Date: April 2, 1931
What shall I do, then, with Jesus, which is called Christ? – Matthew 27:22
THERE is a passion today that has taken possession of persons of high and low standing, a madness that distorts all true values and drives heedless men and women relentlessly on and on. It is the craze for greatness, the passion for doing big things, the mad clutching after power and authority. Seventeen years ago this frenzy cast the whole civilized world into the whirling maelstrom of bloody war; but even the appalling total of thirty million lives that were offered up as sacrifices to the grinning idol of greatness have not cured a self-seeking world of this insane affliction. It still grips the rulers of nations and holds up before them the mirage of world dominion; it whispers into the ears of the wealthy and breeds grasping avarice in their hearts; it beckons to the men of the laboring class and tempts them with the will-o’-the-wisp of industrial upheaval and revolution; its siren songs lure the scholar and enflame within him a selfish desire for recognition and preeminence; and, my friends, no matter what your individual position and station in life may be, you, too, feel that pulling, tugging appeal that would draw all of us to the shimmering shrine of bloated greatness; you know that only too frequently do we all kneel down and worship at its altars.
But, oh, what a contrast to the tinsel and the glitter and the glamor of this cold and artificial greatness is the sinking weakness of the eternal Son of God, who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death,” even that unfathomable, indescribable, immeasurable death on the cross! When on this Thursday, in solemn anniversary, you see Jesus under the olive-trees of Gethsemane, kneeling and imploring Heaven, with anguish that almost breaks His grief-torn heart, terrified by the torturing soul agony of that crushing conflict; when tomorrow you behold Him with a crown of thorns pressed into His bleeding head and hear the sullen, hate-swollen mob cry, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”; when with your mind’s eye you “behold the Man,” “despised and rejected,” “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief”; when, over the rumbling darkness of that first Good Friday, you hear the shriek of death terror form itself into the groaning “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,”—to human vision there is nothing powerful, nothing dynamic, nothing wonderful and magnificent about that emaciated and fever-racked frame that dies on the accursed tree; nothing masterful and mighty about all this, nothing indeed—unless you know and believe that this suffering, bleeding, dying Christ means more to every one of you than the sum total of all the most vital human issues in your individual lives; that here in the Christ and in His Cross is a power so divine and penetrating, so comprehensive and conclusive, that it brings to every one who has ever heard the story of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the one, inevitable question of human existence, the ultimate question of the Lenten season, “What shall I do with Jesus?”
It was vacillating Pilate who gave to the world the words of this immortal question. Hardly twelve hours had passed since that never-to-be-forgotten anguish of Gethsemane. Hardly twelve fleeting hours, and yet what an eternity of suffering for Christ! Judas had sold Him, Peter had denied Him, His disciples had forsaken Him. And now He stands before Pilate,—Pilate, who wants to shift the responsibility of making a decision in regard to Christ and who therefore suggests that they take Christ away from him and prosecute Him according to their own laws; Pilate, who endeavors to evade the duty of his office by asking for a popular choice between Christ and Barabbas; who finally tries to rid himself of Christ by washing his hands of the stain of innocent blood,—all hopeless expedients in the desperate attempt to avoid the necessity of answering this inevitable question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” But blinded Pilate did not know that you cannot get rid of Jesus in this way. He did not understand that his silent and inflexible prisoner is a personal issue in every human life, that, though he might wash his hands, he could not wash his conscience clean of Jesus. He did not realize that Christ is the inevitable figure of history and that the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” must be answered personally, directly, unavoidably, by every one who has ever met Christ in His Word.
THE ANSWER OF UNBELIEF.
And there were others who persuaded themselves that they could escape the responsibility of acknowledging or disavowing Christ. Judas thought that the jingle of thirty pieces of blood money could drown out the voice of Jesus in his conscience; but, again, Judas did not know Jesus. He did not know that there were not billions enough in this world to purchase release and exemption from the necessity of answering this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” So we see Judas haunted by the suffering of the livid Man of Sorrows, whom he had tried to forget and, driven by a wild and hopeless despair, fade out of human history as his body dangled in the moaning winds. There was Peter, who on that very Thursday night cursed and swore that he did not know Christ and who tried to reassure himself as he hovered over the warmth of the fire in the high priest’s court that his foul and infamous oath would remove the dangerous necessity of acknowledging Christ. But unwittingly Peter spoke the truth when he said, “I know Him not”; for he did not understand Jesus; he, too, did not realize that he could not get rid of Jesus in this way. A few moments later, when he gazed into the blanched face of that majestic Sufferer, we see the rough Galilean fisherman shaking in convulsive sobs, beginning to realize that he cannot avoid the inevitable Christ.
Now, there are some of you who have been trying to get rid of Christ, some of you who may have tuned in tonight, apparently by the merest chance, but in reality by the unsearchable direction of your God, who have deluded yourselves into believing that you do not have to make a decision one way or the other in regard to Christ, that you can ignore Him, that you can leave this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” to others. To you I want to say tonight with fire-winged words, which, pray God, may burn their way through all the obstacles of self-will into the very center of your sin-sick hearts: Once you have ever read or heard of Christ, once you have been told in the words of the infallible Truth, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; once your gaze has been directed to the Cross and you have seen the Innocent condemned for the guilty, Divinity suffering for humanity, the Creator sacrificed for the creature; once you have asked,—
Whence come these sorrows,
Whence this mortal anguish?
and have heard the answer,—
It is thy sins for which the Lord did languish,
you are unalterably confronted with the question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” You may think what you will about Caesar or Napoleon, about Washington or Lincoln, about Roosevelt or Wilson, without having your knowledge or your ignorance influence in any way the spiritual truths of your life. But here in this bruised, lacerated, pain-torn figure hanging on Calvary’s cross is your destiny for time and eternity.
Remember, too, that there is no other issue in life in which a choice is so unavoidable. A business man can buy or sell, a statesman can choose to run or not to run, and in uncounted thousands of questions in your own life you can follow the dictates of your own desires and conveniences and answer or refuse to answer; but here is one issue in your life that is beyond the reach of your acceptance or rejection, the question that you must answer, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Ignore Christ? Get rid of Him? You can more easily ignore the sternest reality of your own existence than ignore Him; more readily get rid of the past of all ages than get rid of Him. You must deal with this question, “What shall I do with Jesus?” Push it aside today, if you elect to do so, but let me tell you in all the earnestness of this sacred hour that tomorrow you will meet Christ, and this eternal, insistent question will confront you. Laugh Him out of Scriptural existence, as modem atheism and infidelity vauntingly does; yet a recent publication lists no fewer than 350 modern biographies of Christ; and some day the laughter of scorn will change to tears of remorse.
THE ANSWER OF TRUSTING FAITH.
And you must answer definitely and decisively. A nation can maintain its neutrality in war; a scientist can refuse to commit himself on any scientific issue; a jury can disagree; you can answer ten thousand questions with a non-committal “I don’t know” and another ten thousand with an evasive compromise; but you either accept Christ or you reject Him; you either believe in Him and regard Him as the Savior of your soul or disbelieve His Word and find in Him only a poor, pathetic caricature of what He claims to be and what He is; you either cry, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” or, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Now, what will you do with Christ? Tonight, on the anniversary of the last night of the Savior’s natural life, that Thursday when He instituted the Sacrament of His very body and blood, given and shed for the remission of your sins and mine, tonight God sends this question into the innermost recesses of your soul; and before you try to evade or to postpone your decision, come with me to behold the cross. To the morbid crowds at the murder scene it was only two pieces of dead wood, this cross on Calvary; and in the annals of corrupted Roman criminology that emaciated victim who felt the tearing anguish of the nails of death crush through His hands and feet was only one of an uncounted number who had been executed by this legal torture. Even for us who live in an age in which Christian compassion has helped to temper the pains of capital punishment the possibility is by no means remote that we pass too lightly over the brutality of that instrument of death and minimize the horrors of crucifixion, a punishment so excruciatingly painful that because of the violent tension of the body, the burning and festering nailwounds, the exposure to the sun and the elements, the swelling of the heart, the burning and raging thirst, the inflammatory fever, the soul-racking agonies, has universally been considered one of the most brutal modes of torture men have ever known.
And yet, only once in the seven words which He spoke on the cross is there a cry of physical pain and bodily anguish, for there is a deeper sorrow in the crushing, cracking weight of sin. We learn much of sin and its consequences in history, but there is nothing in all the annals of human depravity that even approaches this. For here, on this cross, is One who bears the aggregate of all sins that have ever been committed, the transgression of every one of the uncounted myriads of millions of men who have ever lived or who ever will live on this earth of sin and crime. O wondrous Love, O divine Love! Jesus, as the holy, spotless Lamb of God, takes away your sins and mine. The eternal Son of an eternal Father, He who “knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He who is adored through all the eternity of eternities “was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” to give us a forgiveness and a faith and a hope which will prevail even against the gates of hell—and with all this a new, regenerated life and all the blessings of a Christ-dedicated existence.
As you stand in spirit beneath the cross, I ask you, “What will you do with this Jesus?” To reject Him, to crucify Him anew, to attempt the impossible by endeavoring to get rid of Jesus, to be too preoccupied to receive Him, too self-satisfied to want Him, too independent to need Him, all this, if protracted by impenitent unbelief, is but the preliminary to darkness, to never-ending death, to hell; for here is the unavoidable verdict of Christ, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” My fellow-sinners, I beseech you, “Harden not your hearts”; let not that holy, precious blood be shed in vain for you. Come to the Friend of friends, the Savior of your souls, as guilty, as polluted, as spiritually paralyzed as you may be, and believe that He who promised to the penitent crucified with Him the open gates of paradise, He whose death brought a rude pagan captain to the faith, has promised you that, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” He asks of you for your salvation no effort, no contributions, no cooperation, only—thank God for this,—only faith, only repentance and trusting acceptance of Him and His salvation.
What, then, will you do with Jesus? What else can you do if you know and believe the depths of His love as revealed to us by this Passiontide than to grasp Him, to cling to Him, to fall at His wounded feet, and with a heart that lives anew with faith and hope and love to cry out:—
Thou hast borne the smiting only
That my wounds might all be whole;
Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,
Rest to give my weary soul;
Yea, the curse of God enduring,
Blessing unto me securing.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.