Memorial Day is unique to our nation. Its observance began during the Civil War when some concerned women decided to decorate the graves of those who had bravely given their lives in that destructive civil conflict between the states.
The day is intended to stir us to gratefully recall those who have given themselves, shed their blood, and lay down their lives in military battle for the cause of freedom in our land. It should be more than a holiday, because if not for these brave men and women we would not be sitting in this worship center today.
As I reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day observations in our nation there are several things that come to my mind. Let me share some of those thoughts this morning.
a. As we read through the history of Israel in the Old Testament we see that God raised up leaders who were successful Military Men (and as in the case of Deborah, Military Women)—Joshua led in conquering the Promised Land; the various Judges who led in overthrowing the oppression of the Philistines, the Amalikites, and others who threatened Israel’s sovereignty.
b. Israel’s most honored King was King David. He was a powerful military leader who was anointed by God to eventually replace King Saul. As a shepherd boy he displayed strength and dependence upon God to fight off lions and bears that threatened his flock. As He was approaching manhood, he faced the giant Goliath who had been taunting King Saul and the Israelite army, slaying Goliath with a sling and a rock. From there David became the armor bearer for the king and progressed on to become leader in the military ranks. His reputation was such that the citizens sang of his exploits, saying, “Saul has slain thousand’s, and David tens of thousands!” (1 Samuel 18:7). He did finally succeed King Saul and reigned over Israel for 40 years. He was the Warrior King—and God’s word described David as “being a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
c. And there were the military men recognized in the New Testament. G. Campbell Morgan writes about the 7 Centurions in the New Testament: As we read [the New Testament] we grow familiar with Roman armies, with cohorts, legions, and bands; with captains, centurions, and soldiers. We meet with seven centurions. The first one …came to Jesus about his servant who was sick; the next one we see at the close of the Gospel narrative, in charge of the crucifixion of Christ. Then, in the book of Acts we find Cornelius, a devout man, the first Gentile believer to be baptized by the Hebrew apostle; then a centurion placing bonds upon Paul, and, as Paul objects, immediately seeking the advice of his superior officer. Then we see two centurions taking Paul to Felix and protecting him from the threatened hostility of the crowd; then one who took charge of Paul and gave him great indulgence by the direction of Felix. Finally, we come to the last, Julius, who was Paul’s custodian on his voyage, and who became interested in Paul, so much so that he saved him from death at the hands of the soldiers in the hour of threatened shipwreck. (http://www.jesus.org/birth-of-jesus/roman-world/the-seven-centurions-of-the-new-testament.html).
d. As I reflect on these military leaders in the Bible and how God on so many occasions honored them and used them to advance the Kingdom of God, I just have to believe that God has a special place in His Heart for those individuals who devote themselves in service to their country. And I know that God is pleased when we take time to remember and to honor these heroes in our society.
e. In my Pastoral prayers I often pray for guidance and wisdom for those who make decisions about the use of our military. I pray that we as a nation will always choose to align ourselves up with God’s plans. I pray for God’s protection over the lives of those who find themselves in hostile environments. And I pray for the families who are separated from Dad or Mom who may be deployed and away from their children and or spouse for extended periods of time. I pray that the Church—godly men and women—can fill the gap and show support for those families.
f. And now our church board has voted to provide support for Gold Star families –those who have lost loved ones in the military—by supporting the ministry of Gold Star Inn here in Branson. We will be setting up a wooden box for our children to give, challenging them to give a buck a month. Of course, anyone can contribute to this important ministry!
II. THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
a. Someone has said, “The Price of Liberty is eternal Vigilance.” But it is more than that. We must always be on guard, but the price of liberty involves sacrifice—the shedding of blood, the laying down of lives, and the heartache and agony of those left behind.
b. As of October 18th, 2016, there have been 2,386 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,834 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,049American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,173 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total casualties. Over 60 million people were killed, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion). The United States alone in World War II lost 416,800 soldiers in combat as well as another 1700 civilian casualties.
c. Tom Brokaw described those who fought in World War II and those who served the War effort in civil positions in the states as “The Greatest Generation.”
d. Certainly our Scripture text today is fitting as we think of our men and women who died in War as well as those who put their lives on the line by serving our country in the various branches of our military: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).
e. Today, we take for granted the liberties we enjoy here in America, oftentimes forgetting the tremendous price that has been paid for those liberties: Our freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather to worship, freedom to vote, freedom to protest, freedom to enjoy our American way of life—all these and so much more are only possible because of men and women who were willing to serve and protect those freedoms, even to the point of sacrificing their lives for our sake!
My prayer is that we do not forget, that we take time to remember and that in our right to disagree or protest we do not destroy the very way of life we hold precious in America!
f. Remember: “The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance!”
III. THE ULTIMATE MEMORIAL
a. This morning you and I know that as wonderful as the freedoms we enjoy as Americans are and as awesome is the sacrifice of our military men and women to serve and protect those freedoms had been, there is a Kingdom that transcends the United States and any other nation or nations that we see in the political and geographical area. That Kingdom that is above every other kingdom is the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom which is referred to in the Lord’s Prayer where God’s Will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the Kingdom that Jesus described to Pilate in John 18: 36-27—“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’“’You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’”
b. This is the Kingdom that Jesus opened the door for us to enter when He laid down His life for us. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5: 21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
c. In John 10:11 Jesus stated it plainly: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
d. And there you have it: Jesus demonstrated the greatest love of all—He laid down His life for us so that we could be set free from sin’s control and be restored into a right relationship with God, and be free to live as God’s children—citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom! Romans 5: 7-8 says, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
e. And in the upper room, just a few hours before His arrest, as He gave the broken bread and wine to his disciples symbolizing His broken Body and shed Blood, Jesus told them that whenever they partook of those elements, to do so “In remembrance of Him” (see Luke 22:19).
So tomorrow our nation has set aside a time to remember and honor those who gave their lives serving our country. But today, the Lord’s Day, we remember Jesus who paid the eternal sacrifice so that we could live forever with God:
Jesus—He came to show us what the Father was like; He went to the Cross to pay the Redemption price so that we could be reconciled with the Father; He died in our place ; He lives to make intercession for each one of us, and He is coming again to claim His Bride the Church. Let’s make this Memorial Day Sunday a day to remember and honor our Lord!