VICTORIOUS EASTER FAITH
Dear Christian friends,
For anyone who lives south of the Mason-Dixon Line this sounds crazy, there is such a thing as ice fishing. My dad loved it. I had four brothers. Guess who got to go ice fishing with my Dad. God tested obedience to 4th commandment that commands all to honor parents. We were elected to go with him. Where I came from, you could drive vehicles on the ice from late December through February. I always found driving on ice with any type of vehicle unsettling.
One Christmas, it was my parent’s turn to host the Zahn Christmas party. As my uncles and aunts arrived my dad decided to go with a couple of his brothers to the lake to see “How thick the ice was.” If you put water into a freezer you better leave room for the ice to expand because that’s what it does. It does that on a lake and cracks. Sometimes it leaves big cracks. My dad and my uncles who were with him drove the car and wedged the car into a big crack that had opened. It could have been hugely disastrous, but the disaster consisted of tow trucks getting the car out and were not at the party - all because they wanted to check “how thick the ice” and damaged the car.
Like I said, I never liked the idea of a vehicle on ice. I didn’t trust the ice, but my Dad gave me reason not to trust him with a vehicle and ice again. I know the fourth commandment says that we are to obey our parents, but there was another commandment that protects life. Driving on ice takes trust.
On this the week after Easter we are talking about trust too. We call it faith, a “Victorious Easter Faith” that 1) overcomes the world; 2) overcomes doubt.
Lots of people talk faith. Have faith in yourself. Have faith in others. Have faith in your government. Recently I talked to a woman from Iceland. She and her husband came to the United States ten years ago with her husband’s job. They decided to stay. Just recently she became a citizen of the United States and is voting for the first time. She said she doesn’t know who to vote for. She doesn’t find any of them particularly worthy of her trust.
Religion is all about faith in God. Many like to think that faith in a generic God is good enough. If I only had a dollar for how many people I have met who have said that it doesn’t make any difference what you call him, he will get you to heaven.
That’s just not true. Muslims say Jesus was real, but they don’t trust that on the third day he rose from the dead. Yet the Bible teaches if Jesus did not rise from the dead, there would be no reason for us to believe in him. “Your faith is futile and you are lost in your sin.” Easter faith is centered in Jesus, the Son of God, who was raised from the dead. That’s the only faith that matters and that’s the faith John is talking about. That’s victorious faith. It overcomes the world. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
But what is John talking about when he talks about overcoming the world? Why does the world even need to be overcome? There are some nice things about the world we live in. Didn’t God make it? He even tells us that the world is evidence of his existence. It came about by God or was one big accident. Even human logic knows something so complicated and intricate is no accident. Two American astronauts while walking on the moon, while looking at the earth were awed by the earth’s beauty and said there had to be a God who created it. A young lady born into the home of a mom and dad who were atheistic college professors was moved to say there has to be a God as she looked over a beautiful lake with mountains on the other side under a full moon and a sky full of stars. So why does John speak about overcoming the world?
Jesus said to his disciples on the night of Judas’ betrayal, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this world you will have trouble, Jesus reminded his disciples.
While the world is a beautiful place and the place God has given us to live, there are plenty of things that tell us to beware. The inventor of sin, the temptation to sin, sin, the trouble and hardship that comes with sin, disease and death are in this world. It needs to be overcome.
The way the world works and what the world is committed to is reason it needs to be overcome. The world is committed to four major objectives: fortune, fame, power, pleasure.
First and foremost is fortune - money. The world system is driven by money; it feeds on materialism. Second is fame, another word for popularity. Fame is the longing to be known, to be somebody in someone else's eyes. Third is power. This is having influence, maintaining control over individuals or groups or companies to manipulate and maneuver others to do something for one's own benefit. Fourth is pleasure. Pleasure has to do with fulfilling one's sensual desires. It's the same mindset that's behind the slogan: "If it feels good, do it."
Faith in Christ overcomes the world. Easter faith understands that the world is here to be used but not to become attached to. Something better is coming. Christ did not come to die on the cross and rise again the third day to give us more of the same. He came to give us a place in our Father’s house where love rules, not selfishness; where pleasure is found in being with the Lord and all of God’s people since time began to when time will end. The death and resurrection of Jesus guarantees it.
It will be is so foreign to what is our present experience. We view movies and TV programs that begin with a crime, a theft or more likely a murder. It enthralls us and entertains us. Do you think in heaven we will be doing the same? Why do we watch the news? Sure there is the weather, but most of it reports on crime. In fact, if the news reported only the good, I am positive that there will be very few viewers. The world that needed to be overcome is the world that teases and tantalize the sinful flesh and stirs the urges inside of us to act selfishly and be selfish.
The giving and sacrificial love of Jesus, first of all, promises forgiveness that is needed so desperately for that selfishness that is so much a part of our lives. But note well that faith in the forgiving and sacrificial love of Jesus changes hearts to imitate Jesus’ love in loving others. That love imitated one soul at a time makes for a better world until we get to the perfect world to come.
Faith in Christ makes us see that while that while the world has some good things there is all pain, the mistrust, the unfairness, the sickness and disease and finally death. We are passing through and while here God will make it work for good to those who love him. The cross of Jesus and the open tomb carries that guaranty. Easter faith overcomes the world.
But you know what? On this side of the grace we have other problems to deal with besides the ones the world throws at us. It comes from within – our own doubts. Doubts about God and Jesus, forgiveness - doubts about heaven. How does Easter faith overcome those?
We could point out that over 500 people saw Jesus alive after Jesus was buried in the grave. We could point out all the incidents starting with Mary Magdalene, John, Thomas, Peter and the rest of the disciples. John reminds us of something else in a very profound way. “This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
The Lord said in the Old Testament that it is necessary to prove truth by the testimony of more than one witness. “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” For such an important matter as someone being put to death there needs to be more than one witness.
To remove doubts about the reality and power of Jesus, John says that God provides three witnesses - water, blood and the Spirit. What in the world is he talking about? There are different interpretations of this passage. While they are different, there is biblical basis.
One is simply this: when he refers to the water he is referring to Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of his ministry. Remember what happened. The Father spoke from heaven, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.” The Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove and filled him. The blood refers to the end of his ministry when the bloodied and crucified Jesus cried out, it is finished. All was paid and then bowed his head in death. Remove all doubts by looking at the reality of his ministry. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
I am partial to another interpretation. The water, blood and Spirit are the means of grace – Baptism, Lord’s Supper and the Word. To people who believe that faith is our part in salvation, this is not going to make sense. Yet faith is a gift from God the Holy Spirit and he works faith and causes faith to grow through the Baptism, Lord’s Supper and the word.
Baptism is far more than an act of obedience as some say. It is a gift from God, not our gift to God. When we were baptized God united us with Christ in his death and burial but also his resurrection - Romans 6. In baptism he clothed us in the righteousness of Jesus - Galatians 3. In Baptism we were born again given the Holy Spirit - John 3 and Acts 2. God brings to faith. It is God’s gift. Don’t doubt.
In the Lords’ Supper we are given Christ’s true body and blood, not just bread and wine, for to assure to you in a most intimate and personal way that you are forgiven. The Lord’s Supper is part of the new covenant where forgiveness is conveyed to the recipient. It is God’s way of strengthening you. Don’t doubt it.
When he speaks about the third witness of the Spirit, remember the Spirit inspired the holy writers to write the words the Spirit wanted them to write. It is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit also comes to the individual to convince, commit and to cause those who hear to grow. Again the Easter faith inside of you is God’s work. Don’t doubt it. There is a reason you love the Lord. God put it there. Don’t doubt it. “We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony.” Don’t doubt or push it away. John warns, “Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” Your faith, maybe sometimes tested and weak, is still the work of God.
This brings me to a story I read. There was a young but very well accepted preacher by the name of G. Campbell Morgan. God blessed him in his early years. As time passed by he was filled with doubts. He lived at the time of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley whom some called Darwin’s bulldog as both Huxley and Darwin advocated the theory of evolution. Morgan also read other books written by other atheists and listened to their debates. Morgan became more and more skeptical of his faith and the truth of the Bible. What did he do? He took time off from preaching and put all the books that he had been reading in a cupboard and locked the door. He went to the bookstore and bought a new Bible. He said to himself, "I am no longer sure that this is what my father claims it to be--the Word of God. But of this I am sure. If it be the Word of God, and if I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul of itself." The result? "That Bible found me!" said Morgan. With new assurance he devoted himself to the study and preaching of God's Word.
I remember a professor we had say the same. He was studying Jehovah Witness writings and suddenly he was tempted to doubt. He said he needed to get back into the Scripture where he needed to be to put him back on track. Doubts? We all have them. Remember the witnesses God has given us: the water, the blood and the Spirit, the means of Grace. If you have doubts, it is probably true. You have strayed from where you need to be, remember the promises of baptism; receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Get back to studying your word. There are Bible classes being started that will give you that help.