“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16
There is a before and after in these verses written down by the hand of the same man, the Apostle John. The first was John’s recording of the words of his beloved Savior just prior to His crucifixion and death; and the second was written looking back at His death, just as we do today. It is this death which sets the significance of all others, and it is this death which essentially defines what love is. Jesus not only tells those who are willing to hear how “love is defined in the eyes of His Father, He shows us.
Memorial Day spotlights sacrificial love for others. Some recognize the cost and the value of those deaths, while others live as though their freedom is a personal right to whom no one is owed thanks and honor, especially from them. I am still moved to tears by the sight of pristine cemeteries I have seen in Europe where American soldiers have been laid to rest, still cared for with devotion and gratitude by a dying generation who know the cost of freedom. In some cemeteries in America boy scouts and others will place an American flag beside each of the thousands of grave stones and crosses marking the graves of many who gave the last full measure of devotion for our freedoms. The grateful crowd who honor them diminishes year by year, while the thankless crowd grows, even as politicians and judges erode the very freedoms for which those soldiers died.
Jesus said His death was an example that should be emulated by those who desire to love greatly, laying down one’s life for others. This verse can certainly be applied to those soldiers who died in the cause of the freedom of others, but it extends to and is focused on a more specific army. Jesus spoke to “soldiers of the cross when he said these words. He spoke to those who would identify themselves by their faith as His disciples, foot soldiers in His Army, including men, women and children. They wear the uniform of Ephesians 6. Their names and their graves are not forgotten. Their God has recorded them in His own Memorial Book, which the prophet Malachi calls the Scroll of Remembrance. (Malachi 3:16). And the promises accorded those whose names are on those pages will be fulfilled. The blood of Jesus guarantees it.
This is why the battlefield is not just Normandy, Guadalcanal, the Auchau Valley, or Tikrit. The battlefield of which Jesus speaks covers the world, and his Medal of Honor is and will be placed on the chests of those disciples who spend their life for others that they might live forever. In the context of John 15 and 1 John, you are the personal object of your Master’s entreaty; you, the warrior who bears His name. The intended recipients of your love cannot be more obvious: all He has placed in your path. You know who they are. The question “For whom should I lay down my life? is a meaningless diversion. You can be sure it will not be asked in heaven, because you already know the answer.
“A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid, around the Savior’s throne rejoice, in robes of light arrayed: They climbed the steep ascent of heaven through peril, toil, and pain: O God, to us may grace be given to follow in their train
(4th verse of Reginald Heber’s hymn, “The Son of God Goes Forth to War, 1827)
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