Today is Memorial Day, a profound day of honoring our country’s heroes: the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the protection of our country and for the values and freedoms for which it stands. It is a day for reflection, for remembering that our freedom came at a great cost, and a day of gratitude for those who paid it. As I ponder on the incredible sacrifices that have been given for this country and all who live in it, I am reminded that every single characteristic embodied in the heroes of our country come from the One who made them. We count them as courageous, as warriors, full of honor and integrity. And we know these characteristics could only come from the Creator who made them in his Imago Dei (Gen 1:27). I am reminded of the song of Moses and the Israelites as they come out of Egypt. God has just brought them across the Red Sea and protected them from the Egyptians who came after them. Please read a portion of the words sung by God’s chosen people after God’s victory in Exodus 15: 1-3 ESV:
15 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name.
We have these heroes whom we remember today because we have a God who is a warrior! We do not have a God who is scared or impotent; we have a God who will fight for us. Jesus went to the cross knowing full well the horrors, the torture, he was about to endure (Mark 8:31); he knew because he was fully human and fully God – therefore, he knew everything like God. Not only that but Jesus knew every bit of the OT Scriptures, because he was there for every bit of the history, and he himself gave the prophets their prophecies to speak about the coming Messiah (which was Jesus). He knew that to do God’s will, he would be completely rejected by his family, his closest and dearest friends, utterly betrayed by those who professed to love him. He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver to the Jewish priests (Matt 26:15), who would beat him (Luke 22:63), and then give him to Pilate to crucify in place of the murder Barabbas (Luke 23:18). After Pilate took him and determined Jesus was innocent, the Jews still rioted for Jesus’ death; therefore, Pilate had him flogged before being crucified (John 19:1). Flogging in of itself is horrific; but the Romans had it perfected. The whips had jagged pieces of bone and small metal balls embedded in the leather cords to cause maximum pain and damage. Then, the flogger would wield the whip in such a way that as the cord met flesh, he would rip it back so it would tear the flesh away from the body. It was designed to do maximum damage to the skin, and indeed was used to kill many.
After this horrific beating, Jesus had to drag his own wooden beam out of the city (John 19:17); the heavy beam lay across his torn flesh, abrading it every time he moved – the pain must have been excruciating (the word “excruciating” was originally formed meaning “of the cross”). Indeed we are told, in Matthew 27:32 that Jesus was too weak to carry it the whole way and a man named Simon carried it for him. When they finally reached Golgotha, Jesus was held to the beams as nails were driven through his hands and his feet (Mt 27:35). As he hung there dying, the Romans divided his clothes and cast lots for them, they mocked him and insulted him alongside the Jewish scribes and elders and the other criminals that were hanging beside him (Mt. 27: 39-44). Jesus hung there, in excruciating pain, fighting for each breath, from 9am to 3pm – for 6 hours before he released his spirit.
Jesus knew each and every torment he would have to endure; he begged God that he would not have to endure it (Mt 26:39). Yet, even knowing full well what he was about to endure, he went willingly. Jesus was indeed a warrior. As Moses and the Israelites sang, we serve a God who has fought for us, who has bled for us, who has endured horrific tortures for us. We are certainly made in the image of one who goes to unimaginable lengths to protect and save us. He is our strength and our shield, He is our courage in the face of battle; we were made with the heart and spirit of a warrior who has never been defeated. Likewise we are told in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
So today, we remember the heroes of this country. We remember the ones who have given their lives so that we may live in this great nation. We thank them for their sacrifice and the sacrifices of their families. And we remember and thank the God who has given us a spirit of courage, that we may face each battle with honor and strength.