Date: November 8, 1942
I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. – Luke 7:9
Jesus, Our Sure Hope and Salvation:
Grant us the humble, contrite spirit by which we confess our utter unworthiness of Thy mercy! Enrich us with a firm, triumphant faith, which takes Thee at Thy Word and trusts confidently in Thy repeated pledge of personal grace! O Jesus, Thou art our God, and with Thine almighty power nothing shall be impossible for Thee; but Thou art also our Savior, and in Thy love for sinners Thou didst not only redeem us on the cross from hell and death, but Thou dost also watch over us now, so that no harm can draw near our souls. Help us understand that through Thee our afflictions become our advantages! For Thy believers turn war’s sorrows into spiritual blessings! Protect our country and its fighting men! By Thy mercy grant the world a peace with truth and justice! We ask it all, precious Savior, in Thy name, by Thy will, and with Thy promise. Amen.
ONE of the bravest chapters in the war has been the struggle of our gallant troops on Bataan Peninsula. For weeks these besieged soldiers were constantly buoyed up by the hope that somehow help would arrive from America. Days of bloody battle gave way to nights of dark terror, yet exhausted, sleep-robbed, half-starved, our men, fighting against overwhelming odds, were cheered by radio rumors that relief was approaching. So confident were they of their escape that in an almost superhuman effort they cleared a wide jungle stretch and made a runway on which rescue planes might land. Despite these frenzied preparations, no reinforcements came. The encircled troops were finally forced to surrender. With all our billions of dollars and numerous military experts; with our large armies, proud navies, and mighty airplane squadrons, we could not aid that brave band.
If money, power, intelligence, the resources of a wealthy government, are not always able to rescue men from dangers, they are even less capable of establishing true, lasting peace. As the Armistice anniversary approaches, we recall the past promises of a warless world. Twenty-one short years ago President Warren Harding, standing before the tomb of America’s unknown soldier, declared: “The sacrifice of these millions of dead shall not be in vain. . . . This Armistice Day shall mark the beginning of a new and lasting era of peace on earth.” Yet today the world is gripped by the horror of history’s most destructive struggle. The first World War cost us 233,000 killed and wounded; but for this second war a general prophesies, “Our losses may be a million or two million or conceivably three million men,” and a rear admiral estimates five million casualties. Pray God once more that these predictions may be put to naught as He who has all power, the rightful King of men, swiftly intervenes in His mercy and might to stop this devastating slaughter, rebuke greed and aggression, grant triumph to truth and righteousness! If God’s eternal principles are barred from the peace table, we may face World War III, which can be vastly more terrifying even than the present conflict.
You can understand, therefore, that, if men cannot solve the problems of a nation’s war and peace, perplexities dealing with facts and factors which can be seen, felt, measured, tabulated, then certainly the soul’s afflictions, the heart’s anguish, the mind’s agonies, which cannot be examined in laboratories nor computed by statistical experts, will not be removed by any human agency, powerful and resourceful though it be. You may have endured crushing blows, and in the difficult years ahead you will doubtless be called upon to bear unaccustomed burdens. You may be restless, confused, distressed, conscience-lashed, gripped by worry and terror—fear for your sons, brothers, husbands in service; anxiety about your home; sorrows brought on by ill health, accident, disappointments in love. To all of us and for every dark moment comes this message of sustaining comfort: “Don’t give up! Don’t surrender to indifference or despair! Don’t try to drink or play your grief away! Don’t turn, as millions of your fellow men do, to superstition and new but false religions!” Instead, ask God for
THE GREATEST FAITH: FIRM TRUST IN CHRISTI
Strive for this immovable reliance on Jesus, which our Savior Himself exalts in the Scripture for this Sunday (Saint Luke, chapter seven, verse nine), “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
WE MUST TURN TO THE DIVINE CHRIST FOR THIS FAITH
If you think that the person who is thus praised for having the greatest faith was a priest, a scribe, a learned rabbi in the higher circles of Jerusalem, you are completely mistaken. Jesus spoke these words in Capernaum, one of those half-breed cities in the North, from which all self-respecting Jews kept their distance. But our Lord, with His marvelous love particularly for the neglected, oppressed, underprivileged, overburdened, deliberately and in fulfillment of ancient prophecy sought out that Galilean center to bring its people comfort, help, and hope. Take heart and study the geography of our Savior’s grace! As you write me from isolated, unimportant places, from settlements without even a name, from the dingy, run-down sections of the city, even from prisons and penitentiaries, remember that you are just as precious in the Savior’s sight as the country’s outstanding citizens! Though men may rarely find the way to your home, Jesus now speaks to you personally.
This man whose faith Christ held up for our example was not one of Capernaum’s leading Jewish citizens. Listen to this, and thank God: he was a Gentile, outside the boundaries of the Old Testament Church! Thank God, I say, because through Jesus we are in the New Testament, with His grace freely granted, regardless of rank or reputation, color, clime, or condition. Today in a world cursed by caste and privilege, slavery and dictatorship, with the claims of racial superiority and the practice of financial superiority, we can never sufficiently express our gratitude to the Almighty for the mercy that salvation is offered all men with the same marvelous love, no matter how differently they may be classified by false human standards. Because it is Scriptural truth that Jesus “died for all”; because it is His own command, “Go ye into ALL the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” we must, more than ever before, extend the invitation to accept Christ, and with Him, joy for life, strength for death, and the assurance of heaven to many more millions who have never heard a syllable of the saving Gospel. Our Bringing Christ to the Nations messages are now transmitted by stations in twenty-four countries outside the United States and heard in many more lands. Those who love the Lord Jesus will praise God with us because a committee has been appointed to expand our foreign broadcasting into additional countries. Ultimately we hope that your prayers and your gifts will help us realize this glorious objective: to use every available and suitable radio station throughout the entire world in the service of the Savior’s Gospel. The results of our foreign broadcasting have been astonishing. Outside Mexico City a group of Aztec Indians regularly meets to hear this message and have difficult Spanish words explained by a young Aztec brought to Christ through our mission of the air. One of the most encouraging letters I have ever received came only a few days ago from a South American missionary to tell me that far in the interior of Peru, where few white men ever penetrate, the Indians, descendants of the Incas, crouch around a portable radio to hear the Lutheran Hour and have the interpreter explain the Redeemer’s message. There, in the remote Amazon jungles, among semi-civilized and savage tribes, a week’s journey and more beyond the bounds of civilization, these broadcasts bring the Savior’s comfort and strength. Does that not make your heart beat a little faster in grateful joy? Yet all this need be only the beginning of our most far-reaching radio mission; and I promise you that if you will stand by us with your prayers, the Lord helping us, we will leave nothing untried or undone in bringing Christ’s hope to the ends of the earth.
Note especially that the man whose faith is praised by Jesus was a soldier, a centurion, the leader of one hundred troops, actually the captain of the Roman garrison in Capernaum. In those days military men were generally held in contempt. For that matter some people today have only a low regard for our fighting men. With much consternation I read a high military authority’s description of the American soldier, which said, “He plods and groans, sweats and toils; he growls and curses.” How tragic to publicize profanity in that way! How unfortunate, too, that overcrowded night clubs and road houses reecho with the blaring strains of “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” while masses, far away from the dangers of conflict, making more money in war than they ever could in peace, sing this melody without a flicker of reverence in their hearts, often in the same breath with heavy curses! Remember the Bible’s warning: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be!”
Jesus was ready to help the centurion by healing his servant. We, too, must be prepared to help sustain our youth under colors. Bringing Christ to the Soldiers is the Church’s greatest missionary opportunity and obligation. Washington now reports that 4,000 chaplains will be needed. Again I promise you fathers and mothers, worried because your sons are far removed from home, that we will do everything possible to broadcast the messages of the crucified Christ to all our American fighting men. If you want us to mail your boy uplifting, strengthening literature, write us today, and we shall consider it a Christian and patriotic privilege thus to serve him.
Speaking directly to you in the armed forces, I remind you that some of the most stalwart military men have been outstanding Christians. Soldiers, think of General Sir William Dobbie, former governor of Malta! Above the din of a thousand bombings his testimony rings clear: “I cannot attempt to describe what I owe to the Lord Jesus Christ nor what He has meant to me throughout my army career (and longer). The knowledge that it is to Him I owe my eternal salvation has given me a peace which nothing has been able to disturb!”
Sailors, recall Captain Mahan, author of several standard volumes on naval warfare, who declared: “In the Word of God I have found . . . not merely comfort and strength, but intense intellectual satisfaction. I rejoice that . . . I am able publicly to lay at His feet the confession that all I have, all that I am, all that I know has come from Him and through Him”!
Air men, remember that when Colin Kelly, the first outstanding American hero of World War II, began his dangerous flight, he said, “I am ready to go, ready to meet my Savior”!
Fighting men of America, take these outstanding leaders as your example! With the military captain of our text, turn to Christ!
The shadow of sorrow had overtaken the centurion when he approached Jesus. His servant, really his slave, lay deathly sick with the dread palsy. Instead of trying to heal him merely because he represented a certain money value; instead of turning away in utter unconcern, as many slaveholders would have done in those harsh days, this centurion was moved by love in the effort to save the life of his faithful servant. Where could he secure help, now that his attendant was at death’s door and apparently all medical resources had failed? Where, indeed, if not in the same Savior through whom every one of you can always find courage? He had heard of Jesus. He was convinced of His power and, therefore, he went straight to the Redeemer with his appeal. It is my glorious, if undeserved, privilege to assure you that in every dark hour you, too, can turn to our Lord for light and hope. No earthly friend or human aid can begin to offer the comfort and strength you have in Christ as soon as you say, “He is my Savior!” Then you know that, if Jesus performed the immeasurably greater task of removing and canceling your guilt forever, so that you are saved for heaven, He certainly can do the far smaller work of guiding, guarding, and protecting you, according to His will, on earth. If He loved you even when you hated Him; if He called you when you rejected Him; if He pleaded with you at the moment you forsook Him; if He stretched out His arms to you even though you turned your back on Him; if He shed His blood at Calvary and died for you while you were yet in your sins, will you not believe that He who rules the universe, keeps the stars in their courses, directs the affairs of nations, gives life and breath to all creatures, can mightily sustain you after you have come to Him, after you have knelt before Him to say, “O precious Savior, Thou art mine, and I am Thine”? As Saint Paul cries out, “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”—all things for this body, this existence and this earth.
In every uncertainty of life as we live it today, with the avalanche of afflictions that may hurl itself down upon us, we, too, should turn to Christ. Not nearly enough believers are on their knees before their Savior. Not nearly enough Americans have recognized that Jesus is the only and last Hope for our dying world. Not nearly enough soldiers and defense workers understand how necessary faith in the Redeemer is during this emergency. On the contrary, a proud, boastful spirit stalks abroad throughout the land. A religious leader confidently predicted that he would live to be 120 years, only to die a few weeks ago, forty-eight years short of that mark. Many churches, forsaking the purpose and reason of their existence—the preaching of the holy Gospel—continually speak of this new order or that new order. They forget that real newness comes only when men are born again “of water and of the Spirit.” More than ever before we need courageous, consecrated leaders who, without counting cost or consequence, will direct men to the true Christ, the atoning and redeeming Christ, the divine and eternal Christ, the comforting and sustaining Christ, the Christ for every sin and sinner, for every need and affliction, for every doubt and disaster—the Christ for your transgressions, your problems, your afflictions.
WE MUST TURN TO CHRIST HUMBLY, YET CONFIDENTLY
The centurion not only comes to Jesus with his sorrow, he turns to Him with remarkable humility. Realizing his own sinfulness, but acknowledging the Savior’s complete holiness, that captain of the Capernaum troops tells the Redeemer, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof.” He regards Christ as so exalted that even his dwelling, which could have been one of the larger, more attractive houses in the city, was far too small, his family and household altogether too lowly and unworthy, to receive the sinless, stainless Son of God.
Today the situation is often completely reversed: proud, conceited people think themselves too good for Christ, and the Savior too unworthy to enter their home. How can we account for the tragic fact that half of America’s households maintain no connection with any congregation, that even most of the church members’ families have no desire to welcome Jesus into their midst through Scripture reading and prayer? How does it happen that religious groups which a generation or two ago were founded by consecrated believers in Christ now have no room for the Redeemer, no love for the Gospel of the cross and the blood? One reason explains this, as well as the widespread rejection of Jesus today by masses who have the time, the money, and above all the need to receive and acclaim the Savior; and that reason is to be found in the stubborn unwillingness to bow humbly before the Lord, to say: “He is everything, but we are nothing. He is the spotless Lamb of God, but we are stained with iniquity, false and full of sin.” The lesson for every one of us is clear and personal: We, too, must humble ourselves before Christ. The direction to the masses in our beloved country is equally emphatic: “America, on your knees in contrite confession!” The appeal to our world is similarly unmistakable: “‘O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord’ .and submit humbly to His good and gracious will!”
Like the centurion, truly great believers have always been humble. While small, dirty, negative minds ridicule and blaspheme Christ, mighty intellects have bowed low before Him. Ambroise Pare, the Huguenot scientist in the sixteenth century, who more than any other person of his age helped to make surgery a science, performed such remarkable curative work that during the massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day he was hidden by the French king, who himself had ordered the bloody massacre. With a humility that all professional men may well copy, Pare used to declare, after operations, “I dressed him [the patient], but God cured him.” And today Dr. D. M. Blair, regius professor of anatomy at Glasgow University, with the same humble faith confesses: “Since God is the Author of good and the Source of all truth, the discoveries of physical science are due to Him in spirit and letter, whether or not the physical instrument of discovery realizes and acknowledges that fact. Science . . . cannot . . . hold man to a right direction. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can point the way.”
Those who have the centurion’s humility also know more of faith’s joy and blessing than those who critically question and suspiciously examine the Savior’s truth. A few days ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brought an interesting account of the tin mining in Durango, Mexico. Searching desperately for this metal, vital for war purposes, geologists, metallurgists, surveyors, and other experts, after considerable investigation, issued a report stating that the tin at Durango was too poor in quality and too small in quantity to be mined successfully. Yet soon after their survey was submitted, attention was called to the fact that the natives, operating without the advantages of modern equipment, sometimes working on their hands and knees, produced 2,000 tons of high-grade tin annually. The experts had failed, but the humble folk had succeeded. So it is in the quest for the joy of salvation. The proud and self-confident often lose the treasures of the Kingdom, while those who turn contritely to Christ, fall humbly on their knees, and trust the simple assurance of faith find Heaven’s hidden riches in abundance.
Therefore may the Spirit give everyone of you the centurion’s humility to approach the blessed Savior and cry out: “O Christ of all compassion, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come to me or even consider me. I am not worthy even to speak to Thee, let alone hope for Thy mercy or forgiveness. Yet I take Thee at Thy Word, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ And now, blessed Redeemer, I come in full reliance on Thine unbreakable mercy.”
Such firmness of trust made the centurion’s faith the greatest Jesus had found. So convinced was this Gentile soldier that our Lord could restore his servant; so assured was he that Christ was more than man, yes, the mighty God Himself, that he told the Savior, “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed!” If he, as a military official, could command his soldiers and they would carry out his purposes, certainly Jesus, divine and all-powerful, could on that very spot say to the victim of the palsy, “Be restored to health!” and he would recover. No wonder, with the Jews questioning and quibbling over Christ’s truth, demanding signs and miracles, He could say of this Gentile centurion’s trust, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
Today, too, many question marks are placed behind the Savior’s promises. Many of you are not satisfied with His pledge of salvation and help. You want to experience something. You want your own emotions to be the seal and assurance that Christ is with you and for you. Don’t rely on your feelings! They have never brought anyone to glory, but they have often tried to keep people out. Some of you insist on seeing signs and miracles before you believe; yet you have the cross, the mightiest of all signs, and history, changed by the Gospel, as a startling miracle. You demand earth-shaking upheavals, while the Almighty often speaks in the “still, small voice” that can move heaven and earth. You want the Bible plus some human book, God’s Word supplemented by man’s. However, if Scripture alone cannot give you positive assurance, certainly nothing puny men have ever penned will move your heart.
In these decisive days we need the centurion’s immovable firmness of faith. We, too, must say: “O Jesus, ‘speak the word only,’ and the horrors of this war will cease! O Jesus, ‘speak the word only,’ and the burdens that crush us can be removed! O Jesus, ‘speak the word only,’ and all our afflictions, sickness, pain, injury, loss of contentment, happiness, life itself, family trouble, financial trouble, spiritual trouble, can vanish!”
In this firmness of faith we know that Christ can intervene when everything seems hopeless. An Associated Press dispatch tells us of a British submarine disabled on the ocean floor. For two days the crew worked ceaselessly in the effort to raise the craft. Finally all hope was abandoned. The officer in command explained to the men that they did not have long to live, since no help whatever could come from the outside. In preparation for approaching death the seamen sang “Abide with Me!” and then each took a sedative to quiet his nerves. One sailor, however, fainted soon after he had received the narcotic. He fell with all his weight against the submarine’s machinery, with the result that somehow he set the jammed surfacing equipment into motion, and the submarine was eventually brought to the top. Have not similar startling deliverances come to every one of you in automobile accidents and a hundred other calamities that would have proved fatal, had not God intervened in some utterly unexpected and unexplainable way to save your life?
If you, too, will say to Jesus, “Abide with me!” His presence will constantly protect and bless your lives. He may not always deliver you from earthly dangers. Some of our Christian soldiers now on distant shores will never return, not because the Savior cannot bring them back safely, but because He wants them with Him in heaven now. Many of you will continue to endure a thorn in the flesh, not because our Redeemer cannot remove it, but because He wants to use physical weakness as a means of building spiritual strength. It takes 50,000 flowers to produce an ounce of that costliest of perfumes, attar of roses. They have to be pressed and crushed so that the drops of the fragrant, costly oil may be distilled. In our own lives it often requires a hundred days of sorrow, with all their crushing affliction, to produce the fragrance of a living faith. Yet for every spiritual necessity, for every need of our blood-bought and redeemed soul, you have this positive, unchanging, exceptionless promise by Christ Himself, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.”
Therefore, across the vast expanse of our hemisphere, O Christ, we now take Thee at Thy word. With contrite hearts, but with triumphant trust, we ask Thee: “Give us this greatest faith, this firm reliance on Thy mercy and might! Make us centurions in the marching army of Thy Church here on earth! Grant us ‘the victory that overcometh the world,’ the immovable, heroic, constant faith which looks to Thee in life and death! We ask it, blessed Savior, by the promise of Thine unfailing truth!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.