Summary: Faith in Jesus releases us from the cares of this world.
Last August, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, a 40-year old nurse from Austria, became the first woman to reach the world’s 14 highest peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen. She clinched the record when she conquered the notoriously treacherous mountain known as K2. This Himalayan giant, the second highest mountain in the world, claims one out of every four climbers that sets foot on her. It was a mountain that Kaltenbrunner had tried to climb six times before. How did she eventually conquer it? With much perseverance. For example, there was as stretch that took her six hours to climb 180 meters. Can you imagine that? Six hours to crawl from the church driveway entrance to the far end of our property!
Even if you’re not into mountain climbing, you have to be somewhat envious of Kaltenbrunner. Wouldn’t it be great to have accomplished what she did? She has stood on the 14 highest points in the world and did it by her own effort, not by flying to these peaks in a helicopter. Today’s sermon text teaches us that even the youngest and the frailest among us has accomplished something even greater. We have conquered the world! How? And now what? Let’s answer those questions.
Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ victory over death when he rose on Easter morning. What’s great about Easter is that Jesus’ victory is our victory. Because Jesus lives we know that we too will come back to life from the dead. That’s great, it really is, but it’s still in the future and so we might not appreciate this blessing a whole lot right now - like the five-year whose father promises to buy him a car…when he turns sixteen. What good is that promise to the child in the meanwhile?
If that’s what we think about Jesus’ Easter promise, we’ll want to pay close attention to the words of our text. The Apostle John writes: “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4, 5).
John says that one blessing we enjoy right now as believers in Jesus is having overcome or conquered the world. That doesn’t mean that we’ll look like conquerors. Take the Apostle Paul for example. In our First Lesson today he stood on trial before the rulers Festus and Agrippa. They had come into the court with much pomp and ceremony and were dressed in clothes that only the rich could afford. They lounged in comfortable chairs while Paul stood before them in chains, probably dressed in clothes that could have used laundering if not mending. Yet Paul wasn’t envious of those rulers’ position. He didn’t whine and complain about his situation. He just took the opportunity to speak boldly about Jesus as he had done with the previous ruler, Felix. When speaking with Felix, Paul had explained about the coming judgment. This scared the Roman ruler, while Paul spoke about it as if he was describing a coming reunion with an old friend (Acts 24).
This is what it means to conquer the world: you enjoy a genuine peace and calm even though your situation doesn’t look all that great. I just finished reading a book by the noted explorer, Jacque Cousteau. He wrote at length about the dangers of atomic energy. According to Cousteau, we still don’t have a safe way to dispose of the radioactive waste generated by nuclear reactors. Waste buried in a Washington state mountain cavern, for example, has leaked into the surrounding water table. Nor are the nuclear reactors as safe as our governments say they are – a truth now readily exposed in the wake of last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It was a depressing book and I kept thinking, “If I wasn’t a Christian, if I didn’t have the hope of eternal life in a new world, I don’t know how I could stand living in the rotten world we have right now. I would be burdened with so many worries and concerns.”
But this is John’s point in our text. We who have faith in Jesus have overcome the world. We have peace even when we read headlines about senseless violence. It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that one day Jesus will come to free us from all this. Likewise when your doctor announces that you have some dreaded disease, you can respond as did the hymn writer, Christian Gellert, who when told he only had an hour to live exclaimed: “Praise God. Only an hour!”
Faith in Jesus also helps us overcome the world in our attitude about material wealth. No, this is not a replay of that sermon on the 9th and 10th Commandments when we studied God’s commanded to stop coveting and instead to be content. John’s point helps us realize how blessed we are when we find contentment in God’s Word and the material wealth that God has given to us. Life really does become more enjoyable when you’re not expending energy on worrying or complaining about what God hasn’t given to you. Through faith in Jesus God has given you an attitude that Buddhist monks desperately seek through meditation: release from the cares of this world.