"Living and Dying"#85-26
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 25, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Living and Dying)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Romans 5:1-11
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The Savior has, through His life, suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection done all which was necessary to save sinners. Today we ask the Holy Spirit to dispel all doubts, and bring the world to faith in Him who has set the prisoners of war free. God grant such a saving faith to us all. Amen.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Richard Antrim, a Naval Academy graduate, was serving on an old, four-stack destroyer, the USS Pope. In its third engagement, the Battle of the Java Sea, the Pope was badly damaged and eventually sank. The sailors who were there said it was the organization, courage and calm of the ship's wounded Executive Officer, Lieutenant Antrim, which made it so that all, all but one, survived the sinking.
On March 5, 1942, the crew was rescued and captured by the Japanese, who took them to the POW camp on Makassar, in the Celebes. Along with 2,500 other unwilling guests of His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, those POWs would stay there until the end of the war. It was not an easy existence. You see, the Japanese soldiers had grown up having been taught the concept of Bushido. The Bushido philosophy said the soldier's virtues of loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor were all-important. To lose your honor was so disgraceful, so impossible to endure, that it was expected a soldier would take his life rather than continuing on. Because of that philosophy, the Japanese guards considered the Americans to be men without honor, pitiful, pathetic excuses who had brought embarrassment to their nation, their families, and themselves. Not only had the Americans lost the battle, they had lost their ship and, by being captured, they had lost their self-respect. It was this attitude which allowed the Japanese guards to treat their American captives with contempt.
Torture was common, capricious, and lethal. Experience had shown them how cruel and how complete was the penalty for breaking or bending a rule. Among the captives, hope disappeared as every day they struggled to blend in, as they dedicated themselves to doing nothing which might make them stand out, or single them out for punishment. Everyone struggled to comply with every order, because time and again they had seen how quickly, how cruelly, and how deadly was the retribution for those who didn't.
Yes, the POWs tried to comply, but they didn't always succeed. For example, there was a day in April when one of the Americans, a lieutenant, didn't bow deeply enough to his guard. The guard reacted. Using his swagger stick, he rained down blows upon the American's back until he lay face down in the dirt, semi-conscious and unable to raise a hand to protect himself. There would be no mercy.
In the center of the camp, the prisoner was strung up to receive 50 lashes; that's 50 lashes with a hawser, a heavy rope. The lieutenant, already bruised and battered from his earlier beating, showed little reaction as the first lash of the hawser ripped across his back. The first blow was followed by another, and another, and another as the guard began to get into the rhythm of the thing. By the time the fifteenth stroke had fallen, the American lieutenant was unconscious, unable to feel or respond to the ongoing beating.
There was no question, without a miracle, the captive would not survive the beating. The miracle came. That miracle came in the person of Lieutenant Richard Antrim. From his position he called out one word: "Enough!" A silence fell over the entire camp. "Enough, I'll take the rest," Antrim added. The Japanese stopped. They were shocked, stunned. They had not expected such an unselfish, loving act from one of the subhuman captives. Seeing the confusion and thinking he might have misunderstood, Antrim rephrased and amplified what he had said. "Enough! If there are to be 50 lashes, I will take the rest of them for him."
This time everybody understood. The prisoners let out a roar of pride. And the Japanese? Slowly the Japanese began to understand the miracle, the magnificent moment when someone said he was willing to suffer, and maybe even die for another. Antrim's actions changed things. The punishment ended. The rest of the lashes were never given, and the beaten body of the young naval officer was removed and gently restored to health. It took two and a half years before Lieutenant Antrim came home. Like other heroes of the war, he didn't talk about what he had done. He didn't have to. Other returning prisoners had done it for him. That's why, on January 30, 1947, President Truman invited Commander Antrim to the White House to bestow on him the Medal of Honor, the highest award an American military man can receive from a grateful country. As he placed the medal around the officer's neck, President Truman understatedly said, "You did a mighty fine thing."
He did a mighty fine thing. Remember those words for a few minutes, won't you? Remember them, because I will use them again when I finish telling you another story, a story which is just as true, just as moving, just as important to us as was the first. This second story begins with the Lord having created a perfect world in which He had placed our first ancestors, Adam and Eve. It was a place where they worked, but their work was blessed because there were no weeds, no pests, no blight to slow down or ruin their work in this beautiful garden. More than that, the Lord had granted them bodies which would never be slowed by the aches and pains of time, and minds which would never become feeble or forgetful. Among the many unique gifts the Lord generously offered His children was a fellowship, a friendship with Himself. Perfect harmony reigned throughout creation, and the Lord was absolutely right when He said it was all "very good."
Things could have, things should have, they would have stayed that way if Adam and Eve had followed the one commandment, the one rule and request the Lord had given them. In His owner's manual for this perfect world, He had told them not to eat the fruit from this one tree. You can eat as much as you want, as often as you want from all the other trees, but don't eat from this one. As long as you obey that one rule, we will have no problems, and perfection will continue to be, well, it will continue to be-perfect.
Now you who are listening to my voice on this Gospel broadcast on the air, are smart people. Your mama didn't raise no fools. You've looked around and you realize things aren't perfect today. They weren't perfect yesterday, and they're not going to be perfect tomorrow. There is sickness, sorrow, and sadness; there are wars, skirmishes, conflicts, and threats of nuclear destruction. You see greed, envy, and thievery; there is lust, immorality, problems, and pains. The bad news on today's front pages will be bumped to the back by tomorrow's bad news. People feel lost, lonely, and unsure if a loving Lord even exists.
Yes, you see the difference between today's sinful universe and the perfect creation of a long ago, which I have described. No doubt you are wondering what happened to bring about such a terrible change. It's a good question to which the Bible has offered the answer. What happened? Pearl Harbor happened. When I say, "Pearl Harbor happened," I don't mean a foreign earthly power sent some small planes to bomb, torpedo, and strafe God's perfection. I do mean a foreign spiritual power pulled off a sneak attack, and with sly suggestions set it up so God's children fell into sin. Satan came and said a few things which caused Adam and Eve to question God's intentions. Before too long, they had broken the one commandment the Lord had given, and they had eaten from the one tree whose fruit they had been told to avoid.
The results of this sin were complete. They were catastrophic, and they were irreversible. Our first ancestors felt shame at what they had done, what they had become, as well as their inability to reverse things and recover all they had ruined. The Lord had told them that if they ate from the forbidden tree they would die. Now, for the first time they understood the dark face of death. Once the lion and lamb had lain down together; after the fall into sin the lion and lamb could still do that, but if they wanted to try it again the next day, they were going to have to get another lamb.
After their fall, there was another thing they understood. For the first time since they were placed in the Garden, they didn't want to see the Lord. They had been ungrateful, disobedient children, and they knew they weren't going to like what He was going to tell them. That's one of the reasons they hid themselves from their Lord who came calling.
Well, God found His cowering, cringing children, and He explained all the ramifications of their disobedience. From now on life was going to be hard; work was going to be painful, having children was going to be worse. And then, when you were done, you were going to die and be punished throughout eternity. The reality was they were prisoners of war, and they were going to be held in a place of torment from which they could never escape.
Both the Creator and His children felt bad about all this. Amazingly, the Creator felt even worse than did His children. But what could He do? He had given them a law, and they had broken it. As a fair and just God, He couldn't pretend that their disobedience had never happened. A good judge never sets aside a law because someone He loves breaks that law. No, a good judge knows that the law has to be enforced and a punishment has to be given. The problem for God was this: just because His children had sinned, that didn't mean He stopped loving them.
He loved His sinful children with a sad love. Then, because He was a loving God, along with being a just One, He did something incredibly extraordinary. He promised to send His Son into the prison camp to offer Himself as our Substitute.
He promised when the time was right, He would send His Son who would become one of us: true Man so He might take our place and true God so He could do the work for which He had been sent. All the times we have been tempted and jumped into that temptation, He would say, "No, thank you." All the times when we would gladly go after a sin, He would say, "I don't think so." And, then, after He had lived His life perfectly, He would die. He would pick up the sin of every man, woman, and child who had ever lived, and He would carry that burden until He died.
Yes, that too was part of the deal. If we had to die, He had to die. The innocent would die for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the perfect for the imperfect. Then, to show that He really had done everything He had been asked to do, to show He had done it perfectly, He would rise from the dead. The grave which once lay before us would be transformed. Because of Jesus, it no longer would be the gateway to hell. For those who believed in the Christ, it would be the entryway to eternal life in heaven. After the Day of Judgment, everything would be perfect once again. We would be restored, remade, recycled to be exactly the way the Lord had meant us to be. In short, like Lieutenant Antrim, Jesus Christ, God's Son would say, "Enough. If death is to be their punishment, I will die for them." Rephrasing President Truman, Jesus did a mighty fine thing. Jesus did a mighty fine thing and fulfilled all the promises our Heavenly Father had made.
And so it came to pass, God's Son was born in Bethlehem as a baby. He lived His life for us; He resisted temptation for us; He declined to sin for us; He carried our sins and died for us, and then three days later, He rose for us. As the book of Romans says, "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus did a mighty fine thing: He died for us. Now, when we appear before the Lord on the global Judgment Day, or we appear before Him on our own personal Day of Judgment, the Lord tells us things will be changed. 1 Corinthians tells us, "...you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." And because we have had our sins removed by the Savior's blood, because our lives have been lived in thanks to Jesus who has done a good thing here, the Word of God lets us know, "The King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"
Because on Resurrection Sunday Jesus said, "Enough!" all who believe are released from the prisoner-of-war camp. But, how about those who don't believe? What about them? And that's the sad part of what I have to say today. Suppose someone loves you very much and that person, at great cost, gives you a gift. But you don't love them back or want anything to do with them. Even though that gift has been bought and paid for, it won't do you any good because you left it wrapped and unopened. That's what happens to those who don't believe. Jesus has given them a great, a costly gift. But since they don't believe, that present of forgiveness and eternal life, for them sits unopened.
Today's message started out by telling you of a Medal of Honor winner. I'd like to finish the same way. This time I'm talking about Ross McGinnis, an Army specialist who was serving in Baghdad on December 4, 2006. Specialist McGinnis was manning the .50-caliber machine gun on top of his armored vehicle, when one of the enemy threw a fragmentation grenade inside. Nineteen-year-old McGinnis, called out, "Grenade! It's in the truck!" Then having given the warning he could have jumped out. He chose not to do that. McGinnis' platoon sergeant Cedric Thomas says he saw McGinnis "pin down" the grenade with his own body. Four men were saved that day. McGinnis did a mighty fine thing. He gave his life to save others.
As has your Savior. If the Holy Spirit is telling you it's time to stop being a spiritual prisoner of war, we would like to help you. All you need do is call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for FEBRUARY 25, 2018
Title: LIVING AND DYING
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Pastor Ken Klaus, and joining us now here in the studio, Dr. Dale Meyer. Hello.
Dale Meyer: Hello, Mark. I've got sin on my mind.
Mark Eischer: Would you care to explain?
Dale Meyer: No, no, no, not what you're thinking. I mean really, my mother is listening. This is going to be okay, mom. No, Pastor Klaus said that Jesus died in our place.
Mark Eischer: Right.
Dale Meyer: Jesus did that because of our sins. I'm just thinking many of us don't realize how sinful we truly are.
Mark Eischer: What do you mean by that?
Dale Meyer: When I was a seminary student, one of my professors was Dr. Robert Preus, and I remember him telling about a woman who said to him, "It was nice that Jesus died, but really He didn't have to do that for me."
Mark Eischer: Wow!
Dale Meyer: I think a lot of us share that feeling, even though we might not say it.
Mark Eischer: Now, in the message today, Pastor Klaus was talking about the sins of Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve sinning. Why does something that happened so long ago concern us?
Dale Meyer: Because sinners produce sinners. Psalm 50 says, "I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me," and Jesus says in John 3, "Flesh gives birth to flesh." When we call that "original sin." It's inherited. An apple tree produces apples, a sinner produces sins.
Mark Eischer: Sinners, yeah.
Dale Meyer: Yeah. It's because of that; the natural thing then for us to do is to commit sins. We call them actual sins. I mean, you see it, Mark, in little toddlers all the time. They're one, two years old and ...
Mark Eischer: Where did this come from?
Dale Meyer: Yeah, they beat each other up because they haven't disciplined themselves. They don't think, "No, I better not do this," and they act on the impulses that are in them. I mean, little children are a great teacher that there is something sinful even when they look so sweet and cuddly. Jesus says in Matthew 15, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." Those are actual sins that are stirred up by the original sin that's in us.
Mark Eischer: What's the result of that sin, whether it's actual or original?
Dale Meyer: Oh, death. Just think the logic through: God is life, God created life, God continues to sustain life. So when Adam and Eve chose to sin, they rejected the God of life. What's left? Death. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death." Ephesians tells us that we're dead in our trespasses and sins.
I mean, it's a total death. It's a spiritual death. It's a physical death, which comes all our way. Without Jesus, it's an eternal death, not with the God of life. It's not only death then, because all the other problems we have in this life are kind of like the advanced armies of death. It all comes from sin.
Mark Eischer: What does God's forgiveness do then?
Dale Meyer: That's an important question. The woman who didn't think Jesus really needed to die for her-she needed a little enlightenment. God forgives us our sins because of Jesus. Jesus on the cross took the punishment that we deserved for all that we have done against Him and against one another, for our rebellion, sinner's rebellion against God.
That's forgiven. That's the heart of the Good News. What I think we forget is that original sin still lurks in every one of our hearts, and that lurking original sin shows itself in the actual sins that we Christians-I mean you and I who are forgiven-we are heaven-bound because of Jesus. We still commit actual sins-we Christians-that show original sin is still lurking within us.
If you're introspective, if you're a person who looks into yourself, you have to admit that you have thoughts and feelings that are absolutely sinful. So that even though we are forgiven on this side of eternity, the sin still clings to our life. That's why we need Jesus' forgiveness totally. I've got a great quotation about that, Mark.
Mark Eischer: Okay, let's hear it.
Dale Meyer: This comes from the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here's what he says, "One extreme thing must be said. To forgo self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian."
It sounds like an exaggeration, like an untruth, yet even Paul said of himself that he was the foremost of sinners; that's in 1 Timothy 1:15. He said this specifically at the point where he was speaking of his service as an apostle. "There can be no genuine acknowledgement of sin," Bonhoeffer goes on, "that does not lead to this extremity. If my sinfulness appeared to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible."
Mark Eischer: Isn't spiritual pride really the beginning of sin?
Dale Meyer: Yeah, because we put ourselves on the throne. The First Commandment, all sin ultimately comes back to breaking the First Commandment, which says we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Yeah, spiritual pride-and it manifests itself in any number of ways-but it comes back to that first basic Commandment sin. It's very interesting, and we won't take the time to do it now, to look at the Commandments and our actions and our feelings and our emotions that often break these Commandments and trace it back to why does this break the First Commandment.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Dale Meyer: I do that with my class. Like I said, we don't have time to do it now, but it's a great exercise in thinking spiritually. Take everything back to that first great Commandment.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, to close this off, what is the good news for our listeners today?
Dale Meyer: I've got a friend up in Iowa who likes to ask people, "For whom did Jesus die?" The answer comes back, "Jesus died for all the world." He said, "No, no, no. For whom did Jesus die?" He keeps pushing until they say, "Jesus died for me." Jesus died for you. That's the good news.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)