Date: October 16, 1930?
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? They say unto Him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How, then, doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool? If David, then, call Him Lord, how is He his Son? – Matthew 22:41-43
IN the current issue of one of our magazines which is noted for its liberal point of view two modern authors whose writings have been pronouncedly antichristian answer the editor’s inquiry as to the outstanding dates in history by assuming that among the greatest of all great historical events the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is unparalleled in importance. Their opinion is representative of that generally held by fair-minded men today; for if the question of our text, asked by our Lord Himself when He turned upon the intriguing churchmen of His day, “What think ye of Christ?” were directed to the people of our country today, we should find that almost everyone who is guided by an unbiased historical perspective would be ready to concede—whatever he might think of the teachings of the Lord Jesus—that no one who has ever lived upon the face of the earth has left a more indelible imprint upon the hearts and lives of human beings than He.
HE IS NOT ONLY DAVID’S SON.
How can there be any reason to doubt or to minimize this absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ? Think, for example, of His influence upon the various human arts, music, literature, architecture, and their allied branches. Is it not true that in the deathless masterpieces of Bach and Handel their sublime symphonies are but the musical echo of our Lord’s sublimity and grandeur? Are not the paintings of Da Vinci and Correggio, the statuary of Michelangelo and Thorwaldsen, creations of an art that has been inspired by the greatness of Christ and the power of His love?
Or pause for a moment to hear the anthem of praise that rises up to the magnificence of Christ from the more practical aspects of our daily existence. Jesus was neither a statesman nor a diplomat; He strenuously rejected the overtures of those who sought to elevate Him to a reestablished throne in Israel. Yet His ideals of political life, His insistence upon loyalty and allegiance to the governmental powers that be, His emphasis upon the clean cleavage that must exist between the government and His Church, have, more than anything else, helped to make the United States what it is today. And when men reject Him and repudiate His principles, the confusion and chaos, evident in heathen empires, in atheistic Soviets, and in forgetful republics, bear tragic testimony to the folly of excluding Christ and His Word from human affairs.
Again, take modern business. Jesus was not a business man, an organizer, nor a student of political economy; and the treasury of His twelve disciples concerned Him so little that at least once it was necessary to replete it by a miracle. He had to requisition the beast that was to bear Him on His triumphal entry into the Holy City. Yet not only did He establish the world’s oldest and greatest organization, His Church, but he also gave to modern business the only code of ethics which can ever successfully begin to cope with the problems of capital and labor and correctly emphasize the mutual responsibilities that exist between employer and employee. The disregard of the nobility of labor, the exploitation of the public, and the sullen, hate-heavy dashes between organized labor and organized capital demonstrate the hopelessness of all industrial efforts that determinedly set Christ aside.
Or let us consider the influence of Christ in modem education. He Himself wrote nothing, as far as we know, except a few characters scratched into the Palestinian soil, before a stone-throwing mob. But more books have been written about Him and His work than about an aggregate of hundreds of others who have been enshrined in the halls of human fame. On the corporate seal of the oldest and greatest university of the country is the motto, “For Christ and the Church”; and there can be no well-founded doubt that Christianity has been the energizing factor behind the spread of popular education in its elementary and in its higher forms. There can, of course, be education without Christ, but where the fear of God that He inculcated is not the beginning of wisdom, there you have that cold, calculating materialism in education that has left its blight on so much of our intellectual endeavor.
Once more, picture the molding impulses Christ has given to our home-life. He had no home of His own; He told His disciples, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” Hard-minded bigots drove Him out of their city gates. Yet think of our Christian home-life and the finer, nobler forms of mutual devotion between husband and wife. Think of the sanctity of holy matrimony, the love for children, and the respect for parents, the ideals of purity and clean living, which faith in Jesus Christ, and that power alone, has given to the world: compare all this with the insistent efforts of liberalists and extremists to endorse licentious arrangements, which often amount to nothing more than free love in its promiscuous forms; and human reason, as limited and as fallacious as it so frequently proves itself to be, will bring us to the conclusion that, if Jesus did nothing else than to bequeath to the world the ideals of Christian marriage and home-life, He would, for this one reason alone, be regarded as the Superfigure of all history.
Small wonder, then, that even those who reject the authority of the Word of God have paused to pay their unhesitating tribute to Christ by acknowledging His supremacy in the affairs of the human race. The French Orientalist and Bible critic Renan declared, “Whatever will be the surprises of the future, Jesus will never be surpassed; all ages will proclaim that among the sons of men there is none born greater than Jesus.” John Stuart Mill, British economist and radical, admitted, “About the life of Jesus of Nazareth there is a stamp . . . which must place the Prophet of Nazareth even in the estimate of those who have no belief in His inspiration in the very first ranks of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, the New England transcendentalist, declared, “Jesus is the most perfect of all men that have yet appeared.” James Anthony Froude, historian, yet skeptic, confessed, “The most perfect being who has ever trod the soil of this planet was called the Man of Sorrows.”
And yet, if this were all, as these and a host of other men outside the pale of Biblical Christianity admit, that Jesus was simply the Greatest of the great; if the answer to the inevitable question, “What think ye of Christ?” were merely that of the Jews in our text, who declared the Messiah to be “David’s son,” a mere mortal therefore, although of pretentious power and position, we should be constrained to declare “Poor Christ!” reflecting as we must upon the agonizing death which He suffered when blasphemous hands nailed Him to the cross; and we should echo “Poor humanity!” confronting ourselves with the tragic picture of a world decaying in the sin to which every honest-minded mortal must plead a hopeless “Guilty.”
If Christ is not divine,
Then lay the Book away
And every blessed faith resign
That has so long been yours and mine
Through many a trying day;
Forget the place of bended knee
And dream no more of worlds to be.
If Christ is not divine,
Go seal again the tomb;
Take down the cross, Redemption’s sign,
Quench all the stars of hope that shine,
And let us turn and travel on
Across the night that knows no dawn.
HE IS DAVID’S LORD.
But I thank God this evening that I have the unusual privilege of employing the far-reaching facilities of these thirty-five stations, the sixty thousand miles of wire that connect them, their power and their frequencies, to tell you that Christ is divine. I invite the world to look up to the cross of Christ and to believe that He who languishes there is not a misinterpreted hero, a misunderstood reformer, a mistaken idealist; for all of these interpretations of the Christ of God which are being popularized today as never before fall hopelessly short of giving an adequate estimate of the essential Christ and what He means to you and to me today. No; above all this He is, beyond all possibility of human question and doubt, the Incarnation of God, the Only-begotten of the Father, at once true God and true Man.
You ask for proof, and I point you first to the words of our text, which emphatically repudiate the delusion that Jesus is only human. We read that Christ spurns the customary theological opinion of the pride-blinded Pharisees, who held that the promised Messiah would be only an earthly descendant of Israel’s greatest king and that the fallen throne of a Davidic dynasty would be reestablished by a hero of David’s lineage. He challenges these churchmen with the words, “How, then, doth David in spirit call Him Lord?” In other words, how can the Messiah be David’s son when David, than whom Israel’s history knows none greater, acknowledges Him as his Lord? And to show the blinded theologians of His day that David did call the Christ his Lord, Jesus quotes the opening words of the 110th Psalm, where King David says, “The Lord said to my Lord” (the Messiah), “Sit Thou on My right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” Now, the unexpressed inference of Christ is this: The Messiah, far from being a mere descendant of David, is David’s Lord, honored, revered, and worshiped by that king as his God and Savior.
That claim is amazingly sustained throughout the Scriptures, of which Jesus said, “They are they that testify of Me.” On the very day that He was born He was called “Christ the Lord.” The disciple whom He loved, pointing to Him, said, “This is the true God and eternal Life.” He Himself told the world, “All men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” And His mightiest missionary declared Him to be “God, blessed forever.”
But Jesus not only accepted such divine names and titles, He also laid unmistakable claim to divine nature, power, and lordship. Is God omnipotent? So is the Lord Jesus; for He declares, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth,” so that “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Is God eternal? So is the Lord Jesus, for He told His followers, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Is God omniscient, all-knowing? So is the Lord Jesus; for when He told Peter the secrets of His heart, that disciple declared, “Lord, Thou knowest all things”; and St. Paul echoes, “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Is God sinless? So is the Lord Jesus. Publicly He invites His bitter opponents to show the world a single instance in which He has been guilty of sin; but only stolid silence greets this challenge. Is God merciful and compassionate? So is the Lord Jesus; for it is He who tells conscience-stricken men that His is the power to forgive sins on earth, He who pronounces the absolution of peace upon their sin-burdened souls.
Remember how manifestly He gave the evidence of these and other high and holy claims. When He healed the sick, miraculously fed the hungry, restored the sight of the blind, raised the dead, suspended the laws of nature to carry out the purposes of His kingdom, He gave to the world a demonstration of His godhead, so powerful that even His opponents could not successfully contradict it. And when, in deep humiliation, He bowed His head into death and cried, “It is finished,” later triumphantly to burst asunder the bonds of the grave, all this, and particularly His victorious resurrection, to which more than one hundred passages of the New Testament lend their inspired testimony, was conclusive proof of the divine lordship which makes Christ the most essential goal for humanity today, its only hope for time and for eternity. Now, the divine lordship of Jesus Christ is no vague abstraction that leaves your life cold and untouched. It is rather the most intensely essential truth that life can hold out to you. For the purpose of His incarnation, the great love that made divinity humanity, the Son of God the Son of Man, was to tell us what the golden verse of Scripture proclaims, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is in this way that Christ comes to us tonight with a twofold message as we are asked, “What think ye of Christ?” First, realizing the immensity of this sacrifice of the great and glorious God and acknowledging that the sins which He bears in His holy body are not His sins, but the sins of every man, woman, and child that ever lived or that will live upon the face of this world to the end of days, we must cry out, “Oh, how appalling are the consequences of my manifold sins, sins that brought the almighty God down to suffer and die in my stead, as my Substitute and my Redeemer! Oh, how terrible is the iniquity of my transgressions that has separated me from my God, attached my heart and my desires to that which is unclean, selfish, and degrading, and then led the pure, holy, sinless, stainless, divine Christ, my Lord and my God, to take all these iniquities upon Himself!”
Yet, because Christianity is essentially a religion of happiness and rejoicing, I ask you to glance through the pages of your Bible and to behold Mary Magdalene in restored love before her Savior, to find the centurion confessing Christ, to see the dying thief forgiven, cleansed, and strengthened by the promise of paradise, and to gain assurance in the conviction that our blessed Savior seals to you the forgiveness of every shortcoming, every inconsistency, every sin that expresses itself in your life. I ask you to believe with the conviction of an undaunted faith that you, having been made a child of the heavenly Father through Christ’s constraining love, will share in that deathless inheritance that fadeth not away, but abideth forever in heaven, throughout the endless reaches of a triumphant eternity. Slaughtering Saul, prostrate on the Damascus road, looks up to heaven as though to pierce through the mist of his blindness to the mysterious heights from which the heavenly voice speaks to him. Stirred to the depths of his soul in the anxiety of that crisis, he calls out, “Lord, who art Thou?” And tonight, if any of you, staggering along the pathway of life, baffled by the enigmas of your existence, and burdened by the load of sin that bears you down to the dust, likewise look up to heaven and cry out, “Lord, who art Thou?” remember that this searching question of the ages has been answered by the assurance of Jesus, “He that seeth Me seeth the Father.” I pray not that yours may be a keen and analytical vision of human affairs and activities, nor a comprehensive survey of business and industrial conditions, nor a far-sighted outlook into the shrouded vistas of the future. But I do pray that your vision may be divinely directed to the God-man Jesus, the Christ, and that, as you hear the voice of divine authority ask, “What thinkest thou of Christ?” you may kneel down and, casting all doubt out of the temple of your heart, declare in the immortal confession of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.