Date: March 12, 1931?
What further need have we of witnesses? – Matthew 26:65
TONIGHT we are to resume our pilgrimage along the path of our Lord’s Lenten sorrows and follow Him once more into the national court of His people, where, prosecuted by the jealous hatred of the priests and scribes, He is to become the victim of the most vicious conspiracy and mistrial recorded in the criminal procedure of any people or any age. Long into that dark night, witness after witness presents false and inconsistent testimony, ugly, contradictory lies, that are challenged only by the majestic silence of Christ. Their most impressive charge apparently is that this intruder from out-of-the-way Nazareth told a curious crowd in Jerusalem that, if Herod’s Temple were destroyed, He would in three short days restore this gem of Judean architecture, which had been forty years in building. But, fanatical literalists though they were, they knew that, whatever punishment this claim might involve, it could not send Him to the cross. And that Nazarene must be crucified! There must be a final and unequivocal admission of capital guilt from His own lips. So finally, when all the perjury fails, the high priest, he who was to be the representative of God among God’s people, rises up to face his persecuted victim with the direct and decisive issue, “I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Only now, when silence might be construed as denial or as an evasion, does Jesus speak, and in this crisis moment He gives the clear, concise, and unmistakable answer, “I am.” That answer seals the Savior’s doom. The enraged high priest brands Him as a blasphemer, tears his garments in a gesture of frenzied fury, turns to the conclave of bloodthirsty persecutors, and screams, “What further need have we of witnesses?” From all corners of that hall of inquisition comes the cry of satanic triumph, “He is guilty of death!” Thus ended the vilest miscarriage of justice ever perpetrated in the name of religion.
Yet that question of the high priest, “What further need have we of witnesses?” has become the Church’s triumphant cry of confidence in this skeptical, proof-seeking age, in which people demand, “How do you know that Christ is what you claim that He is?” “How can you prove that this carpenter’s Son of Galilee is the divine Savior of the human race?” “What evidence and witness have you to help us in our struggle against doubt?”
THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE SAVIOR.
To this we answer, “What further need have we of witnesses?” Our faith in the divine Saviorhood of Christ is based on the most decisive, infallible, and complete evidence, the testimony of His own words. In the pages of the New Testament we have His own divine, deathless record, which, though contradicted by many and conflicting opponents of truth, has proved itself to be what Jesus claimed it was, the very truth of God. Here, in these inspired pages, we hear the voice of Jesus declaring that He is David’s Lord; that He is “greater than Solomon”; that He existed “before Abraham,” yea, that He was with the Father “before the world was.” We hear Him telling men that He “came down from heaven,” that He “came forth from the Father”; we hear Him insisting that He is the “Light of the world,” that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; we hear Him asserting that “all power in heaven and in earth” has been given to Him, including the power to forgive sins, to offer rest to the weary and heavy-laden; we hear Him asserting that no man can come to the Father but by Him and that He and the Father are one. And as the conclusive climax to all this we behold Him tonight in that epoch-making moment when under oath, swearing by the living God, His words ring out clearly and authoritatively, “I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There, in Christ’s own words, you have the one central reality of Christian conviction, the message of the divine Sonship and Saviorhood of Jesus that pervades the entire Bible. And my plea tonight to those who waver in doubt and unbelief and who have never taken the Christ into their sinful hearts is that they be fair and open enough to consider, not what men say of Jesus, but what He, the blessed, Holy Savior, says of Himself. Give that wonder-working Word of Christ a chance in your hearts, trust it, believe it, and you, too, will exclaim, “What further need have we of witnesses?”
But there is further witness, testimony, in addition to the words of Christ concerning Himself. Jesus lived the truth of these words and gave the startling, convincing testimony of a divine and saving life. Consider the evidence of His sinlessness and of His stainless purity. Men may criticize the weaknesses of the Church and of its servants, but the human mind has never been able to conceive of any life that has been so absolutely free from the stain of sin as the life of Him who could challenge His enemies, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” He was fiercely tempted and assailed by forces too overwhelming for us to comprehend. But where is there another figure in history that has caused men to exclaim as Peter did when confronted by the holiness of Christ, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”? Leaders of all other religions have been selfish and sinful, in many cases brutal and avaricious; but here, because Christ is God, is that divine perfection against which even the perjury of His bitterest enemies sinks in abject self-indictment.
Consider the testimony of His grace. Human history knows no symbol of love as deep and holy, as unselfish and all-embracing, as the Savior’s cross. Other creeds flourish by promoting bigotry and feeding the flames of hatred; but here, as the world beholds Christ, suspended on the cross between heaven and earth, deserted and rejected by both, and yet bearing in His own sinless body the sins of all the world and all the ages, it is brought face to face with a love too tremendous to be earth-born, too universal to be merely human, too all-embracing to come from selfish humanity. What other human leader is there of whom men could say in truth what the Roman centurion said of Jesus amid the rumbling darkness of Calvary, “Truly, this was the Son of God”? Who else is there in history to whom a dying outcast could turn and find the promise of paradise?
Consider furthermore the testimony of His omnipotence. After a life of miracles and wonders that provoked the admiration and recognition of all unbiased witnesses, Christ died and was buried. But because He was God and because the self-sacrifice of the Son was accepted by the Father, He, the only individual in history to whom this preeminence may be ascribed, rose again; and this, His resurrection from the dead, is the supreme miracle. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” is the inescapable doom that overtakes the greatest of the earth’s great. But where can the annals of human achievement point to anyone who is worthy to receive the adoration which pressed itself to Thomas’s lips as, beholding the lacerated side and the pierced hands of the risen Savior, he cried out, “My Lord and my God!”? Yes, “what further need have we of witnesses” when every act that He performed bears the unmistakable print of the divine, when every step that He takes leads from earth to heaven, from the grave of death to the victory of life?
THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE CREED.
But again, there are other witnesses. There is the testimony of a divine creed. Pause for a moment to compare the Gospel of Jesus with the teachings of other systems of religion. Let us start with sin. While other creeds condone sin or gloss over its effect or even glorify it, as every traveler who has ever witnessed the obscenity in Oriental temples knows, as every student of comparative religion readily admits, or as any one acquainted with the fashionable cults of today realizes,—in Christ’s creed sin is the leprous, cancerous evil that deforms human life, the barrier that dooms men to the blight of a never-ending separation from their God.
Yet, wonder of wonders, while hating sin and despising unrighteousness, He loves the sinner and stretches His scarred hands out to the unrighteous. For Him every human soul, that of the lowest outlaw, that of the most bestial degenerate, that of the most filthy reprobate, is a treasure of surpassing grandeur, drawing forth nothing less than the magnificence of the love of God, demanding His own perfect, meritorious self-sacrifice on the cross. While other religious systems draw the strict line of class or caste or cater to the wealthy and the socially prominent, here is Christ’s pledge that wipes away all distinctions of person and position, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, Him will I also confess before My Father which is in heaven.” For Him—and can there be greater love than this?—the blessed reunion of a soul with its God is of such world-moving, heaven-hallowed importance that instead of the guesses and gropings, instead of the conflicting ideas and confusing superstitions, instead of the cramped and rigid rules of other creeds and religions, His Word sends out into the widest reaches of the world this unconditional, all-embracing invitation, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No wonder that Peter, confessing the heavenly nature of this faith, falls on his knees and cries, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” No wonder that hundreds of millions since his day have turned with their whole souls to this faith that asks no conditions, that for salvation demands no contribution of good works, but that trusts fully and forever in the shed blood of Christ. No wonder that some of you who have heard this heaven-born and heaven-restoring faith for the first time by means of this marvelous Gospel agency have found in this full, free grace the assurance that enables you to tell the world, “What further need have we of witnesses?”
THE TESTIMONY OF A DIVINE POWER.
But we move on to that gripping witness, the power of the Gospel of Christ, which has “turned the world upside down,” to use the significant indictment hurled against the apostles. All history is a sign-board pointing to His divine supremacy, and all geography testifies to the impact of His power. Think of the exaltation of womanhood that He gave to the world. Buddha fervently gave thanks that he had not been born in hell, as the vermin, or as the women. Plato, supreme among the philosophers of the Old World, believed in a community of wives. But when Christ is preached, men are animated by a new ideal: “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” Think of the blessings which Christianity has extended to childhood. The brilliant Frenchman Rousseau is said to have made the successive children born to him public charges at the Paris foundling-houses; Roman society had no such institutions of mercy, and the infants that were not thrown into the Tiber were exposed to be torn to pieces by vicious curs, or just as frequently were reared for prostitution and slavery. But when Christ is accepted, we see that men follow the overmastering power of Christ’s love for the little ones expressed in His immortal invitation, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” Think of the ever-repeated consideration that Christ extended to the poor and afflicted, to wrecked and ruined humanity. Greek philosophy taught that “the poor should be barred from the market-places and that the country be cleaned of that sort of animal.” Modern materialistic philosophy, teaching a stern survival of the fittest, has not hesitated to carry this delusion to the extreme by demanding that the deaf-mutes, the blind, the mentally defective as well as other dependents be removed by euthanasia, or an easy death. But once again, when Christ is proclaimed and when men see Him raise His hands in benediction over the unfortunates of humanity with the promise, “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee,” human selfishness is checked; men follow Christ’s divine example, and the unfortunates of humanity find help and shelter and merciful hands to lift up their burden. Truly, “what further need have we of witnesses” when Christian faith so mightily proves itself “the victory that overcometh the world”?
But let me assure you tonight that the Savior is anxious for you to experience the blessing of His power in your own lives. Christ must be a vital, dynamic, expressive force in every regenerated heart, a powerful and throbbing reality in every twice-born life; for, as the apostle reminds us, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” His heart and his life are changed. Christ lives in him and he in Christ. Not that the Christian normally receives any special signs and wonders, any special visions and manifestations, but in the quiet, unmistakable way in which the Spirit of God operates through the Word and the Sacraments, he has the positive assurance of the ever faithful, ever helpful comradeship of that Savior who has promised, “Lo, I am with you alway.”
How is it that Christians can face the sorrows of a hapless existence with cheerful and buoyant hearts? How is it that a young widowed mother who writes in to tell me that in five weeks she has received only two pay checks, one for fifty-one cents and the other for forty-eight cents, whose hungry little girl makes the rounds of the grocery stores to pick up the wilted lettuce leaves, can still have hope and faith in her Savior, while thousands who do not know Christ take recourse to suicide at the occasion of a relatively slight reverse? How is it that, when death comes, brilliant minds and geniuses that have cast away their only Savior end in a horrible nightmare of unspeakable despair, while even the plainest and simplest Christian can face that end happy in the thought of a blessed homecoming into the waiting arms of his Savior? Why all this if not because the blood-bought grace of Christ is such a living, throbbing, vitalizing power and conviction for everyone who truly believes that we can challenge death, hell, and the cohorts of sin with the Christian’s hymn of victory, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.