Monday, May 11, 2015

Sermon on 1 John 5:1-8, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Mother's Day, "Faith in Jesus is Victory!"



In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we’ve been reading through the book of 1 John these past weeks in church, the themes of faith and love have echoed again and again. Last week it was about hearing God’s Word of Truth and believing and confessing Jesus in the flesh. It was about God’s first-love coming to us, and producing love in us in return. Building on that same thought, that faith and love are inseparable, today we hear in 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him.”
This is family-talk. It’s saying that we are children of God, born of God because we’re believers in Jesus Christ. As part of God’s family we love both our heavenly Father and other believers born of Him as well. Church, your fellow Christians, is your family. Even if your natural family is no longer living or is far from you, your fellow believers are God’s family to you. Christianity is about community and God’s family, not isolation.
Love for family is instinctive in our natural families, as a child naturally clings to its mother and father who gave it life. A child instantly trusts and recognizes its mother from birth—the sound of her voice, her heart, and her smell. A child looks to mommy and daddy to receive love, protection, food, and nurture. And parents instinctively love their children. Today is a day to celebrate and give thanks for that earthly love of our mothers. So for all those who are blessed this day, to have had a loving mother—thank God for her, whether she is living or dead—and if she is still alive, thank her yourself, and show your appreciation. If your mother raised and nurtured you in the Christian faith—all the more reason to give thanks. It’s also a day for Christian mothers and fathers to recommit to doing all we can by God’s love, to create and maintain loving earthly families and children.
It’s a sad fact that not all have had loving mothers or caring fathers. Family is separated for various reasons, or parents have turned from their children, or there was no love in the family. Absent parents or abuse or illness or death may have devastated relationships that should have been loving and close. Sin is relentless in destroying families in countless ways. But even for those who missed the love of a father or a mother in this life—all who believe in Jesus Christ have a new birth into the family of God—and we have Christ Jesus as our true brother and friend. And God our Heavenly Father is not an absentee, but He loves us, disciplines us, cares for us and knows our needs even before we can ask, and who hears our prayers. And to love God our Father and our brothers and sisters in Christ—is more than mere instinct—it’s ingrained in our very reborn nature. Love for God and love for neighbor is part and parcel of the new person you are in Christ Jesus. This love moves us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness within our Christian family, whenever we have wronged others or been wronged. We live in forgiveness.
1 John 5:2–3 continues, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. How do Christians know they are children of God, and not of the world? When we love God and obey His commandments! This is like standing in front of a mirror, and seeing who we are. Now under the law, we stand in front of that mirror and what we see is our sin, like chapter 1 says—“if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”. But once we have been made children of God, and are under the Gospel, we stand in front of that mirror and we see the new child of God that we have become in Christ Jesus! Love toward God and neighbor defines us. Obedience to God’s commands is the natural fruit of who we are. And it says “His commandments are not burdensome.
When we hear God’s commands, do they seem burdensome or light? Well, are we thinking in the old way of our sinful nature, or thinking in the new way of the child of God? Our old, sinful nature is cantankerous and loves to complain—it is rebellious and doesn’t listen to God’s law. To the old sinful man, the law brings death. But to the new child of God, we are set free from the burdensome guilt and accusations of the law. All our sins have been forgiven, and we are free to obey Jesus’ two greatest commands—to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said (Matthew 11:28–30) , “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus has traded burdens with us. He took on the heavy burdens of our sin and the law’s exacting demands, and He gives us a light and easy burden, and rest for our souls. To follow Jesus is not to be crushed for our disobedience, but forgiven and strengthened for our obedience.
So how do you start to think that way? We may begin by meditating positively on God’s law, like the Psalmist teaches throughout Psalm 119. To find joy, delight, and life in the law and teachings of God. To reflect on why His commands are good and lead us in the right path. Meditate on what is the purpose for God’s commands and His design for life? What is the good that He would have me do for my neighbor, and how can I find joy in that? What is the joy and reward in secret acts of charity and kindness, as Jesus taught? What blessings does God give when we make good choices to live according to His plan and design, revealed in His Word?
1 John 5:4–5 goes on, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” These verses speak of the victory that children of God have over the world. The world here means the sinful world, in its opposition to God. And our victory is our faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Faith is always bound together with its object. Faith or trust that is pointed at something earthly, error-prone, false, or weak—is a faith that is bound to be duped, disappointed, or defeated. But faith or trust that is pointed to the True God, Jesus Christ—this faith seizes eternal life, as God’s free promise. This is a faith that knows the truth, is not disappointed, but lives in constant hope and victory. The victory in Jesus Christ. He defeated sin’s power for us. He rose from death and the grave for us. He chains and restrains the power of the devil, who would devour us if we’re careless.
Since faith in Jesus is our victory over the world, that means we must resist defeatism. There is a real temptation we feel as Christians, to despair of the way things are going in the world—that it’s “going to hell in a handbasket”—and to lose hope. Or our own lives seem like a series of defeats. But “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” God has assured us of victory, He has won it Himself. Therefore, we are to face up to the challenges and trials of this world and life, confident that God not only is able to win, but has won. Not everything is going to follow a straight, upward trajectory that convinces us of that.  
So why is “faith” our victory? Why not sight? Because we still live in the midst of an ongoing spiritual battle, and faith is being sure of the things we hope for, and certain of that which we do not see (Heb. 11:1). With earthly eyes, or with the mind of our old sinful nature, we may see defeat around us. Paul wrote about our outer nature wasting away. Aging, illness, death, struggles. The external evidence seems to point toward defeat. But Paul also wrote that our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). We live by faith, and not by sight. “God gave us a “spirit, not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Our victory is one that we know and confess by faith in Jesus Christ, because “we know that Christ is raised and dies no more. Embraced by death, He broke its fearful hold, and our despair He turned to blazing joy!” (LSB 603). Our victory stakes everything on Jesus Christ.
Now, lest anyone would think that John is spiritualizing Christianity, by saying that faith, not sight is our victory—or that he would mean that this physical world is nothing, and all that matters is getting past the physical and getting behind it to a non-material world—John rejects this in the clearest terms. The closing verses of our reading solidify the truth that God made a physical world that we are inseparably a part of, and that He redeemed the physical world, and the future resurrection will also be physical and with flesh and bones. Who is this Jesus who saved us, and who is our victory?
1 John 5:6–8 concludes: “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And 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.” A faith that is spirit only, or that is mere philosophy and idealism, might have no use for the body or the material world. But Christianity is decidedly a faith about the real world—Jesus came by water and blood. Two of the most vital substances for life—water and blood. Earthly, physical, tangible, real. But what does it mean that Jesus came not by water only, but by the water and the blood, and that the Spirit testifies? John is merely restating what he had written in His Gospel, years before, when he was describing his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ death.
John 19:33–35 “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” Jesus was no spirit or angel, but a flesh and blood human, who died on the cross, was pierced by the spear, and blood and water flowed from His side—giving final testimony that He was dead. But this same Jesus, who died on the cross, was alive again three days later—not as a ghost—but as an eating, drinking, walking, talking, living human being again. But One over whom death had no more power. This Jesus, alive from His grave, who met with, ate with, and talked with His disciples, is our confidence of victory over the world. Faith in Him is well-placed, because no one else can defeat death as He did. Believe in Him, and the same victory is ours.
God has a purpose and a reason for His children to live here on earth, after Jesus has risen from the dead, and gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. His purpose is to have us join Him in bringing new people into His family by faith. His purpose is for us to live in His victory by faith, and to live toward our neighbors in love. That His love would shine through our actions and give glory to Him. His purpose is for us to grow and mature as His children, bearing our crosses, following Jesus, and singing His praise and thanks, with our eyes set on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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