I had the privilege to preach at Emmanuel Church Northwood on Sunday 24th April 2016 and again on Wednesday 27th April at the BCP Holy Communion Services.
Take Heart, for I have overcome the world.
That’s how the NIV and the ESV translate the phrase ‘be of good cheer’.
To take heart is to be encouraged. To take heart is to have hope. To take heart is to be sure in yourself about something. To have that sense of conviction, that gut feeling of almost instinctive knowing.
This is more than an encouragement, this is a command to us to have hope.
We have hope because we as Christians are sure of who we are. Jesus says to us, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Today, we pray in the name of Jesus and when we take communion we will be doing so in remembrance of Jesus, feeding on his body and blood given for us by faith with thanksgiving in our hearts. Whenever we here at Emmanuel gather together to worship and pray we do so ‘in the name of Jesus’; we ask our heavenly Father to hear our prayers in Jesus’ name.
However today is not ‘that day’.
Today we depend on Jesus to intercede for us before the throne of God in the heavenly places, to be our high priest who reconciles us to our Lord. On that day, we will approach the throne of God our Father and pray to him in the name of Jesus, with the authority which belongs to Jesus – but we will not do so through Jesus. Jesus will not ask the Father for us on our behalf. We will be able to ask him directly because the Father himself loves us! He loves us because we love his Son Jesus and believe that he came from God to make God known to the world.
This is the promise which God has made for our future – He will be our God and we will be his people, he will be our Father and we will be his children. This is the message of the whole of the Gospel of John, from which this passage is taken. He begins by writing that when Jesus came, ‘he gave to all who received him, who believed in his name, the right to become children of God.’ Then at the end of his Gospel, John writes ‘this is written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’.
We who believe that Jesus came from God, indeed IS God, and love him for who he is are loved by his Father who sent him into the world. I, Samuel, believing in Jesus, am loved by God our Father. Johnny here, believing in Jesus, is loved by God our Father, and each and every single one of you here today, believing in Jesus and coming to celebrate holy communion – you are loved by name by our Father in Heaven.
So Take heart, for in Christ we are loved.
How do we take heart though? It’s one thing believing that Jesus came from God and that he was God – but where is he now?
The response that Jesus gives is this: “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” In Acts we hear of the Ascension of Jesus to re-join our Father in heaven. Before he goes he tells us that ‘we will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.’
Take heart, for you are loved by the Father because you love his Son.
Take Heart, for the Holy Spirit of the Living Lord has come to rest upon us in power and to unite us to Christ.
Now, I don’t know about you but I love Jesus. I really do. I’m sometimes not very good at loving Jesus, but I try. Yet even though I love Jesus, I don’t often feel very powerful. In fact, to be completely honest with you I have had one of those weeks where I have felt so weak. Sometimes life throws up situations and emotions which can get our hearts racing every time we think about them; those situations where the pressure kicks in, where that cold tension of nerves can unsettle us. There’s a task or an event at hand which we have to deal with but we don’t know quite how we will manage.
These situations vary for each of us. For some it might be the pressure to meet deadlines at work. For others it could be the loss of a close family member. As the pastoral support worker at LST I’ve seen people stressed out by workloads and affected by health problems, mental and physical. For many of our brothers and sisters around the world, pressure and anxiety can come from threats of violence and war. Some who have fled those threats have to face the challenges of building a new life in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language. Others, across the world and even in Northwood and the area around Emmanuel, worry about having enough food to feed themselves and their children to survive. Hopefully, by God’s grace, we are not all facing severe difficulties at this moment in time. However, whatever our stories and personal hardships, there’s some good news.
We are going to have times where we suffer, where things are hard, where we experience bad luck, misfortune, ordeals and drama.
You wanted good news, huh?
Well, Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation.”
Sometimes Christians can create the impression that their lives were terrible, that they were the worst of all people until everything changed when they met Jesus, when they became a Christian – then they never had any problems again!
Now, that does happen and when it happens we praise God for his grace, for his love and for what he has done in our lives.
That said, it would be a mistake to say that by becoming a Christian our problems are over, to expect our lives to be fixed and perfect. And Jesus agrees, he says that in the world, and we could almost say, in today’s world, you will have tribulation. You will have struggles.
However, Jesus contrasts our difficulties in the world with a peace which we may find in him.
This peace is possible for us because Jesus, sent from God to and for us, has overcome the world.
He did this not by avoiding the messy parts of life or by using magic powers to swan through life with the ease of a marvel comics superhero.
Jesus overcame the world by letting it break him.
We look at his life and we find the human man Jesus who was often so busy with the crowds that he didn’t have time to eat, we see a Jesus who was so tired that he was fast asleep in a boat on a lake in a storm. We see a Jesus who wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus and who was arrested and falsely accused of all sorts of things – things for which he was sentenced to be beaten, spat upon, crucified and killed.
While his corpse hung limp on the cross, it stood as a banner of victory for the darkness, as a symbol of supremacy for sin and the world’s rejection of God.
Yet it was not to last.
Because when we look at Jesus’ life we see the man-who-is-God feeding the five thousand with a couple of loaves and fish, we see a Jesus who woke up to tell the storm to quieten down and be still, and it did. We see a Jesus who called his friend out of the tomb to live. We see a Jesus who Pilate recognised as the King of the Jews and who submits to allow them to beat him and have him killed. We see a Jesus who on the cross gave up a loud cry and voluntarily surrendered himself to the will of God. More than this, we see a Jesus who is resurrected from the grave, a Jesus who has breathed again after death to live a life which will never end.
When we look at the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus we see that Jesus has overcome the tribulations of the world.
As such, now that he is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, we have been given his Holy Spirit. We may feel like we are powerless, but we should not mistake struggles and difficulties for weakness. Instead we should remember that ‘the spirit who is in us is greater than the spirit who is in the world.’
And so, as we come to Holy Communion, I urge you to remember Jesus’ words to us today:
“Take Heart, for I have overcome the world.”