In our history, we Americans have seen great bravery in combat. Our Congress acknowledges these heroic efforts by awarding soldiers the Medal of Honor. This award is presented to someone who distinguishes him or herself by gallantry beyond the call of duty.
One such individual, Navy officer Edouard Izac, served valiantly in World War I. A copy of his photo is in your bulletin today. Izac's remarkable odyssey began on May 31, 1918, when a German submarine torpedoed his ship, the USS President Lincoln, as it sailed near the coast of France. Most of the crew managed to escape, but Izac was captured and taken aboard the U-boat back to Germany. Unbeknownst to his captors, Izac was the son of German-speaking immigrants. He used his knowledge of the language to collect vital information on German operations.
Determined to get this intelligence to the Allies, Izac made several failed escape attempts, including once diving out the window of a moving train. He finally pulled off a successful jailbreak in October 1918 by scaling the barbed wire fence of his prison camp. He stopped along the way to draw fire from the guards to allow other prisoners to flee. Dangling precariously from the barbed wire fence, Izac held on by faith and by force. He hung there to save the lives of those captives his act toward death set free. Izac spent the next several days sneaking through hostile territory and living off the land before swimming the Rhine River into the safety of neutral Switzerland. In 1920, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He went on to serve several years in Congress. At the time of his death in 1990, he was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War I.
There are many, many more such stories, but the picture is clear. Many men and women have put their lives in extreme danger for their comrades in arms, and, in some cases, gave their lives in order that the others might live. They made the ultimate sacrifice.
Now I want to back into history a little further to talk about the greatest sacrifice. I want to talk about a call to duty—a specific, incredible, sacrificial call to duty. And for those present on earth at the time, it begins this way. In a small, Middle Eastern country nearly 2,000 years ago, a baby was born. His name was Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter. Raised in Nazareth, the scriptures give us little or nothing to go on about his early life, other than the familiar Christmas story, the visit of the magi, and the time when he stayed behind at the temple and his parents came to find him.
After that, there is a significant jump ahead in time to his adult life and his ministry among both His people, the Jews, and many Gentiles. But really, who would have expected such heroic action from this man? But like so many heroes of our present day, he, too, gave of Himself.
Jesus put himself in harm's way. He endured pain and suffering for the benefit of others. In Isaiah 53, this was foretold far in advance. We read: "Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. Here is our first scripture note. It is Isaiah 53:5. "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed."
And He did it willingly, as Isaiah continues in verse 7: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth." Isaiah 53:7
Matthew records in his gospel, not once, but twice, Jesus responds to the pain and suffering He is about to endure with the words, "Not my will, Father, but Yours be done."
On this Memorial Day, let remember soldiers like Navy officer Edouard Izac. On this weekend where we remember, let us also understand what Jesus willingly did: he endured great pain and suffering on behalf of His people to the point of death. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!" And in Romans 5:7 "Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."
The men and women of the military put their lives in danger for the sake of their fellow soldiers against other human beings. The battle Christ waged was against something far more powerful and devastating. The ultimate victory was not simply the taking of some important hilltop or body of water, or even one country over another, but one which secured our very souls—the victory over the power of the devil and of sin in our lives, and ultimately, the victory over death.
In that victory, the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, inspired those who witnessed it or heard about it. In his first letter, Peter, one of Jesus' "lieutenants," if you will, encouraged his readers with the lessons he learned from his commanding officer. From 1 Peter 3:15 we read: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Later in the letter, Peter's words of caution and encouragement speak to us all when he says: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."
And the clearest, most dynamic example of how Christ's life and death—and resurrection—inspired His people is the fact that we are gathered here today to sing hymns, hear the Word of God read and proclaimed, offer up our prayers of praise and petition, and encourage one another in our faith.
In spite of the wide assortment of issues that have created problems, the fact remains that America still has the best well-equipped and trained military in the world. This said, we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that in a world of terrorism, where individuals do not hesitate to give their lives for their particular cause or belief, we will never be totally protected and invulnerable.
In today's reading, Jesus explains that "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Jesus says, "There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. These events are happening today, and will more than likely continue to happen in the future." But the Psalmist seems to answer back to this bleak forecast.
Christians fight a different type of war beyond the physical act of combat. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." And in his letter to the Ephesians 6:14-15, Paul paints an even more specific and graphic picture when he describes the armor of God:
The Belt of Truth,
the Breastplate of Righteousness;
our feet are fitted with the Gospel of peace;
we carry the shield of faith;
we have the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit.
That armor, combined with a life of steady and regular prayer, will indeed protect us from the temptations that come our way, and ultimately preserve us for a life of eternal joy in heaven one day.
You'll hear about Edouard Izac one more time before we close. You'll hear about his prayer. But first, I have another story on prayer.
The following story is told of one soldier who lived with that confidence even as he found himself in the heat of battle. During the Korean War, one man was hurt badly on the battlefield of Heartbreak Ridge. His buddies were in a foxhole about 50-yards away when the man was hit by sniper fire in an ambush. As the gunfire continued, the other soldiers discussed what to do. But since the sniper fire was too intense, to crawl out and bring back their wounded buddy would mean almost certain death.
For a while, no one would move. The men in the foxhole could hear their wounded friend yelling for help.
Then one of the men in the foxhole began to look intensely at his own watch. He could not keep his eyes off it. All the others in the foxhole noticed this, but the soldier with the watch remained silent.
Suddenly, the man with the watch jumped out of the foxhole, and crawled over to his wounded buddy. He then grabbed him by the nape of the collar, and very slowly made his way back to the foxhole, all the while sniper fire whizzing around. Both amazingly made it back to the foxhole without additional injury.
After the sniper fire had died down, the man who saved his buddy was asked why he waited so long to crawl after his wounded friend. To which he responded: "My mom said every day at the exact same time she would be praying for me. And according to my watch, I left the foxhole exactly when she started praying."
We may not always receive answers to prayer in such dramatic fashion, and sometimes, even though our prayers may also involve physical protection or even the sparing of life, they may seem to go unanswered. But we have God's promise that the ultimate victory in this world—the one which guarantees us eternity with Him—is ours, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I started with Navy officer Edouard Izac, and close with one more piece to his story. This is also about prayer.
I found a newspaper clipping of him. I do not have the article. I have only the photo and the caption beneath. The picture was taken near the end of his long life. (I believe he was 90 when he died.) In this photo, this senior is holding his medal of honor. I know he is speaking of crossing the Rhine River. The caption reads, "Finally I said my prayers to God....and the next thing I knew, I was on the other side."
Get to the other side. Help others get there, too. How? Remember Jesus.
As we go forth, let me encourage you to remember those who have served and made the sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today. At the same time, give thanks to God, also, for Jesus Christ, and HIS willingness to serve, His commitment to our spiritual freedom and our eternal salvation. And then, be confident in your daily "faith battles," knowing that you are equipped by God to be that faithful warrior that makes a difference in the world around you.
The need for a military force will more than likely never disappear. We will need a protectorate from the forces around the globe to guarantee the rights and privileges we can express today. It is through our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that we have the luxury of unprecedented freedoms on Earth. But, only Christ can grant the freedom from sin that His sacrifice has granted us.