Summary: Character revelation on our battlefields
Joshua Chamberlain was a young scholar, a professor of rhetoric at elite Bowdoin College in the middle of the eighteen hundreds. As one who succeeded in academic circles so well, I’m sure he had faced many exams. He must have done pretty well. He was a brilliant young man.
But in 1863, he faced a whole different kind of test. This one wasn’t in a quiet classroom. It didn’t measure his knowledge. It was in battle. Chamberlain took a leave from Bowdoin in 1862, and his first battle, leading soldiers as a Colonel, was 1863 at Gettysburg. He led the troops that guarded the left flank of the Union on the second and pivotal day of the battle. His actions, calling for a charge down little round top when his men were running out of ammunition to defend there position may have been the small, single turning point of the war.
But the real character of Chamberlain came later. He had been wounded horribly in a battle, so Grant gave the only battlefield commission to General of the whole war to Chamberlain because they were sure he was going to die. But after hours of surgery, no small thing in those days, he recuperated for five months before he faced battle again. And it is at the battle of Five Forks where he was just amazing.
He could barely walk because of his injuries. He had to be helped up on his horse. But his men needed him. On one charge, a bullet came through the neck of his horse, went through his shoulder including some metal equipment he had there, and went and knocked a lieutenant of his horse behind him. It was a powerful bullet. An officer came up to him and saw blood everywhere. He said, “You are gone, sir.” Chamberlain, regaining some of his senses, didn’t quite hear him right and thought he spoke of the battle. So he looked around and saw a weak spot in their line. He got up, went over to it, and began running headlong forward in that spot. Apparently, his men didn’t keep up with him. All of the sudden, he was encircled by Confederate, enemy soldiers who closed their bayonets around him. Now, Chamberlain the scholar was fluent in seven languages and a master of dialects. And, so, in his thickest southern drawl, he spoke to the soldiers and explained to them that he thought they were a bit confused about him. He convinced them that he was one of them, and that they were needing to attack at that moment. He led a group of Confederate soldiers right into being captured by Union Soldiers.
Now that is a test. It is a wholly different test than what Chamberlain faced in the classroom. Anytime bullets are flying in heated battle, that is a real test of character.
Now, I hope you don’t think this story doesn’t mean much to you. Because I believe it should. I tell you this story because of two reasons: to tell you that each one of us is locked in mortal battle for our lives. And the second is to help us see and understand what is going on in this scripture. Jesus is in battle.
I was born in a year, and I’m of an age that I have never been threatened to be drafted. There have not been any significant, prolonged wars in which our country has taken place. When I was a child, my parents took me to El Toro Marine base to watch POWS from Vietnam return home. That’s about it. And, for a long time, it was hard for me to fathom having real, personal, enemies that threaten to harm me.
But as I’ve grown as a Christian. And I’ve come continuously to see, and we must see this, that we are locked in battle. We must recognize that there is a battle, and each of us is in it.
And when we recognize that there is a battle, we’ll also recognize where it is being fought. Jesus is in battle. It is not the same kind of battle as Chamberlains. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle [our battle] is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Each one of us is in battle. The field looks a little different for each. It can be so many different things. But Satan wants us to hear what he told Jesus. “You can take care of yourself, just make some bread!” “Don’t worry about God. I can get everyone to like you.” “You know, you might want to test God to make sure your faith is real.” Satan and the world are vying for our souls. They make promises, tell lies, distort the truth just enough to make us trust anyone and anything other than God. Each one of our worlds is full of these false hopes and promises that only lead to death. And each of us is in mortal battle for our eternal lives. Comfort, security, girls, drugs, friendship, having certain stuff – all of it and so much more can be our temptation to idolatry. And there are forces in this world that powerfully, persistently, constantly feed us these lies that the world and too many of us have bought into.