THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
The first Sunday after Easter has traditionally been called “Low Sunday” as it comes after the high and glorious feast of Easter Sunday, the pinnacle of the Christian year, the climax of God’s redemptive story to redeem fallen men, even the whole world. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore, let us keep the feast.” And the church has kept the feast throughout this Easter Octave, contemplating, absorbing, and rejoicing in the good news of Easter,
“Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Let these words soak in for just a moment… “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death has no more dominion over him.” This is the miracle of Easter! Death no longer has dominion neither does it hold humanity in its suffocating grip. Sin is dead to us: to all who are in Christ. This is reality, this is true truth
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is joyous refrain of Easter: We are alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ is victor and in Christ we too are victorious.
The empty tomb declares to the entire cosmos that Christ has overcome the world. His resurrection bears witness which was first made known to the three Mary’s and then to the Apostles and other followers who, scared for their very lives, were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews; we read how Jesus miraculously entered the room appearing before them: “Peace be with you.” They could not, in that moment, comprehend the magnitude of the resurrection or its implications. Christ had overcome the world! And in time, they would come to understand that in Christ, they too had overcome the world. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus told his disciples to “be of good cheer” for “I have overcome the world.” And this morning we say yes: Christ is risen, he has slain the Great Dragon, broken the bonds of death, conquered the depths of hell, and burst forth from the tomb! The whole world has been turned upside down by the Resurrection of Christ, old realities have been smashed, a new reality has come to all who believe. To this St. John testifies,
“Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
Christ has overcome the world and so to have the children of God. But, what exactly does it mean that Christ has overcome the world? By the world, the Apostle John means all that is opposed to keeping the commandments of God, or everything in this world which draws us away from God. The world opposes God. Jesus told his disciples not to “marvel if the world hates you.” Satan and the world rail against the Kingdom of God, crafty terrorists out to derail God’s redemptive mission. The things of this world allure us into their death spiral, taking us far from God. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world.” This world is a False Prophet, the spirit of antiChrist, promising what it cannot fulfill; for in the words of the beloved apostle, “the world is fading away.” And yet, the world acts upon corrupt flesh and so many are led captive by it. The stronghold of Satan, the Prince of the Air, and all things opposed to God had to be conquered releasing the children of God, even the whole creation, from death’s bondage: redeemed; freed from the evils of this world. Jesus “overcame the world” so that we might participate with him in overcoming the world. He is the first to overcome, not only before us, but for us, so that we might be able to do the same, to live in the same victory. Praise Christ whose awesome victory secures all subsequent victories!
So, with great confidence, St John writes that “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” To be born again of God, regenerated in Christ, is to be victorious over all that opposes God. How magnanimous, what compassion, how wide is the mercy and love of God that whatsoever is born of God has overcome the world, is overcoming the world, will overcome in the end. Male, female, old and young, every person throughout history, from every tongue, tribe, and nation “which is born of God, overcometh the world,” a victory not obtained of themselves, it is the gift of God; not by their power, but through a new birth, whereby, faith, love, and grace from God, glorify Him, wielding a power not of themselves, to overcome the world. This is what God has done in Christ for all who believe. How great is the love of the Father towards all who love Him, for as the Psalmist declares
“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. For look how high the heaven is in comparison of the earth; so great is his mercy also toward them that fear him. Look how wide also the east is from the west; so far hath he set our sins from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Sin and all of its corresponding guilt, that which enslaved us has been cast away in the death of Christ, He alone has satisfied the demands of the covenant in his body and by his obedient will. That which the prophet Micah foresaw- the vindication of God’s people through the vindication of Messiah- is the happy portion for all who believe, for all who love the Father and his commandments. For through Micah God declared a future day of forgiveness and restoration for his people,
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retainith not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
Friends, the Lord has turned towards us in his Son Jesus Christ. By the cross he has cast away sin- made us clean- because he is merciful; he is compassionate. And, he is faithful. The empty tomb forever bears witness to God’s undying and everlasting love. “Who is a God like unto thee?” There is no other. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Our overcoming the world is contingent on two very important things: (1) Christ had to first overcome the world, and (2) faith is necessary for the children of God to conquer as well. For without faith one has neither Christ, nor God the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the eternal life; consequently, without faith there is no justification, no forgiveness of sins, no sanctification, and no salvation. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” And, apart from the new life attained by faith which arises from the baptismal waters, there is no victory: no faith; no Christ; no overcoming of the world.
And, St. John is not merely speaking of some past historic event, recounting that day when the battle was won and the Christian overcame the world. No, by faith we are overcoming the world, presently, right now, moment by moment. In a real sense, we understand victory as having already been achieved, but this past victory is a present reality, actuated and sustained by faith. Pause, and take a quick inventory of life’s present circumstances… are you winning the battle, are you conquering the world, vanquishing sin, mastering inordinate desires? Remaining unscathed by external threats and painful circumstances? Perhaps not, and yet, we fight as victors, as overcomers, those who will not be frustrated, crushed, overpowered, routed or ruined by the world. In the darkest hour, when all seems lost, by faith we will overcome. We may have casualties, lose ground, face temporary setbacks; and yet St. John would remind us of Jesus’ own words, words I’m sure John held very close to his heart, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Now, imagine living in a world in which Christ had not overcome. Behold this thought in your mind… what would life be like if the world had not been conquered by the love of God, with fallen humanity left in its sins, with no means of salvation and no real hope to cling to. Despair hanging on like the flu, never quite being able to shake off a sense of impending death. No certainty in anything. The shifting shadows of the world supplying whatever temporal and frivolous enjoyments it can. Mere citizens of the world. No relief in suffering, no justice in death. Metaphorically speaking, we would be like the apostles and disciples who believing that Jesus was stone cold dead in the grave, assembled together behind locked doors full of dread, fear, and anxiety. Everything they believed in, hoped for, lay wrapped up in a rich man’s tomb. But this is not our reality. This is not our lot, for Christ has risen from the grave: he has overcome the world. Just as he appeared to the disciples on the Sunday morning, he comes to us, “Peace be with you.” Peace has come because Christ has overcome the world. Peace in this life comes from faith in Christ, in him entrust our very souls and bodies, in him, we have overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are more than conquerors in Christ… as sons and daughters of the living God we are inheritors of the kingdom and all of its blessings. True, lasting, and eternal peace comes solely by faith in He who is our peace, who made peace between us miserable sinners and the most Holy God.
As overcomers, we can- by grace and the Spirit- learn to love the world as God does. For the world is subdued, below us, who were once under the boot heel of the world. For only One is above us now, God the Father, who made the world and us. God is above us and the world is below us. The world itself, and all which is in the world, is for our use, subject to us, as we are to God. The dominion given unto Adam is once again restored. The beautiful things we see, sweet to taste, blissful in sound, pleasant to smell, and thrilling to touch, all these are ours and given for our enjoyment when used in accordance with God’s decrees. For the world was made for us, not we for it; all the wonderful things of the world are given to serve us, not we to be enslaved to them. Faith shows us Him who is above all things, but also in all things. Having overcome the world by faith, we can love the created world for all its beauty and goodness and fulfill the new commandment to “love others as Christ has loved us.” The love which has overcome the world now dwells in the hearts of all those who by faith are born of God. Those who overcome by faith are at peace in the world. Even amidst tribulation from persecution without and distress from within, we have peace. Having entered into the Divine life we discover the rest of God, contentment, and true happiness of heart. This is the possession of all who by faith in Christ attain victory on the battlefield of life, as we face difficulties derived from our own sinfulness and from an ungodly world. Yet through life’s battles, peace reigns, no matter how much the surface of the ocean of life may be agitated by wind and storm, for we also possess hope.
We are hopeful because we have a future. By faith, we know that our lives will not end in the dirt. To overcome the world is to obtain the sure promise and security of an eternity with God! The promise to one day go where Christ has gone, to be with him where he is, to see him as he truly is: resplendent beauty, glory, and magnificence. And this is why Easter is so much more than Good News. The Good News of Christ having overcome the world is not simply informative but performative as well: this Good News is transformative: our redemption in Christ and the hope it expresses should continually change your life. Jesus came and subdued the world, bringing peace and hope, to be apprehended and enjoyed today, by all who trust in Him. We find peace and hope in this turbulent world because we know that Christ our Lord has already won the battle: his victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil is our victory. Our present hope is also a future hope. It’s not merely an individualistic hope of getting to heaven one day, an idea that historically has served to be a good incentive for people to live by faith in obedience to Christ. Rather, our future hope is much, much grander than any individual idea of obtaining heaven.
Our future hope is the redemption and renewal of the entire cosmos. It is the reversing of Babel, bringing all of mankind together in a chorus of praise and thanksgiving, humanity reconciled one to another and to their Creator. It is the hope of glory, the future glorification of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ and persevere through the trials and tribulations of this life by faith. While this happy vision of beatitude lie beyond this present world... it will come; it will happen. It is the blessed end for those who by faith overcome the world. Beloved, may the sure and faithful words of Jesus both strengthen and encourage you today: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5). Amen.