"If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend." - Saint John 19:12
Strengthening Spirit of God:
Fill our hearts with deep, sincere loyalty to our Savior and our country's welfare, so that we may gladly serve both Christ's kingdom and the better interests of our beloved land! Keep us humble, penitent, believing, ever mindful of the truth that by following the Lord Jesus in faith and life we can give America that which it most needs - exalting, building righteousness! Look down on this strife- torn world to grant us and all nations a true peace! Because of our multiplied sins we are not worthy of this blessing; yet we approach Thee by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and, trusting in His blood- bought pardon, beseech victory according to thy will, peace according to Thy love. Enter the homes throughout the country which have been afflicted with grief, especially the families bereaved by war and its disasters! In every need of body and soul show us the grace, the comfort, the power of the redeeming, sustaining Christ, who lived and died and rose again for us! We ask it in His blessed name. Amen.
During the past few days many of you have read newspaper dispatches which told how Japanese troops, landing on New Guinea, were guided on their march across the island by American missionaries. I for one simply do not believe such reports! To start with, these cables were based only on second and third hand sources. Besides, no modern invasion army needs missionary guides; long before the war started, the Japanese undoubtedly had accurate maps of this territory. Above all, true ministers of Jesus Christ are uncompromisingly loyal to the government under which they work. They have but one consuming purpose: to serve their fellow men by bringing them the Gospel. They want to keep out of war and follow the pathway of peace. Yet they do not hesitate to withstand enemies when the souls and bodies of their charges are at stake. A Lutheran worker in China, for example, a young man who only a few years ago studied at our theological seminary in St. Louis, had to take charge of our divinity school in Hankow after the Japanese occupied the city. When the victorious Nipponese troops started to manhandle villagers near Hankow, five hundred women and girls fled to the enclosed seminary compound for refuge. By day and by night the wily invaders sought to scale the walls and capture the women. But our young missionary faced enemy bayonets and the threat of bombardment to protect these refugees. By God's blessing and his bravery the five hundred women not only escaped rape and ruin, but during the weeks of siege many of them learned to know the Lord Jesus and were led to accept the Savior in a great ingathering of souls.
Protesting against every
slanderous claim that Christians are
unpatriotic, that the Gospel is a creed of disloyalty, I want to show
today with the Spirit's help that the Christians' resolution always is:
More than satanic agreement, however, can be found in these actions. After Pilate had repeatedly pronounced Jesus innocent and the Roman governor seemed on the verge of setting the Savior free, the priests' diabolical craftiness became evident. They began to pose as patriots, and knowing Pilate's weakest spot, bluntly warned him, "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend." The mention of Caesar, the mighty Tiberius, was a threat that could bring fear into anyone's heart, particularly to the soul of a cheap politician like Pilate. With a record none too clean, he realized that if the citizens of Jerusalem ever formulated charges against him, the days of his official power would probably be at an end. Besides, one of his influential friends at Tiberius' court had just been convicted of treason, and even now the emperor's secret agents might be mingling in disguise among the crowd before Pilate's palace to investigate his loyalty. It was partly to protect himself, then, that against his own conscience, against all the evidence, against his wife's warning, against the Savior's clear statements, Pilate listened attentively to these prearranged charges advance in sham patriotism by the hypocrite Temple officials with their holy robes but their hellish hatreds.
No fair and honest judge could have found in the suffering Christ a foe of Caesar. Jesus was no one's enemy, He loved those who spurned Him and was ready to do what the most devoted friend, the most unselfish sacrifice, could never accomplish - lay down His life for the heartless mob that was screaming: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" He was actually to give Himself into death for the leprous souls of those priests, for Pilate, even for Emperor Tiberius, a ruthless wretch, guilty of indescribable debauch. The false testimony, the malicious perjury, the scheming malice had not been able to prove that Jesus was anyone's adversary. On the contrary, Pilate, the rabbis, and the rabble should have recognized Christ as the greatest Benefactor of humanity ever to walk the pathways of Palestine. Hate people? Why, Jesus loved them with an intense devotion which led Him to heal the afflicted, assist the poor, champion the underprivileged, feed hungry bodies and starved souls - in unnumbered other ways to reveal Himself the Guide for the lost, the Hope of the helpless. This Christ an enemy, Caesar's rival, a competitor with the Roman dominion? He did not have enough physical strength left to oppose even a child; for only a few moments before He had been tortured by one of the most terrifying penalties the old, brutal world knew - scourging. The Gospel writers pass hurriedly over the horror of that suffering, a punishment so terrifying that often as the leather lashes, pointed with lead or spikes, lacerated the back, chest, sometimes even the face, the victim collapsed, a bleeding mass of torn flesh. No wonder, Pilate, with open contempt for the Savior's accusers, twice place the pale, staggering Christ before the sullen, bloodthirsty mob crying, first, "Behold the Man!" and then, "Behold your King!" He must have felt that His abject misery could soften even their granite hearts with the feeling of compassion that jungle savages sometimes seem to show.
This plea: "Behold the Man!" "Behold your King!" echoes over the centuries to us with personal invitation to contemplate the Christ of agony. When you see Him, thorn-crowned, crimson-robed, His garments splashed with blood still flowing from His back, His countenance white, not with death's terror, but with the horror of our sins' crushing penalty, does it not require a mind poisoned with hatred and a heart steeped in vileness to loathe Christ as some of you have? A missionary to the Indians tells us of Red Owl, known as a mighty orator among the Lower Sioux. Fearful of losing his influence, he never attended church. One day, however, he came into the schoolroom and, stopping before the picture of the thorn-crowned Savior, asked: "What is that? Why are those thorns on His head?" For the first time he was told the story of the Savior's crucifixion. On one of his next visits to the Indian village, the missionary was surprised to see on the near-by prairie a newly made grave, marked with a plain cross. On inquiry he learned that Red Owl had suddenly taken ill and while dying told the young braves: "The story which the white man has brought to our country is true. I have it in my heart. When I am dead, I wish you would put a cross over my grave, that the Indians may see what is in Red Owl's heart." As you behold the thorn-crowned, captive Christ, may the Holy Spirit lead you to acclaim Him your Savior and with a penitent, personal faith trust His immeasurable, atoning love. But do not wait until you lie on your deathbed! Your immortal soul, worth more than all the world, according to Jesus, is too precious to risk on the possibility of an eleventh-hour repentance.
When the Savior's persecutors told Pilate that he could not be a friend of Caesar if he refused to sentence their prisoner to the cross, they implied that Christ was a public enemy of the Roman state. They lied, of course. They knew well enough, these priestly hypocrites, that only three days before they had tried to trap Jesus with the question "Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?" and He had answered uncompromisingly, "Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's!" They lied because they must have recalled how when popular opinion, swollen to high-pitch enthusiasm, sought to crown Christ king, He had declined such honor and immediately escaped this fanatical homage. They lied, since deep in their hearts they were convinced that if His whole life were examined under the microscope of minutest investigation, not one suggestion of rebellion against Caesar's administration, as rotten as it was, could be discovered. So in mock patriotism they screamed out their malicious charges against Jesus, whose record was completely flawless, and almost in the same breath demanded the release of Barabbas, convicted by the courts of open revolt against the authorities.
The same falsehood, in principle, branding Christ and His followers as opponents of the state, has been repeated through the ages. Soon after Saint Paul was beheaded as hostile to the empire, not only the Roman rabble but also the upper classes, men of power, historians and authors, accused the Christians of hating the human race. Nero blamed the first believers in the capital for setting Rome on fire; and although Latin writers express their doubt that the odious Christians were really guilty, although we now surmise that the fire was started by the fiendish ruler himself, yet the despised disciples were covered with pitch or saturated in oil, nailed to pine wood pillars, then lighted and burned alive. Such persecutions continued until the beginning of the fourth century, the rule of Diocletian and his co-regent Galerius, a second Nero. These two tyrants, who called themselves gods and claimed divine honors, tortured and killed aged men, nursing mothers, tender children - all on the false charge that these Christians were enemies of the state. Either reject Christ and worship the emperor or forfeit your Roman citizenship, your property, your life - that was the choice - that was the choice placed before these early believers. To the honor of their faith let it be said that many of them, innocent of every crime against their government, accepted the pains of martyrdom rather than deny their Lord.
Even after the Christian faith was securely enthroned in Europe, the same vicious calumny continued. No more hideous records exist in the annals of the human race than the black chapters dealing with the destruction of the Waldensians and the Albigensians. These peace- loving, industrious, thrifty people in Northern Italy and Southern France were savagely assaulted by heavily armed regiments of soldiers, killed by the thousands. Why? They were accused of treason. On what count? They wanted to read the Bible in their own language and serve Christ in the light of Scripture doctrine. Nor has the human race dropped to deeper depravity than in the massacre of the Huguenots. Their leader, Admiral Coligny, was a man of notable loyalty to France; they themselves were God-fearing, thrifty, industrious people. However, because they insisted on reading the Bible in their own language, worshiping God according to its truth, they were branded as foes of the French king. It was maliciously claimed that in their church services they secretly plotted to overthrow the state. This is a lie, of course, but its falsity did not save tens of thousands from being cut down in one of the cruelest carnages men have ever witnessed.
Not only in bygone generations but also today, when the power and blessing of the Christian faith should be clearly manifest, the same groundless accusation persists that the Old and New Testaments oppose national interests. In Germany Nazi critics of the Church berate the Gospel not merely as weak and effeminate but also as directly contrary to their country's welfare. They continue the blasphemy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote, "I call Christianity the one great curse, . . . the one indelible blot upon the achievement of man." Don't try to laugh away statements like this by claiming that Nietzsche was insane or that the United States is not concerned with him! A Kansas publisher recently reissued the German philosopher's attack on the Church in a cheap fifty-cent edition, glorified as " a great liberating work," and asked the masses in our own country to study it, asserting, "All culture, all scholarship, all progressive thought goes to support the indictment of Christianity which Nietzsche made." And now comes the worst. The books of that publisher are featured in three full pages of advertisement by a large Saint Louis newspaper, which thus permits its columns to champion anti-Christian, anti-moral, anti-American poison.
Similar slander is being taught in certain American colleges and universities. Bertrand Russell, whose lectures are compulsory for some public schoolteachers in New York City, declared, "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion as organized in its churches has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." And in a hundred different ways campus men and women, except in Christian, church-maintained schools, which deserve your special support, are often instructed to regard our faith as an outworn superstition, hostile to the masses, thwarting progress, a menace to democratic development. One shudders to think what the future will bring if tomorrow's leaders, the college men and young women of today, turn these destructive theories into practice.
More dangerous, however, is the unmistakable spread of atheistic Communism. Well known is Karl Marx's slogan "Religion is the opiate of the people." He held that no nation can be really happy until religion has been abolished. Frederick Engels, co-founder of Communism, asserted, "There is no room for either God or a ruler," and he urged a thoroughgoing campaign to root out every creed. Lenin cried: "We must fight religion! . . . Religion must be abolished! The best country is a godless country." Lunatcharsky, educational expert of the Communists, admitted: "We hate Christianity and Christians, Even the best of them must be regarded among our worst enemies." The second woman in the Communist movement warns: "The struggle against the influence of religion among women is one of the most important duties of . . . the state. The Church must entirely disappear from . . . woman's life. She cannot be a faithful disciple of Lenin unless she is 100 per cent . . . godless. . . I . . . dedicate my life's endeavor to making the women . . . godless." Communism's hatred for the Savior's followers has been written in blood. A conservative scholar estimates that 1,860,000 Christians, regarded as enemies of their government, were slaughtered in a single year, 1918. American church members cannot close their eyes to the growing specter of Communism and collectivism. To my mind it constitutes one of the major menaces of tomorrow; we should use every means at our disposal to counteract its growth within our boundaries.
As the Savior's accusers lied when they told Pilate, "If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar's friend," so Communists lie when they label our faith a national foe. Wherever Christ's Gospel reigns, the power of idolatry and paganism has been broken, tyranny and brutality checked, polygamy and divorce restricted, women and children elevated, the home and family firmly established, slavery and oppression abolished, labor and industry exalted, ignorance and superstition banished, schools and colleges multiplied, the sick and the needy supplied, hospitals and orphanages fostered, and a thousand more blessings otherwise impossible systematically promoted. Without the influence of the Gospel there would be no permanently free nation on the face of the earth today. The French Revolution, with its bestial terrors and tortures, shows the failure of a government founded on atheistic ideals of human freedom and equality but avowedly against Christ. The faith He gave the world is truly "the salt of the earth," a preservative against internal decay.
You do not have to look for proof. Right here in our own country there is a vast demonstration of the building power exercised by faith. The United States was settled, not by Communists, freethinkers, atheists, but by Christians. The charters of our colonies were not sealed in the name of Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Lao Tse, but in the name of the Lord Jesus. Each of the thirteen colonies had a Biblical foundation, and each revered the Scriptures as a divine authority. The Supreme Court of the United States has officially stated, "This is a Christian nation," not is the sense, of course, that we have an official religion or that the country does not tolerate all creeds, but because, as the highest court explains, the founding fathers, the original charters, the early practices throughout the country were distinctly Christian. Our blessings come from the Bible, from the Savior, from His Gospel. The reverses of the last years stem from the neglect of Christianity and the rejection of its truth.
The loyalty of the Church and its deep-rooted patriotism are not loud and boisterous, but sincere and effective. True pastors do not preach politics or engage in impressive demonstrations to attract public attention. In a quiet, unassuming way they occupy themselves with strengthening men's souls, and thus build our spiritual defenses. The Christian workman who goes about his daily task in a quiet, unnoticed manner, who puts in a full day's honest labor, lives frugally, can mean more for the welfare of the United States than many a lime- light orator who makes his own money by shrewdness and does not care how he spends other people's. A God-fearing mother who sacrifices herself to bring up her sons and daughters "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" gives more to America in God's sight than some of the career women who do not want children, so that they can live public, applauded lives, unrestricted by families. The church member who saves defense stamps until he can buy an $18.75 bond may be a better patriot than the godless millionaire who buys the maximum quota simply for an investment.
Even by measurable standards, however, the Christians' support of their government is outstanding. The largest single group in the present United States Army, Navy, Marine and Air Corps is made up of church members. The first soldier in the AEF to step on European soil was an active Lutheran from Hutchinson, Minnesota. The best, the physically and spiritually strongest young men now engaged in nation defense, come from Christian congregations.
This loyalty, of course, is of the highest type because it is not a blind, unconditioned allegiance. Our cry is not, "My country, right or wrong!" (for no follower of the Savior can ever be in favor of anything wrong), but "My country, may she always be right! But if she is ever wrong, God help me make her right!"
Therefore, my appeal asks first of all that you accept Jesus as the Redeemer of your soul, the Son of God whose atoning death on the cross grants you, without any charge, as without any doubt, the assurance that even your black and scarlet transgressions have been removed forever; the pledge that life after death, heaven's joys after earth's sorrows are granted by His divine promise and power. Whatever may have kept you from Christ up till this moment, whether it be personal pride, the destructive self-righteousness which makes you thank God you are better than most people; or whether it be love of sin, greed for money, lust of the flesh, the sorrow of life, be fair enough and considerate of your soul to hear what Jesus offers and to ask yourself if there is any real reason why you dare refuse His matchless mercy. If you have to be humbled to gain Christ; if you have to lose money, work, health, home, even the love of some who are as dear as life itself, some blessed day you will thank God for the hand that seemed to strike harshly but really saved your soul.
Now, through Jesus we have not only this complete forgiveness, joy of life instead of depressing worry, spiritual to withstand temptation and overcome evil, eagerness to turn from self and serve one's fellow men, power to triumph over all trials, but also - and this is the thought I would emphasize - the power to be a good citizen, to build the moral and spiritual defense of our country, to help increase that righteousness which, God's Book says, exalts any nation.
When the Lord Jesus is securely enthroned within your heart, you will be able to apply the divine power Christian faith offers for helping this country. You will understand why in this emergency the cry must be: "Back to God! Back to Christ! Back to the Bible! Back to the Christian Church!"; why our heavenly Father wants a contrite repentant, sin-hating people in the United States. You, on your knees in penitence and humility before the Almighty, can invoke Heaven's strength. Do not ever lose sight of the divine mercy that if the Lord was ready to spare even Sodom and Gomorrah, those indescribably vile cities, had there been only ten in their midst who did seek Him, then, if it be His purpose, His favor can be extended to any land in which masses of Christians implore His mercy. Blessed by the Lord Jesus, as a true American citizen, you have the promise of answered prayer for yourself and your penitent nation; but always remember that the Almighty answers our pleas in His own way and at His appointed hour. A Christian America on its knees, subject to God's will, could pray its way out of these difficulties into a quick victory with a just peace and the sparing of many young lives.
Daniel Webster once declared, "If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and continue to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm and bury our glory in profound obscurity." He is right, and we who love Christ must defend our Bible against seemingly unimportant questioning of its truth. Attacks on Scripture come from unexpected places, as we have been reminded during the past days, when a women's magazine printed a statement from a very high source asserting that the Biblical record of Adam and Eve is wrong and has been "disproved by science." That claim directly contradicts the faith of millions of Protestant and Catholic Christians in the United States, besides rejecting the verdict of outstanding scientists who have bowed reverently before the first three chapters in Genesis. If we deny what Moses wrote concerning Adam and Eve, we must admit that Saint Paul, who refers to the first parents as actual, historical people, was wrong and therefore must be questioned in everything else he has written; we must even assume that Saint Paul, who refers to the first parents as actual, historical people, was wrong and therefore must be questioned in everything else he has written; we must even assume that our blessed Lord and Savior, who Himself speaks of the Garden of Eden, was mistaken, and we must consequently subject everything He says to the verdict of what some people call science. If these opening chapters of the Bible are allegorical, is the heaven of its closing chapters likewise only an allegory? If Adam and Eve never existed, as the Bible says they did, how about the Savior promised them? Is He fictitious too? You see, my fellow Christians, how disastrous it is to question or deny Scripture truth and how constantly vigilant we must be to defend the Word at all costs and in all places, particularly when vague shadows along the unformed horizon of tomorrow forbode for American Christians increasing assaults on their faith.
Let the worst come, here is the cry for this crisis, the resolution for every American, the pledge for every Christian, the declaration by which the true victory is ours: For Christ and country! God give every one of you in full measure the faith and courage to speak that double dedication to our glorious Savior and our God-blessed homeland! Amen!
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired the week before Palm Sunday 1942.