6th Sunday of Easter May 6, 2018
1 John 4:1-6
210, 399, 449, 212:6-7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
One of the most familiar symbols of the resurrection is the Lamb Triumphant. In this symbol, a lamb (which represents Jesus) is pictured carrying a cross or a banner (which represents victory). It is a fitting symbol, for if we were to choose one word that best described our Lord on Easter Sunday, it may well be the word victor. On that day Jesus’ showed that even His greatest enemies could not triumph over Him. The devil and the evil angels could not keep Him in the grave. The men and women who hated Him could not confine him to the tomb. He overcame it all.
In our Easter songs, the words “victor” and “victory” show up frequently: “Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won!” “Our Christ hath brought us over with hymns of victory” “In glorious victory He who is strong to save has triumphed o’er the grave”—each sentence reminding us that our Savior fought a battle against the powers of darkness and came out on top, proving Himself to be stronger and superior to those who were against Him.
Even though Christ has emerged victorious, there are still those who try to keep the war going—who continue to fight against Him day after day. Psalm 2 says, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” (Psalm 2:1-2)
The Apostle John points out to believers even today that there exists “the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” John is not talking here about one particular Antichrist (with a capital “A") as is mentioned in other places in the Bible, but he is speaking here of that anti-Christian sentiment to be found throughout the world, that hostile attitude held by many against Christ. This is the “spirit of the antichrist."
Jesus and His apostles knew that it would come to this. They knew that false prophets would arise and the world in general would be against the Lord. In Peter’s second letter he wrote, “There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them…Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
You Christians know too that there are many yet today who have the “spirit of the antichrist”. There are governments in the world who will not allow Christians to speak out about their faith and their beliefs, but at the same time they allow anyone to rail openly against Jesus. I read recently about a missionary doing work “underground” in a country that is unashamedly hostile to Christians. Apparently he was discovered by the authorities—and he simply disappeared without a trace. At the time of the article, he had been missing for 76 days. Everyone assumes the government simply “disposed” of him.
In academic circles here and abroad, it is very difficult for Christians to gain positions of prestige and honor because they are customarily ridiculed for their faith. Scientists, for example, who accept what Jesus said about the creation of the world are refused grants and research jobs, being branded as “eccentrics” or just plain “crazy”. University professors who are openly Christian are routinely insulted by their peers.
When you read the letters to the editor in nearly any newspaper, the moment someone expresses even a mildly Christian thought or idea, he gets pounced on by other readers.
Any religious ideas tend to be tolerated except, of course, the ideas of Jesus Christ. These are labeled “intolerant” or “hateful”.
Maybe you have been frustrated and angered—perhaps even a little scared—by the way Christians are treated in the world, how they are even in some cases punished for confessing their Lord. Maybe you have cringed at the way your Savior’s name is dragged through the mud and held up as a name to be spoken against day after day. It happens so often and in so many ways that we might wonder, “What can I do? What should I do?”
The Apostle John says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The first thing to do is to be on our guard against the false prophets so that we can see their error and avoid it ourselves.
The trouble with falsehood is that when you are exposed to it long enough and constantly enough, it starts to ring true in your ears. With the anti-Christian spirit so strong around us today, we need to pay attention to what John says to us, and do what he says. Namely, “test the spirits.” We need to be vigilant, looking carefully around us and analyzing the ideas, thoughts, and philosophies of this age, listening critically to the teachers, preachers, and professors of our times—and then testing them.
The test is simple: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” To “test the spirits” that are around you, you go right to the heart of the matter—you go right to what they think of Jesus Christ.
The people back in the days of John needed to “test the spirits” too. A man named Cerinthus had risen in the church, claiming that when Jesus was born, he was just a man. A great man, but still just a man. Cerinthus further taught that at His baptism, the Christ of God united with Jesus—but then left Him again just before Jesus suffered and died. Thus the death of Jesus was not the death of God’s chosen one. Therefore the Christian’s reconciliation with God was left up to each Christian. In short, Cerinthus did not acknowledge Christ at all. He acknowledged Him as a man, but not as the Son of God. So for Cerinthus, Jesus’ death on the cross did not pay for anyone’s sins, nor could it. For him, Jesus was not the way a person was cleansed and declared holy in God’s sight.
When the Christians of John’s day “tested the spirit” of Cerinthus, they found that he failed the test.
We are to “test the spirits” in a similar way. We ask of them, “What do you think of Christ?” If the answer in any way denies Jesus’ saving work at the cross; if the answer suggests that Jesus is someone other than the One who gave His life into death to redeem the people of the earth from their sin and to secure for them peace with God—then you know you are dealing with the spirit of antichrist. There are many obviously Christ-less religions out there, and there are some philosophies and teachings that on the surface may not even appear to be religious to you, but underneath they promote dangerous falsehood concerning the Savior. Beware and be on your guard. Test the spirits! Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation!
In the face of all the anti-Christian talk and action around us, it is easy perhaps for us to become discouraged and downcast. Is there hope? Are the forces of evil simply going to plow under those who seek to remain faithful? Is the gospel of the forgiveness of sins given freely and fully through Jesus going to be erased by religions of self-righteousness and the doctrines of secular humanism? We are assured in verse four of our text of a beautiful and certain truth that enables us to hold our heads high and continue on, fighting the good fight. Listen to what the apostle says,“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
The spirit of the antichrist which John warns us about is not stronger than the Lord Jesus Christ! It is not stronger than the Holy Spirit of God! The devil would like you to think that he and his false prophets and his pagan followers have the upper hand, but it is not so. Satan knows that his time is short, that his final judgment is near so he does everything that he can to ruin the people of God. Yet the victory belongs to Jesus and the fruits and benefits of that victory belong to His children.
Christ lives in you. The Spirit of God lives in you too. And the God who is in you is greater than all the antichrists who are in the world. You have, in fact, already overcome your enemies.
What about those who speak against the Lord? You have overcome them because the word of truth with you possess is stronger than any words they can manufacture from their own minds. Even the devil himself could not answer Jesus when He spoke the word of God. Nor could the Pharisees answer Christ any further when He spoke to them the Scriptures. The heathen will try to talk back, but they never have adequate responses to the truth of God. Their answers are always the same: answers that trust in man’s reason, man’s strength, or man’s own righteousness.
You have overcome the entire sinful world no matter what it may throw at you, because Christ Your Savior was victorious on Easter morning. Because He won the victory over His enemies,
Those enemies who spoke against Him,
Those enemies who accused Him,
Those enemies who did Him violence,
Even the last enemy, death itself…
He conquered those enemies by rising from the dead, proving Himself to be master over them all. So also you who belong to Him by faith also are given the victory over all those same enemies. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
Those enemies who speak against you,
Those enemies who accuse you,
Those enemies who do you violence,
Even the last enemy, death itself,
They can harm you none, for in Christ you have overcome them all.
The strife is over, the battle done. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.