A Sermon By

Dr. Walter Maier

"When He had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest Thou the high priest so?  Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?" - Saint John 18: 22, 23

Jesus, Merciful Savior of Our Souls:
Help us testify to millions that Thou, our heavenly Redeemer, canst cleanse from all impurities everyone who trusts Thee!  Give us whatever else Thy mercy may decree; but, O Christ of endless compassion, grant us Thy saving grace!  Destroy our pride, our love for self, our indifference toward the suffering of others, our unclean impulses and desires!  Lead us to confess our many, repeated transgression and to cry, "If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?"  Strengthen us also to believe assuredly that, cleansed by faith in Thine atoning blood, we can face our heavenly Father and hear Him speak pardon and peace to our souls!  Send the Spirit to stir us into flame and enrich us with an intense eagerness to serve Thee!  May we proclaim Thy name courageously and confidently challenge those who attack Thee!  Make the masses of this country repentant, so that Thou canst look on us with Thy favor, and soon grant us a blessed, building peace!  Be with all the distressed throughout the land and bring many sorrow-laden, grief- stricken sinners and sufferers to Thy comforting, saving, sustaining love!  Amen.

 "Too little and too late!" once more is the reason for startling military losses.  Yesterday Manila, Singapore, Batavia; tomorrow Rangoon and perhaps other pivotal cities - all lost because of poor preparation, too little planning, and help too late for victory.

 "Too little and too late!" also accounts for reverses which many churches suffer: Too little Gospel - too late in applying its power!  Whatever the outcome of the war, however long the struggle, whichever degree of victory is ours, this much seems certain: Atheism and unbelief will find in the postwar upheaval fertile fields where the seeds of discontent may be sown freely.  Each international conflict has been followed by a period of restlessness and revolt; and the present hostilities, mightiest of all, may be succeeded by the most destructive consequences.  After the American Revolution crime and irreligion increased.  Colleges surrendered to skepticism and the ridicule of the Christian faith.  If 150 years ago the follies of the French Revolution made slow but sure progress across the Atlantic to our country, then in this age of quick communication, radio, cable, clipper, superspeed liners, we can expect the denial of God, now widely spread through Europe, to find its way swiftly into many discontented lives on our shores.  We are constantly being warned that the American people must accept a lower standard of living: For civilians, no more automobiles, tires, typewriters, radios, no more unlimited supplies of a thousand other commodities, at least during the war; and at the same time increased taxes, higher prices.  Christians - for they love this signally endowed nation - can bear up under these restrictions, and they are willing to forego more than cuffs of their trousers, the pleats on their dresses, and the second spoonful of sugar.  There are others, however, who, unwilling to make the real sacrifices required for patient, painstaking rebuilding, will be easily won by the agitators, the Red revolutionists who cry out: "Cancel all debts!" "Make all people financially equal!" "Destroy the right of private property!" "Down with the Church!"

 In our present emergency, therefore, when millions look to our Christian faith for spiritual defense, the churches must purify and prepare themselves as never before.  We must have houses of God in which the preaching of Heaven's Law and Christ's Gospel are not pushed aside by dances, plays, theatricals, even gambling.  Neither is there any hope in congregations that neglect sound doctrine, appeal chiefly to the emotions, agree to disregard differences and join in a  union which is outwardly impressive, yet unacceptable to God, since it is built on the denial of divine truth.  We must pray for true Christian unity, of course - and I hope you do - asking the Holy Spirit to bless and guide all who acclaim the Bible as God's infallible Word and bring them together in complete doctrinal agreement.  The churches which are to be the salt of the earth in a day of spiritual decay should be 100 per cent loyal to Christ and His Word, courageous, outspoken, militant, seeking to please God rather than men; churches that do not ask whether the world offers its applause, but first of all whether the preacher sees eye to eye with the Lord Jesus Christ; pulpits which, while telling all men that without Christ there is no hope for a blessed eternity, warn the sinner of his evil ways and relentlessly attack unbelief.

 In this respect Jesus has been a divine Pattern for us.  There was nothing evasive or compromising in His words, and He could not be intimidated.   As we pledge ourselves anew to follow His example and repel every assault on the Gospel, we employ this third Lenten devotion formally to issue


We find this suggested in the words of Saint John (chapter eighteen, verses twenty-two and twenty three): "When He had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest Thou the high priest so?  Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou Me?"


 After Jesus had permitted Himself to be taken captive in the Garden, He was bound and led first to Annas, probably the most influential figure in the religious life at Jerusalem.  For six or seven years he had been the high priest, the representative of God to His people.  When he had been deposed by the Roman governor, five of his sons, his son- in-law Caiaphas, and one of his grandsons were successively installed in that exalted office.  He was immensely wealthy and received a large income through the sales at the Temple booths.  At the same time he was a Sadducee, who openly denied the resurrection and otherwise paid little attention to doctrine.  How he hated Jesus for cleansing the Temple, thus interfering with his revenue!  How determined he was to destroy the Savior! - Today, too, the most brutal attack on the Christ of the Scriptures comes from the clergy itself, from Modernists who occupy top positions in their denomination, the twentieth-century Sadducees who under the guise of religion traitorously attack the Savior.

 Annas began by cross-examining Jesus in regard to His disciples.  If the Savior Himself would reveal the names of those who had followed Him and preached His doctrine, they could be captured and sentenced with Him.  Oh, how faithful Jesus' love!  Although every disciple had shamefully deserted Him despite the promise of loyalty, He did not forsake them; He refused to answer Annas' question.  He could have assumed a friendly, ingratiating attitude to win His liberty; but He spurned every thought of currying favor and even withheld a reply to some of Annas' inquiries.  May our heavenly Father give us the courage to follow Christ in defying the foes of our faith!  Because God is on their side, Christians dare not be timid, apologetic, servile.  There are times when we must be defiant, and for those moments may God infuse us with heroic resistance!  We need much more of the courageous spirit that lived, for example, in Polycarp of Smyrna: When told by the Roman governor that unless he denied Christ, he would be banished, the venerable patriarch replied, "You cannot banish me, for I am at home wherever Christ is."  The chagrined official continued, "I will take away your property."  Polycarp responded, "I have none; if I had and you took it away, I would still be rich, for I have Christ."  His captor warned, "I will take away your good name."  That hero of the faith answered, "It is gone already , for I have long since reckoned it a great joy to be counted the offscouring of all things for Christ's sake." "I will put you in prison," the Roman ruler threatened, only to be told, "You may do so if you please, but I shall always be free, for where Christ is, there is perfect liberty." "I shall take away your life," the governor concluded , but Polycarp triumphed, "Then I shall be in heaven, which is the truest life."  Ignatius, first-century martyr, cried out: "Come fire, come cross and crowds of wild beasts; come tearing, rending, and breaking of my bones; come the mutilation of my members and the shattering of my whole body and all the torments of the devil!  I would rather die for Christ than rule the world."

 When Annas continued to examine Jesus concerning His teachings, our Lord once more refused to respond directly, declaring: "In secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou Me?  Ask them which heard Me!"  Had the high priest been a poor, contrite, groping sinner, eagerly seeking the way to God, how carefully, lovingly Jesus would have explained His Gospel, answered every question, outlined the whole plan of salvation; for -- let this be your comfort! -- no sincere inquirer after divine truth can be too lowly and despised to be welcomed, instructed, strengthened by the patient Redeemer, who loves the humble and the penitent.  But let this serve as a warning: No one, not even powerful Annas, the man who ran religious affairs in Jerusalem, can be high and imposing enough to secure Christ's consideration if he is moved merely by curiosity, or, worse, by a desire to destroy His Church.

 The Savior's protest, "In secret have I said nothing," shows how open, honest, undisguised His truth is.  Millions are attracted to secret organizations and occult creeds with mysterious rites and ceremonies, undercover oaths, passwords and privileges only for the initiated.  But Christ's Gospel is as opposed to all this as the brightness of day to the utter darkness of night.  Jesus has nothing to conceal but everything to reveal.  It is necessary, of course, that our soldiers and sailors guard military and naval secrets.  Billboards throughout the nation remind us how dangerous it is even for commonplace information to fall into enemy hands.  Yet because the Gospel is dedicated to save men's souls rather than destroy their lives, Jesus wants us who know His grace to proclaim the promise of His love.  He still declares, "Ask them which heard Me!"

 Now comes one of the most brutal scenes in our Savior's entire suffering.  One of the Temple servants, turning sharply to Christ and demanding, "Answerest Thou the high priest so?" struck Jesus a heavy blow.  Henry Martyn, missionary among the Mohammedans, tells us that when he was translating the New Testament into the Persian language a native lad, reading this passage for the first time and inwardly shaken over this blasphemy, asked,"Sir, did not his hand dry up?"  We, too, often wonder how the innocent, stainless Son of God could endure such brutal treatment without striking His assailant dead on the spot.  Christ, however, had thoughts only of love and life, not of hatred and destruction.  Even that soldier, guilty of the most terrifying sins, could have found forgiveness in the Savior's unlimited grace, just as His arms are never closed when you approach Him penitently, however black and blatant your unbelief may have been.

 Instead of threatening or cursing the man who struck Him, Jesus looked Him squarely in the face and said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil."  Had that soldier taken time to ask himself: "After all, why have they made this Nazarene a prisoner? What is His offense?" he would have come to the same conclusion - had he been fair and open-minded - which Pilate reached when He pronounced Jesus innocent in the verdict, "I find in Him no fault at all."

 This challenge "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil!" is directed to all unbelievers today and now particularly to the seventy million Christless people within our shores.  I deliberately ask any individual or organized group to produce evidence of a single destructive action or teaching in our Lord's life.  Since the days when His enemies stooped to perjury and false witness, the opponents of our faith have always used fraud and lies to discredit of our faith have always used fraud and lies to discredit Christianity.  A renowned scientist, seeking to heap ridicule on the Biblical doctrine that man was created by God, actually manufactures spurious evidence for his assault on the Scriptures - only to have his dishonesty and duplicity exposed.  From the first century, when Jesus' followers were branded as enemies of the State, Christ's creed has been maliciously attacked, His utterances misquoted, His meaning misinterpreted, His love willfully misunderstood.  The New Testament has been fine-combed by hostile critics seeking to accuse our Lord of inaccuracies.  Every word He spoke has been examined and cross-examined by experts as no other utterances in history, all in the hope that some flaw or contradiction might be uncovered.  Yet with millions of dollars spent in assailing Jesus, long years devoted to discredit His Word, the truth of Scripture has been repeatedly confirmed by archaeological research.

 Confident that our Bible is God's own errorless verity, we demand of those who oppose Jesus, "If He has ‘spoken evil, bear witness of the evil!' " Is there anything wrong with the Savior's teaching that He is the Son of God?  In this age of broken promises, who would want to rely on man's word, when Christ as our Lord offers heaven's unbreakable truth?  On the day after last Christmas the British public was told by an acclaimed orator, "Sure I am, we are the masters of our fate."  But it has well been pointed out that we are not the masters even of our feet, since the Scriptures assert, "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps."  Particularly during the uncertainties of war, American Christians want the divine Christ in control of their fate, the heavenly Ruler of their destiny.

 Is there anything "evil" in the Savior's love which led Him from celestial radiance to an earth encrusted with sin, greed, hatred, that He might become one of us, yet without sin, and give His life as the Ransom, the Atonement, the Forgiveness for iniquity?

 Is there anything "evil" in the glorious Gospel promise that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself?"  Does our hate- ridden, strife-burdened age not plead for a compassion like Christ's which offers the inner peace of pardon to all men, including the lowliest and most despised?

 Is there anything "evil" in the magnificent mercy by which Jesus forgives, with out any payment whatever?  Think of the startling, constantly growing indebtedness sin heaps up against every one of us!  A few days ago, the newspapers reported, a drug clerk claimed that in 1929 when he was discharged, the company owed him $8.96.  Now, in 1942, only thirteen years later, this amount, through penalties, unpaid back salaries, compound interest, has become $18,720; and his lawyer is appealing to the courts that this large sum be awarded his client.  With the increasing indebtedness of our transgressions unspeakably greater, what objection can you have to a Redeemer who has wiped out all charges against us, whose Word pledges, "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves"?

 Is there any "evil" in the bounty by which Jesus offers His love and help to those staggering under the burden of care and worry?  Do you find fault with our Lord because of the guidance He offers during life's dangerous moments?  One of our Lutheran young men who gave up a university career to enter the United States Army Air Corps writes: "Last Monday I took off from the field, and after gaining an altitude of about seventy-five feet, my plane's left wheel came off.  For an hour and a half I circled the field, preparing to land.  At the same time preparations were made on the ground for a crash.  Thanks be to God, I was able to land safely on one wheel, damaging the plane only slightly.  During the entire incident I was able to remain calm only through and because of my entire trust in God."  Why do you unbelievers want to take away that trust, and what will you give us in place of this divine guidance by Christ?  The fatalists claim: Everything happens by luck, good or bad; life is only a series of accidents, men the weak creatures of chance. - You can have this if you want it, but in hours of desperate need, when human power proves its pitiable weakness, you will scream for a divine refuge.

 Is there anything "evil" in Christ's teaching concerning the home, business, government?  Which of these does the nation need today, the Savior's code of family ethics with husband and wife bound together by undying love and self-sacrificing devotion, with marriage a holy, blessed, life-long union, and children welcomed as the gifts of God's goodness - or the destructive theory that matrimony is only an arrangement of convenience and pleasure, to be broken when these ends are no longer served?  What does our country require in this crisis?  The Christian idea of business an labor as a service, as an expression of Jesus' Golden Rule, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise," or capitalists and laborers striving to secure the highest possible prices, income or wages, while millions of young military men risk their lives at hardly ten dollars a week?  Do we want the Christian type of patriotism which is wholeheartedly "subject to the powers that be," yet at the same time prays God soon to give the world a real, righteous peace - or the spirit of a St. Louis woman quoted as declaring that she hoped the war would last for years, since both she and her husband were enjoying the highest salaries they had ever received?

 Above all, is there "evil" in Christ's teaching concerning death and the promise of a glorious resurrection, a life beyond the grave, a radiant existence with fullest compensation for earth's tears, sweat, and blood, its sorrow, pain, and toil, a heaven where the wronhgs of earth will be righted?  How can anyone except those with a diseased mind kick this crutch of hope from beneath staggering men and women with the claim man dies like a dog and his personality, his thoughts, his being are destroyed forever with his last breath?  A few days ago newspapers carried the account of a Memphis man, thirty-six years old, doomed to die of cancer within a few months.  Through an Associated Press dispatch he asks for counsel as to how these last weeks of his earthly life should be spent.  Probably he will receive hundreds of suggestions, directing him to "eat, drink, and be merry" before he is wrapped in the silence and destruction of the grave.  I have wired that man and now tell him: "You have one supreme duty as your end approaches.  You must prepare to meet your Maker.  None of us can see God in our sins, yet by faith in Christ, His Son, the Savior of the world, our transgressions have been completely removed.  Accept Jesus now as your Redeemer, and He will help you bear your pain, strengthen you in the hour of your departure and receive you in the heavenly mansions where there will be no more cancer, no more suffering, no more death!  Put your whole trust in this Christ, and these last months of your life can be your happiest!  Enjoy all the good things God still gives you and do not fear the end!  Christ has destroyed death.  Your Christian fortitude may help bring others to the Lord.  Your Christian endurance can preach powerful sermons.  Faithful unto death, you can be assured of the crown of eternal life."  I ask you: What can unbelief give this afflicted man that is comparable to the Savior's pledge of eternal life?

 Today, as we point to our captive Savior, defying the unbelief of His day, "If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil!" we repeat that challenge publicly by asking any unbeliever, Modernist, Christ-denier, atheist, skeptic, scoffer (your letters, particularly the anonymous communications, prove that many of you listen in) to send me a single instance of evil in the words of our Lord, and in turn I will read any real charge or indictment of Christ over this coast-to coast broadcasting system.  At the same time, however, let me enlarge this challenge and ask: If you remove Jesus as the Savior of the world, whom will you follow in His stead?  Karl Marx, with his atheistic Communism that stands clearly condemned in its immoral consequences?  Voltaire, who was a deceitful, immoral sophisticate?  Once when he tried to versify the Fifty-first Psalm, that great penitential outpouring of David's soul, everything went well till the French radical came to the words, "Create in me a clean heart, O God!"  Then terror seized him, his body shook, his pen refused to move at the dictates of his hand, and his mind was so disturbed that even later he could not recall this incident without a feeling of gnawing uneasiness.  What will you substitute for the Savior's mercy and love at a time when the world is bleeding from ten thousand wounds?  What will you offer in place of Christ's widespread charity?  We have forty-seven hospitals in St. Louis - Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and others.  We have dozens of orphanages, old folks' homes, convalescent sanatoria, and similar institutions erected by the churches or by civic funds which directly or indirectly have come from the impulses of God's Word.  But nowhere in the whole city, as far as I know, is there a single charitable institution erected by atheists or agnostics.


 The servant in the palace of Annas could not point to anything evil in Christ's words or in His life, nor could he answer the Savior's further question "If I have spoken well, why smitest thou Me?"  Probably the misguided soldier struck Jesus in order to secure the high priest's favor, just as some of you have thought you could advance yourselves by turning from Jesus, denying the Lord of your childhood and youth.  Like Judas, you have sold your souls fro money, or, like Peter, you have become unfaithful because you could not stand the ridicule of unbelievers.  Still others have been coaxed from Christ because, swayed by blind infatuation, you married someone in whose heart and life the Savior plays no part.  For a dozen different reasons your fists are clenched against Jesus.  He condemns sin; you love it.  He warns against the lusts of the flesh; you want to follow them.  He asks humility, self-denial, self-sacrifice; but you are proud, unbending, selfish.  So you try to push His love aside, claiming that Christianity is contrary to reason and spurned by all brilliant minds.  Yet some of the world's mightiest intellects have acclaimed the captive, scourged, crucified Christ their Savior.  Notable in the history of the sciences is the work of Michael Faraday.  On one occasion, after a brilliant lecture on magnetical electricity, he performed an astonishing experiment that brought long, thunderous applause from the distinguished audience.  Then the Prince of Wales, later King of England, proposed that official congratulations be extended to Faraday.  The motion was seconded and carried as applause again rocked the hall.  After the handclapping subsided, the celebrated scientist had vanished.  Later it was revealed that he was the elder of a small church which had only twenty members on its roll.  The evening on which Faraday gave the remarkable lecture was the time for the midweek service, a meeting he never neglected, and while the applause re-echoed through the crowded hall, he had hastened, unnoticed, to worship his Christ in prayer.  If you will take time to meet your Savior, to have His Spirit convince you of sin's great curse yet of Christ's greater grace, you, too, will know the Lord is the highest Wisdom.  God back to the Bible, the divine Word,"which is able to build you up"!

 Terrifying beyond words are the consequences of denying or striking that innocent Savior.  The whole high priesthood in royal Jerusalem was soon wiped out completely.  The city which crucified Jesus was visited with such widespread destruction that the Roman conquerors under Titus could not find enough timber on which to nail the rebellious citizens.  The whole land of Palestine, blessed as no other spot on earth because Christ taught and preached within its borders, seems to have been blasted by divine wrath, overlaid with a heavy penalty.  Similarly, no people has ever permanently prospered that has risen up against the Lord Jesus.  We must take note of that truth in our country and counteract every anti-Christian influence arising in our schools, our homes, in the affairs of our Government, and even in our churches.  This is the hour for the most striking testimony to Christ this country has ever known.

 Even more, now is the time for some of you, enemies of the Savior, to accept Him as your own Deliverer from death.  It is His promise that "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out."  However destructive and damnable your past sins may have been, however defeated your life, that scourged, crucified, bleeding, dying Redeemer has thoughts of compassion especially for you.  With your wartime needs and wants, above all, your sins of unbelief and rejection that place you side by side with the soldier who struck Christ, the Savior of surpassing love asks you to make Him yours in an eternal unity that neither battle's horror nor prosperity's temptation can ever destroy.

 Blessed by that Savior, your faith and life should continually bear witness that He "hath done all things well."  You will know in an exalted confidence that the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we have beheld in His Lenten suffering as the persecuted, beaten Victim of man's hatred, is, in God's own truth, the Savior with matchless mercy, with free forgiveness for every transgression, almighty help in every weakness, divine comfort for life's most crushing sorrows, the unfailing Guide from earth to heavens' hallowed glory.  May every hand clenched against Him or lifted to strike Him, now be raised in the oath of loyalty!  May you with firm-founded faith declare: O my crucified Savior, accept me, despite all my sins, frailties, selfishness!  Wash me, purify me, through the cleansing power of Thy blood!  With Thy help I promise to bear witness to the world that Thou art holy perfect, my Lord, my Redeemer, my King.  Amen.

The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired four weeks prior to Easter 1942