Memorial Day Message: What Makes a True Hero?
Judges 16:22-31Video Link
MS Word Document Link
History of Memorial Day. Tomorrow is Memorial Day. A day that has been set aside to remember those who have given their life in service to our country. The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than all other wars fought by the United States combined. So many were killed or died from the effects of the war, that it required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. The former home of General Robert E. Lee was taken by the federal government and turned into Arlington national cemetery.
By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
Several different communities independently initiated the memorial gatherings. And some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.
By 1890 many Northern states held similar commemorative events and had made Decoration Day as it was called then, an official state holiday. The Southern states continued to honor the dead on separate days until after World War I.
Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
Memorials in the Bible. The Bible speaks of many memorials of which here are two types. One is the type which you are participating in today. A service which honors the resurrection of Christ every Sunday or like Baptism or the Lord’s Supper to commemorate His life, death and resurrection. The other kind of is a memorial is a marker, stone, a statute or an engraved writing meant to commemorate great heroes and great events. These can be great monuments like the Statue of Sam Houston on I-45, the Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson memorials in our nation’s capital or even a simple epithet on a tombstone in a cemetery.
We should honor the those who have passed on with our memorial services and with our memorial stones, because they link us to our past. God told Joshua and Joshua told the people in Joshua 4:20-22 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. 21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
Memorials are important, vital to the history and identity of any people. Today there are many powerful, influential and rich people, organizations and political parties who are trying to remake the United States into a socialist, godless country. It is not by accident they began a few years ago by tearing down memorials. They began with the memorials that had been erected to honor the confederate heroes, soldiers and battles. But they did not stop there, since we did nothing to stop them from destroying or removing statutes of Robert E. Lee, a man who had no slaves and was opposed to the institution of slavery, these nation remakers also destroyed ir defaced statues of Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves. They have also demanded the removal of memorials to Martin Luther King because he preached non-violence and he dared to call upon God and quote the Bible. If we destroy the memorials, it is easy to then also destroy the truth and rewrite the history.
Memorials are more important today than they ever have been. It is vital that we do not forget those heroes who have given their life to give us our freedom. So today I want to talk about heroes. I want us to see that the honor that we pay to those who have died protecting our nation and our heritage is due to them because of the price they were willing to pay. I also wish us to understand that we as soldiers in the Lord’s army are also called upon to be willing to pay the price in our service to God as they were willing to do in their service to their country.
In Hebrews we read
Hebrews 11:32–40 32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
What I want you to notice is one particular name in this list, the name Samson. Can you believe that Samson is in the Hall of Faith Heroes? That God considered the debaucherous, selfish, judge of Israel worthy of the memorial of Hebrews the 11th chapter?
If so then what made Samson a hero? Despite his failures in life, he wound up in God’s Hall of Heroes. I want us to look at Judges 16 and see why and to learn that the same things that ultimately made Samson a hero are the same things that God looks for in the lives of his heroes today.
Samson journey to God’s Hall of Heroes really begins after he has been captured and made into a beast of burden. He is captured, he is blinded and he is made to turn a millstone, grinding grain like a big dumb ox. Until we come to verse 23 in Judges 16
Samson’s Suffering Judges 16:23-25
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.
I want to start at the place where Samson became a hero and that wasn’t when he carried away the gates of a city, or killed a thousand with the jawbone of a donkey. No Samson became a hero after he was captured because of his weakness. It was at this point, the point of complete weakness, that he began to find his true strength.
He had been captured and bound with metal shackles, normally it would have been leather but his reputation was too great to allow the risk so the put iron bands on him.
His eyes were put out. This was usually done to captives of great importance. The greater their renown the more dangerous they were and the greater the humiliation they must be put to.
He was turned into an animal or a slave grinding out grain in the prison house.
The after a time the Philistines had a holiday to worship their God Dagon. Dagon was a fish God, since the Philistines were a sea-going people whose power was derived from trading in the Mediterranean. He was usually depicted as a being with the upper body of a man but a lower body of a great fish.
At the festival Samson was brought out to make sport of, to humiliate. The Bible is not specific but it would usually involve any activity that would seem the most humiliating to a once great enemy now reduced to a blind animal. People would taunt him with insults and challenges. He would be struck by thrown objects. They would match him against small weak opponents like children or dwarves or sic dog on him to torment him.
It was now here, at this point that Samson becomes a Hero, not earlier when he had great power, health and respect but now when he is blind, weak, humiliated and shamed. It was this terrible suffering that changed a foolish man into the hero recorded in God’s Hall of Fame.
True Heroes Suffer
I believe that part of being a true hero is having to deal with sorrow and suffering.
True heroes whether they be in the nation’s army or in the Lord’s army are men and women who have learned that victories are never easy and that they must endure suffering and hardship no matter the cost.
Heroes are Moms and Dad who sacrifice and go without so that their children will have what they need to grow up. Heroes are Missionaries who give up their homes and lives to go where God sends them. Heroes are pastors who despite opposition, poor wages, and poor attendance keep on preaching the word of God. Heroes are soldiers who after enduring enemy fire come home to endure fire from their own countrymen.
They all suffer but they do not walk away, they do not give up because they are heroes and true heroes do not quit!
2 Timothy 2:1-3 1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. 3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
A Flag of Rags
In the final years of our imprisonment, the North Vietnamese moved us from small cells with one or two prisoners to large rooms with as many as 30-40 men to a room. We preferred this situation for the companionship and strength we could draw from our fellow prisoners. In addition to moving us to new quarters, out captors also let us receive packages and letters from home. Many men received word from their families for the first time in several years. The improved conditions were a result of public pressure put on the North Vietnamese by the American public.
In our cell was one Navy officer, Lt. Commander Mike Christian. Over a period of time Mike had gathered bits and pieces of red and white cloth from various packages. Using a piece of bamboo he had fashioned into a needle, Mike sewed a United States flag on the inside of his shirt, one of the blue pajama tops we all wore.
Every night in our cell, Mike would put his shirt on the wall, and we would say the pledge of allegiance. I know that the pledge of allegiance may not be the most important aspect of our day now, but I can tell you that at the time it was the most important aspect of our lives.
This had been going on for some time until one of the guards came in as we were reciting our pledge. They ripped the flag off the wall and dragged Mike out. He was beaten for several hours and then thrown back into the cell.
Later that night, as we were settling down to sleep on the concrete slabs that we our beds, I looked over to the spot where the guards had thrown Mike. There, under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling, I saw Mike. Still bloody and his face swollen beyond recognition, Mike was gathering bits and pieces of cloth together. He was sewing a new American flag. -- John McCain.
Transition: Suffering began to remake Samson but he was still not the hero worthy of Hebrew 11. The next step in that process takes place in vs. 26 of Judges 16
Samson’s Seeking Judges 16:26-28
And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
Samson Seeks God
Samson is brought to rest upon the support pillars of the structure where this celebration was held. This was probably an ancient amphitheater. The pillars stood underneath the main beams which held up the structure of the roof or balcony.
Samson leans there and now humiliated, degraded and broken he begins to pray. Do you realize that he had never prayed before a battle before. He had always taken it for granted that his God-given strength would be there, but this time, for the first time he prays first.
Now He was at the end of his own strength, he turned to God acknowledging Him as his only hope and the true source of strength. “O Lord God, remember me I pray they and strengthen me I pray thee, only this once O God.”
Look closely at what Samson says. He calls out Lord, this is the word Adonay. It means my lord, my master. The word God is all in caps. This signifies the personal name of God. Samson calls out to Jehovah. He calls out not based upon his position as an Israelite nor his title of Judge but he calls out based upon a personal relationship with God, “O, Lord Jehovah”
True Heroes Seek God
Our suffering may not be as the same as Samson’s but in our own life’s circumstances just as hard to overcome.
Many people simply think that endurance alone will bring them to the other side of the suffering. Others simply seem to get used to it and accept it as their own lot in life. Others come to a place they can’t go on any longer and they quit.
Some quit their families, some quit the ministry, some quit the church and some even quit life.
How do you find the strength you need? If there is a lesson that can be learned from the life of Samson it is this lesson. In the midst of your suffering, in your sorrow, pain or weakness, turn to God’s for the strength, comfort and hope that you don’t have.
You must call out, you must repent, you must acknowledge Him as Lord and God.
Yes, this is done the first time at salvation, when we realize we are too weak to save ourselves from judgment and Hell, but it must be done over and over if we are to be strong enough overcome the suffering and hardships of this life.
Psalm 27:7-17 Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.
Illustration: I Am One of Them
This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But if I were to ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians--and I am one of them. - Cyprian, third-century martyr
Samson’s Strength Judges 16:29-31
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.
Samson A True Hero
He wraps his arms around the pillars and the Bible says he bowed himself with all his strength.
He then prayed one more time, “Let me die with the Philistines.”
As the strength of God rushes back into his body, he leans against the pillars and they crack and then break. As the support is removed the building collapses.
The Bible makes this note about the final battle of Samson, “The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
Samson’s greatest victory was the one that cost him his life through sacrifice, a life which he had for the first time wholly given to God.
True Heroes Sacrifice
We have already seen that true heroes endure suffering. You cannot rise to success in any field without this, and in God’s service it is the foundation of greatness.
And in n God’s service, different from success in the world, there must be a seeking and a finding of God, and a losing of ourselves in order for God’s heroes, true heroes to be strong. Just as we see with Samson, and all the true heroes of the God’s Word. They all suffered, the all endure, they all sought and found God and his strength. This is the path and the Bible only has one path.
Finally, there is this necessary element in true service, true heroism for God, the willingness to lose your life in Him and for Him.
When this happens, then it will be true for us as it was for Samson, “In dying to self we will do more for God than in our living for self.”
Romans 6:3-6, 11 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Have you asked God to let your old self die that your new self my serve Him? Do you understand what it is to be crucified with Christ? This is the reality of salvation but it is also the reality of service, of faithfulness and of strength. Have you died to self in order to live for God? There can be no true heroes in God’s eyes and service until we are willing to die to the person we were and be the child of God, Jesus died to make us.
Conclusion: Two Lives
Ronald Reagan Veteran’s Day 1985
President Ronald Reagan made these remarks at Veteran's Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia, November 11, 1985
"It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray-haired. But most of them were boys when they died, they gave up two lives -- the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for their county, for us. All we can do is remember." - Ronald Wilson Reagan Remarks at Veteran's Day ceremony, Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia, November 11, 1985
The true servant of God, the true soldier in the army of the Lord, the true hero must also give up two lives, the one you once lived and the future one that now belongs to God. As Paul wrote, I beseech ye, therefore brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice. Are you willing to be a true hero for the Lord? Perhaps it could start today, as you seek God.
Memorials are important, vital to the history and identity of any people. Today there are many powerful, influential, rich people, organizations and political parties who are trying to remake the United States into a socialist, godless nation. It is not by accident they began a few years ago by tearing down memorials. - Pastor Kris Minefee