Text: 1 John 5:4-10
I’ve never been much of a winner in my life. Granted, I don’t have a very competitive personality. But when I do compete, I very seldomly win. I don’t think it’s because I’m particularly bad at the things I do. It’s just that, no matter how much I practice, there always seems to be someone better equipped or more skilled than me. Maybe you’ve felt this way. I think my most celebrated victories are in the virtual world of video games or the crowning achievement that is finishing Easter leftovers. But even in that, there’s always someone that can pack in more food than me, both in larger amounts and less time.
The title for the Sunday after Easter is Quasimodogeniti, and it comes from the Introit. It means, “As newborn infants.” Such were the words of St. Peter in his first epistle, “As newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” This text was placed here by our fathers in the faith long ago as part of the continued instruction of confirmation students. In the ancient Church confirmation was three years long, ending on the Vigil of Easter (Saturday evening). There the confirmation students would be baptized and receive the Lord’s Supper for first time. In the Introit for the next Sunday (today) the newly confirmed Christians are encouraged to continue learning God’s Word, which is the pure spiritual milk we all need.
Our text today is from St. John’s first epistle, especially verse 4, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” John writes this to the churches of Asia Minor after his return from exile to encourage them in the faith. In some ways they had become discouraged by the world around them that was so filled with evil and ungodliness. They had lost sight of Christ’s Easter victory, the resurrection from the dead. St. John encouraged his congregation and us that the resurrection is not just for Jesus, but for us as well. His resurrection becomes our own. Through faith in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, we also are victorious over the world and we have the confidence of eternal life.
St. John writes to his beloved flock in a post-Easter world about their new status in life: victorious. Through Christ’s death their sins were forgiven and by His resurrection life and immortality were restored to mankind. The Church celebrated this fact. The letters of St. John, we call them First, Second, and Third, were all likely written during the end of his long career as pastor in Ephesus. By this time the Christian Church had existed for more than fifty years, gathering every Sunday for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins. The post-Easter Church was a vibrant and lively place, even amidst their surroundings.
St. John wrote in a post-Easter world. Post-Easter, in the sense the resurrection of Christ was a present reality for them. John was an eyewitness of the fact, as were some others who were still alive. But the Church existed even then in a world that was totally and completely opposed to the Christian faith. We believe that John spent most of his career in Ephesus, except for his exile during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Ephesus a short time after that was the third-largest city in the empire. There were about 250k in this seat of Roman power. In addition to being an imperial city, Ephesus was also a center of pagan worship. The principal god of Ephesus was Artemis. You can read in Acts 19 of the riot that happened while St. Paul was preaching there. Everyone yelled back and forth for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Around this time also emperor worship was gaining steam. It consisted of parades, festivals, and public worship. There was almost no aspect of life that was not affected by the false gods of Ephesus, and all of it was opposed to the Church. The Ephesians could have very easily felt like they weren’t winning.
It’s easy for us to feel the same way. We’re not immune or oblivious to the context we live in. The Christian faith is blasted in the media and on social media. We’re told that our faith is ignorant and harmful. In some areas adoption agencies will not place children in the care of parents who hold to certain core Christian beliefs. The only way that the Christian faith is allowed is when Christ is removed. This is the faith that is comfortably touted from political podiums, “Do unto other as you would have done unto you.” Though Jesus did say that, when left to stand apart from the context, it works against our Christian witness. “Do not be surprised, brothers, when the world hates you,” St. John says. He echoes the words of Christ, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
Sometimes, though, it’s not the world that hates us and robs of the victory in Christ. It’s easy to turn off the TV, ignore the internet, change the dial. Our heart is also a problem. That is the devil’s target: your heart. He wages every war and battle he can to steal the hope we have in Christ from us. He’ll do this by tempting you to doubt God’s Word: to doubt it about Jesus, to doubt the faith of the Church, and especially, to doubt the forgiveness we have in Christ. The truth is that Christ died for every single sin. There is no sin that Christ did not die for. Murder, theft, adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, abortion. These are all sins, but sins that Christ died to forgive. He offers that forgiveness freely by His grace through faith. The devil will try to tell you that there are sins that Jesus didn’t die for, and if He didn’t die for those sins, how can I be sure that He died for mine? Over against these things: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, St. John writes, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
Everyone who believes in Jesus has been born of God and everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. How? By faith. By faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins we receive victory over sin, death, and the devil. We have this confidence for a few reasons. First, Jesus. The text says, “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood.” That sentence is a little confusing. John is writing, in part, against those who had infiltrated the Church and were claiming that Jesus only appeared to be human. They taught that Jesus was a spirit being and didn’t actually die on the cross, and other variations on that.
No, St. John says, our confidence is based on the fact that Jesus came by both the water of His Baptism and the blood of the cross. At His Baptism the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and the Father spoke from heaven that Jesus is His Son. The Baptist proclaimed that Jesus is the Lamb of God come to bear the sins of the world, and that is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus came by water, being baptized for the repentance of our sins, and then He paid for them as a ransom by the shedding of His blood on the cross. This the first reason for our confidence.
The second reason we can claim victory over death and the devil is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was in the Upper Room with His Disciples on the night He was betrayed, He promised to send them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whom, Jesus said, would reveal to the Disciples all truth. What was the truth the Spirit revealed? Jesus! Jesus is the Son of God who died in accordance with the Scriptures for the sins of the world, and who broke the bars of death by bursting forth from the grave. The Spirit bore witness to the Disciples and through their Word. In the same way, He continues to bear witness even today. He works through the preaching of the Gospel to comfort our hearts. He works through Baptism to bring us the gift of faith and the forgiveness of sins. He works through the Lord’s Supper strengthening that faith and the hope we have in the resurrection.
The third reason that we can be confident of the victory we have in Christ is the testimony of God the Father Himself. We already mentioned the voice from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism. The same voice spoke again at the Transfiguration that Jesus is His Son. He is the one who would bear the sins of the world and win us forgiveness. St. John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” Meaning, if we believe something because a man tells us, how much more should we believe something when God tells us. And what has God told us? He has given us eternal life, and that life is in Jesus.
St. John closes his first epistle with these words, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” In other words, St. John writes to assure us that we have the victory in Jesus Christ. It’s easy to be discouraged by the world that hates us, and by the devil who causes our hearts to doubt. But, in these things we are more than conquerors. Christ has been raised from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over Him or over us. In Christ we are more the conquerors, we are victorious and we will live forever with Him in the eternal glory of heaven.