Date: March 1, 1936
He loved them unto the end. – John 13:1
God of all mercy: Our hearts are raised to Thee this afternoon to thank Thy grace in Christ for the souls that have been won, the hearts that have been braced, the lives that have been lifted to heaven, by Thy Spirit during these moments of our weekly worship. And now, at the beginning of the Lenten season, when we can approach most closely to Calvary and find in the Crucified Thy Son and the divine ransom for all human wrong, Heaven’s complete answer to earth’s every problem, grant us a firmly rooted faith, so that, beholding the cross, sinners may be turned from their evil ways, impure hearts cleansed by the purifying blood, cheerless lives comforted, destitute homes enriched, weakened bodies strengthened, the unfaithful called back to Christ,—all through the unmerited mercy that knows no limits, no restrictions, no exceptions. We plead with Thee for souls. Be with us for the sake of Him who on the cross died the death of all men, Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
YOU and I, my friends of this vast radio family, need above all else the personal and heart-deep assurance of Christ’s eternal love that these Lenten weeks offer in the cross and the Crucified. More than any other age we have witnessed the swift decay of all that is earthly and human; and over our failure and follies, our broken hearts and embittered lives, the faith and conviction should dawn that for unfailing strength, unchanging hope, unending love, we must turn to the everlasting mercies of God in Jesus and pray this Lenten litany: “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.”
Only this love of Christ endures. Men seek abiding strength in money. But if you stop to think that all the gold, in coin or in bars, which all the nations possess could be placed into a cube less than thirty-three feet in each dimension, you can realize what hopeless insanity this worship of money is that has cut deep-grooved tragedies of misery and slaughter throughout all history. And suppose that you owned this thirty-three-foot cube of bullion, how much peace and pardon would it purchase for your soul? For how many sins could a hundred similar blocks of pure gold buy forgiveness when God Almighty, who made that glittering yellow metal, will receive only one ransom: the precious blood of Christ?
Some, again, have sought release in human strength; but they forget that the 1,900,000,000 human beings populating the globe are so small and helpless that every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth could be placed into a packing-box coffin only one half of a mile in length, breadth and height. And with every form of energy known to man, how much of fear and terror, how much of death and decay, could be removed from our lives by the calloused hands, the tired arms, and the sweat and groans of a world in restless toil!
Others have turned from brawn to brain. If Montagu Norman, governor of the Bank of England, confesses: “I wonder if there is any one who can really direct the affairs of the world or of his country with any assurance. The difficulties of these times are so vast and so unlimited that I approach the subject not only in ignorance, but in humility. It is too much for me”; if this leader, who has been called “the world’s greatest statesman since the war,” cannot find the way out of mere business problems and doubts whether any one else can, how dare we hope that our brain power will discover an exit from the more staggering perplexities of our soul—the sins that drive peace from our hearts, the losses and disappointments that leave us chilled and desperate?
While all else fails, the love of our blessed Savior offers eternal pardon for sin, everlasting healing for earth’s bleeding wounds, never-ending hope for weary, threadbare lives. Will you not, then, let these weeks, set aside for the reverent study of Christ’s suffering and death, bring you closer to His never-ending, never-changing compassion? I pray God that a mighty host of you who do not know the gracious Christ or who have turned against Him will draw near to Calvary with us this afternoon to hear and believe this promise of
that St. John (chapter 13, verse 1) records as he begins his account of Christ’s suffering in the words: “He [Jesus] loved them unto the end.”
HE LOVED US UNTO THE BITTER END
It was the zero hour of all history. The hands on God’s clock had crept through the centuries toward this moment when the Son of God would start the death march to Calvary. Although, as St. John assures us, “Jesus knew that His hour was come,” no terror of torture, no dread of death, could weaken that love for which He had lived and which constrained Him to suffer and die for the world of sinners. In words of eloquent simplicity we read that, “having loved His own which were in the world, He [Jesus] loved them unto the end.” He foresaw the bleeding agony of Gethsemane, the base betrayal by one of His Twelve, the triple denial by the disciple whose rock faith would turn to quicksand. He whose all-penetrating wisdom read the thoughts of men from afar foreknew that He would be deserted by His own followers, captured by the malice of His own countrymen, arraigned in a mockery of justice before His own high priest, whose jealousy and unbending pride determined him to condemn Him to death. He who prophesied the destiny of others knew His own. He could see the reed scepter, the crimson robe, and the lacerating coronet. He could hear, above the deep-throated “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” the frenzied “His blood be on us and on our children!” the death-lusting “Away with Him, give us Barabbas!” the snarl of the priests, the cynical utterances of Pilate, the moaning of the women who lined the Via Dolorosa, and above and beyond all this His own cries of anguish, the stinging taunt of the morbid crowd milling about the cross, and the blasting echo in the rumble of the angry heavens. He could visualize the lash, the grip of the tightening bonds, the blows struck by cowards called soldiers. He whose deep emotions had been wrung to tears only a few days before, as He beheld the royal city in its stubborn rejection of overflowing mercy, could feel in advance the sinking weakness of the Garden, the back-breaking weight of the cross as He staggered and collapsed under its ponderous burden, the crush of blunt iron nails through His nerve-torn flesh into the hard, resisting cross.
But there was an immeasurably greater pain. It was the punishment of all human sins that He was to pay with His blood and cancel with His death. A world of agony, all history’s sorrows, all humanity’s sins, were concentrated in the five or six hours during which He hung suspended on the cross. Even with our most reverent love, in the holiest hours of our devotion, we cannot begin to measure and understand the most infinitesimal part of Christ’s suffering. It has been said that since the beginning of history some thirty-six quadrillion human beings have lived upon this earth. Who knows how far this astonishing figure may be from the truth? Who knows how many billions more may live and die before this sin-cursed world hastens to its final destruction? This truth we can know,—and it is my prayer that you know it,—that Christ suffered for every sin of every mortal who has ever lived, who now lives, or who ever will live; that His anguish was greater than the total of all the sorrow and heartaches, all the pain and agony, known on earth; that in bearing my sins and your sins He suffered that abysmal God-forsakenness which would have been beyond endurance if He had been only a man and not also true God.
He could see, He could hear, He could feel, all this as on that Thursday night sorrow’s shadows began to trace the outline of foreboding death; yet with every avenue of escape, with a majesty that could send the soldiery prostrate in a single glance, with more than twelve legions of angels, more than 72,000 holy, mighty, heavenly spirits, at His call;—with all this invincible power the Christ, who moves the ebb and flow of the tides, who holds the stars to their courses and the planets to their orbits, refused to escape all this suffering and even death. He set His face steadfastly toward death; He “loved His own”—through His bleeding, His gasping, His thirsting, His dying—“unto the end.”
Only once as this terrifying baptism of death overclouds His mind does He cry out: “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Yet in a moment He shakes off this horror and resolutely faces His trial by fire. Only once as He wrestles in the dark agony of Gethsemane does His grief-torn heart cry out to His Father: “Take away this cup from Me”; yet in the same breath He adds: “Not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Only once in the death throes of the cross does His wounded soul ask the inevitable “why?” as He pleads: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” A few moments later He commends His soul into His Father’s hands as the faint flicker of life burns out. He loves His own “unto the end.”
HE LOVES US UNTO OUR BLESSED END
With this undying love, deeper than the abyss of all human misery, wider than the broad reaches of this curseladen earth, why is it that our eyes do not fill with tears of joyful thanks every time we behold His cross? Why is it that we do not bow our knees at every mention of that precious “name which is above every other name”? when—hear and believe this promise of grace—His love, which was stronger than death, perseveres through sin and sorrow until our end.
Though you betray your Savior, He still loves you; His endless devotion will warn and plead as He warned Judas and called him “friend” when the traitor approached with his lying kiss. Though you deny Christ and your actions tell the scoffing world: “I know Him not,” He still loves you and looks upon you with that penetrating appeal which shook Peter with convulsive sobs of penitent anguish. Though you desert Christ and flee from acknowledging Him publicly, as did His timid disciples, He still loves you and asks you penitently to believe His holy promise: “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.” Though sin may be heaped upon sin and sorrow upon sorrow until it seems that the breaking point has come, yet, my friends and fellow-sinners, hear this word of forgiveness; and you, the sick, the aged, the mentally oppressed, the spiritually beset; the forsaken, the bereaved; the needy, the destitute, the crippled, the helpless, and the desperate hear and believe this word of divine assurance that gleams above the cross in imperishable letters of God’s own truth: As He then loved His own to His end, so today He loves His own unto their end. Look with eyes of faith to the Rockies rising above plains to their clouded heights, turn to the hills skirting the Atlantic seaboard, and then believe with all your heart that, even if those Western mountains, gigantic and immovable as they are, could depart, and though those Eastern hills and their thousand-mile range could be removed, nevertheless the kindness of God shall not depart from His own, neither shall the covenant of His peace wrought by Calvary’s eternal love be removed from your believing, trusting soul.
That love can be strongest in our weakest hours. The darker the skies, the more brilliant the luster of the starry heavens; and the blacker the night of sin, the more radiant Christ, the bright and Morning Star. The higher the stony heights, the more commanding the sweep of our view, and the steeper the painful slopes of life, the clearer and closer our vision of the cross-sharing Savior.
Now, in the tears and toils of these unhappy days it may too often seem that the strengthening love of Christ does not abide with those who are His own. We pray for the help of His sustaining hand, and as delay and reverses beset us, we may protest bitterly and even charge God with cold indifference. Because our Father does not always answer where, when, and how we want His answer, we may think that His love has left us. But a deeper, purer faith, more rigidly focused on the cross, teaches us to await the Lord’s hour, to know that our “strength is to sit still,” neither to question nor to indict the ways of God’s love, but to read, in His own Book of promise: “Blessed are they that wait for Him,” and to wait with patience for the help that His love and wisdom will offer at the time and the place most opportune to increase our faith and our blessed Christian hope.
Besides, the love of God is often most clearly shown in the trials that purify and temper our lives and help us draw others to the love of Christ. Think of the iron ore that is mined in the depths of the earth. Under terrific heat it is smelted and separated from the dross. Again and again the purified metal is refined by fire till its strength is fully developed. Carbon is added, and the iron becomes steel. An electric current passes through the steel, and it becomes a magnet that attracts and holds iron. In a much higher way the love of Christ takes us with all our imperfections and impurities, refines us by the successive trials of life, and charges us with a “new and right spirit”; and not only do we emerge from the chastenings of His love truer and purer and stronger, as the tempered steel, but drawn to the cross by the lodestone of His love, our lives may become magnets that can draw our fellow-men, as does the crude iron, to the Christ that lives in our souls.
Today as you hear this pledge of unending love that the Cross offers to all by the free, unrestrained, unconditioned mercies of Christ, “harden not your hearts,” but hear the call to repentance that reechoes from Calvary over our world. Before the cross of Jesus let all our pride and pretense vanish. Let us remove all false excuse. Let us spurn all self-righteousness. Let us probe deep down beneath the surface of our lives and admit with the ancient prophet that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” and that we need “Jesus’ blood and righteousness” as our beauty and our glorious dress. If we have never been moved by an inner, intimate, and personal feeling and knowledge of God’s hatred of sin and of His greater love for the sinner; if we have never realized the soul-destroying power of our natural and acquired iniquity, nor the soulsaving power of the precious blood of Christ, then may God lead us to the cross,—and, O Father, if there be no other way, lead us through sorrow and affliction, but lead us to the cross!—there to behold the appalling price that Christ paid for our ransom, there to find the divine mercy that loves us as Christ’s “own” “unto the end.”
You and I, ransomed fellow-men, may never meet face to face here on earth; it will never be my joy and privilege to clasp hands individually with the millions from our crowded cities to the frontiers of our North American civilization who have worshiped with us. But after this span of our short, problematic years, the one and only life that we have to live in the flesh, draws to its close, I know that we can meet, every one of us, by the grace of God, before the throne of the Lamb in a new and better life—if we love Him unto the end who first loved us unto that bitter, earth-moving, heaven-darkening end.
The sure mercies of Christ have now been brought to you. No one who has now heard this promise of Christ’s endless love can ever plead ignorance before the bar of eternity. What will you do with Jesus? What must you do if you want heaven, hope, happiness, pardon, purity, peace, life, light, blessing, if not, as you hear Jesus promise: “I will love Thee unto the end,” to kneel before the cross, to accept Him as your Savior and to pledge in return the never-ending loyalty and devotion that promises:—
Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower,
Thee will I love, my Hope, my Joy,
Thee will I love with all my power,
With ardor time shall ne’er destroy.
Thee will I love, O Light Divine,
So long as life is mine.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.