John 16:25-33 – I Have Overcome the World

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“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.” (New International Version)

Imagine you are with Jesus in the Upper Room celebrating Passover. And your Lord tells you he is leaving – going back to the Father. After three years of hard and incredible ministry, there is palpable grief in the room. It’s as if you got sucker-punched. You want this time with Jesus to never end….

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior of the world, does not forget you. The Lord is concerned and careful to provide wonderful words of assurance: Father God loves you. I give you my peace. I have overcome the world.

Whenever we encounter trouble; in those times when grief seems to be swallowing us whole; and when all is dark and we cannot see our hand in front of our face – it is in these moments the Lord comes alongside us and communicates a loving divine presence which grants us the peace of settled rest, even if and especially when our troubling situations do not change.

If you have had a life largely free of struggle, the privilege of knowing where your next meal is coming from, and the assurance of having your most basic needs met, then understand many people throughout the world know nothing of this experience.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean those needy persons are unhappy, discontent, or bitter. Love and peace are neither bound nor limited by adverse circumstances. In fact, we know love and peace in a much deeper way whenever we have been hated and in conflict. That’s because love thrives and flourishes in an environment of hate; and peace takes root more surely where there is disharmony and misunderstanding.

If everything always goes our way, how then would we know the Lord’s great grace to us? How would we ever know God as Provider unless we were in want? How would we know Christ as the Healer unless we were broken? How could we ever know resurrection unless there was a crucifixion?

Jesus specializes in the improbable and the impossible, in landing on the Island of Misfit Toys and airlifting the discarded to be a gift to the world. You see, this is precisely how we overcome the world: We love and serve, just as our Lord did. Since he overcame, we walk in his footsteps.

The acquisition and presence of peace is anything but passive. Peace has been achieved through a bloody cross and settles within the spirit through an active pursuit of harmony, wholeness, integrity, and love.

Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so, we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. (Romans 5:1-4, GNT)

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:17-19, NRSV)

God’s peace and love is free, but it is not cheap. It is obtained smack in the middle of worldly troubles.

May the peace of God be with you, my friends.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are the fountain of all peace, spiritual and temporal. We humbly pray, in your great goodness grant us that peace which the world cannot give, that we may ever live in your fear, obedient to your commandments, to the end that you may deliver us from all our enemies, through your dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

John 18:33-37 – Worship Christ the King

14th century painting of Jesus standing before Pilate by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (New International Version)

In Christianity, to worship God means we praise the person and work of Christ and are also spiritually formed through that adoration. Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on Jesus Christ’s reign over the entire world. It is a proclamation that everything and everyone in all creation is subservient to King Jesus. Furthermore, it is an invitation to actively enjoy Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule over us.

Jesus came to this earth to bring connection and intimacy to God and humanity. We all have relationships in which we want to be closer.

  • A parent might be dissatisfied, and sad, that one of their children is estranged from them, because they want intimacy.
  • A spouse may want to have a more relationally intimate marriage, having been distant for too many years.
  • A teenagers or twenty-something might want to get closer to that special someone. 
  • A friend might be keeping their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far.

We want to go deeper, and it isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.

In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. The Lord desires intimacy, yet we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. 

However, God is not a ruling figurehead, and does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship moves closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. 

Jesus does not want us estranged from God, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign which is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of closeness and fellowship with the divine.

Christ the King Sunday appropriately challenges us to consider what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life. Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means Christ uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.

Our Gospel lesson for today plunges us into an event we associate with Holy Week. Christ has been arrested by the conniving of his enemies. Since the religious authorities could not put anyone to death, they bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the hope he will do their dirty work for them. 

Jesus condemned to death, painting by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The scene takes place early in the morning at Pilate’s palace. Pilate doesn’t like the Jewish authorities because they put a dent in his career plans through their constant complaints about him to his supervisors in Rome. For purely political reasons, Pilate decides he will satisfy their demand and interview this Jesus who they claim is an enemy of Rome.

The prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, is brought to Pilate. He is a mess. Christ’s clothes are stained with dirt and blood. His face is bruised and haggard. He has not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he’s curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate.

Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a worldly leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this sideshow, this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wannabe. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that gives any impression he is qualified to be a leader of anybody. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?”

What follows is a strange, convoluted conversation about kingship and truth with a contrast between this world and a world to come. Repeatedly, Jesus makes it clear his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, yet the same issue remains.

The issue is this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him – to put his Kingdom first in our lives. In Pilate, we have a symbol of worldly power, which is arbitrary, unprincipled, self-serving, and brutal. Pilate knows the right thing to do but chooses the path of least resistance. He caves to the political pressure, denying the truth which is right under his prominent Roman nose.

Earthly power seeks its own ends. It wants to hold onto control and call the shots. Conversely, Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects. In stark contrast, Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works on earth. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense: The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position, suck up to the boss, and climb the ladder of wealth and success. Rather, it is to embrace humility and be a servant.

In God’s kingdom, the way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions but is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for submission to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.

The Light of the World, by English artist William Holman Hunt, 1852

The message of our crucified Savior reigning as King in our lives is not that, having suffered for us, Jesus will somehow keep us from facing difficult times. Instead, Jesus faced a horrible death so that our own tough times can triumph with God’s power to save us and move deeper into our lives. God’s presence and promise is what sustains us, not the avoidance of suffering. Christ as our King means God is with us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. This season demonstrates a contrast between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through grabbing control and obtaining stuff. The pressure in seeking the perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can bag it, wrap it, and get it under the tree, then we will be perfect, and the perfect family Christmas will happen, and relationships will be great, and everyone will act like I want. Right!?

In contrast, the kingdom Jesus describes assures us we don’t have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t need to have the perfect Christmas experience to gain our deepest relational needs. Because, in our baptism, we have been accepted; we are sons and daughters of the living God; and we do not need to achieve greatness through financially and emotionally bleeding ourselves.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” When Christians say Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.

On this Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ boldly state our confidence that, at the end of time, Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all. 

Blessed are those who see the truth by faith and not by sight. Blessed are those who say “Jesus is the King and the Lord of Life” without rolling their eyes or with a selfish agenda but with a sincere conviction that they belong to Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Almighty God, everlasting heavenly Father, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. Our confidence is firmly in you, Lord Jesus, knowing you will redeem all things and make all things new. 

We affirm that our security is not in personal abilities, clever plans, or lucrative jobs; our security is in you alone. Your creation still groans with the pain of living in a fallen world. But you have conquered sin through your love, and it is to your love we rely upon. May all things in heaven and on earth recognize the glory of your kingly rule and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 3:31-36 – Believe the Son

The Trinity by Alex Rapoport, 1994

God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.

The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (Contemporary English Version)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible, along with the gracious wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. 

My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Brother Jesus as my friend and companion, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

The Trinity by Jyoti Sahi

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely no little about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to discover him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God. Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action. Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

Christian faith is a complete trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because God has been revealed as faithful through steadfast love, the Lord gifts people with faith to know the Divine.

Faith, a noun, is closely accompanied by it’s verb, believe. Together, as identical twin sisters, they let us know that both knowledge and action are needed. We need information in knowing what step to take, and an active commitment to actually take that step.

Others’ faith in Jesus led to a man’s healing of both body and soul:

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, ESV)

The size of faith is irrelevant; even a smidge of Jesus has incredible power:

“I [Jesus] assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)

Human weakness and inability is no problem because of faith in Christ:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ…. We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts.

Romans 3:22, 28, GW

A person acts upon knowledge of Jesus with total trust in Christ’s finished work of deliverance from all which is evil:

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God — “Jesus is my Master”— embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-12, MSG)

Faith is not an event; it is continual trust in the person and work of Christ for practical living and compassionate serving:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV)

Outward rituals only have their proper place as they help inform belief in order to engage in loving actions:

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6, NAB)

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, CEB)

Understanding and experience go together like a hand in a glove:

I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.  And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 5-6, NLT)

Absolute certainty isn’t in the realm of Christian spirituality – there’s always more information one could obtain. Faith discerns, intuits, and knows God is there, and orders it’s steps accordingly with faithful activity:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV)

My brothers and sisters, if people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?… Just as a person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead, so faith that does nothing is dead! (James 2:14, 26, NCV)

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

John 13:31-35 – Love One Another

Stained glass by Edgar Miller (1899-1993)

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (New International Version)

The Church was formed to represent Christ on earth. The Church is a new community of believers in Jesus, called and empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission.

Christianity was never intended to be just a personal faith; it was designed by God to be the community of the redeemed. Christian community is vital to every individual’s faith.

“No one can have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Loyalty and commitment to God translates to having a dedicated and devoted spirit to one another in the church. 

One of the last commands Jesus gave to his disciples before he went to the cross was to “love one another.” The Old Testament instructed the Israelites to love each other (Leviticus 19:18). Yet, Jesus gives new meaning to the command through four distinctions of loving one another.

A New Model of Love: Jesus

Our Lord’s life and teaching gave new meaning to the command to love each other. Notice what Jesus did in the Upper Room just before giving the command to love one another:

It was almost time for the Jewish Passover festival. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. Jesus had always loved the people in the world who were his. Now was the time he showed them his love the most.

Jesus and his followers were at the evening meal. The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot to hand Jesus over to his enemies. (Judas was the son of Simon.) The Father had given Jesus power over everything. Jesus knew this. He also knew that he had come from God. And he knew that he was going back to God. So while they were eating, Jesus stood up and took off his robe. He got a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried their feet with the towel that was wrapped around his waist. (John 13:1-5, ERV)

Jesus modeled a service-oriented love of compassionately meeting the need of another, regardless of who that person is. It is instructive to us that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, along with all the other disciples. 

Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us.

Romans 5:8, GW

We are to love everyone in the community of saints, and not just our friends or the ones we like. Loving one another also means we will be realistic in understanding that community is messy and downright hard work.  

A New Motive: Christ First Loved Me

Jesus has loved us with a love that took care of our brokenness once for all. Because of that love, we are now motivated to love each other. John would later say in his first epistle: 

God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. (1 John 4:9-11, GNT)

Love is an attitude and a frame of mind. The motivation for the Christian is different than anyone else’s motive:  We are so thankful for Christ’s love to us, that we cannot help but extend that same love to one another in the church. 

This kind of love transcends human willpower. This is love as a grateful response for the grace shown us in Christ.

A New Motivator: The Holy Spirit

The Spirit energizes and enables us to love each other. Jesus also said in the Upper Room: 

If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. (John 14:15-16, CEV)

There are times when we may lack the ability or spiritual energy needed for the work of loving each other. It is in those times that we need to check our spiritual electrical box to make sure we haven’t tripped a breaker by trying to live the Christian life on our own strength. 

We need the Spirit. The Spirit gives us the zeal we need to love one another. 

We typically don’t do anything in life unless we have the motivation for it. The Spirit is like the Christian’s personal trainer – encouraging, exhorting, getting in our face, comforting, and spurring us – toward the new way of love. 

A New Mission: World Evangelization

All people will know we are Christ’s disciples if we love one another. The way we treat each other in the church is foundational and fundamental to the mission of loving our neighbors who don’t know Jesus.

“Mission is putting love where love is not.”

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

When the church has a healthy and even supernatural dynamic of loving one another, they joyfully proclaim the good news to every person that Jesus is the answer to the terrible brokenness of this world.

Community is necessary to mission. Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was a British missionary to India for forty years. After retiring and returning to Britain, he found his homeland was very different than when he left. He was astounded to find Britain had become very less Christian and was now predominantly un-Christian. It was clearly a post-Christian society. What to do about it? Here is Newbigin’s response:

“I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation.  How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? 

I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel [the only way society can discern who Jesus is] is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel – evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one. But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”

Conclusion

The implications of community for our faith are significant. If we keep other Christians at a distance and give them the stiff arm, we are really giving God the stiff arm. Jesus identifies so closely in love to his people, that to love them is to love him.

The late African-American preacher E.V. Hill told the following story about an experience with a white Christian leader in the 1950s:

“As a freshman at Prairie View College (part of the Texas A&M system) I was actively involved and was one of two students selected to go to our denomination’s annual meeting in Memphis. The trip through the South was by car—three whites and two blacks traveling together. I had no idea how we’d eat or how we’d sleep. So great was my anxiety and hatred over how the trip might turn out that I almost backed out entirely …. In all my experience I had never seen a white man stand up for a black man and never felt I would. 

But then Dr. Howard, the director of our trip and a white man spoke up. ‘We’ll be traveling together,’ he said. ‘If there isn’t a place where all of us can eat—none of us will eat. If there’s not a place all of us can sleep—none of us will sleep.’ That was all he said, but it was enough! For the first time in my life, I had met a white man who was Christian enough to take a stand with a Christian black man.” 

May the Spirit give us the courage together to love one another.

Gracious Lord, I pray for those who will believe in you through the good news of forgiveness in Christ. I pray that all of them may be one just as you are one. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent the Son, Jesus, and have loved them even as you have loved us. Righteous God, may you help us make you known in the world so that the love you have for us may be in them through the cross of Christ. Amen.