Date: April 21, 1935
I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. – John 11:25
WHEN Andrew Jackson lay on his death-bed, surrounded by groups of weeping children, relatives, and Negro servants, he slowly spoke these words: “Do not weep for me. It is true, I am going to leave you. I have suffered much bodily pain, but my sufferings are as nothing compared with that which our blessed Savior endured on the accursed cross that we might all be saved by our trust in Him.” After he bade the individual members of his family farewell, having spoken to them at length concerning their souls’ salvation, he concluded, as his eyes lingered on the portrait of his departed wife: “My dear children and friends and servants, I hope and trust to meet you all in heaven, both black and white.”
At the end of his own Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan gave this testimony of glorious triumph to those who watched with him in his last vigil: “We shall meet ere long to sing the new song and remain happy forever in a world without end.”
Now, are these and other oft-repeated hopes of life after death well founded? Is this expectation of a better life after death, confidently proclaimed in the Christian’s valedictory to life, a delusion, or is it a deathless truth? What is the answer to that all-absorbing, universally repeated question which the Book of Job asks: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Is the Easter-story which millions of Americans have heard again today fact or fancy?
There are those—and their number is legion times legion—who sullenly reject every thought of immortality. A brilliant, internationally acclaimed attorney and agnostic sneers: “One might just as well discuss the question of whether a lump of coal burned in a grate is still somewhere in its present form . . . or whether a soap-bubble is still a soap-bubble after it has burst into a million fragments as to discuss the resurrection of the body.” A sophisticated editor and author boasts: “It is my hope, as it is my belief, that death is the end.” A British historian and novelist states: “I do not believe that I have any personal immortality.” Now, if such pronouncements of pessimism and denials of a hereafter are correct; if all ends when the soul departs and the body returns to the dust from which it was taken; if the grave is your goal and mine, then human existence is the most cruel of all delusions, and death proves the utter futility of everything human. Then let the carousal of sin and self-indulgence run their riot as short-lived mortals eat, drink, and in their crude way make merry while the dawn of death streaks tomorrow’s graying horizon.
Eternal thanks be to God, today, on the sacred anniversary of Christ’s triumphant resurrection; for we can reassure ourselves with unalterable conviction that the life beyond the grave is a fact, an inviolable, eternal verity,—unfathomable and mysterious, yet a real and personal truth, to which passage upon passage of divine and inspired promise offers decisive testimony. Let me show you, then, this afternoon as we linger before the open grave
THE IMPERISHABLE HOPE OF OUR RESURRECTION
as we find this pledge of eternity given to the world in the promise of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
THE IMMOVABLE BASIS OF THIS HOPE
Our hope of eternity rests on an imperishable and immovable foundation. Men have tried to prove the reality of life after death through the processes of human reason. They have argued that, as the flowers blossom forth after a dormant winter, so, after the chill of death, a new and better existence will follow. They have pointed to the butterfly’s emerging from the cocoon and found in that change a symbol of the soul released from the grave to a new and higher life. They have reminded us that down through the aging centuries, since the cradle days of humanity, as early monuments of literature reveal, men have always been guided by some belief in a hereafter, and they have concluded that this universal faith of mankind cannot be wrong. They have claimed that there must be a world to come since there must be a righting of human wrongs of this life and a compensation for its sufferings.
All this, interesting as it may be to the student of human thought, is a meaningless trifle to groping souls in our muddled and misled world. When a man faces eternity, it matters little to him what the Babylonians and Assyrians taught and believed in regard to the mysteries of death. He finds little solace or lasting comfort in the changing wonders of nature, and nothing compels him to believe in a new world where the wrongs of this old existence will be righted. Left to themselves, then, men must individually face this issue of the hereafter, the most profound question of all the ages, only with wistful longings or with gnawing, desperate uncertainty. No philosophies can lead humanity out of this labyrinth of doubt, and no scientific research can give to you and me the sure solution to this problem of our own personal destiny. The false religions and their fraudulent claims of revelations, the spiritist seances and their deceptive communications with the dead can add only confusion and lead bewildered minds more deeply into the jungles of despair.
Thank God we have His own answer to earth’s great perplexity; we have the promise of Christ: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; and in the imposing array of other Scriptural passages which repeat this truth in parallel terms of glorious certainty we have assurance added to assurance. Some may sneer and snarl their denials of the resurrection; but we hear Jesus say: “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” and we are gripped by a calm, serene confidence. Others may doubt and live on in disconsolate uncertainty; but when we hear Jesus promise: “This is the will of Him that sent Me that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life,” every trace of question vanishes from our hearts; for we are face to face with exultant truth, as imperishable and unchangeable as heaven itself.
In His immeasurable and unmerited mercy Christ has not only strengthened us with the promise of the resurrection of the body, but in addition He has blessed us with that convincing historical proof which the Christian Church commemorates on this Easter Day, when we have passed from the miserere of Good Friday to the hallelujah chorus of the resurrection. Christ not only taught the truth of a life beyond the grave, but on Easter He manifested that truth. The facts of the Easter-message are not the conjectures of men, the frail and faulty opinions of mere mortals. They are rather the eternal verities of Heaven’s own infallible truth. Question the fact if you will that there is a sun in the heavens above us which sends light upon this earth. Record your doubt, if you must, concerning the verified events of all secular history; challenge the fact that there is an American nation; deny your own existence if you will go to that extreme; but do not make the fatal mistake of putting a question-mark behind the Easter-story, of doubting the literal truth of this heart and center of the entire Scriptures. If the angel’s exultant “He is not here; He is risen” is not the divine and unimpeachable truth in every syllable of its utterance, then the Bible itself must collapse and destroy the foundation upon which all permanent joy and blessing here and hereafter must rest. For this resurrection is prophesied in the Old Testament, in its prediction that the Messiah’s body would not see corruption nor remain in the grave. It was prefigured by the experiences of Jonah. It was forecast by the Savior Himself, who told His incredulous enemies that, though they might break the temple of His body, yet He would rebuild it in three days. The Easter-victory is attested by each of the evangelists, by St. Paul and St. Peter, by the repeated appearances in which the resurrected Savior presented Himself to the eyes of His believers and at one of which He was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. In short, the bodily resurrection of Christ forms the keystone in the arch of the Christian’s hope, to which scores of New Testament passages pay their plain and inspired tribute; and by the benediction of the Spirit the blessed Easter truth is so impressed on the living consciousness of Christian hearts that all doubt vanishes as we rise with palsied Job to declare: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
With this divinely bestowed assurance, death has lost its terror for every follower of Christ, the gruesomeness of the grave and the despair of decay have weakened their paralyzing clutch. When the heavy night of bereavement encircles our homes, when the dark earth of God’s acre separates the mortal remains of loved ones from our view, let us recall the divine force that split the rock sepulcher asunder, the stone rolled from the open grave, the soldier guard prostrate by divine power, and raising our eyes to the throne of eternity, let us behold the risen, majestically ascended Christ and find in Him the promise and power of our own resurrection.
This promise, the comfort and strength of Easter, is assured by the comprehensive pledge: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Keep that truth locked within the innermost recesses of your hearts and never let any powers of hell or temptations of this earth weaken one word of the triumphant hope it holds forth. You who have traveled far on the pilgrimage of life and know that your sojourn on earth cannot be a matter of many more years; you who linger on sick-beds, suffering from protracted pains that have frustrated the efforts of the best physicians, take heart today as your Savior calls: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” What more powerful antidote can there be to the gnawing sorrows of your suffering than this firm-founded faith in a better life to come and the everlasting companionship with Christ that can never be severed by disease or death? You who within these last days have kept vigils at the death-beds of your loved ones and in agonized helplessness have watched the flicker of life’s flame die away, what more soothing balm can you find than this heavenly benediction from the Savior’s own lips: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”? What more penetrating light can you desire by which to interpret the bitterness and woe of an abrupt tearing away in death than the radiance of Christ’s blood-sealed promise that, when our bodies, sown in corruption, are raised in incorruption, we shall live and through all eternity behold Him face to face?
THE MAGNIFICENT GRACE OF THE EASTER HOPE
This, then, is the benediction of Easter, the gift of immortality. Mark well, this blessed bestowal is a gift; you cannot earn it, you cannot purchase it, you cannot acquire it by exchange or secure it as a compensation; but you can appropriate the Heaven-born assurance of this immortality and keep it as yours forever by faith, by the humble, penitent, trustful acceptance of the risen Redeemer as your Savior. “He that believeth in Me,” our text emphasizes, “though he were dead, yet shall he live.” On the strength of this heavenly pledge and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I promise that those who come to the risen Lord of Life with full, unquestioning faith, as I now ask you to come—you, the world-worn, weary pilgrims on life’s discouraging highways; you, the self-engrossed, selfconfident sinners upon whom swift death may descend in the next moments; you, the distressed and disillusioned searchers after happiness, who have drunk the bitter dregs of life; all who banish doubt and stifle skepticism as you kneel down before the Christ of Easter with the plea of the believing disciple, “My Lord and my God!”—all have the promise, pledged in the name of Christ Himself, of the highest blessings which our mortal lives and immortal souls may ever experience—a hallowed eternity in a new, sinless, painless, endless life. And this, so the word of our divine Savior assures us today, is the gift of His mercy bestowed freely, without effort or accomplishment, contribution or cooperation, on our part.
Men devote their lives to the accumulation of wealth; scientists spend long and laborious hours in laboratories and in fields of investigation to find a new key to greater human happiness; scholars dedicate their careers to the solution of historical problems; we work and labor and toil to the point of exhaustion for inconsequential rewards; yet here the greatest blessings of time and eternity, your place and mine in the “armies of the ransomed saints,” are offered to all the children of men by the purest, freest mercy, a mercy that only God could grant.
Because of its deathless and personal significance, Easter from the days of the earliest Church has always been a day of spiritual joy and of personal reconsecration. God grant that, as this second radio message of the Resurrection Day has been wafted out into the unnumbered highways of the air, it may have found hearts and homes in which Christ’s undying promise “I am the Resurrection and the Life” will be welcomed and its blessings translated into victorious lives, which exult: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Amen.