Date: April 17, 1938
Prayer of Thanks for Easter Blessing
O Christ, our resurrected, ever-living Redeemer:
Ceaseless praise, eternal glory, and adoration be Thine since on this day Thou didst break the power of death, prove Thyself the mighty God, and show to all ages that the redemption of our souls from the tyranny of sin has been accepted by Thy Father! Through Thy Spirit grant that the Easter triumph may fill our hearts with faith in Thy sin-destroying mercies and help us build an unwavering trust in Thy power to save to the uttermost. Teach us to find in the empty grave the pledge of Thy never-failing guidance and the promise of our own victory over death. Give us a sacred vision, so that, our sins removed and our salvation assured by Thy limitless compassion, we may see, far beyond the turmoils of life, the glories of heaven, with “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Be with us, Christ, our Life and Light, as this season’s broadcast draws to its close and in the many hearts bless eternally its testimony to the full Gospel of Thy grace. Into the hands of Thy compassionate and all-powerful love we commend ourselves and this mission of the air. Bless us and keep us all in faith until in Thy time and by Thy guidance we are permitted to resume this public glorification of Thy redemption and resurrection. Hear us, Christ our God, our Savior, our Sovereign, as Thou hast promised! Amen.
Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death. – Revelation 1:17-18
AS I extend to all of you across the continent, in the Canadian provinces and Mexico, aboard vessels on the Atlantic and Pacific, our prayerful good wishes for rich blessings that are yours through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I remind you that the Savior’s victory over death is the divine cure for the darkest fears that haunt the human race,—the deep terror of existing without the assurance of a living Savior and of dying without the guarantee of a blessed eternity. The most destructive of all fears, the fright that has turned men’s hair white in a few hours and makes them chatter in uncontrolled and unintelligible syllables, is the dread of death, the horror of the grave. Almost any pain, any depths of poverty, any infirmity of old age, any collapse of mental power, will be preferred to death, which ends all and leads to Judgment. It is not the physical anguish of dying that makes men shudder in abject terror during their last moments. Investigators assure us that, while the heathen show much bravery in the matter of suffering, they are seized by a terrifying dread when they contemplate the hereafter and its Judgment. In our own cultured country, too, despite outward bravado, this gnawing fear of the things that are to come may turn self-sufficient men and women to trembling cowards.
By an astonishing contrast, however, those who cling to Christ in life and death are strengthened by a joy that a proud world can never know. In the testimony of dying martyrs and in Christian burial-places within the catacombs you can find expressions of remarkable rejoicing in death. William Wilberforce, who led the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, breathed his last with these words: “I never knew happiness until I found Christ as my Savior. . . . Read the Bible! Read the Bible!” When an ill-fated vessel of Sir John Franklin’s arctic expedition was discovered with its frozen, spectral crew, a book of devotions in the cabin showed a series of questions and answers that seemed to be Sir John’s personal confession of faith. The passage marked read: “Are you not afraid to die?” “No.” “No? Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern?” And then the blessed answer: “Because God has said to me, ‘Fear not for I have redeemed thee; . . . when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.’”
It is Christ’s blessed “Fear not” with which the Easter evangel would enrich every one of us. As He once greeted His disciples cowering behind locked doors with the “Fear not,” so in the words chosen for the text of the last message in this series (Rev. 1: 17, 18) Jesus says to us today: “Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.”
In the light of this Easter-passage let us study more closely
THE EVER-LIVING CHRIST
and at the open grave draw comfort, truth, and guidance for this life and for the blessed eternity to come.
HE IS OUR STRENGTH FOR THIS LIFE
This exultation of Easter glory was spoken by the Savior Himself when on lonely Patmos He appeared to His exiled disciple, Saint John, no longer the Christ of the thorny crown and the bleeding cross but the resplendent Victor, the Christ of glory, the Conqueror with resurrection radiance, the King in eternal majesty. His voice, no quavering plea as on Good Friday, but instead, “the sound of many waters,” terrifies the distracted apostle, so that he falls to his feet as though dead. Then it is that the crucified Savior lays His right hand on John, soothes Him with a calm “Fear not,” and assures him, “Fear not; . . . I am He that liveth and was dead.”
May Christ Jesus on this Easter-day touch us with His right hand and repeat this triumphant cry “I am He that liveth and was dead.” For the fact of Easter, that Jesus could not and did not remain in the grave, but that on the third day, after the grief and death of Golgotha, He rose again, is the basic truth of all history. If Christ is in the center of all the centuries, then His death and resurrection are the pivotal point within that center.
Take the resurrection out of Easter, and what remains is a paganized festival, well symbolized by rabbits and chicks and ducks, unfolding flowers and reviving nature. Explain away the open grave, and you have eliminated the hope of the hereafter, pulled the keystone from the arch of our Christian faith, the cornerstone from the temple of our hope for heaven, stifled the ageless cry “He is not here but is risen.”
I shall not debate the truth of the Savior’s bursting the bonds of death; for the preacher of God’s grace cannot thrive on acrid argument. He is to proclaim the eternal verities, not to dispute with a gainsaying world. Is it not noteworthy that the New Testament disdains to employ human reason to support the resurrection truth? It accepts the Easter victory without question! Can we doubt it when we survey the abundant proof with which the Spirit gives witness to the resurrection miracle? It was prophesied in the Psalms that the Messiah would not see corruption, that His throne was eternal, that He would rule forever and ever. It was forecast in the prophets that He was to be the Father of eternity, that after death His days would be lengthened, and that of His kingdom there would be no end. The Easter triumph was foretold by Jesus Himself, who promised to raise the broken temple of His body in three days and who found in the experiences of Jonah a symbol of His own burial and resurrection. The Savior’s victory over death is recorded in detail by the four gospels and in the two supplementary accounts; it is exalted in scores of passages in the epistles. We have more and better documentary evidence for the fact that Jesus rose again on the third day than we possess for Columbus’s discovery of continental America and a hundred other occurrences in antiquity that today are accepted without question or doubt. What gave the first Church its astonishing power? Was it not, under the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the assurance that the Christ who died had returned to life as the ever-living Lord? Why did the disciples emerge bravely from behind locked doors to lay down their lives for the Gospel? They knew with a conviction that could stride majestically over all opposition that their Lord was not dead and buried in an unmarked grave, but that He lived, triumphant and eternal.
Whatever unbelief may say, Jesus in our Easter text declares: “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen.” And that “Amen” now reechoes across this continent in thousands of believing hearts and Christian homes where the Word of Jesus and the conviction of His Spirit are strong enough to repel hostile critics.
Yet, while Christians on five continents today are united in paying worshipful tribute to the living Christ, many in this audience are not sure in their own minds whether Easter rests on historical fact. I ask those who have this complex of Thomas to read without prejudice the simple narrative of the Bible and give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in their hearts. It may be that, as a noted infidel who once dedicated himself to the unholy task of discrediting the resurrection of Christ was brought to faith in Jesus by a study of the Easter-story, so God will open your hearts and eyes to the truth which the holy angels daily proclaim.
Do not think that this is merely a theological question, this matter of Christ’s resurrection. If it is true—as we know it is—that we have an ever-living Savior, can you not see what vital influences faith in that fact must exert in our lives? If above the turmoil of earth and the anguish of a troubled existence we know that Christ lives and rules, what glorious strength we can discover by allying ourselves with Him, by enlisting His conquering heavenly power for our battles! The reason many of you are groveling in the dark and damp ravines of life instead of climbing to the heights of inner joy is this, that you have never learned to realize in a personal manner that your Savior lives in His Kingdom of Power and Grace; that by the Easter miracle He wants to prove Himself your Counselor and Guide; that in every hour of opposition and affliction you can behold Him sitting on the right hand of God the Father as your Advocate and Deliverer.
May this living Christ be enthroned in your hearts, “the First and the Last,” as He calls Himself in the revelation to Saint John, timeless in His eternity, complete in His all-pervading power. Consciously does Jesus lay claim to His deity in this title, “the First and the Last”; for that is the repeated title of God in the Old Testament. With a divine and living Christ, who is the Beginning and the End for us, what more need we crave in life? Keep Jesus as the First in your thoughts in the morning and the Last in your prayers at night; as the God who begins the work of your redemption and who on the cross and in Joseph’s grave completes it; the Author and Finisher of your faith; Jesus, the Alpha in our desires, our gifts, our sacrifices, our endeavors, and the Omega, who lingers with us when friends turn away, fortunes vanish, health fails; Jesus first, from the very beginning of our new spiritual life, and Jesus last, when in the final moment of life all else recedes and Jesus alone remains!
HE IS OUR ASSURANCE FOR THE LIFE TO COME
Through the riches of His resurrection the ever-living Christ on Easter gloriously displays His quickening victory over all graves. Hear Jesus, as Saint John heard Him exult, “I have the keys of death and hell,” that is, the divine power to open or close the doors of death, to lock or unlock the gloom of the grave, release the gates of hell or swing wide in heavenly welcome the portals that lead to everlasting glory. Only Jesus has these master keys; only at the open grave can we find the surety of the open heaven; only in the Easter light, revealing truth for the dark mysteries of death.
Ignore the Easter Christ, and you push aside the assured answer to the question of eternity. Despite our outstanding advance and the marvels of human achievement in this age, when surety is to be found for the next life, we must humbly bow before the Redeemer and repeat the plea of His disciples, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” We cannot go to our scientific schools and research laboratories for truth regarding the hereafter. What right has a physicist to pronounce on the question of immortality? His knowledge is limited to the material forces of life, and even these are often beyond the power of his penetration and analysis. By what claim of intellectual honesty can a biologist discredit the resurrection? His field is the body, not the soul. We like the attitude of a large number of American scientists recently expressed by one of their leaders at Princeton, who insisted that most scientists are qualified to speak on only one branch of learning, and then with guarded reservation. In his opinion, the more a real scientist learns, the humbler he becomes.
Again, we cannot resort to the Spiritist for an answer to Job’s searching question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” These self-styled “mediums,” the go-betweens allegedly maintaining communication between this life and the next, have often been revealed as frauds and charlatans. They are condemned by the Word of God; they have proved themselves menaces to the morality, the happiness, and the salvation of their duped followers. They ought to be banished from the land as public enemies instead of being coddled by newspaper editors, university leaders, and society matrons who reject the Bible but gullibly swallow all the sacrilege of deceptive séances.
Easter dawns upon the world to remind us that no mortal mind in itself has the keys to the power of death. No philosopher with his theory of justice and compensation after death for the wrong and the sufferings of life; no historian with his claim that, because all nations throughout antiquity believed in a future existence, there must be one; no naturalist with his picture of the seed planted and decaying in the earth which blossoms forth in nature’s resurrection with the beauty and power of new life;—none of these can give us the assurance that all does not end with the grave. The untrammeled truth that robs the tomb of its horror can be found only, yet always, with Him who before the empty tomb repeated the refrain, I “have the keys of death and hell.” Eternity to the Christian is not a subject of scientific investigation; it is an article of holy faith, the sacred climax of our trust in Christ, by which we triumph over assault and contradiction and join Saint Paul in declaring with confidence, “He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus.”
How tragic that blundering men will play with shiny, counterfeit pennies, paste, and glass when the riches of heaven and the crown jewels of faith can be theirs in Christ! Not long ago a religious magazine asked a group of notable men and women to give the basis for their hope of immortality. What pitiful answers, what flimsy, futile reasons were offered by these distinguished contributors! A writer, now a member of Congress, replied: When we look upon the dead, “we have a feeling that, while the body is still there, something has taken wing and flown away.” Suppose that feeling is wrong? A newspaper editor tells of a funeral with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and with this musical background he draws the conclusion that the soul of the departed “was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn.” How, without that Christ whom the editor does not mention, can he find a guarantee that the soul has not been annihilated in eternal darkness? A British authoress founded her faith on the life to come on this premise, “Nothing that is pure, . . . nothing that is good, can die.” What about the conscience that underscores our sins and reminds us that our impulses and desires are often impure and evil? A college president, presiding over an institution founded for Christian culture, finds proof for perpetual existence without reference to God, Christ, or the Bible in this colorless statement, “It is far easier for me ‘to believe’ than not to believe in immortality.” Tell that to a dying man and see whether it provides strength for his last moments. Besides, some people find it easier to believe than not to believe in suicide. A preacher, the recognized leader of modern, Christ-denying unbelief, declares that he accepts immortality. Why? Here are his words: “I believe in . . . man as the son of God, with capacities to become superman and then again superman, rising on the stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things.” Nietzsche had one superman; it has remained for apostate Protestantism to create the double superman—with double despair.
What blind alleys and dingy dead-ends these Christless paths to immortality prove! If you want the conviction that can make your gravestone a triumphal pillar, your last hours on earth the prelude to the first in heaven, you must believe that the ever-living Christ, and He alone, pledges you eternity. Only He could remove sin, the curse of death; only He could suffer in the sinner’s stead when on Calvary’s cross, as the Lamb of God, He bore the sins of the world, dying the death of all men. By His bleeding wounds, His cry of anguish, His sinweighted, sorrow-crushed soul, His dying gasp, “It is finished,” and then His death of all destiny, He broke the dominion of sin and hell; He paid, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood,” the ransom demanded for freedom from death, paid it completely and unconditionally, for all generations. To seal the power of that salvation and demonstrate that the Father had accepted the sacrifice of the Son; that Christ, as God and man, completely vanquished sin and now has the divine power over death, Jesus Himself, on that first and glorious Easter Day, tore the shrouds that covered His body, felled the legionaries that were to guard His lifeless remains.
By that Easter triumph over sin and the grave Jesus, with the keys of death and hell in His hand, promises us, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Believe that, today of all days! Come close to Christ, our God of Glory, on this anniversary of His resurrection and through trusting faith in His love and power live eternally!
Let the venomous voices of unbelief ridicule your Easter confidence or, in these words of a German critic of God, carry pessimism to this extreme, “No human being can by any possibility know anything.” That man never knew Christ nor what the New Testament calls “the power of His resurrection.” Leprous Job, long centuries before Calvary and the open grave, saw the Easter victory with its pathway to perpetual life and exulted, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Though death would destroy his body, Job continued to triumph: “Yet in my flesh shall I see God, WHOM I SHALL SEE FOR MYSELF.” St. Paul is persuaded that “neither death nor life . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” That undaunted faith in the life to come has been shared since the days of the New Testament by heroic Christian hearts and notable leaders in national affairs. Andrew Jackson, shortly before his death, confided to a friend: “The Bible is true. Upon that sacred Volume I rest my hope for eternal salvation, through the merits and blood of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Daniel Webster spoke these words slowly, only a few hours before his departure: “What would the condition of any of us be if we had not the hope of immortality? Thank God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light!” Will you not pay the tribute of faith to the ever-living Christ and learn to love Jesus, the all-powerful Savior of your soul? My earnest and persistent Easter plea, in the name of the everlasting Christ, is that you “seek Him and live,” live eternally, radiantly, gloriously!
Jesus promises us much more than immortality; faith in His resurrection assures us of more than a vague existence, more than a survival of personality, a continuance of the ego, a crude paganized hereafter that Spiritism likes to draw. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, to which all Christians, Protestant and Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed, subscribe,—and thank God for that common ground!—“we believe in the resurrection of the body”; we declare that, as the body of Jesus was raised on the third day, so that He could show skeptical Thomas His nail-wounded hands and feet, the riven side, so in the new life, far from being formless shadows and fleeting spirits, we, too, shall have a resurrection body,—this human frame quickened, transformed, resplendent in the likeness of Christ’s glorious body, with blemishes removed, sickness healed, deficiencies supplied, corruption gone. “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory,” the Word of Truth assures us. “It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” No weariness or weakness; no blindness or deafness; no amputations or deformities! Instead, a heavenly body; for the Scriptures promise, “We shall also bear the image of the heavenly,” a brightness resembling Christ; for here is God’s word: “We shall be like Him; for shall see Him as He is.”
On that great Day every one of us in his individual glory, shall appear before Christ with the other blessed who have died in the Lord; and in that promised reunion, by recognition, “we shall know even as we are known.” What God-sent gift Easter brings to Christians in their bereavement! What priceless hope for widows and orphans who return from the cemetery and the last earthly resting-place of a well-beloved who was Christ’s! What consolation for you who must tread a lonely path of life until Christ calls you to His homeland and to the side of your dear ones! On the other hand, what terror and unrelieved eternity of sorrow for those who are combating the Savior and denying His resurrection to be confronted with the horrors of hell, the doom of eternal death, the specter of being perpetually separated by an unbridgeable gulf from your best-beloved! Husbands who in your selfsatisfying smugness think that you do not need Christ; parents who are not only marching in the anti-God or anti-Bible processions by your indifference to Christ, but who are even keeping your own flesh and blood from Jesus; sons and daughters who have forsaken the God of your fathers and mothers to sow to the flesh and of the flesh to reap corruption, behold yourselves and your destiny in the light of God’s revealed Word; listen to the warning of that Jesus who holds the keys of death and hell and who would speak into your heart, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”! May the Spirit of God on this Easter Day bring you to the feet of Jesus with the contrite confession of your disloyalty, but with a doubt-robbed faith that exults, “‘My Lord and my God,’ my ever-living Savior and Redeemer!”
With this blessing you have an eternal promise (and all the days of my life I shall never be able to thank God sufficiently for the privilege of broadcasting this promise of Christ to the world), you will have assured redemption, the blessed eternity, which through Christ starts even here on earth. Heaven with bliss, glory, radiance, and without sin and pain and suffering; heaven with light, life, blessing, and without gloom, death, cursing; heaven with the hallelujah of full gladness, without tears and mourning; heaven with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, with the prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs; heaven with Christian parents and children, Christian husbands and wives, Christian friends and companions,—this is the hallowed homeland, promised and assured on Easter to those who are Christ’s.
We read after the Savior’s resurrection, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” May the vision of the resurrected Christ and His celestial glory bring that gladness into the hearts of those weak in body and soul, even in spirit, cast down by their failures! May a living faith in the true Easter Gospel cool the agonies of wounded souls! May Christ’s victory over sin, the grave, and hell teach you, my aged friends, that life in Jesus extends far beyond the horizon of the threescore and ten years, into unending blessedness. The poor and destitute, enriched by our Lord’s Easter grace; the lonely and forsaken, cheered by His resurrection companionship “even unto the end of the world”; the heavy-laden and overburdened, filled with a courageous hope at the open grave, can behold the paradise regained by Christ’s redemption and chant this hymn of victory over all trials and affiictions: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
As the last book of the Bible closes with a prevision of eternity, so today we prepare to close the season’s broadcast with this foregleam of heaven. He who this afternoon tells us, “I am the First and the Last,” was the Beginning of this mission of the air when last October we started our fifth season of broadcasting in His name with the high purpose of “bringing Christ to the nation.” Today the ever-living Christ is the End of our broadcast. We started with Jesus, we conclude with Him; and by His grace many blessed months have intervened. As I thank you individually for all that you have done in prayer, word, and deed to help spread our message; as we raise our hearts particularly to praise the holy name of God for His immeasurable mercies in bringing many souls to Christ and strengthening burdened lives through the broadcasting of His promises, we resolve that this work must continue and expand beyond our present sixty-two-station Gospel network. Under the divine blessing and with your continued help this broadcasting for Christ will be resumed. Will you not work for it, so that the Savior’s Cross will be kept emblazoned from coast to coast—and, pray God, far beyond that?
Above all, will you not so cling to Christ that amid the tempests of life His leadership will always prevail and His Saviorhood never be neglected? Beloved by millions in the English-speaking world is that hymn which pictures the course of life as a stormy sea and Christ as the Christian’s Helmsman, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.” The last stanza sings of the heavenly shore and the promise that in the storms of life and the deep waters of death Jesus will repeat the “Fear not” of our text to His storm-tossed children and say, “I will pilot thee.” Such confidence was strikingly illustrated in the life of Edward Hopper, author of the hymn. Just fifty years ago death overtook him while he sat at his desk, his pencil in hand. He had been writing some new lines on “heaven.” Thus graciously did Jesus pilot him into eternity. In the same way may the ever-living Jesus, “the First and the Last,” be with you, my friends in Christ (to whose faith, prayers, zeal, and love, under God, I owe much more than I can ever express), until we meet, if not here, then, please God, at Jesus’ feet. In the mean time, as the ship of our faith braves the treacherous seas, as it steers its course to the heavenly harbor, let our prayer, directed to the ever-living Christ, ask:
When at last I near the shore
And the fearful breakers roar
‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast
May I hear Thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”
God bless you all with that faith for the sake of our ever-living Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.