Summary: A message for Memorial Day, challenging Christians to embrace three vital hallmarks of good soldiers of Christ.
Soldiers of Christ, Arise
2 Timothy 2: 1-7
1. Wars and conflicts have been a tragic part of our human experience ever since our banishment from the Garden of Eden.
• The attempt at resolving our differences through the point of the spear, the edge of the sword, the barrel of the gun, or targeted nuclear missile, has sadly not brought us any closer to a cessation of hostilities.
• The Great War, World War I, was regarded as “the war to end all wars” – the horrors and enormous cost in lives lost and resources spent, was hoped and believed to be sufficient to make the very thought of another war “unthinkable”.
• But just 21 years later we were again embroiled in another bitter World War in Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa that resulted in a total of 62 million deaths from 27 countries.
• Since then, and among the wars and conflicts of other nations, we have endured the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Boznia, Somalia, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq and the bitter ongoing War on Terror.
2. The War on Terror has required an entirely different approach, strategy and way of thinking about “the enemy”.
• No longer is the enemy someone from a clearly identified nation, with defined boundaries, with standing armies, navies, air force and a recognizable uniform.
• Suicide bombings, car bombings and the televised beheading of innocent civilians is now intended to strike fear into the hearts of all infidels everywhere – and the results have clearly demonstrated that no people in any nation on the planet are entirely safe from this form of barbarism.
3. This War on Terror has also introduced a specifically religious component to the conflict as the radical Islamists define it as jihad or Holy War – seeing themselves as agents of Allah to eradicate all unbelievers from the earth.
• While we may not have felt overly comfortable with the term “Holy War”, we westerners have certainly had general agreement on which wars and conflicts were more “just” or tragically necessary.
• WWI and WWII have generally tended to fit into that category.
• However, the others since then – and particularly Vietnam and now Iraq have so polarized this nation that many have taken out their frustrations and their anger on the military and soldiers as a whole – with some even staging loud and abusive protests at the funerals of soldiers.
• An anti military movement has certainly gained momentum that would even banish from our Bibles and hymnals any mention of or reference to militaristic concepts of war, soldiers, weapons, and victory.
4. On this Memorial Day weekend I would like us to reflect on the legitimacy of retaining and rightly promoting the military language of Scripture and our hymnal.
• I recognize and acknowledge that there are passages like Isaiah 2:4 that prophesy of a day coming when people will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
• I acknowledge that Jesus came as “the Prince of Peace” and at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane told Peter who had just hacked off the ear of the High Priest’s servant to “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).
• But there are ample enough other references that present a very different picture of reality. Also in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s own foes will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10: 34-36).
• Does this prove that the Bible is full of contradictions? Does this prove that Jesus is “For war” and not for peace? Not at all. Of course there will be those entrenched souls on both sides of the religious and political divides who will seek to hurl their various proof texts at one another. What it does show is that there are certain truths that have to be held in tension with one another. The truth is not found in a single snapshot or proof text but in the entire “movie of God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture”.
• Yes, there is a day coming when peace will reign and war and conflict will be no more because “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” – but that day has not yet come and the forces of evil, wickedness and darkness still need to be opposed and defeated.