O Jesus, Thou Prince of the
Mercifully look down on our torn, bleeding world; behold the victims of war: sailors struggling in the cold seas, aviators with broken bodies, soldiers maimed and crippled, women and children undernourished, starving, families homeless through bombing, hostages innocently killed! Survey the wide suffering, anguish, torture, that men are inflicting on their fellow men — and then, beloved Jesus, give us a true victory over hatred! May the teachings of Thy truth everywhere prevail and the compassions of Thy "new commandment," "that ye love one another," overcome the greed and aggression of power-seeking dictators! Forgive us, we beseech Thee, our many sins, our repeated thanklessness and for the sake of Thy redeeming death on the cross completely remove all our transgressions! Amid toil and turmoil without, we can have Thy blessed assurance within — peace with our heavenly Father, peace with our conscience, through Thee, our only Savior. We need Thee, merciful Jesus, not only every hour, but during each moment of these trying times. Be with us, therefore, to bless us and in turn to make us a blessing for others! We ask it confidently, because we pray in Thy name and with Thy promise. Amen.
How long will the war last? What will be the role of the United States? Where will the young men in our expeditionary forces be sent? — Such are the questions of the hour, discussed throughout the breadth of the land and answered by military experts, newspaper columnists, radio commentators, only too often on the basis of personal bias.
As far-reaching as these critical issues are, many of you are more directly moved by the perplexities in your own life, the private burdens that weigh heavily on your soul and mind, the restless anxiety about health, home, money, the need of love, companionship, guidance, the mounting fears for the future. Yet, no matter how grave the world problems or how seriously personal difficulties distress you, today this broadcast puts before every one of you a more vital question that centers in eternity itself, an issue of life and death, heaven and hell, everlasting salvation or never ending damnation, the question concerning Jesus Christ: Who is he? And what is He to you?
This may be the first time many of you have tuned in our broadcast, or it may be the last time for some; but first or last, whoever you are and wherever you may hear these words, the supreme questions for every one, irrespective of age, class, creed, or color is not a matter of war or peace, wages or work, health or home, but: Jesus. Who is He whose name is used in prayer and abused in cursing; who is honored by churches built for His worship and dishonored in vulgar cartoons by atheists; the Jesus whom some of His own countrymen have learned to call their Savior, while others still brand Him a satanic deceiver; the Jesus whom Bruce Barton called "The Man Nobody Knows" but of whom Martin Luther said, "So real is Christ to me now as if He had this very hour poured forth His blood"; the Jesus whom certain other broadcasts and churches regard as only another man, but whom this mission of the air exalts as what He really is: God and Savior.
Here, then, as the center
of our Bible, our Christian faith,
our evangelical churches, is an issue which cannot be successfully
stepped or completely avoided. Your reply to this question
your joy in life, and your assurance in death.
For our answer we turn to
the source of unfailing truth, God's
infallible Word, and there, in the record of Saint Matthew, chapter
verses thirteen to sixteen we read: "Jesus ... asked His disciples,
Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? And Simon Peter
and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
When Jesus asked, "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" He was alone with His disciples in the foothills of beautiful Mount Hermon. If Christ withdrew from the crowded, noisy world to teach His followers eternal truths, how much more should we, in this day of increasing tumult and strife, take reverent time to meet Him in His Word, and, cut off from the disastrous allurements of our age, center our thoughts on His promises! The deep-rooted trouble with many churches in our day is this, that their members do not give up all else and at Jesus' feet learn the vital truths of His peace and pardon. They have interest a-plenty for the social activities attached to the congregations's work, ample energy for theatricals, suppers, entertainments, organizational activities, but not even a few spare moments for the study of God's Book, nor a regular Sunday hour to follow the Savior's pointed command "Learn of Me!" Instead, church services are shortened, sermons streamlined, the tempo of hymns stepped up, the speed of our whole religious life increased. As a consequence the American pulpit has too often featured snap judgments in place of earnest instruction over which the preacher has studied hard and long. People hear emotional outbursts rather than solid interpretation. They behold Christ in hazy, blurred pictures, not in sharp, clear-cut lines. Millions in this hour — I can sum it up in one short sentence — need to detach themselves from the world and learn the lessons that our Lord, the master of grace and wisdom, would impart.
Our Lord was resting in Mount Hermon's shadows also because He sought to evade that murderer of John the Baptist, Herod, whose agents now hunted Christ. Even Jesus had to experience the hatred in high places which Saint Paul felt, the opposition of the mighty that sought to destroy Martin Luther, the hostility on the part of world leaders which many Christians feel today. Why is it that when men reach positions of power and fame, they frequently begin to show contempt for religion and are guilty of Herod's readiness to persecute Christ? People who wax wealthy often forget God, boast that they do not need Jesus, even declare themselves open enemies of the Christian faith. The sin against which we must be on guard during these months of easy money, higher salaries, inflation prices, overtime wages, is the conceited pride and its pompous boasting: "We don't need God. We don't want Him."
Perhaps because His disciples were beginning to lose their faith under Herod's steady opposition, Jesus sought to strengthen their trust in Him by asking them,"Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" The answers they gave were not different in principle from the statements we hear today, nineteen momentous centuries later. There was no agreement concerning the Savior then, as there is none today. Some said he was John the Baptist. Among these was Herod, who thought, "The man whom I beheaded has come back to life." His conscience gave Him no rest. Day and night he saw that blood- spattered head which in a moment of aroused lust he had presented to a lewd dancer. The memories of that murder were rising up to accuse him, just as the remembrance of wrong relentlessly haunts many of you.
Others said that Jesus was Elijah who, they believed, would precede the Messiah. They concluded that Jesus was too humble and lowly, too poor and persecuted to be the glorious Redeemer of Israel; yet even in His lowliness something strange and compelling about Him made them concede that He might be the Messiah's messenger.
Still others, perhaps recalling the opposition Jesus endured, thought Him to be Jeremiah, the prophet of suffering; while many, having heard with their own ears how Christ preached as no man had ever spoken, were satisfied to call Him "one of the prophets?"
You find in these contradictory opinions agreement on only one point: Public sentiment in those days had a highly respectful impression of our Lord. They ranked Him among the most distinguished figures in Israel's history, just as today every person of sound mind and intelligent judgment has paid Him tribute. People with the average quota of common sense can see that Jesus has showered benefits on the whole race. They recognize that it was He who helped the downtrodden groups of mankind, liberated womanhood from the tyranny of lust, elevated childhood from the depths of despair, turned the toil of slavery into the honor of labor, changed the hideousness of heathendom into decent, progressive society — in short, heaped multiplied blessings on all classes and centuries of men. Nobody except a degenerate atheist, a perverted brute, denies Jesus' greatness. Listen to this testimony: "For the man Christ...I have the highest admiration and respect. They crucified a kind and perfectly innocent man.... To that great and serene man I gladly pay my homage of admiration and my tear." Do you know who spoke these words? Robert G. Ingersoll, the American infidel who crisscrossed the country and for $250 a night told his audiences that Christianity was a forgery and a sham! Listen to this acknowledgment: "What sweetness, what purity in Christ's ways, what touching grace in His teachings, what loftiness in His maxims, what profound wisdom in His words!" Can you guess who penned those lines? Not a preacher, not a God-fearing scholar, but Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French scoffer, guilty of serious immorality.
An almost endless list of similar praise even by His enemies shows there should be little difficulty about convincing a normal person that Jesus is at least one of the mightiest figures in history. but this is not enough. Our Lord was not satisfied with such answers, and neither can you be satisfied with only a mortal Jesus. Call Him whatever you want: Teacher, Leader, Master, Guide, Friend, Model; exalt Him to the loftiest heights as the greatest earthly Figure curing all the ages, the most magnificent Man, the mightiest Genius ever to be born; glorify His statues throughout the world; but when all this honor is given Christ only as a Man, it is futile, false, fatal.
Of what good for your soul's salvation is a merely human Jesus? If the lips that spoke the promise "Thy sins be forgiven thee!" are only man's, these words may be wrong and false. If the voice that proclaimed, "Let not your heart be troubled!... My peace I give unto you," is but the utterance of another mortal teacher, how can we be sure of its truth? If the arms stretched toward all the weary, burdened souls with the invitation, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" are only the arms of an earthly Comforter, of what benefit can they be to us in life's repeated trials and increasing sorrows when we need heavenly assurance? If He who was mailed to the cross was only a noble, self-sacrificing sufferer, how can Calvary mean any more to us than Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Flanders Field? If the Jesus who promised, "I am the Resurrection and the Life; He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live," contradicted that pledge with His own death and remained to moulder and decay in His grave, as all men must, then how can we find any positive pledge of the resurrection and the life everlasting?
No man can take your sins away, bear the punishment of your transgressions, become your substitute before the bar of divine justice. None of your fellow men, no even the godliest, can ever remove sin's stain. The purest life, the cleanest mind that human records list, can never make you spotless in God's sight. Plainly and pointedly does Holy Scripture declare, "None of them can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him." A few days ago an airplane hurtled to the ground in Minnesota. It was close to the airport — only two miles away but not close enough, fourteen passengers met a tragic death. You may be near Christ, but not near enough for spiritual safety if with all your praise you echo the verdict of His countrymen: He is a great prophet but only a prophet.
Our age especially should be ready to welcome One who is more than man, for the deep-rooted trouble with these twisted, tangled years is this, that we have placed our confidence only in earthly guides who, with all their broken promises and pitiful failures, have proved blind leaders of the blind. Every burden in this bleeding age; all the horrors of a Second World War; each conflict between capitalists and laborers; all the battered nations, broken homes, blighted lives in our greedy, gory generation come from rejecting God and relying on ourselves. We have made idols of wisdom, strength, cunning, but we have forgotten God. More than during any other period we, in these frightful forties, ought to confess man's utter sinfulness, the complete depravity of the race, and on bended knees, with folded hands and pleading hearts, beseech the Almighty to forgive us, to grant us divine help, to enlighten us for the one and only true answer to the question "Who is this Jesus on whom our hope of heaven depends?"
Yet how forceful is this Scriptural warning "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved." At a time when the very tragedy of a world collapsing about us should drive us to God and to a reverent appreciation of the true Jesus, we must witness a growing determination to keep Christ down on the human level. A recent book, written by a professor of a celebrated Massachusetts college, stated boldly, "The view of Him (Jesus) as the supernatural Being...we cannot honestly accept." That college was founded just 150 years ago by Christians who would rather have had the earth open wide to swallow them up than to reduce Jesus to such depths. At this school the first foreign missionary society in the United States was organized; yet now at the same place the brazen denial of the true Lord finds applause. Is it any wonder, with many colleges practical agencies of atheism, that parents have wept bitter tears when their son or daughter, who left home for the university as a child of God, returned, enriched by a degree but robbed of faith? This dethroning of Christ marks our entire modern social system. With a full realization of this indictment, I raise these charges: First, many American churches, especially some of the largest and wealthiest, have brazenly denied that Christ is anything more than man. Second, some protestant leaders have been guilty of the same damnable sin. Third, church groups, national councils, called "the voice of Protestantism," have chosen officials, printed statements, adopted policies rejecting the truth in a way which leaves no charitable doubt that they have cast the true doctrine concerning the Savior aside. Fourth, some religious broadcasts, which receive chain facilities entirely free (while we pay for every moment on the air), have persistently preached only a human Jesus. Fifth, certain divinity schools, including some the oldest and wealthiest, systematically teach this pernicious error. Sixth, denominational papers picture Jesus as though He were one of us, and only that. Seventh, the training of our youth in many Sunday schools has the same poisoned basis, with the result that we are educating millions of children who, unless God graciously intercedes, will never know the saving love of Christ who says, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not!"
Facing this widespread
denial, what must we who love the Lord
Jesus do? To begin with, we should realize the acute danger
the churches in the United States and Canada. Sixteen million
over ten years old in the United States cannot read or write, but
million are spiritually so illiterate that they have never signed their
names beneath an oath of allegiance to Jesus nor read His Gospel.
If this rejection of our Lord is not checked, their opportunity for
spiritual instruction will be cut off, as more high places in American
church life are usurped by men who bow before a false Christ. Is
this country following Europe's destructive example in letting
and religious radicalism assume control? If you who look to Jesus
and say, "I know whom I have believed," want to avoid that calamity,
a hundred times more fervently! Testify! If you do not rise
up in protest every time the true Scriptural Jesus is swept aside in
pulpit, you come under this condemnation by our Lord, "Whosoever shall
deny Me before man, him will I also deny before My Father which is in
Speak up, and if continued protests are unheeded, either you or those
dethrone the Son of God must step out of that church! Benedict
seems a bungling amateur in comparison with some men who receive their
salaries from Christian congregations and yet publicly question the
truth and privately ridicule it. A man who insists that Jesus is
merely of common human stock cannot be a true disciple of Christ and
no place in His Church. Those who spurn the Scriptural Redeemer
plenty of freedom to form their own religious groups or join with other
like-minded apostates, but if they are not honest enough to follow that
open course, they ought to be barred from the churches.
How refreshing, by contrast, to hear Peter give the only true, divinely approved answer to the question "Who is this Jesus?"! Without hesitation the eager disciple turns to our Lord and in words imprinted on the souls of millions since that day testifies, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The word Christ is used so carelessly and so often abused in profanity that most people fail to grasp its full meaning as the "name which is above every name." Indeed, there is not a person living, however learned he may be and however imposing the list of degrees behind his name, who can understand or express to others the fullness of grace and glory concealed in this name. Since its full brilliance is too dazzling, we can only single out some of its radiance and say: To be the Christ means far more than to be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any of the other prophets. Jesus — this is Christianity's keystone creed, separating it from every other religion — as the Christ is the long-promised, divinely anointed, sin-destroying Deliverer, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." the Substitute for every sinner, the Ransom for every wrong, the Payment for the entire penalty of our transgressions, the Reconciliation of a race estranged from God, the Restorer of the holiness and happiness lost in rebellion against the Almighty. Take all yourself as innocent of evil, for each one of us, without exception, stands condemned by God's Word for our lustful longings, covetous desires, unclean hearts; take your total guilt, your accumulated soul-terror, the fear that your violation of God's Law and man's will be exposed or their crushing consequences visited on you; bring all this to the Cross, and there through faith in the sin-bearing Deliverer you know that His blood can remove your sins forever. Last week a Pennsylvania invalid wrote: "Can a murderess and an adulteress be forgiven? This worries me nearly to death. Oh, pray for my poor soul! Can you give me any encouragement?" In the name of the compassionate Christ, I tell that distracted sufferer and every burdened heart throughout the nation, in Canada and Mexico, that every iniquity, however vile and loathsome it may be, can be removed by the grace of Him who says, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow' though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Christ Jesus is the Savior also of the whole race, with none barred from His mercy. Heap up the mountains of universal guilt; invite men of every country, color, and condition to bring their transgressions before the Crucified, and His mercy will be so marvelous that again a single drop of the blood He shed in His atoning death can wipe out the world's hideous rebellion against God's truth, love, and purity.
Above all, believe that you yourself may come just as you are, depressed over the repeated victories sin has won in your life, almost desperately eager to find forgiveness, peace for a restless conscience, the assurance of God's love; and at Calvary through faith you learn that while Jesus here "died for all," He died especially for you, to cancel the charges written in the book of justice against your name, to prepare your place in heaven.
This is what the name Christ means: complete compassion, limitless love, matchless mercy, glorious grace, free forgiveness. Do you now answer the question "Who is this Jesus?" by exulting, "He is my Savior, my Atonement"? Or — God forbid! — do you behold the writhing agony of the Crucified, suffering for your sins, and then try to laugh this off by rejecting His grace? I read the other day that a group of men sitting on the deck of a steamer on its way up the Delaware River to Philadelphia saw flaming clouds of smoke over the city and paused to discuss that scene of weird beauty. After the ship had docked, one of the men in the party was told, "Your factory has been entirely destroyed by fire!" Unknowingly he had admired a blaze that had wiped out his own business. Yet with even greater tragedy some of you behold the Lord, concede that he may have done good, but detach yourselves completely from His love, little realizing that everything worth while in this life and the next is being destroyed while you are fascinated by the ravages of sin.
Yet, as we ask once more, "Who is this Jesus?" there now comes an answer of glorious climax, — Praised be the love that brought Him from heaven to the shame and agony of the cross! — Christ — Let earth and heaven rejoice, men and angels exult! — is, as Peter triumphantly concluded, "the Son of the living God," of equal majesty with the Father and the Spirit, Lord of lords, King of kings, very God of very God.
Jesus must be God, because only a divine Redeemer can overcome sin: because only One who is Life itself can defeat death; because nothing short of the almighty power of Heaven itself can conquer hell. And Jesus is God! Pointing to Christ, the Bible declares, "This is the true God!" In the Old Testament Jeremiah called Him "the Lord" and in the New Testament Saint John begins his Gospel by stating that He, Jesus, "the Word, was God." Our Lord Himself declared, "I and My Father are One." He told men that those who beheld Him beheld the Father. In turn, the Father acknowledged Him as His well-beloved Son. Jesus proved he was God by executing the almost endless list of miracles only the Almighty could perform. If the unbreakable Scriptures give Him the names and titles by which men address God; if they ascribe to Him those marvelous powers which can be only God's: eternity, unlimited strength, all-embracing knowledge, and especially the authority to forgive sins; if Christ is honored as God by prophets and apostles, praised as God by saints and martyrs, acknowledged as God both in heaven and hell, the call to everyone of us is to bow before Him and with full reverence of heart, soul, mind, repeat Thomas' conviction "My Lord, and my God!"
Some of you demand, "How can you convince me? In answer, as the Savior told Peter, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven," so I tell you that the deity of our Lord cannot be proved or disproved by scientific research, technical tests, or elaborate experiments. Only God, through His Spirit, can convince you that what I say is true. Give that Spirit a place in your heart! Ask Him to remove any stubborn resistance, and willful blindness! Yield to Him the direction of your life and let Him persuade you that Christ is your God! — Some years ago Charles Bradlaugh, a blasphemous atheist, challenged a courageous Christian minister to a public debate. Immediately the clergyman accepted, but he specified. "I will bring with me to the debate a hundred men and women who have been saved from lives of sin by the Gospel of Christ. They will give their evidence, and you will be allowed to cross- examine them. I will ask you that you bring with you a hundred men and women who have been similarly helped by the ... infidelity which you preach." That challenge was never met; and there will be no debate in your mind as to the deity of Jesus Christ when you, saved by the power of His love, know Him as your own.
My fellow redeemed, while the Spirit is close to you and in this moment seeks entrance into your heart, I plead with you who have never known Christ, who have consistently rejected Him, or who, once having pledged Him allegiance, have turned traitorously from His mercy, confess Him your Christ, your Savior, your God! Blessings, endless and immeasurable, for time and eternity, will be yours when your soul rings with Peter's positive acknowledgment of Jesus. What you need, what I need, what this whole bleeding and battered world needs is the answer to our question "Who is this Jesus?" given to the world 400 years ago by the great Reformer and Restorer of Christ's full and free mercies in a ringing statement of faith which I repeat annually as the summary and theme of our broadcasts, this deathless declaration: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering had death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
Who is this Jesus? God grant that you will answer joyfully, "He is my Savior and my God!" Amen.
The Preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in 1941, just four weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.