On Monday this nation will observe Memorial Day for the 147th time. Originally call Decoration Day, it was officially instituted in 1868 as a day to honor those who died serving their country in the Civil War. After World War I, the event was expanded to honor those who have fallen in battle in all the wars in which this country has been involved. Strictly speaking, Memorial Day is set aside to honor only those who died in war defending our freedoms, which is appropriate given their sacrifice.
So, in case you are wondering if or how I am going to tie the observance of Memorial Day to the Bible and Christianity (which of course I am prone to do), let's consider a passage from II Samuel chapter 23.
These words are recorded after David had taken his rightful place as king over a united Israel.
These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time. And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away: He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the LORD wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil. And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines. But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory.
And this is but the first three of David's soldiers who are all mentioned by name here. In the rest of the chapter, David goes on to name another 32 of the mighty men of his army. Thus it would seem that when we honor the fallen soldiers of our own nation, we do have some biblical example for doing so.
Consider this from Matthew Henry's commentary on II Samuel 23:
Note, Those that in public stations venture themselves, and lay out themselves, to serve the interests of their country, are worthy of double honour, both to be respected by those of their own age and to be remembered by posterity. To excite those that come after to a generous emulation. To show how much religion contributes to the inspiring of men with true courage. David, both by his psalms and by his offerings for the service of the temple, greatly promoted piety among the grandees of the kingdom (1Chronicles 29:6), and, when they became famous for piety, they became famous for bravery.
Now, one might argue that nothing which Matthew Henry said about the piety of Israel's army applies to the soldiers of our United States because we have a separation of church and state, and so we are not a Christian nation. But I would suggest that the idea that we are not a Christian nation would have been totally foreign to the great majority of those who have died in the service of our county for more than two centuries. It is far more likely that most of them embraced the thought that they were fighting for God and Country.
So this weekend, as we honor those who have died for God and Country, let us remember Jesus words as recorded in John 15:13
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Over the course of our nation's history many have shown this type of love through fighting and dying for their fellow countrymen who they counted as friends. We should honor them for the bravery and the love which they displayed.
Even more important though, is how those words of Jesus apply to himself.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And the next verse continues, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." " Jesus gave us many commands during his earthly ministry, but they could perhaps best be summed up when he said repent, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15)
Jesus did lay down his life to pay the just penalty for our sins so that we might be forgiven and spend eternity with him. Won't you repent and believe this good news?