"Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
While still in a seminary, a friend, active with the American Legion, asked me to speak at a Memorial Day service. He was quick to remind me that my topic should be "Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for another."
Being a veteran, I know what the price of sacrifice is when a person lays down his or her life for others. I know that just going to war is a difficult decision. Every person who decides to enter the armed forces needs to decide also how much to give for freedom and nation. Taking a bullet for someone or jumping on a grenade is a decision in some cases costing one's own life. There is no question those who do so are heroes.
The decision to sacrifice our lives, even if we die, is not an "automatic pass" into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was talking about someone who would die because of faithfulness to him. Jesus died on the cross not to enter the kingdom of heaven but because this was the way he brought about salvation to the world. Jesus does tell us that we are blessed when we claim him as our Lord and Savior.
One scripture that comes to mind is Matthew 5:11-13 "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manners of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Notice the reason we are persecuted is because we are doing what is right in the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus teaches that when we do what our country asks, even it if costs our lives, we have done no more than what our duty to country call us to do. I believe that an atheist may react out of human love in a very similar way to save another person. Let me add that does not mean that someone may not die out of a spiritual act of love; and it would be rewarded by God. That is God's call, not mine.
In a similar way, suffering and taking up one's cross is not a guaranteed entrance into heaven either. Everyone suffers. It is when we deny ourselves and suffer because of our faith that we are carrying the cross and following the Lord that we become worthy of the kingdom.
In Matthew 5:10-11, we hear, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Therefore, the bottom line is this: veterans who suffer or die in conflict are all tragedies of war. They are painful, but in most cases they were actions that were done for the welfare of others and were done because of love and commitment to others, their country, or their cause - acts of heroism that need to be remembered. However, if we go back to what Jesus is really saying, it is when we suffer for others because of our faith in our Lord, and in some cases lose our lives, that we become worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Behrens is the senior pastor of Picture Rocks, Tivoli, Point Bethel and Kedron United Methodist Churches.