Date: March 28, 1937
Easter Praise and Prayer
Our risen Lord, eternal Victor over death and the grave:
Oh, that our hearts and voices could be worthily blended in the praise of Thy love and omnipotence, which on this Easter Day burst the bonds of death and brought life and immortality to light! Accept, we humbly entreat Thee, our human, halting thanks that Thou, our God and Savior, who wast in the repose of the sealed and rocky sepulcher, didst on the third day crush sin, hell, and death into everlasting defeat. Give Thy Spirit dominion over our souls, so that Easter may be a glorious day of new life and faith, a triumphant festival of restored hope and resurrected trust for many who before the open and empty grave may contritely gain the conviction of Thy power to save our souls and to strengthen our faith in Thy pledge “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” Teach us to face life and death alike, with a courageous assurance that we are Thine, so that not even the last enemy, death and the gruesomeness of the grave, may rob us of the calm hope of the resurrection. Bless this message especially in hearts and homes that have been chilled by cold death, and as the Spirit illumines doubting minds, may we, all doubt and questioning vanished, our sins forever removed, be given the grace and the wisdom to kneel before Thee, Thou Savior of the riven side and the wounded hands, and confess Thee our Lord, our God, our Life, our Salvation. Amen.
God hath both raised up the Lord and will also raise up us by His own power. – 1 Corinthians 6:14
ON this glorious Easter Day, as we stand in spirit before the Savior’s open grave, let us ask ourselves frankly, What is it that magnetizes the faith of Christian hearts all over the world and draws them to this broken sepulcher? History knows far more pretentious burialplaces than Joseph’s grave, where the lifeless body of the Savior was laid to its repose. Recent excavations have uncovered the extended tombs of the kings in Ur of the Chaldees and shown us that at the death of the ruler his entire court was buried alive. In Egypt the tomb of Tutankh-Amen, with its lavish wealth and its artistic adornment, has impressed even our age. In the Red Square at Moscow the remains of the Red Dictator Lenin, preserved by a mysterious process, are regarded with an admiration that approaches worship. But even the site of our Savior’s grave is not definitely known. Mohammedans heckle Christian missionaries with the challenge: “We have the tomb of our great prophet Mohammed here in Medina, while you Christians have nothing.”
Yet at Easter we have everything! While all other tombs are evidences of death and decay, Christ’s tomb alone is the evidence of life. We hear the angel challenge, “Why seek ye the Living among the dead?” and we recall the burial-places enshrined in the grateful memory of our nation, Flanders’ fields, where
. . . poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row;
the burial-vault of George Washington at Mount Vernon, the sepulcher of other distinguished leaders and statesmen,—all of which commemorate brilliant or generous lives that ran their course only to end in inevitable death. But our Savior’s grave offers life, hope, and blessing! Even though we may never be able to mark the garden-grave of our Lord, the reality of His resurrection must be a strong and vital power in our faith and lives. Even though the ranks of twentieth-century scoffers are daily swollen by those who demand, “Where is the proof of the next life, the evidence of the resurrection?” we must cling to the Easter pledge of Heaven and, as we approach our risen Savior, the blood and agony and death of Calvary forever overcome, acclaim Him the living Christ.
To strengthen our faith and remove all distrust of the Easter-message, let us consecrate our thoughts in this festival broadcast to—
THE RESURRECTION REALITY
and, taking the words of St. Paul, 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse fourteen, “God hath both raised up the Lord and will also raise up us by His own power,” find faith and hope in the Savior’s resurrection and in our eternal Easter with Him.
“GOD HATH RAISED UP THE LORD”
First of all, let us impress this conviction deeply in our minds: The resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on fact as well as faith. Repeatedly do Old Testament passages foretell His resurrection. Emphatically did Jesus Himself, before He went the way of the cross, tell His friends and His enemies that on the third day after His crucifixion He would rise from the dead. Six different and independent accounts, one in each of the four gospels, one in the Book of Acts, and one from the pen of St. Paul, recount His triumph over death. Scores of passages in the remainder of the New Testament speak of the Savior’s resurrection with a clarity that tolerates no uncertainty. Do you know any other fact in the history of the first century that has as much support as the resurrection? Historians today accept thousands of facts for which they can produce only shreds of evidence; and yet there are some who refuse to believe this epochal event and the hundreds of New Testament witnesses who talked with the risen Christ, walked with Him, ate with Him, knelt before Him, and acclaimed Him their Lord and Savior. Today we send a man to death in the electric chair on circumstantial evidence; but the enemies of Christ are not ready to let Jesus live, even though overwhelming testimony proves His resurrection. If the Easter record is not in every claim the account of history; if the statements of those who testified to the Easter truth are not accepted as conclusive evidence, then no testimony and evidence whatever can establish any truth in any age of history.
The proof that “God hath raised up the Lord” comes to us from other convincing sources. What was it that took the first company of the disciples, cowering as they did behind locked doors, and transformed them into a band of confident champions of their crucified Lord? Not a dead Savior, but a living, conquering Christ! What power and influence changed the cross from an instrument of bloody torture to the most beloved of all symbols? Uncounted thousands had been crucified before the day of our blessed Savior; and you know that, if He had not risen from the dead, no right-minded person would have glorified anything as hideous and repulsive as that timber and cross-beam stained with the Savior’s blood. What gave the great army of Christian martyrs and missionaries the love and the power to face death, to penetrate poisonous jungles, to cross barren deserts, to hasten to the ends of the earth in their zeal for winning disciples for the Savior? Only blind fanaticism could lead them to serve a dead Lord, whose resurrection promises had failed and whose body had moldered in the grave. There is no fanaticism in our faith. We have the eternal facts, the everlasting truth of the Savior’s conquest of death in every hope that we breathe, with every conviction that we utter, in every article of the faith that we confess.
Jesus had to rise again and by this miracle of all miracles place the seal of assurance upon the forgiveness of our sins; for a dead Christ could be no Savior. An unopened grave would mean an unopened heaven. By bursting the bonds of the grave, Jesus proved Himself, for all men, for all ages, the Conqueror of sin, and showed the everlasting validity of His atonement. The sacrifice on Calvary had fulfilled its purpose, the ransom price paid for your sins and mine had been accepted.
No wonder that great men of God have found their highest comfort in this resurrection reality: “God hath raised up the Lord.” Luther would dispel all despondency with the one word “Vivit,” the Latin for “He lives.” Many times he seized a piece of chalk and wrote this “Vivit” on his study table; or voiced it in triumph. When asked for an explanation, he answered: “Jesus lives, and if He were not among the living, I would not wish to live even an hour.” Let us all try, with the Spirit’s help, to engrave this Easter truth “He lives” in our hearts; for if we remove the resurrection reality from our Christian faith, we have less hope than the heathen, while with the blessing of Easter faith we have the living Christ, His sustaining companionship, His guiding help, His burden-sharing presence, His never-failing leadership, His divine counsel, and above all this His eternal salvation, His everlasting atonement, His never-ending redemption.
“GOD . . . WILL ALSO RAISE UP US BY HIS OWN POWER”
With faith in Christ’s resurrection our text offers this pledge, “God . . . will also raise up us by His own power.” The open grave becomes the pledge of our immortality; the Savior’s resurrected body, the promise of our glorified bodies; the Easter cry, “O death, where is thy sting?” the echo of our own triumph, “O grave where is thy victory?” With faith in the Easter morning greeting “He is not here, He is risen” the great problem of the human soul and its destiny, that ageless perplexity which has baffled the choicest minds, brings a blessed and personal solution for every one of us. At the empty tomb we learn that the one short, perplexing life which is ours does not complete our destiny; that the grave is not the last and a futile chapter in our life’s story; that we are not human “bundles of cellular matter” consigned to decay. With the great stone rolled from the entrance of the Savior’s rock-hewn grave, every doubt and obstacle concerning our own eternity must be removed; and as the promises of God in Christ push aside the draperies concealing the hereafter, we must catch a foregleam of a new and blessed existence that starts when this life stops; we must discover a prevision of a heavenly, glorified body.
Only in the power of Christ’s resurrection can we gain strength and assurance for our own eternal Easter. Men may dream dreams of a hereafter and draw pretty pictures of the life to come; but our resurrection reality must be woven of firmer texture. Ask the botanist, and he will point you to the lily, which in its white beauty has become the flower of the Easter Festival. Its bulb lies buried and unseen in the black ground until, by the mysterious force of life, a shaft of green breaks through the earth, and as the sun smiles with its sustaining warmth, the tender stalk grows in height and strength, a cluster of buds appears, and then a lily in all its fairness and fragrance. So, we are told, the grave becomes the garden of God’s new creation. The lifeless body reposes in its dark embrace; it decays; yet by the power of God a new body, pure and sinless, arises. Ask the naturalist, and he will offer a picture of the resurrection in the spring and autumnal migration of the birds. He will show you winged creatures that fly 7,000 miles, from the Yukon Valley to Southern Argentina, guided by their instinct; and he will conclude that an inborn sense of immortality will irresistibly summon man to seek and find his everlasting home in a better and happier land. He will tell you that we are all like the homing pigeon and that, when we are released, we shall fly back to God whose love created us. The philosopher has a dozen arguments for life after death. He believes that death cannot end all because our lives are so incomplete and unfinished, that there must be a continuation, just as he insists, there must be a reward or retribution in the next world, by which all the injustice and unfairness of life can be adjusted, its wrongs righted, its losses compensated, its sins atoned.
We need not argue the reality of our resurrection on these grounds nor rest our hope for a reunion with those who have gone before us on the reawakening of nature or on the claims that the higher forces which created man could not brutally destroy him forever. Others may question the resurrection, argue its probability, debate its verity; but in the word of Jesus we have surety, conviction, truth. When our perfect and unfailing Lord promises, “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; when He adds certainty to certainty by repeating, “Because I live, ye shall live also”; “Where I am, there shall also My servant be”; “If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” the issue is closed. The immortality of the soul is not a matter of speculation and guess and conjecture. It is the unchangeable truth of God Himself, bestowed through the only sure antidote to death, the blood of Jesus Christ, which forever removes the cause of death, the sin that would separate us from God.
We know, of course, that there have always been Sadducees who deny the resurrection. One of the very first records of Christianity outside the New Testament is a letter dated in 112 A.D. sent by Pliny the Younger, the acting Roman governor of the province of Asia, to Trajan, emperor of Rome. The governor reports that in Syria a sect has arisen called the Christians, and “these foolish people,” the governor writes, “think they are immortal; they go to their death as to a triumph, and no threat of punishment has any effect on them.” This verdict of “foolishness” is repeated by the enemies of the resurrection. In the last generation Christian churches of the country stood fast and firm in believing and teaching the part of the Third Article in the Apostles’ Creed which expressed their faith in “the resurrection of the body.” In the modern rejection of the true Christ many churches have permitted this fundamental truth of our faith to be questioned, misinterpreted, and denied.
The many contradictions raised in the name of science to which the skeptical minds of our day refer in their attack on the Resurrection need not disturb us, for they are simply the continuation of scientific errors of the past. For instance, Lavoisier, one of the greatest figures in the history of chemistry, stubbornly taught that heat was a substance. Plato believed that the stomach shared mental activity with the brain. Nineteenth-century scientists claimed that tooth decay came from worms. For a long time psychiatrists declared “that most criminals were feeble-minded”; ancient phrenologists taught that insanity was produced by too much heat or cold in the brain, and their more modem associates held that each cranial bump indicated a particular characteristic. These falsities, as hundreds of other scientific theories, have been disproved; yet each mistake of the past entitles us to ask, “If the scientific world cannot solve questions pertaining to the teeth, the stomach, the brain, the skull, and the forces of nature that surround us, why should atheistic and infidel scientists dare to deny the resurrection of the body?”
If there is a clash of claims between a noted atheistic criminal lawyer, who sneers at the Resurrection as he says: “The origin of the absurd idea of immortal life is easy to discover; it is kept alive by hope and fear, by childish faith, and by cowardice,” and St. Paul, who declares: “God . . . will also raise up us by His own power,” we stand with the great apostle. If a noted physician claims, “Immortality is a fond belief, a childish hope, a flattering delusion, but nothing proves it is more,” and we have the choice between his word and the glorious mercy which our Savior spoke to the penitent thief on the cross, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,” what else can we do than reverently and gratefully accept this pledge of Christ? Let them deny, taunt, and defame; here is the promise of inspired truth, which has never made a misstatement nor ever encouraged a single false hope: “God . . . will also raise up us by His own power.”
We must cling to this doctrine of our resurrection even though its promises seem far too merciful and abundant for our sin-bound lives. When Dr. Morrison was translating the Bible into Chinese and he came upon the passage “We shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3, 2), one of his assistants, a native scholar, exclaimed, “My people can never believe that they shall see their Savior and their God face to face. Let me rather translate, ‘For we may hope to kiss His feet.’” But Dr. Morrison replied: “Give the Word of God as it is”; and when we take God at His promises and penitently trust in the love of our Savior, all the sin and selfishness that would tear us away from God vanishes, and unworthy, unholy, unhappy as we may be, we are blessed by the promise that “we shall see Him as He is.” Many of you sang this morning in one of the last stanzas of the hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” these reassuring words:
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.
Do you know that Samuel Medley, who wrote these lines, was converted to the faith from a wild and dissolute life and that, overcoming sin, he could die in the hope of his Easter hymn and on his death-bed declare, “I am a poor, shattered bark, just about to gain the blissful harbor, and oh, how sweet will be the port after the storm! Dying is sweet, sweet work! My heavenly Father! I am looking to my dear Jesus, my God, my Portion, my All in all”? So, in the radiance of the Easter mercy and in the power of the resurrection glory, may the Spirit of God bring into your penitent, believing hearts the assurance that, since Christ “was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification,” “the gift of God is eternal life.”
We must build our hopes on the reality of the Resurrection, even though the human mind staggers when it is asked to believe that the body, returned to the dust whence it sprang, can be revived and rebuilt; that our human frame, with all its blemishes and imperfections, can be molded in a new and perfect form. One day in the laboratory of Michael Faraday, the great chemist, a workman accidentally knocked a silver cup into a jar of acid. The cup was consumed by the powerful solution. When Faraday, that stalwart confessor of Christ, heard of the disappearance of the cup, he threw some chemicals into the acid, and soon the dissolved particles of silver were precipitated. The metal was reclaimed, sent to a silversmith, and recast into a graceful cup. Does not the inference suggest itself that, if a chemist can perform this reconstruction, surely the almighty God can gather the particles of our body, though they be scattered to the four winds, and change that which is sown “a natural body” into “a spiritual body”? And if you tell me that this is only an analogy, then I point you to those resurrection miracles which prove the power of God,—not only the reawakening of Jairus’s daughter, not only the restored life of the widow’s son at Nain, not only the resurrection of Lazarus after decomposition had started, but on Easter particularly to the triumph of our Savior over the grave and His victorious promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
Unless we believe unquestioningly and unhesitatingly that through the Savior’s resurrection, life and eternity are ours, we have no guide-posts to lead us through the maze of life. In the catacombs at Rome the burial-places of the pagan dead and of the early Christians are marked by a notable contrast. The heathen graves are inscribed with dedications to the gods of the lower world, and sometimes they abound in sarcasm and resentment. Death is often pictured as an eternal sleep or an unhappy existence of gloom and hopelessness. But the favorite expressions on the Christian graves are: “He rests in peace,” or, “He lives forever,” or, “Weep not, my child; death is not eternal.” On the epitaphs of those who were ready to lay down their lives for the faith we find the sustaining power for the sorrow of death in our own family and in our own life. Easter is the day of comfort particularly for those whose hearts ache under recent bereavement. Self-confident men and women who can speak boldly on the topics of the day are often strangely muted when they are confronted by the enigma of death. Even Christians who in theory accept the doctrine of the resurrection sometimes question it when death touches their home. I read somewhere of a teacher at a theological seminary who spoke with calm assurance when his lectures on the New Testament brought him to the resurrection of the body. It was easy for him, with his young wife in a home that had not been tried and tested by the most serious of all emergencies, to speak with reechoing confidence. But when death took his five-year-old son, that father ran distractedly from one of his friends to the other, asking if they really believed that his child was now in heaven.
May God give you all, through the risen Christ, the faith that is fitted for these crucial tests! May He lead every one of you, and especially those who are too ready to charge God with heartlessness and cruelty, on this day to stand at the open grave and to hear the promise, “God . . . will also raise up us by His power.” When the armies of Napoleon swept over Europe, one of his generals made a surprise attack on the little town of Feldkirch on the Austrian border. It was Easter, and as the formidable French army maneuvered on the heights above Feldkirch, the council of its citizens was hastily summoned to deliberate upon the alternative of surrender or defense. It was in this assembly that the venerable dean of the church arose to declare: “This is Easter Day. We have been counting on our own strength, and that will fail. This is the day of our Lord’s resurrection. Let us ring the bells and have services as usual and leave the matter in God’s hands. We know only our weakness and not the power of God.” His counsel was accepted, and in a moment or two the church-belfry chimed the joyous bells announcing the Savior’s resurrection. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal, concluding that the Austrian army had arrived during the night, broke up camp, and before the Easter-bells had ceased, the danger had been lifted.
Let the joy of Easter ring in your heart and all the doubt and sorrow and gloom and despondency that surround you, ready to despoil your life and crush your hopes forever, will similarly vanish. God grant every one of us in this wide Easter congregation of the air the faith and the victory that will unite us through the blessings of these resurrection realities in the eternal mansions prepared by Him who lived for us, who died for us, but on that first Easter Day rose again for us! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.