given on Sunday, November 16, 2008
Not very often does a request turn into an immediate sermon, but last week Elwood asked if I would do a sermon on the hymn, Victory in Jesus. I assured him I would try, but I was not promising that it would be any time soon. Well, as I am learning, God speaks in many different ways.
This week has been filled with thoughts. The COS weekend was Friday and Saturday as you know, and I had not been able to finish all the research and the writing ahead of this week. (Yes, I do have a problem with procrastination, especially when there are so many other concerns at hand.) On Monday, I spent the day researching, thinking, and trying to write the first paper; but all day the hymn just kept running through my mind. I simply could not get it out of my head.
I finally stopped, pulled out the hymnal and read it. I knew then that today we would be talking about what victory in Jesus means to us. The victory can be a victory for God, but it can also be a victory for us personally. Consider the reason Jesus was born: to teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves and to re-establish a loving relationship with God. When God first became discouraged with how the Israelites were failing to follow his commandments, He told Noah to build an ark, load it up with the animals, and the flood would clean up the earthly mess. In terms of the hymn, God was sending a cleansing flood.
One would have thought that one flood was enough to have cured the world of evil and to re-establish a loving relationship between the human beings God created and himself. Unfortunately we humans simply did not get it. As the waters receded, humanity rebuilt itself; and the very quality that God gave humans again began yet another downfall. God gave man and woman the ability to reason and the free will to make their own decisions. Throughout the Old Testament, the books are filled with stories of how people kept making choices that separated them from God’s grace. Leaders and prophets did their best to keep the laws, but somehow that loving relationship with God kept getting broken.
The old, old story began with the Old Testament prophets foretelling the Israelites that a Messiah would come. The Messiah did come with the birth of Jesus. The prophets told us that he would even suffer for us. The hymn reminds us of the prophets message and summarizes Jesus’ life in that very first stanza:
I heard an old, old story
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sin
And won the victory.
Once again God speaks. My research kept mixing up with the hymn. The very topic that leaves many of us dazed and confused (sorry about the cliché) is Jesus’ birth. The understanding we have as humans limits us in accepting, without question, that God could be born through the human process and join us as a man here on this earth. At this point in my spiritual development, I find I no longer really need to have a biological explanation, I know that God can do anything. He came to us as Jesus because the Holy Spirit provides the means. God is a triune God: He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit).
In order to provide us the teaching and to model the very behaviors that God wanted us to know, Jesus Christ was born to deliver the message. Jesus, the man, became the teacher, the doctor, and the best friend we all needed to develop and to maintain the loving relationship with God. The words are there in the hymn:
I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing,
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit.”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.
And what a victory that loving relationship with God really is!
The victory is that we do accept God’s grace. Each of us is so important to him that he came as the man Jesus to teach us how to love one another. He demonstrated that love in each and every encounter he had with the people he met. Consider the stories:
∑ Zacchaeus climbed up a tree just to see this man he had heard about. He was certainly a small man; but when Jesus reached out to him, he grew in love because he felt valued by God.
∑ The woman with demons touched the very edge of His robe and Jesus felt the drain, causing him to turn and to heal her. Her faith was so strong that all she needed was a touch of his robe.
∑ The father whose daughter died still sought Jesus and pleaded for his compassion to heal her. The unconditional love of God was able to relieve this father’s immediate pain.
The unconditional love we all hear about is demonstrated over and over in the New Testament.
The words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount repeat over and over that God loves us. We must learn from the Master, the Teacher, the Healer, that our victory over sin and over death comes from accepting God’s grace and unconditional love, and then turning around and demonstrating to others that God’s way is the best way.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul explains the second coming of Christ. He refers to it as a victory. The description of the second coming, often referred to as the rapture, is simple:
…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed. … So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”… thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The hymn really carries out the description even further:
I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing.
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.
A description like that really appeals to the senses especially on days when we see the gray November skies and the leaves are gone, and the morning is dark and the evening comes too early. Here we live, working hard, frustrated by our human frailties, and striving to follow Jesus’ teachings. The promise Paul has delivered to the Corinthians provides hope. He wanted them to know that our physical death was only the opening of our eternal life with Christ.
God has granted us grace from the moment we are born, we are challenged to live life in a manner which demonstrates the lessons that Jesus taught while he was living among us. We, today, may not have been fortunate enough to meet Jesus face to face, but we have the promise of eternal life because Jesus did come to atone for our sins. Jesus was the sacrifice that God made to reclaim us, to redeem us. The redemption re-established the loving relationship that God envisioned when He first created human beings. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the relationship was broken and try as the leaders and the prophets of the Old Testament did, humankind just kept disobeying.
God’s grace, though, is always with us. All we have to do is believe and to live according to the Holy Scriptures. All we have to do is love one another as we love ourselves. When we do, we sing the chorus:
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever,
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood:
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.
Let’s join in that chorus together once more. Sing with all your heart and soul because this is a victory celebration! We as United Methodists, as Christians, as brothers and sisters, accept God’ grace and share in his love. We have heard the story, we have heard of this healing, and we have heard the promise of eternal life. We recognize that we have victory over evil through Jesus Christ:
Dear Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
Thank you so much for joining us here on this glorious earth. We hear the story, but we still struggle to understand it and to share it. But, Lord, we do know that our faith and our belief in the life and the work of Jesus has given us the victory over evil and keeps us in a loving relationship with you. –Amen