want two diametrically opposed things: Good and Evil. Now that’s not to say there aren’t good people who don’t believe in God, of course there are. As a whole the world is evil because it’s not aligned with God’s desires.
You must know that there are only two sides in the conflict between God and the world: believers and unbelievers. There is no middle ground, and no one can be neutral. Anything that opposes God is opposed by the Christian. Just think about where the world and the Christian fall on certain issues. The world has cheapened the value of life, Christians haven’t. The Romans used to leave unwanted babies outside their homes to die. Christians took those babies in and gave them loving homes. In Iceland (as just one example) women abort virtually one hundred percent of unborn babies when tests show the baby has Down Syndrome. Christians see value in every person regardless of their physical or mental capabilities. The world embraces greed and selfishness, a me-first attitude. Christians embrace the needy and the hurting. The world places human desires above all else, Christians place God’s desire above all else. All over the world Christians are hated, Christians respond with love.
Christians are so radically different, but why? Jesus puts it this way, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Through faith you’ve been called out of your worldly ways and into Godly ways. No longer are you part of the world, you’re part of Christ. It is faith that separates the Christian from the world. The faith that we have is not a general “I believe in God” kind of faith. It’s not the lukewarm faith of a Christian who tries to keep one foot in the world and another out of it. The faith that you have been given is given by God. It’s a faith knows the truth about Jesus Christ; that Jesus is the Son of God, and we are sons and daughters of God. As John puts it, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
The faith that overcomes the world is a persistent faith, a faith the perseveres, a faith that trusts in God above all else. It’s a faith that rejects the world and embraces God. It’s a faith built on the promises of God which were all fulfilled in Jesus. We overcome the world through faith because Christ overcame the world. The world threw everything it could at Jesus: rejection, hatred, violence, death, and in every case it failed. Christ overcame the world because He was obedient to His Father and fulfilled all that Father demanded to free us from the world. The cross and the grave aren’t symbols of victory, they’re vivid symbols of defeat. Jesus wasn’t overcoming, He was overcome. At least that’s what the world thought. The world couldn’t have been more wrong. In His crucifixion He overcame Sin and Satan. In His Resurrection He overcame Death. Jesus wasn’t defeated, He overcame all things to be our Champion in our battles with the world. A steadfast faith always keeps its focus on Christ, for He is our Victor and through Him we share in His victory.
John tells us that if we’re to overcome the world we need three things. He says, “The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” When Jesus had died, the soldiers pierced His side with a spear to make sure He was really dead. Out of that wound flowed water and blood which has been poured on you. The water with which you were baptized was tinted red by the blood of Jesus. His blood called you out of the sinful world as it cleansed you from your sins. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, came to you in that red stained water and He will keep you in the faith. He will lead you as you overcome the world through faith in Christ. If not physically, you will be beaten, bruised and bloody spiritually, but you will overcome the world through that beaten, bruised, and bloody Jesus Christ.
We overcome the world through faith in Christ, we then show we’ve overcome the world by our love for others. Why did the first Christians save unwanted babies? Because their love for God moved them to love others. Their love for God moved them to obey His commandments to love others more than themselves. John says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments…And his commandments are not burdensome.”
The same words come to us this day. Faith is great, faith is what saves and overcomes, and faith is always accompanied by demonstrations of our love. Love for God is obeying His commandments, and as John says it’s not that hard because God is telling us to do what comes naturally to Christians. Our faith is seen in what we do. We love God and others by serving the poor and needy, helping those who have been overcome by the hardships of life, speaking up for the unborn and the handicapped. We show our love by helping anywhere that we have the abilities. Can you keep ten first and second graders from hurting each other or running away? You can be a VBS guide. Can you use a glue stick? You can help with VBS crafts. Can you play Bingo? You can help serve at Black Hawk or Twilight Acres. Can you read? You can read Bible verses to someone in the hospital. Do you get what I’m saying? There are a thousand ways you can show your faith and love by what you do. It’s not that hard because we do good works for the same reason we have faith; God has given us the Holy Spirit who empowers us to love and to demonstrate our love. And our love will show one thing more than anything else – that we have overcome the world through faith in Christ.
A list of all the men and women who have overcome the world though Jesus would be severely lacking without Saint Paul’s name. As a Christian, Paul was beaten, stoned, arrested, shipwrecked and frequently hungry but never once was he overcome by the world. He says in II Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” He overcame the world because he held onto his Champion, Christ Jesus.
You too will be beaten and perplexed by the world. You too will struggle against a world that will try to break you or drag you back into it. But like Paul and John and all the other saints before you, you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit. You have His promise that in the blood and water that poured from Christ’s side, you have overcome the world. There is a sharp line of division between you and the world, a line that Christ has drawn Himself, and He has called you to His side where you stand with Him as those who have overcome the world.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen