In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced as the Allied powers signed a cease-fire agreement with Germany to bring World War I—“the war to end all wars”—to a close. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of “Armistice Day.” The original celebration involved parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. The word “armistice” is from the Latin and means “arms standing still.” In 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance of that day. An act approved on May 13, 1938, made November 11th a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to honor the veterans of WW I, but in 1954, after WW II and the Korean War, Congress amended the Act of 1938 by replacing the word “Armistice” with “Veterans” and November 11th became “Veterans’ Day,” a celebration to honor veterans of all wars for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. Other countries such as Canada, Australia, and Great Britain also celebrate their veterans on or near November 11, naming their holiday “Remembrance Day.”
The early Christians also remembered those who had gone before them and lived out their lives of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often laying down their lives for their faith, in order to spread the Gospel—the “Good News” of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that we could have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. In Hebrews 11, the author speaks of first-century Christians who kept and carried forward the faith, many of them suffering great atrocities and martyrdom (Heb. 11:32-40). Hebrews 11 has been called God’s “Hall of Fame of Faith” and is a chapter that continues to be written as Christians continue to suffer persecution and death for their faith in Christ.
Just as we must not forget what our country’s veterans have done in the name of freedom from tyranny, we must also never forget what our Christian brothers and sisters have done in the name of freedom from sin and death. Their example should encourage us to stand firm for the faith today in spite of the adversity we face. The author of Hebrews references this “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 11 and then encourages the readers to “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1).
But, the writer of Hebrews doesn’t end there; he goes on to urge the readers (including us): “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). He sat down because He finished the work He came to accomplish (Jn. 19:30)—the final sacrifice for sin. “By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10: 10-14).
Although Jesus returned to heaven forty days after His resurrection, He left us with a couple special ways to remember what He did for us. We call them “ordinances.” One is water baptism of believers. It is an outward way to demonstrate to the world that we now belong to Jesus. It shows our identification with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection and is symbolized by our going into, under and out of the water. It speaks of our union with Christ and thus only needs to be done once. It is our testimony of our death to sin and being alive in Christ and desiring to “walk in newness of life” (Ro. 6: 4).
The other ordinance of remembrance is the one that Jesus instituted when He celebrated that final Passover meal with His disciples in the Upper Room. (Mt. 26:17-30; Lk. 22:7-23). We call it “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion.” Jesus broke bread and passed it and also passed the cup (fruit of the vine) indicating that He would bear our sins in His body (the bread…cf I Pet. 2:24) and shed His blood for our forgiveness (the cup…cf Heb. 9:22). He told His disciples to eat and drink “In remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Cor. 11:24-26). The bread remains bread but represents Christ’s body and the juice remains juice but represents His blood. It is an illustration like “I am the door” (Jn. 10:7). While baptism speak of our union with Christ which takes place the moment we believe and will never change, and thus only needs to be done once, the Lord’s Supper speaks of our continuous communion with Christ through the shedding of His blood for forgiveness of sin. We are still united with Christ but our fellowship is hindered when we sin, so we have need to confess our sins to maintain that fellowship (I Jn. 1:90). We celebrate “The Lord’s Supper” on an ongoing basis. Some churches do it each time they meet, others once a month, but however frequently we do it, we do it “In Remembrance of Him” remembering His sacrifice for us and looking forward to the return He promised, to take believers to be with Himself
So, on this “Veterans’ Day” or “Remembrance Day,” be sure to thank God for those who have served this country to protect our freedoms. If you see a vet today, thank him/her for their service. But also, thank God for the believers who have set an example for us of enduring faith, encouraging us to “run with endurance the race set before us.” Most of all, remember the Lord Jesus Christ, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” for you so that you could be free from the penalty and power of sin, and one day from the very presence of sin (Jude 24).