John 16:32–33 (NKJV)
32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
For the first three Sundays in Lent, we addressed our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Having identified each of these enemies, we have been highlighting the way that Jesus, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, has conquered each of them. Already we have seen that He conquered the flesh and the devil; today we see that He has conquered the world. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Jesus’ words remind us that when we speak of the “world” as our enemy, we are not speaking of the created order. Creation itself is good, created by Almighty God as the inheritance of His people. Blessed are the meek, our Lord Jesus declared, for they shall inherit the earth. If the earth were evil then it wouldn’t make for much of an inheritance!
When we speak of the “world”, therefore, we do not mean the created order or mere physicality; the “world” is the collection of assumptions, practices, and desires embraced by our broader community or culture that run contrary to the Word of God. It is the assortment of unbiblical values that strive to have preeminence over God’s values. It consists of ideas, institutions, and vocations that marginalize God and His law. Those who embrace such ideas are part of “the world”, part of the kingdom of darkness that wages war against God and His people.
Jesus reminds us that in that “world”, among those who marginalize God and extol ungodly values, we will inevitably have tribulation. “If the world hates you,” Jesus says in John 15:18-19, “you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” We will be called “old-fashioned”, “out of date”, “homophobic”, “judgmental”, “harsh”, “traitors”, etc.
This opposition of the world could be a cause for great alarm. Jesus says elsewhere, “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16a). This is hardly encouraging; the interaction of sheep and wolves typically ends with a bloody mess – and it’s a mess of sheep not of wolves! As we reflect on this danger we could be led to anxiety and fear. But Jesus says something quite remarkable in our text. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
By His death and resurrection Jesus has not only broken the power of Satan, not only freed us from the guilt and power of sin, but He has overcome the world. The kingdom of darkness shall not stand; the world shall not prevail; Jesus has triumphed. Through His death and resurrection He has broken the power of the world and guarantees that those who fear and worship the Living God shall triumph – and the way we shall triumph is following Christ in the path of suffering and vindication. So when we suffer at the hands of the world, what are we to do? We are to be of good cheer.
So what of you? When you have faced opposition, insults, or threats; when you have been fired for standing for Christ; when you have lost your business; when you have lost your friend; when you have become estranged from family; when you have lost a child; when you have endured imprisonment – have you been of good cheer? Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
Reminded of our calling to be of good cheer and our tendency to need cheering, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And let us kneel as we confess.