Date: April 11, 1943
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame. – Hebrews 12: 1-2
Jesus, Thou “Author and Finisher of Our Faith”:
May we ever look to Thee and Thy cross for the complete pardon of our transgressions, for strength to resist temptation, for courage to live a godly life, for assurance of victory over death and hell! Because we are hopelessly lost without Thee, blessed Savior, but eternally saved with Thee, bring us, our families, our fighting forces, the millions of the spiritually dead in America to repentance and triumphant trust in Thy blood-bought power to save to the uttermost! Impress deeply into our hearts the truth that Thou hast paid the whole price of our redemption! Let this assurance of finished salvation forever comfort those who are battling for the nation’s cause! Sustain our fighting forces amid all perils of body and soul! Speak peace again to the world, O Jesus, before the slaughter of human lives increases, and let Thy kingdom come into many sin-crushed lives throughout the world! We ask this by Thy mercy and might. Amen.
VICTOR HUGO, French author and an outstanding writer of the last century, was horrified by the bloodshed, crime, poverty, injustice, which he beheld on all sides. Believing that men themselves could raise their standards and ideals to lofty heights, he penned a prophecy for our day. Here it is: “In the twentieth century war will be dead. The scaffold will be dead. Hatred will be dead. Frontier boundaries will be dead. Dogmas will be dead. But man will live.”
How completely false and futile every word of that prediction! “War will be dead” in the twentieth century! In 1914 a conflict began which brought 58,000,000 men under arms and sent 8,500,000 of them (more than one of every seven) to their graves—a war that cost $370,000,000,000 (not to mention the even greater expense of this Second World War, which it provoked) and that left the nations burdened with debts ten times larger than before; a struggle which made Viscount Grey declare, “If there be another such war, civilization will never recover from it.” Yet we now witness not only “another such war” but hostilities even greater in the size of their armies, the hundred billions of their expenditures.
Victor Hugo was wholly wrong, and we could dismiss his false forecast as just another mistake of an illustrious man, were it not for the tragic fact that high authorities in our country and abroad are making the same error, similarly predicting a warless world of wealth and happiness. That French author was willing to wait perhaps a century before his ideals were realized, but many present-day prophets see a new age and a new world right after the war. They go far beyond Victor Hugo in assuring everyone in the United States (some include even the whole globe) plenty of food and clothing, the right kind of housing, and suitable work. Social security “from the cradle to the grave” for everyone in a warless, wantless world—this is the pledge for the years before us.
When I call this one of the cruelest of misplaced promises, I am not concerned about financial difficulties. A Harvard professor has expressed his conviction that, when peace is declared, the postwar United States will have only one fifth the prosperity of the depression year 1929. What troubles me far more is the fact that social architects who would build our tomorrow on the grand scale systematically leave God out of their planning and have no room for Christ. Recently a high representative of our Government told the people of Chile, “Every revolution, from that begun by Christ almost two thousand years ago to the Soviet Revolution of 1917, spoke for the common man,” and thus deliberately put the work of the Lord Jesus on the same level with the regime of Red bloodshed in Russia. To American Christians this borders on blasphemy, and we protest against all blueprints for a better America drawn in disregard of the Almighty. As long as our heavenly Father is eliminated or at best conceded a secondary, unimportant place, tomorrow’s world need expect only continued war, deeper impoverishment of the masses, more crime and unrest.
The Christian attitude, on the contrary, asks the followers of Jesus to work for peace and prosperity; but it demands full recognition of God’s supreme power. It asks not first for social security, but for soul security. It does not end with the grave, but starts anew there. It is concerned not only about the here but particularly about the hereafter. Its watchword is not, “Turn to man, to our statesmen, our scientists, our economists!” On the contrary, this is the plea of Christianity, the cry for our crisis, the invitation to every burdened soul:
LOOK TO THE CROSS!
the appeal found in the wondrous words of grace recorded in Hebrews (chapter twelve, verses one and two): “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame!”
LOOK TO THE CROSS FOR THE FINISHED FAITH!
Our text, picturing life as a race to be run, begins, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” emphasizing at the outset that for the happy, spiritually secure existence sin must be conquered. You may have everything money can buy or human ingenuity secure; but if you are not right with God, if your transgressions remain unforgiven, be sure of this: you will never know real peace or joy! You may try to throw off the burden of your transgressions and drown your crimes in a whirl of excitement or pleasure seeking. You may try to drink yourself into forgetfulness; but when you least expect it, the remembrance of these sins will suddenly rise up to shatter your mock happiness. Your letters tell me how thirty, forty, and more years ago you violated God’s law, boasting you would enjoy life to its fullest; yet now the very vices that appeared attractive prod your conscience and give you no rest.
As long as sin dominates your life, you cannot be free from fear; for no matter how calm and confident you may seem, you are constantly overshadowed by the foreboding that the evil in your past will be revealed, some secret affair brought to light and leave you exposed to friend and foe. Behind and beneath all this is the dread of death, the fear of facing God in eternity, the conviction that no one can escape the arm of divine justice. Dr. Alfred Krupp, who founded the mighty armament works at Essen, Germany, was so tormented by death’s consuming horror that, it is said, he forbade his employees to mention the word in his presence. When a relative of his wife died in his home, he ran away; and when Mrs. Krupp reproved him, he became so enraged that they were separated for life. During his last illness he offered his physician a million dollars to prolong his life for ten years. Money, position, power, gave him no peace. Similarly for the highest and best in your life, you need victory over sin; your conscience must be stilled, your fears removed. You must be able to meet your God as a loving Father and not as a stem Judge with a verdict of guilt and doom. If, in this world of wickedness, men are to work together unselfishly, helping to usher in a new, happier age, they must defeat sin. No matter how men polish or disguise human nature; no matter how much outward politeness or refinement they acquire; if they are still swayed by evil, they can become more degenerate than brute beasts.
To many all this sounds quite old-fashioned at a time when sin rides high, when it is glorified in sex-ridden magazines, practiced in the name of patriotism by heedless youth, encouraged by godless education, endorsed by radical, immoral leaders, ignored even by many pulpits. The New York Times on its church page used about 4,000 words to print excerpts of sermons preached in New York City last Sunday; yet in all these reports the short, ugly, three-letter word “sin” does not occur once. Sometimes, of course, people do speak of sin, but for the most part they discuss not their own but someone else’s sin. It is easy to condemn Hitler or Mussolini or Hirohito; it is not hard for an employer to find fault with his workers or an employee to recognize capitalists’ errors. White people quickly mention the weaknesses of the colored race, and Negroes can make a long list of the white man’s failings, Gentiles seldom hesitate to raise charges against Jews, and the Jews, in turn, have scores of counts on which they indict the Gentiles. But for men to recognize and confess the evil in their own actions, to turn their critical gaze away from others and focus it on their own selfishness—ah, that is a vastly different matter! We must constantly heed the Savior’s warning against seeing the mote in our brother’s eye, while forgetting the broad beam in our own eye! Only at the cost of our salvation can we ignore the fearful punishment of eternal death and damnation which the holy God exacts for all our unforgiven iniquity!
How, then, can we follow our text and “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us”? By our will power, our determination to resist evil? By paying for our transgressions through a good, clean life with gifts to charity? By going to church, securing the help of Christian parents, of a believing husband or wife? By asking saints or angels to intercede for us before God, having friends and relatives pay or pray our way to heaven after we die? May God keep you from these fatal, soul-destroying errors! If you are to be saved from the slavery of sin, look neither to yourself nor to any other man or woman, dead or alive! Follow our text in “looking unto Jesus”! Turn to Him, not only as a sublime teacher, a heavenly friend, an outstanding hero, a courageous reformer, a mighty leader! Approach Him as your Savior, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”! Take refuge in Him, not only for His Sermon on the Mount, but for His death on the mount; not only for His bravery in facing the masses, but for His love in dying for the masses!
Then, as you stand in spirit at Calvary’s crest, you can understand why our text calls Him “the Author and Finisher of our faith.” He is “the Author . . . of our faith” because He, not we, undertook the work of our salvation. We owe everything to His mercy. He found us in our sins, foul and filthy as we were; and He loved us, He washed us, He cleansed us. He saved us when we sought to escape Him, when we were “dead in trespasses and sins,” spiritually paralyzed, unable to find favor with God. Nothing in us could draw the Savior to us; but His boundless blessed grace, His measureless mercy, His limitless love for all sinners, began the task of our redemption; “not that WE loved God,” the Scriptures claim, “but that He loved us” and sent His Son to be “the Propitiation for our sins.” The more you and I study Christ’s compassion, the more His godly grace leads us to exclaim: “Why did He choose me? Why did the Lord of beauty and truth, the Sovereign of heaven, stoop to earth’s grime and filth in saving my sin-tainted soul?”
That Savior—and we see it clearly at Calvary—is not only “the Author” but, praise God! also the “Finisher of our faith.” Too many projects are started today but never completed. Think of the poor Polish people! When this war began, they were solemnly assured that it was started on their account, to win back their lost territory. Now, however, powerful nations seem to have concluded that not all this captured land will be restored to Poland. So it happens frequently in life. A marriage starts with pledges of happiness but ends in separation and divorce. A gifted young man begins a career with the promise of outstanding success but finishes in a penitentiary. A huge commercial enterprise, organized with the prospect of heavy returns for the stockholders, collapses in bankruptcy. Yet Jesus not only took the first steps for our salvation; He also took the last step, up the hill of the skull. He left nothing undone, nothing unpaid, nothing unfinished for our deliverance. In His dying moments He cried out, not in a weak, wavering whisper but, as the Gospels emphasize, “with a loud voice,” “It is finished.” That was the cry of victory. The anguish and the sorrow of the crucifixion were over. The divine plan for the world’s redemption was drawing to its close. The whole Old Testament, with its altars and sacrifices, was giving way to the New, with Christ, Calvary’s cross, the atoning blood and everything that even the just and holy God could demand for the rescue of the whole race.
“It is finished”—let this victory cry resound throughout the world! You need not—indeed cannot—earn your redemption. Do not waste your time and energies in trying to complete what Jesus has fully accomplished! “My grace,” He assures you, “is sufficient for thee.” Only believe Him! Contritely confess your sins! Confidently trust His mercies!
“It is finished”—let that be your defense against doubt! You need no manmade additions to the Gospel; you can trust Christ confidently and find everything required for your redemption plainly stated in passages like this, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Why, then, should you question the eternal truth? You may have reason for being suspicious of human promises, but Jesus is the Son of God. His pledge has never failed. His assurances are sealed with His own sacred blood.
Truly Christ is the “Finisher of our faith.” Once and for all times in your stead He fulfilled God’s Law, the Old Testament prophecies, the demands of divine holiness, the eternal plan of human salvation. He has taken your iniquity away, altogether and forever. He has endured its full punishment, borne its total guilt, so that in God’s sight, once you truly accept His Son, you are without sin, free from its curse, cleansed of its taint, pardoned of its guilt.
Many projects in life remain unfinished. Authors die before their books are completed. Statesmen go to the grave before their plans can be put into practice. Parents are carried to their last resting place when their children are only babies. The precious and only Savior, however, died on the cross with the heavenly pledge that not one particle in the plan of our redemption remained incomplete; that no sinner in any age or any place need ever question our Lord’s death for him. Praise His holy name for this glorious grace! He might have said: “I am dying here on the cross for you. Yet before you can have the blessings of My crucifixion, you must prove that you are worthy of forgiveness. You must do your share. You must show Me that you can live a holy, pure, upright life.” That would not be Jesus. The deliverance He grants is no halfway measure. He goes all the way, and He gives His mercy, not to those who think themselves worthy, noble, virtuous, but to the unworthy, the contrite sinners, who, knowing that even a lifetime of their best deeds cannot win them recognition in the Almighty’s sight, kneel in sorrow and repentance over their sins and plead, “O Jesus, Thou Son of God, Thou Redeemer of the world, my Savior, have mercy upon me!”
This is God’s way to salvation. It is the unchangeable way. It is the sure way. It is the only way. For here is the clear statement of Christ Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Men may ridicule this truth. Last week an Ohio woman, evidently a church member, wrote: “Why don’t you get next to yourself and lay off the ‘blood of Christ’ stuff?” Doubtless millions in the United States feel just as she does. A magazine recently expressed surprise over a popular survey in England, much like our Gallup Poll, which revealed that only 10 percent of the people over there are closely connected with any church. I wonder, however, whether we have any moral right to think America superior. Less than half our population claim membership in any religious group. Less than half of that half are regular attendants, and many of those worship with Christ-denying congregations. Today, when our individual and national problems are more acute than ever before, we need with absolute necessity the clear message of the final and finished atonement in the blood of the Lord Jesus. Because the Savior has commanded us to preach the Gospel; because Saint Paul was “determined not to know anything among” the first believers “save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” this broadcast will feature with all the strength God gives us, not war discussions, news reviews, peace plans, reconstruction programs—the country seems to have plenty of commentators, financial experts, and statesmen—but these two truths, the most vital in all the world: first, the warning that, if you refuse to accept the Savior, you are hopelessly lost; and, second, the promise that, if you receive Him, you have assured salvation, and with it, everything required to fight evil, resist temptation, lead a God-pleasing life, build your home, your community, your country, with exalting righteousness. If you do not like the Gospel and write me that the mention of the Redeemer’s blood is “nauseating” to you, all I can say is, “May God have mercy on your soul!” All I can do is to plead that by divine grace, even through sorrow and disaster, you may be spiritually crushed and in your helplessness turn to your Savior!
My countrymen, Jesus is your last and only Hope. Look confidently to His cross for eternal compassion! He loves you, if no one else in all the world does; and He loves you as no one else ever can. He is “the Author and Finisher” of your faith, the Beginning and End of your salvation, the Start and Finish of everything good and holy in your life, your Alpha and Omega for earth and heaven. Stop resisting His grace! Stop blaspheming His name! Stop closing the gate to heaven! Welcome Him as your Savior now! Let me send you a Christian pastor to instruct you in Christ’s truth!
LOOK TO THE CROSS FOR THE COURAGEOUS LIFE!
Our text gives us another reason for turning to the cross. We read: “Let us lay aside every weight, . . . and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus . . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” In the race called life (and how truly we hurry through our short span of years!), when Christians daily draw nearer to their heavenly home, they are often burdened by sorrows and afflictions which would prevent them from reaching their goal. Many in this audience are weighted by painful, costly, weakening sickness. Some of you can never recall a day in which you could rise from your bed, your wheelchair, your crutches, and feel the full sweep of health course through your body. Others have been crushed by family trouble: your marriage is broken; you are separated from your husband or your wife; your children have brought you disgrace; drunkenness, cursing, quarrels, have ruled your home for years. Still others have met with bankruptcy and broken hopes in business. Not a few of you are beset by spiritual problems. Satan wants you to doubt instead of believing firmly, and you are beginning to wonder whether you have committed the unpardonable sin, whether the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse the vile, horrifying thoughts which contrary to your will shape themselves in your mind. In all this torture you ask disconsolately, “How can I bear my burden?”
That is the question millions of sufferers are voicing today and many more millions will repeat tomorrow. Believers will not find their road easy during the years ahead. A magazine published in New Jersey coldly announces that the work of Martin Luther must be undone. Does that mean that my Church is to be liquidated? In a score of ways the adversities which Jesus foresaw and foretold as signs of the last times are being fulfilled before our eyes in unbelief, persecution of the truth, apostasy within churches.
Where, then, can the afflicted, especially those who sorrow over the war, fearing that disaster or death may strike their sons on far-off battle areas, find help? Or is there no hope? Is life merely a cruel game of chance with the cards stacked against us? May God drive those evil thoughts from your mind and give you the courage to follow His Son through hardship and heartache! Let the message of these Lenten weeks impress on your mind how incomparably greater than yours was the anguish the Savior “endured” on the cross. He could have died in a hundred other ways, but He deliberately chose that form of death, which the ancient world reserved for those whom it would make suffer long and intensely. He could have departed from life amid splendor, as ancient kings often did, or among an invited group of friends, as Socrates did, but He purposely selected the “shame” of the cross, the most despised form of execution; and on the unclean, accursed tree He died between two robbers to fulfill the ancient prophecy, “He was numbered with the transgressors.”
How could Christ knowingly and willingly “endure” all this? Our text answers: It was “for the joy that was set before Him,” the eternal salvation of your soul and mine. Great was His agony, but even greater His love. Tears fell from His eyes; heavy groanings escaped His lips; His soul was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”; yet beyond Calvary was the rejoicing in the redemption. Above Good Friday’s darkness shone the beacon light of God’s penetrating love.
Similarly our text directs all Christians, “looking unto Jesus,” to find a high and heavenly purpose in their anguish. As the agonies of the crucifixion produced the greatest blessing the race has ever known, so for our Lord’s followers “all things,” including shattering blows, “work together for good.” In every pain or shame with which you as a child of God are burdened, a radiant joy has been set before you, too—the knowledge that you are afflicted because God loves you and visits you, not in His anger but in His unfathomable grace, so that adversity will make you lean wholly on Jesus, trust Him without question or quiver. Here, then, is the answer to the problem of suffering only Jesus can give and only those who accept Him can receive: There is rejoicing in every reverse, power for uplift in all blows that strike us down, healing for the soul in each sickness of body, spiritual strength in physical weakness, heavenly riches in earthly loss. For that faith, my heartbroken friends, turn to the cross! As truly as the Crucified is God’s Son and the world’s Savior, you will realize the pledge of His word, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
Because this broadcast, in an ever-increasing degree, is determined to direct all whom it can reach to Jesus, “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” our Redeemer from sin and our Example in suffering, I am privileged now to give the happiest radio announcement it has ever been my privilege to make. For years many of you have been praying that Bringing Christ to the Nations would remain on the air during the summer season. The Lutheran Laymen’s League, sponsor of this radio mission, has decided that, with God’s grace and your help, we will broadcast every Sunday. Particularly in soul-trying times like these, the Savior must be preached with more force and frequency than ever. Pray for us! It will cost several hundred thousand dollars to continue this work, but I have the confidence that the Lord who has mightily blessed us during the past ten years will lead you to support us, so that year after year, the evangel of everlasting redemption may be preached in Christ’s name to larger masses. Thank God today for this encouraging step forward and help us reach our objective: to use every suitable and available radio transmitter throughout the world for the spread of His saving truth; to broadcast Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, without interruption, this one central, saving appeal: Look to the cross for love, for life, for light! Look to Jesus, the Son of the eternal God and the Son of the lowly Virgin, for full, free, final, finished salvation! Look to Christ for strength in every sorrow, courage in every crisis! Look to the Crucified, to Him alone, to Him always—and be saved! O God, give us that cross-directed vision and victory for Thy Son’s sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.