“Faith that Conquers the World” on 1 John 5:1-12 – by Joe Ellis, April 10, 2022 — Palm Sunday
What is the victory that conquers the world? — Our faith! What a proclamation for these times when the world has been watching the war in Ukraine. As we look on in horror, wondering which nation is going to overcome, who shall have victory, I can’t help but wonder, do these verses in 1 John 5 have any bearing on these events? Does our conquering faith have any bearing on these events?
And this question seems even more pertinent, today being Palm Sunday — the day we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, being greeted with desperate shouts from an oppressed people hoping for deliverance. Today, churches all over the world retell this story of people shouting to Jesus, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” Hosanna is a Hebrew word originally meaning “Save us.” The people shouted “Hosanna” and quoted part of Psalm 118, a Psalm of victory, and they said, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!”
The Gospel writers quote the Prophet Zechariah who said, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”The king is riding into battle not on a war horse. Instead, this king drives into battle on a donkey. The prophet tells us that this king shall command peace to the nations. This King shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the Earth. God will give this King victory because of the blood of His covenant. He will set prisoners free from the waterless pit. He will say, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore you double.” This prophecy points to the hope, the deep longed for hope, of when the Lord will finally restore peace to Israel. When the Lord will deliver Zion from its enemies. When the Lord will restore the long awaited for Davidic King. Here he is riding into victory, on a young donkey. He’s riding into a week where he will be betrayed, tortured, and crucified. Yet, on Palm Sunday, perhaps particularly on this Palm Sunday, we are pregnant with Zechariah’s hope — a hope for peace, a hope for judgment on the nations, a hope for setting up the throne of King Jesus. A hope for the fulfillment of the victory that conquers the world — our faith.
Yet note that John doesn’t say, “This is the victory that conquers Russia — our faith.” He’s not even saying, “This is the victory that will conquer Rome — our faith.” In John’s day, Rome would have been the equivalent of what Russia is to Ukraine— an enemy power occupying Jerusalem and oppressing the people of Israel. John says in 1 John 5:4, “This is the victory that conquers the world.” What does John mean by that? What is the victory that conquers the world? What does he mean by world? How is it conquered? What does that have to do with our world? As is the case with so much of John’s first letter, he intends us to think back to the Gospel of John, particularly conversations that Jesus had with his disciples during Holy Week. Holy Week refers to the days that begins on Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and to Holy Saturday.
Sometime after Palm Sunday, those who were with Jesus heard a heavenly voice, the voice of God the Father, who answered Jesus’ prayer, saying he will glorify the name of His Son. Jesus said in the gospel of John 12:30-32, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
As we talk about faith conquering the world, I’ll invite you to notice a few things in what Jesus said. Notice that Jesus speaks of judgment on the world, as in the whole world is sick. Notice that this world is sick as it is under the rule of Satan, the prince of this world. Notice that Jesus speaks of not conquering a nation or nations, but of conquering and driving out the prince of darkness. Notice the way the way Jesus speaks of achieving his victory — through being lifted up on the cross.
Let’s skip ahead to John 16: “The hour is coming, indeed, it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in time you may have peace. In the world you will face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world.” Notice that like him, the disciples will face persecution, hardship, and trials in life. But notice that Jesus encourages his disciples to take courage, for He has conquered the world.
Notice that both these conversations about conquering the world take place after the Triumphal Entry. It is as if to say, “I know the hopes I stirred up as I came into Jerusalem, and I will fulfill these hopes.” Jesus doesn’t just ride into Jerusalem, bringing to mind promises of old about peace, victory, release of prisoners, restoration of hope and the return of God’s King! — He doesn’t stir up these hopes only to say “Nevermind, looks like I’m going to be arrested and crucified.” No. As we noted in John 12, it is through death that Jesus will conquer the world. The way of victory is not through spilling the blood of others, but in spilling His own blood. That is the victory of the cross. On the cross, we see the Lord’s stern overthrow of Hell and victory over Satan, the so called prince of this world. The cross is Christ’s means of war. The cross is the means by which this world, this whole world has been conquered in the name of the Kingdom of God.
This is the heart of our faith — our world is overcome by faith. Through this faith we share not only in the victory, but in the conquering of this world. John says “Who is it that conquers the world, but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Believe what? What is the object of our faith? Jesus! What are we to believe about Jesus?
Our faith is in the one who “came by water and blood—not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.” (1 John 5:6-8) It may not seem immediately obvious, but with these words, John brings us to Good Friday — our Faith that overcomes the world centres around the events of Good Friday. John speaks of the Spirit of truth, the water and the blood as those three things which make up the substance of our faith.
Let’s first look at the Spirit of Truth. Remember John 18, when Jesus appeared before the Governor. In that moment, the moment where Jesus appears anything but victorious, conquering, or triumphant — it is in that moment he says to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
Pilate said, “So you are a king!”
Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
Notice that here, in this most helpless moment, Jesus still speaks of his Kingdom with words of power. Jesus still speaks of the overcoming power of the Kingdom. Notice the invitation he gives, His invitation for Pilate to listen to truth and to be a part of the Kingdom. Notice, too, this invitation is to participate in the world’s overcoming victory of faith. Notice also what John says in this letter. This Spirit of Truth that Pilate rejected, we are the ones who have received the Spirit of Truth. We have the testimony of God in our hearts.
This Spirit strengthens the testimony of the other two Good Friday witnesses, these witnesses that give substance to our faith. The water and the blood. The water and blood take us by the hand, they bring us past the moment when Jesus is flogged severely, they take us past the moment when he appeared again before Pilate, bloodied, crowned with ragged thorns, clothed in a purple robe. The water and the blood take us past the moment when the Jews shouted, “Crucify Him!” The water and the blood take us past the moment as Jesus was stripped, nailed and lifted up from the Earth. The water and the blood take us even past that moment where Jesus cried out “I am thirsty,” and was given a sponge soaked in vinegar. They take us past Jesus’ final words, “It is finished,” when he bowed and gave up His spirit. Only after Jesus is absolutely dead do the water and the blood step forward with their witness. John tells us: “When they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” With the water and blood, the Spirit of Truth speaks this witness: “He is dead. Terribly, undeniably dead.” And in that undeniable death, we find our the faith that conquers the world. That the Son of God was dead. The Spirit of Truth calls us to believe in that death. And we are called not simply to believe in his death — the Spirit of Truth calls us to have faith in this death.
Have faith in his death? We are challenged to have faith that His death is accomplishing the hope stirred up on Palm Sunday: Victory over this world. Victory of the Kingdom over the realm of sin and death. Victory of the Kingdom over Satan. The victory that through death, Jesus shall draw all people to Himself. That through His death, Jesus shall bring about the glorious and wonderful victory of the Kingdom of God! That is the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood. That is the substance of our faith — That through his blood we are healed. Through His blood the world is healed.
This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith! Our faith that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” This is the victory that conquers the world—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is what we cling to in faith.
Notice that John says in 1 John 5:4a, “Whatever has been born of God overcomes the world.” The NIV has it say, “everyone”, but a closer translation is “everything” or “whatever”. Everything that has been born of God overcomes the world. Everything — not just people, but our works. The things we do that are birthed out of faith — these are born of God. It is these works that overcome and conquer the world. John says in v.2-4a, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everything that has been born of God overcome the world." So we obey the non-burdensome commands of God — summarized as love God and love our neighbour. Our model of obedience is what we see in the water and blood. The way that we gain victory over the world is the way of the water and blood. We are called to follow Jesus’ paradoxical, sacrificial, self-giving path to victory. This calling only makes sense through faith. Through laying down of our life, we find life, we discover life, we experience the Kingdom. This life lived through faith overcomes the world. As we die, as our own water and blood spills from us through faith, the world is overcome and the Kingdom arrives.
So we’ve come full circle. We began looking at the question of how faith overcomes this world. We wondered about the role of faith in war, in hardship in the brokenness in this world. And we see that as Children of God, our way to victory is the way of Christ. We intimate Christ through water and blood. The way we, as Christians, are called to pursue victory is through obeying the command of God to love our neighbour, to sacrifice for our neighbour, to die for our neighbour. As we live through sacrifice to our neighbour, as we live through self giving, as we live through death, we will see the world transformed. When our actions are informed by our faith in the suffering and death of God’s Son — we will see the world transformed. We will trust that our actions will transform our community, our nation and the world. As Christians throughout the world continue to witness through water and blood, the world will be changed, it will be transformed. That with Christ, we shall overcome the world.