Posts

Click here for the reading: Mark 16:1-8.

The women were too slow.  But who can blame them?  The crux of the matter is that the Lord is just too fast.  Judah’s lion bounds out from the grave.  The bridegroom leaves his chamber like a strong man running his course with joy.  And by the time the women arrive, somberly walking to anoint his dead body, He is not there, their task rendered utterly unneeded.

The speed of our Lord is not emphasized here as though he just intends to win a race.  Neither is our Lord trying to avoid his people.  Rather, it is as the young man (angel) says, “To Galilee he goes before you…”. He makes haste to pave the way for his people to follow. 

It is strikingly odd that on Easter Sunday we have a reading from which Christ is absent.  We know from later verses and the other Gospels that Jesus didn’t simply leave them in his wake.  He came back to those women, to his disciples, and eventually even to 500 others.  But, on Easter morning, at the tomb, it is the “going ahead” that is emphasized.

Much can be made of the “going ahead” of our Lord.  So much is spoken of in our times about forming and becoming good leaders.  But already long ago Christ was, or shall we say, is, the great leader.  That primal call, “follow me,” which he spoke with such magnetic force that Andrew and Peter, James and John, abandoned their business and their own fathers to follow.  The Lord has always been the one who “goes ahead,” of his disciples.

Accompanying his speed, his going ahead, though is a title and a promise.  The young man at the tomb makes sure that the women know that the crucifixion has not receded into history.  It has left its mark.  So he titles the Risen Lord, “the crucified one,” which in Greek is a perfect passive participle, emphasizing the ongoing effect of the crucifixion.  Easter Sunday is probably not the time to take your congregation on a Greek grammar tour, but the point can and should be quickly and powerfully made.  The one who goes ahead is not an unknown enigma.  He is now and forever, “The Crucified.”  All who know him as this, know Him well and can safely and confidently follow where he goes.

The promise is given after the title, “You will see him in Galilee, just as He said to you.”  Context is important here, lest we suppose we must book a flight to Tel Aviv and make plans for a trek to that ancient village.  To the apostles the Galilean appearance was promised.  Not so the church.  But do we not have our own promises?  Where has the crucified one who is now risen promised that we will see Him?  (Every Lutheran preacher worth his salt will know how to answer and proclaim this)

Finally something should be said about the women’s reaction.  We shouldn’t blame them for being too slow, and neither should they be faulted for being fearful and silent.  After all, it isn’t every day that a man is raised from the dead.  While we do not aim to generate emotions, there is value to proclaiming the fear, the awe, the dread of the Lord that overcame them there at the tomb.  Do we dare to become accustomed to the risen Lord?  Do we suppose Him to be at our beck and call?  Let it never be so!  He, the crucified one, still is He who goes ahead of you.

Consider what and who your people follow.  Who are the wise and learned who go ahead into the future and call us to follow their guidance?  What token of trustworthiness do they leave behind that would garner our faith?  Is there anything people stand in awe of anymore today?  Is there a sense of wonder or excitement or has all been reduced and explained away?  What would a healthy dose of the fear of the women do for a Christian?  Might it be worth inculcating?

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.

The greatest of all festivals in old Israel was the Passover.  And connected to Passover was the week long celebration of unleavened bread.  Set free from Pharaoh’s bondage the people of Israel went out with haste.  To facilitate that haste the Lord had commanded them to eat bread without leaven, bread that did not require time to rise.  The food of freedom was to facilitate a hasty escape.

This then became an ordinance in Israel.  For one week’s time, beginning with the day of Passover, no leaven was to be used.  What’s more, the old leaven was not only kept in the pantry, but was discarded.  Just as Egypt and all its works and all its ways had been physically left behind, so too the people of Israel were to annually discard their leaven and leave behind the spiritual Egypt and all its works and all its ways that had crept back into their hearts.

Writing to the Christian congregation at Corinth St. Paul speaks of the fulfillment of that Old Testament festival.  He identifies Christ Jesus with the Passover lamb, sacrificed for the people’s redemption from sin, and the Christian Church with the unleavened bread, cleansed from sin’s leavening effects.  This indicative reality comes with an imperative calling: “Become who Christ has made you to be, an unleavened lump.”

At Corinth, sin’s old leaven had been working through the congregation in many ways.  The immediate context is the sexually immoral man who was committing fornication with his own step-mother, something even the pagans would not tolerate.  Making matters worse, there was an air of arrogant boasting about this, as though the Christian congregation had been set free from sin for further sin!  Imagine Israel coming out of Egypt only to outdo Pharaoh in idolatrous worship!  Was Christ raised to be a servant of sin?

The Apostle warns his erring congregation that sin’s tolerance and boasting will not remain isolated, but will spread through the whole lump.  The Church is not a loosely affiliated association of individuals, but an organically united whole.  Malice and evil are to be guarded against so that sincerity and truth may have free reign.

The festival that Paul speaks of celebrating was not confined to a day, a week, or even a 50 day, “tide,” but encompassed all of life.  While the reading certainly has application for the importance of pastoral oversight and corporate discipline in a congregation, there is also an individual application.  Each individual participates in the corporate life of the congregation and has a responsibility to the others to offer all of life as a living sacrifice.

Consider the obstacles to sincerity and truth that your hearers live with.  While St. Paul could speak in powerful images of the leaven of malice and evil, he also specified what he meant by this in detail, giving a healthy example for preachers to name the sins that would leaven their congregation if unchecked.  Lists of vices are part of the Pauline corpus.  But so are lists of virtues.  Consider too that hearers need to hear sincerity and truth identified and praised.  Without a vision of the beauty of holiness will anyone pursue it?

Click here for the reading: Job 19:23-27.

Job was “blameless and upright,” before the Lord.  In God’s sight there was, “no one like him in all the earth.”  And yet, Job suffered like one full of blame and iniquity.  In his sufferings he looked for aid and found none.  He spoke with his friends, his counselors, and found no support.  So he appeals again and again to the Lord.

The famous words that we hear in chapter 19 come hard on the heels of Job’s lament that everyone has forsaken him.  He starts by lamenting that his friend, Bildad, has wrongfully accused him of unrighteousness.  But the list goes on.  Job feels forsaken by God and that forsakenness trickles down through every human relationship.  His brothers, relative, close friends, guests, servants, even wife and children seem against him.

The clear implication of all of this is, “where can I look for help?”  It is this question that the reading gives answer to.  He appeals to an unknown Redeemer.  Unnamed, but living, the Redeemer will vindicate Job out of his living death.  In this, the redeemer is not just one who buys back, but who serves as an advocate.  Before the Lord and before the world.  The Redeemer will raise Job up so that He will be able to see God with his own eyes.  There is an adumbration of resurrection in these words of the sufferer.  Job’s heart faints at the very thought of this, though whether in ecstatic joy or in exhaustion is unclear.

Job’s sufferings transcend his own time and person.  He is a pattern of the greater one who will come long after him, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who though he was blameless and upright in every way, suffered for the unrighteous, the innocent in the place of the guilty.  With the coming of Jesus, Job’s unnamed Redeemer, is now named and known.

This Redeemer sticks closer than all those other human relations who have abandoned Job. In His crucifixion he stands in with Job and with all of his creatures to the very end.  He laments beside Job and takes the forsakenness of His Father upon himself, bearing the full weight of sin and suffering Himself.  But, by His resurrection He is revealed to be the Redeemer who lives forevermore.  The advocate for all mankind has been raised up by the Father, vindicated before the whole world.  All then who hope in Him, who look to Him for help, will not be disappointed.

Consider where your hearers look for help.  Who are the alternative “redeemers,” that might be appealed to?  What help do they hold out?  Why are such helpers finally inadequate?  What is the redemption and advocacy that only Jesus can give?  How does this redemption cause the heart to faint?  Is it an exhausted fainting, or somehow a fainting that leads to conviction and strength to bear one’s burdens?

It is difficult to say when and where exactly Job lived. Ezekiel mentions Job as part of a prophecy against Jerusalem just before the exile (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). This clarifies two points about him: that he existed and is not poetic, and that he must have lived prior to the Babylonian exile. Further, the book of Job opens with a note that he lived “in the land of Uz” (Job 1:1). The land of Uz is mentioned specifically in two other places: Jeremiah 25:20, where it seems to be distinguished from several other regions, and Lamentations 4:21, where the “daughter of Edom” dwells, suggesting that it was toward the south of Israel. The mention of the Sabeans, that is, Sheba, who lived even further south attacking the flocks in Job 1:15, suggests that he may have lived before the days of Solomon, since the queen of Sheba visits him in 1 Kings 10. If Uz was indeed somewhere in the vicinity or in the land of Edom, this would suggest (but only suggest) that he lived sometime between the days of Esau and the days of Solomon, a period of several hundred years.

Attempting to determine when Job lived is important because it emphasizes his words in the reading for today. Easter, of course, is primarily and rightly concerned with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Having conquered sin and death, Christ has redeemed His people and reigns triumphant forever as the One who died and now lives. Job, whenever he lived, testifies to Christ whom he knew only at a distance and yet longed to see His day.

The book of Job is divided into several parts: the introduction, where Job suffers several calamities (Job 1:1-2:13); the discourses with his three friends (Job 3:1-31:40); the rebuke of Elihu (Job 31:1-37:24); the rebuke of the Lord (Job 38:1-41:34); and Job’s repentance and restoration (Job 42). Within the discourses, Job repeatedly and correctly makes the claim that the Lord is chastising him when he has done nothing wrong. This is an important consideration, because his three friends continually assert that he must have sinned in order to bring on such disasters (such as Job 18:5, just before the pericope, where Bildad says that God punishes the wicked). It is only when Job demands that the Lord be answerable to him, as if the Almighty had to explain His ways, that Job earns the rebuke of Elihu and the Lord (Job 31). This explains why the Lord says of him that he is a righteous man (Job 1:8 and 2:3) and also rebukes his three friends after his repentance for not speaking truthfully “as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Therefore, in chapter 19, Job is in the right and correctly rebukes his less-than-helpful friends. The evils Job is experiencing have come for unexplained reasons, which he recognizes. His friends do not believe him, and so he cries out for vindication. This, then, explains his words in Job 19:23-24. Job is appealing to the future as a way of showing that what he says is right. He wants his discourse “recorded in a book” so that he will be vindicated in the future. But even a book might perish, so he wants them chiseled into the rock and filled in with lead, a far more permanent way.

But what makes this passage so important for a day like Easter is that he appeals to God. He says that “I know that my Redeemer lives” and that He will bring him justice. “At the last he will stand upon the earth,” both in the days when Christ came to die on the cross and also at the Last Day. “After my skin has been thus destroyed,” that is to say, long after his own death and suffering the curse of death, “yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Here is a clear and very early witness to the resurrection of all flesh. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:52-55). Job knew this, though he did not know the day, and he knew that he would be comforted long after his flesh had crumbled away. Job lives, because Jesus Christ lives, and Job will see God with his own eyes, because Jesus stands as the living Lord.

Date: April 21, 1935

I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.John 11:25

WHEN Andrew Jackson lay on his death-bed, surrounded by groups of weeping children, relatives, and Negro servants, he slowly spoke these words: “Do not weep for me. It is true, I am going to leave you. I have suffered much bodily pain, but my sufferings are as nothing compared with that which our blessed Savior endured on the accursed cross that we might all be saved by our trust in Him.” After he bade the individual members of his family farewell, having spoken to them at length concerning their souls’ salvation, he concluded, as his eyes lingered on the portrait of his departed wife: “My dear children and friends and servants, I hope and trust to meet you all in heaven, both black and white.”

At the end of his own Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan gave this testimony of glorious triumph to those who watched with him in his last vigil: “We shall meet ere long to sing the new song and remain happy forever in a world without end.”

Now, are these and other oft-repeated hopes of life after death well founded? Is this expectation of a better life after death, confidently proclaimed in the Christian’s valedictory to life, a delusion, or is it a deathless truth? What is the answer to that all-absorbing, universally repeated question which the Book of Job asks: “If a man die, shall he live again?” Is the Easter-story which millions of Americans have heard again today fact or fancy?

There are those—and their number is legion times legion—who sullenly reject every thought of immortality. A brilliant, internationally acclaimed attorney and agnostic sneers: “One might just as well discuss the question of whether a lump of coal burned in a grate is still somewhere in its present form . . . or whether a soap-bubble is still a soap-bubble after it has burst into a million fragments as to discuss the resurrection of the body.” A sophisticated editor and author boasts: “It is my hope, as it is my belief, that death is the end.” A British historian and novelist states: “I do not believe that I have any personal immortality.” Now, if such pronouncements of pessimism and denials of a hereafter are correct; if all ends when the soul departs and the body returns to the dust from which it was taken; if the grave is your goal and mine, then human existence is the most cruel of all delusions, and death proves the utter futility of everything human. Then let the carousal of sin and self-indulgence run their riot as short-lived mortals eat, drink, and in their crude way make merry while the dawn of death streaks tomorrow’s graying horizon.

Eternal thanks be to God, today, on the sacred anniversary of Christ’s triumphant resurrection; for we can reassure ourselves with unalterable conviction that the life beyond the grave is a fact, an inviolable, eternal verity,—unfathomable and mysterious, yet a real and personal truth, to which passage upon passage of divine and inspired promise offers decisive testimony. Let me show you, then, this afternoon as we linger before the open grave

THE IMPERISHABLE HOPE OF OUR RESURRECTION

as we find this pledge of eternity given to the world in the promise of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

THE IMMOVABLE BASIS OF THIS HOPE

Our hope of eternity rests on an imperishable and immovable foundation. Men have tried to prove the reality of life after death through the processes of human reason. They have argued that, as the flowers blossom forth after a dormant winter, so, after the chill of death, a new and better existence will follow. They have pointed to the butterfly’s emerging from the cocoon and found in that change a symbol of the soul released from the grave to a new and higher life. They have reminded us that down through the aging centuries, since the cradle days of humanity, as early monuments of literature reveal, men have always been guided by some belief in a hereafter, and they have concluded that this universal faith of mankind cannot be wrong. They have claimed that there must be a world to come since there must be a righting of human wrongs of this life and a compensation for its sufferings.

All this, interesting as it may be to the student of human thought, is a meaningless trifle to groping souls in our muddled and misled world. When a man faces eternity, it matters little to him what the Babylonians and Assyrians taught and believed in regard to the mysteries of death. He finds little solace or lasting comfort in the changing wonders of nature, and nothing compels him to believe in a new world where the wrongs of this old existence will be righted. Left to themselves, then, men must individually face this issue of the hereafter, the most profound question of all the ages, only with wistful longings or with gnawing, desperate uncertainty. No philosophies can lead humanity out of this labyrinth of doubt, and no scientific research can give to you and me the sure solution to this problem of our own personal destiny. The false religions and their fraudulent claims of revelations, the spiritist seances and their deceptive communications with the dead can add only confusion and lead bewildered minds more deeply into the jungles of despair.

Thank God we have His own answer to earth’s great perplexity; we have the promise of Christ: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live”; and in the imposing array of other Scriptural passages which repeat this truth in parallel terms of glorious certainty we have assurance added to assurance. Some may sneer and snarl their denials of the resurrection; but we hear Jesus say: “If any man keep My saying, he shall never see death,” and we are gripped by a calm, serene confidence. Others may doubt and live on in disconsolate uncertainty; but when we hear Jesus promise: “This is the will of Him that sent Me that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life,” every trace of question vanishes from our hearts; for we are face to face with exultant truth, as imperishable and unchangeable as heaven itself.

In His immeasurable and unmerited mercy Christ has not only strengthened us with the promise of the resurrection of the body, but in addition He has blessed us with that convincing historical proof which the Christian Church commemorates on this Easter Day, when we have passed from the miserere of Good Friday to the hallelujah chorus of the resurrection. Christ not only taught the truth of a life beyond the grave, but on Easter He manifested that truth. The facts of the Easter-message are not the conjectures of men, the frail and faulty opinions of mere mortals. They are rather the eternal verities of Heaven’s own infallible truth. Question the fact if you will that there is a sun in the heavens above us which sends light upon this earth. Record your doubt, if you must, concerning the verified events of all secular history; challenge the fact that there is an American nation; deny your own existence if you will go to that extreme; but do not make the fatal mistake of putting a question-mark behind the Easter-story, of doubting the literal truth of this heart and center of the entire Scriptures. If the angel’s exultant “He is not here; He is risen” is not the divine and unimpeachable truth in every syllable of its utterance, then the Bible itself must collapse and destroy the foundation upon which all permanent joy and blessing here and hereafter must rest. For this resurrection is prophesied in the Old Testament, in its prediction that the Messiah’s body would not see corruption nor remain in the grave. It was prefigured by the experiences of Jonah. It was forecast by the Savior Himself, who told His incredulous enemies that, though they might break the temple of His body, yet He would rebuild it in three days. The Easter-victory is attested by each of the evangelists, by St. Paul and St. Peter, by the repeated appearances in which the resurrected Savior presented Himself to the eyes of His believers and at one of which He was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. In short, the bodily resurrection of Christ forms the keystone in the arch of the Christian’s hope, to which scores of New Testament passages pay their plain and inspired tribute; and by the benediction of the Spirit the blessed Easter truth is so impressed on the living consciousness of Christian hearts that all doubt vanishes as we rise with palsied Job to declare: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

With this divinely bestowed assurance, death has lost its terror for every follower of Christ, the gruesomeness of the grave and the despair of decay have weakened their paralyzing clutch. When the heavy night of bereavement encircles our homes, when the dark earth of God’s acre separates the mortal remains of loved ones from our view, let us recall the divine force that split the rock sepulcher asunder, the stone rolled from the open grave, the soldier guard prostrate by divine power, and raising our eyes to the throne of eternity, let us behold the risen, majestically ascended Christ and find in Him the promise and power of our own resurrection.

This promise, the comfort and strength of Easter, is assured by the comprehensive pledge: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Keep that truth locked within the innermost recesses of your hearts and never let any powers of hell or temptations of this earth weaken one word of the triumphant hope it holds forth. You who have traveled far on the pilgrimage of life and know that your sojourn on earth cannot be a matter of many more years; you who linger on sick-beds, suffering from protracted pains that have frustrated the efforts of the best physicians, take heart today as your Savior calls: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” What more powerful antidote can there be to the gnawing sorrows of your suffering than this firm-founded faith in a better life to come and the everlasting companionship with Christ that can never be severed by disease or death? You who within these last days have kept vigils at the death-beds of your loved ones and in agonized helplessness have watched the flicker of life’s flame die away, what more soothing balm can you find than this heavenly benediction from the Savior’s own lips: “I am the Resurrection and the Life”? What more penetrating light can you desire by which to interpret the bitterness and woe of an abrupt tearing away in death than the radiance of Christ’s blood-sealed promise that, when our bodies, sown in corruption, are raised in incorruption, we shall live and through all eternity behold Him face to face?

THE MAGNIFICENT GRACE OF THE EASTER HOPE

This, then, is the benediction of Easter, the gift of immortality. Mark well, this blessed bestowal is a gift; you cannot earn it, you cannot purchase it, you cannot acquire it by exchange or secure it as a compensation; but you can appropriate the Heaven-born assurance of this immortality and keep it as yours forever by faith, by the humble, penitent, trustful acceptance of the risen Redeemer as your Savior. “He that believeth in Me,” our text emphasizes, “though he were dead, yet shall he live.” On the strength of this heavenly pledge and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I promise that those who come to the risen Lord of Life with full, unquestioning faith, as I now ask you to come—you, the world-worn, weary pilgrims on life’s discouraging highways; you, the self-engrossed, self­confident sinners upon whom swift death may descend in the next moments; you, the distressed and disillusioned searchers after happiness, who have drunk the bitter dregs of life; all who banish doubt and stifle skepticism as you kneel down before the Christ of Easter with the plea of the believing disciple, “My Lord and my God!”—all have the promise, pledged in the name of Christ Himself, of the highest blessings which our mortal lives and immortal souls may ever experience—a hallowed eternity in a new, sinless, painless, endless life. And this, so the word of our divine Savior assures us today, is the gift of His mercy bestowed freely, without effort or accomplishment, contribution or cooperation, on our part.

Men devote their lives to the accumulation of wealth; scientists spend long and laborious hours in laboratories and in fields of investigation to find a new key to greater human happiness; scholars dedicate their careers to the solution of historical problems; we work and labor and toil to the point of exhaustion for inconsequential rewards; yet here the greatest blessings of time and eternity, your place and mine in the “armies of the ransomed saints,” are offered to all the children of men by the purest, freest mercy, a mercy that only God could grant.

Because of its deathless and personal significance, Easter from the days of the earliest Church has always been a day of spiritual joy and of personal reconsecration. God grant that, as this second radio message of the Resurrection Day has been wafted out into the unnumbered highways of the air, it may have found hearts and homes in which Christ’s undying promise “I am the Resurrection and the Life” will be welcomed and its blessings translated into victorious lives, which exult: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Amen.

Date: April 21, 1935

EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE

The angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead: and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him; lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy and did run to bring His disciples word. – Matthew 28:5-8

IT is to commemorate the greatest morning of all history that we are met at this unusual hour. More glory­charged and exultant than the dawn of a nation’s final victory after a night of blood and battle, more penetrating and permanent in its power and blessing than any sunrise upon a new day of national promise, more sacred even than the first daybreaks of creation, is this glorious, triumphant Easter morn, this resurrection dawn, this day of gleaming conquest over death’s cold, clutching grip.

Well do we congregate at this early hour, and well do you, our friends in the far-flung reaches of this radio service, worship with us at the break of day; for Easter is a climax to all human experiences, a day of days. The highest pinnacles of human projects and achievements, when paralleled with the sacred significance of Easter, are as anthills beside Mount Everest. The most ingenious triumphs of human brain and brawn, when compared with the resurrection record, lose their importance and become as pebbles beside Gibraltar or as dewdrops in relation to unplumbed ocean depths.

For if Easter were erased from history, men would be reduced to human machines, controlled by whims of a fitful fate, destined, when run down or worn out, to be discarded on the scrap-heap of failure, the silence of the graveyard. Seal the stone before the rock-hewn grave, and you have sealed the world into unrelievable sorrow. Let Christ remain bound in His shrouds, and all history must be rewritten, with chaos substituted for progress, deceit for honesty, and the dirge of defeat for the ringing anthems of the resurrection victory. Accept Easter in the light of Scriptural truth and promise, greet the resurrected Christ with the sincerity of a faith that exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” and men are exalted as the sons of God, blessed by the merciful bounties of Heaven, and perpetually strengthened by the vision of a life in a new and better homeland beyond the grave.

What better can we do, then, as we would pay to God and to His resurrected Son, our living Savior, these daybreak tributes of our believing hearts than to turn back, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the first Easter story and to strengthen our hearts and lives by considering

THE GLORIOUS EASTER EVANGEL

To this end let us recreate in our minds the world­moving events of the Savior’s resurrection and then apply the pointed lessons taught by the imperishable Easter exultation: “He is not here; He is risen!”

THE GLORIOUS ASSURANCE OF EASTER

Less than forty hours had elapsed between the Savior’s death on Good Friday afternoon and the first visit of the followers of the Crucified to the rock sepulcher which Joseph of Arimathea, the aristocratic benefactor, had generously provided for the repose of Jesus’ body. Hardly a day and a half had intervened, a few hours more than the Sabbath on which the customary rites for the dead were prohibited. Yet those fleeting hours were the prelude to the most startling changes of all human experience. To short­sighted, skeptical vision this change was not apparent. On that Passover eve a shriek of intense anguish, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” had reechoed over the gloom of Golgotha as the fever-racked frame of a Martyr collapsed in death. When, a few dreary moments later, the sun set upon that day of the crucifixion, three crosses planted on a bare hill were silhouetted against the grayish background of the Palestinian dusk; and the central cross seemed to symbolize the starkest tragedy, the deepest defeat. And when that sun rose again on the morning of the third day, the city of Jerusalem slept on securely; for the crucified Galilean, so their blind bigotry concluded, lay harmless in the grave. On that first morning of the new week even His disciples believed that the clutch of death and decay had once more recorded its gruesome victory.

So it was not with hope-filled hearts that the first followers of the Crucified made their painful pilgrimage to the sealed and guarded tomb in the hush of the early morning watches. They were laden with spices and ointment, for they had come to continue the burial rites that had been interrupted by the intervening Sabbath. They would still serve Christ, albeit a dead Christ.

Now, who were these early morning pilgrims, destined to be the first witnesses of the resurrection glory? Today, when murder trials are covered by an army of publicists, we might expect that the resurrection would be staged before an immense throng of curious spectators. But our ways are not God’s ways. The Easter-message was to be proclaimed, as were so many of God’s mighty dispensations, to a restricted, chosen group; it was announced to three women. Perhaps prophetic of the important role which their spiritual sisters were to assume in the growth of the Church, these women who had lingered to the last under the cross were the first at the grave and the first to hear and proclaim the resurrection message. God give us women of this devotion—mothers and wives, sisters and daughters—who can distinguish the froth of our modern follies from the nobler realities of loyal service to their Savior! God give us true and trusting women for the Church and for the nation, daughters of God with the love of Christ in their hearts and the reverence of God in their lives!

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome, the mother of James and John, these three first witnesses of the resurrection, were not daughters of priestly, politically prominent, or socially important families; for this phase of the Easter-story, as incidents in the crucifixion, and indeed the entire Gospel-message were to emphasize the glorious fact that all, rich and poor, man and woman, priest and layman, could approach the holy Christ of God and receive the benediction of His mercy. And while we thank God for the assistance of men of wealth, like Joseph of Arimathea, who acknowledged the dead Savior before Pilate; for the guidance of political leaders like Nicodemus, who was not ashamed to plead for the dead Christ before the Roman governor; for the confession of prominent officials, like that of the centurion who, in the shadow of the cross, found in the Crucified the Son of the eternal God, we particularly raise our grateful hearts to Him in acknowledging the grace that made His mercy wide enough for the common folk; comprehensive enough for three socially insignificant, middle-class women of Jerusalem; condescending enough to receive the thief on the cross. Sweeping aside all the barriers which men persistently raise in the attempt to herd their fellow-men together according to standards of race or color, position or authority, wealth and influence, cultural and intellectual attainments, this universal appeal of God’s grace in the crucified, but resurrected Savior comes to all the children of men without respect of person, but with the same common promise of blessedness forever.

Yet the burial rites, so carefully planned by these devout women, were not to be performed. When the three pilgrims arrived at the grave, the Easter miracle had occurred. The earth had been shaken by vibrant tremors; the seal which Christ’s anxious enemies had carefully placed on the grave was broken; and the immense stone which had caused the women distressing concern had been rolled away from the door of the tomb. There sat an angel of the Lord, his countenance like lightning, his raiment white as the snow; a heavenly messenger, altogether so august and awe inspiring that we are told “for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men.” Before the women could overcome their fright and amazement at the sight of this celestial herald, they were even more startled by his announcement, the first in all history, of the Savior’s resurrection: “Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

“He is not here; He is risen,” these words leave no room for any of the many substitute theories that would deny the resurrection of Christ or explain away the very heart of this miracle of miracles. It was no vision of hallucinated women, this triumphant rising of Christ from the bonds of the grave. It was no fraud, as the chagrined churchmen of that day insisted in their endeavor to laugh off the resurrection and spread abroad the lie that the disciples had stolen the body. It was no instance of suspended animation, apparent death, or premature burial. All these and other protesting theories are shattered by the divinely inspired record that the Christ who commended His soul into His Father’s hands as He died on Good Friday was resurrected on Easter and lives and reigns unto all eternity, lives and reigns with the power which inspires His followers to exult this morning:—

I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

He lives, He lives, who once was dead;

He lives, my ever-living Head.

By the truth which the resurrection-message brought to those women and conveys to us today the open grave becomes the symbol of the open heaven. It proves the deity of our royal Redeemer, Jesus, the Christ. It places the seal of Heaven’s approval and acceptance upon His entire self-giving. It demonstrates His power over death and justifies His challenge: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” It offers the deep pledge of the risen Lord Himself: “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and triumphantly promises that, though this marred and imperfect body of ours must return to the dust from which it was taken, though the skeletal hand of death will reach out to snatch us away from the land of the living, though you and I are destined to corruption and decay, we know that through Christ death is but the passage from the gloom of sin to the radiance of eternity. We hear Christ’s comforting message: “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life”; and: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you”; and at the open grave the full truth dawns upon our souls that Easter, above all question or quibble, means defeated death, resurrected life, and the glories of eternity to all who accept this imperishable hope of their risen Savior.

THE GLORIOUS RESPONSIBILITIES IMPOSED BY EASTER

Need I remind you, then, that Easter is too high and holy to pass by our hearts and lives without leaving its sacred and indelible imprint? The resurrection-message mightily affected those first witnesses; for the startling truth that the Christ for whom they would perform the burial rites had suddenly disappeared from the confines of His tomb filled them with supreme awe, and they left the sepulcher with the deepest reverence their lives had ever known.

Would to God that there were more of this reverence in our modem contemplation of Easter! Too often we have made it a devitalized, innocuous day for children with rabbits and chicks and gamboling lambs. Tradesmen rub gleeful hands as they review the seasonal increase in the sales of millinery and other apparel. Poetic souls rhapsodize on vernal beauties. While there is room for all this in the proper spirit and proportion, yet when Easter is interpreted solely in terms material or reduced to a nature festival, it becomes a paganized holiday. Give us—and this is the appeal of the Church—a reverent Easter!

The early visitors at the empty tomb also found a new happiness. St. Matthew records that they were animated with “great joy.” The unexpected restoration of their Savior and the fulfilment of His promises banished their somber sorrows, and their hearts leaped in exultation. Today, in this decade of disillusion, we frantically grope for the joy of life; but with much sadness and sorrow on every hand, with cherished hopes crushed and high ambitions thwarted, grimly skeptical men and women are facing the question-mark of the future, almost ready to resign themselves to the pessimism of defeat. If only they would not blind themselves to the joy-filled blessings with which Easter can endow their souls and lives! For here, at the unsealed sepulcher, is the end of humanity’s search for abiding happiness. Here is the joy of forgiven sin, the gladness that comes through the strengthening companionship of a living Savior and His purifying Spirit. Here is the answer to every unsympathetic turn of life, the solution to our most grievous problems—the simple, but profound faith which teaches us that through Christ’s resurrection there is, in the next world, a compensation for earthly sorrows and that “the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Here, finally, is the joy that triumphs over the blight and paralysis of death, that soothes our torn hearts when we stand beside the earthly remains of a loved one, with the conviction that those who die in the Lord will live forever in the blessed reunion of eternity.

Because of all this, Easter was the most joyous festival that the early Church knew; and as we remind ourselves that the gift of this resurrection joy is the free gift of Heaven’s grace,—no payment of our virtues, no reward of our good deeds, no honor for our accomplishments,—simply the undeserved and unmerited mercies of the resurrected Lord,—may the dawn of this Easter bring the daybreak of salvation into all the hearts toward which the Spirit now speeds these words!

For those of us who know and with all our hearts believe and trust the Easter joy our text brings a sacred privilege and obligation. These daybreak witnesses were not to conceal this epochal announcement of the resurrection. Emphatically the angel tells them: “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead; and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him.” And hardly had this missionary command been issued, when we read: “They departed quickly from the sepulcher . . . and did run to bring His disciples word.”

The call of this disturbed hour is the appeal for twentieth-century disciples, young and old, who with the haste that this high message requires will bring to others the truth and joy of the Easter-message. How unhappy, by contrast with the eagerness of the three women, is the lethargy and indifference of Christians who perhaps in an entire lifetime have never told perishing souls that the Christ who died for their salvation rose again for their victory! If only this Easter would awaken within hitherto apathetic hearts the desire to speak the resurrection-message into the very souls of some of our country’s misguided millions! If only by the indwelling of the Spirit this Easter would stimulate that heroic type of Christianity which cannot refrain from speaking of Christ, from pleading with men to repent and through Christ to return to their heavenly Father! If only this Easter would mark the turning-point, after these years of restricted activities in the Church’s forward march, for the extension of the kingdom of Christ here on earth!

It will take courage to tell men of their Savior, and there will be rebuffs and disappointments; but just as these women hurrying away from the empty grave on that first missionary journey met Christ on the way, so you who today pledge yourselves to become witnesses unto Him will meet Christ on the paths of your duty. He will come to you, and you will feel His presence in the realism of this Easter faith. He will direct you. He will strengthen you. He will be with you alway, even unto your end on this earth, the finale of life, which, because of the Easter glory, is but the prelude to an exalted eternity.

All this is pledged to you by this promise of the risen Christ: “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” God grant that you may receive this blessing with believing hearts, translate it into a sanctified life, and preserve it unto the victorious eternity of Christ’s ransomed saints! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.

Date: April 5, 1931

Because I live, ye shall live also.John 14:19

IN the labyrinth of life, amid the many and devious paths that lead and mislead, there is a way, at the cross-road of every human crisis, that guides us to heaven’s happiness. In the perplexities of doubt and distrust by which self-seeking men would overthrow the verities of life there is a truth that serenely overtowers all the blind and sordid gropings of sin-bound minds. Above the darkness and decay of death, clutching as it does all that is human with its cold and blighting grasp, there is a life that lives beyond the grave, that lives and loves when the measured tread of marching death is heard no more.

That way, that truth, that life, is given to us in our risen Christ and in the faith which is ours, ours always, but ours especially on this blessed Easter Day, when we find in Him a Savior who not only lived a life of love, who not only died that death of immeasurable terror, but who, thank God, burst His rock grave asunder, rose invincibly from the dead, and today, on the anniversary of His glorious resurrection, gives us this pledge of Easter triumph, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”

CHRIST’S EASTER TRIUMPH: “I LIVE.”

Yes, Christ lives. Let men repeat the falsehood, now almost two thousand years old, that the body of Jesus was stolen from the grave; let them try to laugh away His bursting forth from the tomb and propose a long and conflicting list of fantastic and impossible theories which speak of suspended animation and other absurdities of unbelief; let them suggest that the people who went out to weep at the grave mistook another empty tomb for the rock-hewn sepulcher of Joseph or that, as a German blasphemer maintains, “the passion of a hallucinated woman gives to the world a resurrected God”; let them declare with much detail that due to the cool air of the tomb our Lord regained consciousness and left the grave; let Spiritists insist that the spirit of the Lord Jesus separated itself from His body at death and on that very day, not on the third day, this spirit appeared to the disciples; let unbelief blandly and openly deny the fact of the resurrection and assert with the finality that only Biblical critics can employ, “An empty grave was never seen by any disciple of Jesus”;—tonight I remind you, as we stand before the sepulcher of the Arimathean aristocrat and find its seal broken and the great stone of overconfident unbelief rolled away, that the fact of Christ’s resurrection, the very keystone in the arch of our Christian faith, is one of the most definite, most repeated assurances of divine revelation. Five hundred witnesses testifying on one day; St. Thomas kneeling before the resurrected Lord, beholding the wounds of the nail-marks and His pierced side; nine distinct personal appearances—all this emphasizes that ours is not the credulity of fanaticism, but that it is the happy conviction based on the best human testimony and corroborated by the highest of all evidence. Indeed, there is no fact of God’s merciful dealing with mankind that is more frequently and forcefully attested than that truth to which all Christendom subscribes when it confesses, “The third day He rose again from the dead.” If the Easter-story is not actual history, there is no history.

We have the resurrection of Christ predicted in the Old Testament, clearly foretold by the prophet of old in the Sixteenth Psalm, where Christ declares that He, God’s Holy One, shall not be left in death and shall not see corruption. Or there is the triumphant cry of victory by which palsied Job breaks through the hidden future, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Verbally inspired by God, these and other prophecies are so powerful and compelling that even if the later records disappeared or were destroyed, we should have the assurance that our Savior, having been “cut off from the land of the living,” would nevertheless “lengthen His days,” to use the words with which Isaiah anticipated His resurrection.

We have the promise of Christ Himself, who, long before He went the way of the cross, challenged His opponents and declared that, though they might destroy the temple of His body, yet He would raise it up again in three days; who, when the curious and incredulous came to Him and asked for a sign, told them that in truth they already had a sign, His resurrection, as prefigured by the three days and three nights which Jonah experienced within the great fish; who, in dozens of passages of comforting warmth and majestic divinity, speaks of His deathless existence in the same unqualified, positive promise and prediction that we find in our text, “I live.”

We have in addition the testimony of the holy gospels, which present the resurrection as an accomplished fact, not once, but four times in independent accounts from men some of whom were eye-witnesses of many of the events recorded. These four inspired writers with their harmonious testimony, but with details that appealed especially to their different personalities, have transmitted a record that is so convincing, merely from the human point of view, that even unbelievers have paid tribute to the historical nature of the resurrection narratives.

We have finally the overwhelming evidence presented by other New Testament writers, who mention the Easter truth in almost one hundred passages as a cardinal point of their teaching and consciously center their promises about this historical occurrence. St. Paul says with definite finality, “Now is Christ risen from the dead.” St. Peter declares, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”

Now, this truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ, so mightily demonstrated in the Scriptures, is not merely the victory of Christ and the corresponding defeat of His enemies; it is rather the necessary and blessed climax of His entire redemptive work, the seal of divine approval upon His limitless self-giving, the benediction of God upon the sacrifice on Calvary. Without Easter we should respect and honor the memory of Jesus, but only as of one who died the victim of cruel circumstances, a martyr to a futile cause. He would be a dead hero, but not a living Savior. That is what the Apostle Paul tells us when he says, “If Christ be not risen, . . . ye are yet in your sins.” But praise be to God, our faith is not misplaced. Christ’s resurrection, cementing all His gracious promises, rises up as a majestic monument to impress upon the consciousness of all men that the cross is not the end; that, as Christ suffered for all, as He died for all, so He also had to rise again for all “according to the Scripture,” to complete the divine plan of salvation, by which grace and forgiveness, full and complete, eternal and everlasting, all-sufficient and all-embracing, are offered, without condition or requirement, without money or without price, without good works or even good intentions, without distinction of rank and position, color and race, learning and culture, offered to all the myriads of men embraced in the completed records of the history of all lands and all ages.

Yes, He lives, because without Him everything good and pure and noble would die. Did you ever pause to consider what the world would be without Easter? Probably many of you to whom today has been just another Sunday and who see in Easter the annual fashion parade, the occasion for the yearly visit to overcrowded churches, or the celebration of the return of spring with all its vitalizing powers, will be ready to say that the world would be just about the same without Easter as it is with Easter, which came this morning and which in a few hours will be lost in the past of all history.

But I am here this evening to tell you that without Easter commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ the best that we have in this world would be lost and the happiness and peace of mind that millions now enjoy would be impossible. About fifteen years ago a young Oxford graduate wrote a fanciful story telling of the finding of an ancient inscription which asserted that the resurrection of our Lord was a monstrous myth. When the news of that archeological discovery was spread about, the world became a madhouse. The restrictions of morality were thrown overboard; happy communal life was destroyed; murder, crime, and violence in all their terrible forms reigned; and to all appearances the breakdown of human society was at hand. But at that critical moment it was found that the inscription was not genuine, and the world, strengthened by the assurance that Christ still lives, returned to its Easter faith and happiness. Now, this is mere romance; and while we do not prove the Easter records by the testimony of secular history, yet the regenerative power of the Easter-message and the picture of a world caught in chaos without the resurrected Christ is simply an application of what St. Paul says when he declares, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain,” and “we are of all men most miserable.”

The apostle is not playing with superlatives when he thus describes the abysmal misery of a creed that can only sob at the tomb of a dead Christ. Without a resurrected Redeemer we are destitute of Heaven’s antidote to that chilling and blighting paralysis that steals slowly and silently, but always relentlessly and inevitably, into the hearts of earth-born mortals—the fear of death. And is there a greater misery than to stand hopeless and helpless before this grinning enemy of mankind, who calls a sudden halt to human ambitions and spells an end in sorrow and distress? It has been said with much force of fact that people today often think very little of the hereafter because they are so engrossed with the hard-fisted and material concerns of the present. Yet there are times in every normal life when the hunger of the soul cries out in a cringing plea for a life that does not end with death. To live, to conquer death and death’s corruption, to be immortal and survive the horrors of the grave, that is the sum and substance of man’s strongest longing; but it is a goal which men alone have never reached. The deceptions of modem Spiritism with its fraudulent seances and spirit manifestations are vicious and destructive failures; the test-tubes and crucibles of research are useless; the philosophies and human deductions are strangely helpless. Men have argued that because down through the corridor of time humanity has been guided by an “instinct of immortality,” life after death must be a reality. They have pointed to the butterfly emerging from a decaying chrysalis; they have taken the scarab into their pyramids as a symbol of the life to come; they have been perpetual witnesses of the annual revivification of nature when the world reawakens from chilling winter to throbbing spring; and in all this they have found an analogy to human resurrection. They have insisted that life must live on after the grave; for without a future existence life would betray a criminal deficiency in justice. Truth is so repeatedly damned to the scaffold and flaunting error so secure in its rampage of ruin that there must be a compensation for outraged right and a retribution for triumphant wrong. But when life fades fast and earthly props give way, the cumulative evidence for all such argumentation fails to carry conviction. Only the Easter light can solve the mysterious turns of time. If in our own lives there is to be a triumphant note of confidence and indomitable hope; if the gruesomeness of the grave and decay are to lose their paralyzing clutch, we, too, must learn to estimate the folly of seeking the living among the dead.

OUR TRIUMPH: WE SHALL LIVE ALSO!

For, because Christ lives, the promise continues, “ye shall live also.” Because Easter is the seal of God upon the redemptive work of His beloved Son, the shedding of His blood for the removal of our sins; because Christ was victorious over death, the wages of sin, therefore we who believe in Him have the divine assurance that we are not to be thrown upon the scrap-heap of eternal discard after a few years of untimely decay, but that our bodies, the marvelous living temples designed and created by the divine and loving Father, though they may now be marred and desecrated and weakened by sin and devastating disease and though they decay in death and see corruption in the grave, are to be resurrected and to be renewed and restored in the luster of wondrous beauty, spiritualized and divinely fitted for the glorified eternities in the heavenly mansions.

So when clods of earth separate the form and features of loved ones from our view, remember that the night of darkness will vanish when we hear the call of consolation, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” With firm Easter faith we confidently anticipate the wondrous happiness of that reunion before Heaven’s throne where severed friendships are reknit and partings are no more. For we have this glorious promise, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” Therefore, when disappointments and anxieties and sorrows of various kinds and degrees all but overwhelm us, we can raise our gaze from earth to heaven and declare with the Easter conviction that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” We can lift our tear-dimmed eyes to that glorified picture of immortality envisioned by the seer of Patmos, “God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”

So, finally, when the grim specter of death approaches, as the last grains of sand trickle through the hour-glass of our life, in the courage of the hosts of saints and martyrs, we are blessed with the unwavering confidence that our Savior will sanctify our last hour with the fulfilment of His promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also,” and enable us to be translated from believing to seeing, chanting the Christian’s Easter hymn of triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.