Victory in Easter

Today we celebrate a wonderful victory, not a military victory, not a sports victory, but an eternal victory won for you and me. Today we celebrate the victory of Easter!

Let us pray. Lord God, O how we love to be victorious, O how we love to cheer on those who walk down victory lane. In the midst of your victory on the cross, keep us humble Lord, keep us focused on the meaning of your victory, and help us to never forget that your victory for us is a gift, a gift that we receive by your grace. In the name of the risen Christ. Amen.

The Easter stories, regardless of which Gospel you read, tell of a victory. And, it's significant that the description of the victory is not of a God who strides through the gates of death as though one was marching through a triumphal arch. But rather, the One who has been raised from the dead remains the crucified one. And the marks of his authority, which he will forever bear, are the scars on his body.

In raising Jesus, God has vindicated Christ. Death, once so powerful, has been defeated. And now as Christians we know something that many in the world don't yet know: that is, the ultimate triumph and purposes of a loving God.

In our biggest and littlest tragedies, in all of history's setbacks and disappointments, we live in confident expectation that the God who triumphed in the resurrection shall finally triumph everywhere and for all time.

The victory of Easter can simply be described as a victory of love. And our Epistle reading this morning speaks to the love God has shared with us. You see as believers, our self-worth isn't based on how others or we perceive us; it's based on the fact that God loves us and calls us his children.

Because of Easter, because of God's victory over death, we are restored as his children, not just some time in the distant future, but right now. We were created to be part of God's family. God wants a family and God created all of us to be part of it. God wants a family who will love him, honor him, and live with him forever.

Because God is love, God treasures relationships. After all the very nature of God is one of relationships. We see this fact manifested in Jesus. Jesus ministry was based on developing and fostering relationships with others, relationships with love as their foundation.

When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our parent, and we become God's children. And all of God's children are brothers and sisters, equal in the eyes of the Lord. The family of God includes all believers from the past, all those we enjoy communion with today, and all those believers yet to come.

Every human being without exception was created by God, but not everyone is a child of God. The only way to become a part of God's family is by being born again into it, by receiving Christ into your life, and acknowledging him as your Lord and Savior. The invitation to become part of this family is universal, but there is one condition to becoming part of God's family, faith in Jesus Christ.

And when we follow Christ we gain all the privileges and responsibilities of a child in God's family. As a responsible child we have an obligation to live, as Jesus would want us to. And Jesus wants us to live a life free from sin so that we might enjoy a peaceful and joyful existence.

But the Easter victory and the love and forgiveness that comes with this victory, doesn't mean we can just live and sin at will, knowing that if we honestly asked to be forgiven God will forgive us.

This reminds me of some movies I've seen where some one kills a person, commits adultery, or engages in some other sin, then races to the church to seek forgiveness from a priest.

Once forgiven they feel great but then they return to the sinful life they left just moments before. It's a never-ending cycle. This is cheap forgiveness, or feel-good forgiveness. And yes, this happens beyond the movies as well, even today.

We can't dance with the devil and hold God's hand. Do you understand what I'm saying? We can't come here to worship today and say thank you God, Alleluia, bless you God, thank you Lord, and then leave and return to our sinful ways. We can't dance with the devil and hold God's hand. In other words we can't have what some wrongly classify as having the "best of both worlds."

As we take on the characteristics of children of God, to grow as a reflection of God, we have a responsibility to live and grow toward modeling the characteristics of God. And to achieve this we have to change dancing partners.

Regrettably many view the powerful gift of forgiveness as a commodity that can simply be received by walking up to an automated forgiveness machine (AFM), then by punching in your personal confession number (PCN) you receive a handful of forgiveness, and your good to go until you feel the need to be forgiven again. Unfortunately many treat God's forgiveness in this manner, believing in a forgiveness bank rather than a loving God. But make no mistake about it, sin and living as God's children, are polar opposites. We can't live both lives.

When we sin against God we still pay the consequences for those sins even if God forgives us of our sins. And, when we die, we shall stand before God and we will be held accountable for all that we've done or not done.

Intentionally committing sin and banking on forgiveness is not the way God intends for us to live our lives. And as we each know not committing sin is very difficult.

So it's important to know that there is a striking difference between committing a sin and continuing to sin. Even the most faithful believers, children of God, sometimes commit sins, and we are all personal witnesses to this truth. No matter how committed we are to the faith we do sin.

But what makes committed Christians different from other people, including what I refer to as nominal Christians, is that we don't take pleasure in a particular sin and choose to commit it.

A sincere believer who commits a sin repents, confesses, and finds forgiveness from God, then moves on striving once again to live, as God would want them to. A person who continues to sin is typically not sorry for what he or she is doing, and this person never really confesses and therefore doesn't receive forgiveness.

A person, who continually sins, although they know better, is in direct opposition to God regardless of what religious claims they might make. This is not the way a child of God lives or acts. This is the problem John was addressing in our Epistle reading today.

Many of you remember the professional golfer Payne Stewart who died several years ago in a plane crash. At his memorial service the phrase "God Offers Love and Forgiveness" G.O.L.F. was used to represent the path chosen by Payne. Well we too can choose this path.

Through his victory on the cross, God offers all of us life as his children, a life full of unending love and forgiveness. Will you respond to his offer?


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