Date: April 5, 1931
Because I live, ye shall live also. – John 14:19
IN the labyrinth of life, amid the many and devious paths that lead and mislead, there is a way, at the cross-road of every human crisis, that guides us to heaven’s happiness. In the perplexities of doubt and distrust by which self-seeking men would overthrow the verities of life there is a truth that serenely overtowers all the blind and sordid gropings of sin-bound minds. Above the darkness and decay of death, clutching as it does all that is human with its cold and blighting grasp, there is a life that lives beyond the grave, that lives and loves when the measured tread of marching death is heard no more.
That way, that truth, that life, is given to us in our risen Christ and in the faith which is ours, ours always, but ours especially on this blessed Easter Day, when we find in Him a Savior who not only lived a life of love, who not only died that death of immeasurable terror, but who, thank God, burst His rock grave asunder, rose invincibly from the dead, and today, on the anniversary of His glorious resurrection, gives us this pledge of Easter triumph, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
CHRIST’S EASTER TRIUMPH: “I LIVE.”
Yes, Christ lives. Let men repeat the falsehood, now almost two thousand years old, that the body of Jesus was stolen from the grave; let them try to laugh away His bursting forth from the tomb and propose a long and conflicting list of fantastic and impossible theories which speak of suspended animation and other absurdities of unbelief; let them suggest that the people who went out to weep at the grave mistook another empty tomb for the rock-hewn sepulcher of Joseph or that, as a German blasphemer maintains, “the passion of a hallucinated woman gives to the world a resurrected God”; let them declare with much detail that due to the cool air of the tomb our Lord regained consciousness and left the grave; let Spiritists insist that the spirit of the Lord Jesus separated itself from His body at death and on that very day, not on the third day, this spirit appeared to the disciples; let unbelief blandly and openly deny the fact of the resurrection and assert with the finality that only Biblical critics can employ, “An empty grave was never seen by any disciple of Jesus”;—tonight I remind you, as we stand before the sepulcher of the Arimathean aristocrat and find its seal broken and the great stone of overconfident unbelief rolled away, that the fact of Christ’s resurrection, the very keystone in the arch of our Christian faith, is one of the most definite, most repeated assurances of divine revelation. Five hundred witnesses testifying on one day; St. Thomas kneeling before the resurrected Lord, beholding the wounds of the nail-marks and His pierced side; nine distinct personal appearances—all this emphasizes that ours is not the credulity of fanaticism, but that it is the happy conviction based on the best human testimony and corroborated by the highest of all evidence. Indeed, there is no fact of God’s merciful dealing with mankind that is more frequently and forcefully attested than that truth to which all Christendom subscribes when it confesses, “The third day He rose again from the dead.” If the Easter-story is not actual history, there is no history.
We have the resurrection of Christ predicted in the Old Testament, clearly foretold by the prophet of old in the Sixteenth Psalm, where Christ declares that He, God’s Holy One, shall not be left in death and shall not see corruption. Or there is the triumphant cry of victory by which palsied Job breaks through the hidden future, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Verbally inspired by God, these and other prophecies are so powerful and compelling that even if the later records disappeared or were destroyed, we should have the assurance that our Savior, having been “cut off from the land of the living,” would nevertheless “lengthen His days,” to use the words with which Isaiah anticipated His resurrection.
We have the promise of Christ Himself, who, long before He went the way of the cross, challenged His opponents and declared that, though they might destroy the temple of His body, yet He would raise it up again in three days; who, when the curious and incredulous came to Him and asked for a sign, told them that in truth they already had a sign, His resurrection, as prefigured by the three days and three nights which Jonah experienced within the great fish; who, in dozens of passages of comforting warmth and majestic divinity, speaks of His deathless existence in the same unqualified, positive promise and prediction that we find in our text, “I live.”
We have in addition the testimony of the holy gospels, which present the resurrection as an accomplished fact, not once, but four times in independent accounts from men some of whom were eye-witnesses of many of the events recorded. These four inspired writers with their harmonious testimony, but with details that appealed especially to their different personalities, have transmitted a record that is so convincing, merely from the human point of view, that even unbelievers have paid tribute to the historical nature of the resurrection narratives.
We have finally the overwhelming evidence presented by other New Testament writers, who mention the Easter truth in almost one hundred passages as a cardinal point of their teaching and consciously center their promises about this historical occurrence. St. Paul says with definite finality, “Now is Christ risen from the dead.” St. Peter declares, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”
Now, this truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ, so mightily demonstrated in the Scriptures, is not merely the victory of Christ and the corresponding defeat of His enemies; it is rather the necessary and blessed climax of His entire redemptive work, the seal of divine approval upon His limitless self-giving, the benediction of God upon the sacrifice on Calvary. Without Easter we should respect and honor the memory of Jesus, but only as of one who died the victim of cruel circumstances, a martyr to a futile cause. He would be a dead hero, but not a living Savior. That is what the Apostle Paul tells us when he says, “If Christ be not risen, . . . ye are yet in your sins.” But praise be to God, our faith is not misplaced. Christ’s resurrection, cementing all His gracious promises, rises up as a majestic monument to impress upon the consciousness of all men that the cross is not the end; that, as Christ suffered for all, as He died for all, so He also had to rise again for all “according to the Scripture,” to complete the divine plan of salvation, by which grace and forgiveness, full and complete, eternal and everlasting, all-sufficient and all-embracing, are offered, without condition or requirement, without money or without price, without good works or even good intentions, without distinction of rank and position, color and race, learning and culture, offered to all the myriads of men embraced in the completed records of the history of all lands and all ages.
Yes, He lives, because without Him everything good and pure and noble would die. Did you ever pause to consider what the world would be without Easter? Probably many of you to whom today has been just another Sunday and who see in Easter the annual fashion parade, the occasion for the yearly visit to overcrowded churches, or the celebration of the return of spring with all its vitalizing powers, will be ready to say that the world would be just about the same without Easter as it is with Easter, which came this morning and which in a few hours will be lost in the past of all history.
But I am here this evening to tell you that without Easter commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ the best that we have in this world would be lost and the happiness and peace of mind that millions now enjoy would be impossible. About fifteen years ago a young Oxford graduate wrote a fanciful story telling of the finding of an ancient inscription which asserted that the resurrection of our Lord was a monstrous myth. When the news of that archeological discovery was spread about, the world became a madhouse. The restrictions of morality were thrown overboard; happy communal life was destroyed; murder, crime, and violence in all their terrible forms reigned; and to all appearances the breakdown of human society was at hand. But at that critical moment it was found that the inscription was not genuine, and the world, strengthened by the assurance that Christ still lives, returned to its Easter faith and happiness. Now, this is mere romance; and while we do not prove the Easter records by the testimony of secular history, yet the regenerative power of the Easter-message and the picture of a world caught in chaos without the resurrected Christ is simply an application of what St. Paul says when he declares, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain,” and “we are of all men most miserable.”
The apostle is not playing with superlatives when he thus describes the abysmal misery of a creed that can only sob at the tomb of a dead Christ. Without a resurrected Redeemer we are destitute of Heaven’s antidote to that chilling and blighting paralysis that steals slowly and silently, but always relentlessly and inevitably, into the hearts of earth-born mortals—the fear of death. And is there a greater misery than to stand hopeless and helpless before this grinning enemy of mankind, who calls a sudden halt to human ambitions and spells an end in sorrow and distress? It has been said with much force of fact that people today often think very little of the hereafter because they are so engrossed with the hard-fisted and material concerns of the present. Yet there are times in every normal life when the hunger of the soul cries out in a cringing plea for a life that does not end with death. To live, to conquer death and death’s corruption, to be immortal and survive the horrors of the grave, that is the sum and substance of man’s strongest longing; but it is a goal which men alone have never reached. The deceptions of modem Spiritism with its fraudulent seances and spirit manifestations are vicious and destructive failures; the test-tubes and crucibles of research are useless; the philosophies and human deductions are strangely helpless. Men have argued that because down through the corridor of time humanity has been guided by an “instinct of immortality,” life after death must be a reality. They have pointed to the butterfly emerging from a decaying chrysalis; they have taken the scarab into their pyramids as a symbol of the life to come; they have been perpetual witnesses of the annual revivification of nature when the world reawakens from chilling winter to throbbing spring; and in all this they have found an analogy to human resurrection. They have insisted that life must live on after the grave; for without a future existence life would betray a criminal deficiency in justice. Truth is so repeatedly damned to the scaffold and flaunting error so secure in its rampage of ruin that there must be a compensation for outraged right and a retribution for triumphant wrong. But when life fades fast and earthly props give way, the cumulative evidence for all such argumentation fails to carry conviction. Only the Easter light can solve the mysterious turns of time. If in our own lives there is to be a triumphant note of confidence and indomitable hope; if the gruesomeness of the grave and decay are to lose their paralyzing clutch, we, too, must learn to estimate the folly of seeking the living among the dead.
OUR TRIUMPH: WE SHALL LIVE ALSO!
For, because Christ lives, the promise continues, “ye shall live also.” Because Easter is the seal of God upon the redemptive work of His beloved Son, the shedding of His blood for the removal of our sins; because Christ was victorious over death, the wages of sin, therefore we who believe in Him have the divine assurance that we are not to be thrown upon the scrap-heap of eternal discard after a few years of untimely decay, but that our bodies, the marvelous living temples designed and created by the divine and loving Father, though they may now be marred and desecrated and weakened by sin and devastating disease and though they decay in death and see corruption in the grave, are to be resurrected and to be renewed and restored in the luster of wondrous beauty, spiritualized and divinely fitted for the glorified eternities in the heavenly mansions.
So when clods of earth separate the form and features of loved ones from our view, remember that the night of darkness will vanish when we hear the call of consolation, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” With firm Easter faith we confidently anticipate the wondrous happiness of that reunion before Heaven’s throne where severed friendships are reknit and partings are no more. For we have this glorious promise, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” Therefore, when disappointments and anxieties and sorrows of various kinds and degrees all but overwhelm us, we can raise our gaze from earth to heaven and declare with the Easter conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” We can lift our tear-dimmed eyes to that glorified picture of immortality envisioned by the seer of Patmos, “God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”
So, finally, when the grim specter of death approaches, as the last grains of sand trickle through the hour-glass of our life, in the courage of the hosts of saints and martyrs, we are blessed with the unwavering confidence that our Savior will sanctify our last hour with the fulfilment of His promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and enable us to be translated from believing to seeing, chanting the Christian’s Easter hymn of triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.