Date: March 24, 1940
As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4
O Christ, our risen Redeemer:
Eternal, unbroken thanks to Thee that on the first, glorious Eater Thou didst mightily prove Thyself the Lord of life and of death itself! Help us all to stand gratefully before the empty tomb, there to acclaim Thee our mighty God, our merciful Savior! Grant us, through trusting faith, to know that, because Thou livest, we, too, shall live and that Thy resurrection is our pledge of life eternal! O Jesus, on this glorious Easter let us rise with Thee to the heights of soul happiness, casting off all gloom of despondency, conquering our sorrows and pains, defeating the fear of death, overcoming all doubt, and, beholding Thee as our resurrected Lord, find new faith, new courage, new holiness of living! Enrich us with this Easter gift, our risen Christ; for we pray these petitions in Thy holy name! Amen.
THE United States is one of the few countries in which the customary Easter-greetings contain no reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Greekspeaking world, for example, Christians address one another in the same Easter salutation that rang through the early Church, “Christos anestee!” “Christ is risen!” and with the ancient response, “Aleethoos anestee,” “He is truly risen!” In the Latin Church of the first centuries the Easter-greeting was, “Vivit!” “He lives!” and the reply, “Vere vivit!” “He lives indeed!” In Spanish lands Christians say, “Cristo vive!” In Germany believers, no matter to which church they may belong, salute one another with exultant joy: “Der HErr ist auferstanden!” and the reply, “Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!” Even in Russia, where Communist slogans have not altogether banished the reverence for God’s truth, loyal followers of Christ, meeting their kindred in the faith, say, “Christos Voskres!” and receive the reply, “Voistinu Voskres!” All these expressions serve one thought and purpose: they glorify the risen Savior.
In our country, however, we say, “Happy Easter!” forgetting that the word “Easter” may have no connection with the open grave and in no way testifies to the resurrection miracle. Because the Savior’s triumph over the tomb, together with the crucifixion, which preceded it, are the most blessed of all truths, and Christians should follow the angel’s command, “Go quickly and tell His disciples!” instead of limiting their Easter conversation to the subjects of new clothes, spring hats, festive food, holiday programs, post-Lenten parties, we ask you who are the Lord’s to help inaugurate and maintain a Christ-exalting movement by which believers in all churches greet one another on this day with the salutation, “Christ is risen!” and respond, “He is risen indeed!”
On the first Easter only a few followers of the Savior could sound that triumphant note; but on this 1940 Easter, when over the 171 stations in our “Bringing-Christ-to-theNation” broadcasting system millions can hear the message of our Lord’s victory over death, multitudes should heed the plea to keep Jesus in Easter by greeting every one whom they meet before the close of this day with the faith-born declaration, “Christ is risen!” May God give every one of you the resolution to proclaim, “He is risen indeed!”
To strengthen our faith in the resurrection reality, let us—and I include especially the doubtful and uncertain, even the scoffers and atheists in this audience—stand once more in spirit before the rock-hewn grave in Joseph’s garden, where the broken seal, the removed stone, the prostrate Roman guard, the empty tomb, the discarded burial shroud, the white-robed angel with his announcement, “He is not here but is risen!” all combine to impress us with the holy, heavenly truth that Jesus, God’s Son and the world’s Savior, has eternally defeated death for Himself and for all men. With the Easter cry,
“CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!”
we invite you, rather, we urgently plead with you, to study and believe the inspired resurrection message of Saint Paul (Romans 6:4), “As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life,” and by the Spirit’s guidance to find the Easter truth and the Easter newness.
THE EASTER TRUTH
When the Apostle summarizes the triumph of this sacred day in the seven short words “Christ was raised up from the dead!” he regards the mysterious but magnificent bursting of the grave as an unquestionable, supreme truth. In the entire New Testament record the resurrection victory is never debated; no lengthy defenses of its facts are offered; no attempts are made to vindicate the details in the Easter narratives. Throughout the Scriptures and the early Church the declaration that “on the third day He rose again from the dead” is uncompromisingly accepted as the great climax truth of our faith, the necessary keystone in the arch of our hope. No resurrection, no redemption! No open grave, no opened heaven! No risen Christ, no risen Christians! This is the unavoidable alternative: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God. . . . If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Yet, as Paul triumphed, “Now IS Christ risen,” so I want your faith to ring, clear and unhesitating. Some of you doubt or deny the angelic proclamation, “He is risen!” because you have never taken the time to behold the Easter evangel with open eyes. You have had your mind poisoned by a destructive teacher, an atheist agitator or an applauded skeptic. Will you not be fair enough to read through the New Testament evidence for the Savior’s restoration to life?
If you submit to the Spirit’s guidance, you will experience the same startling reverse that challenged the life of Gilbert West. He thought that he had found confusion and contradiction in the four gospel accounts, and his exposure, he boasted, would reveal the complete impossibility of the open grave. When he had finished his investigations, however, he penned this remarkable confession: “As I have studied the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and have weighed it according to the laws of evidence, I have become satisfied that Jesus really rose from the dead, as recorded in the gospels, and I have written my book” (the book that was to destroy all faith in the resurrection) “on that side”—the side of Christ and His truth.
More recently we have witnessed a similar challenging change from wavering doubt to convicted faith. Frank Morison, acclaimed for his recent book on Pontius Pilate, tells us that, when as a young man he began seriously to study Christ’s life, he had the definite feeling that the New Testament Scriptures rested on very insecure foundation. Higher critics and professional enemies of the Bible had given him the impression that God’s Word was unreliable. The few things that these destructionists left standing the physical science courses in which he was enrolled proceeded to undermine. Scientific thought was obstinately opposed to every miracle. He had read the great Huxley’s verdict, “Miracles do not happen!” and had come to the conclusion that the laws of the universe could never be suspended. He could not, however, entirely subdue a reverent regard for our Lord acquired during his childhood; and in order to find peace of mind, he decided to study the Savior’s suffering and resurrection. He proposed to strip the Scriptural record “of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions.” He would see Jesus as He really was, not as the Christians believed Him to be. Hardly, however, had he plunged into the eternal Word, when his thoughts concerning Christ were revolutionized. What he calls “the irresistible logic” of the gospel narrative gripped his heart; he found that he could not write a book attacking the Savior’s death and resurrection; instead, he published a volume on the first Easter, a reverent defense of Bible truth.
You, too, will be able to overcome doubt and to exult with the Apostle, “Christ was raised up from the dead,” if you prayerfully approach the Easter-story, asking for the Spirit’s strength and light as you study its statements. The trouble with most people who reject the Easter Gospel is not to be found in any insurmountable opposition by their brain processes, but in their stubborn unwillingness to concede the truth. A brilliant New York attorney is quoted as admitting, “I am convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but I am no nearer being a Christian than I was before. I thought that the difficulty was with my head. I find that it really is with my heart.”
How convincing, however, the Easter evidence is when both the head and the heart accept Christ! Thomas Arnold, beloved headmaster at Rugby, asserted that no fact of history is so well attested as the Savior’s resurrection; and assuredly an imposing array of witnesses declares its complete, eternal verity! Listen to their testimony! Mary Magdalene, who hastened to the tomb even before daybreak, the first in all the world to meet the resurrected Savior, asserted, “I have seen the Lord!” The other women who lingered long at the cross on Good Friday and who likewise came early on that Sunday morning to embalm the Savior’s body, found the stone rolled away and an angel of the Lord, clothed with raiment white as dazzling snow. “He is not here, He is risen,” was the cry that greeted them. They could explain how as they left the empty tomb they met Jesus, heard Him speak joy to their hearts, fell at His feet and worshiped Him. Simon Peter, restored by a glance of his Savior’s grace, knelt before his resurrected Lord, and though the Scriptures give us no details of the meeting, we may well believe Peter could testify that Jesus raised nail-scarred hands in benediction on him who was to become the rock disciple. James, one of our Lord’s brethren, who at first did not accept Him as God’s Son and the world’s Savior, likewise stood face to face with Jesus; and if he could give his testimony to our radio audience, he would assert that his whole life was rebuilt and purified through this contact. Thomas, the doubting, who would not believe unless he saw the print of the nails and put his own fingers into those scars, mounts the witness stand in behalf of Jesus to announce that he did behold the wounded hands and feet, the riven side, and that we shall be blessed if we believe even though we do not see. The two disciples on the Emmaus road who were filled with unspeakable joy when Christ “went in to tarry with them”; the entire company of disciples, who had hid themselves behind shut doors and suddenly saw that the glorified Savior was in their midst to declare, “Peace be unto you!” the seven followers who went fishing with the resurrected Christ and with Him ate breakfast on the shore; the five hundred believers who in one manifestation beheld the Lord, perhaps on Mount Tabor in Galilee; and the Eleven who were with Christ on Mount Olivet at His ascension—all these, together with the mighty missionary Saint Paul, who actually saw his glorified Savior on the Damascus road and then went out to start the conquest of the world for Him, are personal, competent witnesses to this miracle of the ages. If their testimony, combined and detailed as it is, does not convince the most skeptical of Christ’s resurrection, the difficulty lies not in the Easter truth but in the refusal to bow before that truth.
So convincing is the evidence that, when submitted to careful scrutiny by legal experts, it has been thoroughly vindicated. In a remarkable book by Simon Greenleaf a special section is devoted to the Resurrection, with the result that the Gospel narratives are completely endorsed. Some of you say, however, “Who is this Simon Greenleaf? Is his opinion recognized?” Let me answer not only that he was professor of law at Harvard and perhaps the most distinguished jurist ever connected with that eminent university, but also that the London Law Magazine called him one of the most highly esteemed legal authorities of his century, asserting that he has shed more light on the laws of evidence than all lawyers who adorn the courts of Europe. Now, if that distinguished authority unreservedly endorses the Resurrection, why does anyone in this audience hesitate to subscribe to its complete truth?
Every Sunday, the day of worship selected by the early Church because Christ rose on Sunday; every baptism, the sacred Christian rite instituted by the risen Christ; every church and mission preaching the glorious message that Jesus has conquered death for all men—these are the incontestable proofs of the Easter fact, proofs, however, which those who are Christ’s do not need, since they have the Spirit’s testimony in their hearts.
You see, Jesus had to rise from the grave. It was dearly foretold in the Old Testament and plainly predicted by the Savior Himself; and before God’s holy Word can be broken,—remember this, my discouraged friends who need a firm foundation for your hope,—everything on, under, and over this world will collapse into dust. The Scriptures cannot fail; and God’s guaranty for the Bible’s every promise of comfort and sustaining love is to be found at the open grave.—“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Jesus had to be resurrected from the dead to prove that He is no mere mortal leader or human theorist but God Almighty, with power over life and death. No man can master the grave and defeat decay. During recent weeks worldwide attention has been focused on a remarkable discovery in Egypt. After years of plodding search scientists uncovered a secret, concealed tomb. When the debris of centuries was removed and the door, solemnly sealed 3,000 years ago, was opened with appropriate ceremonies, there, in an imposing burial chamber, amid gold ornaments and almost priceless jewels, lay a mysterious mummy case of granite. Beneath it was a second sarcophagus of silver and below that another covering of solid gold. Within lay the remains of Pharaoh Psou-Sennes. A thousand years before Christ he ruled Upper and Lower Egypt with an iron hand. Princes, priests, and people bowed abjectly before him, but finally he bowed before death. Despite his money and men he could not escape from the tomb; and within that mummy case, which will soon be a museum exhibit, his shriveled, blackened corpse testifies to the relentless grip of the grave.—How our hallelujahs should ring out today when the open grave testifies that Jesus Christ was very God of very God, the Ruler of life and of death itself!—“The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”
No other explanation for the open tomb has ever been able to satisfy the human mind. Unbelievers used to say that Jesus had merely swooned when taken from the cross; only apparently dead, He was later revived in the grave. But the Roman soldiers knew better; they were so positive that He had breathed His last that they did not follow the usual custom of breaking His legs. Skeptics used to assert, repeating a first-century falsehood, that the Roman guards slept at their posts and Christ’s disciples, under the cover of darkness, stole His body. Yet even the bribery of the priests could not make this story plausible. It meant death for a Roman soldier to fall asleep on duty. Besides, it would tax anyone’s imagination to believe that the great stone could be rolled away, the official seal broken, and a company of men go in and out the grave to remove a corpse without being heard or seen. Infidels used to claim that the Resurrection rests on the fantasy of hallucinated women and suggestible followers; but even open critics have rejected this absurd theory. Thus you can bring one attempt after the other to take the supernatural out of the Easter miracle and to account for it on purely human premises, but each endeavor is doomed to abject failure. Only one explanation remains: Christ rose from the dead because He was the all-powerful God, with the divine omnipotence required to destroy death! “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Christ had to rise from the dead because His resurrection was the crowning climax of His love. Had He stayed in the grave, not only would His promises of new life have been unfulfilled and His claims for divine power disproved, but His entire suffering, the agony of the cross, the Godforsakenness, and the never-to-be-fathomed sorrow that crushed His soul, would have been in vain. The entire purpose of His incarnation would have remained unaccomplished. When, however, on that bright Easter morning, the power of earth and hell, the priestly craftiness, and the official guard, the rock-hewn grave and the impressive seal at its entrance, the winding linen and the burial shrouds, could not keep Jesus in the tomb, it was Heaven’s highest proof that Calvary’s one sacrifice for the sins of all ages had been accepted, that Jesus’ blood had not been shed in vain, that as Christ “was delivered for our offenses,” so He “was raised again for our justification.”
This trust is indicated in our text when it declares “Christ was raised up from the dead BY THE GLORY OF THE FATHER.” Easter is Heaven’s glorious seal, God’s glorious endorsement, the Father’s glorious acceptance of His Son’s self-sacrifice for the world’s sins. Easter is the promise of peace and pardon to everyone who believes. Therefore, in the name of the risen Christ, I ask you, whoever you are, do you subscribe to the seven simple words of our text, “Christ was raised up from the dead”? It matters little what your opinion may be on a thousand other issues, past, present, and future; but for the sake of your soul, believe the resurrection miracle! Stifle gainsaying doubts that demand, “How could Christ return to life?” Turn away from skeptical, sneering men of affairs to the resolute faith of the mighty leaders in science, culture, and progress who have joyfully accepted the Easter miracle! Today with unquestioning trust take God at His word! Ask Him for strength to overcome every uncertainty, and if you follow the promptings of the Spirit that now asks you to acclaim Christ, you, too, will be led, as doubting Thomas was, to behold the Savior with a confidence that says, “My Lord, my God, my ever-living Savior!” You, too, will gladly tell all whom you meet, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Without this radiant joy, life must lose its beauty and blessing. Herbert Spencer, England’s learned philosopher, did not accept the Easter victory; yet in his last hours he asked that only one word be chiseled on his tombstone, the Latin Infelicissimus, meaning “The most unhappy one.” The rejection of the Easter victory always leaves men without hope, while humble confidence in this truth bestows new assurance.
It is this newness for which our text appeals when it says, “As Christ was raised from the dead, . . . EVEN SO WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.” When Jesus rose from the tomb, an entirely new era dawned on the world; a New Testament was offered to men in which the most persistent and overpowering terror, the cringing before the grave, was removed for all who acclaim Jesus their Savior. What trembling the thoughts of death often provoke! Classify the fears and phobias of men in any way you will; add up the fright caused by sickness, age, loss, imprisonment, dishonor, and the sum total will be far below the heart-sinking despondency, the cold sweat of terror, the hysterical surrender to despair, which often marks life’s end.
Ask a soldier who has seen godless scoffers go over the top and face death in No Man’s Land how they chatter and quake; ask a sailor who has stood with infidels on the decks of a doomed ship how they fell on their knees in ghastly consternation; ask a doctor to describe the last moments of blasphemers, when the terrors of hell are written on their faces as shuddering curses leap from their lips, and you will understand that the most crushing of earth’s other burdens is not to be compared with what men often fear in their last moments. We hear of exceptions, it is true; a disillusioned woman writing “Exit smiling!” on the walls of her hotel room and then plunging from her high window to a splattering death on the sidewalk below; a convicted murderer approaching the gallows with swaggering unconcern; highly emotional sufferers wishing themselves dead. But unless the conscience is altogether destroyed, everyone who is without Christ shrinks from death. Men know, although they may glibly deny the existence of God and ridicule the mention of heaven and hell, that there is a judgment, a retribution, a punishment beyond the grave. We need not argue this fact with any one in our audience; the solemn warning voice tells you that you cannot live in sin and hope to escape punishment. But I do need to show many what Christ and the Easter resurrection can mean to them; for ignorance and superstition concerning the future existence are blighting the lives of millions. If the census enumerators, whose activities have been widely discussed in our newspapers, should ask the 130,000,000 Americans to express their hopes for the hereafter, the answers would be bewildering and contradictory; but on Easter, if we ask Christ concerning eternity, He points us both to the open grave and the open heaven to say: “Because I live, ye shall live also!” “I am the Resurrection and the Li/e: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!” “In My Father’s house are many mansions: . . . I go to prepare a place for you.”
As you read these and scores of other passages promising a blessed eternity with Jesus, thank God that no hesitation or uncertainty lingers behind His pledges. They are the highest truths that even Heaven knows. With the Easter faith in your heart, you need not grovel in despair to ask, “What will become of me when life stops?” You, the mortally sick, the invalids whose existence hangs on a thin, shortened thread; you in the prime and strength of life who may be cut down by the sudden accidents that lurk closely and loom frequently on the pathways of our modern life—believe that Christ’s resurrection guarantees your resurrection! Easter is the divine warrant that God has forgiven the sins which bring eternal death as their wages. This holy day offers the surety that God has accepted the suffering and dying of His own Son as the payment for your sins and the ransom for their punishment. Knowing that your transgressions are nailed to the cross and that Christ is the living, divine Savior and not a dead deceiver, you can confidently believe that the grave does not end all; that you can escape the terrors of hell and be blessed in heaven, before the presence of Jesus. For here is that plain but powerful promise of life, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
It is true that temporal death comes to every one of us, as it came to Christ; but it is only a passing instantaneous change from our earthly existence to that incomparably more blessed heavenly life. For at the open grave we learn through faith that we are more than creatures of accident, controlled by a cold, cruel fate, directed toward everlasting discard and decay; rather, that we are God’s children of holy destiny, who come from God and, through His Son, will return to Him.
With the fear of death removed—and how confidently Christians can long for eternity!—with heavenly bliss positively promised all believers, you can understand why our text beseeches us to “walk in newness of life.” Easter tells us that old fears, old weaknesses, old sorrows, old doubts, are all passed away in the newness of the Savior’s resurrection. Does anything keep you from this blessed newness? Do old, heavy problems lurk in your soul beneath new Easter garments? Analyze them in this day’s radiance, and their darkness will disappear. Are your troubles money difficulties, family quarrels, questions of health? Are you the victim of malicious plotting, crooked politics, and hateful revenge? Stand before the empty tomb to realize that the Christ who has the power over death can control these smaller issues in your life and turn your crosses to advantages, as the Good Friday defeat gave way to the Easter victory. Whatever your personal problems may be, the tragedy that your husband has lost his God and his love for you; the cutting blow that after years of faithful, unselfish service you have been cast aside; especially the recurrence of private sins, repeated concessions to wrong, worry over your salvation and spiritual condition—look to the heavens reopened by the resurrection and know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”! Trust Christ implicitly! Trust Him even though it seems that He permits you to be crushed under the weight of affliction! For finally, in God’s good time and in His blessed way, the dawn of deliverance will break, and the new day will find you stronger because of your night of anguish.
Has the deepest sorrow, bereavement, darkened your home? Does it seem to you that the last glimmering joy of your life has disappeared with the death of a beloved one? Instead of questioning the Father’s love and goodness in allowing your husband, the mainstay of your home, or an only child, the center of your affections, to be snatched away by death, dry your tears, strengthen your heart through Christ, and remember that Easter proves that God’s way with His children is always the road to redemption and victory! Behold Jesus emerging from the tomb and take heart in the Easter comfort that all God’s beloved, through Christ, will come forth to life eternal!
Commit yourselves wholly to the risen Christ on Easter, the day especially appropriate for dedication to the Savior! Take your sins and weaknesses, lay them at the foot of the cross, hasten to the open grave, and there you will find newness of life, forgiveness of your transgressions, a fortifying of your faith, and the joy of assured salvation! For Easter, blessed Easter, is yours for life and death, with this triumph of trust: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.