Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Because He Lives

Praise for the Lord #68

Words: Gloria & William J. Gaither, 1969
Music: William J. Gaither, 1969

It is probably significant that Gloria Gaither's name appears first in the credits for the lyrics of this song. In 1969, the Gaithers were expecting their third child, and their singing and songwriting careers were becoming ever more complex. They had become prominent enough to begin drawing attention, not always positive; and at the same time, America was tearing itself apart as it dealt with a rising counterculture, racial tensions, an unpopular war that seemed to have no end, and a cold war that seemed to promise an all-too-certain end. These shadows all seemed to hang over Gloria on New Year's Eve of 1968. But then, she recounts, a clarity emerged: Jesus lives, so all will be well.(Terry)

Paul saw the logical necessity of a risen Lord, as he told the Corinthians: "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. ... and you are still in your sins.(1 Corinthians 15:14,17) Jesus came to die, but He also came to live forevermore; it was a fulfillment of His promises, and the indicator of yet more promises to be kept, as He became "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."(1 Corinthians 15:20) It was not just that a human being came back to life--a miracle, of course, but one that had happened before--but it was proof that humanity's mortal wound of sin could be atoned, and death conquered. "For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead."(1 Corinthians 15:21) Jesus of Nazareth was forever "declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead."(Romans 1:4) Faith in this historical event is critical to the Christian because, "according to [God's] great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."(1 Peter 1:3)

Stanza 1:
God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus,
He came to love, heal, and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

The skeptic will argue, of course, that the empty grave proves nothing; and if one is disinclined to believe in the possibility of a resurrection, one will invent another answer. This is nothing new; the ancient Jewish sect of the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection,(Matthew 22:23) nor did the naturalistic philosophers of the Greeks and Romans. The Athenian philosophers who heard Paul's great sermon of Acts chapter 17 might have been nodding in agreement with the logical necessity of one Creator, the Father of all humanity, but balked at the claim of a resurrected Lord.(Acts 17:32)

But interestingly, few even today will deny that the tomb was empty. The location and the owner were known, not only to the disciples, but to the Jewish and Roman authorities.(Matthew 27:57-58) From what we can determine about the location of the crucifixion and burial, it could hardly have been otherwise. Additionally, the Jewish authorities had an interest in securing the tomb, and did so through the agency of the Roman authorities.(Matthew 27:62-66) Yet the tomb was empty; even those with the most to lose by this fact did not deny it, but explained it away as a subterfuge by the disciples.(Matthew 28:11-15) If the tomb were not empty, why did not the enemies of Jesus produce His body and fulfill in His case too the words spoken by Gamaliel of the insurrectionist Theudas, "He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to naught?"(Acts 5:36)

Why was the tomb empty? The "swoon theory" beggars belief; the Roman army knew how to kill a man, and knew when he was dead, and Jesus' enemies had even more reason to make certain. (All this even supposes, as well, that He could have survived the torture and the crucifixion, then unwrapped himself from inside the graveclothes, rolled the stone away, and escaped unseen without leaving a shred of evidence to be used in debunking the disciples' claims.) So, did the disciples, who had fled from Gethsemane when Jesus was alive, stage a commando-style raid against the Roman guard and steal His body after He was dead? At the risk of sounding irreverent, the disciples (with the notable exception of the women!) show an ineptitude and disorganization throughout all these events, that makes this just as hard to believe as the first theory.

Something happened, though, that turned this scattered, dispirited, even denying group of followers into a force that burst onto the stage of ancient history and "turned the world upside down."(Acts 17:6) By Pentecost--just fifty days later--they were ready to die for Jesus Christ. Were they ready to die knowingly for a lie? The words of Gamaliel about Theudas (Acts 5:36) were left only half fulfilled; they "were scattered," but they certainly did not "come to naught." Something happened that changed them forever.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

"Facing tomorrow" doesn't just mean a single, momentous anticipated crisis. There are those extraordinary times that are hard to bear, yet easier borne because they are over soon. But what of those days when, as Macbeth said, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / creeps in this petty pace from day to day?" When life becomes "a walking shadow," and tomorrow holds neither dread nor anticipation? Remember that Jesus lives. There is absolutely nothing in this world that can overwhelm our spirits, if we understand this fact. We may fail at every turn in the affairs of this life, but in the spiritual life that comes to us from the resurrected Christ we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us."(Romans 8:37)

Paul had acquaintance with both points of view; he was frequently in fear of his life from sudden violence, yet also knew the slow dragging out of days as he waited in prison for some advancement of his case. When he ticks off the list of mortal dangers he had faced, in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, we see the stuff of an action-adventure film; but Paul recounts it almost with a weariness, a nonchalance borne not of boasting but of the matter-of-factness that comes from long experience in the past, and expectation of the same in the future. He concludes this excursus, however, with these words in chapter 12, verse 10: "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." He knew the power of the risen Lord, and that fact made all the difference.

Stanza 2:
How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.


I knew having children would change all the external circumstances of our lives, but I never anticipated the degree to which it would change me on the inside. I had never been driven by a sense of purpose before, but from the first look into my baby daughter's puzzled blue-gray eyes, I knew that whatever my doubts or second thoughts about any other aspect of my life up to that point, in this one respect I had a solemn duty for which I would give my life if necessary. I must give up my life day by day, to be the father she deserved; I would give it up all at once if that were required. When my son was born, I was less shocked but no less determined where my duty lay. When I was first alone with him, I promised, "You have been born into a hard time in our family, when we don't know where we are going next; but I will do my best by you."

There are many concerns we have for our children as they grow: Are they healthy? Are they happy? Are they getting the education they need? Fortunately we were blessed abundantly in these things. But above all a Christian parent wonders, will they accept Jesus Christ? We taught them at home and took them to church; I made sure they knew what the Bible says about being saved, but tried to be clear that only they themselves could make that decision. I tried to probe gently over the years, asking if they had been thinking about it and encouraging them to talk to us or to an elder or teacher in the church if they had any questions.

Then the day came in the summer of 2009 when I received a call on my cell phone while at the house of some Christian friends. My brother-in-law was calling from Camp Bandina, an excellent Christian summer camp in south Texas, to tell me that both my children had decided that night to be baptized into Christ, to take up the new life. I had gone into the kitchen to answer my phone, and I am sure my friends' children came in just to find out why Mr. Hamrick was crying. I knew then how true the statement is, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."(3 John 4)

You can give your children a lot of things, but none of them matter much compared to pointing them the way to a saving faith. Pray for them, and "pray without ceasing."(1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Stanza 3:
And then one day I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then as death gives way to vict'ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He reigns.


The question of what lies beyond the gates of death has perplexed mankind for as long as history records. From the fabulous monuments of ancient Egypt to the often laughable "reality" television shows about the paranormal, we see the anxiety that binds all humanity together, as we consider this journey to "that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns." Skeptics will say here, that it is this anxiety that gives rise to religious faith. I would answer, give me my faith with all its difficulties, rather than that dread certainty that materialism teaches: that there is, ultimately, no meaning or even possibility of meaning. "That way madness lies."

Paul knew what was at stake, and Paul had an answer:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.(1 Corinthians 15:19-22)
When we come to the end of this life, if we are in Christ, there is in fact a point--we are not at the end, but at the beginning. "Because He lives," we shall live. "Because He lives," that "undiscovered country" is rich with promise rather than shadowed with fear. Paul brings his discussion to a conclusion by showing what Christ's resurrection will ultimately mean to all of us:

Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory."(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
About the music:

This song was obviously written for a gospel "performance" context, but like most of the Gaithers' work its simplicity and directness causes it to translate well to congregational singing. The harmony shows the occasional "barbershop" turn of chromaticism, but seldom does it take the forefront in the music. One exception is the end of the second line in the stanza, where the words "heal and forgive" occur: the chromatic scale descent on the last three notes is a little unusual and perhaps difficult to hear. I have heard many singers modify this to "G F D C" instead of "G F E-natural E-flat."

The melody runs fairly high, but it does so with such a nice dramatic flourish that it can hardly be imagined otherwise. The first two subphrases (covering the first line of text) set forth the boundaries of the melody, as it were, digging down to the low "MI" of the scale and climbing back up, then leaping up to the high "MI" and falling back down. This is (for the most part) the span of the melody until the refrain, when the words "because I know" lead us up to the high F ("SOL") for a dramatic climax on this important affirmation in the text.


Terry, Lindsay. "Courage and strength for His child: 'Because He Lives'."

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