Sermon from 9th May 2021 (Easter 6)

1 John 5:1-6 (EHV)

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the God who has given birth also loves one who has been born of him. This is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep his commands. In fact, this is love for God: that we keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, because everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. He did not come by the water alone but by the water and by the blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may not be overwhelmed by the attacks on our faith because we have overcome the world through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s human to feel overwhelmed at times – both by good things as well as the not-so-good.

For example, we can feel overwhelmed with joy when we’re reunited with family and friends, but we can also weep and mourn because we feel overwhelmed by grief or despair.

We can feel overwhelmed by the beauty or majesty of scenery or the ingenuity of humans, and yet we can also feel overwhelmed by health issues or by how many tasks we have to do in so little time.

We can be overwhelmed by the love we feel for someone close to us, and we can also feel overwhelmed by hatred.

But, for Christians, we can experience a different type of overwhelming, and this is in regard to our struggles to believe in Jesus Christ.

You see, it’s possible many of us have in the past, or we may be currently, or we will one day in the future, experience feelings of being overwhelmed by the trials, temptations, peer pressures, questions, or arguments of the world, our own doubting flesh, or even by the devil himself.

This can affect us as individuals and as a community because, if we struggle to believe or trust in Jesus Christ, then we’ll also struggle to believe or obey his instructions. If we struggle to trust him and do what he instructs us, then we’ll also struggle to love each other as he commands.

St John wrote this letter to a Christian community who were struggling to love each other. He believed their lack of love for each other was a symptom of a much deeper issue. You see, whenever we struggle to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, it’s because the foundation of our faith in God is being threatened or weakened or misplaced.

You could argue nearly every conflict or difficulty we might have in our relationships (especially within the church), is because of a struggle with some aspect of faith. This is because a misplaced faith, an incomplete faith, or a struggling faith, will attempt to fill the gaps of our faith foundation with our own works or understandings.

It’s like we build a good solid foundation based on what we believe to be true in Scripture, but then we find some gaps in our foundation called ‘doubt’ or ‘uncertainty’ or some other complications. Instead of filling these gaps with trust in God, we fill them with ourselves and our own limited understandings or speculations.

When we do this, we don’t fully fear, love and trust God, but we end up relying more and more on ourselves and our own words and work and understandings instead of God’s words or work.

When we rely on our own words or work or understandings, this means we won’t pass on the love we’ve received from God because this isn’t the only love we’re relying on and trusting in. We’re instead relying on and trusting in ourselves, including our own fears or desires. And this will always be expressed by the way we treat each other.

You see, if we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we’ll also love our neighbour as ourself. However, if we don’t love each other as God loves us, then it’s because our faith in God is incomplete or threatened.

But what are some of the temptations and doubts and struggles we face which threatens our faith, and how does John answer them?

Well, for starters, there are different understandings as to who Jesus is.

Some argue he’s not born of the Virgin Mary, but a natural-born son of Mary and Joseph. Some argue he was only made the Son of God at his baptism. Some argue Jesus is still dead and will only be raised as the first to be resurrected with the rest of mankind on the Last Day. Some may argue that he’s no more real than any made-up fictional character, even though historical documents testify to the fact he truly exists.

Similarly, some may argue God’s Word isn’t really inspired by God through the power of the Holy Spirit, but only a made-up book which is designed to fool the gullible and enslave the world through archaic and out-of-touch teachings.

Because of some of these attacks on our faith (and so many more), it shouldn’t come as a surprise we’re seeing a change in society where the once-accepted Christian faith is no longer admired or even tolerated. Our faith is now rubbished, ridiculed, and terrorised by many.

As a result of your experiences of doubts and questions and antagonism regarding your faith, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You may feel as if you don’t have all the answers. You may feel threatened and unsafe. You might feel unsure. You might feel that what you believe to be true is no longer accepted or valued. You might feel the need to compromise or question what you believe.

But it’s not all external. It doesn’t always come from the world, but the struggles might even come from within yourself.

For example, you’re told to love and forgive, but you might want to hold a grudge or keep away from certain people. You’re encouraged to gather for worship with fellow believers, but you might want to do something else. You’re encouraged to bear the fruit of love, joy, patience, peace, and gentleness, but you may find yourself instead bearing the works of sarcasm, bitterness, antagonism, intolerance, and impatience.

You’re told to believe what God says in his Word, but you might reckon you, or the world, knows better than God. You’re told to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to take up your cross and follow him, but you might want to believe in someone or something else, and as to the cross of suffering and self-denial as you follow Jesus, well, there’s a few places you’d like to stick it!

In response, John’s been speaking so far in this letter in absolutes. He compares opposites such as light and darkness, truth and lies, love and hate.

He says Christ is the Light, the Truth, and Love incarnate. You either believe in him and will live in his words and ways, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’re on the side of darkness, lies, and hate. There’s no in-between. Which means there’s no in-between in regard to your forgiveness, life, and salvation either. What you believe will either result in heaven or hell. There’s no third option.

This is why John is seeking to encourage you in faith by reminding you of the truth. He almost does it in such a way he considers your faith to be on trial and you’re to consider all the testimonies for their truth and validity. You’re encouraged to ask: ‘Which one is true?’

On the one hand, has the world got it right? Has the media or public opinion got it right? When people challenge what you believe, do they base their opinions and questions on the right foundations in the first place?

Are you even asking yourself the right questions, because if you don’t, you’ll come up with the wrong conclusions!

Has the devil whispered in your ear that age old question: “Did God really say that?”, which weakens a person’s resolve to trust what God says?

So, in response to all the temptations and doubts and questions and challenges which threaten to overwhelm you and your faith, John argues the testimony of mankind, the testimony of your own self, and the testimony of the devil can do their deceptive worst, but it’s no match for the testimony of God!

You see, you have three testifying to the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that through faith in him you have forgiveness, life and salvation:

Firstly, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, testifies who Jesus is. He’s none other than the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, who is born of the Virgin Mary. He is God-in-human-flesh who has come to be our Messiah, the long-foretold Christ, in order to fulfil everything written about him through his obedience, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. Cross-examine the Spirit if you dare, but his testimony is true and unchanging!

Secondly, the waters of baptism testify who Jesus is and to whom you now belong through faith. The water testifies your sins have been washed away and you’ve been made pure and holy in God’s sight. The waters testify to your new birth as children of God. The waters testify you’ve been joined to Jesus, which means his death is your death, and his resurrection from death is your resurrection from death. These waters testify you already belong where Jesus is, sitting in glory at the right-hand side of the Father.

Thirdly, where the blood of Abel once cried out for justice, now the blood of Jesus testifies the price for your forgiveness, life, and salvation has been paid. You’ve been justified by Christ’s blood. The blood says it now covers you in Christ’s holiness and righteousness. The blood of Jesus testifies to the victory over sin, death, and the devil has been won through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

So, who are you going to believe? Who are you going to trust?

Are you going to place your trust in the words of fickle and deceptive humans?

Are you going to place your trust in your own feelings or assumptions?

Are you going to place your trust in the lies of the devil?

Or will you trust the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood?

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by struggles in faith, and experience doubts, questions, and spiritual attacks, trust Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has overcome the world. He is the victorious One. He is the One in whom you can trust and believe, because he doesn’t lie.

This means his instructions also can’t be ignored, because they too are the truth, including his instructions to love each other as he loves you. His word is true and trustworthy, even when it disagrees with the world’s values and opinions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t be overwhelmed by any threats to your faith. Believe and trust in the truth – that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God the Father. He is also a real human being, born of the Virgin Mary. He’s rescued you from sin and death and hell. He’s paid the full price for your sins through his holy and innocent blood and declares you forgiven.

You are holy and innocent through faith in him. Jesus has overcome everything the world and the devil can throw at him, and all those baptised into him have also overcome the world. You’re now dearly loved precious children of God. You can trust this because the Spirit, the water, and the blood declares this to be true.

And this is why the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.