Thank God For

The Easter Victory!

A Sermon by
Dr. Walter A. Maier

"Now is Christ risen from the dead . . . In Christ shall all be made alive . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" – 1 Corinthians 15:20,22,57

O Jesus, Victor Over the Grave, Destroyer of Death, Lord of Life Everlasting:
Endless praise, glory, majesty, adoration by men and angels be to Thee, Thou Son of God and Savior of our souls, that on the first Easter Day Thou didst rise from the sealed sepulcher to prove Thyself the living God, our eternal Redeemer!  Bring the radiance of Thy resurrection to many hearts and homes through a firm, joy-filled faith!  Show those who have surrendered to doubt or disbelief, that though the wages of unforgiven sin are death and exclusion from heaven, in Thine endless mercy Thou didst die on the cross and then victoriously come forth from the tomb to grant us the full assurance of our redemption and entrance into heaven!  Help us, as we stand in spirit before the open grave, to realize that our confidence in Thy resurrection can banish sorrow, worry, doubt, pain of affliction, and fear of death!  O Christ, our risen Redeemer come to us, abide with us, and preserve us for the radiance of the celestial Easter with Thee!  We ask these everlasting blessings by Thy triumph over death.  Amen.

 Easter, the festival of life in a world of death!  What redoubled joy and hope the Savior's rising from the dead should bring multitudes in our country this year!  When bullets kill our soldiers on the Bataan Peninsula; when sailors from torpedoed tankers sinking into the ocean depths; when aerial bombs blast the bodies of American fliers into bits, where can we find unfailing answers to questions like these:  "What happens to those who have died fighting in the nation's defense?"  "How can we best equip the young men called to the colors with assurance for the next life?"  As plans for military offensives and counteroffensives are proposed, we must be prepared – and high authorities have issued this warning – to pay a higher price in human blood before victory is ours.  While the casualty lists continue to grow longer, from whom can we learn the truth concerning the eternity beyond the grave?
 That perpetual problem, however, disturbs many more than the men in our military forces.  It confronts you, the aged, who have advanced far along life's pilgrimage and know that the last milestone must be close; you, the invalids on sickbeds, who wonder what the doctor's verdict or the real result of the operation will be.  Where can all of you, even the young, strong, brimful of energy, secure the calm of confidence required to meet the inevitable hour when your breath stops and your features become rigid in death's paralysis?  The most serious issues before you, the heaviest burdens on many minds, the steadiest assaults on your peace and happiness are these disturbed demands: "What is my final destiny?  What will happen to this body when I am placed in the grave?"  Everything else in life, the most crushing sorrow, the hardest blow, is only a trivial disturbance in comparison with what some fear in death.  A young woman in Ohio, for example, writes these revealing lines:  "I have seen only three corpses in my nineteen years, but I have heard of the death struggle, the death rattle, and how terrible it is for people to die.  It all seems so horrible."

 Some of you, however, think that the grave need cause you no concern.  You have no family lot in the cemetery.  Funerals are distasteful to you.  Anyway, you conclude, death is far away.  But are you sure?  Can anyone declare with finality that tomorrow he will still be numbered among the living?  Accidents on the highway decrease because of the rubber shortage, but fatalities in the home increase.  We conquer old diseases – and thank God that yesterday hope for the cure of infantile paralysis was announced! – yet new scourges arise.  The only absolute certainty before everyone of us is the inescapable fact that we must die; and where, in this world of decay, can we find the means required to remove the terror of the last hour?

 Not in science, for Professor Arthur H. Compton, Nobel Prize winner in physics, declares candidly: "I want to know what happens to me after this hull decays.  But to this question science has no straightforward answer to give!"  Neither can spiritism, fraud that it is, settle the issue.  A few weeks ago in a Chicago park a friend of the late Clarence Darrow again tried to summon the spirit of that departed agnostic.  Darrow had promised that after death he would make every effort to return with information concerning the hereafter; but neither he nor anyone else has ever come back.  Nor is there help in the religion often miscalled "modern" and proclaimed from many American pulpits; for what possible comfort can a twentieth-century Sadducee bring a mother bereft of her only child, by mumbling some pretty words to the effect that there may be a survival of the ego, a perpetuation of personality – whatever that is?

 For a positive pledge concerning the hereafter; for a reassuring reply to anxious query "What becomes of my body when death's decay sets in?" we must turn not to men, earthly speculation, human guesswork, but to Christ, to His revelation of eternity, and – this is the Easter glory – to His own triumph over the tomb.

 Now, to offer everyone of you the full resurrection rejoicing; to show that the anniversary of our Lord's rising from the grave should be welcomed also by war widows, war orphans, and homes saddened through bereavement; to remove the black fear of death from any sin- scarred, sorrow-burdened soul, Easter, the climax of Christian hope, bids us accept the angel's invitation, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay!"  As we stand in spirit once more before the rock-hewn grave, with Pilate's seal broken, the heavy boulder rolled away, the shrouds torn asunder, the tomb itself empty, may we


 That gratitude is suggested by Saint Paul's doxology in First Corinthians, chapter fifteen, from which our text has been chosen (verses twenty, twenty-two, and fifty-seven): "Now is Christ risen from the dead . . . In Christ shall all be made alive . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"


 The fifteenth chapter of Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians should be emblazoned with imperishable letters of faith on every Christian soul.  Despite the distractions of this wartime Easter, the fashion parade, more expensive and extravagant than ever before, the war, more critical than many imagine, take time to read this resurrection chapter carefully!  You have heard these words at funerals in the church and at burials in the cemetery; but as God's own truth they are so inexhaustibly rich that 1900 years of restudy and restatement have not been able to plumb their divine depths.  As you go through this victory declaration, verse by verse, you will see that Saint Paul loses no time in arguing or debating the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  Greek philosophers might ridicule this truth, his own countrymen deny it; but here, enshrined in faith which becomes stronger the more violently it is attacked, is the apostle's triumphant conclusion, "Now is Christ risen from the dead!"

 Neither should we involve ourselves in intricate arguments concerning the Easter reality.  To me as a Christian – and I hope to you – the fact that Jesus did not molder in a Palestinian grave but on the first Easter gloriously burst death's bonds in a verity more definitely assured than ten thousand records of past history, since the resurrection record is the revelation of God's unimpeachable, unchangeable Word.

 Long before Christ rose from His garden grave, it was foretold that, though He would die, His body would not "see corruption," and whatever Scripture promises it performs exactly.  Jesus Himself repeatedly predicted His startling conquest over death; and I defy anyone to prove that Christ does not keep His pledges to the letter.  Witnesses, friend and foe alike, singly and in groups of as many as five hundred, in various places, at different times; the four evangelists in separate yet harmonious accounts; even an angel from heaven – all have testified to this climax of our faith, "On the third day He rose again from the dead."  Altogether thirty-one New Testament passages repeat the assurance that the grave could not restrain the crucified Christ.  One utterance is sufficient when God speaks, but thirty-one statements by the Almighty should convince even the most distrustful mind.

 True, atheists and agnostics contradict this testimony, but if they are consistent, they ought to deny every other event in history.  For no occurrence of bygone centuries has been more clearly corroborated by trustworthy testimony than the glorious miracle by which your Savior and mine came forth from His tomb.  His resurrection revolutionized the Christian calendar.  Before Easter, the Sabbath, the last day of the week was set aside for worship.  But in the New Testament liberty with which Christ has made us free the Sabbath is abolished.  (Remember Saint Paul's admonition, "Let no man . . .  judge you . . . in respect of . . . the Sabbath days.")  When the early Christians had to select a time on which they would stop working and come together for prayers and praise, they chose the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, Sunday, the first day, and they called it reverently, as we should, "the Lord's Day."  Every Sunday therefore is an anniversary proof of Christ's victory; and though fiercely assailed in the past, the Lord's Day has remained a striking memorial to the Savior's marvelous defeat of death.  Enemies of God tried to abolish Sunday during the French Revolution, but the leader who planned to make every tenth day a period of atheistic relaxation, was executed by fellow conspirators.  The Lord's Day outlived that reign of terror.  Communists, in brazen rebellion against Christ have made the fifth day of each week the rest day, but their wickedness will likewise not survive.  Under the stress of the present emergency, Sunday labor is helping to decrease attendance at many churches and deprive workers of the Lord's Day's blessings.  As far as the seven-day working week is necessary for national defense, Christian workers will bring whatever sacrifices this new order requires.  Let churches hold extra services for those necessarily employed on Sunday!  The family altar, household prayers and Scripture reading, should be restored and reemphasized to help meet the emergency.  The consequences of encouraging a willfull disregard of the Lord's Day, the memorial to Christ's resurrection, can be fatal.

 The truth of the apostle's declaration "Now is Christ risen from the dead" is proved today by the Savior's transforming power.  Godless men torn from dissolute lives become witnesses for the Lord; brazen women turned from lives of shame to careers of consecration; nations led from the darkness of pagan vices to the light of progress; sufferers sustained in agonies which otherwise would drive men to despair or suicide; dying sinners radiating joy in their last hours – such miracles can be explained only when we realize that the crucifixion is not the end, that the Savior's body has not returned to the dust of Judean soil, that the Christ who died for our sins was "raised again for our justification"!  Have you ever heard of a single person being reborn into a new life of faith, a career of honesty, purity, cleanness, self-sacrifice, unquenchable joy, and the assurance of eternal bliss by following any leader who was defeated by death?

 We who love the risen Savior cannot stop evil tongues and blasphemous minds from denying the resurrection victory; but when it is repeatedly and ungratefully charged that men of scientific achievement and scholarly acclaim regard the Easter Gospel as legendary, we protest emphatically.  While we accept divine revelation, whether scholars subscribe to it or not, we are gratified to note that in opposition to the denial of second-rate mentalities, many academic authorities have endorsed the literal truth of the Easter story.  Dr. Cyrus Northrup, "grand old man" of Minnesota University, was not only a noted educator; he also had the rock-ribbed faith which enabled him to declare, "As long as I stand at the head of Minnesota University, I shall uphold Christianity as the religion which is to save the world."  Other college presidents please copy!  He issued this deliberate statement concerning the Easter truth: "For myself I should have very little confirmation of immortality from all the arguments . . . or human longings if I did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, as He said He would rise and as we are told that He did . . . I recognized in Jesus a Messenger from God who had power to lay down His life and power to take it up again."  Cyrus Northrup is but one in a long list of distinguished intellectuals frequently mentioned in these broadcasts who have unhesitatingly subscribed to the truth attested by the empty grave.  If ever it seems to you that the resurrection record contradicts reason and you demand proof, remember how the doubt of Thomas was removed.  He knelt before Christ to hear Him say, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed."  Immeasurable joy will be yours if you also kneel in spirit before the risen Savior, study the Easter Gospel, and hear its promise in the sermon of a true Christian minister.  Then, if doubts arise, you can pray, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!" and Jesus will mightily strengthen you to overcome doubt.

 Easter is also heaven's own proof that our Lord keeps His word.  He asserted, "I am the Resurrection and the Life"; He pledged, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!" and this prophecy became actual history.  Some religious leaders tantalize and then disappoint their followers with false, exaggerated promises.  But not Christ!  His fulfillment – to the letter – of every prediction concerning His resurrection brings us the guarantee we all need for these sorrow-marked days, divine assurance for our own trials, temptations, griefs, bereavements; and these promises can never be broken, though the earth itself collapse and the heavens be dissolved into nothingness.  Take heart at the open grave and believe that Jesus fulfills His pledge; that "all the promises of God" for your deliverance on earth and your salvation in heaven "in Him are yea, and in Him amen"!

 Throughout the early Church, Easter was the outstanding Christian holy day, called "the crown and head of all festivals."  On this day, a fourth- century writer says, "all labor ceased; all tasks were suspended.  The farmer threw down his spade and plow to put on his holiday attire, and the tavern keepers left their gain to be present at the Easter services.  The land was free of travelers, the sea of sailors, for all tried to be home on this great day.  All Christians assembled together as members of one great family."  Emperor Valentinian marked Easter by granting many pardons.  When this happy day came, those early believers canceled their debts, freed slaves, suspended lawsuits.  We profited little if this resurrection anniversary is merely an occasion for poems and pictures of reawakening nature.  Let the children have their joy; but no child in America should be kept in ignorance of the blessed fact that this is the day of Christ's victory, not merely a holiday with bunnies, chickens, baby ducks, pussy-willows, and budding flowers!  No home should be too preoccupied with social activities which start after the subdued Lenten season to welcome the risen Lord.  No Christian should indulge in such extravagance for food and holiday finery that scant interest is left for the resurrected Savior and only incidental funds for the spread of His message.  Recently I saw pictures of the fabulous artificial eggs which each year were given as Easter remembrances in the household of the last Russian czar.  Designed by expert craftsmanship, they were made of gold, studded with gems, and filled with intricate mechanical devices, so constructed, for example, that a bejeweled rooster would appear every hour.  They could bring no real happiness, however; while the royal family spent a king's ransom for these overdone holiday luxuries, masses of Russian peasants suffered inexpressibly from poverty and cruel oppression.  Neither can you, however wealthy and prosperous you may be, find any permanent joy in life, except through personal, penitent, praise-filled worship of the risen Redeemer and through the Easter faith, which rejoices, "Now is Christ risen from the dead!"  Come, then, cast away all distracting thoughts, suggestions of doubt, heaviness of afflicted hearts, worry over the war, over your family, your health, your business, and believe that, because Jesus lives, He can help you in every need, strengthen you in weakness, direct you in each moment of uncertainty, and finally bring you to share fully with Him the radiance of His resurrection glory!


 Now to the question in many minds, "Well, what difference does it make for me if Christ rose from the grave?"  I answer pointedly, "All the difference if the world!"  With a firm, personal reliance on the Easter Gospel, you have Heaven's own solution to the mystery of death, the answer to the questions concerning life in the next world.  The Savior's repeated promises: "Because I live, ye shall live also"; "Where I am, there shall also My servant be"; "I am the Resurrection and the Life"; "If a man keep My saying, he shall never see death" – these and a score of other pledges of a blessed existence beyond the grave have been mightily endorsed by the Easter record.  This existence is also the promise of our text: "In Christ shall all be made alive."  For Jesus conquered sin, the cause of death.  The divine Creator made man for an everlasting existence; but disobedience to the heavenly will robbed him of his immortality.  If you want to find the cause of death, however it may come, you need not look far: every cemetery, tombstone, grave, is the consequence of human transgression.  No matter how unbelief may belittle this basic truth, American pulpits question it, or "science falsely so called" oppose it, the verdict of the Scriptures remains unchanged: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"; "The wages of sin is death."  Therefore, if endless life is to be restored, the tyranny of our transgressions must be broken, our iniquity completely removed.

 How – and this has been the searching question of the ages – can we defeat the superhuman and satanic power of evil?  We cannot pay our way out of transgressions.  Micah exclaims, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God?  Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He shows us we need more than fabulous wealth, more even than human life, to cancel our iniquities.  We cannot work ourselves out of sin; for though we wear the flesh off our hands and feet, though we toil ceaselessly through long, sleepless nights, we must fall short of earning our redemption.  Eternal Truth warns, "By the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified."   We cannot cheat our way into pardon by declaring that we have no guilt, for the holy God sees into our hearts and uncovers our hidden lusts, private vices, the concealed wrong we may vainly seek to cover.  We cannot scheme our way into God's grace.  The processes of earthly justice may be thwarted; cunning attorneys may help their clients escape the full penalty, but divine justice never makes a mistake.  His truth cannot be outwitted, His punishment never outrun.

 Nor can others complete what you fail to accomplish.  No chemist has produced an antiseptic to cleanse your soul of a single blot.  No friend can take your place before God's life-and-death tribunal.  Pious parents, godly pastors, self-denying saints, are all powerless to remove your sin and deliver you from death.  Dictators and tyrants may send millions to war and destruction, but earth's mightiest ruler cannot send a solitary soul to peace and life.  Angels, sinless and stainless in their celestial holiness, may wipe out armies, but they are unable to destroy a single sin.  Even Jesus Himself could not have saved us, had He remained in the grave.  Saint Paul's warning still rings true: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins."

 God be praised, however, because Easter proves that in the plan of divine mercy there is a positive cure for sin, the holy, precious blood of the Lord Jesus!  There is a substitute for human wrong, the death of the crucified Savior at Calvary.  There is life instead of eternal death, because the resurrection miracle proves that Christ is, as He repeatedly taught, the true Son of God, stronger than the grave.

 His victory over sin and decay is sure.  Modern minds may seek to contradict the repeated testimony to its truth, but Job declares, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."  A famous liberal preacher speaks of the Easter hope as "the soul's surmise"; but Saint Paul challenges, "Who is he that condemneth?  It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God."

 Christ's offer of heaven and eternity is free.  Men pay fabulous sums for trinkets and trivialities, but the greatest gift Heaven itself could bestow and men receive is the pledge of immortality granted by full mercy.  The Easter doxology declares, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"  If God gives, we need not earn it.

 The Easter promise is universal.  Race riots may show the depths of hatred that flares up between various social classes; but before our merciful Father and through Christ's compassion all men may receive never-ending blessedness.  For here is the Savior's promise: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

 This eternity with the Savior is splendor beyond compare.  The resurrected body will be reconstructed without blemish or defect.  The Bible teaches that our risen bodies are to be like the glorified body of our Savior, perfect, powerful, bright as the sun.  What comfort to know not merely that our personalities survive death but that our own forms and features will be restored; that although our bodies may be crippled and diseased, they shall be recreated without injury or loss of members!  And what can we say of the celestial beauties and the happy, pain-free existence amid radiance too marvelous for description, forever removed from tears, safeguarded against all departure, so surpassing in its loveliness that the most marvelous of earth's attractions are limp and faded?

 Do not sneer at this sacred truth by declaring that when a man dies, he is dead forever, or by claiming that no body decayed in the grave, blown into a thousand bits, or decomposed on the ocean floor, can ever be resurrected!  Modern unbelief teaches that men can do almost anything, while God, if indeed there is a God, can do little.  People applaud the shipbuilder who makes thousands of tons of iron and steel built into a battleship float in the water; but, they say, God's prophet could not make the axhead float in the Jordan.  They honor radio engineers who have shown that the air all over the world is filled with many different sounds, which can be heard when selected by a radio receiver; but emphatically they deny that the God who made the air and the sound waves can be everywhere, that the Spirit can work in the hearts of men thousands of miles apart.  Much admiration is showered on a Saint Louis scientist who has made a human heart beat after the body was dead; but skeptics ridicule the idea that the great God can revive a dead man's spirit.  We admire the startling processes of modern industrial chemistry, by which coal tar, distilled and processed, can be changed into attractive crystalline plastics; but why do haughty men insist that the omnipotent Creator, who first made man from the dust of the ground, cannot remake him in heavenly radiance?

 End all doubt on Easter!  Throw off all denials before the open grave, and with the mind of Mary Magdalene, who was the first to meet the risen Christ, greet you resurrected Redeemer today with trusting faith!  Learn to welcome death and, in the spirit of Christian martyrs who rejoiced that they would soon behold their Lord, conquer the fear of "the last enemy" through the love of Christ!  Don't shriek or scream at a funeral as though there were no hope for those who have the Lord Jesus!  Don't clench your fist against the Almighty, as though He were heartless in permitting bereavement to enter your home!  Defy Satan, hell, and the grave with this powerful cry of triumph: "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

 Show your thanks by living the faith!  The Scriptures remind us that, because we are risen with Christ, we should "seek those things which are above."  Learn to talk about heaven, pray for it, yearn for it!  Have the whole family, father and mother, brothers and sisters, prepare for it, so that in the celestial home they may all be reunited before the throne of the Lamb!  Help each member of the household accept the Lord Jesus in personal, penitent faith, and then, whatever the future may hold for you – sorrows in your individual lives, persecution in your churches, long- drawn-out conflict for the nation – beholding the open heaven beyond the open grave, you can exult, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us," when in the eternal Easter we come face to face with Jesus.

 Real, sincere thanks for the Savior's resurrection must show itself in an intense desire to spread the message of the living Lord.  Therefore I ask you on this Easter day:  Have you ever done anything which would help lead others to everlasting life?  Have you personally told anyone today of the resurrected Redeemer's grace, His power, and His eternal blessing?  Too many Christians, I fear, have not raised their voices in offering friends, acquaintances, fellow workers, neighbors, this glorious truth of the Easter miracle that they have a Savior who not only gave Himself into the agony of the crucifixion but also proved His divine power and grace by breaking forth from the grave and defeating death's tyranny forever.  What tens of millions in America and hundreds of millions all over the face of the globe need is complete reliance on the living Christ.  Everything else in this world is only of secondary and often of doubtful importance.  While we treasure the Gospel light, let us strive and sacrifice to bring it to others over the face of this war-scarred earth!  How I thank God that I can now report publicly one of the most startling advances in the spread of our radio work!  A few days ago a cable from the Icelandic government informed us that the facilities of the 100,000 watt superstation in their capital, Reykjavik, has been placed at our disposal.  Because this station with its tremendous power is regularly heard in England, Ireland, and Scotland, we are enabled to enter Europe for the first time.  With the help of God we hope to feature Icelandic messages for the people of the island and broadcasts in English for our soldiers in Iceland as well as for the people of Great Britain.

 All this, however, must be only the beginning of our European work.  Masses on that war-ridden continent should have the promise of a new life in heaven and a new existence here on earth through faith in Him who died and rose again for them.  Stand by us, then, with your prayers, your interest, your gifts, as we publicly pledge to broadcast the promise of the risen Christ, wherever over the face of the earth God thus grants us openings!

 At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem this morning, fire is said to have descended miraculously from heaven and to have lighted the candle held by a high official of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Great crowds from many parts of the civilized world pressed forward to light their candles from this supposedly celestial fire and thus to find good luck for the future.  While all this is misrepresentation and superstition, everyone of you can find the fire of fervent faith here at the open grave which will bring you not good luck but new light for every day, new courage for every affliction, new hope in every sorrow, new triumphs over the fear of death.  As we answer the joyous Easter proclamation "He is risen!" with the response of trusting faith "He is risen indeed!" (and once more I ask that this be your Easter greeting today) let our faith declare joyfully in this nation-wide testimony to the risen Savior, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory," triumph over death, darkness, and despair, "through our Lord Jesus Christ," the resurrected and eternal Redeemer!  Amen.

The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in 1942.