Quasimodo Geniti (1st Sunday after Easter) + 1 John 5:4-10 + April 3, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15Hymn #196 I Am Content, My Jesus Liveth Still"
Collect for Quasimodo Geniti
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we who have celebrated the solemnities of the Lord’s Resurrection may, by the help of Thy grace, bring forth the fruits thereof in our life and conversation; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Epistle
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” With these words, John highly extolls faith, heaping great praise upon our faith and ascribing to it great power over the world, even victory over the world. The world is everything that is set against Christ and His gospel. In John 1:10 John writes that Christ “was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” The world, being steeped in sin and diluted by its own self-righteousness, failed to recognize its very maker when He appears in human flesh. In John 7:7 Jesus tells the disciples, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” The world is full of evil works, not just outward evil like adultery and immorality, greed and stealing, or murder and slander. The world is evil because it does not believe that Christ is the Son of God, nor does it want to repent of its sins and believe the gospel. When the world is confronted with Christ and His gospel, it responds in vitriol and hatred. Jesus also says that the world is ruled by the devil, of whom He says in John 12:31 “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The world of which St. John so often speaks is everything that is set against Christ, everything that does not want to hallow His name or let His kingdom come.
2) The reason faith is our victory over the world, over sin, death, and the power of the devil, is that it is born of God. If faith were a work of man, a decision we made for Jesus, or a giving of one’s heart to Him, then it would be worthless to overcome the world because it would be an act of man. That faith is not an act of the human will or decision St. John teaches when he says that “whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” Only things born of God can overcome the world. John ascribes nothing to our natural human powers or will or decision. Our own works cannot overcome the world. If we held up our own works before the devil in order to drive him away, he would only laugh and us and show us how terrible and filthy even our best works are. Even the prophet Isaiah says that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). If we were to hold up works before the evil conscience which is burdened by sins that would be fruitless as well, for our works have no power to overcome the guilty conscience. Our own works are fruitless to inspire boldness of heart in the face of an evil conscience and in the face of temptation and death. Since faith is that which overcomes the world, our sin, the guilty conscience, and all the devil’s might, faith is truly something “born of God.” St. Paul says this in Ephesians 2:8, that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
3) Christ works this faith in us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates faith in the hearts of men, so that men are reborn through the waters of Holy Baptism. This is what St. John speaks of in the next verses of the epistle. “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.” Christ cames to sinners to regenerate them “by water and blood.” After Christ had suffered for the sins of the world and died, a Roman soldier pierces his side to tell whether or not He was truly dead, “and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). The water mingled with blood which drained from Christ’s side is a witness that He was truly dead, not swoon as the heathen teach. This water and blood mingled together looked forward to Holy Baptism, the application of water to sinners, which Paul calls “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Baptism is not plain water, but water combined with God’s Word. It is not water of a specific amount, for Christ never commands a specific amount be used. What makes the water of Holy Baptism, even the smallest amount, able to make one “born of God” is that it is water combined with God’s Word of promise. St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:21, “baptism doth also now save us.” Baptism saves sinners, regenerates them by bestowing faith upon them and the forgiveness of sins, because the Word of Christ connects it the salvation won by His own blood on the cross. What St. John is effectively saying here is that Christ comes in waters that run blood red, since baptism takes the redemption earned at the cross and applies it to individual sinners.
4) The Spirit also works faith in men’s hearts through the preaching of the Gospel. This is what St. John means when he says, “It is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.” Jesus had told the disciples in John 15:26 that “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” John uses the word “testify” or “bear witness” in the same sense as “preach.” He does this in the first chapter of his gospel when he writes about John the baptizer bearing witness to the Christ. John was preaching about the coming Messiah, the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, and apply that redemption to sinners in baptism and the preaching of the gospel. Paul says that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). So the Holy Spirit ties Himself to the Word of God and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Luther wrote about this that “Wherever such witness is borne, there certainly will be some fruit. The witness never fails of effect. Some surely will be reached; some will accept it and believe it. Since it is the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the apostle says here, the Spirit beareth witness, he will be effective, producing in us that to which John refers when he says we are children of God, and have the victory and eternal life. So the Word – or the Gospel message accompanied by the witness of the Spirit – and faith are vitally related. In the last analysis they are inseparable.” These are Christ’s means of grace, the instruments He uses upon us to create faith in us and sustain that faith, the faith which is our victory over the world.
5) How does faith do this? Because it clings to Christ’s victory at the cross and empty tomb. When sin assails you and temptation haunts you, faith alone is your victory over that temptation. If we are to successfully resist the temptations of the flesh, the world, and the devil, we must cling to Christ crucified for our sins, for there in the image of the crucifix we see the price our Lord Jesus willfully paid for our sins. When the evil conscience assails us that we are terrified at our transgressions and ashamed of our sinfulness, faith clings to the absolution Christ speaks to us through the words of His called and ordained servants whom Christ has entrusted with His office of forgiving and retaining sins. Faith believes the Word of the pastor is the word of Christ Himself, so that when the pastor absolves you, faith believes that it is Christ in heaven absolving you. When turmoil, persecution, hardship, cross, and suffering approach you, faith is confident that Christ has already overcome all these things. Faith knows that they are not punishment for sins but chastisements of God the heavenly Father, for thus He disciplines all those he adopts in Holy Baptism. Faith is confidence and boldness of heart that, “for the sake of his beloved Son, God will be merciful and will not condemn us for our sins and unworthiness if we believe in him. Such faith as this stands fast and gains the victory; neither the devil nor the gates of hell can prevail against it.”
6) We see a picture of such faith in the gospel lesson we heard a moment ago. Thomas, and all the disciples for that matter, cannot, by their own reason or strength, believe the good news that Christ has risen from the dead. They hide behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They are in the grasp of fear and unbelief. Yet Christ comes to them and bears witness that He is indeed alive, and when they see the risen Christ, their unbelief is dispelled so that they rejoice in the return of their Lord. The fear of the Jews dissipates, for they know that the Jews and the world can do them no harm since their Jesus lives. Thomas, stuck in the throes of unbelief, refuses to believe the gospel unless he can feel the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and thrust his hand into side of Jesus from whence the water and blood was drained. Jesus comes to Thomas to rescue Thomas from his unbelief and deserved damnation. Jesus appears to Thomas to bear witness to His own resurrection, then calls forth faith in Thomas’ heart once again when He tells Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving but believing” (John 20:27). The Spirit works faith in Thomas’ hard heart and brings forth one of the greatest confessions of faith in the Scriptures, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
7) This faith of Thomas, and the rest of the eleven, enlivened their souls so that they no longer feared their sins and their deserved punishments. The threats of the Jews no longer confounded them. The accusations of their consciences no longer perplexed them. Christ had inspired faith in their hearts, even the heart of unbelieving, recalcitrant Thomas, by the power of His Word. Their faith was their victory over the world, over sin, death, and the power of the devil, even as your God-given faith is your victory over all these things and more, because it’s not born of you, its born of God, created by the Holy Ghost through His means of grace, so that you might be confident that the redemption won by Christ is for you, and that you may be bold to trust all the promises Christ makes to you when He baptized you with water combined with His Word that ran blood red. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.