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THE PROMISE OF ULTIMATE VICTORY
John 16:25-33

20th October 2002

Despite delirious crowds who identify with their winning sporting team, many Christians find it hard to identify with those who are successful. Lay people and ministers alike find it difficult to support those of their number who are blessed with success – any success, but particularly with ministry success.

I remember visiting one of the greatest Methodist ministers of the 20th Century, Rev Dr Sir Irving Benson, to ask his advice when I was appointed to Wesley Mission Sydney, late in 1977. Sir Irving surprised me by warning me about visiting other ministers in churches in the suburbs. He said, “They will ask you to be guest speaker due to pressure from their lay-people. You will speak at an anniversary or centenary or building opening, and crowds of people who attend. The choir will be at their best and excitement will be at fever pitch. You will preach and everyone will compare this special day with what happens on a normal Sunday, and the local fellow will come off second best. People will say “We wish it were like this every week.” Some would say, “I think we might pay a visit to the Mission on Sunday,” and the local minister will accuse you of stealing his members, their offerings and the credit they think is their due.” So taken aback by this reflection of fifty years of city ministry, I decided I would rarely accept an invitation to preach in a suburban church from which people could travel into the city. I have often heard ministers who haven’t much to report about their ministry say, “Well, God did not call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful!” As though that excused him from making the effort, and indicated that the successful person wasn’t as faithful as he.

The irony is that no one becomes successful without hard work, taking risks, demonstrating faith, praying much. I guess envy and jealousy mask themselves in this distancing themselves from the successful. They just find it uncomfortable to stand with the victorious. Yet Jesus praised the hard-working, successful man with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Jesus promised His disciples that they would defeat the world. John remembered His words and wrote later they would have the victory that overcomes the world.

On the night on which Jesus was betrayed, the disciples of Jesus faced problems and troubles; they were disturbed and filled with difficulties, despair, discouragement and down-heartedness. They saw Judas leave them. Perhaps they could hear in the street the murmurs of gathering people. There were lights showing through the olive trees, a cordon of the Temple soldiers on the move, men running and shouting, police coming. Something was afoot. His friends knew that the life of Jesus had been threatened several times. At the supper, Jesus had shared with them the Passover bread and He gave them wine. He said, “This is My body which is given for you…This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with My blood, which is poured out for you.” Then He told them that one of them would betray Him, and that others would desert Him. Their faces showed worry, despair, down-heartedness and disappointment. This was His last conversation with them before His arrest. He was asking them: “Do you now believe who I am? Do you believe who it is who sent Me?” He seemed to be emphasising that it was their belief that would be the key to the handling of the troubles that were before them.

This is how Jesus put it: “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." John 16: 25-27 It was of crucial importance that the disciples knew that God was central to all that was happening. “Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God." "You believe at last!" Jesus answered.” John 16:26-31

Notice the key point. He wanted to place stress upon belief. ““This makes us believe that you came from God." "You believe at last!" Jesus said.” The heart of what He is saying is: “Do you believe that I came from the Father, because if you believe, you are then equipped to cope with what is going to happen tonight and tomorrow, the next day, and for the rest of your life.” Jesus knew what was going to happen. He was to be crucified. The disciples would be scattered. They would face loneliness and persecution. But He declares: Be confident. Believe in Me. If you believe in Me you will have the ultimate victory! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:32-33

This is the final assurance of our Lord, “Take heart! I have overcome the world." The disciples were facing the time of their greatest difficulty. They were confronting despair and disgrace. They would be downhearted and disappointed. There was depression in the air. And, as they were to face the cares and troubles of this world, Jesus rallies them: “Take heart! I have overcome the world." Be brave! Do not despair. I have overcome the world! Belief is the key to ultimate victory. If you believe, you are able to overcome. There are three reasons noted in our Scripture passage:

1. BELIEF ENABLES FACING TROUBLE CONFIDENTLY.

Robert Browning wrote of one who knew the secret of meeting trouble: “One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better.” From “Asolando”

It always takes confidence to overcome troubles, and that comes only if you believe. "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” V32 There is the secret of the confidence He possessed when He faced His dark troubles. His belief in God gave Him confidence. Consequently, Jesus would not shrink from trouble but marched, breast forward, with His face steadfastly set towards the cross, enduring the shame, because He believed that God was with Him. “I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” That was the answer to His awful loneliness. That was the answer to the troubles that faced Him. Belief enable Him to face trouble confidently. Belief can do the same for you.

In my study I have a large frame containing many photos. My family chose photos of my friends so I could be encouraged by them. One is with Bishop Chandu Ray, a great man within the world church. One day we were having lunch together and as we drank some iced water, he said, “Gordon, I always give thanks for water, ever since the time I nearly died because I did not have any.” Sensing a story, I asked him to tell me about it. He replied, “I was crossing Pakistan by camel and had to cross 400 miles of desert on my own. Almost in the middle of my journey the camel fell and broke a leg. I had to shoot it. I unloaded the luggage from the camel on to my own back and made a rucksack. Unfortunately, in the camel’s fall he ruptured the water tank and all the water ran out into the sand before I could save it. I was 200 miles from anywhere in any direction, north of Hyderabad, in the desert, in terrible heat. No man could travel that distance. So I packed the rucksack and said, ‘Lord, I believe that I can walk out of this desert without becoming thirsty”. With a tremendous effort of will he set out. He said, “I tried to walk and move through the sand so as not to cause perspiration, and so as not to feel too hot. I covered myself with a handkerchief. I walked through that desert until I came to the other side.”

I cannot explain how Bishop Chandu Ray did that. But he believed his trouble could be overcome. He tackled it in a very sane and sensible way. He continued trudging through the sand, God preserved his life for His ministry on every continent ever since. If he had said, “It is impossible. I will never do it.” he would have perished beside his camel. But he believed and acted on it and his belief enabled him to face trouble confidently. Not to have face your trouble with belief is to be defeated!

2. BELIEF ENABLES FINDING PEACE INTERNALLY.

People facing defeat and ineffectiveness are often beset by internal turmoil. Belief enables finding peace internally. The believer is no longer angry at the world, angry at his or her failure, or envious of the success of another. The believer recognizes his or her own self-worth and the love God has shown. They are at peace within. In this world, said Jesus, you will have trouble. Note the contrasts, between being in the world, and being in Me. It is between being in trouble, and being in peace. It is between being what you have now, and what you can have through belief. Where are you? In the world? In trouble? In disbelief? Or are you in the Lord, in peace, in belief. Jesus promised: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” Belief enables internal peace.

3. BELIEF ENABLES OVERCOMING TROUBLE BRAVELY.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Belief enables overcoming bravely. Jesus says: there are many of us facing tough battles: take heart! There are many being overwhelmed by the world: take heart! The Christian Church learned early to be brave. The Christians learned to open, proclaim the message, go out into the streets and face the Sanhedrin. Those who crucified Jesus called those who had been with Jesus, “ignorant men” but recognised they had taken heart because they had been with Jesus. Christians who believe in Jesus will go against great enemies and overcome, because He has already overcome. As you believe in Jesus, you have His mind to bring to bear upon the problems you have to face. He says, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” He has overcome the world. Three times Jesus asked, “Do you believe in Me?” because their belief in Him would make the difference.

Then He said that their belief would enable the disciples face trouble confidently, find peace internally, and overcome trouble bravely. Their belief would give them confidence in times of conflict, peace in times of stress, and success in time of defeat. They would work with confidence, known peace within and overcome successfully. John, who was there, caught the message, and later was able to write, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5: 4-5

If you have belief, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Belief is the means of fulfilling the Lord’s promise of ultimate victory. The Apostle Paul grasped this. Paul saw that even if his generation of believers were persecuted for their faith, and died in the arena, they would still have ultimate victory through their belief in Jesus. If Jesus has been with you in your defeats, you will be with Him in His victory. Paul looked to the future, beyond death, and saw your belief would give you the ultimate victory. He saw that in the end: “the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised: “In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." You can share His ultimate victory. That was His last promise.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.