Quasimodogeniti, The First Sunday After Easter April 30, 2000
1 John 5:4-5
203, 208, 201, 188
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? Here ends our text.
In the Name of Risen Savior, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Again this year, Easter was a special day for us in many ways. The bright spring clothes came out of the closet, the church was full of people, the mood was festive. Relatives came from all over to visit us, or we went to visit them. Easter baskets were prepared, and the kids were loaded down with candy and treats. But that was all a week ago. The candy’s probably all gone by now, the Easter lilies are a little past their prime, and the visitors have all returned home. What remains? What do we have “left over” from the triumphant victory we celebrated seven days ago?
As the old saying goes, “To the victor belong the spoils.” The events of Easter Sunday really were a triumphant victory. But victory over what, exactly? Victory for whom? What are the “spoils”—the rewards—of Easter, and who gets them? Those questions are answered by the good news of our text. If the week after Easter has given you the “post-holiday” blues, the message of God’s word for today will be music to your ears. Come along, as be begin…
Some years ago, the Israeli government built a very interesting monument in Jerusalem. It was a monument that was meant to house the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the Judean wilderness in 1947. They built a pure white, dome-shaped building as a museum for the important Bible manuscripts. Nearby, they erected a huge wall of black stone. The difference between the white building and the black wall creates a striking contrast. It was meant to remind people of the contrast between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness”…the black-and-white contrast between good and evil. The Apostle John sets up the same kind of contrast in his First Epistle. In this book, everything that is wrong, everything that is evil, everything that is sinful, John simply calls “the world.” A person’s life is either white or black; either he is born of God, or born of the world. For the children of God, the commandment is clear, as he says in chapter two, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” I John 2:15-16.
I don’t know about you, but those words frighten me! If we look at our lives carefully, which of us can say we’ve never felt attracted to the sinful things in this world? Which of us has never surrendered—at least in spirit—to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life? And we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by thinking that partial obedience to God’s Law will get us off the hook. When it comes to the righteousness demanded by the Law, “the old college try” just doesn’t cut it! In effect, John is saying, “Don’t have anything to do with sin…you must be completely white, without a shred of darkness in you.”
It’s a very tall order. In fact, it’s much far too tall an order for us. Only one Person could meet such a challenge—Jesus Christ.
Jesus took on that challenge, and won the victory. Our text says, Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. Jesus was born of God; in fact, He was God’s only-begotten Son. And, as we heard in our New Testament Lesson for today, Jesus knew that, by His life, death and resurrection, He would overcome “the world.” All the dark forces of Satan, sin and death fell in defeat on that first Easter morning. The devil couldn’t overcome Jesus. When Satan came to Jesus personally and tempted Him to break His fast in the wilderness by turning stones to bread, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When he tempted Jesus to prove He was the Son of God by throwing himself down from the Temple wall, Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” And when Satan tempted Him with the wealth of the whole world, if only Jesus would bow down and worship him, Jesus said, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Matt 4:3-10. Jesus came through these and many other temptations in His life and emerged sinless and innocent. Then, with one final blow, he crushed the power of the devil forever. On Good Friday, Jesus atoned for the sins of the world with His suffering and death. When He said those last words from the cross, “It is finished!”…He meant it! The struggle was over: the battle was won!
And on Easter Sunday, even the final barrier of death was overcome as our Savior rose triumphant from the grave. The resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus’ work of redemption. It was proof that Jesus had left nothing out—the victory was complete. Jesus could now begin to claim the spoils of His victory—new life, a glorified body, and everlasting existence at the right hand of God. He was the supreme Victor, as we know, and “to the victor belong the spoils.”
So how do we come into the picture? Why did we get dressed up and celebrate that victory last Sunday? What gives us the right to share in those spoils? It’s something each one of you has; something God has given you. It’s a “coupler” that links you to Jesus, and makes His victory your victory. It’s your faith! Our text tells us, This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Some of you may own stock in certain companies. When a person buys a share of stock in a corporation, he purchases the right to share in the profits of that corporation. When profits go up, so does his share in the earnings. Our faith is the stock we have in Christ. Only this stock is a little different: for one thing, our faith was given to us, free of charge. We didn’t earn the right to believe in Jesus. We didn’t pay for it. Our faith was given to us as a gift. As Paul told the Ephesian Christians, “You have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Your faith in Jesus is what links you to His victory. And even that faith is free—it’s a gift! But, you know, a lot of people have a problem with that. A lot of people insist they have to do something themselves to get that gift. And that’s just plain wrong! It reminds me of a story I heard about a special drinking fountain in the lobby of a modern office building in New York. One day a man walked up to it to get a drink of water. A sign above the fountain said, “Stoop and drink.” But when he couldn’t find a button to push or a handle to turn, he walked away, angry and still thirsty. What he didn’t know was that the fountain was controlled by an infrared sensor; all he had to do was stoop down—like the directions said—to get a drink of water!
In the same way, our faith is free. God gives it to us through His Holy Spirit, when we listen to His Word. We don’t have to “make a decision for Christ,” as so many TV evangelists urge us to do. In fact, a person who’s not already a believer hasn’t got the power to make such a decision. The Bible describes the unbeliever as “dead in trespasses and sins.” Not “dying,” or “almost dead”…but dead! Before we came to faith, we couldn’t lift a finger to help ourselves! But, as Paul says, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Eph 2:4-5.
God has made us alive by faith in Christ, and that faith links us to His victory. It’s like being given free stock in an immensely profitable company—Jesus did the work, and we get the profits! He kept God’s Law perfectly, He did the suffering, and He did the dying… We get the rewards! In the great victory of Easter morning, Jesus overcame sin and Satan and death once and for all. He divided His spoils. Through our faith, we too get a share in those spoils. Through our faith, we too become victors over the world. Our text says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Who indeed! Who is it who reaps the benefits of Jesus’ victory, if it’s not we believers?
At Eastertide, everything is bright and fresh and beautiful. Pure white lilies adorn the altar, and bright colors are everywhere. It makes for a pleasant scene, but it also reminds us of the victory of light over darkness. Of good over evil. It recalls for us that in Jesus’ resurrection the dark powers of the world were overcome. It means that we too have overcome the world. Oh yes, our sinful flesh still clings to us and torments us, but it no longer controls us. Faith in our God is now the controlling factor in our lives. Yes, Satan is still out there prowling around, “seeking whom he may devour,” but now he’s looking for strays. Because we’re covered with the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, his accusations can’t touch us. As Martin Luther said, “One little word—grace!—can fell him.”
Finally, Jesus’ victory over death is our victory over death. And that was really the aim of God’s plan from the very beginning, as Scripture says, “God’s purpose has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” II Tim 1:10. Our faith in the risen Savior even overcomes the last great hurdle that the world presents to every man: the hurdle of death. For us, death doesn’t mean the torment of hell. It doesn’t even mean resigning ourselves to some unknown oblivion. It means something wonderful, something bright and beautiful. Our faith in Christ tells us that death is the gateway to life and immortality. These are the choicest spoils of all—and we share them with Jesus because of His resurrection that first Easter Sunday!
US Savings Bonds are the familiar product that advertises itself as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Jesus’ resurrection is that kind of gift. The benefits of Easter are ours to keep through faith. Forgiveness, life and salvation are there for us, not just at Eastertide, but the whole year round! May we keep the bright, fresh truths of the resurrection foremost in our hearts and lives during all the seasons of our lives. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.