Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B


The Victory that Overcomes the World

The covenant which God made with Abraham, that was extended to the children of Israel, was based on an agreement. God chose a people set apart for himself so that he might bless them. Receiving that blessing, however, required an obedience to God’s Commandments. Keeping their end of the agreement was such a struggle for Israel, as history testifies.

In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, the Apostle Peter is surprised that God would accept Gentiles into his kingdom who had never been part of such a struggle. He had Been told by God to preach the Gospel to a group of Gentiles, but it does not appear that Peter was fully prepared for the response to his sermon:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.   (Acts 10:44-48)

Although Peter had received teaching directly from Jesus for three years he still lacked an important understanding concerning the Gospel. What had Peter missed? A key element to the Gospel that we might also miss today, if we are not careful. God stepped in and accomplished what Israel or anyone else, for that matter, was powerless to do.

The psalmist wrote:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

The Lord has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

What is this victory? God won a victory over sin and death through his Son Jesus Christ. His victory is for all humankind. Sin leads to death, both spiritual and, ultimately, physical death. Despite their best efforts, Israel was not able to overcome sin. They failed to keep God’s Commandments just as we have failed. Therefore, death still reigned. But Jesus defeated sin and death through his atoning sacrifice on the cross and by resurrection from the dead.

God had invited the Gentiles to participate in his victory over sin and death. What must have surprising to Peter is that God seemed to offer such an easy way out of their alienation from God. And they responded so quickly.

The intent of God was to make our salvation easy. We can be victorious because Jesus was victorious. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God —  not the result of works, so that no one may boast   (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For those of us who still want to earn our way, however, receiving God’s grace is not so easy. We must admit that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.

Yet there is still something that we can do, and must do. Jesus’s victory must become our victory. We are to participate in his victory. What that means is not so easily understood. It has not been preached all that well. The Apostle Paul goes a long way in explaining it. Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

Jesus has already made Paul his own, Paul writes. That is vitally important. Jesus has already made each one of us his own. Will we make him our own? Paul writes that he wants to press into Jesus. He wants to fully embrace what God has provided. He wants to have a part in Christ’s victory over sin and death.

The Apostle John makes this same point in his First Epistle:

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?   (1 John 5:4-5)

Faith and trust in Jesus is our response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul writes:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.   (Philippians 2:11-13)

God is doing a work in us, We want cooperate with God in this process of spiritual growth. Paul deals with this matter throughout the entire Book of Romans. But if we are looking for a simple explanation, we have nothing better that the words of our Lord. Jesus was asked:

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   (John 6:28-29)

Belief is something we must exercise everyday. Some may confuse it with a work. It is not a work, but it is required by, God. God is accomplishing all the work on our hearts and minds. Our part is to remain in fellowship with him and allow him to have free access to our hearts and minds.

Satan understands the Gospel very well so his purpose is to interrupt our fellowship with God. He discourages us. He attempts to make us blame God for all our problems. There will be problems. Jesus did say:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”  (John 16:33)

It is too bad that the feel good gospel, “your best life now,” is supported in many of our churches. It is a deception which Satan loves to use for his advantage and our confusion.

Jesus has conquered the world. He has overcome sin. He has overcome hell and the grave. We are over-comers as well when we put our trust in him. Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:37-39)

Are we ready to overcome the world? Then, reborn in Christ, we are well on the way. We will cross the finish line because we will stay in the race no matter what. We will keep our faith and trust in Jesus every step of the way.

For everyone born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that has overcomes the world, even our faith.  (1 John 5:4)

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Filed under Easter, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

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