Date: March 9, 1941
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. – Matthew 26:52
Blessed Lord Jesus:
Forgive us out hatred, envy, strife, and by the power of Thy bleeding and dying for us, merciful Son of God, enable us to walk meekly and humbly in Thy footsteps as we search for reconciliation with God and our fellow-men! Help us to pray for our enemies, even as Thou didst intercede for those who crucified Thee! Destroy all selfish prejudices against men of other races, colors, creeds, and classes! In an hour of great national crisis we implore Thee, if it be Thy will, to prevent the spread of bloodshed, stop the horrors of these hostilities, and bestow true, equitable peace. Bring to naught the treacherous counsels of those who seek war for war’s sake, who grow rich by the blood spilled on fields of battle, or who spread hate-breeding falsehood! O Jesus, without Thy love complete darkness would encircle us! Give Thyself to us by the Holy Spirit for our comfort, guidance, light, strength, and salvation! Bless this message in many hearts! Let it bring multitudes to the cross and help those who know Thee to persevere in the faith/ We ask this by the promise of Thy mercy. Amen.
NATIONWIDE interest was aroused last week by the unusual proposal of a Louisiana sheriff. He held in his custody four men, convicted murderers, sentenced to die in the electric chair. Believing that a warning from their lips might help to keep others from breaking the law and suffering a similar end, the sheriff arranged to have a microphone placed in the death-cells; and shortly before they entered the execution chamber the four doomed prisoners were to tell the world by radio that crime does not pay. State authorities objected, however, and the broadcast was rightly canceled. Much more than last-hour expressions of regret is required to stop murder and felony. Many different confession magazines, so-called “true-story” publications, are issued today; but if all these crime accounts, gangster motion-pictures, and underworld broadcasts were a real influence for good, our penitentiaries would not be overcrowded with the largest penal population the country has ever known.
In these days of widening war, when every week extends hostilities, an appalling age of brute force, with falsehood enthroned and truth sentenced to the scaffold—we need a divine arraignment of all aggression, tyranny, mass murder, a divine power, to check savage bloodlust and ruthless destruction. No merely human agency can outlaw the glorifying of bloodshed and the exalting of savage strength which sinister forces support. What more revealing evidence of men’s sinfulness could be required than the demonstration that despite our culture, scientific progress, and social advance neither legislation, education, diplomacy, nor international conflict has been able to teach this generation that violence does not pay. Have you ever stopped to realize how much of man’s time, effort, and money is devoted to malice and destruction at this crest of human achievement? We have paid far more in men and dollars for the turmoil of crime and losses through war than any previous quarter century. Yet war hysteria continues. Therefore, we must have a heavenly voice to resound above the shriek of bombs and the explosion of torpedoes, a power from God which will enable us to overcome the hateful, violent tendencies of the human heart. That command and that power—thank God!—are granted us by the Lord Jesus Himself. Beholding this world of weak and wicked men, each one inflamed by the passions of hatred, He, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, cries out:
“PUT UP YOUR SWORDS!”
How else can we interpret these words of the Lenten story (Saint Matthew, chapter twenty-six, verse fifty-two) in which Jesus tells fiery, impetuous Peter and those of like mind in our age, “Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword”?
HOW NECESSARY THIS WARNING!
When Jesus rose from that intense wrestling with human sin in the Garden, the Roman soldiers, accompanied by the priests’ henchmen, broke into Gethsemane’s stillness. Their torches and lanterns soon revealed Christ, who, because of His holy, heavenly love for us, made no attempt to escape (how different the European monarch whose further flight was recorded last week!), but resolutely assured His captors that He was Jesus of Nazareth whom they sought. The Savior had hardly declared, “I am He!” when, as if in final demonstration of His majestic greatness, the entire hostile throng, bearing spears and staves, retreated before His commanding presence and fell helpless to the ground. Once more our Lord asked, “Whom seek ye?” and when they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth!” He showed His deep concern for the welfare of the disciples—the same devotion He extends to you—and declared, “If . . . ye seek Me, let these go their way!” How completely in accord with our Lord’s substitutionary atonement! He, the Innocent, is captured; yet He pleads that we, the sin-stained, may be freed!
The scene was now set for the most dastardly deed in history. By connivance with the Savior’s enemies, so no possible slip-up could mar their plans, Judas, in the archtreachery of the ages, approached Christ for the betrayal. If in that moment lightning had flashed from heaven to strike down the perfidious disciple, or if the ground had opened to swallow him, our human sympathies would almost breathe a sigh of thankful relief. But the Savior’s marvelous mercy calls Judas “friend,” an intimate, appealing term, which in the original means “comrade.” He asks, “Wherefore art thou come?” pleading with that disloyal disciple to reconsider the terrifying consequences of his crime—just as Christ often warns you who are planning evil, betraying your trust in God, breaking promises to fellow-men, perhaps even to your own husband or wife. But Judas had sold out to Satan. Nothing that Christ said stopped him. Smirkingly he kissed the Savior, whom he had betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Paltry pieces of blood money, we say—yet an amount larger than the sum many of you have received in payment for your denial of Christ. That traitor’s kiss was the prearranged sign, and the soldiers, who otherwise might have been unable to identify their Victim with certainty, now quickly laid their hands on the Savior. That capture served as a signal to the disciples, who, awakened by the tumult, stood about bewildered, helpless, while Pilate’s legionaries bound Christ. Suddenly it seems to have flashed across their conscience how inexcusable their sleep was when Jesus had asked them to watch and pray. Peter especially must have recalled his boastful promise of loyalty made hardly an hour earlier when, as the disciples’ spokesman, he had declared, “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee!” Dismayed and desperate because Jesus was captured by His enemies, while he and his companions had done nothing to save Him, Peter, with a feeling we can well understand, cried, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?”—Two of the disciples, it appears, were armed. Perhaps they believed in being prepared, or perhaps their weapon was the large swordlike knife used shortly before in connection with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. Without pausing for an answer or stopping to consider how futile it would be to fight with only two blades against a company of fully trained soldiers, Peter draws his sword, begins to slash about in a holy war and cuts an ear off the high priest’s slave. Then, in the rebuke which rings out clear and decisive through the centuries, Jesus, spurning every thought of self-defense and of recourse to arms, tells Peter, “Put up again thy sword into his place!”
If only all who have followed the Savior since that day would have heeded His command! Throughout church history misguided men have used violence against their opponents or in spreading their doctrines. Under the threat of pain and punishment thousands of pagans in ancient France and Germany were forcefully made nominal Christians, baptized at mass ceremonies, while regiments stood by, ready to use their swords, should any prove unwilling to submit. No one has ever been able to compute the toll in millions of lives and the unspeakable suffering sustained through the seven crusades when European Christians sought to tear the Holy Land from Mohammedan control. Zealous bigots were so blinded that they even encouraged children to undertake a special crusade, believing that perhaps by some miracle boys and girls could capture the places made sacred through the Savior’s life. About 95,000 children under twelve took part, but only 10,000 returned. The rest were killed, sold into slavery, or died of disease and starvation. The darkest chapter we find in the records of the Inquisition, the torture practiced by churches against those who would not submit to their teachings. Nothing has brought greater reproach to the Christian cause than the fact that in Jesus’ name the most excruciating cruelties and devilish devices were employed to murder women and children, whose only “crime” was the insistence with which they followed the dictates of their conscience in worshiping Christ. Church medals have been struck to commemorate massacres in which many thousands of Christians were killed. Long defenses have been composed to justify these persecutions, but they still shriek in protest to the highest heaven. If you want proof of the depths to which men can sink, survey the instances when, under the emblem of the cross, they massacred their fellow-men, worshipers of the same Savior. Get from your public libraries the old classic that deserves restudy, particularly in dangerous days like these, Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and you will read records of hanging, beheading, drowning, burning, racking, stoning, starving—instigated by both friends and foes of Christ! Go over to Europe’s museums, and you will see the Iron Maiden which the victims of the Inquisition had to embrace, a cruel machine in the shape of a beautiful virgin, so designed that when its victim was locked in its arms, sharp daggers stabbed him to death. You will see cages too small for a prisoner to stand, too uncomfortable for him to lie down. You will see ropes with which Christians were hanged to the ceiling by their thumbs, and heavy weights with which at the same time they were pulled to the ground. You will discover the most hideous apparatus that vicious inventors could devise—all used in the name of the church and its Lord.
How fervently we pray God that this may remain a part of the past! But who, in view of the present debacle, would dare to say that streams of martyr blood will never flow in this country? Even today many groups forget that Christ’s realm is not of this world and therefore cannot be extended by earthly force. During the last decades we have seen repeated instances of governmental intrusion into the Church’s work. Most of the Protestant congregations in Germany have been brought into a Nazi-directed union, and on our own shores voices are asking for one national American Church, where, of course, faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and loyalty to His teaching will be secondary or ignored altogether. Throughout Abyssinia and Albania Protestant mission-work is stopped; and on this side of the Atlantic infuriated mobs destroy the churches of a small sect (whose teachings I can in no way endorse) only because its adherents refuse to salute the American flag. Loyal otherwise, they simply have the mistaken notion that this is a gesture of disobedience to God which violates the First Commandment. Throughout Europe, we are told, the freedom of worship is restricted, as, for example, in Norway, where soldiers of the occupation attend services to report on the sermons; and in the United States superorganizations are at work, attempting to direct and control Protestantism, dictate who may have the privileges of radio broadcasting and punish those who disagree with their policies. Old World churchmen have repeatedly petitioned civil authorities to enact laws for the support of their particular denomination or religious group; and in the State of Delaware Christians who do not understand that the Old Testament dispensation is past and that there is no New Testament Sabbath keep Sunday blue-laws, which require the fine or imprisonment of those who refuse to respect this error! While we thank God that despite the prevalence of tyranny throughout the earth our divinely blessed nation still enjoys the liberty of conscience, worship, and expression, let us be on our guard during these problem-weighted years before us lest our freedom be undermined. When Jesus calls to His disciple, “Put up thy sword!” may His command help to check every use of force, physical, legal, or financial, by any religious group! Though we can never compromise with error or refuse to indict attacks on Christ and the doctrines of His faith, even such protest can be made in charity and without personal reference or animosity. Besides, we can pray the Holy Spirit to give all who love the message of salvation as the only hope for a perishing world a greater degree of true unity, real agreement on every Scriptural teaching.
The Savior’s cry “Put up your swords!” also reminds us that each unjustified use of force must likewise be denounced. Those who deny that fundamental truth without which one cannot understand why Christ shed His blood, the Biblical doctrine that every man by birth and nature is sinful, vile, and wicked, should survey the horrifying record of wars fought from the beginnings of time. Because this is an age of aggression, we ought to restudy and restate the Bible’s pronouncements concerning war. Avoiding the extremes of the pacifists, we must clearly understand that there may be just conflicts, particularly those fought against invaders or in national defense. As you protect your home, property, and dear ones against burglary, fire, and other similar calamities, so you must be prepared to guard with your lives, if necessary, these homes, and the country that gives you its blessings. Avoiding the extremes of militarism, which seeks to glorify all bloodshed, we must understand that there may be unjust wars, those which are purely acts of organized thuggery, in which an empire without cause falls on a smaller, helpless land. The annals of humanity have been filled with such unrighteousness—and it should be clear that, regardless of consequences to themselves, we cannot support conflicts of this kind. If it is wrong for you and me to attack a man, destroy his property, and take his life, it is wrong for Christians to help their government in any aggressive act that seeks to despoil another people. Now, it may often be difficult to decide whether a war is defensive or aggressive, right or wrong; and in such uncertainty Christians should obey the government, which must bear the responsibility for its actions. Those who are honest conscientious objectors should be treated with consideration.
Let it be recognized that, whether a conflict is justified or not, it comes as a scourge from God, with its destruction of life and property, its multiplied hardships, its moral degradation and hostility to the Christian Church. Therefore, Christian citizens urge the Government to weigh carefully now, before it is too late, the consequences of war’s terror. After a declaration is made, that action is beyond recall. We must understand, too, that God’s Word lays it on the conscience of His children to work for peace, to pray earnestly for the avoidance of bloodshed. I pause in this crisis moment to ask American Christians whether they individually have met this obligation, by interceding for the preservation of tranquility. How we wish that the cry of the captured Savior, reechoing down through all the changes in human affairs, “Put up your swords!” would be heeded by those who promote international strife, who selfishly profit by every life lost and every day the battle is extended!
This disavowal of force should be followed also in the prolonged conflict between employer and employee, in the savage struggle between classes and races, but notably in the third divine institution besides the Church and the State, the home. Here, where a man and a woman are united by the most enduring bonds, protected by the closest ties and the deepest blessings that God Almighty has given us for this earth, we certainly are entitled to expect the absence of constraint and, instead, the reign of love. Yet one of the most frequent problems with which we have to cope—a difficulty which each year brings thousands of letters asking advice and constantly leads a stream of people to my office—is the tragedy that hatred has usurped the place of love in many families, that physical force or legal power breaks an increasing number of American homes. This week a Missouri legislator introduced a bill to make our State a mecca for divorce-seekers. He pointed out that millionaires and motion-picture actors spend many thousands of dollars in dissolving their marriages, and he sees no reason why Nevada, Arkansas, and several other States should receive practically all this lucrative revenue. He wants Missouri to have its share—the same twisted logic which the bartender employs when he concludes that the half-drunken wretch before him will spend his money in some tavern anyway, that he may as well be the one who profits—as though there ever could be any benefit in money gained through disregard of the divine Law! Besides these organized onslaughts from without, the home suffers internally under the rule of resentment, selfishness, cruelty. Fathers and mothers tyrannize their children; sons and daughters, when their parents are too weak and worn for productive work, insist on sending them to the old folks’ home. With husband arrayed against wife, parents against children, with distrust and suspicion often accompanied by unfaithfulness, our Lord’s cry rings with double appeal throughout every unhappy home: “Stop this strife here at the hearthside, where, more than at any other spot, love and peace should reign! Put up your swords!”
Let us not pass lightly over this injunction, “Put up your swords in the churches, in the State, in the home!” When Jesus specifically warned, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” He did not exaggerate. Look at history! Many a European church, for example, in Spain, that a few centuries ago promoted inquisition has been partially or wholly destroyed, and before our generation ends, perhaps other religious groups that favored violence will similarly be wiped out. Countries which eagerly grasped the sword for conquest have been laid waste. Where are the great military nations of the past: Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Persia, Rome? Though they gathered the wealth and brains of the world, they were not rich and wise enough to escape the punishment that Christ here predicts, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Families ruled or broken by compulsion can never enjoy Christ’s blessings of harmony and happiness. Brutal criminals, war lords, who promote strife, individuals who hate—these, by the punishment they suffer on earth and, if unforgiven, in hell, prove the inescapable truth of the Savior’s verdict: Force leads to force! Taking the sword in violence brings back the sword in destruction!
HOW BLESSED THE SAVIOR’S SUBSTITUTION OF LOVE FOR FORCE!
By this command and His immediate healing of the slave with the severed ear, Jesus showed us that He had come to extend love, help, hope; that the weapons of His kingdom were not carnal but spiritual.—A severe testingtime may face Christians throughout the world as they try to follow Christ in this emphasis on love. We need a new understanding of His compassion, a new commentary on His Sermon on the Mount, with a practical, 1941 application of its inspired, divine program for peace and against violence. Everyone who acclaims Jesus his Savior should in all seriousness seek to convince himself that Christ meant exactly what He said when He declared: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . . Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” It is His clear instruction: “Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Deliberately does He command, “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” We have no justification whatever for taking these words in any other sense than that which we must find in their clear reading. Yet how far we are from that complete spirit of love! During a hearing at Washington the president of our oldest university, who urged that, if necessary, we send our youth to Europe’s battlefields, was asked in cross-examination whether, obedient to the Scriptures which he quoted, he had prayed for those whom he regarded as this country’s enemies; he admitted that he had not. Most of you would have to make that same confession. Yet here is Christ’s Word, teaching meekness, prayer, and intercession for enemies, love and forbearance! As the churches put these sacred requirements into operation, they will, by divine grace, receive new and heavenly strength; for it is still true in our day as 2500 years ago in Zechariah’s time that the Kingdom is built “not by might nor by power but by My Spirit.” And that holy, sanctifying Spirit comes with hearing, believing, practicing, the whole Word of God.
Jesus not only taught that love; He lived it. A hundred times His own countrymen so maliciously opposed Him that with our sinful emotions of anger and hatred we would have turned away in deep-souled resentment. Again and again their blasphemy was so vile that they even associated their Messiah, the sinless Son of God, with Satan. Had we been among Christ’s followers then, we, too, would have joined John in asking the Savior to invoke destruction from heaven upon those who rejected Him. The Christ of endless compassion would not stoop to that. Nailed on the cross, He pleaded with His Father to forgive everyone who had a part in making Him endure the agony and shame of the crucifixion.
Jesus, however, not only taught that all-enduring love and lived it; He shed His own lifeblood and gave Himself into atoning death to prove it. We were God’s enemies, estranged from Him by our wickedness. We had no claim for any consideration by Christ. If we had been made to bear the punishment of our innumerable and repeated sins, pay the full penalty, suffer the accumulated guilt of every transgression recorded day by day against us, we could have no complaint, no reason to charge our God with injustice. By that inexpressible devotion with which He loved us, frail, false, full of pride as we all are, Jesus, God’s own Son, removed these iniquities, not simply by forgetting them or crossing them off; not merely by some mechanical transfer, but by assuming Himself in His own sinless body the retribution for every unholy impulse, every impure utterance, every selfish action with which we have served sin and rebelled against God’s holiness.
Pray the Father ceaselessly that you may accept your Savior and, having confessed Him, to abide in His love, loyal unto the end! Nothing else in life counts in comparison with that Christ-directed faith. It is the one priceless possession for time and eternity; and this assurance of salvation through Him can be fully yours, so that conscience’s protests, hell’s furies, death’s terror cannot move the rock of trust. The Savior’s love can be yours freely; for if you have learned to say, “Jesus shed His blood for me,” you know this keystone truth of the Christian creed: we are “justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law.” You can have His love unconditionally despite the heavy transgressions which make you wonder whether there can be grace even for you. As you behold the Lord in Gethsemane disavowing the use of the sword and going unflinchingly to His death on the cross, now hardly twelve hours distant, believe that He treads this path of suffering for you; that He permits the nails of death to rivet Him to the cross for your sake; that He endures the Godforsakenness, the thirst, the ridicule, the anguish of body, and the incomparably worse agony of soul, so that you can be saved for a blessed eternity. As I beseech you in the name of the bleeding, moaning, dying Savior: “Give yourself to Christ now! Accept His mercy today!” may God’s Spirit, without which my words would be only empty phrases, find His victorious way into sin-darkened, hoperobbed hearts and bring this answer to your lips: “O God, my Father, heartily do I repent of the wrong with which I have offended Thee. Contritely do I confess myself to be unworthy of all Thy mercies; but steadfastly do I cling to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior. His blood is the only cleansing for my sins, His death the one promise of my life, His truth the sole guarantee for heaven’s glories!”
With such faith you will be able to practice the compassion which turns from violence and the sword. Just as “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” but the precious name of Jesus Christ, so there is no antidote to the poison of hatred besides the pure Gospel of the Savior slain for the world’s sins. A few days ago a scrubwoman, who each weekday evening cleans a Chicago office-building, was given a fourhour beauty treatment; her cotton house dress was exchanged for a fashionable frock; and a transformation was effected which, the newspaper said, turned a charwoman into a Cinderella. No human process can plant love in a heart of hate nor create that spiritual beauty which is reflected on the peaceful, happy countenance. Only the Holy Spirit can produce that regeneration. We must have the rebirth which makes us new creatures in Jesus!
The history of Christ’s Church, from the time that Stephen sought God’s pardon for those who were stoning him to death, down to the present moment, bears witness to the renewing power of the Holy Comforter. Tamatoe, converted South Sea island ruler, discovered a plot contrived by those of his people who had remained heathen. They planned to seize him, together with native believers, and burn all Christians to death. Tamatoe captured the conspirators unawares, but to their astonishment, instead of killing them, he set a feast before them. This mercy was so unexpected that the savages deserted their idols and were converted to Christ. When Jesus reigns in our hearts, we, too, can have peace instead of poisonous envy. By His grace I promise those of you whose family happiness has been destroyed by rankling hatred that, if you make Jesus the Head of your home; if He abides with you in faithful family prayers and Scripture-reading; if you invite Him to every meal and ask His blessing at the beginning and close of each day; if with the Spirit’s power you try to lead Christlike lives, you can master bitterness, selfishness, and disappointment. You can start over in your home (your letters prove that this is not theory but God’s truth) with a fresh, happy beginning and the hope of better things to come. If in your individual lives envy, jealousy, malicious, covetous thoughts, rule where consideration and devotion to others should reign supreme, give Jesus full sway, and you will find that He truly can create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you.
As the Lenten scene once more portrays Christ rebuking His disciples with the command, “Put up thy sword!” may we be given the grace to understand that God will take care of us, our country, our churches, our homes—as long as we are Christ’s. If necessary, those twelve angel legions which Jesus could have called may be summoned for defense in danger and protection against enemies. What a blessed thought in the midst of temptation, sorrow, and trial to know that the same Father who directed His Son’s destiny from Gethsemane through Golgotha and the grave to His glorious resurrection will lead us without hatred and fears, without the sword, from earth’s trial to heaven’s triumph! Unto Him, the all-merciful, ever-glorious, never-ending Christ, the Cleansing for our iniquities, the Savior of our souls, the Peace for our troubled hearts, Jesus, the only Hope in a sin-cancered world, the only Light during our sin-darkened days, the only Promise of inner peace throughout a war-racked world—unto Him be the loyalty of our contrite hearts, the praise of our Spirit-filled lives, the adoration of our ransomed souls, both now and forever! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.