Date: April 25, 1943
He preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection. . . . And said, . . . He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit, certain men clave unto him and believed. – Acts 17:18 ff.
Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer, Lord of Eternal Life:
Everlasting glory, unending praise be to Thee, since on the first Easter Day Thou didst defeat death, break the sealed tomb, and in the radiance of Thy resurrection promise all who accept Thy mercy that they, too, shall live with Thee! Oh, that we had the power fully to accept the magnificent comfort, courage, and conviction which is ours through immovable trust in the Easter assurance! If sin and doubt tend to make us question both Thy triumph over the grave and the resurrection of our own bodies, forgive our wavering weakness! Send us Thy Spirit to show us that the Easter victory is an assured reality, a divine truth which will remain unbroken though heaven and earth shall pass away! May the promise of the resurrection sustain the masses of bodily afflicted, mentally disturbed, spiritually distressed! Let all the heavy-laden know that the Savior lives and can help in every need! May the Easter message touch the hearts and lives of the nations defenders wherever they are, help them believe in the living, atoning Christ, battle against sin, and seek those things which are above! Humbly we ask: Make this the last wartime Easter! Let many be brought to faith in the crucified but resurrected Redeemer, find God’s peace for themselves, and become peacemakers in a world of war and woe! Hear us, then, O Christ, our ever-living God and Savior, and grant us all the Easter assurance, blessing, and victory! We ask it, acknowledging Thy power and believing Thy promise. Amen.
LAST year Easter came to Bataan Peninsula shortly before our troops were forced to surrender. In the diary of a brave nurse who continued her mission of mercy among the wounded and dying there, we find this entry: “The extent of my new Easter outfit is a pair of G.I. shoelaces.” Keep that nurse’s self-sacrifice in mind today if you are tempted to complain that you cannot buy nylon! That courageous young woman could thank God for shoe strings; yet you are troubled because you may have only three pairs of shoes a year. Her diary continues: “Easter! Easter! We attended the sunrise service and tried to get the Easter feeling; but after a sleepless night that was hard. The Japs shelled us so close! . . . Our hospital is full to the overflowing.”
Not a few Americans likewise greeted the anniversary of our Savior’s resurrection convinced that it would be hard “to get the Easter feeling” this year. The shadows of the grim struggle cover many hearts and homes. This is the second wartime Easter, you say; how many more will there be? When people hear Washington warnings that the conflict will not stop soon, they survey all the destruction, the toll of human lives, the mutilation of bodies, the loss of reason, and in a war-minded world they, too, find little cause for rejoicing even on Easter. Thousands of parents have not seen their sons for long weeks. Some of you have not heard from your soldier lad for months and the fear constantly fighting its way into your heart suggests, “Perhaps he is dead.” That suspicion has become dread certainty for many. Your boy lies buried on Corregidor, the Solomons, the Aleutians, in Tunisia’s blood-stained fields, or on some more distant battle front.
Easter has dawned especially for you. It has been long in coming this year, and for most of us it will never come as late again; but it has been worth waiting for, since it offers even the heaviest-burdened the happiest blessings. Recall what the first Easter did to the disciples! After Good Friday, when their Lord was crucified and quietly laid into the rock-hewn grave, they had surrendered to despair and crept into secret hiding places. Yet when they beheld their risen Redeemer, we read, “then were the disciples glad.” God grant every one of you that gladness! Today is the festival of freedom from fear, the day which marks the defeat of death, the bestowal of comfort and courage, the pledge of assured salvation, the promise of eternal life. May the Holy Spirit help every one of you turn your thoughts from yourself, your worries, griefs, bereavements, from your sinful desires, unbelief, rejection of the Redeemer, and hear the evangel of resurrection and rejoicing:
CHRIST LIVES—AND WE SHALL LIVE!
This is the double assurance of our Easter text (the Book of Acts, chapter seventeen, verse eighteen and following): “He preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection. . . . And said, . . . He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit, certain men clave unto him and believed.”
JESUS TRULY LIVES
These are the words of Saint Paul, spoken in a most thrilling scene of early church history. The Apostle, moved by a burning zeal to proclaim the message of the crucified and resurrected Redeemer, had crossed into Europe and boldly made his way to Athens, the intellectual center of the world in his day. He had hardly begun to preach Christ in that city of scholars, when he was invited to speak on Mars’ Hill, with its open forum, where learned leaders set forth their theories. Not for an instant did Saint Paul hesitate to accept that invitation, nor was he ashamed to present the simple Gospel before those highly applauded philosophers. Listen to him, as he preaches sin and grace on that historic spot! Not a syllable of compromise nor a word of apology for his message, only the clarion-clear loyalty to his Lord!
God give American churches a larger measure of Saint Paul’s Gospel-preaching spirit! We are living in a perishing world. A billion and a half of our brothers in the flesh have not accepted the Lord Jesus Christ. Our commission is to “preach the Gospel to every creature”; yet how readily we hold back the men and means required for the evangelization of the world! Thank God for the radio’s reach! It may be the last and most powerful means the Almighty will give us for the spread of His saving Word. With the Spirit’s blessing and your support we can now broadcast throughout the year; let us on this day of Christ’s resurrection resolve that, God helping us, we will broadcast throughout the world! In the name of Him whose Easter command is, “Go! . . . tell! . . .” I ask your sustained interest in this mighty mission of the air. May it be said, when the history of these somber and sickening years is written, that out of war’s chaos, confusion, and killing came a globe-encircling radio mission, employing every available and suitable station on earth to preach this mercy, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Your prayers, zeal, testimony, gifts, by divine grace, can span oceans as well as continents and help fulfill Isaiah’s ancient promise, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Likewise the churches should follow Saint Paul in testifying courageously before the high and mighty, the learned and intellectuals, of our day. We ought to emblazon in every congregation and on each heart the Apostle’s allegiance to his Lord, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Do not be distracted when you hear skeptical teachers declare that science, modern advance, present-day culture, have disproved Christianity! Do not worry when infidels assert that anyone who follows Jesus must have a childish, blind, superstitious mentality! You cannot trace the history of science and the mental rise of the race without realizing that Christians, humble and sincere before God, yet often exalted before men, have been the prime movers in human progress, the leaders in startling scientific development. God give us men and women of faith and learning, who will speak of redemption to our high school and college students!
When Saint Paul stood on Mars’ Hill, surrounded by the brilliant minds of Athens, what was his message? What was his theme whenever he spoke? You should know the Apostle well enough to answer, “The crucified and resurrected Christ!” Our text sums it up in the words, “He preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection.”
That emphasis on the Savior’s Easter victory was the climax of his plea, and I ask you to note that the great Apostle preached that truth. He did not argue or debate it. It would have been easier for him to question his own existence than to doubt the resurrection reality. You and I similarly need not merely an Easter hope, an Easter speculation, but an Easter assurance; not the thought that Jesus may be risen from the dead, the concession that He could have risen, the theory that He should have risen, but the personal, iron-clad conviction that He did rise from the dead.
Thank God, we have this positive, certified, guaranteed confidence! David’s ancient psalm prophesied that Christ would not “see corruption.” The sinless Savior Himself repeatedly predicted the resurrection; the simple history of the four Gospels recorded His Easter victory four times, and the Epistles many times. We accept as true statements made only once and by a single secular author in that first century. How much more ready we should be to receive the corroborated testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, and others! In some famous legal trials you will find that the judge or the jury arrived at the verdict on the basis of testimony given by two or three witnesses; yet the New Testament summons more than 500 direct eyewitnesses of our Lord’s resurrection. If men have been sentenced to death through the evidence submitted by only one witness, should we not believe that Jesus burst the bonds of the grave when we have at least those 500 men and women who saw Him, talked with Him, and walked with Him?
Even His bitterest foes have not been able to explain the open sepulcher. They can hardly believe their own strained excuses for the empty tomb: the claim that the disciples stole the Savior’s body, that His enemies removed it, that Jesus, only apparently dead, was revived in the cool of the grave. One need only mention these trumped-up theories to recognize how utterly absurd they are.
Look at the headstones in any American cemetery, and you will find them inscribed with the names of the persons buried and often with the date of birth and death. Even in our national burial grounds, where hundreds of unidentified soldiers have been laid to rest, their epitaphs read, “Here lies an unknown Soldier.” No such record was ever carved into the tomb of our triumphant Savior, saying, “Here lies Jesus of Nazareth.” The open grave, the rolled-away stone, the broken seal, the empty shrouds, all testify, “He is not here; He is risen.”
If some misguided enemy of God asserts that no great thinker accepts the story of Christ’s resurrection, then answer by pointing to such men as Professor F.W.H. Myers, a respected teacher at Trinity College, England, a pioneer in psychical research, an author of impressive volumes. He was convinced of the Easter truth and boldly predicted that within one hundred years all reasonable men would believe Jesus’ triumph over death.
Those nearest to that first Easter never doubted its truth. When an early Christian met his brother in the faith, he gave him this greeting, “Christ is risen!” and he received this response, “He is risen indeed!” Let that be our mutual greeting now across the country, friends of our radio mission! When in a moment I say to you, “Christ is risen!” will you not, every one of you, confessing your reliance on His resurrection, reply in exultant conviction, “He is risen indeed!” I cannot hear you, but God can. Come then, and let your answer ring out loud and clear: “Christ is risen!”
God bless you for that testimony! May His Holy Spirit impress directly into your heart the glorious assurance which is ours when we know that Jesus, our crucified Redeemer, lives and reigns to all eternity! The resurrection proves Him the Son of God, for only the Almighty Himself has power over death. The Savior’s rising on the third day demonstrates that His Word is true. He keeps His promise; you can rely on Him. His radiant rising from the grave shows that His self-sacrifice for our sins was completed. As Saint Paul declares, “He ‘was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.’” He is the perfect, accepted Atonement of all who trust in Him. Had He remained in the grave, His mission would have failed. His death would have been in vain. His blood would have had no more value than yours and mine. His cross would have been a mistake. But because neither the linen burial sheets nor the new rock-hewn sepulcher nor the seal of Pontius Pilate nor the soldier guard nor the cold paralysis of death could lock Him, the Lord of life, in the tomb, we can sing:
He lives triumphant from the grave,
He lives eternally to save,
He lives all glorious in the sky,
He lives exalted there on high.
He lives to bless me with His love,
He lives to plead for me above,
He lives my hungry soul to feed,
He lives to help in time of need.
Samuel Medley, who wrote these lines, was a sailor in the British Navy. He had led a sinful and sensual life. Seriously wounded in a battle with the French, he was sent to his grandfather’s home. Gradually, as he read the Scriptures there, his eyes were opened to his own guilt and to the Savior’s grace. He soon became a Christian. Perhaps God has sent this Easter message to some of you men in the United States Navy asking you to come humbly and contritely to Jesus and with full trust in His life-subduing death and His death-defeating life. Samuel Medley later entered the ministry and worked especially among sailors. He was unusually successful; yet he always retained his simple faith. When his last hour came, he was heard to say: “I am a poor, shattered bark, just about to gain a blissful harbor. And, oh, how sweet will be the port after the storm! Dying is sweet, sweet work. My heavenly Father, I am looking up to my Christ, Jesus, my God, my Portion, my All in all.” Fellow-redeemed, sailors and soldiers, civilians and defense workers, Americans and Canadians, everyone: the risen Lord today offers you the same promise of pardon and peace. Don’t refuse it! God grant that the Holy Spirit will make Easter a day of redemption, of rebirth, for you!
WE, TOO, SHALL TRULY LIVE
Above all these Easter pledges, those who are Christ’s have the promise of personal resurrection in heavenly glory. As Paul on Mars’ Hill preached both “Jesus and the resurrection” and told his hearers, God “hath given assurance to all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead,” so I tell you: Since Christ lives, we, too, can live through Him. The radio is a marvelous means of bringing good news. How we thrill over the reports of victories won by our troops! With what unbounded joy will we greet the message flashed throughout the world that peace, glorious peace, has been declared! O Father, may it not be long in coming! Yet no broadcast can ever have the personal and eternal blessing for you which faith can find in the Savior’s promise, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Here is God’s answer to the perplexing question asked by many of you Christian parents whose sons are buried in remote lands. Here is comfort for you believers who, having laid your dear ones to rest, wonder: “Will we ever see them again? Is this the absolute end? What lies beyond the grave?”
Only the risen Redeemer can answer these questions, for He is our all-knowing God, and He Himself has passed from death to life. Turn away from Him, and you find only denial, ignorance, misunderstanding. Ask the bold, defiant unbeliever, “Is there a life to come?” and he will answer: “Positively no! Death ends everything! Why not enjoy life, even its forbidden fruit, to the fullest? Away with restraint! Down with law and order! Live lustily!” That is the destructive consequence of atheism.
Ask the agnostic, “Shall we live again?” and he will reply: “I don’t know and nobody knows!” When Robert Ingersoll wrote on immortality, he could only say, “I will leave the dead where nature leaves them.” What comfort will you find in that, my aged friends, who know that you cannot be many years distant from the grave?
Ask the scientist, and often he will declare, “I have no answer.” Professor Arthur H. Compton, Nobel Prize winner, admitted before a Yale audience, “Science does not supply us with a definite answer to the question, ‘Does death end all?’”—How can you, the sick, the wounded, the dying, find relief and hope in such question marks?
Ask the philosopher, and frequently he will dream of a possible, vague, misty existence. He may agree with Sir Alfred Falconer, president of the University of Toronto, who told a Harvard meeting: “It is reasonable to hope that there is a return . . . of those who have been known to pursue goodness, to love their fellows and all things pure and beautiful.” What we need, however, is the assurance of a future blessing for those who have been known, not as the good, the kind, the pure, but for those, all of us, who “have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Ask the Modernist to unveil the mystery of life after death, and he will say (I quote the very words of a widely heralded New York liberal), “I believe in the persistence of personality through death.” What does that mean? Try to console bereaved friends with the promise of “persistence of personality”!
Ask 200,000 Hindus and the swami representatives in the United States, “What lies beyond the grave?” and they will reply, “Reincarnation,” and claim that after death men return to earth in a higher form or often in a lower form, even as a dog or a rat. Do you want to be burdened by such fear?
Ask the spiritist, and he will say, “Certainly men live on after they die, but only as vague, undefined spirits who may be brought back by mediums.” They never come back. For more than ten years Mrs. Houdini, widow of the well-known magician, tried to establish contact with his spirit, but failed. Spiritism is a fraud.
Now let Jesus reply to these questions concerning the life to come, and you have assurance, God’s own answer, heavenly truth, a divine guarantee, sealed by the Savior’s crucifixion and resurrection! First of all He who can never make a mistake teaches us that the grave’s decay and silence is not the end. His unfailing Word has pledged us a new existence, “This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”
Then, His truth assures us that our bodies will be resurrected. Clearly the Apostle writes in those faith-sustaining words of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians: “The Christian’s body ‘is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. . . . It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.’” According to clear Scriptural teachings the believer’s life beyond the grave is not a shadowy, hazy being, unknown and unknowable, in a dim atmosphere filled with floating, unrecognizable spirits, but a heavenly life in which our forms and features are restored.
When we are recreated in that resurrection, we shall live in the splendor of Paradise. Therefore, our bodies will be radiantly perfect with no spots and blemishes, no wounds and scars, no lost limbs and dulled senses, no weakness and ravage of disease. Instead, beauty, power, perfection!
In the eternal Easter we shall recognize all our beloved ones who have died in the Lord. What a glorious reunion that will be! What a happy homecoming to husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, sister or brother, all who have remained “faithful unto death,” the great company of Christian leaders, the Apostles and Prophets of God!
In the most marvelous of heavenly privileges the resurrection of the body will bring us face to face with Jesus. Those who believe will be permitted to behold their Savior, to worship Him who died and rose again for their salvation, to sing celestial hallelujahs to Him. Even more: the immeasurable mercy of God—and I defy any unbeliever in this audience to adduce one promise from any religion, however false, that even bears comparison with this—gives us the incomparable assurance that in the resurrection we, the redeemed, are to be like Jesus. Here is the Scriptural guarantee: Saint John writes, “We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
All this indescribable glory, too marvelous for human understanding, too radiant for written record, is to be endless in heaven. No more partings and farewells, no more separation and loneliness, no more disease and death! There, the Apostle pledges, we “shall be EVER with the Lord”; and he adds, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Indeed, what immeasurable consolation Easter affords! With all the celestial splendor awaiting every disciple of our Lord, we should not weep too much at funerals, as though we had no hope, as though every Christian death were not the entrance into bliss unspeakable. Oh, that we could so completely overcome our weakness that, when God calls one of His children home, we would thank Him for bringing His redeemed to glory, where there is no more war and wickedness, no more sin, pain, and sorrow—only endless joy!
If life bears down too hard on you; if you endure injustice and unrighteousness; if you are persecuted for His name’s sake in your home, the burden of your cross will be lightened when you look beyond the distress each new day brings, to the assurance that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Don’t let your Easter rejoicing be dimmed by the fact that men oppose or deny your bodily resurrection! On Mars’ Hill, Saint Paul had three classes of hearers. Of the first our text says, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” That ridicule has continued until today. It is impossible, they tell us, that our dust and ashes can be restored and revivified. Who can say that anything is too hard for God? If He created our bodies on the earth, cannot He recreate them in heaven? Saint Paul, preaching the resurrection before King Agrippa, told his royal audience, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?” Why should it be altogether unreasonable, we repeat, that the Lord of life should resurrect our crumbling remains? Part of your present body comes from the earth, even from various remote areas. The cereal you ate this morning, and which builds your physical energy, may have been grown in the soil of Minnesota, Kansas, Georgia, or many other places. The sugar you used may have been the product of a Cuban or Puerto Rican plantation. The coffee you drank came from Central America or Brazil, the tea from India or Ceylon. The vegetables and the fruit for your dinner may have ripened in California, Texas, or Florida. Now, if the Almighty has gathered from the soil of a hundred different locations the material with which your body is built and strengthened, why limit His omnipotence and say that He cannot gather from the good earth of our cemeteries the seed from which our spiritual bodies are to spring?
Happily, Easter falls in life-giving springtime, when all over the earth men see billions of instances in which God produces marvelous beauty from decay. A seed is sown into the ground; it loses its shape and form to become an unsightly, smelly substance. Yet from that decayed seed ultimately comes a flower of surpassing loveliness. If we see this transformation in the ordinary course of nature, what far greater miracles can divine love accomplish in the majesty of the resurrection?
Do not follow those mocking atheists on Mars’ Hill! Ask God for the strength to remove every obstacle that will prevent you from coming to Christ! For many years large, jutting rocks at Hell’s Gate in New York harbor proved a menace to shipping. They had to be removed, and they were blasted away by dynamite. The stone of your unbelief, still placed before the Savior’s grave, must also be rolled away if you are to escape the terrors of the real hell’s gate. For the safety of your soul and your entire Christian life you must know, as Saint Paul reminds us, “the POWER of His resurrection.” The Greek word which Saint Paul uses for “power” and the English word “dynamite” are closely related. If you want a powerful dynamic Christian faith with which to destroy the barriers between God and you, take The New Testament, the initials of which form the symbol of TNT, one of the most powerful explosives known today.
The second class of Saint Paul’s hearers on Mars’ Hill were those who said, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” They postponed their decision and deferred accepting Christ. Are you one of these? Some years ago Charles Biedinger, a Cincinnati inventor, was found dead in a lodging house. He had been almost destitute and was last employed as a dishwasher in a restaurant. In reality he was rich; but a court verdict awarding him more than $100,000 was delayed for years. The money came too late to do him any good. You can be spiritually rich with the Easter promise, yet remain impoverished because you postpone and delay. You hear this appeal for repentance and faith in Christ. The Spirit urges you to get right with your God now, to join a true Christian church. Nevertheless you say: “Tomorrow! Next week! I will listen again next Sunday!” How do you know that you will? The average age of Americans today is sixty-two and one half years. Many of you are ten, twenty, even thirty years older; still, you have not made peace with your God. For you younger folks, especially for the men in the armed forces, these questions of the grave, the Judgment, and eternity come with particular force. Remember “now,” not next month or next year, “Is the accepted time.” You can spurn this grace once too often. Our text records, “Paul departed from among them.” “We will hear thee again,” the Athenians said; but Saint Paul went away. Most of them never saw him again. Will this be your last Easter, the last Christian broadcast you will hear?
The third class in the Apostle’s audience consisted of those who “clave unto him and believed.” There on Mars’ Hill God’s Spirit touched their heart, and they were saved. As Easter Day in the ancient Church was the time when converts confessed their faith, so may this Easter, too, be a day of decision for the Lord Jesus Christ! All those converted hearers at Athens did was to believe; all you, likewise, must do is to build your “hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood” and the righteousness His resurrection bestows. Then by faith, through grace, you are saved now and eternally. With that trust you can survey all the sorrows of life and still rejoice.
The captain of a transatlantic liner tells us that years ago one of his passengers was Jenny Lind, the Christian young woman who dedicated the talents of her beautiful voice to the Lord Jesus. One morning she arose early and, standing on the bridge, saw the sun rise out of the trackless ocean. That radiance of daybreak awoke within her heart thoughts of eternity, and she began to sing from Handel’s Messiah the unforgettable passage beginning, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and ending, “I, too, shall live.” If from the height of your Christian faith you greet each new day with the song of Easter triumph, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” you can end all life’s days with the Christ-centered confidence, “I, too, shall live.” “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.