It is ANZAC Day again. New Zealand and Australia pause to remember and respect the memory of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our nations and the freedom of other countries.
It is a day when you hear many tales of individual heroism and national solidarity in the fight to defeat aggressors and tyrants in the world. I personally find the day poignant as I reflect on my father who served in WWII, and both my grandfathers who served in WWI.
Sometimes Christians can get a little confused about how to respond to this day. Some of us are uneasy with the talk of ‘heroes’ or the ‘glorious dead’ because that makes us think of Christ’s glorious death for the world. Certainly, none of my forefathers considered themselves heroes or glorious. Some of us are uncomfortable with the Christian hymns and biblical passages that are used in the public meetings by non-Christians. Sometimes we are disturbed by the focus on the idea that others sacrificed themselves for us. For others it may be simply that we appear to be glorifying something horrific and painful.
But, I want to argue is that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this things, but instead should grab hold ANZAC Day as a conversation opener. In this article I want to grab hold of the idea of the death of others for our country, and use it to explain the gospel from Galatians.
In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia he writes about the fact that they have added religion to the gospel of Jesus. They have received Jesus by faith alone, but now people are starting to say that the Old Testament practices of circumcision, special diets, and other laws are essential if a person is going to be right with God. Paul calls this ‘another gospel’ and condemns it outright. He uses very strong language!
Instead he wants them to understand that they have received the Holy Spirit only by faith in Christ. He explains this in the opening verses, saying that, we receive God’s peace by grace, when we trust in Jesus who sacrificed himself because of our sins and delivered us from the rule of evil – all as God had planned long ago.
How is this relevant to ANZAC Day?
Today we live in peace by God’s grace
A strong theme that runs through ANZAC Day memorials is peace. We talk of the wars against tyranny as a necessary evil to safeguard the peace and prosperity of free peoples. Kiwi soldiers were killed and maimed in their thousands for the people of France, Belgium, Italy and Britain. Why? So that they, and we, could live in peace.
Paul explains the message of the gospel in a similar way. In his greeting he speaks God’s grace and peace on his readers. How? They can have grace and peace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This peace comes from God by grace – a free gift. It is peace with God and with our consciences. It is peace of mind and heart, which is far more precious than peace of body or society. He can greet these people with peace because it is theirs through Jesus.
Jesus sacrificed himself for peace because of our sins
When he mentions the name Jesus, Paul quickly explains how he gives peace – he ‘gave himself for our sins’. At ANZAC Day we also hear a lot about people giving themselves for others. Our ANZACs sacrificed their lives on the field of battle for their families, friends and fatherland. For this we are deeply grateful.
Jesus, on the other hand, sacrificed himself not just for his friends, but also for his enemies. Paul says here that it was ‘for/because of our sins’ that Jesus came into the world and died on a cross. Jesus repeatedly describes his ministry in those time – ‘the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many’ – and it is this ransom idea that prevails. The thought is that our sins condemn us before God and separate us from his blessing. As Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18 ‘Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…’ Unlike the priests in the OT who had to offer animal sacrifices to cover the sins of the people, instead Jesus offers himself (Heb.9:13-14) to God once for all.
Jesus’ sacrifice rescues us from the rule of evil
Wars should be about justice overcoming evil. For example, WWII impresses on us the fact that that the democratic nations were in a life and death battle against fascism. The dangerous and twisted Nazi’s, the lunacy of Mussolini, and the fanaticism of the Japanese emperor cult spurred men and women to enlist in what had become a fight for survival. We needed to be rescued from their evil rule.
The gospel of Jesus is the same. Paul says that Jesus gave himself for our sins ‘to deliver/rescue us from the present evil age.’ When you read the Bible it explains that we live in an age dominated by sin and ruled – to a greater or lesser degree – by Satan and his forces. Jesus came, and by his birth, death and resurrection, ushered in a new age of the Spirit, otherwise known as ‘the age to come’ or ‘last days.’ In Colossians Paul explains: (1:13-14) ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (14) in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.
A Christian, therefore, is someone who has been rescued out of an era and way of life that is conquered and controlled by evil, and now lives under a new rule or government. They have a new identity and existence that is under Christ’s power and authority.
This is God’s plan and for his glory
One of the interesting things about war history is the planning and negotiating that went on behind the scenes. For example, in WWII New Zealand government policy was, ‘where Britain goes, we go’ when asked to leave our troops in Europe. Australia, on the other hand said, “We’re bringing our boys back to defend Australia from the Japanese!” Then there were the meetings of the ‘big four’, Britain, America, Russia and China, or the top secret planning for D-Day. Success on the battlefield requires a plan.
The gospel happens according to God’s plan too. It wasn’t some random, last minute, stop-gap decision to try and outwit Satan. It was planned by God from eternity (Eph.1:11) – ‘according to the will of God our Father’ (v.4). This is comforting to know, because most of us can’t plan beyond our next meal, let alone our eternal destiny! God’s sent the Son, – it was his will- and the Son gave himself to redeem us from slavery to sin.
So, who gets the credit? On ANZAC Day we give the credit to the soldiers who fought and those who died. We say, “We will remember them.” We don’t say, “Wasn’t that wonderful of us to let our grandfathers and fathers go and risk their lives for us!” So also, God get all the fame and glory for rescuing us from sin and Satan – forever. As Paul declares, ‘To whom (God) be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (v.5)
So, this ANZAC Day and after, honour those men and women who risked their lives and those made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. More importantly, however, honour God for sending his Son Jesus who suffered and died that we might live. He gives you peace because he gave himself for your sin and has rescued you from Satan’s control. He deserves all the credit. Remember him.