Posts

In our new series Preaching Christ, we discuss how great preachers of the past proclaimed God’s Word in order to learn what preaching has been and can be.  In this first episode in the series, we look at the style, themes, delivery, and impact of Walter A. Maier, the first speaker of the Lutheran Hour.  What can we learn from him?  What can he say to our day?  Whether you preach regularly or listen to preaching, join us in our discussion of this great man.

To learn more about the life of WAM, be sure to listen to our previous episode:

WFS Episode 62: The Chrysostom of American Lutheranism: The Life and Impact of Walter A Maier

Audio Recordings of Walter A Maier

“Eleven Hundred Voices for our Redeemer’s Praise” (1948)

“Salvation Completed, It Is Finished!” (1937)

“Jesus Christ the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever” (1937)

“Jesus Christ Is Our God”

“Resurrection Reality”

“Tell It to Jesus”

Further Reading

William F. Arndt – “Walter Arthur Maier, 1893-1950”

Lester Zeitler – An Investigation of the Factors of Persuasion in the Sermons of Dr Walter A Maier

David Gunderlach – A Comparison Measurement of Law and Gospel in Selected Sermons of Saint Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jonathan Edwards, Phillips Brooks, and Walter A. Maier

Richard J. Shuta – “Walter A. Maier as Evangelical Preacher”

Paul Maier – A Man Spoke, A World Listened: The Story of Walter A. Maier

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz

Episode: 102

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Few men have made such an impact on American Christianity as Dr. Walter A. Maier.  From academics to radio to preaching, WAM’s influence reached far and wide.  WAM stands tall in the history of the LC-MS.  Join us as we discuss the life and techniques of the man Time magazine called “The Chrysostom of American Lutheranism.”

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 62

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Date: April 16, 1939

Prayer for Loyalty to Christ

O Thou Spirit of Truth, who together with the Father and the Son art alone our eternal God,

Bring into our hearts, we implore Thee, a radiant faith in the resurrection glory and keep the Easter-message, far too blessed to be restricted to a single day, perpetually alive in our trusting souls! Show us the power of the risen Christ, sitting at the right hand of God the Father in heavenly majesty as the Sovereign of the universe. But help us also to behold Him as our everlasting Advocate and Intercessor, pleading before the throne of eternal justice for our souls’ salvation! Keep us ever loyal to Christ, consecrated to Him who was never ashamed of us despite our rebellion against His truth and love! In a world that contradicts every promise of Gospel grace and an age that would still crucify the Lord of Life, we need Thine enlightening presence to defeat the repeated temptations which ask us to deny our Savior. Come to us, then, as Thou once didst fortify the faith of the fearsome disciples, and make us zealous to testify to every man of the hope that is in us! Particularly do we ask Thee in the days of this Easter cycle to knock again at hearts closed to Christ and with the gleam of the resurrection radiance open them to receive the blessings of faith. Approach those who have fallen along the roadside of life, either by their own sins or through the inhumanities of others and bring them to Jesus both for this world and the blessedness that is to come through faith in His blood-­bought redemption! Hear us, O renewing Spirit, and bless our country, our churches, and our homes through Jesus Christ, our victoriously risen and eternal Savior! Amen.

Now, unto Him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.Jude 24-25

EASTER has come and gone; but I pray God that the power of Christ’s resurrection will linger perpetually with you, constantly to help tear any unbelief from your hearts. May the Holy Spirit produce within you that complete change which the risen Savior wrought in the souls of His timid, sorrowing disciples! Torn by fear and crushing grief over Jesus’ death on the cross, the followers of Christ had no sooner beheld their victorious Lord than they were filled with faith and joy. We often overlook the remarkable power the Easter victory exerted even on those related to our Savior. Whether the four men mentioned by the evangelists as “the brethren of the Lord” were His half-brothers or even more distant relatives, what a meaningful message of Easter blessing is found in the fact that, while at least some “brethren” of the Savior refused to believe in Him even until the time of His later ministry, after the resurrection they all recognize Him as their death-destroying Lord and are found waiting, praying with the disciples and Mary, His mother.

One of these close relatives of Christ, from whose doubting heart the message of the open grave rolled the stone of unbelief, was Jude, author of one of the smallest, yet most impressive books of the New Testament. If you want to read in fewer than three minutes a detailed prediction of the religious conditions in our age, turn to the twenty-five verses of this epistle. At the beginning Jude, who never lost the imprint of the Easter triumph, signifies his intention to write concerning the “common salvation.” What an example for twentieth-century preachers, many of whom waste their hearers’ time and their own by a pulpit discussion of secular subjects that leave the sin­marked souls of men uncleansed! Then Jude addresses the members of the Church, asking them—not to unite the men for a bowling league or a dartball tournament; not to promote sociability through a fish fry or a church supper (secondary activities that sometimes assume undue importance) ; certainly not to raise money by card games or automobile lotteries—but earnestly to “contend for the faith,” zealously to fight for the truth of God. How much stronger our congregations would be today if their members were moved by such red-blooded, militant eagerness to defend Christ instead of squandering precious and irretrievable time in patching up petty differences resulting from overemphasis of social activity!

Then Jude deliberately warns his fellow-Christians against the enemies of the truth, in principle the same opponents of the Lord with whom we come into conflict today: “ungodly men,” he writes, “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Modernists of his day and ours, agreed as they are in dethroning Christ, the eternal God. “Filthy dreamers” he calls them; and we need think only of the perverted teachings by which psychoanalysis stresses morbid dreams. These enemies of the Cross in Jude’s day despised dominions and spoke evil of dignities, forerunners of the revolt against all human and divine authority that has disgraced our age. They utter “great swelling words,” Jude declares, since they are moved by the show of human authority. Does not this recall many a modern pulpit catering to the rich and respected?

Finally Jude comes to his constructive message. In all this opposition he asks that the followers of Christ keep themselves “in the love of God”; and after encouragement to this end he concludes his short letter with magnificent praise to Christ. Today as we approach the end of these regular Sunday afternoon messages, I have chosen as my last text for the present season this closing doxology of Jude’s book: “Now, unto Him that is able to keep you from failing and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever! Amen” (verses 24, 25), because I, too, want to give

ALL GLORY TO THE SUSTAINING, SAVING CHRIST

and as the summary and climax of all that I have told you, as the final purpose in every message I have ever spoken, exalt that “name which is above every name,” giving the praise of our hearts to Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, our crucified and risen Savior, our eternal and majestic King!

I

HE SUSTAINS US DURING THIS LIFE

If anyone asks us what practical advantages for this life we find through faith in Jesus Christ, we can answer pointedly in the promise of Jude: He “is able to keep you from falling.” Here is a fundamental pledge of Christianity: The Lord Jesus can sustain you when you stumble in the dark moments of life or stagger under the weight of its burdens.

Can you think of any assurance our age needs more insistently? The human supports to which we have looked for security have often given way. Make no mistake about this: Our generation may yet be called upon to suffer years of blood and agony such as this country has never known! I hope you will not be misled by the soothing predictions of better days to come, the pulpit promises of “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace in a war-minded world and the forces of hell itself seek to lure our civilization into the terrors of new bloodshed. Don’t minimize the punishment God’s justice imposes on any people that rebels against His supreme sovereignty and opposes His standards of right and truth! Where, since the establishment of Christ’s Church, has the world witnessed such a brazen uprising against the Almighty as in these years of our vaunted enlightenment? Never before have tens of millions turned from God to godlessness; never before have leaders, in a nation once Christian, murdered priests and ministers by the thousands; never before has atheism been able to muster such worldwide and organized strength. For this unparalleled apostasy our age must pay unparalleled punishment, unless, through the grace of God and sincere repentance, disaster be averted.

With this uprising against God comes the overthrow of all basic moral demands which the Almighty imposes on every nation. Turning away from Europe,—and how easy it is in smug self-righteousness to survey evil on the other side of the Atlantic!—let us discuss for a moment our national sins and the marked change that has come over the moral life of this generation. Do you suppose that twenty-five years ago the Post Office Department of the United States would permit lewd and lascivious pictures to be sent through the mails? Yet exactly this occurs today over the protest of Christian citizens and with the express permission of the Post Office Solicitor. Do you believe that twenty-five years ago the Federal Government would be asked to lend its legislative support for the spread of gambling and its many attendant evils? Yet a bill before Congress in veiled terms proposes to enlist Federal aid for a Nevada gambling syndicate. The past decades have had their full share of political corruption; but I challenge any one to cite a previous period of American history in which Government officials were guilty of the same gross bribery; in which corruption stalked through American courts as confidently and law enforcement collapsed as frequently. No nation, even though it have the size, wealth, and confidence of the United States, can escape God’s judgment for such national iniquity; and when we add to this sordid background the details of immorality flourishing before our eyes: filthy magazines in popular circulation; the radio featuring broken family relationships; motion-pictures helping to wean people from that which is good and honest; a more formidable rule of crime in all its forms than has ever disturbed the nation,—these are some of the destructive forces that may help cover the years before us with an avalanche of sorrows. We have no reason to believe, unless the mercy of God intervenes and this nation is shaken out of its delusion of security, that the destiny of the United States will be any different from the fate of every country forgetful of God and the demands of His moral standards.

Where, then, can we find power to sustain ourselves during the next war, which students of world affairs describe with such horrifying pictures that even we in the inland shudder before the specter of enemy airplanes quickly turning our cities into shambles or new poison gases wiping out entire communities almost literally in a single breath? Where, if the Almighty averts this terror, can we find support if ten more years of financial difficulty, unemployment, and suffering should be our lot? In statesmanship and diplomacy? I think not; for sometimes leaders seem more eager to provoke war than prevent it; and if the last ten years, despite the expenditure of billions of dollars, have brought no definite solution for some of our problems and we face the future with a staggering indebtedness, restricted world markets, increased complications, we should realize that statecraft even at its best may not be capable of solving all deep­rooted difficulties, that no program, however high-minded, can succeed if accompanied by blatant godlessness in the lives of the people. Where can we discover a force to help us face the brunt of life’s storms? In culture and education? I discount that possibility, too; for the age with the most numerous and best-equipped schools witnesses the most widespread and costly international carnage history knows. Where can we establish security for an insecure hour? In old-age pensions, unemployment insurance? As commendable as these are, our difficulties may be so complicated and extended that they require more than the yield of social security; often our deepest sorrows cannot be touched by money. Is there no unfailing support for us, then, when every earthly prop gives way? Was that young man right who last week took his own life before he could be drafted to fight in another world war? Or—and this is the final appeal—can religion help us? Certainly not those firebrand, rabble­rousing churchmen who preach race hatred and plot political programs! Assuredly not the modernist churches, where preachers and theological professors systematically discredit the Bible, offer the masses only vague and timeworn human theories barren of all substantial comfort. The one effective source of strength to keep us from stumbling and falling in a day when life’s course is continually beset by treacherous pitfalls, the only infallible sustaining power in the world,—inscribe this certainty in your heart with the indelible impress of faith!—is the love of Jesus Christ, of whom Jude promises: He “is able to keep you from falling.”

To understand this assurance, you must believe these two essential truths: First, Jesus is able to keep us from falling because He is, as the text testifies, our only God, whose wisdom and power can always sustain us, miraculously if need be; the Christ who on Easter proved His divine power can employ His omnipotence to support you in the smaller affairs of your life, when all human help fails. And secondly, Jesus as the almighty God not only can keep us from falling but in His mercy shows that He wants to sustain us. Remember how intensely Jesus loved you and me, estranged from God, unclean, unholy, ungrateful as we were; loved us with the complete devotion that did not shrink from bearing all humanity’s transgressions on the cross, suffering in His own sinless soul the punishment God Himself had demanded for the atonement of man’s wrong. That Savior whose blood was shed for us, whose life was given for our redemption, and whose resurrection completed the entire plan of salvation, the glorious and eternal deliverance which only the loving God and Savior could conceive and execute, the risen Redeemer, protects all souls entrusted to Him, so that through faith we are continually under divine care. His vigilant love, which neither slumbers nor sleeps, guards and guides us who are His, often mysteriously but always mercifully; sometimes over rough paths but at all times over the right paths; frequently through the valleys of the cross but unfailingly to the heights of the crown.

Here someone may demand: Is all this pulpit talk and sermon rhetoric? Are these promises merely examples of wishful Christian thinking? Or is Christ “able to keep” us “from failing”? And if He is, how does it happen that Christians suffer so much? Let me answer the last question first. Christ did not give His followers any promise of exemption from suffering. He never entertained legislative programs designed to make His disciples rulers of the world. He nowhere pictured His Church as politically powerful or enjoying a reign of golden glory on this earth. To the contrary, He clearly stated that until the last the cross would be indelibly stamped upon the believers, that those who were His followers in truth would be obliged to suffer even as He suffered. Yet with the clear warning that the kingdom of heaven was to be won only after much tribulation, He gave this glorious assurance that all adversities come upon God’s children for constructive purposes, to refine their faith, deepen their love, promote their trust in God alone. The faith in Christ which turns sorrows into blessings is so powerful that it never permits any of earth’s tribulations to fell us. Trusting Jesus, we know that He is always at our side to understand our sorrows, for He was afflicted more than we are. He directs our pathway, for His divine knowledge sees far beyond the close horizon of our understanding; and He sustains us when we are falling, since He is mightier than any adversary, and His “strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Now that other question: Is all this simply a disguised anesthetic to drug aching hearts into a few painless hours? Or can Christ keep us from plunging into despair over the agony of our afflictions? Human experience knows nothing more definite than Jude’s promise: He “is able to keep you from falling.” We can prove this by examples, not only from distant ages and remote lands but also from verifiable instances in present-day life. A few weeks ago a friend was obliged to undergo a serious operation on one of his eyes. Because of surgical requirements it was not possible for him to take ether, but with his full senses he had to suffer the terrifying procedure—we shudder to think of it—by which a needlelike instrument pierced his eyeball. The first part of the operation was successful, but through later complications the good results were undone, and the surgery had to be repeated. Yet this sufferer in Christ knew that Jesus was able to keep him from falling, and he has endured affliction, not stoically or desperately but with the assurance that whatever happens, he will not be moved, since Christ is with him and His good and gracious will, always the best, must be done.

Again, if you are beset by some overreaching sin that threatens to dominate your life and ruin your happiness, knowing the love of Christ, you can take courage in the promise that He “is able to keep you from falling.” Some time ago a young couple from Northern Illinois wrote me concerning a serious problem in their home-life. A baby was expected in their family; yet because of unemployment and financial difficulties this knowledge that should bring almost unbounded happiness was regarded only with dread and regret; and vaguely thoughts of deeper sin presented themselves. These heavy mists vanished, however, as soon as Christ took the dominant part in their lives. They were kept from falling into terrible sin; and the letter written after the baby’s birth breathes happiness in Christ.

Human hearts tom by restlessness and discontent can likewise testify to the support the Savior offers. Some time ago a young woman in Pennsylvania wrote that she was misunderstood in her own home, was vaguely dissatisfied with life, envious of other young women; and she confessed that never in her life had she crossed the threshold of a church. But the Savior whom she had ignored came into her soul, and on Palm Sunday, after instruction in the truths of the Christian faith, she publicly pledged herself to Jesus. With joy she now writes: “At last I have become a Christian. . . . I am determined to spend the rest of my life following Jesus’ road to glory.” She knows that with the Savior she cannot fall back into a dark, selfish mode of life.

If some of you think: “My sorrows are deeper than anything yet mentioned. I am shattered by the pain of parting and the sorrow of bereavement. Even Jesus cannot help me there,” let me assure you that the risen Christ can keep you from surrendering to despair. It has always seemed to me that the most tragic of all bereavements are losses such as that sustained by Margaret Barrie, sister of the novelist Sir James. Three weeks before the day set for their wedding her intended husband, a young clergyman, was thrown from a horse and killed. Here, according to all human standards, was one of the shocking cases that can make people fall from faith and charge God with cruelty. But Margaret Barrie loved Jesus; she had her distinguished brother write these words to the parish bereaved of its pastor: My sister “is not afraid. . . . God, who gave His Son for the redemption of the world, has told her that He had need of this disciple’s life. . . . So God chose His own way and took her Jim, her dear young minister.  And she says: ‘God’s will be done,’ and she thanks Him for taking away so suddenly only one who was ready to face his Maker without a moment’s notice. And she says that you are not to grieve for her overmuch, for she is in God’s keeping.”

My fellow-redeemed, do you have the conviction that Christ “is able to keep you from falling” even when sudden death confronts you? If you have, then follow Jude in singing “glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever,” to the sustaining Christ. Yes, give glory to Jesus “now,” you, His own, who know that, far from exaggerating, I have simply testified to the blessed truth. In one of the families that helped organize our Church in Wisconsin many years ago a son had to undergo a second operation for cancer of the mouth. Before that ordeal the three-year-old boy, who knew from experience how painful the surgery would be, asked his father: “Will the doctors believe in Christ if He gives me power to lie quietly?” During the protracted suffering—this was before the application of anesthesia,—as the father encouraged his child with repeated prayers, the only word the son uttered between various stages of the operation was “Jesus!” What a blessed example of glorifying the Savior even in suffering this child gives all of us! Hundreds of thousands of Christians have suffered nothing in comparison with this; yet their lips are unsealed to sing the glory of God only in church or on rare occasions within smaller circles. This age cries for Christian testimony, for men and women, young and old, whose lives, words, and loyalty to Jesus offer a perpetual anthem of praise to His holy name. Give us followers of Christ who know that for every hard, uphill pathway, for every treacherous moment of temptation and doubt, Christ will sustain them; who, as they feel the strength of Jesus uplifting them, exult: “Underneath are the everlasting arms”; whose hearts sing confidently:

Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee,

Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly failing, hath stayed thee;

and this Christ-exalting faith will fortify the Church with the heavenly power that promises: He “is able to keep you from falling.”

What shall I say to those among you for whom Christ’s help is an unknown blessing, who have never received from the risen Savior the pledge of His eternal companionship? What else can I say if not first of all to warn you in the sacred earnestness of this hour that without Jesus you must fall and, cast down, you will be unable to find any answer to the sorrows of life except the wrath of a righteous God. What more can I do than in the name of Christ, once despised and rejected in the agony of the cross but now eternally triumphant in the majesty of His resurrection, plead that as Jude, who first doubted Christ’s promises but then believed because of the Easter miracle, so you will not let this sacred season pass without acclaiming Christ your Lord and Savior? Once more I remind you that several thousand pastors associated with me throughout the country who preach the same Gospel, the same promise, the same hope in Christ, will thank God on their knees for the opportunity of helping you. Will you not let me have one of them come to your home with the love of Jesus and the promise that He “is able to keep you from falling”? There is always a last time when the offer of Christ’s salvation is brought to a sinner. This may be your last time. Will you pass it by? God forbid!

II

HE SAVES US FOR THE NEXT LIFE

However, all that the sustaining love of Christ does for us during this life can hardly be compared with His ultimate purpose in bringing those who are His home to His Father’s heaven. If we cannot sufficiently thank our Savior for His preserving love here on earth, shall we ever be able worthily to praise and glorify His mercy for the indescribable bliss of our resurrection and life everlasting?

It is the second promise of our text that Jesus is able “to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” I like to take each of these expressions literally and find in them the highest hope of happiness that God Himself can offer. We are to be presented, Jude tells us; and how wonderful to know that in heaven we are not vague, undefined spirits, but that our identity is preserved; that we shall recognize each other in the hereafter, even as the risen Christ was recognized by His disciples! How blessed to have the conviction that the salvation of the world is not merely a mass project in which, because of the millions involved, the individual loses all meaning and importance, but that our redemption is an individual blessing; that Christ died and rose again for every one of us personally. Since His Word exults: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine,” we know that on the glorious day of presentation our names, written in the Book of Life because of our faith, will be read and everyone who has died in the Lord will be brought before God the Father, Son, and Spirit as a soul cleansed and saved forever by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. How many who hear this message in our far-flung mission of the air will thus be presented to Christ? It will never be my happiness here on earth to meet more than a small percentage of those who have joined in our weekly worship; but eternity is endless, and it is my prayer, as I hope it is yours, too, that we may all, the hundreds of thousands who have written us and the many millions more who have not, be presented to God as the redeemed of Christ, kept by grace: that in the heavenly homeland you and I, whose earthly pathways may never cross, will meet in heavenly recognition.

We shall be presented “faultless,” the text assures us; and the use of this term throughout the Scriptures recalls almost unspeakable blessings. “Faultless,” without any sin to destroy our perfect holiness; “faultless,” with no power to shatter our peace or provoke even one regret; “faultless,” as the Savior’s Easter promise reminds us, in our resurrected bodies, with all blemishes and imperfections, all weaknesses and pains, removed forever,—the “faultless” redeemed in a “faultless” heaven! Can you not see, my friends, how Sunday after Sunday we have but one purpose: not to build any earthly shrine, not to organize political parties, not to preach class hatred, but by the Spirit’s help to have you stand “faultless” before the throne of eternity?

In that complete holiness we are to be presented, our text continues, “before the presence of His glory.” This is the climax even of heaven itself. I stand before the presence of that blessed Savior, to see Him face to face whom angels and archangels continually adore; to bow before Him, the eternal Sovereign of the universe, reflecting on His endless mercy for us; to hear Him speak words of celestial truth and power,—human phrases echo emptily and mortal senses cannot comprehend the most sacred of all eternal privileges,—this standing before the throne of Christ in the rapture of eternity!

We can understand, then, that Jude envisions “exceeding joy” in that heavenly radiance, joy so surpassing that a lifetime crowded with increasing sorrow will be forgotten; joy so complete that no room can remain even for a passing flash of sorrow; joy so divine that, if we could measure it, we would eagerly offer all that we have for only a few moments of its blessing.

Forget, if you must, any assurance of earthly wisdom but remember this truth until your last breath and let no threat of man or treachery of hell tear this promise from the treasury of your soul! Here it is, the Gospel that gladdens angels: Jesus Christ, your God and your Savior, lived, died, and rose again to give you, your sins washed away by His cleansing blood, this life eternal, this faultless presentation before His throne in exceeding joy. Merciful Savior that He is, He offers you and all who believe, no matter how poor and lowly, how despised and forsaken, how sinful and rejected, these everlasting glories, if you simply have trusting faith in the mercy of His death at Calvary and in the power of His resurrection at the open grave.

God give us all the grace, standing in the shadow of the cross and the radiance of the broken tomb, to dedicate our hearts and souls to Christ! To this end take your Bibles now, open them to these closing verses of Jude, and with a fervor of faith that this moment causes rejoicing in heaven join me in this transcontinental, international acclaim of the loving Christ: “Now, unto Him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever! Amen.” Lord Jesus, hear us! Amen.

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

Date: April 9, 1939

Easter Praise and Prayer

Christ, our risen Lord of Glory:

Standing in spirit before the open grave on this most blessed of all mornings, we realize that, if every moment of our lives were devoted to uninterrupted praise for Thine everlasting mercy and Thine Easter victory, even a lifetime of gratitude would not permit us fully to express our thanks that on the third day, according to Thy promise, Thou didst burst the bonds of death. Accept, however, Thou eternal Lord of our life, this praise surging from our innermost hearts that through Thy triumph over the grave Thou didst prove Thyself the almighty God. Today we know in world-conquering faith that the eternal sacrifice on the cross for our sins has been accepted by Thy Father and that through faith in Thee we, too, shall live in the resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting. Come to us, as after Thy resurrection Thou didst bless Thy disciples, and breathe on us, too, Thy Holy Spirit! May this day bring more than a passing flare of faith. Touch us with the glory of Thy resurrection, so that, risen with Thee, we may continually seek those things which are above and, being born again in Thee, show the evidence of our faith in heaven-centered holiness! Thou knowest how frail we are, O Christ. Therefore help us as Thou didst fortify Thy doubting, fearful disciples! Bless us all with the hope that Easter seals: the promise of a never-ending happiness with Thee, the Father, and the Holy Spirit! We ask this blessing by the power and pledge of Thy resurrection. Amen.

If ye . . . be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.Colossians 3:1

RECENT reports from Egypt tell how another tomb of the Pharaohs was uncovered and its royal mummies brought to light after centuries of darkness. Bible students particularly find unusual interest in the fact that here, after 2,800 years, the remains of Pharaoh Shishak have been discovered; for this ruler is mentioned in the Old Testament and on inscriptions as one of the most powerful of Egypt’s later monarchs. What telltale evidence of weakness and failure, then, to find the remains of Shishak, lord of the two Egypts, founder of a new dynasty, conqueror of Palestine and adjacent territory, boastful recorder of his own triumphs, dried and shriveled in a bejeweled mummy!

Nor has any other ruler among the mightiest of all history’s potentates escaped a similar fate. Charlemagne controlled a far-flung empire on continental Europe; yet a few centuries after his death, when his tomb was opened by one of his successors, all that was left of Charles the Great was a jumble of moldering bones. His crown and the scepter lay buried in the dust of his tomb.

Red leaders in Russia claim that the body of Nicolai Lenin, embalmed by a secret process and exhibited in a glass casket, will never decay. But uncensored reports from the Red capital reveal that Lenin’s corpse has already shown suspicious signs of going the way of all flesh.

Only a few days ago the sarcophagus of the late King George was completed and the lifeless remains of Britain’s beloved monarch placed beneath its imposing protection. Despite the impressive majesty in this place of royalty’s last repose, what a powerful sermon on the all-inclusive, inescapable grasp of death this ornate marble casket of King George proclaims! “Here,” this monument to death says in effect, “here lie the crumbling remains of England’s king, India’s emperor, sovereign of a realm on which the sun never sets, ruler of hundreds of millions, yet ruled himself by death!”

You see, every tomb and burial-place of men, whether it be as massive as the pyramids, as simple as your family plot with its modest memorial stone, or even as unadorned as a shallow grave in a potter’s field,—every burial-place, every cemetery, every gravestone, every casket, every hearse, is unquestionable testimony to the final failure of all that is human.

How, then, on this glorious day of Easter triumph, can we, with human voices, restricted vocabularies, limited minds, short-sighted vision, sin-swept lives, passion-swayed hearts, ever worthily thank God the Father, whose power ordained the Easter victory, God the Son, whose self­sacrificing love completed the Easter glory, God the Holy Spirit, whose enlightening help reveals to us in faith the eternal comfort of Easter truth? O Triune God of power and love and enlightenment, how,—and were we to devote our entire lifetime, waking and sleeping, to Thy never-ending praise,—can we sufficiently thank Thee that through faith in the resurrection of our Savior our deaths are changed from gruesome failures to eternal triumphs and our graves, instead of remaining the cruel evidence of everlasting decay, are to witness the supreme glory of all existence—the resurrection of our decayed bodies and the bestowal of life everlasting? Even angel voices as they intone their “Holy, holy, holy” before the throne of the risen Christ cannot begin to exhaust the Easter theme; and if in comparison with the cherubim and the seraphim that bow down before the Christ of the open grave we, with our unclean lips, can only lisp and stammer, may the cleansing Spirit of God touch our hearts with the refining fire of a soul-deep faith that on this Easter Day exults: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lard Jesus Christ!”

Come, then, to the open grave as across the continent we prepare to lay at the feet of the risen Christ the tributes of our joy-filled hearts. Come, you atheists, and let your cold, dark, shriveled souls find warmth and light in the expansive Easter radiance! Come, you doubting Thomases, who still insist: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe,” see the pierced hands and the riven side—and believe! Come to the tomb of Christ with its broken seal and its rolled-away stone, you my bereaved and heart­crushed friends whose souls are bowed down with the fresh wounds of earth’s deepest sorrows. Easter brings you Heaven’s balm for life’s agonies, the unconquerable hope for a sadly worried world. Come, you my tried and tested disciples of the risen Lord whose faith is strengthened every day and whose hearts are crying “Yea and Amen!” to every promise of Easter grace I bring to the nation! Oh, may myriads now come to behold and believe

THE GLORIOUS EASTER EVANGEL

revealed to us in the Apostle’s promise and command: “If ye . . . be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Colossians, chapter 3, verse 1.)

I

EASTER REVEALS A GLORIOUSLY RISEN SAVIOR

When this marvelous Easter text begins: “If ye . . . be risen with Christ,” it takes for granted the central fact of our Christian faith that, though the nails and the spear and the cross did their deadly work on Good Friday, Calvary was not the end and Joseph’s tomb not the last chapter in the Savior’s life and death of love. Similarly, when the text concludes: “Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God,” it pictures Jesus in His living and almighty power as the eternal King of heaven and earth.

The Apostle knew, and the Colossian Christians knew, that Christ was risen. That was the foundation fact of their faith. They would rather have questioned their own existence than doubt the truth that on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead. Saint Paul might have appealed to the Old Testament with its clear and decisive prophecies of the resurrection, as Job, filled with the vision of Easter victory, cries: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” The Apostle could have cited the very words of our Lord Himself by which He foretold His conquest over the grave. He could have referred to the “many infallible proofs” by which Jesus showed Himself alive to hundreds of eyewitnesses during the forty days. Paul could have emphasized his own experience in seeing Christ and knowing that the same Savior whom blasphemous hands slew was “loosed” from “the pains of death.” But the resurrection of Christ was so closely woven into the fabric of his heart that the Apostle did not indulge in a long defense of its truth.

Neither should anyone in our modern age doubt the literal facts of Easter; for they are supported by the force of convincing truth. If it were a matter of choice between believing that Christ rose from the grave and that the Italians last week bombed Albanian cities, I would say that the Easter-message rests on a far firmer testimony than the details of that Balkan warfare, which no one doubts. All that we know of the recent events in King Zog’s territory comes to us through news sources; and the daily press has sometimes proved false and misleading, while not even the bitterest critic has succeeded in convicting Christ and His Word of error. Accounts of the Albanian warfare reach us from a few correspondents, subject to false impression, prejudice and error, while the men who recorded the resurrection of Christ wrote infallibly, as they were moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The news of the Italian conquests is only a few days old; and in the light of later developments it may be changed; but the truth of the angel’s message “He is not here but is risen” has remained unimpeached and unbroken for nineteen hundred years. If you cannot accept the reality of the resurrection, you must draw huge question-marks over every page of history.

Here someone objects: Since there are many direct references in the New Testament to this bodily resurrection of Jesus and the evidence for Easter joy is so convincing, how does it happen that in many churches, established by those who love the Lord Jesus, this part of the Apostles’ Creed: “The third day He rose again from the dead,” is rejected? Why do some who occupy American pulpits claim that Jesus was not actually dead when laid into His grave but that, at first unconscious, He revived, broke the seal, removed the rock, and went His way? Why is it that men who call themselves ministers of the Gospel will repeat this hoary delusion, asserting that the disciples of Jesus stole the corpse and buried it secretly, or, with even greater absurdity, declaring that the enemies of our Lord removed the body and disposed of it elsewhere? Why does unbelief ascribe a mistaken vision to credulous women at the first flash of Easter sunrise? All this must be explained by the supertragedy that the pride of human reason will not bow submissively before the resurrection miracle; that in the blindness by which they desert the truth of God self­conceited men and women do not hesitate to accept even the most absurd substitutes and place themselves in the unhappy position of being associated with a guide to life who himself died.  If I were a modernist preacher, I would resign before Easter comes; for what help can there be in a leader who promised that he would return to life but—in the modernist teaching—did not? How can there be any salvation in a buried Christ upon whose unknown grave “the Syrian stars look down”? A dead Jesus means a destroyed Gospel. “If Christ be not risen,”—the Apostle’s alternative still rings in our ears,—what benefit can you find in the blood of a deceased Palestinian peasant? No more than you could find in your blood or mine. For millions our blood would not be helpful even in a transfusion; and if human blood often cannot save men’s lives, how can it influence their souls, nineteen hundred years after that blood has turned to dust? If Christ were not risen, there would be no Bible today, translated into a thousand languages, published and sold in millions of copies every year; for who would put faith in a dead hero unable to keep his word? There would be no Christian Church; who would devote his energies to, give his life for, a deceased teacher? There would be no Sunday worship; for who would discard the Old Testament Sabbath and worship Christ on Sunday, the day He arose, if His resurrection were not actual history?

Standing before the open grave with hearts that beat in harmony with the Easter evangel, we know—above every quibble or question—that Jesus had to rise from the dead because He is the almighty God and no grave can hold Him. Easter had to follow Good Friday because Christ had promised to return in new life, and the pledges of Jesus can never be broken, even though heaven and earth break as they pass away. Jesus had to come forth from the grave to complete the plan of universal redemption, since He “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” It was not enough that Jesus was born at Bethlehem and that He, God incarnate, lived and taught in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee; it was not sufficient that He was betrayed, blasphemed, and beaten, that He was nailed to the cross and died for us on Calvary; He had to rise again to show that on the accursed tree it was God who suffered and expired for men; that the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world had been accepted by His heavenly Father.

How reassuring Easter ought to be for every one of us as we remember the cross and behold the open grave! The crucified Christ is risen! He has proved Himself our God! He has sealed the forgiveness of all our sins! He has destroyed the power of hell forever! No wonder that in the early Church Easter was the day of supreme joy, the sacred occasion on which new and spotless clothing was worn to signify the garments of Christ’s righteousness that His resurrection offers! No wonder that on Easter converts flocked to those first churches for baptism! May the Holy Spirit strengthen many of you with discerning vision by which you see what an all-glorious, all-powerful, all-merciful Savior our Jesus is, since He lives to keep every promise His love has made! God grant that above the finery of the Easter parade we may be blessed with the inner beauty of a holy trust in His resurrection; that beyond all the Easter flowers we may discern His radiant grace as our ever-living Savior!

When the rebellion against Christ was at its height in Russia, so a traveler recounts, a lecturer attacked Christianity as capitalistic, degrading, and destructive to public welfare. He was so satisfied with the force of his arguments that he paused impressively and challenged the audience to contradict his statements. At first no one replied, but suddenly a young man stepped forward and spoke only these three words, the customary Russian greeting for Easter morning: “Christ is risen!” The answer electrified the audience, and as one man they rose to reply in the usual manner: “He is risen indeed!” The resurrected Christ shattered all antichristian arguments. Similarly you can answer any challenge of unbelief with the same pledge of power: “Christ is risen!” If your sins disturb and distress you; if your conscience prods you, doubt assails you, temptation seeks to entice you, weariness overtakes you, Satan accuses you, repulse all this by insisting: “Christ is risen”; and as your faith answers: “He is risen indeed!” you will know the all­conquering assurance of His resurrection.

II

EASTER PROMISES A GLORIOUS RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST

With this conviction we can find the surpassing glory of the Easter evangel in the promise of our text that we are “risen with Christ,” that, standing before the open grave, He speaks this heavenly comfort into our souls: “Because I live, ye shall live also.”

How terrifying the thought of death without Christ! A few swift years of uncertain existence, and before we realize it, the one life that we have to live, often overcrowded with sorrow and injustice, comes to an end. Death, which ruthlessly tears husband and wife apart, cruelly separates parents from children, snatches a bride from her beloved one only a few hours before the wedding; death, which suddenly robs the family of its provider and support, tauntingly passes a cripple suffering through long years of pain but cuts off a promising young life in the midst of its achieving happiness,—this black, irresistible, crushing death haunts every mortal as the specter of his own defeat and destruction.

Frantically have men sought escape from the skeletal hand that writes the end to every human hope. We try to lengthen life by checking disease, controlling diet, living rationally; but despite the splendid results attained by medical science the average life span is not much longer today than in the last generation; and the distressing rise of accidental death reduces the gains recorded by scientific advance. Millions turn from science to superstition as they search for a solution to the mystery of the grave among spiritists and impostors, who make money from the despair over death that crushes many souls. They inquire of naturalists and philosophers, historians and biologists; but none of these has ever come back from the dead. In the suspense of ignorance where human reason always deserts men and women as they ask what will happen when their hearts stop beating, their senses fail, and their last breath leaves them, in that impenetrable blackness men face eternity with a terror which knows no bounds. Almost two billion human beings populate the globe today, and within the next fifty or sixty years most of these two thousand million will be snatched away by death. What mass destruction! What universal grief! What terror cringing before the inevitable judgment with its punishment for unforgiven sin! Take all the misery and pain with which agony, sickness, poverty, accident, disappointment, can burden life; and though they be multiplied a thousand times, yet in their total they are only petty annoyances in comparison with what men fear in death.

Oh, that on Easter the myriads who quiver and quake before the thought of the end, who grovel in the most abject terror before the coming retribution that awaits all, regardless of position, wealth, power, and learning, would believe that through faith in Christ’s resurrection they are “risen with Christ”; that death no longer has dominion over them; that their bodies, though destroyed by decay, will be recreated in a new resurrection glory! When you have the triumphant faith which repeats this Easter conviction: “Risen with Christ! Risen with Christ!” you realize that, no matter what unbelieving men may say, you are more than a human accident, a helpless plaything of fate, finally destined to be cast on the age-old rubbish heap of human failure. Let atheism deny it, skepticism question it, the worldliness in modern pulpits ridicule it,—and I pause to say that in his recent book on Honesty Dr. Cabot openly declares that, while the members of a large denomination, which I will not name, regularly repeat the words of the Third Article “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body,” he does not know one member of that large church group which accepts the bodily resurrection,—here is God’s own truth for Easter: Our Savior loved us with the unfathomably deep devotion that led Him to assume all our sins, responsible as they are for death and decay, suffer their appalling punishment, die on the cross the death that we deserve, and then, at the empty grave, show us the life we, too, can have through faith in Him.

If the anniversary of the Savior’s death brings you to this assurance, you know that, though you, too, must die and your body decompose in the grave, through Christ you are more than a handful of clay, an urnful of ashes, a drift of dust; that your body will be revivified into newness of life and heavenly glory. Keep this truth as your Easter blessing, you of weak and sickly frame, you with crippled members and amputated limbs, you with consuming sickness and incurable disease,—through Christ your broken bodies, committed to the earth, will come forth in heavenly perfection on the glorious day of resurrection, even as Christ bodily rose from His grave!

What complete comfort those who are Christ’s can find in the Easter pledge that they are risen with Him! How earnestly we should strive to understand, as far as this is humanly possible, the blessed promise of eternal life with Jesus, where every sorrow earth knows will be completely banished, every problem solved, every burden removed, every wound healed, every question answered, and every moment of that eternity filled with indescribable joy, unspeakable peace, unutterable glory—all in the heavenly presence of an ever-living Savior! If only we could detach ourselves from the gripping love of this world and know the radiance of living with Jesus, we would not cling so tenaciously to every moment of life nor fear death as a horrifying specter. We would welcome the hour of release when Jesus comes to take us home.

Seventy-four years ago this nation witnessed the saddest Easter in all its history. It was the day after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Throughout the land deep­seated grief threatened to banish all resurrection rejoicing. Many pastors laid aside the sermon they had prepared on Christ’s victory over death; instead they preached dark and indignant messages. In our own sorrows of bereavement we, too, are often earth-bound and refuse to believe that “to be with Christ . . . is far better.” In our selfish short-sightedness we charge God with injustice when His love takes a close relative or an esteemed friend home to heaven. Today, when the stone of heaviness is rolled away from our thoughts of sorrow, we ought to catch this radiance of being with Christ; for Easter above all other days is God’s time for comfort and strength in bereavement. If your tears must flow today because your hearts cannot turn from the departure of one who is now asleep in Jesus, let yours be tears of joy that another soul is with the Savior!

III

EASTER ASKS FOR A GLORY-DIRECTED LIFE

Since Easter assures us of our triumph over death and reminds us that through faith we are even now “risen with Christ” and have the beginning of life eternal, so that the death we die is only a momentary change, then, St. Paul reminds us, we ought to “seek those things which are above.” It is the Apostle’s firm claim that just as soon as the sinner is converted to His Savior, he has eternal life and, being “risen with Christ,” enjoys the benedictions of his Savior’s resurrection. As evidence of these everlasting blessings the redeemed have a “newness of life” and must show that they are the eternal children of an everlasting King by their whole regenerated being. Let us not make the mistake of restricting eternal life to the next world. With Christ we have eternity now; for His promise reads: “This is life eternal” (not: This will be life eternal) “that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Since, then, we are twice-born children of God, our desires cannot remain riveted to the things of this life; we must have a glory-directed, heaven-centered hope. Since we are “risen with Christ” and it is only a matter of His good time until we shall be with Him and behold Him face to face, we ought to live as risen disciples, in the love of our resurrected Lord.

Reports from England tell us that the king and queen, in preparation for their journey across the ocean to Canada and the United States, are systematically engaged in studying the history and geography of these two countries. Large maps are pinned to the castle walls, and many books are consulted. King George and his queen want to know the facts concerning the countries which they are to visit.—How much more should those who are Christ’s study the glories of the heavenly realm they will enter through faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ! How much more consistently should we tear our desires away from the world and “seek those things which are above”! We can well profit by the example of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, who, as I mentioned in a previous broadcast, spent his last years studying the Scriptures, “because,” as he told his friends, “I like to study the Guidebook to the country to which I am going. I wish to know more and more about it.”

It is here, I know, that most of us feel our weakness; but—praise be to our ever-living Christ!—He will help us reach the higher ways of life! If you ask me pointedly what the risen Christ can do for us in raising our affections from earth to heaven, I answer directly that our Lord of Easter power will help us if only we trust Him, just as He strengthened His own during those forty remarkable days between His resurrection and ascension. Read the accounts of His post-Easter life, and you will see that He comes to His disciples in their sorrow, even though the doors are barred; He removes the doubt from Thomas’s mind as that convinced disciple declares: “My Lord and my God!” He promises His eternal companionship until the end of the world. He warms the hearts of His two grief-stricken followers at Emmaus. He brings peace into the sorrow-torn circle of the Eleven. He unfolds the Scriptures for them in their full, rich meaning. He blesses those who are His and promises them His Holy Spirit.

My fellow-worshipers, all this and more the risen Savior wants to do for those who are risen with Him. I trust that on this Heaven-blessed day many of you, standing aloof from Jesus, depriving your souls of the resurrection joy and strength, will come to the glorified Lord for the forgiveness of your sins, for life eternal and its blessed salvation. Only the risen Christ can save you from your sins and their wages—everlasting death! Only Christ can give you light for the darkness of your dying hour! Only Christ can show you the abundant and joy­crowned life! Only Christ can grant you heaven by His pure mercy, through faith! Come to worship Him, as did the first witnesses of His resurrection, and in eternity you will sing loud hallelujahs to His holy name!

May it be our Easter joy that the ever-living Christ abide with us through life and death itself, until, risen in the resurrection with Him, we no longer need to seek those things which are above, since by faith we have these eternal blessings in the heavenly place, prepared by Jesus in the many mansions of His Father’s house. This, my fellow-redeemed, is our Easter prayer for all of you. May Christ, who has promised to hear us, grant us all this everlasting joy before His heavenly throne, for His name’s sake! Amen.

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

Date: April 2, 1939

Palm Sunday Prayer

Christ, our only Savior:

As once Thou didst hold Thine entrance into Jerusalem amidst waving palm-branches and the acclaim of loud hosannas, do Thou now come into our hearts, our King, lowly in Thy humility but almighty in Thy power. Rule completely over our lives. Especially do we beseech Thy guiding grace for the children who today kneel at Thine altars and pledge themselves to suffer even the pain of death rather than deny Thee. Help the entire rising generation in the land to accept Thy mercies and rebuke those hellish forces that promote warfare and for reasons of profit seek to send our young men into Europe’s battlefields. Above all, as we begin this Holy Week commemorating Thy suffering and death for our redemption, grant us Thy Spirit, so that, with eyes opened to our helplessness without Thee, we may recognize the damning power of our sin and its eternally destructive consequences. Then, when we are gripped by the terror of having offended Thee and deserved nothing but wrath, lead us to Thy cross in contrite faith, there to find blood-bought pardon for every sin. Keep us faithful, even though our hearts must be humbled and our lives afflicted. Then, with the impress of the Cross on our souls, we can look forward to Thy second coming in majesty, when in triumphant faith Thy redeemed shall sing, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Preserve us for this glory, our compassionate Savior, since we ask this in Thy name and by Thy promise!  Amen.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, . . . My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?Matthew 27:46

WITH this Sunday the Christian Church enters Holy Week, seven days set aside to commemorate the last events in our Savior’s earthly life: His entry into Jerusalem amid the loud hosannas of palm-waving throng, on this day; His agony in Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest on Thursday night; His court trials, condemnation, crucifixion, and burial on Good Friday. Wherever on the face of this wide earth Christians are found,—and I mean those, to whatever church and denomination they may belong, who revere Jesus as their God and Savior,—there during these coming days Calvary with its cross rises high over every horizon in their hearts and hopes.

Never do Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed, in organized church-bodies and independent groups, seem closer to each other than in this Holy Week, on Good Friday, when they all prepare to stand beneath the same cross to witness the suffering of the same Savior. How glorious and God-pleasing if in reality there could be only one Church, with the more than 500,000,000 followers of Christ over the world inwardly agreed in the full acceptance of every Scripture truth, bound together in an absolute unity of the spirit,—if there were, for example, no Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Free-will Baptists, Duck River Baptists, Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Baptists; no Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Old Catholics, Holy Eastern Orthodox Catholics, Polish National Catholics; no Missouri Synod Lutherans, American Lutherans, United Lutherans, Augustana Lutherans, Free Lutherans;—instead, all followers of Jesus, completely united in the same reverence for their Savior, with the same unreserved acceptance of the entire Scripture doctrine! At Calvary’s cross, stained with the life-blood of Christ, the appeal for spiritual unity resounds with its strongest invitation, rebuking those who selfishly prefer denominational power and sectarian glory to the holy truth of God. Should any of you place your own church connections above Christ and have crude dreams of the creed which you represent rising to power and to control over others, stand beneath the cross of the despised and rejected Jesus and with repentant hearts beg Him to forgive your carnal pride and boasting.

Again, of all weeks in the year, these coming days issue a solemn challenge to those church-leaders who systematically rob Christ’s cross of its comfort for groping souls. Our age has listened with cupped ears to what men have said about Jesus and His sacrificial death, with the result that too many know only a caricature of our Lord. During these hours that reach their climax five days hence, on that black Friday, we ought rather to hear what God in His unbreakable Scriptures says about the crucified Christ, and on Golgotha find in Him the Heaven­sent, sin-destroying Savior of the race. If, now, by the inscrutable mercy of the Almighty, it should be my privilege to have before the radios in this audience the pastors of some of these wealthy, Christ-rejecting churches or their members, I beg them to spend this half hour with us as we stand in spirit once more on the brow of Golgotha. It may be, indeed we pray God it will be, that their eyes will be opened to the true Christ and the full power of His love, so that as the centurion, beholding Christ, they, too, may exclaim: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”

Above all, these days that recall the death of Christ and the grave to which His lifeless body was committed, send a personal, heart-directed message to the masses in our country for whom Holy Week is just another seven days, who are against Christ because they are not with Him in true faith. I have never been able to understand why, particularly on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the churches in this country are not overcrowded with converts, souls won by the heights of Christ’s mercy on the cross; for the blessings that come for earth and heaven through trust in the power of the blood dripping from His pierced hands and feet are so immeasurable that only the blindness of hell itself keeps men from crowding to Jesus and penitently crying: “O Christ, I know that Thou art my Savior. Have mercy upon me! Forgive all my sins! Look upon me with peace and blessing! For the sake of Thy suffering bring me, like the penitent thief at Thy side, safe into the glories of Thy kingdom!” More than 60,000,000 Americans and several millions in Canada have never prayed to Christ in this way. The multitudes of these unbelievers represent a number as large as the total population of Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland,—all without Christ! And because some of you, the Christless, are listening in, I plead with you: Pause and hear what God would say to your souls! Your heavenly Father calls you in this moment. Now you are close to the possibility of receiving the greatest blessing with which your soul can be enriched. A turn of the dial on your radio will lead you away from the station bringing you these words and may mean turning your soul away forever from Christ. Oh, let not Calvary’s blood be shed in vain for you, nor the death of agonies be died on the cross without giving you life! Rather come with us from coast to coast, across the plains and streams and mountains of America, in this mighty worship directed to Calvary, and behold

CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION—LONELIEST OF ALL DEATHS

as we center our thoughts upon that sacred mystery of His suffering, the cry of history’s deepest anguish, that shriek of never-to-be-fathomed sorrow recorded in our Holy Week text (Saint Matthew, chapter 27, verse 46): “About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, . . . My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

I

THE CAUSE OF THIS GOD-FORSAKENNESS

For six hours of exhaustion, exposure, and agony Jesus had hung on the cross, suffering from the loss of blood, the fire of burning fever, unquenchable thirst, and the shattering weakness that increased as death drew near. Added to these agonies was the heartless ridicule of the wretches beneath the cross; the darkness that enshrouded the world; the moaning of the malefactors crucified on each side; the half-stifled sobs of His mother, His disciple, and the friends who had ventured to come to Calvary;—and deeper than all this, that gripping, tearing torture of His soul, incomparably more terrifying than all the pain of the crucifixion, that convulsing terror of agony that made Him cry: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

For five years on this Sunday I have tried to preach to you on this text, but each year I have felt myself so helpless before the task of interpreting this fourth word from the cross that I always chose another Scripture­passage. Here is a universe filled with unsearchable truth, and I have only the puny measure of human words with which to offer you the meaning of this God-forsakenness. Eternity will not be long enough to describe this soul­quaking horror, and I have only fifteen short minutes to interpret the life-and-death message in that piercing cry which haunts us as no other dying voice in all the centuries, the sacred words that the inspired writers of the gospels record untouched in the very language in which it fell from the lips of Christ: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,”—words, it almost seemed, too holy to be translated.

Do you know that once when Luther submerged himself in meditation on this passage, he was so completely overwhelmed by this abysmal suffering that for a time he sat riveted to his chair, motionless as a corpse, his eyes staring, it seemed, almost into eternity? He spurned the food placed before him and remained unmoved by the entreaties of his friends. When he finally rose to his feet, the impress of this awful mystery made him break out into these words of deep-souled amazement: “Forsaken by God!—who can understand it?” Assuredly we cannot understand this cry of Calvary; but may God help us to believe that here on the cross Jesus was forsaken, not only by His own countrymen, especially by the thousands whom He did not forsake in their woes and sorrows; not only by His friends and the disciples, who had sworn renewed loyalty to Him; not only by the angel who a few hours before had strengthened Him in the Garden; but that He was forsaken—O mystery of mysteries!—also by His own Father!

History records other lonely deaths: Livingstone breathing his last in an unmarked hut in the heart of dark and throbbing Africa; Allen Gardiner starving to death on an uninhabited shore of Patagonia; John Williams, the apostle to the South Seas, crushed to death by a war club and then eaten by cannibals; yet these brave witnesses of Christ were not alone in the hour of their martyrdom; Jesus kept His promise to them: “Lo, I am with you alway.” But the same Christ, who will never desert any trusting soul in the hour of death, was Himself deserted by His own Father.

Do you know what this God-forsakenness implies? It means that God turned His face away from His own Son; that He withdrew all love from Christ; that the same almighty Lord of heaven who does not altogether cast off even atheists, blasphemers, sneering scoffers, but permits them to have food and shelter and clothing, here completely cast Him off who was Love itself. Forsaken by God! For Christ it meant the deepest depths of agony that even He could endure; pains of His divine heart and soul even more excruciating than the physical torture of a thousand crucifixions. It meant the desolation of eternal death, the living tortures of hell concentrated into these God-forsaken moments.

As this heartfelt “Why?” breaks over the rumble of Calvary, we can find the solution to the arch-sorrow of the ages not in any human deduction or psychological explanations. We must turn to the one source which answers this enigmatical “Why?”—the revelation of God’s love for a sin-stricken world. Consulting our Bibles, we learn that God abandoned Christ because on the cross, the one altar of universal and eternal atonement, Jesus—O blessed Lamb of God!—bears in His own pierced, lashed, beaten, bleeding, dying body the sins of all the world; takes upon Himself the eternal punishment of all human transgression; suffers the agonies of hell itself that mankind in its totality should have suffered. Because God forsakes every unforgiven sinner and in His holiness consigns every impenitent transgressor to punishment so terrifying that it cannot be measured, He forsook His own Son, my sin-bearing Substitute and yours; and Jesus, bereft of His Father’s love, crushed by the soul-stilling weight of a world filled with sin’s anguish, cries: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Have you ever seen men and women who actually believed that God had forsaken them? I have, and it seems to me that life holds no sight more terrifying! Sometimes scoffers are overwhelmed at the approach of their doom, and their end is horrifying. Bishop Fenwick, who visited Tom Paine, American infidel and opponent of George Washington, tells us that, as this man, who had often sneered at religion, lay on his deathbed, among the last utterances heard from his lips was this moan of despair: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” No horror any one endures can be compared with the terror that seizes his soul when he thinks of suffering eternally for his own sins; and that agony Jesus suffered, not for Himself, for there was no wrong and guilt in His life; not for one sinner, but, as the ancient prophet put it, “for the iniquity of us all.”

Can you not see that the most vital issue in your life is this: you must understand the significance of the Savior’s cross and the reason He cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” If even those who stood beneath the cross misunderstood His opening words: “Eli, Eli,” and thought, either in taunt or fear, that He was calling the prophet Elijah, we must be prepared for the similar tragedy that some who stand far from Calvary have likewise misunderstood this death-cry. With a poisonous hatred of Christ leaders of modern godlessness do not hesitate to picture the crucified Lord as a failure, who had hoped God would help Him but suddenly finds that He is forsaken. How terrifying will be their awakening!

For the sake of your immortal souls I plead with you: Do not refuse to believe that Christ was forsaken in your stead, that He felt the brunt of divine rejection which you should have suffered. Don’t say that this is an old­fashioned creed, which has outlived its influence in an age when no one takes sin seriously. God’s Law never changes. That pointed warning “Ye shall die in your sins!” is the ever-repeated drone of heavenly thunder over all wickedness. Your own conscience, unless you have drugged or deadened it, constantly warns: You must get right with God. And how else—in this age of easy religions and comfortable beliefs—can you come to God if not by the Crucified, whose cross reaffirms His pointed claim: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!”

Don’t object that you will not accept Christ as your Substitute because you cannot understand how He, as the Son of God, could be forsaken in this most desolate death or because you cannot comprehend how He can take your sins and justify you before God. Too many today want to take the supernatural element and the divine mystery out of the Christian faith. They demand cut-and-dried explanations for every part of our creed. Yet when the simple truths of life are involved, every one of us is constantly surrounded by processes of nature in our own bodies and in the world about us for which we cannot account. These weeks of spring in many ways bring us the most mysterious season of the year, when the world below and around us throbs with new life. Now, have our leading scientists and Nobel-prize winners ever explained the power of life in a single blade of green grass that after a winter’s sleep pushes its way through the black earth? And if in the realms of nature men are constantly confronted by these inexplicable facts, the actuality of which no one questions, it is both irrational and irreverent for them to demand a cold analysis of the mysteries of our Christian faith. Under the cross in this hour of the Savior’s abandonment by God there is no room for question, argument, proof. The stark reality of this crucifixion proclaims to you, whether you can understand it or not, that Christ was deserted of His Father because through your sins you should have been deserted; that “God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”; and blessed, eternally blessed, is he who believes even though he cannot understand!

II

ETERNAL BLESSINGS FROM THIS GOD-FORSAKENNESS

For what wealth of comfort and strength flows into your hearts through faith in Christ’s redemptive death on that first Good Friday! Clinging to the cross, our faith tells us that, because God forsook Jesus, He will never forsake us; that Christ’s rejection brings our redemption; that through the cross of malice we are granted the crown of glory.

You can see why this broadcast has no time for, and takes no interest in, political agitation; Christ on the cross saves men’s souls for eternity long after every political issue will have been forgotten. You can see, too, why we have no sympathy for those who becloud the free grace of Christ, subtly question its truth, change the divine certainty of salvation into uncertainty; try to make our salvation depend partly on our own merits, prayers, charities, good intentions, churchgoing, instead of entirely upon the grace of God in Christ. This week of all times we ought to realize, with clear and decisive verdict, that the sacred truth which distinguishes Christianity from every other creed is the plain message of the cross: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”  The way to tell whether a church is Christian is not to look at its name, its size, or its importance; not to examine its rituals and ceremonies; not to scan the list of its members, but to see whether the message of full, free, final salvation is proclaimed and believed. The test which you can make in your own life to determine whether you are a true follower of Jesus Christ is not to exhibit the faith of your family; not simply to ask yourself whether you go to church, thinking that any church will do; not to exalt your own character and believe that you are morally better, more nearly perfect than the man next door, or especially than the prisoner in the State penitentiary. To answer the all-absorbing question: “Am I a Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ?” you must make this acid test and ask: “Have I knelt in spirit before my Savior to say: ‘O Christ, I am full of sins. I have deserved temporal and eternal punishment for my transgressions. Yet, O Jesus, how I thank Thee for the undeserved mercy that Thou didst love me with the devotion unto death by which the punishment of my sins was placed on Thy soul at Calvary! O Jesus, I trust Thee! O Jesus, Thou art mine, and I by faith am Thine; and because Thou wast forsaken in the depths of Thine agonies, Thou dost say to me: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”?’” Now, if you don’t know Christ in this penitent, confident, triumphant faith, don’t tell me that you are an elder in the church, the president of the men’s club, a soloist in the choir, the secretary of the ladies’ aid, the entertainment chairman for the young people; don’t say even that you are in the family pew every Sunday, tithe your income, offer a dozen prayers a day; for without firm trust in the redemptive love of Christ you don’t begin to know Jesus. On the other hand, if you have beheld the cross and acclaimed this Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, your Savior, your all-sufficient Redeemer, then on whatever level of human society you may live, however high or low your culture may be, you are in truth a disciple of Jesus Christ, blessed for eternity. Your soul cannot perish! Heaven is yours! You will never be deserted by God because Christ, as your Substitute, was deserted. You will never suffer the punishment for your sins because Jesus suffered in your stead. You will never see eternal death, for Christ died in your place.

What courage for our sorrows we can find at the cross in Jesus’ God-abandonment! Not a few of you, as your letters reveal, are leading lonely lives. Some of you have been deserted by a faithless helpmate. Many have lost dearly beloved ones in death. Still others have traveled so far along life’s highway that most of your former companions and friends have fallen by the wayside and the pathway becomes lonelier every day that you still live. Many of you exist alone in furnished rooms, far from your family or kin. Some of your letters come from public institutions, prisons, or from unfortunate listeners driven away from their homes by their own transgressions. What indescribable comfort can be yours hearing Jesus say: “Lo, I am with you alway”! Blessed by that faith, you can turn your solitude into a mighty asset for happiness; you have the personal companionship of Christ for every moment you face adversity alone. When you are wheeled into the operating-room, when a drunken husband deserts you, when your children leave home, when sudden accident spares only you of all your family, then, praying in the name of that Savior, you can say: “I am alone, ‘yet I am not alone,’ for Thou, O Christ of Calvary’s compassion, art with me.”

Make Jesus your holy Example in suffering! Throughout the agonies of the crucifixion only one question escapes His lips, this haunting, disconsolate cry: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” During the rest of the six hours in which He suffered, suspended between heaven and earth, with the exception of a few other utterances, Christ maintained a holy silence. How often we scream and accuse God of unfairness when only trivial things go wrong! How easily we lose courage at our first rebuff! Now, if we would learn the lesson that comes from this loneliest death of all history, we must use the same source of strength from which Jesus drew. His cry “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” was a quotation from the Twenty-second Psalm, just as His last word, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” repeated the words of the Psalter. Jesus knew His Bible, and in the hour of His deepest sorrow the words of Scripture flashed across His mind. Oh, for a revival of a deeper study of the Bible throughout the nation! A personal and trustful knowledge of the Scriptures is the best insurance of victory over every sorrow. You can never go wrong if, following Christ on the cross, you take your Bible and daily memorize passages of promise for the safeguarding of your immortal soul. Notable leaders in all walks of life have found the citation of a passage from the psalms, the prophets, or particularly from Christ’s own lips a source of heavenly comfort and a sure defense against despair. Delve deeply into this divine Word, and in any crisis its divine wisdom will richly reward you!

As Jesus, praying to His Father, used this remarkable double address, the only repetition of its kind in the entire Scripture, “My God, My God,” to show that His faith triumphed over pain and forsakenness, so I ask for all of you this triumphant, doubt-removing trust which, crying, “My God, my God,” clings with double fervor to God the Father and Creator, God the Son and Redeemer, God the Spirit and Sanctifier. When in your dark moments you repeat, “My God, my God,” in Christ’s name, your Father will hear you, and you can exult: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Use these sacred words reverently in an age when grasping men begin almost every other sentence with “My God.” Profanity is always a most despicable vice; and this taking of the name of the Lord, our God, in vain by foul-mouthed unbelievers and sometimes—may Christ forgive them!—even by people who claim to be Christians, is entirely inexcusable. Speak devoutly when your lips utter the word “God” and He with whom nothing shall be impossible will bless you for your humility and faith.

Whenever it seems to you who are Christ’s that you are forsaken by God,—and today I have this special comfort for those heavily burdened souls who think that God has cut them off, who are driving their bodies and minds to the breaking-point because they believe they have become guilty of an unpardonable sin; if you ask, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”—turn to Christ on the cross; trust His love; pray as He did, “My God, my God,” and that faith must help you. He was not everlastingly deserted. Good Friday gave way to glorious Easter; and so the pathway in your life will be from trial to triumph. Even during days of burden, when you are bowed down by the pressure of agony, what comforting strength of soul and mind to know that Jesus, who was forsaken, understands the problems of those who think they are forsaken.

Through Christ your deep sorrows will always be removed, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but always at God’s right moment. Wait patiently for the Lord! Remember, when Cyrus Field sought to lay the great cable between this country and Europe, he met with repeated delays, disappointments, and ridicule. Time and again the cable snapped. He had to cross the ocean seventy­four times before the connection was secured between the two continents. Sometimes much time is required until the victorious contact between God and our lives is established. Often for the increasing of our faith, the purifying of our desires, the deepening of our sympathy, God permits His children to suffer; but the longer they suffer, the more glorious their deliverance. No agony was like unto the sorrow of Calvary; but no deliverance can compare with the triumph on the third day at the open grave.

My fellow-worshipers throughout the country and my friends beyond its borders, will this victory be yours? Today is Palm Sunday, the one Sunday that has a special message for those who once were Christ’s but who deserted Him, even as His countrymen acclaimed Him at His entrance into Jerusalem but five days later never raised their hands or voices to defend Him in His deepest sorrows. Jesus appeals to some of you who may have turned their backs on His outstretched arms, given up their church-membership, and proved unfaithful to His love. His nail-scarred hands are outstretched, beseeching you to come back to the love you have forsaken, yet the love that will never forsake you. Today, too, the week starts in which Jesus issues the strongest plea to sinners that even He, the almighty God, can make, the pleading of His sacred redeeming mercy: “‘Is it nothing to you’ that Jesus here suffers these indescribable tortures for your redemption?” Oh, may God give you the grace to fall on your knees while the mystery of the Savior’s death unfolds itself to your eyes! Before it is too late, before with stubborn and continued unbelief you harden your hearts, so that finally you cannot believe, come to the Christ of all mercy! Come, I beg you, to Him who not only cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” but whose Word, deathless, unchangeable, written particularly for you, promises: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee!”

God grant you this holy faith, through the crucified Christ, for your eternal salvation! Amen.

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

Date: March 26, 1939

Prayer for Light in Darkness

Jesus, Light of the world:

When Thou didst hang on the cross, darkness covered the earth to show the hatred with which Thy Father’s absolute holiness brands all sin. Sometimes we, too, find ourselves overclouded with the gloom of our own transgressions or the black night of a hundred heavy sorrows. In these trying hours comfort us with Thy Spirit. Show us that, when we sin, we shut out Thy light; teach us that, when we believe in Thee, we have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation. Remind us that the pall of suffering cannot last forever but must end in Thy gracious time, as the gloom over Golgotha was finally lifted. Thou art our Light, and in Thee can we find radiant gleams of guidance for any lightless moments, even for the darkness of death itself. Help us by Thy power and mercy to walk in Thy light, even though it be through the valley of the shadow. Because we are children of light, plant a deep-rooted abhorrence of sin in our hearts; and as this aversion to all things that displease Thee grows within us, our joy of life will constantly increase. Give us the grace to reflect Thy light into many gloomy hearts which still grope in darkness, so that we may continually come closer to Thee who art Love, Light, and Life eternal, our only Advocate and Mediator. Grant us Thy grace for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.Matthew 27:45

THE Talmud, sacred book of the Jews, tells a meaningful story about Rabbi Jochanan, president of the Sanhedrin, the Council soon after the Savior’s death. This Rabbi Jochanan was so renowned for his learning and so clear in his explanation of the Old Testament Scriptures that he was called “The Light.” Imagine, then, the surprise of his disciples when, visiting him in his last hour, they found him in tears, gripped by the fear of death. When they asked why he, “The Light,” could fall victim to such terror, he answered: “Two ways lie before me, one to Paradise and the other to hell, and I do not know which way will be mine. How, then, in this uncertainty, can I help weeping in terror?”—In the crisis of all existence, the moment of death, “The Light” had turned to darkness!

Have you ever noticed how, despite fame and learning, a similar blackness has overshadowed many at the approach of the end? Edward Gibbon, British historian and unbeliever, felt that gloom of despair and cried out: “All is dark and doubtful.” Thomas Hobbes, celebrated philosopher, Christless, helpless, hopeless, raised himself on his deathbed to gasp: “I am about to take a leap in the dark,” and then fell back dead. The German poet Goethe was overshadowed by heavy forebodings, and his last words were the plea: “Open the shutters and let in more light!” David Hume, British historian and philosopher, was so terrorized by darkness as his end drew near that he kept candles burning all night in his chamber. When man is confronted by eternity with no other guide than the light of human understanding, regardless of how self-possessed and widely acclaimed he may have been, in his last moments he faces the terrifying darkness of despair that made Voltaire’s nurse, leaving the death-chamber of that skeptic, vow: “For all the wealth of Europe I would never see another infidel die.”

Yet, thank God, there is One whose death, darker than the shadows of any human blackness, can bless your farewell to life with light. Trusting in Him, dying sinners have refused to let any night of death’s agony overcloud their joys. When the time comes for their release from life’s pain and sorrow, they can exult with these dying words of Augustus Toplady, beloved as the author of the glorious Gospel hymn “Rock of Ages”: “What bright sunshine has been spread over me! I have not the words to express it. It cannot be long now till my Savior will come, for surely no mortal man can live after glories that God has manifested to my soul. All is light, light, light,—the brightness of His own glory! O come, Lord Jesus, come! Come quickly!”

If you want to escape the appalling darkness of death; if you want light, not only for the last hour but for every hour, then dedicate these next moments to Christ; remove any disturbing hindrance which prevents you from concentrating your thoughts on a message for which you may thank God in eternity! Prepare now for a spiritual pilgrimage to the place of God’s sacred love and of man’s savage hatred, the skull-shaped hill outside the city wall, the Calvary of our Savior’s death agony. As the sun suddenly fails and gloom threatens to overwhelm, you can find light in this

DARKNESS OVER THE EARTH

to which Saint Matthew testifies in our text (chapter twenty-seven, verse forty-five): “From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”

I

IT POINTS TO THE DARKNESS OF SIN

Last Sunday we followed our Savior carrying His cross, as Simon of Cyrene, unexpectedly pressed into service, finished this task and carried it for Him to Calvary. No time was wasted after the death procession reached the place of execution. Perhaps the cross was laid on the ground, so that the long, heavy nails could be driven through the palms of the Savior’s hands and then into His feet. Or perhaps the upright post was first imbedded into the ground and the arms of Jesus nailed to the transverse section that was then raised and fastened to the vertical beam on which the feet were finally riveted. In either method, crucifixion becomes a means of torture invented to cause intense anguish and to prolong that agony to the limit of human endurance.

Today the cross has often become just another piece of jewelry. Even some unbelievers are ready to regard it as a symbol of sacrifice. The Church of Christ exalts it as a token of triumph. If only we could fully contrast with our glorified, bejeweled, and costly crosses the two pieces of wood to which the Savior was pinioned! What pain He endured from the festering wounds on His pierced hands and feet, the exposure to the noonday sun, the tension of His body, the inflammation and fever that increased the longer He was suspended from those timbers of torture; especially, what inner pains of soul distress overshadowed Him when, suffering in my stead and yours, He bore the punishment of all sin, we shall never know, for this sorrow is past understanding! Were all this anguish momentary; had Jesus been executed with only the few seconds’ pain that modern capital punishment inflicts, even that torture would have been so terrifying that it might have seemed an eternity; but what shall we say when we remember that for hours the Savior hung there between the earth that rejected Him and the heaven that forsook Him?

Uncomplainingly, however, does our Lord suffer this ordeal. As we examine His earlier words from the cross, we see that He thinks not of Himself or of His own pain­racked, fever-gripped body. First of all He pleads: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What a compelling example of reconciled love, charity, forgiveness for our enemies Christ offers us in His plea for pardon! Take these words to heart if your souls are steeped in hatred and ask God for the same spirit of reconciliation if you have not learned to maintain peace and harmony and love in your home.

Again Jesus speaks. Seeing His mother at the foot of the cross, His love for her whose bosom once cradled His infant form cries out: “Behold thy son,” and addressing John, the disciple of His affection, He adds: “Behold thy mother.” What a compelling text these words are as they come from Jesus’ death-marked lips and now speed their way across the continent, beseeching you fathers and mothers in the United States and in Canada and you sons and daughters who live your own selfish, separate lives, to learn of the dying Christ how holy are the bonds that should bind parents and children!

Once more, before the agony reaches its climax, Jesus speaks; and again He is concerned, not with Himself but with the appeal from one of the criminals crucified at His side: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” In answer the suffering Christ gives this priceless pledge: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” The dying thief, a wretched sinner at noon, is to become a redeemed saint before nightfall! By the clear statement of Jesus, especially sacred to us as one of His last utterances, the penitent is promised heaven without condition or payment, without purgatory or any intermediate state, without the contribution of meritorious works. How I wish that I could stress this imperishable, Heaven-born truth of Christ’s perfect and complete redemption! If in your families some have died looking to Jesus Christ as the only Savior, you need not, indeed you cannot, pay or pray to have their souls brought to heaven. No matter what men may tell you in one of the most destructive delusions ever practiced under the name of Christ’s holy religion, when Jesus on the cross promised the repentant robber, now believing on Him, that within a few hours he would be saved for eternity, the same Lord assures you in scores of passages that you cannot pay your way into heaven since Christ paid all; you need no further purging, since the unbreakable Word pledges: “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin”; you cannot have prayers effectively said for your soul; for when Jesus on the cross cried: “It is finished,” He meant exactly what these words say, that everything necessary for your redemption has been completed. On the other hand, if you have friends and relatives who spurn the grace of Christ and rebel against His Word, then all the prayers and payments you or anyone else offers cannot change the destiny of that Christless soul. For here is not merely my opinion nor the teaching of the Christian Church but the Word of God: “It is appointed unto men once to die,” and after this not a second chance, not a period of improving, purifying preparation for heaven, “but after this the Judgment.” If the Spirit of God in His mercy will now bring this promise of full grace through the Savior’s blood into only one heart and teach a single soul that Christ has paid all, paid fully, paid for everyone, how I will thank God in all eternity for the privilege of broadcasting!

When Jesus Christ had spoken this radiant comfort, it seems that His suffering assumed greater intensity. His thoughts and prayers now begin to center on Himself and His own pain in body and spirit. About noon, the sixth hour, as time was then figured, a miracle of God marks this new phase of Christ’s anguish. Without warning the sun is darkened, not in an eclipse, as some have suggested,—for astronomy knows nothing of an eclipse at this time,—but in a supernatural, foreboding manner. Don’t overlook this basic, practical truth that the Almighty, whom many refuse to recognize in His personal power, controls the heavenly bodies; that the solar system is not an intricate piece of mechanism which runs by itself; that sunrise and sunset are not merely the perpetual movements of the universe, but that the God who created sun, moon, and stars also directs their course as He upholds “all things by the word of His power.” Within a few moments after His miracle-working might begins its operation, “there was darkness over all the land,” perhaps over all the earth, as the words in the original may imply and as testimony from historical sources may indicate. At midday, when the sun should have been highest and brightest, it lost its light, and black midnight enshrouded men.

Bible interpreters, seeking to explain the significance of this darkness, have offered many reverent thoughts. Some tell us nature itself recoiled from witnessing that deepest depravity when men nailed the Son of God to an accursed tree. Others believe that Jesus at least for a few hours was to be spared the ordeal of witnessing the blasphemous acts practiced by His taunting enemies. Still others maintain that just as the Holy of Holies was cut off from common view by a curtain, so the sun was covered with a black crepe that the sinful eyes of men might not behold the depths of the Savior’s dying agony. Yet these explanations, it always seems to me, fall completely short of presenting the one decisive reason God permitted engrossing darkness to overshadow the world.

To understand the basic cause, I hold, we must recall that throughout the Scriptures darkness of this nature is evidence of God’s displeasure, proof of His hatred of sin. When the sun was dimmed on Good Friday, it was a universal demonstration of our heavenly Father’s aversion to the worldwide wickedness that His own Son bore upon the cross. Day turned to night at the crucifixion to show men how the brightness of purity and holiness had been lost through their transgressions. Noonday darkened to midnight to emphasize that the holy Son of God in the dazzling white of His divine purity had taken the black, damning guilt of human iniquity upon Himself. No wonder that before the pall was lifted, the suffering Christ, for whom every moment of enshrouding gloom added the weight of His Father’s punishment of sin, screamed: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” No wonder that immediately after the crucifixion the multitude that had witnessed the darkness smote upon their breasts as they fled from Calvary! No wonder that we, too, are gripped by this pall as evidence of God’s displeasure; for whenever in the wide world of today men rise up against God and His Christ as they did at Calvary, a heavy, black cloud overshadows them, not a darkness that robs us of physical light, but one that deprives us of the illumination and guidance for the soul and sometimes for the mind.

Need I tell you in these last days, immediately before the return of Jesus to judge the quick and the dead, that darkness covers wide areas of our world? I do not now mean the vast stretches in Central Asia, equatorial Africa, upper-Amazonian Brazil, where ten millions of human beings live on day after day and year after year without hearing even one syllable of the grace and truth that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” This ignorance is tragic enough, and if it were not for the mercy of God, I wonder how the churches could face the Almighty when their members often spend dollars for luxuries, fineries, vanities, sometimes even for vice and sin, and then give so few pennies for the missionary expansion of the Savior’s kingdom, that in 1900 years the churches have not yet fulfilled the divine commission “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” I think rather of the gloom over countries that have had the Gospel for centuries, the murky pall settling over Europe and America, the darkness in our international life, as nations, frantically rearming, are definitely realigning themselves for new hostilities; our industrial darkness, with its commercial wars, its labor conflicts, its unemployed millions; social darkness, with multitudes in a land as wealthy as the United States, doomed to continued poverty and destitution, facing a future that, humanly speaking, is absolutely hopeless; political darkness, with tremendous areas controlled by the tyranny of a dictator or, far worse, by the bloody rule of dripping Red radicalism, and the United States definitely destined to become a battleground for Fascism and Communism,—these heavy shadows come from the same displeasure of God over sin that once engrossed Calvary with its blackness. No matter how wealthy, influential, resourceful, any nation is; no matter how far-sighted and far-reaching its programs of progress may be,—if these plans contradict the Word of God or if, entirely commendable in themselves, they are accompanied by irreligion and blasphemy in the lives of the people, they are destined to failure.

Consider the darkness in American church-life, where twentieth-century Judases and skeptical churchmen surround the cross of Jesus with a barrage of unbelief, so that the Christ of atoning love cannot be seen clearly; picture the moral darkness stigmatizing our age with profanity and perjury, revolt against parental authority and the renouncing of interest in children, hatred and murder, adultery and sex perversions, theft and defrauding, false witnessing and gossiping, covetousness and greed; add to this the educational blindness which makes some of our schools recruiting-stations for unbelief and pioneer outposts of atheism,—these beclouding sins are responsible for the tragedy that after ten years of the most widespread efforts for human relief and improvement the world has ever seen conditions in 1939 in many ways are not better than in 1929, in some respects definitely worse. If it is true, as I have repeatedly emphasized on the basis of the Word of God, that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people,” then we ought to stop talking about theoretical ideals in America and concentrate our efforts upon the administration of justice and the punishment and restriction of crime through those means which God expects every government, Christian and non-Christian, to use. Unless there is a definite moral improvement in the American nation, and I appeal to the Christians of this country to give their help in organized efforts of faith, prayer, and Christian life,—unless the reign of open corruption and vice is checked, this country, regardless of all the optimistic predictions of statesmen and diplomats, will grope in darkness such as has never previously covered this land.

The gloom at Golgotha above all must remind us of the penalty of unforgiven transgressions which dims our own happiness. If I could speak to you individually to analyze the difficulties that embitter your lives, the haze in which you stagger about uncertainly, I know that in each instance the hideous effect of sin would soon be uncovered—sin in your life or in someone else’s life, sin which you have committed or which you have suffered. If your home has been broken, you need not seek far to find the cause in lust, hot temper, drunkenness, or gambling. If you are deprived of the opportunity of working, the process may be somewhat more complicated, but finally you will find one of the hundred forms of selfishness which are responsible for our industrial difficulties. If your life is darkened by sickness, the cause may be the sin of a drunken driver, your ruinous living, or that inborn wickedness under which every one of us finally pays the penalty of death.

God was thinking of you and me when that heavy blackness hung over Golgotha at noonday, enshrouding the cross on which Christ paid the price of our sin; and it is my prayer that this evidence of our misdeeds will sink deeply into our souls, not only to remind us of our own unworthiness but particularly to prepare our hearts for that greater grace by which every shadow overcasting our lives may be removed.

II

IT HELPS TO LEAD TO THE LIGHT OF GRACE

Through that faith we can acclaim the Christ of the murky cross “the Light of the world.” For as every other part of our Savior’s suffering, so this darkness can help bless us with heavenly brightness. I remind you, first of all, that Christ, who felt the weight of this pitch blackness over His cross, is your sympathetic Savior and consoling Friend. When gloom grips your heart as you look out into the dark world for one small ray of hope, what a blessed assurance to know that a darkness far deeper than the annoyances in your life once completely encircled the sin-bearing Savior! What a privilege in those moments of blindness, when your hands reach out for someone to whom you can cling with death-defying certainty, that you, through faith, can grasp Jesus in prayer and, kneeling before Him, can say: “O Christ, my Christ of the cross, the midnight of sorrows has come upon me. No one on earth knows how I grope for light and relief, how I suffer under this black and heavy cloud. But You know my agony, for You were in a darkness a thousand times more impenetrable than my night of sorrows; I know that my prayer will find a responsive answer in Your heart of love.” Those who acclaim Christ in this way as a Friend, a Sympathizer, to whom they can intimately and confidently pour out the sorrows of their own heart, will testify that they would not exchange this divine source of sympathy for all the pearls in the ocean and all the diamonds hidden in earth’s untouched treasure-houses. An old Arabic proverb says: “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” In a much higher sense some of you, looking to Christ in faith and beholding the incomparably darker pall of His soul-enshrouding gloom, will never complain of the dusk in your lives.

These lightless hours on Calvary offer much more than sympathy. They teach us that “weeping may endure for a night,” but that light dawns with the morning of deliverance. The text records that this darkness was “over all the land” “from the sixth hour . . . unto the ninth hour,” and then that pall was raised. Lift up your heads, bowed down in grief though they may be, to hear this truth: Through Christ all darkness must end. The black sorrows in your life may last longer than three hours of some excruciating pain; or the three days that the lifeless body of a beloved one remains in your home before it is consigned to the grave; or three months of desperate effort to recover from accident and disaster; or three hard, grinding, impoverished years of relief, part-time work, unemployment; or three decades of unhappy home-life; or threescore years of a sickly, maimed, crippled body or of blinded sight; yet, however long this darkness prevails, if you have learned to glory in the Cross of Christ, it must finally vanish and give way to light. As the sun once more shone forth over Calvary and Jesus could say: “It is finished,” to signify that His agony and its purpose were completed; as He could declare in the last word from the cross: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” so the time will come when you, too, can say: “It is finished,” when you, too, can entrust your soul into the hands of your heavenly Father. This deliverance may dawn more quickly than you dare expect, or it may come, as it came to Jesus, in your last hour; but always you, the heavy­laden, the burden bearers, the downcast, the sightless, hopeless, joyless, find heavenly comfort in the promise that the darkness overhanging your life will not continue forever. It must stop. Even while it lasts, you can turn to Jesus and say:

Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,

It is not night if Thou be near.

Who can describe the light that surrounded the blessed Savior when darkness disappeared? They laid Him in the grave, but He could not be kept there. On the third day He rose again, and all gloom was banished in His exalted glory. If you read the last book of the Bible, with its prevision of eternity, that heaven which God in this moment offers each penitent sinner through faith in Christ, you will be impressed with the frequent references to light, crystal clearness, radiance, and dazzling white that Saint John employs as he portrays that homeland in the “better country.” That eternal victory over darkness can be ours in Christ’s resurrection to glory. With the promise that heaven is for all believers, that Jesus preceded us on the Good Friday 1900 years ago to prepare a place for us, to write our names in the completed Book of Life, we can have light for any darkness that may seek to obscure our path. Those who are Christ’s have God’s Word, which is to be a light unto their path. They are blessed by the faith which in Baptism and Holy Communion can help dispel gloom. Theirs is the privilege of speaking confident prayers by which every enemy of their soul can be shattered.

At the beginning of the last century, when Napoleon mapped his campaign against Russia, that entire nation—how different it is now!—united in public and private prayer for God’s protection. When the French emperor heard of these petitions for his defeat, he replied sarcastically: “So they want to conquer me with prayers? Bayonets alone can decide the contest. . . . With my five hundred thousand warriors I will push forward to Moscow and put their prayers to shame.” You know how his blasphemy was silenced and those petitions answered. As his French legions marched on, they found the country deserted and all food supplies destroyed. Besides, God made the winter of unparalleled severity during that campaign. Almost two thirds of a million well-equipped French soldiers had entered Russia, but only sixteen hundred fit for service were able to flee. Napoleon himself barely escaped, disguised as a miserable fugitive.—With the same prayerful trust in God, darkness and defeat which seem inevitable can overnight be turned into spiritual light and soul victory. The cross can never be completely hidden from the believer’s view, even by the blackest cover men’s hatred can produce. For the believer it will always gleam through the night of sorrows, and its radiance is never more brilliant than during the last shadows preceding the heavenly light. In the moment of death, when all on earth vanishes, the eyes of faith, raised confidently to Jesus, behold Him in His glory. God grant that for our last hour our prayer, springing from a glowing confidence in Jesus, may be:

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes,

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

Amen.

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

Date: March 19, 1939

An Entreaty for Strength in Cross-Bearing

Christ, our cross-bearing Savior:

Accept, we beseech Thee, the thanks of our trusting hearts because Thou, as the Substitute for sinners and the Ransom for their transgressions, didst take upon Thy shoulders the timber of death. Enlarge our faith, so that we may be ready to take up the cross and without complaint follow in Thy footsteps. Through Thy marvelous, hidden ways Thou dost oftentimes send visitations to test our sincerity, increase our moral resistance, soften our hearts in sympathy, and remove the dross of worldliness from the pure gold of our faith. Blessed, we declare, is the cross Thou layest upon us for this sacred purpose, and twice blessed are we when we bear the reproach of the world for Thy sake. May Thy Spirit fortify our wavering hearts with that firmer reliance by which we may constantly look for the crown after the cross, knowing that, if we suffer for Thee, we shall be glorified with Thee. Visit all cross-bearers with Thine understanding love and show them that Thou hast suffered incomparably more in the sin-atoning agonies laid on Thy soul than all the grief-stricken children of men have ever endured.  In this way help us to find in Thee victory over every besetting sin, patience for every tribulation, since we know that all things work together with divine harmony for them that love Thee. We do love Thee, O Christ; so bless our afflictions as Thou hast promised. Amen.

He, bearing His cross, went forth.John 19:17

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear His cross. – Matthew 27:32

And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning unto them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me but weep for yourselves and for your children.Luke 23:27-28

THE recent international upheaval, which again redrew the lines of a central European area, marks the end of the Czech state of Bohemia; but no army will ever be strong enough to destroy the memory of the greatest Bohemian, John Huss, a forerunner of the mighty Reformation, who more than five hundred years ago was mercilessly burned at the stake. The entire account of his trial and execution reveals remarkable similarity to the Lenten story of our Savior’s sorrows. Like our Lord, John Huss was betrayed by deceit. His own emperor had promised him safety; yet that pledge was treacherously retracted. Both Jesus Christ and John Huss came into priestly disfavor because they preached the truth of the Scriptures; both were maligned by the perjury of false witnesses; tried before church councils that violated the fundamentals of justice; condemned by religious leaders and then delivered to civil authorities. In mockery they dressed Christ with a crimson robe and put a crown of thorns on His head; and in similar malice Huss was arrayed in a priestly robe, with a cap of ridicule. Huss, too, was led in public procession to the place of his execution, and on this way he also addressed the people lining the streets. The Bohemian martyr, like his Savior, suffered the tragedy of being deserted and denied particularly by those who, like Peter, had pledged him loyalty, but in the hour of his persecution turned from him. Like Christ on the cross, Huss at the stake prayed for his enemies; he, too, repeated the words “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” before his triumphant soul winged its way to heaven.

Whatever may happen to Bohemia, the memory of John Huss will not perish. His courage during persecution, his steadfastness under torture, his joy when confronted with death, will live as an outstanding example of the faith that willingly carries the cross of Christ.

We need immeasurably more of that readiness to follow our Savior in His suffering. Who knows with any degree of assurance what the future may bring the members of Christ’s Church, in an age when national existence can be destroyed overnight and forces hostile to the Gospel have increased with alarming power? If even Christians forget that the apostles of Jesus warn all His followers that they “must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven,” I know that our pleasure-bent day has little interest in a sermon on cross-bearing. Yet, because we may face agonies far more terrifying than the worst we have ever known, I ask you to follow Jesus

CARRYING THE CROSS TO CALVARY

and to heed the lessons contained in our text (Saint John nineteen, verse seventeen, and parallels): “He, bearing His cross, went forth.” “And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear His cross.” “And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning unto them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

I

THE WARNING CHRIST’S CROSS-BEARING TEACHES

Proof of the cold-blooded hatred which condemned Jesus may be found in the unbounded haste with which the execution of the death penalty was begun. Pilate had hardly given in to the demands of the priests and sentenced Jesus to the cross,—against all evidence, against his own conscience, the intuition of his wife, the statements of our Lord Himself,—when the death march to Calvary started. Roman custom required that two days elapse between the death-sentence and its execution. In our own country we permit months and sometimes years to intervene before justice demands its full payment. After the Lindbergh trial was concluded, more than a year passed before punishment was completed. In the murder trial of a New York police lieutenant almost three years ran their course before judgment was finally concluded. In Kentucky it was discovered lately that a man sentenced to the gallows five years ago was still unpunished. In the case of Christ hardly two hours and a half had passed between the time that He first appeared before Pilate and now that He prepared for His last journey. Hardly two and one half hours; yet in that time He had been sent to Herod and had twice faced a hearing in Pilate’s court!

About nine o’clock on Good Friday morning, then, our Savior and the two criminals to be crucified with Him were on the way to Calvary. Jesus, the Man whom nobody wanted,—Judas had sold Him; Peter denied Him; Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests, delivered Him to the civil authorities; Pilate sent Him to Herod; Herod returned Him to Pilate; Pilate sought to give Him to the Jews; the Jews, preferring Barabbas, thrust Him back to Pilate,—this blessed Savior, for whom every one tried to escape responsibility but could not (even as you and I can never get rid of Jesus and must either accept Him for our blessing or reject Him for our destruction), this Christ of the bleeding back and the blood-marked brow, is now forced to carry His heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem, past the city gate and along the Calvary road. Not even in the last moments of His life was any consideration shown Him; instead with heavy, halting steps He had to bear the cross that soon would bear Him.

While many legendary stories are told concerning the death march, the Scriptures themselves record only two incidents, and I shall take the second first. Because it was the day before a spectacular festival and multitudes had come up to Jerusalem for the Passover, the throng following Jesus and the soldiers was doubtless larger than usual. Notable among those who accompanied Christ was a large group of women. Not a word is said about the men; but here again the women, always noted for their interest in Christ, not only followed Him but bemoaned Him, showing their protest against the judicial murder soon to be enacted. Their hearts bled with sorrow as they recalled how Christ, staggering under the cross, had led a life of love, complete self-denial, and unlimited sacrifice for others. Perhaps Jesus had taken some of their children into His arms, healed their sick, and helped their suffering ones; and as they beat their hands upon their breasts and the dirge of their lament pierced the air, Jesus, serene even in His last moments, stopped for an instant to preach His last sermon, addressing it to these mourners. “Daughters of Jerusalem,” He cried, “weep not for Me but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Not in rebuke but in compassionate appeal He tells them: “I do not need your tears. They cannot help Me, neither can they benefit you. Rather ‘weep for yourselves,’ your own sins, for your part in this crucifixion, your share in the guilt that sends Me to the cross! Weep ‘for your children’ and for the terror-filled days that lie before you, when barren mothers will thank God that they are childless, when such horror will reign that you will look up to these stony mountains of Judea and ask them to fall upon you and cover you completely to escape the horror of that doom.”

How forcefully this warning was later fulfilled in the lives of those who were children at the time Christ bore His cross! What appalling vengeance was taken for the crucifixion! When Jerusalem was besieged, so many of the Savior’s countrymen were crucified that space for planting more crosses was at a premium. The supply of wood was exhausted, and the Roman soldiers fiendishly invented new methods of crucifixion. How clearly this warning rings through the ages as Christ still tells us: “Weep not for Me”! Jesus wants more than human sympathy. Too many are not able to rise above a mild compassion for Christ. They seem touched by the depth of His agony; they, too, may even shed tears for His suffering; but when the decision finally comes, they wash their hands of Jesus, leave Him to the mercy of His enemies, shake their heads, and say, “What a shame!” I can show you plenty of sorrow over Christ—in the radical pulpit, where Jesus is regarded simply as a victim of unfortunate circumstances, as one of many condemned unjustly, yet as nothing more, and where there is no acceptance of the real Christ and the reason for humbling Himself and becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” We have rows of books in which the authors tearfully sentimentalize on a human Christ. Even certain Jewish Rabbis have appealed for a revision of the death-sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin. But all this is not enough. Jesus wants worship, not weeping; belief, not bemoaning; loyalty to Him as your immortal God, not lament for Him as your mortal hero. Today, eternally triumphant, the anguish of the cross overcome, He does not need your tears; He wants your heart. Give Him your heart, O fellow-worshipers, I beseech you!

“Weep for yourselves,” Jesus repeats to this generation, and surely we have cause for continued tears of repentance over our own sins, weakness, failure, when we think of the stifling of the conscience and the degeneracy about us. “Weep for yourselves,” His word appeals as He reminds us of our personal transgressions and the never-ending punishment which, if unforgiven, they must bring upon us. “Weep for yourselves,” the voice of God warns all those who laugh at sin, but whose end will be marked by “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” If you have never felt a heart-shaking sorrow over the wrong in your lives, then behold Christ as He marches to Calvary, and “weep for yourselves”! But with your repentance combine the faith which believes that here on the Calvary road Christ bears the cross you should have borne, suffers in your stead, and prepares to die as your Substitute. Following Him, learn that you must do more than weep. It is not enough that tears stream down a drunkard’s face when he thinks of his debauches. A thief cannot cry himself into God’s favor. Those who have broken God’s commandment of purity can sob all day and night, but their moaning and groaning will never cancel the charges against them. Unbelievers, skeptics, Christ-deniers, know how to sigh and scream, but God is not moved by wailing. He wants faith. He asks that with this sorrow over our sins we combine a strong, unshakable confidence in Christ and His cross-bearing as the divine guarantee of our pardon and “perfect peace.”

“Weep for your children,” the Savior tells us, too, as we behold Him on the way of sorrows to the cross. Was there ever a time when this warning should ring more dearly? Picture the plight of American childhood today! Many babies born into the world are not welcome, even in childless families. When children do come, with all the opportunities they have today, is it not true that they often grow up against a background of crime, darker than we have ever known, so that in this generation the curve of youthful crime has received its greatest upswing? Many of our American children attend schools that are entirely destitute of religious foundation, or even with definitely anti-Biblical tendencies; millions of boys and girls are without even the few morsels of Christian training presented by the Sunday-school—all of them surrounded by the unfortunate temptations of crime pictures, crime stories, crime broadcasts. Once more I extend to you the invitation which has been accepted by some from coast to coast: Consider the Christian schools supported by my Church! Write us for particulars and let us tell you about the comprehensive system of religious education in which every branch of instruction is saturated with a reverence for the Word of God, that great Christian day-school enterprise which is open free of charge to your children if you live within reach of one of these schools.

The interests of our children become the more imperative when we face the facts and realize that, unless God in His mercy intervenes, we are on a straight road to a war that may be the breakdown of Western civilization. Over in Switzerland at this time of year travelers in the Alps are warned to pass certain places as quietly as possible. The steep slopes above them have been piled high with snow so evenly balanced and now so loosened by the sun’s warmth that a shouting voice or the report of a gun may break that equilibrium and release a fearful avalanche, which can destroy everything in its path. Is not this the picture of our world, dangerously poised on the slopes of international hatred? And more! Do we not hear the shouting and shooting intended to upset the balance and for personal or national profit bring down that avalanche? Yes, “weep for your children” as you visualize the scourge of war beating your sons and daughters into economic slavery and see the chaos of Communism that will follow the next conflict, leaving your children m the savagery of atheism and bestiality.

“Weep for your children,” fathers and mothers of America, but pray for them, too! Fall on your knees before God Almighty in the name of Jesus Christ and plead that He who “breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder” may m this twilight hour of human existence preserve us from complete darkness, shatter all who rise up, in our country and abroad, to incite the passions of hatred and promote armed aggression. Pray with all the fervor you can command that God, with whom all things are possible, may give millions in this nation and abroad not the tears of despair but of repentance over sin and the tears of joy over forgiveness, so that our country and every country may have in the confession of Christ as God and Savior a powerful moral reserve and an effective salt to preserve our generation from decay.

II

THE COMFORT CHRIST’S CROSS-BEARING PREACHES

Before Jesus spoke this message to the mourning women, it seems that He collapsed under the weight of the cross. Then, apparently by chance but in reality by the direction of God, the soldiers found Simon of Cyrene, a stranger from distant Africa, perhaps a secret follower of Jesus; and he was drafted to carry the cross of Christ.

When Simon paused at the roadside as Jesus passed, he had little thought that in a moment or two he would feel the weight of that heavy timber on his shoulders. In our lives, too, the cross may come quickly and unexpectedly. No scientific adviser can foretell the moment disaster will strike. Not even religious leaders can forecast the hour of sorrow. The late Pope Pius, according to a United Press dispatch of May 30, 1935, predicted that “he would live to open the holy door in the holy year of 1950.” He fell short of that mark by twelve years! Who of you knows what may happen within the next month and the next week? Almost every day I receive letters that tell of accident, unexpected sickness, or death since the last broadcast.

Simon was forced into this service. His whole soul doubtless rebelled against the thought of helping a convicted criminal, while the curious and scoffing multitude looked on. None of us volunteers to carry the cross. We, too, seek to escape its weight of sorrow and reproach. Yet our heavenly Father sometimes compels us to bend our shoulders under heavy affliction; then we groan; we ask, “Why?” We begin to accuse God of partiality in burdening us.

Even some churches that bear Christ’s name have been so misguided by human delusions of grandeur as to forget the words of Jesus, “Take up the cross and follow Me.” During recent weeks we have heard much about the size and numbers of churches, their riches, imposing ceremonies, lavish display; and it would be hard to find much cross­bearing under this power and wealth. But influence and money can never build God’s kingdom or improve it spiritually. “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” to our day. Because of its uncompromising protest against all sin in high and low places, its message for trusting faith and complete humility, the Church of Jesus Christ will never meet with universal response and acceptance; it will always remain a minority. The ancient congregations of the martyrs exerted stronger influence than the modern churches of millionaires. A small band of persecuted believers in the catacombs had the faith that could conquer the entire Roman Empire. At the time of the Reformation a numerically insignificant group, with mighty rulers arrayed against them, helped to rebuild and restore Christianity. Today, too, the helpful influence in American religious life comes not from the dollar sign or the social register or the imposing census figures, but from those who are willing to take up their crosses and follow Jesus.

How little we hear of cross-bearing today! We have political priests ceaselessly discussing labor bills, monetary proposals, the Jewish question, Congress and its legislation, the courts and their decisions, Europe and its problems,—all in the name of Christ but not in the spirit of Christ, who rejects each attempt to spread His kingdom through force and tells every modern Peter to put up his sword again into its place.

An unmistakable desire in some Protestant and Catholic circles seeks to build a large, powerful ecclesiastical machine for controlling Congress by telegrams and lobbies, regulating the affairs of the Government by organized political parties. In all this the protest of Jesus is forgotten, “My kingdom is not of this world”; the cross-bearing character of Christ and His true disciples is pushed aside as a disturbing vision. Wherever clerics have tried to direct the Government instead of preparing men for heaven, to proclaim hatred rather than love, a dazzling program of better days for this world in place of a true plan that leads to the holiness of the next world, they have become politicians instead of preachers, and it is time now that their own church-bodies disavow their support. No false leader is worse than the self-appointed prophet in clerical garb who continually promises prosperity, better times, improved living conditions, but does not keep his pledge and has no time for the divine wisdom which makes Christians bear the cross instead of displaying the crown.

Simon experienced the blessings of cross-bearing in rich measure. What comfort it must have brought him in later years to know that he had shared the burden of Christ! What deeper faith must have been his when he realized what it meant to stand at Calvary, there on the quaking earth and beneath the darkened heavens, to behold Him who gave His life as the ransom for all! Simon who bore the shame of the cross lived to exalt its grace. Not only do we have reason to assume that he believed in Christ, but we also infer that he told his children of the hallowed hour when he helped Jesus on His way to Calvary. Later, when Saint Paul sends his greetings to the Christians in Rome, he includes one of Simon’s sons, Rufus, who had become a pillar of the congregation. Thus the faith of Simon, strengthened by the cross, touched three continents. He had come from Africa, and tradition says that he returned there to proclaim the message of the Crucified. In Asia he had come close to Jesus and told others of His love. In Europe his own son was building the Church of the Savior.

The cross that you bear in the Redeemer’s name may help to prepare you, too, for its far-reaching benediction. Once our sins are removed through Christ, every affliction of the body is turned into a marked advantage of the soul. Every moment of suffering can remind you of the Crucified; for in your anguish you can think of Him who labored under burdens indescribably harder than yours. You live in a fellowship of sorrow with Jesus, in which your thoughts repeatedly center on Him, the divine Martyr for your sins; and anything that makes you think of your Lord, even though it be pain and disappointment, is a blessed gift of God. To behold Christ, to understand what His cross-carrying means to you, is to come closer to God and nearer to heaven.

Again, burden-bearing, as contradictory as this is to human reason, is strong proof of God’s love. Every father and mother in this audience knows that it is far harder to chastise a child or disappoint it, for its own good, than to grant its wish. From the earthly point of view it would be far more attractive if God were to give His children nothing but sunshine and happiness. But He loves us with such perfect devotion that He is ready to permit pain and grief to overshadow the lives of His spiritual sons and daughters, so that they may be kept from sin, preserved in the faith, deepened in their trust. Periods of financial hardships are not accidental. They are rather part of a program directed by divine Providence. To those who have deprived themselves of Christ’s love, these visitations of unemployment, poverty, hunger, are the sentences of punishment imparted by His justice. To the Christian the same unemployment, poverty, hunger, are always remedial in their purpose. Without Christ there is no answer to the problem of cross-bearing,—only black philosophy of despair that grips broken hearts. The truth was graphically illustrated not long ago when a man afflicted with an illness believed incurable wrote an Ohio newspaper asking its readers for advice. Should he continue to suffer or end it all? Do you know that one third of those who offered their counsel told the poor man that the governmental system was responsible for his sorrow? What comfort could he find in this? One eighth of the answers suggested that he shoot himself or jump to death from a viaduct—the desperate failure of unbelief! We plead with him and all the overburdened of our age rather to “behold the Man,” to hear Him say: “Let not your heart be troubled!” “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Who can measure the strength of faith gained from lessons learned in the school of the cross? With our thoughts again directed by the political crisis to Central Europe and Bohemia, I recall that contemporary of John Huss, Jerome of Prague, who experienced the blessing of cross-bearing. He had testified to the full truth of Christ and the power of His blood in a day when that loyalty meant persecution. Haled before a church court, he was overcome by fear and denied his Savior in the hope of securing pardon. But God did not give him freedom. He was held in prison longer, and this continued carrying of the cross brought him closer to his Savior. With a strong faith he publicly proclaimed that “he had never committed a greater sin and crime than when he wrote his Recantation and denied his Savior.” He, too, was sentenced to die at the stake. But all fear of men had now left him, and someone who saw him die writes: “With a joyful brow, a cheerful countenance, and an elated face he went to his doom. He feared not the flames nor the torments of death. None of the Stoics ever suffered death with as content and grave a mind, and he indeed seemed to desire it. When he had reached the spot where he was to die, he divested himself of his garments and knelt down in prayer. Logs of wood were then piled about his body up to his breast. . . . When they were lighted, he began to sing a hymn.” And suffering the same death as Huss, with the same glorious ending, he found his faith strengthened by affliction!

If you want that faith with its strength for every weak moment, its light in all darkness, its guidance for all uncertainty, stand once more on the way of the cross between Jerusalem and Calvary, and as Jesus goes forth under the weight of His sorrows, step to His side and promise:

Jesus, I my cross have taken,

All to leave and follow Thee;

Destitute, despised, forsaken,

Thou from hence my All shalt be.

May God grant this to you all, for Jesus’, our Savior’s, sake! Amen.

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

Date: March 12, 1939

Prayer for Deeper Devotion to Christ

Thou Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, our despised and rejected Lord Jesus:

When we see Thee robed in purple and crowned with a circlet of thorns, may Thy Spirit move us to more than sympathy! Grant us that penetrating vision by which we change Pilate’s words “Behold the Man” into the cry of faith “Behold thy God!” In an age that denies Thy deity only to emphasize Thy humanity, we need to cling even more closely to the heavenly comfort we find in the truth that Thou, O Christ, indescribably more than a human sufferer, art our divine Redeemer. We cannot be told too often that all Thine anguish of both body and soul was endured for our sake, that by Thy stripes we are healed from the mortal sickness of sin, and that through the death of the cross we need die no more. Endow us with a perpetually penitent faith by which these supreme truths never lose their personal force for us or are heedlessly accepted as commonplaces of our creed. On the contrary, as by Thy mercy Thou dost not lay our indifference to our charge, stir our souls into flame at every mention of Thy suffering in our behalf. Enrich us with a devotion to Thee that constantly becomes deeper, stronger, purer.—In this way we have asked of Thee, merciful Savior, not worldly wealth and wisdom but heavenly power; and Thou hast promised to answer these petitions. Hear us, then, and bless us eternally! Amen.

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man!John 19:5

WHEN the Governor of Texas recently granted a convicted slayer a thirty-day reprieve from the electric chair, so that the prisoner might suffer more by facing death night and day for another month, this action provoked a storm of indignant protest. In vain did the governor explain that he had another purpose in mind; he was roundly condemned on the charge of unwarranted cruelty. People in our country are unwilling that criminals, even murderers of defenseless victims, should suffer more than their legal punishment. The gallows, with the hangman’s noose, black hood, and trapdoor, were regarded as too repulsive and gave way to the electric chair. Then the shaved head, slit trouser, sponges, and the blue flame of 10,000 volts in turn became abhorrent, and the lethal gas chamber is gaining in popularity as its substitute. Indeed, voices are raised in protest against any form of capital punishment, in clear contradiction to God’s plain Word. For ours is a humane age, and not even a high official can escape rebuke when he says that he wants to prolong the agony of a condemned criminal.

What an appalling contrast in the treatment which Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, suffered in His trial before Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea! No voices were raised to protest against the atrocities He suffered! Not one of the thousands whom He had helped and healed pleaded for Jesus and begged consideration for His cause! A groundless legend in the Talmud declares that for forty days (!) before Jesus was crucified the chief priests sent a herald throughout Judea asking for anyone who could give testimony in His behalf; and while otherwise wholly fictitious, this story expresses one truth when it reports that not a single person appeared to help Jesus. Instead, when Christ faced Pilate in His last hearing, as the issue of life or death approached final decision, to appease the priests and the incited mob, Pilate ordered Jesus scourged. Do you know what that means? The sacred writers pass over that shocking scene quickly, perhaps because, if the details were fully known, too many would faint in terror when reading the account of this torture. We recoil from the thought of slave-traders swinging snake whips on black backs. “How could that ever happen in the United States?” we protest. But think of that Roman lash, loaded with lead, tipped with spikes, as it tore into the naked shoulders and back, encircled the chest and sometimes even the throat and the face itself, and then ask yourselves, “How could men, even in their lowest degeneracy, be so vicious as to afflict the Holy One of God with this torture that left its victim a mass of torn flesh, unless, as not infrequently, the scourge meant death itself?”

Then, as though the agony of a broken, bleeding body were not enough, the hellish mockery began. Jesus had just declared to Pilate that He was a King. Well, He would be greeted as royalty. So they covered His raw, furrowed back with an old purple robe and forced a mock scepter into His hands. Someone hastily wove a thorny branch into a circle and pressed it deep into His head, so that the blood streamed down over His face. Thus derided and disfigured, the Savior saw His tormentors bow low before Him to sneer, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

That thorn-crowned Christ has been immortalized in the masterpieces of our most renowned artists. Titian’s canvas portraying Christ in His agony at the Roman court, purchased for $40,000, is one of the treasures in the St. Louis Art Museum. For the last eight hundred years one of the best-beloved of all hymns has glorified the “bleeding Head and wounded.” But how horrifying was the actual scene which these poems and paintings seek to describe! Pilate, the world-worn politician, found in the bruised Christ an object of such pity and so strong a caricature of everything the priests had charged that his scheming mind, still unwilling to condemn his innocent Prisoner, made a hurried resolution. He would resort to ridicule and show how absurd it was to insist that Jesus was a rival king with a competitive empire. He would try sympathy, too, and seek to awaken within the hearts of the murder-bent mob a surge of compassion for the agonized Captive. So we read: “Then came Jesus forth wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man!” (Saint John, chapter nineteen, verse five.)

Pilate, who a few years later was deposed from office and, according to tradition, ended as a suicide, has left the disgraced example of an unprincipled, self-seeking coward. But his words reecho through the centuries; and his deathless statement

“BEHOLD THE MAN!”

is now broadcast over the country as an appeal from God Almighty to behold the Savior in His coronation of hatred and find Him suffering for our redemption. This will be a plain message of sin and grace, an unsparing statement of our hopelessly lost condition without Jesus, but of our eternal assurance of deliverance through faith in His love. Some of you may be disappointed because in this new era I have nothing more for you than the old Gospel, with the unchanging Christ and the continued emphasis on His holy, precious blood; yet I ask you: Invest the next few minutes with God, stand in Pilate’s court with us, “behold the Man,” and learn the most essential truth in all the world. “Come thou with us,” we promise, “and we will do thee good,” eternal good!

I

SEE THE TERROR OF YOUR SINS AND THE ASSURANCE OF YOUR SALVATION

When Pilate cried, “Behold the Man!” he betrayed the fact that to him Jesus was just another man, although in all his days the Roman governor had never seen a prisoner so mysterious and obviously innocent as this Galilean with the thorny crown. When the Savior’s own country­men answered each of the governor’s attempts to set Jesus free with the shrill “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” to them, too, Jesus, the Victim of their hatred was just a man whose offensive life would be stopped by death on the cross. If they had overcome their thirst for blood long enough to think clearly, they would have realized that no mere mortal could have performed the miracles which they themselves had witnessed. It took the centurion at the foot of the cross only a few moments as he beheld the crucifixion to recognize in Jesus the Son of God. The thief on the cross, after beholding Jesus for an hour or two at the most, was persuaded that Jesus was in reality the Lord of the eternal Kingdom. Yet the priests and the people, in whose midst Jesus had performed His wonders and preached His powerful messages for three years, called Him a blasphemer and declared that He well deserved a felon’s death on the cross.

Because the same misconception of Christ poisons many minds today, I ask you to “behold the Man” with eyes of faith and believe, even though you cannot understand, that the silent Sufferer facing Pilate is God Himself, the Almighty incarnate, the Lord of heaven persecuted on earth. Only a few hours before His scourging the Savior had reiterated the sacred truth that, no matter what men might say of Him, His deity was incontestable. Enter in spirit that Upper Chamber, where in the farewell to the disciples He tells Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Listen to Christ as in the high-priestly prayer He repeatedly declares that He and the Father are one; and if you cannot be convinced that, when Pilate says, “Behold the Man!” the Bible answers, “Behold your God,” you do not know the real Christ! If you detract one iota from His deity; if you make of Him a godly man instead of God and Man, you may exalt Jesus as highly as you please, shower Him with every other tribute the mind can invent; but you are still without the Christ of the Bible.

In the last sermon I drew a deadly parallel between the churchmen of Christ’s day and the modern opponents of the Resurrection who assume leadership in some denominations. Some of you, notably clergymen, wrote to express your disapproval, charging a spirit of self-righteousness and intolerance. And when I now say that those churches which have completely discarded the doctrine of a divine Christ cannot be Christian (even Mohammedanism is willing to make Jesus one of the most exalted teachers) and therefore should be honest enough to tell the world that they are not Christian, some of you will brand me as narrow and bigoted. Is the Bible bigoted when it calls every one who denies that Jesus is the Son of God “a liar”? Is a father intolerant when he warns his son against every danger that confronts him? Is the American Medical Association narrow when it appoints a committee to investigate fraud among physicians and surgeons and to report quack remedies? If such scrupulous concern is exerted in the care of the body, how can anyone seek to prevent me from exposing and indicting publicly the unbelief of spiritual leaders who deny the divinity of Christ, who recite the Apostles’ Creed with their lips but in their hearts deny its truth? As long as God gives us the opportunity of broadcasting and your letters, your support, and your prayers continue, we will witness to Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, and that means witness against His enemies, no matter who they may be! How remarkable that Catholic priests send us contributions to keep this Gospel-message on the air and some Protestant preachers—thank God, only a few!—indict us on the charge of intolerance!

Christ must be God to perform the superhuman task of destroying the power of sin, conquering hell forever, breaking the blight of death. Mahatma Gandhi can mold India’s legislation by fasting; but even if all the leaders in the world would refuse to eat, this abstinence, supplemented by a long list of penances and good works, could not change the requirements of God’s justice. Millions throughout the world by the marvels of radio recently heard a new Pope assume his office; yet he and all the cardinals, the archbishops, the church officials that crowded into Saint Peter’s, cannot atone for one single sin in your life. This is the unbroken rule of divine justice, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” No man can pay sin’s ransom for his own brother. If we were to tear ourselves away from the world, give up everything we own, live in poverty and daily penance, suffer under continuous self-inflicted torture, and even lay down our lives,—with all this we could not set aside the punishment of wrong and earn the pardon of Heaven. Praise be to our God of all grace! The superhuman task of removing sin and punishment has been finished by the very Christ to whom Pilate points as he says, “Behold the Man!” In that glorious climax of the Old Testament we know that “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes”—the scourge wounds inflicted by the Roman court—“we are healed.” And in the radiant summit of New Testament fulfillment we know that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”

As we “behold the Man,” what a startling warning against the ravages of sin confronts us in the suffering Savior! How personally we should understand that before Pontius Pilate Christ bears the agony, not of His own iniquity—for even according to that Roman ruler He was guiltless—but endures the penalty of our transgressions! How we need to learn the accursed power of sin in this generation that smiles indulgently at any fracture of the divine Law! Examine the telltale conditions surrounding us in the light of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” the first of these sacred statutes demands; and a group of 50,000 boys and girls in New York City, answering the question whom they loved the most, gave Franklin Roosevelt first place and God second. A recent investigation conducted by a reliable public opinion survey claims that young people under thirty years overwhelmingly choose Gone with the Wind, Anthony Adverse, The Citadel, How to Win Friends, and similar best sellers in preference to the Scriptures. Only 6 per cent of those interviewed even mentioned the Bible. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain,” the voice from Sinai commands; but the profanity that abuses His holy name is one of the deep-grooved marks of our age, and the prayer that invokes His grace is laughed off as a weakling’s refuge or an outmoded superstition. “Thou shalt sanctify the holy day,” God’s code continues; but if you could take a census of church attendance throughout our nation today, you would find miles of empty pews in the morning services and far many more people in motion-picture theaters at night than in the house of God. “Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother”; but think of the new top figures for juvenile crime, the communistic organizations at some of our high schools, the widespread general uprising against all authority. “Thou shalt not kill”; and the United States has more murders than any other civilized country under the sun. “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; and do you know that with 75,000 illegitimate births annually, the most recent investigation in this field reveals that boys and girls born after 1930 will grow up in an age in which premarital purity and virginity will have practically disappeared? “Thou shalt not steal”; and billions of dollars are taken yearly from their rightful owners through fraud and smooth or violent robbery. “Thou shalt not bear false witness”; yet courts are branded by perjury, homes nurture gossip, and endless civil suits seek redress for slander. “Thou shalt not covet”; and lustful eyes cast at a neighbor’s wife and greedy hands stretched toward his property as well as international envy and hatred in our age come under this divine in junction. All are sins directly responsible for much of the load under which our generation staggers.

Few normal people deny the fact of sin, but how we shrink from confessing it in our own lives! A church leader lists as “the worst evils of our day” poverty, unemployment, slums, racial injustice, crime, industrial strife, political corruption; and in summary he says, “These are the ills with which the Church must grapple.” He forgets that the worst evil is the sin in my heart, your heart, his heart; that, first of all, before the Church attempts to build a better world, it must say to all sinners, “Behold the Man!” and teach us that the sorrows Jesus endures before Pilate He suffers for our individual sins. As long as men do not come to an intimate and personal confession of their own transgressions, all this talk about having the churches institute programs against poverty, prostitution, corruption, and the organized evils of our day is nothing more than words, words, words.

This ageless request “Behold the Man!” is addressed directly to you, as though my message had been framed for no one else on this continent besides you. As you behold in spirit the thorn-crowned Christ, do you genuinely understand that during His entire persecution Jesus takes your place, endures what you should have endured? I hope you will not hold your head high and refuse to classify yourself a sinner; for unless you acknowledge the transgressions in your life and confess them, you can never come to the grace of Jesus Christ. Don’t make the mistake of thinking lightly of sin. Not long ago a group of young people at the University of Chicago were told to keep themselves pure. Why? Because God’s Word requires it and labels impurity a damning sin? Oh, no! Simply because society is not yet ready, although it soon may be, to condone extramarital relations! Sin is more than a fracture of social standards and good customs; it is a violation of God’s Law. Stop thinking that the wrong in your life comes from the animal in you, as the inheritance of a lower beast from which, according to many but not according to God, you have ascended. Renounce the delusion that the race, rising to a know-it-all perfection, is gradually discarding sin! Banish from your mind any picture of God as an indifferent Father who closes an eye on the weakness and selfishness of His children; but take time to realize that God is so holy, His justice so inflexible, that every unforgiven sin, whether men classify it as great or small, means separation from God. If the indictments against our lives, steeped in wickedness of thought, expression, and action, are not removed, we face everlasting death and the punishment that God in His righteousness must pronounce upon every unpardoned sinner. I repeat, so that none of you can ever plead ignorance or claim that he has never been warned: Because the sin in your life, by the statements of God Himself, will send you to hell unless it is removed, you must “behold the Man” to learn the guilt of your transgressions. Fall on your knees before God! Instead of trifling with sin, thinking particularly of the wrong in other lives, inventing excuses, cry out: “O God, I confess that I am a poor, miserable sinner; that I have indeed deserved temporal and eternal punishment. As I behold Thy Son in the depths of His inconceivable misery, I say, ‘This is the work of my sin.’ Not daring to lift up my head before Thy holiness, I plead with Thee in the name of this thorn-crowned Savior, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’”

When you “behold the Man” in the light of His saving grace, you see more than Pilate saw,—and thank God for that vision! Then all the scourging, mockery, anguish, lead to the highest joy; for you know that by faith, not by your good works; through the pardon freely offered by divine love, not as reward for any virtue in your heart, God removes every sin, makes Christ your Substitute, His cross your glory, His death your life. When you “behold the Man” with this trust, His crown of thorns becomes the most sacred of all diadems. Not long ago an American syndicate acquired in Colombia, South America, a famed crown, studded with one of the rarest collections of precious stones in the world, 453 emeralds, weighing more than 2,500 carats, worth as much as $5,000 a carat. That crown has been broken and the emeralds sold singly or in groups; but the blessing of the Savior’s crown of thorns can never be destroyed or sold for money. Through faith it grants the pledge of our coronation in glory, the assurance of the “crown of life” promised to those who are “faithful unto death.” The crimson robe, more precious than all the sable and ermine ever displayed by royalty, through trust in Jesus offers the guarantee of our own sovereignty as princes and priests in His spiritual kingdom. The reed scepter is the evidence of His rule in power and in grace. The Savior’s blood, His priceless vital fluid, is in all the world the one purifying power that “cleanseth us from all sin.”

II

FIND STRENGTH AGAINST SIN AND COURAGE FOR ADVERSITY

Keep the suffering Christ before your eyes when temptation is strong and the resistance of the flesh weak,—in those critical hours when concession to wrong can wreck your life and destroy the happiness of others. “Behold the Man” when the craving for drink surges within you and the demon of drunkenness lurks close at hand! Think what it cost your Savior to free you from this degrading slavery and resolve with His help not to crucify Him anew by bestial intoxication! When that coaxing, tugging, sensual appeal within you asks you to embrace sin, deny God in your family relations, your business associations, your social contacts, “behold the Man” paying the highest price of all eternity for the redemption of your soul. You, my fellow-Christians, who have beheld Jesus “stricken, smitten, and afflicted” at the judgment-seat of Pilate, cannot continue undisturbed in your sins. With all the strength that His Holy Spirit gives you fight evil, resist temptation, and, as far as possible in the frailty of the flesh, walk in Christ’s footsteps along the paths of purity! One of the most destructive influences in modern church­life, an offense that often keeps people away from the Savior, is the worldliness deeply stamped on the lives of some church-members. They live under the delusion that, if they go to church occasionally, attend Communion once a year, they can be good Christians. They make the blessed doctrine of justification by faith alone a cloak for their transgressions and a balm for an easy conscience. Their contact with a pastor is limited to emergencies and their prayers largely restricted to demands for health and happiness. Look at them as they live their daily lives, and even under close scrutiny one can hardly distinguish them from the better class of unbelievers. They forget that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” They refuse to behold the suffering Christ and to resolve that, as He gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, so by their faith and lives they, too, will be witnesses to the Lord Jesus. If you who take your Christianity lightly could read the letters that come to me from people who have left their congregations because they found no zeal for earnest Christianity, instead indifference and moral laxity, I am sure that you would reread the Savior’s utterances of doom pronounced on those who cause offense, when He declares it were better for them if a millstone were tied about their necks and they were drowned in the deepest sea. The damage which the churches have suffered through insincere discipleship overtowers all other losses. So “behold the Man” whenever any evil tries to secure mastery over you. Think of His cross and find the strength and joy Christ offers all who earnestly try to practice His precepts.

Spiritual happiness will prevail in our lives even though we face engulfing sorrows. As we see Christ, silent and majestic in His persecution, about to be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter,” we should resolve to follow the example of His suffering, “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” If I could only speak a thousand times more persuasively to convince the poor, the afflicted, the sufferers, the bereaved, of the consolation and sympathy, the strength and courage they can find as in faith they “behold the Man”! A glimpse of the brazen serpent in the wilderness brought healing for afflicted bodies, but a trusting glance at Christ on the cross will bring eternal healing to human souls. “Without Me,” Jesus tells this heavy-laden generation, “ye can do nothing.” Believe that Jesus, both man and God, lived and died to hallow our agonies through His pain and suffering, to show us that “earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”

What a compassionate, sympathetic Savior He is to whom your eyes are directed when you “behold the Man”! Once you have beheld Him, the question that disturbed even calloused Pilate “What shall I do, then, with Jesus?” becomes the searching inquiry of your soul. Many of you will try to avoid this question and boast that you are neutral. This religious indifference is the curse of our age, and it usually leads, as in Pilate’s case, to veiled hostility and denial. You cannot avoid taking your position for or against Christ, and if you think you can escape this decision, you don’t know Jesus. Sooner or later, with irresistible necessity, you will be confronted with the question “What shall I do, then, with Jesus?” Some of you may turn from this appeal unmoved or even feed the bitter, damning unbelief in your hearts as it repeats the screaming malice, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” May God have mercy on your souls and lead you through pride-shattering grief to the depths where on your knees you may still thank your heavenly Father that you can behold Him who bore your sins in His own holy body! Some of you will waver in doubt, torn between the urging of the spirit to confess Christ and the lust of the flesh which would entice your vision from Jesus. Listen once more as I plead with you, “Behold the Man!” For this moment forget all else! Think of the responsibility you have for your own blood-bought and eternal soul! Picture to yourself that deathless love of Jesus, the scorn and agony which He gladly endured for you, and—O Father above, hear us!—may you close your eyes to every vain distraction and “behold the Man,” the Man of sins and sorrows, the Man of bleeding back and breaking heart, the Man of death and doom! May you find in Him, through the enlightenment of the Spirit, your almighty God, your all­-merciful Savior, your all-conquering Lord, your all-glorious King, here in time and hereafter in glory-crowned eternity! Amen.

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

Date: March 5, 1939

Prayer for Loyalty to Christ

God, our Father, Lord of all mercy and truth:

As we lift our hearts to Thee in gratitude for the love that sent Jesus Christ to His atoning death on the cross for our sin-cursed race, help us to know this our Savior, believe His promise, and exalt His holy name. Show us that He was on trial not only when He faced the Council of His hate-filled countrymen, but that there is also a tribunal in all human hearts before which men must declare themselves either for Christ or against Him. Convince us that, as no one can be neutral toward Jesus, so it is impossible that those who would be His disciples can serve two masters, Christ and His enemies. Enthrone Thy Spirit in our souls, and as Thou dost forgive us the unworthy compromises with falsehood and the frequent denials of our Savior’s love, grant us the courage valiantly to testify to the truth we have found in Thy Gospel of salvation. Give us a full measure of that unshrinking faith by which we find ourselves lost without Jesus but eternally saved with Him. Focus our attention on the certainty of Thy promises, so that we may never mistrust Thee nor doubt Thy willingness to preserve us eternally. Enrich us with the power by which we can ever better follow the blessed example of Christ and through Thy Word of trust, which is able to build us up, draw us always closer to Thee. Hear this cry of our believing hearts; and when Thou hearest, forgive and bless us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

They that had laid hold on Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and elders were assembled. . . . Now, the chief priests and the elders and all the Council sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death but found none; yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none.Matthew 26:57, 59-60

FEW people have an accurate picture of the extent to which dishonesty often swings the scales of justice. We like to think of our courts with black-robed magistrates who decide impartially between right and wrong; but in too many cases corruption has controlled these tribunals. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem as He thought of its sins, how His tears would flow for our American cities, where degenerate sex pictures are sold to schoolchildren, commercialized vice flourishes openly, gambling thrives almost unchecked, and other forms of crime stalk confidently through the streets. If ever a purity crusade awakens public protest and some of the offenders are arrested, they are often acquitted through a technicality, given a suspended sentence, or merely fined—because they are paying for police protection or have friends influential enough to halt the course of justice. Too many of our courts have been linked with underworld leaders; too many of our judges are mere puppets, who do the bidding of political bosses, with the result that habitual criminals evade punishment, respect for law and order has diminished, and enforcement has often become a mockery. More than any previous generation in our entire national existence, this age needs the voice of prophets like Amos, Hosea, Micah, or Isaiah to thunder their scathing denunciation against legal corruption. For where the courts are undermined, the pillars that support the nation and its continued welfare must collapse.

The worst miscarriage of justice history knows was followed by one of the most terrifying of all disasters. Thirty-seven years after Jesus Christ had been declared guilty of death by a court of His own countrymen, who violated every principle of justice in their decision, Jerusalem was overthrown in a catastrophe that still shocks us. Besieged by the Romans under Titus, that stubborn, sin­laden city suffered unspeakable calamities. More than a million people were killed. In the despair of starvation men and women greedily chewed their leather shoes and garments. Some slaughtered and ate their own children. The hunger-crazed slit corpses open to see if any undigested food remained in the stomachs. As Christ had prophesied only a few days before He went the way of the cross, not one stone was left on the other. Jerusalem was leveled to the ground.

We will do well, then, to study the trial of Jesus by His own countrymen, particularly the hearing before Caiaphas, that most infamous trial in all legal annals, responsible in part for the destruction of Jerusalem. As Caiaphas, to whom Jesus testifies that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, shouts, “He hath spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses?” and the council of Jesus’ own countrymen shouts in reply, “He is guilty of death!” I want to reverse that verdict and declare:

JESUS CHRIST—NOT GUILTY!

Every impartial decision since Christ’s day has unfalteringly proclaimed Him innocent; some of His own racial brothers have admitted the Savior’s guiltlessness; but above all the Bible itself shows the falsity, the fraud, the perjury, directed against Him when we read the words of our text (Saint Matthew, chapter twenty-six, verse fifty-seven and following): “They that had laid hold on Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and elders were assembled. . . . Now, the chief priests and the elders and all the Council sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death but found none; yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none.”

I

CHRIST’S ENEMIES VAINLY SEEK TO PROVE HIS GUILT

It was midnight after the Savior’s ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers and the armed mob brought Him to Caiaphas. Today no criminal, not even the most brutal, is prosecuted with such haste. Delays and postponements drag through months and sometimes years. Contrast the diabolical hatred that could not wait until daybreak to hurl its accusations against the Lord Jesus. Within twelve hours after He had been betrayed in the Garden, He was rushed through four hearings and had felt the nails of death tear through His hands and feet.

Long before daybreak, then, Jesus is dragged to the court of His own people, the Council entrusted with the decision whether He must be delivered to Pilate, the Roman governor, who alone can decree capital punishment. As we behold this tribunal in the flickering lamplight, we may be surprised to see that the majority of its members are priests, high church officials, students of the Mosaic Law; men who in their twofold capacity as servants of the Almighty and judges of His people should be doubly conscientious in their resolution to have justice prevail; scribes and teachers of Scripture who through their knowledge of Old Testament prophecies should have acclaimed Christ the long-expected Deliverer. Every one sitting in the seats of that Council should have known what one of their fair­minded countrymen admitted when He came to Jesus and said, “No man can do the things Thou doest except God be with him!” Yet these priests of the Almighty, whose lives should be exemplary and who should defend Jesus at all costs, are ready to cry out, “He is guilty of death!” They have come to complete the program of jealousy devised weeks before by their evil minds. Instead of acquitting Christ, they are assembled to accuse Him!

You will better understand the Savior’s suffering if you keep this fact, often overlooked, clearly before you: It was a priestly conspiracy, at first not a popular movement, that sent Jesus to the cross. The four gospels mention the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas, the scribes, as leaders in the plot to crucify Christ, not a dozen, not twenty, not fifty times, but in sixty-five separate instances from the hour of Judas’s betrayal to the Savior’s death. It is terrifying enough when any man lifts his sinful hand against the sinless Son of God; but how we must shudder to learn that the arch-plotters and the criminal brains behind that crucifixion were the dignitaries of the Old Testament Church!

These clerical criminals are led by the master-mind Caiaphas. It was he who some time before arose in the same Sanhedrin to declare: “Ye know nothing at all . . . It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not.” At last he had Jesus in his power! Today if the scum of the underworld would use Caiaphas’s tactics publicly in planning to murder an innocent victim, we would be loud in our protest. Who is Caiaphas, this ace of hell, this ringleader of priestly murderers? You will wonder why the earth does not suddenly swallow him alive when I tell you that he is the high priest, head of the Jewish Church, supreme pontiff and representative of the people before God. The man who alone can enter the Holy of Holies, the one who wears the sacred breastplate and the golden crown inscribed “Holiness to the Lord,” the only person permitted to consult the Almighty by the sacred oracle,—that high priest is the arch-criminal presiding over this hellish plot!

Confronted by this ghastly spectacle, we ask ourselves: How is it possible that the high priest could lead this satanic scheme? The answer is plain once we study Caiaphas at closer range. He is a Sadducee. He openly rejects much of the Scripture, particularly every passage promising the resurrection of the body. Only a relatively small group, the Sadducees, supported by wealthy friends, had seized the high-priesthood. Hated by the masses, these unbelievers boasted of their learning and controlled the high church offices, even though they flatly contradicted the Word of God.

We need not wonder how Caiaphas, unbeliever, materialist, murderer, could hold his holy office; for today our own eyes witness a striking parallel. Though no high priest dominates the religious life of the United States today, Sadducees sometimes control Protestant churches. While our messages emphasize that through Christ we can overcome death and decay because His resurrection has prepared for every believer a glorious life in which our bodies will be recreated without sin or blemish; while the Christian Church from its early days has been united in confessing its faith in the glorified restoration of the body, many of the high and mighty Modernists today reject this comforting doctrine. Listen to a theological professor who brazenly writes: “Most theologians and preachers declare very pointedly that there is a place, called heaven, where the ‘saved’ will be happy in the presence of God. . . . There is no adequate ground for these confident assertions. . . . They know no more about it than you and I know, and that is just nothing at all.” The blessed promise of Jesus Himself and the heaped pledges of the entire New Testament mean nothing whatever to these men. Hear the president of an outstanding American university declare that “the only real fulfillment of the hope of immortality” is “the prolonged and rich life of posterity here,” which means that the only life after death this leading Modernist recognizes is the influence we may exert on the children of the next generation. Listen once more as the man who comes closest to occupying the position of Protestantism’s high priest asserts: “I do not believe in the resurrection of the body.” While the average preacher with the smaller congregation in most of the denominations tries to draw his theology from the Bible and is not in sympathy with this crass unbelief, the leaders occupying positions parallel to the rank of the chief priests are often outspoken Sadducees.

They, too, thrive under the patronage of some of America’s wealthiest families. Their individual income is often larger than the total salaries paid to an entire conference to which some of you, my clerical friends, belong. They hobnob with brainy unbelievers, intellectual scoffers, and they make a special appeal to the college youth of the nation. They openly charge that the Bible contradicts reason; yet all the while they forget that geniuses whose mentality completely overshadows them were outspoken in their loyalty to Christ.

As their first-century counterparts these twentieth­century Sadducees who preach tolerance are among the most intolerant of all men. Let me give you a significant example. When that interchurch council and super­organization which seeks to direct Protestant affairs began its radio programs, it started—not with that eminently American and democratic principle which would give all Protestant churches proportionate time on the air; instead, it immediately sought to monopolize and control the entire Protestant broadcasting. I read to you this statement made by the secretary of that organization: It is our policy “that in the future no denominations . . . will be able to secure any time whatever on the air unless they are willing to pay prohibitively high prices for brief periods of broadcast.” We expect to “control all religious broadcasting, making it impossible for denominational conventions to get on the air and for pastors to broadcast sermons without our sanction.” That is why today Sadducees can broadcast free of all charges, while those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and accept the resurrection of the body pay for their broadcasts as we do. That is why, my loyal friends throughout this nation, we need your continued and increasing support for the expansion of our Gospel network!

As Caiaphas, the high priest, tore his robes and the Council screamed in protest when Jesus testified that He was “the Christ, the Son of God,” so these present-day chief priests have sworn undying hostility to the two foundation truths of our Christian faith: the deity of our Lord Jesus and the atoning pardon for all sins through faith in His bleeding and dying. Ask the twentieth-century Sadducees as they scan the record of Jesus’ life and hear how He claimed to be God, proved Himself God, was worshiped as God, whether they really believe that Jesus was God, and I can show you from their own public pronouncements that modernist preachers and self-enlightened teachers have no faith in a divine Christ. Ask them whether they will subscribe at least to that doctrine which distinguishes Christianity from every other creed, the blood atonement, the promise of forgiven sins, life, and salvation through the Redeemer suspended on His cross of shame at Calvary, suffering for our sins, dying for our death; ask them whether that Christ is their Savior, and with the arrogant spirit that marked Caiaphas’s blasphemous anger they will tell you that every man must save himself if he needs to be saved; that Jesus on the cross is a noble example of love for one’s fellow-men; that His death, very much like the end of Socrates, is a serious mistake; that the cross is a remarkable symbol of heroism. In the camouflage of their flowery language they will admit everything but this one truth of God Himself, that “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son,” and only that blood, “cleanseth us from all sin.” As much as it hurts to raise this charge, I ask you to remember that, if the liberal clerics were to form a 1939 Sanhedrin and vote on Christ’s innocence, they would still find Jesus guilty because He claims to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

How dangerous Sadduceeism may become is shown by the fact that not many years after our Lord’s death, even before Jerusalem was destroyed, the people rebelled against these clerical unbelievers and finally assassinated the high priest. If the anti-Bible, anti-Christ attitude of Modernism increases, it will only serve to fan the flames of discontent and Communism. Had all the churches of Russia preached the truth of God; had their leading priests, instead of bowing and scraping before despotic government officials, worked for the poor and downtrodden, that country might never have staggered under the Red ruin. And if conditions become more serious in our country, as destitution spreads over even wider circles, it will require no prophetic insight to predict that the impact of mass hatred will be directed against all religion, because liberal churches have left the hearts of the people untouched except by resentment.

Since this Sadducee rejection of Christ is working with far more disastrous consequences as it destroys men’s souls, keeps them ignorant of the true Christ and opposed to His full mercy, I frankly ask those who love the Lord Jesus to declare Him not guilty of any misrepresentation, deceit, or falsehood. You, His disciples, remember this promise and warning: “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven; but whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” You must take a firm stand against the spirit of Caiaphas and for Christ’s truth. If your silence gives consent to unbelief in the pulpit of your own church; if you continue to support men who assault Jesus and His Gospel, eventually, if you are Christ’s, either you or the Sadducee in your pulpit must leave. “No man can serve two masters.” You cannot, at the same time, be a Sadducee and a follower of Christ. You cannot support Jesus and those who still scream, “He is guilty of death!” I feel mightily encouraged by your many letters of protest against the dry rot of Modernism. But we must have more than letters, for the chief priests of infidelity are influential, attractive in their approach, persuasive in their appeal, and they can be overcome by only one means—faith in God and His Word, truth in Christ, continued prayer for His help. The appeal to Protestantism asks that its churches throw off the millstone of Modernism, free themselves from the control of Sadduceeism, return to the full truth of God in every doctrine, exalt the true Christ with His cross of suffering and His crown of divine omnipotence.

If ever you feel that there may be some truth in the attacks on Jesus, review that trial of Christ and see how the churchmen frantically sought some charge against Jesus; how the prosecution hunted for witnesses without finding any! When no respectable citizen of Jerusalem would appear against Christ, the priests, in the words of our text, “sought false witnesses against Jesus to put Him to death but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none.” Plenty of wretches volunteered to violate the oath for blood-money, but their statements were so contradictory that even the hate-filled priests were shrewd enough to see that Jesus could not be condemned on such sworn statements. Priestly appeal and good money cannot secure impressive false witnesses against Christ, until, as the verse following our text records, two deliberate liars mount the stand, testifying that they had heard Jesus say He was “able to destroy the Temple of God and build it in three days.” No one, not even His enemies, could bring a single charge that had even the semblance of truth!

How timely, however, the warning against perjury, lying, and slander that this incident recalls! Here, too, history is repeated, not only before the criminal and divorce courts of our country but also in the rampant campaigns of slander that disgrace our day. Not long ago we had an international example of such lying, and we still shudder when we think what might have happened. Someone declared that President Roosevelt, in the closed meeting of a national defense committee, had said that in the event of war our frontier would be in France, along the Rhine. This dispatch provoked violent protest from those European nations against whom it was directed. Their newspaper editors answered that, if this were the case, their frontier would be the Panama Canal. Torrents of abusive countercharges were raised, such as we have not seen in recent years. At the height of the controversy the President himself branded this report as a deliberate lie and committed our country to the wise and blessed pursuit of peace. Let such incidents be repeated, let bad blood continually be stirred up by malicious falsehoods, and nations will once more be ready to spring at each other’s throats like enraged beasts of the jungle. In the smaller circles of life, careers have been ruined and homes wrecked through slander and devilish misrepresentation. How easy it is to lie and defame, to put the worst construction on everything we hear and see, instead of defending our fellow-men, and speaking well of them against wagging tongues! How we need Christ, who, “when He was reviled, reviled not again,” who never spoke an untrue word in all His life, who even pleaded for harlots and publicans and sinners! His love I offer those who suffer from slander and malice as He was grieved at the perjury promoted by the Jerusalem priests. Christ understands the pain of gossip and falsehood, since it cost Him His life. Nowhere else can you begin to find the sympathy and the strength that Jesus gives you particularly for this sorrow.

II

CHRIST’S DISCIPLES CONFIDENTLY SEEK COMFORT IN HIS INNOCENCE

Thanks be to God, all whose hearts acclaim Jesus not guilty can find in Him the answer to every question of body and soul. If Jesus is sinless, entirely without fault; if even those lying witnesses in their trumped-up charges could not convict Him and He was condemned only because of the truth when He declared Himself God’s Son and the world’s Savior; if through nineteen centuries the millions of dollars spent by atheists and unbelievers of various degrees to prove Jesus guilty of a single misrepresentation have been wasted; if the long years of misdirected study that infidel minds have devoted to discredit the Son of God and the Son of Mary have not convicted Jesus on a single misrepresentation or untruth, how reassuring every one of His glorious promises must be!

What a blessed, sinless Savior we have in Him who is the only “Way, the Truth, and the Life”! First of all, He has promised the complete forgiveness of all wrong that abounds in your life and mine. Only a few hours before He stood this trial He told His disciples in the Upper Room that His blood was “shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Some of you doubt human pledges because you know the misery that often comes from broken promises; but may God now give you the grace to believe on the basis of His Word and of Christ’s power throughout history that Jesus means exactly what He says when He offers you what you need most in life, what you yourselves can never find without Him: the heavenly blessing of complete pardon through the love that brought Him down to earth and then up to the shame of the cross. Men may reject this truth in the blindness of their souls, but I beg you who may now be smiling cynically at this faith to heed God’s plea with the certainty of His unchangeable grace and truth. A renowned statesman called the Bible with the promises of Jesus the “Gibraltar of our faith”; but Christ’s Word is incomparably stronger than that rock at the Mediterranean entrance. Long after Gibraltar has crumbled to dust, together with the highest of all mountains, this promise of pardon, sealed through the life, death, and resurrection of the perfect, sinless Christ, will shine in radiant eternity.

Whether you live on a street adjoining this Seminary campus or in far-off New Brunswick, British Columbia, Mexico; whether you are in the social extremes represented by two letters in last week’s heavy but welcome, mail, one from a generous listener on Riverside Drive in New York City and the other from impoverished relief farmers in Saskatchewan, whose only means of contact with the outside world is by ox-cart and through a borrowed radio; whether you are the president of a large university who thoughtfully wrote me or one of the prisoners at San Quentin whose appeal came a few days ago in the same mail, behold your own Savior at this trial and, please God, find Him not guilty! Acclaim Him the eternal Truth, the sinless, pure, holy Son of God and your Savior.

If Jesus never made a mistake, we cannot be wrong in trusting Him fully, in believing that our title to the prepared places in the many mansions of His Father’s house is assured beyond question. If Christ is right, above all reproach (and even Pilate had to admit, “I find no fault in Him”), He must be 100 per cent right, not only 90 per cent or 99 per cent, or even 99 and a high fraction of a per cent right! There can be no “if” or “perhaps” or “maybe,” not any “possibly” or even “probably” in the full Christian trust. It is all truth, all positive conviction. That is why Jesus said we must have the faith of children. Despite the heaped knowledge and experience we may acquire, we need that childlike, implicit confidence that, when Jesus has spoken, His words must be true; that even after this old, decaying world collapses, as heaven and earth pass away, the promises of Christ can never be removed. The faith you need is found in those glorious heights to which the mighty apostle ascends when, triumphing over every doubt, he exults, “I know whom I have believed,” and again, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

Come to the innocent Christ and cling to His promises! When through faith in His reconciling cross you can approach Him, with His Father and the Spirit, in prayer, then hear His own words, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Take Him at His word! Don’t ruin your petitions by doubt but trust His pledge, “Believing, ye shall receive”!

If you are troubled by some haunting guilt, the specter of a wrong that disturbs you by day and destroys your peace by night, then hear Jesus, the Savior, who never spoke an unfulfilled promise, whisper, “Thy sin be forgiven thee.” Then trust the stainless Christ that this pursuing sin has been removed forever, that it no longer exists, since He Himself has atoned for it. If you need guidance through besetting difficulty, draw near to hear Jesus, the holy Counselor, assure you, “When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” Though you may doubt a thousand human utterances, believe with your whole heart that this promised Spirit can lead you through every perplexity. If you need strength to bear the burdens of affliction and endure the thorn in your flesh, then kneel before the Christ who once told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” If all the philosophies of life cannot help you, never doubt for a moment that, if you have acclaimed Christ your Savior, He, the Sinless One, must lead you through your difficulties. If you seek refuge, as thousands of you do, from the overpowering hostility of a cruel world and know not where to turn, then see in spirit the arms of your pure Redeemer stretching out to the world and particularly to you, pledging endurance for your trials and rest for your weary mind as He promises, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Are some of you young men and women trying to “fight the good fight of faith” in overcoming temptations? Listen to Jesus as He tells you: “Now are ye pure through the Word which I have spoken to you,” and trust Him, that, when “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” He will help subdue passions that war especially against youth, as He guides you to the higher blessings of life. If in this moment the Spirit has gripped your soul so that you want to find your God, your hope, your salvation, and your heart pleads, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” then behold your God in Jesus, for He declares, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Take refuge in Him, and you will never he dismayed!

As Jesus was on trial before Caiaphas, so He is on trial in every heart. You and I cannot undo the terrifying injustice perpetrated by the high priests against the innocent Savior of the world; but in our own lives we can declare Him not guilty! We can hear Him say, “I am the Christ, the Son of God,” and with soul-deep faith we can answer, “Yes, blessed Jesus, Thou art the redeeming Christ and the eternal Son of the Mighty.” Then we shall have reversed that judgment of hate; we shall have claimed our title to the prepared place in the many mansions of our Father’s house, where we shall have the joy of life eternal; because Christ will be ours, no man shall tear us out of His hand, and nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God!

O Christ, in the midst of a contradictory world, we acclaim Thee not guilty. Bless all in this audience, Thou pure and sinless Savior of our souls! Keep us in Thy grace so that we, too, declared not guilty before Thy judgment-throne, may forever worship Thee in the beauty of holiness. Hear us and bless us for Thy name’s sake! Amen.

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

Date: February 26, 1939

Prayer for a Blessed Lenten Devotion

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world:

We thank Thee that in boundless mercy Thou didst take upon Thyself the reproach of the cross and uncomplainingly endured its shame. As we behold the depth of Thy sorrows, give us hearts, contrite yet firmly trusting Thy grace to grant us complete forgiveness, life with Thee, and eternal salvation. O Jesus, what could we do without Thy love? How empty of hope our souls would be were they deprived of Thy sustaining mercy! Keep us watchful, prayerful, as once more we begin to kneel with Thee in the garden of Thine agony! Leave us not to ourselves, divine Redeemer; for too easily do we fall into the sleep of security. Desert us not to the forces of the world about us, for with fatal swiftness can we deny Thee. Make this Lenten season, by the Spirit’s blessing, holy weeks of repentance, conversion, and deeper faith for many throughout the land. Send us daily the enlightening Comforter, who can draw us nearer to Thy cross and help us discard all evil desires, repulse all temptations, as Thou didst by the power of the Scriptures. More than any other lesson in life teach us the meaning of Gethsemane and Golgotha, so that together with all the sinful and the suffering we may be brought into fellowship with Thee and find through faith in Thy mercies the victory that overcometh the world. Hear us and bless our Lenten worship, O Christ, our Savior! Amen.

Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly.Luke 22:44

WHEN the first missionaries came to Greenland with the message of the Cross, they met unspeakable depravity and stubborn resistance. Dwarfed in body and stunted in soul, the Eskimos mocked the preaching of the Christian workers, destroyed their food, and poisoned their dogs. These ambassadors of Christ might work and plead as long as they could, the flint-hearted natives answered only with sarcastic replies and blasphemous taunts. Hardly one real convert was made in seventeen years of heroic, persevering endeavor. But then something happened by which this frozen indifference toward God began to thaw. One day Missionary Beck was telling a group of Eskimos the story of Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, describing the agonies that almost broke the Savior’s heart in this Garden of His sorrows, when suddenly one of the natives, a certain Kajarnak, who up till this time had not heard even one word of the Bible, suddenly cried: “Oh, what was that? Tell me that story once more! I, too, want to be saved.” Never before had an Eskimo on Greenland spoken words like these, and with tear-filled eyes the missionary repeated the whole Lenten story, starting with the agony in Gethsemane and ending with the death on the cross. That message touched his heart, and after careful instruction Kajarnak was baptized in 1739, just two hundred years ago. Before long his wife and children were likewise converted, among the first of many Greenlanders brought to their Savior, after one man had seen Jesus in Gethsemane.

Today as we start our Lenten pilgrimage to those sacred sites where the Son of God suffered for us, we, too, begin at that Garden of unfathomed grief. Perhaps some of you have kept your hearts closed to Christ; for many in this audience live in rebellion against God,—sarcastic, taunting men and women, who pride themselves that they can get along without Christ. Many of you have not once in your lives stepped into a church. A nineteen-year-old girl near Pittsburgh recently wrote that she had never seen the inside of a church. A would-be suicide in California, recovering from a self-inflicted wound, pleads: “What can I do? Please help me! I don’t know what a church is. I’ve never entered one in my life.” May the radio prove a blessed invention for many as in these moments it brings vast multitudes from coast to coast, who may never before have heard of our broadcast mission, the story of their Savior, kneeling, pleading, suffering in the Garden of anguish. I pray God that those who are living in rebellion against Him like Kajarnak may cry out: “Tell me that story once more! I, too, want to be saved!”

As we begin the review of Christ’s Lenten sufferings, let us

GO TO DARK GETHSEMANE!

and there, treading with careful feet—for we are on sacred ground—approach reverently to watch with Jesus, of whom our text (Saint Luke, chapter twenty-two, verse forty-four) records in short, sorrow-marked words: “Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly.”

I

TO BEHOLD THE SAVIOR’S AGONIES

It probably took our Lord less than twenty minutes on that last night of His earthly life to walk from the place of the Upper Chamber, where He had just instituted the Sacrament of His own holy body and blood, to the Garden, on the gentle slopes of Mount Olivet; but it takes more than twenty centuries even partially to plumb the depths of His agonizing sorrow there. Today reverent hands have planted a hundred varieties of fragrant flowers in the half-mile-wide enclosure that well-founded tradition identifies as Gethsemane, one of the few places around Jerusalem left unmolested during centuries of bloodshed. Yet, while the Garden is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful spots in the entire Holy Land, how dark its shadows on that night of betrayal! How cruel and crushing its silent indifference to the agony that made the Savior gasp: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Huge, gnarled olive-trees, proud in the dignity of many centuries, still cover large sections of the Garden; and some botanists tell us tradition may be right when it insists that these are the trees or at least their offshoots which towered over Gethsemane in the Savior’s day. If they did, what rack of torture these trees witnessed as the silver moonlight penetrated their leaves to reveal Christ in the throes of that convulsive anguish!

Jesus entered the Garden, which perhaps belonged to some friend or patron, not in the spirit of adventure nor in ignorance of what awaited Him, but for one purpose: to prepare for the doom and terror of His death. There, probably in a secluded, overshadowed spot, Jesus began the intense suffering which was to continue, almost without interruption, until the death on the cross mercifully ended His anguish. No one can fathom the intensity of that piercing soul pain. All we know of that sorrow in the Garden is contained in the few verses of Scripture which tell us how Jesus knelt and prayed, not once but three times, that He might be spared this ordeal and that the cup of agony might be taken from Him; how in that crushing torment, which no mere mortal could ever endure, Jesus collapsed and was strengthened by an angel from heaven; how the Lord of life almost died under the pressure of these overwhelming sorrows.—Some of you groan and bend and break under the weight of sorrows, and perhaps you wonder how you can continue to carry on when day after day adds new burdens, when almost daily new grief rises to torture you. But with anguish immeasurably greater than all men combined have ever suffered concentrated on that divine Sufferer there in the Garden, we wonder how He could endure that soul-clutching ordeal which had made Him shudder long before He entered Gethsemane.

Far more vital to us is this pointed question: “What were the sorrows that almost brought Christ’s death before He could be nailed to the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer in this unparalleled pain?” We cannot begin to understand the mystery of Gethsemane unless we believe with all our hearts that this agony of the Garden is the beginning of His suffering for the sins of the world. I never feel so much like joining the disciples James and John, who wanted to invoke destructive fire from heaven upon the enemies of Christ, as when I read in some skeptical, sarcastic book the statement that Jesus was afraid to die, that He knelt in the Garden as a coward instead of a Conqueror. History knows of depraved criminals who mounted the scaffold boasting of their superiority over Jesus and sneering: “He sweat because of terror in His last moments, but I die undisturbed.” The same taunt has been repeated from century to century until our own day. Christ unwilling to die? How could He be when He might have escaped death easily, yet refused to turn from the unswerving pathway to the cross? If one glance of His almighty power could send the armed mob prostrate, another glance could have kept them defeated. If one angel could destroy all the regiments in an Assyrian army, what could the twelve legions of Christ’s angels not do to His enemies? In all the trials of mock justice that during the next fifteen hours were to hear the case of Jesus, He could have spoken many a word that would have meant liberty. But in those critical moments He remained silent. The glorious truth that I ask you to believe is this, that Christ wanted to die!

God “laid on Him,” Isaiah foretells, “the iniquity of us all,” and this blessed prophecy began its fulfillment in the Garden. Here Jesus was thrown upon the damp earth by the crushing impact of human iniquity. We speak of Christ as the sin-bearing Savior; yet how little we can plumb the depths of sin’s torture! Think of the consequences of one transgression here on earth! A father or a mother sins, and for generations diseased, stunted, abnormal children pay the penalty of parental folly. In a rage of anger a man, even as Cain, strikes down his fellow­man, and the floodgates of misery are opened upon the murderer, his family, those dependent upon his victim. The prisons are often crowded to overflowing with people who started on the road to disgrace through one particular sin. In your own lives the thought of some haunting specter of your wrongdoing often arises, to disquiet you by day and by night, a transgression for which you would willingly do a hundredfold penance if only penance could undo what has been evilly done. Now, if you feel that tugging, clutching power exerted by one sin in your life, how terrifying the load of all the sins in one life and then of heaped sins in the lives of all men in all ages! Now, this terrorizing total of all human wrong Jesus began to bear in His own holy body there in the unrelieved solitude of the olive-grove. No wonder He fell to the ground! No wonder the sweat, like great drops of crimson blood, beaded His forehead! No wonder that His piteous cry reechoes three times through the midnight stillness of the Garden: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cap pass from Me!”

But how much more appalling than the load of sin was its eternal punishment that began to grip Jesus in dark Gethsemane! We have accustomed ourselves in these past years to speak casually of large numbers, to mention even billions with indifference! Our mathematicians have devised special methods of designating incomprehensible figures. But no advance in science and no multiplication of numerals can express the extent of the Savior’s anguish in suffering for the sins of the world. I hope you recognize the destructive punishment which a righteous God has placed on a single violation of His Law. Now picture to yourselves as far as you can what soul distress, what an agony of hell, what terror of God-forsakenness, what pain of separation from the loving Father, what immeasurable eternities of torture,—what horror of damnation, must follow in the wake of all history’s and all mankind’s sin! That unfathomable suffering, and nothing less, Jesus took upon Himself in the sorrow that began there in dark Gethsemane.

It has remained for our age to heap cutting scorn on these sacred truths and nonchalantly to laugh at the Bible and its condemnation of wrong. We see vice glorified, immorality applauded, corruption tolerated, falsehood enthroned, adultery made fashionable, murder minimized, children’s disobedience extolled, parents’ indifference condoned, perjury unchallenged, covetousness acclaimed. Sin at most becomes a social mistake and—may God show them their error!—to some of these radicals ungodliness has become even a social asset! Yet, no matter how we disguise sin, embellish it, excuse it, remember until your dying day that whatever blind, stupid men may think of it, to God Almighty the sin in your life is that hateful, destructive power which, if unremoved, will bring you to sorrow even before the grave and to hell after the grave. If nothing has been able to tear you away from deadly indifference to iniquity; if you have hushed your conscience so long that it utters only feeble protests, then nothing any man can say will influence you to change your course. Only one hope remains—that you behold your Savior during that awful hour in the Garden and ponder the meaning of His suffering so unequaled that the word used for “agony” in our text is found only here in the entire Bible. As you learn the terrifying consequences of your sins and believe you could be freed from its slavery only by the abysmal suffering of Christ, may the Spirit take complete possession of your hearts, so that with Kajarnak, the Eskimo disciple, you, deeply repentant, may say: “Tell me that story once more! I, too, want to be saved!”

Let me restate this personally directed message: Go to dark Gethsemane and behold your Savior suffering for your sins. Saint Paul was ready to endure the torments of hell if by that sacrifice he might avert eternal destruction from his countrymen. But no man, not even the Apostle Paul, no angels in their legions, no martyrs and their cruel deaths, no saints and their godly lives, no virgin mother of Christ, no God-fearing mother of any sinner, can make you right with God. It is Christ, and He alone, who can suffer for your guilt; only Jesus, who assumed the entire burden of your sins. All we can do is beseech you in His name to be “reconciled to God,” to believe without reservation that Jesus is first of all your Savior, that His blood was shed especially for you, that His prayer “Father, forgive them” was raised particularly in your behalf, and that everything Jesus offers is granted you fully, without the demand of price or condition, purely by His overabundant mercy as the blessing of your faith. May God help you come to the Garden and kneeling in adoration, contrition, and confidence, acclaim Christ your Savior, your Substitute.

Then another blessing will come to you from that agony of Gethsemane and all the succeeding sorrows until the relief of death on the cross. You will understand that Jesus suffered with an incomparably greater agony than you can ever know, so that He, having endured these trials, can understand your sorrows. Throughout history no people have been so consistently persecuted as the followers of Christ. Our age is shocked by the European hatred against the Jews; but in all ages Christians have suffered more. Despite these sorrows, however, the sympathetic Christ has given men courage to face the worst that life may offer and to meet persecution, not as fanatics, but as victors.

Have you ever stopped to realize that from Thursday night in the Garden of sorrows till that Friday afternoon with its death on Calvary the Savior was subjected to almost every manner of affliction that confronts His children? Some of you are lonely. You live in an empty house, with your life companion or your children called away in death; or you board in a rooming-house, with few real friends, if any; and sometimes you begin to pity yourselves, to think that no one has ever felt such solitary emptiness as destroyed your happiness. Think of Jesus in His loneliness, His three chosen disciples unable to keep the vigils of comfort beside their suffering Master. Recall the indescribable loneliness when He was forsaken even by God, His Father, and then remember that you need not be lonely but can have the Savior’s constant companionship, since He promised: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

Many of you are laboring under the hardships of poverty, often called the curse of our age. You are without even the advantages of relief or charity’s support, and you begin to ask: “Why did God select me for this suffering?” Once more, go to dark Gethsemane and behold Him who, though Lord of heaven and earth, possessed less of personal property than anyone in this audience, and I include even those who have lost everything, who may be hearing this program in municipal shelters or in public institutions. You have far more than Jesus had; for there is a roof over your heads, while “the Son of Man” had “not where to lay His head.” You have clothing, but Christ was naked on the cross. Yet with Jesus you can never be poor in spirit. Through His poverty you become rich, rich in hope, rich in the heavenly treasures that cannot be consumed by moth and rust.

Thousands of you are sick. You write that you have suffered excruciating pains or lived through years of bedridden hopelessness that have been your lot. Think of Jesus, His lacerated back, His thorn-crowned head, His beaten body, His nail-crushed hands and feet, His hot, feverish body! When your sorrows seem more than you can endure, turn to that Savior and say: “O Jesus, Your body was bruised and cut and torn, so that You may know what my pains are. Give me strength to bear this misery!—Help me to cling more closely to You, my blessed Savior!”—and while for your own good Christ may not stop the anguish, He will give you His comfort and strength to go on, even though the burden of new pain may be added daily.

Some of you have been seized, not so much by bodily suffering, as by inner fears, that reach far deeper than bodily aches. The words men speak to you echo in their own empty failure. The counsel specialists offer is often too frail to bring real help. But one source of divine assurance can never leave you comfortless: Jesus, our Lord, was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” If you could only know the inner battles fought there on the slopes of Olivet as Jesus wrestled with sin and hell itself, you would know that you, too, can find sympathy and help in the Christ of the Garden because He Himself staggered under burdens, only immeasurably more and indescribably greater than those that oppress you!

Some of you feel yourselves rejected, outcasts in life. A few years ago you were greeted with warm welcome,—today you are pushed aside. I was touched by a letter received from the wife of a modernist pastor, a man who prides himself on his denial of Christ, who has rejected his own wife. If malicious desertion is found in some liberal churches, it occurs with far greater frequency outside the churches. If you suffer in this way, go to dark Gethsemane. Only five days before the grief of the Garden, Jesus had passed close to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane while thousands of Jerusalem’s citizens, old and young, turned out to acclaim the Miracle-worker, crying in welcome: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” That was Palm Sunday; and on this Thursday of sorrows, almost at the same spot, the soldiers were marching to take Christ captive. Will you not believe that Jesus understands your rejection, your desertion, better than you yourself, and, understanding, is ready to help you?

Can you not see why in our broadcasts we are intent upon exalting the cross of Christ, why the emblem of our broadcast has become the little gold cross, a memorial of faith in Christ’s atonement and His sympathy in suffering? Occasionally someone writes to ask whether the cross is not a Catholic emblem. With all my heart I protest against any such restriction. Protestantism would do well to glory in the Cross of Christ. If you Christian men are ready to wear the insignia of some secret society on your coat lapels, are you not ready to wear the cross of Him who said: “In secret have I said nothing”? There is no value in outward display, and it is crass superstition to regard the cross as a charm or amulet; but I know, too, that the third of a million American and Canadian men and women who have written us for that cross have often been reminded by that sacred emblem of Him who once died for their sins and today will comfort them in their sorrows.

II

TO BEHOLD CHRIST STRENGTHENED BY PRAYER

In the grip of His agony Christ knew where to find strength. He turned to His heavenly Father, and Gethsemane becomes the Garden of Prayer. Oh, that you, men and women who are depriving yourselves of life’s joy, your assured redemption, would go to dark Gethsemane and learn of Jesus how to pray! There, I can promise you in Christ’s name, you will witness that courageous communion with God by which your burdens will be lightened, your souls uplifted over fear and weakness!

Remember, prayer was a perpetual part of Christ’s life. He did not wait until approaching death to beseech His Father; for at the beginning of the Lenten account we read that Jesus went to Gethsemane as was His custom. Those acquainted with the New Testament know that sometimes Jesus spent the entire night in intimate pleading with His Father, and more than twenty-five times the gospels pause to record that Christ, the sinless Redeemer, brought His supplication before His heavenly Father. Many in this audience, talented and accomplished men and women, with time, interest, and energy for a hundred activities that can never help your soul but may injure your spiritual life, should take the prayer course Christ offers in His school of Gethsemane’s Garden and learn that our petitions must not be reserved only for emergencies and imminent death but should be the continued expression of our trust in God.

Again, as the spring moon sends its rays through the lattice-work of the olive-leaves, see Jesus in supplication apart from His disciples, in that solitude which knows no distraction! True, Jesus prayed together with His disciples, and He taught us to say “Our Father”; but He also knew that sacred outpouring of His heart to His Heavenly Father that no one else could hear, and that remained His own personal supplication. You cannot know how much you miss in your life if in addition to prayers in church and home, for which we continue to plead, you have never spoken privately and confidentially with your God, never held a sacred conference with your Maker. Do it today! Select some spot in your home or outside where, unseen by the world, you can lay your heart bare to God, confess to Him your weakness, share with Him your joys, implore His help for your problems! Tonight, when you have prayed in this way, you will say I am not dealing in theories but in blessed fact when I promise you that these sweet hours of private prayer will be among your happiest and strongest moments.

As we behold the supplicating Figure silhouetted against the dark background of Gethsemane, we see that the Savior, at whose name every knee should bow, Himself kneels to pray. Some of us have forgotten how to kneel. We like to assure ourselves that through the freedom of the Gospel we need assume no special posture when we speak to God; and it is true that one can pray while walking, working, playing. Yet it is not accidental that outstanding heroes of faith have fallen on their knees or even prostrated themselves entirely, as Christ did in the Garden! You, too, will make no mistake in imitating Christ by bowing down and humbling yourselves before God.

Our text reminds us that Jesus, as the agony increased, “prayed more earnestly.” No lip-worship, no heedlessly spoken words, no saying one thing and thinking another, no mechanical recitation of oft-spoken lines, nothing artificial in that entreaty of the Savior’s afflicted heart! Nothing less than sincere heart petitions can ever have the promise of answer by God. It matters not how long you pray, how loudly you plead, how beautifully you entreat; everything depends on the genuineness of your faith.

With what radiance can prayer-filled lives become enriched! Recently here in Saint Louis we laid to rest the earthly remains of a friend in Christ who financially did more than any other single person to help this radio crusade bring Christ to the nation. During lingering days of his sickness, with a firm faith that seemed even to increase as the time of departure approached, this child of God almost lived on prayer, and its sustaining grace helped him to rise triumphantly over his afflictions. Today with His Savior, he finds the heavenly answer to every one of his earnest pleas. You, too, have Jesus’ own promise, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.”

Especially are we not to forget this vital truth that Christ, as He prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from Him, humbly added, “Nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done!” What faith, what submission, what trust in God, this “Thy will be done” requires! How often we rebel against God’s direction, and demand that He must hear our prayers! Sometimes we direct to our heavenly Father petitions which, were they granted, would bring spiritual or bodily danger, weaken our faith, or ultimately exclude us from heaven; and such prayers will never be answered. Sometimes we pray without knowing what we actually ask. Or we beseech God that we may be spared danger and distress; but our Lord knows that it is best for us to meet these emergencies, and so His will is done as these prayers are not answered. We ask for profit and advancement, insisting upon our way instead of saying, “Thy will be done!”; and because the all-discerning eye of God can penetrate the future and He knows that, were such petitions granted, they would estrange us from Christ, He refuses to give us that for which we ask but instead may enrich us with the better portion.

Yet, with all this, we have this glorious promise that I trust the Spirit of God may implant in every heart: if we pray as Christ did, “Thy will be done,” and come before God humbly trusting Christ, God hears us. He has to hear us because He has promised His answer, and God keeps His word!

It was not His will that Jesus should be spared the ordeal of suffering. But it was His will that the Savior should be strengthened for it. Soon after Jesus prayed for the last time, a new feeling of assurance came to Him in answer from God Himself. No more does He pray: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me”; no longer does He lie terror-stricken on the ground; no longer does He require angelic aid. With renewed courage He rises quickly, wakes His sleeping disciples, tells them that His hour has come since the betrayer is at hand. With majesty commanding the admiration even of those who have not confessed Christ, He goes forth, uncomplaining, unflinching, to face the death of deaths.

As we leave dark Gethsemane, may this spot of untold agony become a glorious garden of hope for us, so that we, too, proclaiming that Christ of victorious anguish our Savior, can find there confidence of joy and strength even for the darkest moments and the assurance of our salvation for all eternity with, through, and for that all-blessed Savior! Amen.

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