Date: March 20, 1938
Prayer for Spiritual Confidence
Christ, Thou blessed Son of God:
We raise our hearts in unfeigned thanks that Thou hast not left us without a firm foundation for our faith and that through suffering for our sins and dying for our life Thou, our Prophet and Priest, hast fulfilled both the statutes of God’s holy Law and the divine promises of prophetic grace. How confidently we can entrust our souls and bodies to Thee! We ask not that Thou shouldst perform miracles before our eyes, but we entreat Thee to fortify our faith so that we may lay fearless hold on the joy of assured salvation. If doubt assails us, put a new song of faith on our lips. If sorrows encircle us, show us the glorious fellowship of suffering with Thee. If men murmur against the wholesome message, preserve us from silence and sinful compromise. O Christ, our only Salvation, draw us closer to Thee! Give us, with a penitent sorrow for our sins, the determination to confess Thee before men, the strength to face whatever life may have in store for us, the resolution to bring this promise of victorious grace into sin-bound souls. Let not Thy blood be shed in vain for any one of us but always, and especially when temptations confront us, show us that Thou, our great and glorious God, wilt maintain Thy truth, world without end! Hear us, for Thy name’s sake! Amen.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? – Matthew 26:53-54
OURS is the age of widespread distrust in human promises. Seldom, even in the darkest chapters of history, have pledges of nation to nation and man to man been shattered as rudely and quickly as in these tense days. Twenty years ago we fought a World War to prevent treaties from being cast aside contemptuously as scraps of paper; but all the streams of human blood that flowed in that international slaughter, the twenty-five million men, women, and children killed directly or indirectly in its appalling consequences, have not made human promises any more honorable. Only a few days ago the Assistant Secretary of our Navy told a Congressional committee that he no longer believed in the sanctity of treaties; for, he explained, in past instances international agreements have been anything but trustworthy.
American business is honeycombed with violated confidence, as the recent Wall Street disclosures have revealed in unsuspected severity. Trusting the word of business leaders, the American people have deliberately been robbed of billions of hard-earned dollars; the calendars of our courts are crowded with lawsuits involving fraud and misplaced confidence.
In our own national life we have realized as no previous generation of Americans that even with the best of intentions and the most far-sighted programs many promises have proved completely deceptive. How often have statistical experts, university authorities, and Government officials of both political parties not assured us that prosperity was just around the corner! Only last week the curve of unemployment took another disastrous turn to record almost ten and one half million American workers deprived of the possibility of earning their own livelihood.
Even the most intimate of human promises, those that center in the home, are often broken with shocking indifference and rapidity, as some of the nation’s largest magazines and applauded public figures agitate for easier disavowal of the marriage pledge.
In this age of misplaced hope and tongue-in-the-cheek promises the very sins which Saint Paul describes as signs of the perilous last days, it is the emphasized and the sacred duty of the churches of Christ to call men to the Savior and the shatterproof promises of His divine Word. With millions living uncertain, fear-bound lives, distracted by endless worry and care, overshadowed by the ageless problem of getting rid of sin, I promise you in the Redeemer’s name that you can all find a happiness which many of you have never known, by taking God at His word, building your hopes on Christ’s immovable mercies, and exulting in every moment of doubt, temptation, and sorrow:
BACK TO THE UNBROKEN PROMISES OF THE BIBLE!
Our Savior Himself appealed to this unchanging truth of the Scriptures, the only unbreakable pledge men have ever known, when He told His disciple Peter, as He tells us today: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?” (Saint Matthew 26:53, 54.)
THE FULFILLED PROMISE OF CHRIST’S SUFFERING
Last Sunday we spoke of our Savior in the Garden, agonized by the ordeal of bearing in His own sinless soul and body “the iniquity of us all.” Today, as we resume the story of these Lenten sufferings, we see that hardly had Jesus come to His disciples for the third time and found them asleep when the armed mob crashed into the quiet of Gethsemane to take our Lord captive. The noise probably awakened the disciples, whom no piteous pleading of the Savior could keep watchful and prayerful. Peter, springing to his feet, drew his sword and with admirable bravery but misplaced zeal began to battle for his Lord. He was guilty of the same folly in principle that has blotched the bloodiest pages of church history. He forgot, as many high church officials throughout the ages have forgotten, that Christ’s is the kingdom of love and healing, not of hatred and warfare. If we survey the repeated tragedies in which churchmen unsheathed their swords in fanatical religious wars, bloodthirsty inquisitions, and the massacre of others worshiping the same Christ, but refusing to have their consciences bound by manmade traditions and anti-Scriptural teachings, we shall never forget to thank God for the separation of Church and State that we enjoy in our country. Let us safeguard it as one of our highest heritages and with eternal vigilance, the price of its continued blessing, protest against every measure that would wipe away the line of demarcation between the spiritual domain of the Church and the physical realm of the State. Let us set a stern face against that intermingling of politics and religion which we have beheld too frequently during these last years, when priests and ministers publicly allied themselves with political parties or, stooping to demagoguery, led hundreds of thousands along new political paths into the wasteless deserts of disappointment. The true Church’s work first and last centers on men’s souls. Its ultimate objective lies not in this life, but in the next. It must never preach hatred, force, war, but always love, mercy, and peace.
This is the clear teaching of Jesus here in the Garden when He rebukes Peter, demands that he put up his sword in its sheath, heals the wounded ear of Peter’s first and only victim, and then speaks the words of our text, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” The disciples had underestimated Christ; they had forgotten that He was God. In their blindness they had lost sight of the heavenly resources at His beck and call. They felt called upon, now that Christ’s power seemed to fail, to use human methods, just as today people forget that the growth of God’s kingdom is “not by might nor by power, but by” His “Spirit.” They think that they must save the Church by erecting big buildings, engaging renowned preachers, featuring an attractive appeal to the senses, specializing in novelties to lure the crowds, delivering new, colorless, Christless addresses that make it easy for man to come to church since they say little about sin and its peril, sin and its Savior, sin and its removal. Many actually think they can build the Church and the Kingdom through the dining-room, the footlights and the spotlights and a score of other arrangements that confuse the Church and the world. The only power that can rebuild the Church is the loving influence of God’s Holy Spirit as He comes to us through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
Here, then, is a great truth, which becomes the more sacred to us since it was solemnly spoken on the last night of the Savior’s earthly life. Rebuking His sword-brandishing disciple, the Savior speaks first of all of His Father, the almighty, eternal God, Creator and Sustainer of this world, with whom nothing is impossible. He speaks of His prayer to that Father,—the petition that in a twinkling could transform the scene of His persecution into a tableau of triumph, the prevailing prayer that could change the olive-trees of Gethsemane into fortresses of His defense, the rocks on its slopes into fighting armies, and convert the soft light of the paschal moon into destructive death rays. Finally Jesus speaks of angels. We read and repeat those words lightly, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” But do you know that the legion in the Roman armies often numbered at least six thousand soldiers, so that Christ’s twelve legions embraced seventy-two thousand angels, the mighty cherubim, the exalted seraphim, and other powerful ranks of these heavenly hosts? Picture to yourself the power wielded by one or two angels as you hear lamentation throughout Egypt, where the angel of death stopped at every house unmarked by the blood of the Passover lamb; as you survey the corpses of 185,000 of Assyria’s choicest troops, slain by a divine messenger and strewn on the field outside Jerusalem; or as you recall the smoldering ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah with the three other wicked cities of the plain, destroyed by God’s servants; and then try to think of the power of twelve angel legions! If angels stopped the mouths of hungry lions to save Daniel, who prophesied of Christ, and broke bolts and bars of iron to set free the disciples who preached of Christ, assuredly they could have liberated Christ Himself, destroyed His enemies, ground their weapons to powder, and wiped out the whole city of Jerusalem, the capital of the world’s ingratitude.
Thanks to the blessed mercy and truth of Heaven itself, Christ did not summon the heavenly legions! It is the glory of His Savior-love, not only that He suffered for us, but that He wanted to suffer for us. Today we decorate the graves, in Flanders’ fields and in our own national cemeteries, of those brave men who were drafted for the wars of our nation; we pension the families of policemen, firemen, and others who have fallen in the path of their responsibilities; we erect memorials to commemorate the services of coast-guard heroes who have lost their lives in the swollen seas while trying to save others. These men died in line of duty; but how different the suffering and the death of Jesus! He was not paid to leave the glories of heaven for the persecution of this earth. He received no salary for the agony in the Garden, the torture in those mock trials that sentenced Him to death, for the lashes that made His holy body run red; no money nor medals for his nail-cut hands and feet, His brow, torn by the sharp spikes of that thorny diadem; no applause for the raging fever and the parching thirst that made Him gasp, “I thirst”; no monument for dying on sorrow-swept Calvary in that one death, the death of all mankind. For the anguish that no tongue can ever speak, no pen describe, no canvas portray, that blessed Jesus received only the taunt, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. . . . Let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now.” Yet in the face of all this reviling, Jesus, for whose priceless blood the priests would offer only thirty pieces of silver,—less than the price paid for a healthy slave,—willingly descended into these depths of anguish. For only one moment in the Garden did His divine power flash when, as a stroke of destructive lightning, His holy glance cast the mob prostrate and helpless on the Garden ground. In a few seconds He withdrew that power and voluntarily surrendered.
I cannot leave this evidence of Christ’s holy desire and divine longing to suffer for us. How I wish that particularly during Lent there were another half hour each week in which we could meet again in spirit to bow reverently before the most sacred and sublime devotion that heaven or earth can ever know! Compare the love of Christ with any standard that you know: the love of husband for wife, of a mother for her children, of a patriot for his country, of a Christian for his church; and all these in their purest and strongest forms cannot even begin to resemble the love of Christ. All this human devotion is affection for those who love us, who have helped us; who are closely bound to us. But Jesus loved those who hated Him, and even those who crucified Him. From the beauty of heaven our Christ looked down upon this sin-choked world and its festering moral sores; its hideous, nauseating vileness, our quick-tempered hatred, animal-like lusts, deeprooted greed, open and concealed dishonesty, and, behind all this; the clenching of human fists against God, the blasphemy of human lips, the arrogance of human thought; and instead of deserting the world to its destruction, Christ loved every one of us with that cross-destined devotion before which we can only stammer, “Oh, the depth of the riches!”
Now we have come to that glorious truth which I want to emphasize. We hear Jesus ask in effect: “If My Father were to send these angelic legions, ‘how, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?’” Interlocked with this devotion to my sin-stained soul and yours is the indescribably blessed thought that God has prepared this deliverance, that the Scriptures have foretold the redemption through His blood in repeated passages of golden grace, and that these pledges must be fulfilled. The first book of the Old Testament, immediately after the record of the first sin, spoke of the blessed Seed of the Woman who would destroy the work of the devil; and the last book of the Old Testament looked to the coming of the great Messenger of God’s grace. From Moses to Malachi, Jesus implies, we can trace the promises of His coming, often marked red by the prophetic picture of His crimson blood. In the deathless passages of Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter we are told, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” These Scriptures must be fulfilled. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not one jot or tittle of these precious promises recorded by divine and inspired love will ever pass away. Here is the divine verdict for all ages: “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Every human pledge may be changed or entirely cast aside; but because God is God, because Christ loved us with a perfect devotion, because this Word of Reconciliation is established in heaven, Jesus walks that weary, anguish-marked way to the cross. Throughout the centuries to come and the generations of men yet to march in the procession of life there must be an immovable Rock of Ages to which sinners can cling, an unshakable Foundation upon which they can build the hope of their salvation;—here it is, in this, the blood-sealed fulfilment of the precious promises of Christ’s suffering.
THE FULFILLED PROMISE OF CHRIST’S GRACE
Because every syllable of the promises concerning Christ’s suffering was fulfilled when Christ, moved by His divine love, went the way of Calvary alone, our cry of confidence resounds: Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible! The lesson that we must learn and believe with clear-cut, intelligent, and resolute faith is this, Christ keeps His Word! When He promises grace for all sins, pardon for all sinners, trust His mercy! Accept His grace! When He says “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,” stand in faith beneath the cross and know that, as surely as He “was delivered for our offenses,” He was also “raised again for our justification.” The message that these broadcasts seek to drive home with the Spirit’s blessing is not that there may be a forgiveness of sins, not that somehow you can be cleansed from the stain of sin, not that, if you grope long enough, search far enough, work hard enough, pray long enough, you may perhaps (but, oh, that torturing “perhaps”!) find a ransom and rest. If all Scripture must be fulfilled, then the chief and climax Scriptures, those that center in God’s redeeming love will be completed with doubled and trebled assurance. Standing with Christ in the Garden as He permits vile men to lay their unholy hands upon Him; accompanying Him before those travesties of justice when He permits perjury to assail Him and falsehood to belie Him; marching with Him in the death procession to Calvary, where He yields His quivering hands and feet to the nails of death,—all this that the Scriptures might be fulfilled,—we have the Heaven-granted assurance that this trust in Christ’s atonement is not human theory but divine truth,—not just one of many creeds but the one and only saving creed. Whatever any one else wants you to believe of these hazy, groping, misty, fuzzy religions that have sprung like toadstools from the dark and soggy doubt of our day, remember that Christ wants you to believe and declare,—not: “I think I have the truth”; “I hope that I have the truth”; “I feel that I have the truth,”—He wants you to go back to the unbroken promises of the Bible and in the face of friend and foe to confess: “I know that in Christ I have the truth, and ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”
The Scriptures must prevail also in their statements concerning those who wilfully reject the Christ of mercy and cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!” It is not easy for me to say this, and in our own blundering, stumbling short-sightedness how we wish that there were some escape! Yet here is the truth of Christ Himself, which will be verified when the whole vaunted structure of unbelief about us crashes into hopeless ruin: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” You may assert that you do not need Christ; you may say that the message of a bleeding Savior is repugnant to your thought; you may write that it is much easier and nicer to take the liberal view of God and of Jesus, according to which in the next life (if indeed there be a hereafter) all will be gathered together without distinction, since we are all directed to the same goal, the Christian and the non-Christian, the Jew and the Gentile, the Mohammedan and the Modernist, simply taking different roads and detours back to the same Father, who, smiling benignly and indulgently upon His wilful children, says, in effect, “You have tried your best, and, after all, you have done pretty well.” That is the credo proclaimed this morning in thousands of half-empty churches; it is the first article of an impoverished faith, taught in dozens of American divinity schools; the theme, with unessential variations, of thousands of books that whirl off our printing-presses. It is not the truth of Jesus Christ, not the pledge of the Savior, that will never be broken!
Because I am now speaking to some who have completely banished the bleeding and dying Christ, I remind you that the undiminished truth and power of the Scriptures must be a solemn and personal warning. For the sake of those agonies in the Garden that almost broke His soul; by the love in that suffering, deeper than the analysis of reason; to obtain the life that comes with His death, I plead with you as the solemn scenes of the Lenten season are unfolded before your eyes: Come to the Christ whose arms are stretched wide to receive, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, and bless you, to give you the new birth, life, power, and eternity!
Blessed by that assurance that every promise of Christ’s mercy will be fulfilled, we have the heavenly radiance of His light for every dark moment on earth. Surrounded by our own sorrows, we know that through faith in Jesus we have a loving Father; that we can say: “Our Father who art in heaven”; that we can be strengthened by that blessed truth which makes Christ the firstborn Son and our elder Brother in the great family of His redeemed who know that, “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.”
With Christ we have the power of prayer and the comforting conviction: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you”; and in this audience, from Maine to California, from Canada to Mexico, thousands can now point to God and say, “He heareth us.” With Christ ours is the blessed faith that these seventy-two thousand angels, were it necessary, would combine to keep our souls safe with Jesus. “If God be for us, who can be against us,” we cry; for through our heavenly Father and His measureless energies, stronger than the pull of the planets and the gravity of the spheres, the myriads of antichristian forces arrayed against us, the tumults of passion within us, the encircling sorrows around us, will be checked. With exultant faith we can carry our cares to Christ and resolve: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day.”
Apply this promise to the problems of our questionmark age and gain the assurance that particularly today the cry must be, “Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible!” Let the Commissar of Education in Soviet Russia formally declare: “We hate Christians. Even the best of them must be regarded as our worst enemies. . . . Christian love is a hindrance to the development of the revolution. What we want is hatred. . . . We have done with the kings of the earth; let us now deal with the King of the sky. . . . Our task is to destroy all kinds of religion”; let this atheism, which is coddled and condoned in our American colleges, in labor organizations, and in other groups that shake hands with infidelity across the sea, arrogantly seek to destroy Christ and His Cross; let unbelief and the denial of Christ, rejecting His deity, His virgin birth, His atonement at Calvary, His bodily resurrection, His return to judge the quick and the dead, insolently boast that the power of Christianity is gone, that Jesus does not belong to the twentieth century, that the Bible is five hundred years behind the times; let the presentday priests of infidelity (and we have thousands of them in our country, as extraordinary as it seems, supported by capitalists and approved by Communists) betray the divine Savior, join hands with His enemies, use their carved pulpits and their endowed pens to fight Christianity, to discredit the gospels, to restrict all true and trusting faith; remember the Second Psalm, where this revolt is predicted, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision!” That scripture will not be broken! The pledge of God’s laughter assures us that the legions of Christ’s angels will protect His Church, so that not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.
Again, the Bible has much to say about the sufferings of Christ’s children; and every one of these comfortweighted passages is the truth of God Himself. They who are Christ’s can be strengthened with a moral bravery before which even our self-centered age stops in sheer admiration. Christians learn of Jesus not to shrink from the path of their duty, even if it leads through the shadow-land of sorrow; for they know that, as Christ, the Captain of their salvation, was “made perfect through suffering” and His divine, ageless plan of salvation completed on the cross, so their lives are rounded, mellowed, strengthened, hallowed, by the blessings which come disguised as afflictions. It is no empty promise which Christians find when they read the words of Jesus to all trusting souls engulfed in sorrow: “My grace is sufficient for Thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness”; or when that blessed Word promises them: “All things work together for good to them that love God”; or when their eyes light upon that seeming contradiction which only Christ’s disciples understand: “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” We have the God-given conviction that these scriptures will be literally fulfilled; and though a hundred taunting voices may question or reject God’s guidance, the Christian who says: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want; . . . He leadeth me,” knows that the combined battalions of all armies cannot prevent him from finding blessing, power, and peace in Christ and His fulfilled pledges of comfort for sorrows.
The cry of triumphant faith is: Back to the unbroken promises of all the sacred Scriptures, gloriously demonstrated in Christ’s substitutionary suffering and yet daily fulfilled in His gracious redemption of our souls! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for the key to the difficulties of life, for inner peace in Christ during the perilous days that may lie before us! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for the divine power that alone can restore many churches whose salt has lost its savor and whose preachers have become politicians, pacifists, philosophers, instead of messengers of the eternal mercies of Christ! Back to the unbroken promises of the Bible for virile, Christian faith, which, under the blessings of God, can work wonders in the hearts and lives of men and help reach that moral recovery so vital for national recovery!
O God, give us the faith that will take Christ at His word, go back to the Scriptures that must be fulfilled, and in Jesus find the assurance that makes life worth living and blessed death worth dying. Grant us all this benediction, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.