Sermon, Easter 6, Rogate, 2015, Gospel, John 16:23-33
“Behold, [Jesus said] the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 32-33 ESV). Thus far the text.
“I have overcome the world.” When did Jesus speak these triumphant words? After He had risen from the grave? During the forty days after Easter while he appeared to many. From the clouds as He ascended into heaven? No. Jesus spoke these triumphant words on the night He was arrested and brought before the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, which had been hastily assembled to come up with a pre-arranged verdict–death. Before He was be taken to Pontius Pilate, and Herod Antipas, mocked and beaten. Before Pilate came up with what he thought was a clever way to avoid sentencing an innocent man by offering the mob a choice between Jesus and a known criminal and low-life. Before they chose the low-life. Before Pilate caved in and did the politically smart and cowardly thing, and bowing to the pressure of popular opinion, and handed Jesus over to be crucified. Before Jesus was nailed to a cross, where the crowd mocking him, saying. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Can’t you picture them saying and laughing, “You have overcome the world have you?” Jesus knew that to the world, to His scattered sheep, the apostles and the other followers of Jesus, this would appear to be end of the story, the closing of the book. The days of thousands acclaiming Jesus would be over, just a memory.
Yet, Jesus did say, “I have overcome the world.” before the arrest and the beatings and cross. What did He mean by that? How could abandonment, mockery, and death be seen as in any way overcoming the world? The disciples thought they knew what Jesus was talking about that night. Here on the eve of the Passover, Jesus was at the height of His influence. He had been greeted by throngs the Sunday before and heard by thousands in the temple during the week. The disciples had said to Jesus, “Now you are talking plainly! Now we believe you!” Jesus answered them, “Do you really now believe? Wait, the hour is coming soon, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and you will leave me alone.” And they did leave Jesus.
Each to their own homes. Jesus knew they would, but yet He said that He had overcome the world. How could He say such a thing?
He overcomes not in the way the world overcomes, through prosperity, but through tribulation. He overcame it not through dominance and autonomy, but through submission and obedience. He overcame it in the way all those who share His name overcome the world and its tribulations, through prayer and through faith in the promises of His Father, God Almighty. He overcame the world by commending, His body and soul, His life and death, into the hands of the Father who sent Him, as we do when we say the words of Luther’s morning and evening prayers, “Into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.”
He knew that His Father loved Him and He trusted His promise that would raise Him from the dead. He believed that the Father would not leave Him alone at Calvary, even though everyone else did. He believed that even in the darkest hours to come on the cross, when He would take upon Himself the sins of the world, when He actually became sin, so that even His Father would turn His face away, that even then, His Father would not abandon Him forever. And He didn’t. He raised Him from the dead on the third day, and after forty days, took Him to be with Him in heaven. Jesus believed that His Father would do that, and that He indeed had already done that. And He knew that God would give Him the strength to go to the cross and defeat sin, death, and the devil, to overcome the fallen world.
Jesus had such faith in the promises of God His Father that He could speak of the future, when the promises would be fulfilled, using the past tense, as if it had already happened. This is the way prophets spoke, who spoke for God, who is beyond time, with the certainty that what God has promised and predicted is as good as done. Jesus wanted and still wants His sheep to share this certainty that God always keeps His promises, among them the promise that He listens to the prayers of those who believe and love His Son and the promise that He answers those prayers. Jesus wanted His disciples to have that trust and certainty, that joy in the face of the world’s tribulation, that hope in the face of apparent defeat, that peace in the middle of chaos. That is what He wants you, his disciples and sheep, to have, too.
Jesus wants you to trust that your Father in heaven still hears your prayers and answers them. He wants you to put all your worries, all your fears, all your sadness before Him. He knows your personal tribulations. He knows when you wonder how you will get by. He knows that you worry about your health, and the health of your loved ones. He knows that you wonder about the faith of your children and grandchildren.
He foresaw times like today, when the followers of Christ would be scattered in fear, shame, hopelessness, and worst of all, indifference. He knew that in our age there would be tribulation. He knew that the church and its faithful proclamation would be hated and attacked, that preaching and the word would be despised, that the sheep would lose heart, and in fear, doubt, and depression, each retreat to his own home, his own private spirituality. He foresaw that the devil would be working overtime to make us believe that the Christ’s Bride, the Church is on her last legs, that her glory days are behind her. And it sure looks that way to our worldly eyes at times. Christians killed, tortured, imprisoned in greater numbers every year. Attendance and giving down in Europe and North America, The popular culture mocking us, harassing us, trying to silence us and relegate us to the dustbin of history. But Jesus has said, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”
“Maybe you, Jesus, but not me”, you might think. But remember, you and Jesus are joined forever in faith. You were joined to Him in baptism. His name is your name. You are now part of Him, His body, the Church. Whatever is His, is your. If He has overcome the world, so have you. You may not see it or feel it yet. But you have. You overcome the world and its tribulation the way Christ the way did, through the power of the Holy Spirit working faith in you and strengthening it in His supper and overcoming the world in prayer.
Of course, we aren’t Jesus. We don’t know how to pray. So Jesus shows us how to pray and what to pray. He told us we don’t have to come up with long prayers. A short one will do. We don’t have to make up the words. He prayed the Psalms Himself, as we do, the prayerbook of the Bible, inspired by His Holy Spirit. He showed us how He prayed at Gethsemane. He prayed for His brothers and sisters in faith, so that we would do the same. He prayed in the temple and in the synagogues, showing us how God’s people gather together to pray with each other. He prayed to His Father in heaven directly. He says we can do that, too, since the prayers of believers are heard for His sake. He even taught us His own prayer to pray with Him, a prayer that asks for everything, from our daily bodily needs, our daily bread, to the greatest request, that God’s will be done in our lives. It covers everything. God never gets tired of hearing it.
Our problem, though, is not that we ask for too much, but that we ask for so little. We ask the creator of the universe for trinkets. He offers us a trip to the moon, and we ask to be dropped off at the Quik Shop. This is not to say that we should name it and claim it, as the prosperity preachers tell us–that we should ask God for a Ferrari instead of a used Ford. Instead, let us ask for repentance, forgiveness of sins, increased faith, increased giving to God, increased strength to resist the temptation to go along with the fallen world to get along. These are big things, the biggest things. Only God can do them. That’s why He wants us to ask Him for these things in our prayers. For our sake. God doesn’t need our prayers. We need them, so that we will realize that every good thing comes from Him and we are to seek our true good in Him.
God still listens to your prayers and answers them, according to His will, and what He wills is always good. God loves you so much that sent His Son to die for you. How will He not also hear and answer your prayers? The future is in His hands. He knows how things work out. He has already reconciled, conquered, and overcome this fallen in the obedient life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, who has overcome the sinful, fallen world and its tribulations. He will sustain you through the tribulations of the world. As He took Jesus up to be with Him on the day of Ascension, so He will take you up to be with Him in heaven. He will raise your body on the last day and you will meet Jesus as He enters His Heavenly City in the new heavens and earth. Take heart. He has overcome the world, for you. Amen.