American Journal of Biblical Theology
May 27, 2007
Copyright © 2007, John W. (Jack) Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, an opportunity to take time to remember those who have given their lives for the benefit of others. The remembrance was first observed following the close of the Civil War when so many families were grieving the loss of their family members to this long and brutal war. Originally termed "Decoration Day" in 1868 by General John Logan the day was celebrated by laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. The annual decoration of soldier's graves spread throughout the country, with most states participating by the end of World War 1 when the remembrance included soldiers of all wars. It was not until 1971 that a National Memorial Day was established by an act of Congress. Today we celebrate Memorial Day to remember the sacrifice of all of our soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty. We often include all branches of military service: Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. In the shadow of the attack upon the US on 9/11/01 we now tend to include those who have fallen in the line of duty on the domestic battleground of police and fire protection. Over a million dedicated American people have given their lives for the cause of peace and freedom since the founding of this country.
What can those who have given their lives teach us about the value of our peace and freedom? When we look at the character of those who so dedicated their lives, we find some commonality in the nature of their sacrifice.
1. The soldier's sacrifice was Voluntary1. With only a few exceptions, those who have placed their lives in harms way for the benefit of others did so voluntarily. We see evidence of this altruism today as soldiers in our military all join voluntarily, and nearly all choose to return for multiple tours in a war zone.
2. The soldier's sacrifice was Vicarious. When a soldier goes to the battlefield, he is going in our place. We have the opportunity to stay in safety of our own homes as the soldiers together form a line of protection, standing between our peace and freedom and those who would take it away. Fallen soldiers gave their lives so that we would not lose ours.
3. The soldier's sacrifice was Violent. Those who would work to take away our peace and freedom are willing to kill, steal, and destroy all that we are and all that we stand for. The attack upon freedom is brutal and executed with total disregard for the value of human life. Those soldiers who have fallen have done so as they determined to push back the line of violence. When we consider the cost that our fallen soldiers paid, we come away with a greater appreciation for their sacrifice.
4. The soldier's sacrifice was Victorious. Battles may be occasionally lost, but the ultimate victory has been won. As we decorate the graves of our fallen heroes we do so with no fear of foreign domination. Yes, the battles against evil in this world continue, and brave souls will continue to stand in the gap in order to assure our freedom.
Why are these people willing to place their lives at risk for others? Every soldier, hence every veteran, has taken the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, a metaphor for America itself. Nearly every soldier, hence every veteran, at some point came to the acceptance of the risks of that defense. Nearly every soldier found himself/herself willing to pay the ultimate price if called upon to do so. What is the basis for this altruism?
The battle line between peace and turmoil, between that which is godly and that which would destroy, goes far beyond politics. It is a battle that started in the Garden of Eden and will not end until the return of Christ. All violence is motivated by the spirit of evil as it seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. The spirit of evil works to overwhelm the spirit of love that God wills to reign in the hearts of all people. It is this spirit of love that motivates people to stand in the gap. Jesus said,
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
God knows, first hand, what it takes to be willing to give one's life for another. God's call for us to stand in the gap for one another in this worldly battle with evil comes only after Jesus has done the same for us. Jesus demonstrated his love for us ... "that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8), "the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). When soldiers died for us, they served to provide for our peace and freedom on this earth. When Jesus died for us, He served to provide for our eternal peace and freedom.
1. Jesus' sacrifice was Voluntary. Christ is the Messiah, the Old Testament YAHWEH who is Savior and LORD. He came to earth by His own choice, for His own purpose: to fulfill His revelation of Himself to mankind and to provide a means for our salvation.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again (John 10:17-18).
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (John 18:37).
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost (Matt. 27:50).
We see in these verses that He laid down His own life. No person or persons killed Jesus. He gave His life to us with a purpose. He gave His own life as a gift to us so that midst the evil and violence of this world we would have the opportunity to learn the truth of the gospel and respond to God's offer of grace.
2. Jesus' sacrifice was Vicarious. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that we deserve. He placed Himself in the gap substituting Himself to the wrath of sin that we should have known. Isaiah describes this substitutionary sacrifice:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:4-10).
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14).
Jesus did not go to the cross, suffer, and die for Himself. Jesus stated that He laid down His life for His friends. Who are these friends whom Jesus suffered and died for?
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Jesus clearly identifies who these friends are that He died for. He died for people who:
Jesus' vicarious death on the cross was an expression of His love for those who would place their faith and trust in Him. This was an expression that came at a great price.
3. Jesus' sacrifice was Violent.
Satan works to take away our peace and freedom and is willing to kill, steal, and destroy all that Jesus stands for. His attack upon grace is brutal, and executed with total disregard for the value of human life. Jesus met satan at the battle line of violence.
To lay down one's life is a violent experience, exacting the greatest cost that and individual can give. People complained about the graphic violence portrayed in Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," yet even his portrayal could not show the true depth of brutality because of its public use.
When we take a close look the brutality that Jesus submitted to, we should come away with a renewed appreciation for what He has done for us, and a renewed commitment to His LORDship in our lives.
4. Jesus' sacrifice was Victorious.
Jesus gave His life that we might experience true peace and freedom. He clearly stated this when He said,
"The thief has come to kill, steal, and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
What is your response to the great love that God has lavished upon us? What is your response to His grace?
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Because of our sin, there is nothing that we can do to deserve what Jesus has done for us. There is no task that we can perform, there is no good work that we can do in order to be righteous enough to approach God. Therefore, God reached down through eternity and, through Jesus, came to us at our point of need. He chose those who place their faith and trust in Him as His own beloved children. Furthermore God ordained us with a task. Rather than our attempting the impossible: the performance of Good Works to attain rightousness, God asks only that we place our faith and trust in Him. When we submit to Him as Savior and Lord a transformation takes place in our lives as we submit to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, with a renewed heart and a renewed mind our changed nature begins to produce good works. That is, good works do not produce righteousness; true righteousness spontaneously produces good works. Therefore Jesus commands us to go forth in Him so that we might produce that good work.
This good work will always be consistent with God's will if it is truly good work. It is in this context that we should understand what it is that God promises to give us. When we petition the LORD He will always give us what it is that we ask when we ask "in His name." That is, the righteousness of God that is placed in the heart of the believer provides the capacity to discern and follow God's will when one listens to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. When we are in agreement with God's will, we are in a position to be blessed.
These things I command you, that ye love one another.
Jesus went to the cross and gave His life, standing in that gap for us against the power of satan to kill, steal, and destroy our souls. He did so because of His great love for us. Satan stands for hatred and bigotry while Jesus stands for peace and love. Consequently, if we are indeed His disciples, we will also stand with Him for peace and love. Note that the command here is not to love: the command is to do the things that Jesus has said so that love will abound. Consequently, it is through love that we demonstrate our faith and commitment to the LORD, Jesus Christ..
It would not make sense for us to reject the peace and freedom that a million American soldiers died to protect. Likewise, it makes no sense to reject the peace and love that Jesus died to give us. As we remember our fallen heroes who gave us freedom, let us not forget the risen Christ who gave us life..
1 Alliteration adapted from Carr, Alan. (2007) The Sermon Notebook. http://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/John%2015_13-16.htm. Used by permission.