This sermon explores the two approaches that have been tried in the effort to improve or save this world.

The great dreamers and idealists throughout history have all had the same hope - to somehow change or create a better world. Some, like artists, scientists, or philanthropists have managed to improve this world. For example:

  • Lessen suffering through medical discoveries.
  • Make life easier by inventing new technologies and products.
  • Some have promoted a more just society by empowering the weak or distributing wealth more equitably.

Of course there are those who thought they were improving the world when in reality they were making it worse. For example, Hitler's ideal of a superior and thus, better race, actually resulted in death and misery for millions including his own people. And then there are any number of philosophers and artists who wanted to liberate man by removing basic restraints and moral guidelines - only to send an entire generation down the road of self-indulgence and immorality that threatens to destroy the moral fabrics of today's society.

And these idealists (whether their ideas produced good or bad results) all wanted the same thing - they wanted to change the world. Many of them made changes in the world and improved some aspects of it for good at times. But no one actually succeeded in changing the world itself in any way that would stop its decay or improve mankind's character to a point where evil was eliminated. In these most basic things no idealist has been able to bring about significant or permanent change.

There is one man, however, who made this a better world not by improving or changing it. Jesus Christ, and the things that He did, made this a better world by overcoming it.

If anyone could have changed or improved the world it would have been Jesus. Paul says of Him,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him.
- Colossians 1:15-16

The world was made through His power, therefore He knows how it works better than anyone. He has miraculous power so He has the ability to make any change that He wants. The world was created for His purpose so He has the right to change things if He wants to. And yet, in the face of all this privilege and power concerning the world, what does Jesus choose to do?

  • Change the world for the better?
  • Save the environment?
  • Improve man's lifestyle?

He doesn't do any one of those. Instead He proceeds to "overcome" the world (as John records His words), not change it or improve it. And Jesus does this so that others will be empowered to do so as well. You see, we can't change the world, we can only overcome it.

To Change or To Overcome - These are the Two Options

1. To Change The World

The problem with idealists (good or bad) is that they think that they can change things, improve things. And they're partly right. They can change things to a degree and relieve the suffering by a couple of notches. The mistake they make is thinking that the change will last, or the improvements will contribute to a final goal where the world will be changed for the better once and for all (it's the evolutionary model - we're always improving.) The great hope of the idealists is that they have contributed a piece that will ultimately result in the complete transformation of this world. This is the nature of their faith, the substance of their vision, the passion that drives their work and many sacrifices.

To change the world is the idealists' form of salvation and eternal life - such a contribution makes them immortal in some way.

2. To Overcome the World

In John 16:33 Jesus said,

Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Note that He didn't say, I have changed the world or I have improved the world. He didn't say this because Jesus knew that there is no changing the world or improving it to the point where it will become ideal. He wasn't a pessimist - He was a realist. He knew two important things about the world:

  1. Since Adam's disobedience, sin had come into the world and along with it death to every man. Jesus knew all men sinned, and all men suffered and died and there would be no changing or improving this. The evil in the world simply ran in cycles of high and low intensity but it would always be there.
  2. Since the great flood in Noah's day the perfect earth created by God was damaged beyond repair. All the environmental care and laws would never restore the earth to its pristine condition - they only slow its decay (which is a good thing) but not a final solution.

His understanding of this and His Divine nature enabled Him to do the only thing that will change, not the world, but change us. Jesus, the Son of God, knew that the world and everything in it was perishing and the only hope for anyone - the only ideal, the only dream was to leave this world by overcoming it.

Now, overcoming the world involved three things:

A. Overcoming disbelief

What keeps idealists in this unending cycle of trying to change a world that will not change, is their disbelief. They don't believe that man's sinfulness is the cause of His death and downfall (too simplistic). They refuse to believe that God destroyed the earth because of sin (not scientific). They refuse to believe that man has only the power that God gives him and without God man can do nothing (too proud).

By revealing the Father and His miracles Jesus overcame disbelief. Now people had reason to believe. God was among them. Overcoming the world also requires...

B. Overcoming sin

Man can mitigate sin, rationalize sin, justify sin, deny sin, enjoy sin, promote sin - but he can't get rid of sin. Jesus lived a sinless life in order to overcome sin on our behalf; then, He died on the cross to obtain forgiveness for all our sins; finally He sent the Holy Spirit to give us the power to deal with sin in our own lives.

By taking our sins upon Himself, Jesus enabled every person to be totally healed from sin - not just treat its symptoms. (We overcome sin through forgiveness, not self-improvement.) Overcoming the world involves overcoming disbelief, sin...

C. Overcoming death

Three days after they killed Him, Jesus is raised from the dead to demonstrate that the door that locked us into this world and its fate was now open and those following Jesus could now go through and pass on to the other side. Before, the fear of death kept us here, kept us working to create heaven here on earth. Now, through Jesus we are free to go to the heaven He has created for us.

Summary

All of us have things we'd like to change in ourselves or our surroundings. This is normal and part of a healthy attitude towards life - wanting to make things better. Remember, however, that our overall goal in life is not the process of change, it's the process of overcoming. We'll never change ourselves or the world enough to satisfy ourselves or God.

Overcoming, however, is possible and required if you are to leave this world and be pleasing to yourself and God forever. The first step in overcoming the world is to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and express that faith as He has commanded it in repentance and baptism. If you're ready to overcome the world, come now.