Memory is one of God’s gifts to us in the way in which He made us. But, depending on how we use that gift, it can either work for us or against us. There are some things in the past, our rebellion against God and failure to follow His plan that we are to learn from, but not to dwell upon. The Apostle Paul wrote: “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13,14). If we dwell on the past we can become captive to it and be incapacitated in the present. We need to learn from the past and press on. The poet George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
But there are some things in the past God does want us to remember and meditate upon. The writer to the Hebrew believers wrote: “But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings” (Heb. 10:32). When the Israelites were preparing to enter their “Promised Land,” they had to cross the swollen Jordan River. God miraculously stopped the waters so they could cross on dry ground. Then He told Joshua to have the people take 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan and set them up on the bank at Gilgal and also to set up 12 stones in the middle of the river. They were to be “stones of remembrance” so that when future generations asked about them they could hear again the story of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan. They were to become a “memorial to the sons of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6,7,21-24). The 12 stones taken “out of” the Jordan and set up at Gilgal spoke of redemption of Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan where they experienced victory and conquest. The 12 stones left in the Jordan to be overwhelmed by its waters were a reminder of condemnation from which we have been saved by God’s grace through Christ’s death under judgment in our place.
In the life of every nation, there are “memories” that must be preserved if that nation is to retain an awareness of its unique role among the nations of the world and throughout world history. Again, God gave us a memory on purpose because there are some things in the past that, if we were to forget them, we would be impoverished in the present and the future. Obviously, on this special day, “Memorial Day,” we remember those who in all the wars of the history of our nation have paid the price—the price that freedom costs. Many of you reading this probably have lost friends or loved ones to the ravages of war. It is important for us to remember the loss and the grief that comes when we try to secure freedom, not only here in America, but around the world. When we don’t remember, it’s as if we are taking it for granted, and in a sense wasting the sacrifices that so many have paid for our benefit. After all, our military heroes gave up all their tomorrows so that we could enjoy ours.
Each week we receive reports of brave young Americans laying down their lives for us and for our freedoms. Each of these young heroes has taken to heart the message engraved on the great bronze doors of the Navel Academy Chapel: “NOT FOR SELF BUT FOR COUNTRY.” I’m reminded of one individual who truly exemplified that motto. Many of you will remember the name Pat Tillman. He was a successful NFL football player for the Arizona Cardinals with a nifty $3.6 million a year contract. But, at one point in his life, he walked away from it, saying , “You know what? I know what sacrifice my father and others have made to secure freedom for this country. What have I done?” So, he left the NFL to sign up for the Army Rangers. Pat ended up giving his life in Afghanistan.
Well, I know someone else who gave up a lot more than a $3.6 million contract to willingly put His life on the line for others. Jesus left the glories and comforts of His heavenly home where angels surround the throne and sing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” He left all the applause of Heaven and the relationship with his Father and volunteered to come into this world, to take upon the form of the humanity He had created, and paid the ultimate price of His own life, dying on a cruel cross (Phil. 2:5-8), so that we could be free from the bondage of sin. Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free….If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:32,36).
We need to value our freedom in this great nation, and remember that it has come at a great price and we ought to constantly remember the great price our Savior paid to provide us with eternal freedom, “knowing that we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18,19). The price of our national freedoms was paid with the blood of young men and women who gave their lives fighting for our country. The price of our spiritual freedom from the bondage of sin was paid with the blood of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And just as we have a special day of remembrance for our military heroes, we also have a special time of remembrance for our Savior’s sacrifice on our behalf. He instituted the Lord’s Table or Communion as He spent the final Passover with His disciples. As He broke the bread and shared the cup which represented His body which was to be bruised and broken and His blood which was to be shed, He said, “do this in remembrance of Me” (I Cor. 11:24).
Be sure to pause today to thank God for the young men and women who have who have paid the price for our political freedom and thank Him for our Savior who gave His life for us that we might be free from the penalty and power—and one day the presence—of sin.