"The Changeless Christ for a Changing World"#86-02
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 9, 2018
By Dr. Walter A. Maier, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Hebrews 13:8
Today we write the last of the 52 weekly chapters in the current volume of our lives; we find ourselves in the last week of the year, which 12 months ago seemed to lose itself in a broad and distant future. Joyous yet earnest is the note that this concluding week strikes, coming upon as it does, in the afterglow of Christmas. Yet reminding us as it should that we are all-the lusty, healthy, happy, the children, and the aged, bowed down under the heavier load of time, a year closer to eternity.
If ever we need anything to emphasize the colorful picture of Scripture, when it sketches the one life that you and I have to live as a rushing wind, momentary foam upon the waters, a tale swiftly told, grass and flowers that grow up in the morning, but that wither and are cut down in the evening, the weaver's thread that is quickly snapped; if ever we are inclined to think that the writers of the Bible speak darkly and see black when they ask, "What is your life?" and answer,
"It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away,"-stop to
measure the length of the twelve-month now closing, and you will agree that life at its
longest is just a flicker in the ages.
Add to this distressing thought of time's swift-winged flight the further realization that our existence at its surest is uncertainty itself; that as the close of every year shortens your span of life, but lengthens its shadow, so the past 12 months have wrought deep-grooved changes in many hearts, printed the stamp of death and decay on many lives, and wrought drastic changes in many homes. Some of you listeners who last January greeted the new year with carefree laughter and high hopes have since been flung on your knees in grief. For others, the days which came and went have touched the quick of your souls with piercing sorrows. I know-for your letters pour out the overflowing measure of grief-that some of you compute your losses in terms of broken hearts, broken health, broken limbs, in the liabilities of shattered fortunes, crashed hopes, severed friendships, and a hundred other crushing reverses that present themselves when, at the close of a year, we take annual inventory of our joys and sorrows.
I know, on the other hand, that for thousands of you the past months have built a year of outstanding gain and notable blessing. Yet even you, the richly endowed, who have never known what it means to be cold or hungry or unemployed or destitute, will agree that in your complicated life nothing is secure, nothing immovable, nothing certain. Our generation, which has been torn by race war, labor war, trade war, crime war, civil war, world war, and though staggering on the edge of international bankruptcy, bleeding from a thousand unstaunched wounds, finances a new war: this groggy, blood-drunk age is sowing seeds from which we may yet reap a harvest of ruin greater than we have ever known. One need not be a prophet to discern the flares of perilous trends and impending dangers.
But you do need Christian faith, the implicit trust in the Bible from cover to cover and in Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary and the open grave. You must have that Christ-centered trust to find soul-security for this insecure hour, spiritual certainty for an uncertain world. In the last broadcast of this year of grace, then, and somewhat in summary of every message that I have ever been privileged to bring you in the past, I propose to exalt the changeless Christ for a changing world. Let us as we bid farewell to this year, with the Spirit's help, take faith, hope, and love from that majestic exclamation in the Letter to the Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever."
Thank God that as this year tapers into history we can rise sheer above our changing world and believe with unswerving conviction that "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever," never changes His love, shades His compassion, nor alters His grace. Behold the highest devotion that the race knows, the love that centers in the home, and as you witness the hardest and most hopeless of human tragedies, children spurning their parents, parents hating their children, husbands untrue to their wives, wives neglectful of their husbands, you will realize that human affection is often frail and inconsistent, disloyal and traitorous. Take the truest love that moves our hearts and even in its purest forms it is subject to change.
A child trustfully embraces its parents and gives the devotion of its little heart to these dearly beloved guardians and protectors. But is child who grows into youth and man who emerges from youth, that love is shaped and so that it is shared by a helpmate as it is ordained that a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife. And again, when a bride and a groom kneel before God, in that sacred moment, when they pledge themselves to love and honor each other until death do them part, it seems that outside of their devotion to Christ their affections will continually and exclusively remain focused on each other. Again, however, in the mysterious cycle of life they receive as a heritage from God on high, a child, which from the day of its birth lays happy claim to a large share of their affection. Even the most self-sacrificing love, which the parents show to that child, finally changes when death intervenes to paralyze all human emotions. Many of you during the 12 months now closing have bidden a numb, aching farewell to the lifeless remains of a loving father or mother or wept over the sudden death of an only child. You know better than I can tell you how quickly an endeared voice may be silenced forever, how suddenly the caress of a beloved hand may give way to the cold rigor of death.
Surrounded by this change and decay, Christ comes to us, as the year closes, with a message of unchanging hope. Pay undivided attention to it, you who have trusted your friends and now know that they have betrayed you. Hearken carefully to each word, you who have built your confidence on health, and it failed; on your money, and it disappeared, on your own ingenuity, and it left you the victims of your own folly. Listen closely, you, the distracted of life, dissatisfied with yourselves and your fellowmen, bewildered by your lack of peace in mind and souls. If you are caught by the undertow of life and want a high and mighty rock to which you can cling midst all turbulent tides, here it is in "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever." If in that greatest of yesterdays, the first Christmas, He was born for us, if in the blackest of yesterdays He, all-merciful, all-gracious, all-compassionate Savior "loved" His own "unto the end" and in that final terror and deepest darkness offered His own poor, beaten body for the sins of all the world and its races, for all the crimes of all humanity and its ages, then believe that He whose "mercy endureth forever" and who assures you, "I change not," looks upon you with the same intensity of His love that 19 centuries ago brought Him to the cross.
In His Name I beseech you: "If there is anything in your life that keeps you from Christ, ask God before this year closes for the strength required to tear it out forever." Jenny Lind, the gifted soprano, whose voice enchanted Europe and America and who never sang her selection from Handel's "Messiah"-the gem of oratorios which many of you have heard during these holiday seasons-without praying that God would bless her song testimony to Christ in the heart of someone in her audience, retired from the concert stage at the height of her success. And when, in the seclusion of her home near the English shore, a friend sought an explanation for her abandoning the stage, the Swedish Nightingale thoughtfully replied, pointing to the Bible, "When every day made me think less of this, what else could I do?"
If you want Christ and with Him the forgiveness of your sins, heavenly counsel in all your problems, His light of love in all the darkness of hatred, His burden-lifting companionship on the roughest of life's roads, what else can you do, what else dare you do, then pull down the pride and haughtiness of your life, tear out the claims of self-righteousness, break off the treacherous relationships that keep you in sin, and then push your way through to your Savior? Fall before Him with a heart convicted of great sin, but a soul assured of even greater grace. As you confess, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief," the mercy of Christ, renewed with each day, will repeat the promise of His Word that neither age, nor fire, nor sword, nor life, nor death can change or suspend, restrict or modify, "Thy sins are forgiven." "Thy faith hath saved thee."
Jesus Christ, the same self-giving Savior yesterday, the same loving Redeemer today, the same sin-removing atonement tomorrow, yes, forever! Can you think of a greater God and a deeper love than our Heavenly Father and His holy compassion in giving His own Son, the Sinless for the sin-stained, the Ever-living for the justly damned? Can you picture a more glorious Savior than the Christ who thanked His Father for the privilege of redeeming the world and who in His unchanged love still intercedes for the sinner, the Christ for everyman and every day and every place; the Christ for the sick-bed and the death-bed, yet the Christ for the health and the strength of life; the Redeemer of the deserted and the destitute, yet the Ransom for the applauded and the acclaimed? Can you-or anyone else-construct a better faith than the changeless Gospel that has never put a price on its promises or demanded payment for its blessings?
Someone objects, "We need more than love. We need the power which puts this love into blessed operation." No one doubts the affection of a mother who moans over her dying child, but that devotion will not keep the little one alive. There must be power, and thank God our glorious Savior, the same yesterday, and today, and forever, offers us not only His unchanging mercy but also His enduring power. The closing scenes of the year have impressed upon our minds the truth that, while human authority rises only ultimately to fall and while earthly rule increases only finally to decay, "all power ... in heaven and in earth" still belongs to the unchangeable, eternally triumphant Redeemer and Ransom of our souls.
Every other force that influences one may fluctuate. Our age has witnessed the limitation of brain power, the swift and sudden collapse of money power, the repeated debacle of military power, and seen all this more intimately than any other generation; yet we still see the cross of Christ "towering o'er the wrecks of time." If the enemies of the Savior in the past of all history have been hurled to destruction and have confessed defeat as did Julian the Apostate, who in his dying moments is said to have thrown some of his own lifeblood toward the sky and screamed, "O Galilean, Thou hast conquered!" If today Christ is crowned Lord of Lords and King of Kings in His triumph over the rebellious uprisings of a hundred antichrists, then for tomorrow let all the forces that hate His cross and reject His atoning blood mobilize for a common onslaught. Let them re-enforce their ranks a thousand times, increase their number ten thousand times, multiply their power a million times, and as each morning the sun rises in its irresistible splendor over the retreating shadows of night, so Christ, our "Sun of Righteousness," will blaze forth in His glory to scatter the legions of unbelief into perpetual flight.
It may seem, of course, as we view the past year and the consequences of sin, with godlessness enthroned, and crime nourished on the fat of the land, that Christ's power has been changed and His supremacy restricted. Ah, but God moves in mysterious ways to His victory and at unexpected times, and at unforeseen places. Infidels too numerous to mention have officially declared Christ "dead" and have sung a satirical dirge over His demise. But Christ was never more alive and His power never more decisive than today.
In the early church, under the reign of a deadly Diocletian, a building filled with hundreds of Christian worshippers, gathered to commemorate the Christmas miracle, was set on fire and every Christian was burned alive. But before long, the cross triumphed over the imperial crown of Rome. On Christmas Eve, atheists gathered in large cities throughout the world to desecrate the happy festival with obscene caricatures and vulgarities, and this iniquity will swell into more vicious attacks in the future. But take courage! Can a termite pull down Mt. Everest? Can a butterfly hold back a hurricane? Can the spawn say to the swelling tides, "So far, and no farther"?
If ever you doubt Christ's power over obstinate, self-willed, Christ-denying men, you can gain a clearer understanding when with the psalmist you contemplate their end. Though the enemies of Christ may fare sumptuously and be "clothed in purple and fine linen," the unavoidable reckoning always awaits them and, as thousands of Christian pastors can testify, makes quaking, gibbering cowards of men who prided themselves on their independence of God.
Perhaps many of you who were Christ's now stand baffled by the unshared burdens and the unrelieved sorrows that came with the past year. You cry out in protest: "Christ has not helped me! My prayers are unanswered, my trust has been misplaced! The power of Heaven is broken!" But will you measure God with the yardstick of 12 short months when a thousand years in His sight "are but as yesterday when it is passed"? Will you dictate to God and say that He must answer your selfish prayers that He must help you here, now, and in this way? Would you pluck the green fruit before it ripens in the orchard of God's grace or believe with all your souls that, if in the past Christ's miraculous power fed the hungry, cheered the destitute, healed the sick, and strengthened wavering lives, He is "the same ... today" and that, if it be in accord with our soul's salvation, He will invoke the resources of His omnipotence to guide, guard, and protect you, in His own better way, to His own happier purpose.
If your own personal problems you find that there are difficulties, then remember that the unchanging faith will still carry out its purpose. If you trust Christ for your soul and body and believe Him when He says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" in the uncertain tomorrow with its hidden joys and unveiled sorrows, His power will bring the same evidence of His merciful compassion.
Oh, will you not stand with me as another year goes on into eternity and prepare a book in which the record of your life for the past days will be commemorated with this inscription: "Heavenly Father, on these 365 pages is recorded the evidence of my trust and mistrust. I thank Thee for the grace that has bestowed my blessings; but in Jesus' Name I plead for forgiveness whenever the record has been disfigured, as it often has been, betraying my inborn weakness and traitorous disloyalties. And it is with the resolve that, Thy Spirit helping me, I lay aside the volume of this year to start a fresh record for the coming year, confident that whatever may befall me, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever," will redeem me with His unchanging love and strengthen me by His unchanging power. As the book of this year closes, hear me for His sake who can save to the uttermost, even Jesus the Savior." Amen.
Reflections for September 09, 2018
Title: The Changeless Christ for a Changing World by Tony Cook
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and that was a classic sermon from our program's founder and first Speaker, Dr. Walter A. Maier. A message that originally aired on December 26th, 1937.
Dr. Tony Cook joins me now here in the studio, he's our Division director for United States Ministries, and in that position, he oversees The Lutheran Hour, online outreach classes, our Daily Devotions and the THRED social media programs. Prior to joining our staff here, he was a professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Tony, thanks for joining us.
Tony Cook: Hey, thanks for having me.
Mark Eischer: Looking back on some of those words Dr. Maier delivered back in 1937, prophetic in some respects. But he also described a lot of situations that perhaps our listeners today can recognize. What stood out for you?
Tony Cook: I think what stood out for me at first in the sermon was how many changes must have been going on when this was written. When I first was reading it, I didn't know what year it was and then, when I found out I was like, "Well, that kind of makes sense." But it was packed with all of this human condition and concern and change that was happening. And I'm not sure those who were listening quite knew what was going on at that time.
Mark Eischer: You think back to 1937, the Depression, the Great Depression is still going on. Certainly, things were happening over in Europe that foreshadowed the coming of another world war. And yet, he also dealt with things on a very human individual level, things that might be happening in somebody's own life. Dealing with grief, with the loss of a job, perhaps with illness. Certainly, a crazy time and one in which people were really looking for answers, looking for some sort of security, I think.
Tony Cook: Yeah, when you see what's going on with the context of this sermon, and then you also realize that this is a sermon that happens at the end of the year ... as we come to the end of the year, and we're looking back on our lives, it makes us reflect and to consider all those things that have happened. And this is the question that's asked. You look back at this and you see what's going on in the world, "Is this what life is about?" And not only do you ask yourself the question, "Is this really my life?" But you realize how fragile your life is. As he said in the sermon, our lives are kind of like a vapor or a mist that floats around for a little while and then simply, just disappears. And so, you can see that while all these things are going on, that there is a lot of anxiety and tension that's occurring that he's attempting to address.
Mark Eischer: The title of that sermon was "The Changeless Christ for a Changing World." Looking at our world today, we've got even more ways in which it's changing, and we've invented new ways to increase the anxiety that goes along with those changes. I'm thinking about things like the 24-hour news cycle; I'm thinking about social media, and all the pressures that brings to life. We've invented more ways to create more stress for ourselves.
Tony Cook: Yeah. You would think we would have invented more ways to reduce our stress and our anxiety. But apparently, we haven't. Like you said, a lot of the technology that we have increases our anxiety and many of the things that we're experiencing in the world today, makes us anxious. Have you ever taken one of those stress tests, where they have you go and answer questions and if 10 or more of these things, you know, have happened to you? And you think in the world in which we live, all of us have a tremendous amount of stress that it's very hard to get away from. And in fact, with our younger generations and our children, we're finding that even our young children are expressing and experiencing deep anxiety about their life, about the future. And so, anxiety has become, I think, even a bigger concern as the years have gone on.
Mark Eischer: But yet, in the midst of all that and in our situation today, the message still is Jesus Christ is the same, and He understands and is present with us.
Tony Cook: And I think that is really the beauty of this message. You could preach this message anytime you want. You could replace the different life situations that are going on. We could pick it out and put it today, and it would still be relevant because Jesus is still relevant. Jesus is still the same. While our lives are like vapor, and they change, and they vanish, and they go away. Jesus is that permanent stability. He's that security for our soul, for our lives, for our future. And as we live in the insecure time and hours today, we have a certainty, not in the technology we manufacture, not in the politics around the world, not even in ourselves. But we have that spiritual certainty and security in Jesus. And for me, that's really what makes this sermon worth listening to, all of these years later.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Praise the Almighty, My Soul, Adore Him" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)