“OVERCOMING THE WORLD”
Third Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
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?
1 John 5:4, 5 (ESV)
One of the great themes of the Easter season is Baptism. The apostle Paul explains the reason for this in his letter to the church at Rome when he writes: "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His" (Romans 6:3-5). You see, in our Baptism the Holy Spirit has united us with Christ in His death and resurrection, so that we might daily die to sin and rise again to newness of life. That’s why the paschal candle, standing next to the baptismal font, burns during this season. It's a reminder to us that, as the risen Christ was bodily present among His disciples during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, so He is present among the baptized during the time between His accomplishment of their salvation and its revelation at the end of time. That same candle burns also when we observe the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the burial of the dead--times when we need to be especially mindful of the risen and ever-present Christ and our union with Him in His death and resurrection.
Just as Easter is a season and not just a one-day isolated event, our Baptism has ongoing significance. It's not simply a matter of my saying: "I was baptized on May 16, 1954" but rather a matter my saying every day after that: "I am baptized." It's the same with the resurrection. A couple of days ago I spoke with a friend of mine on the telephone. Using a somewhat humorous but at the same time very serious variation of the Easter greeting, we said to each other: "He is still risen!" Both the resurrection victory of Christ and the power of Baptism are ongoing for us because the spiritual battle in which we are engaged is ongoing. It began as soon as our risen Savior claimed us as His own in Baptism, freeing us from "the devil" and "all his works" and "all his ways" (Lutheran Service Book, page 270), and it doesn't end until, trusting in Christ, we close our eyes in death and the angels carry us out of the Church Militant and into the Church Triumphant through the grace and mercy of our slain and risen Savior. As we examine the words of John before us this morning, in which he speaks of the victory that Christ has given us over the world, let's pay particular attention to our enemy (which is the world) and to the victory that is ours in the resurrection of our Savior.
In the Small Catechism Luther identifies our greatest spiritual enemies as “the devil, the world, and our sinful nature” (Small Catechism, explanation of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer). In the passage before us John the evangelist focuses on one of these: the world. Obviously it's not the planet earth that is our spiritual enemy, nor is it necessarily the people who inhabit it. Our enemy is the mindset and values of the world, which confront us every day of our lives, tempting us to adopt these as our own and threatening us with ostracism, ridicule, and perhaps even persecution if we fail to do so. The world can be a very lonely place for the child of God who remains faithful to the Word when everyone else seems to be saying that that Word is nothing more than ancient literature that may sound nice, but certainly can’t be taken seriously. It is in the midst of this ongoing assault that the value of our Christian fellowship--with our Savior and with one another--is seen most clearly. This fellowship has been established and sealed in Baptism.
But we are deceiving ourselves if we think that our enemy is strictly external. The temptations and trials and tribulations that we face in life are not always inflicted upon us by others; very often (in fact, most often) we bring them on ourselves. We who fervently pray: "Lead us not into temptation" tend to lead ourselves into temptation more often than we'd like to admit. Sometimes persecution comes upon us not because we speak the truth but because we fail to speak it in love, speaking it instead with an arrogant and self-righteous attitude that alienates those who we claim to be witnessing to in love. There is enough tribulation that will surely come our way because of the Gospel of Christ; we needn't burden that Gospel with our own sin and then claim that the opposition that we face is because of the name of Christ.
As powerful and intimidating as the enemy can be, the resurrection victory of Christ that we have been given in Baptism by the Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger. Our text tells us: "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?" And just few verses later John writes: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater for this is the testimony of God that He has borne concerning His Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself" (1 John 5:9, 10). Our faith in Christ, given to us through the Gospel (as that Gospel comes to us in Word and Sacrament) makes us strong enough to withstand the temptations and to endure the trials and tribulations that we will most certainly encounter in this world.
But please bear in mind that faith in itself is nothing. Some people have faith in false gods or in superstitions or in fate or in their own strength. To be something faith has to have an object. It has be faith in something or someone that matters. Our faith rests in the God who became Man for us: Jesus Christ, who "was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Because of that faith in the crucified and risen Christ the enemies that we face--"the devil, the world, and our sinful nature" (Small Catechism, explanation of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer)--are as dead to us as the body of Jesus was when it was taken down from the cross and laid to rest in Joseph’s garden tomb. And we--the baptized people of God in Jesus Christ--are as alive and victorious as the risen Savior was when He appeared to the women and the disciples to comfort them and reassure them.
Baptism is connected with Easter because everything that Jesus accomplished for us in His life, death, and resurrection becomes ours through our union with Him--and Baptism is the means through which that union is established by the Holy Spirit. Despite what some churches may teach, Baptism is more than just a way for an individual to profess his or her faith in Christ--much more. It is, as Scripture says: “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). When we celebrate our Baptism we are celebrating what Christ has done for us and in us and what He promises to give us when our pilgrimage on this earth is ended. The joy of Easter is therefore a joy that continues forever for each and every one of the baptized because, as Paul says: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (Romans 6:8).
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting covenant equip you thoroughly for the doing of His will. May He work in you everything which is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.