Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and testimony. It serves as a remembrance of the sacrifice of our heroic soldiers and a testimony for heroism for the present and future. In 1868, John A. Logan, the 3rd Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, helped to establish the movement to recognize Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) as an official US holiday. He wrote concerning the need for such a day:
[We are] cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead…All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
It is with a great debt of gratitude that we make time to thank God for the men and women who have died in the defense of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans. This is also an important time for us to remember the faithful saints who have gone before us. As we remember the past, let us boldly run in the present as we look forward to the future.
Remembering the Past
The writer of Hebrews began chapter 12 with a call to remember “such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us.” These witnesses—mentioned in the previous chapter—serve as examples of faithfulness. These men and women, though they did not see the fulfillment of what God promised in their lifetime with the ministry of Christ Jesus, “were approved through their faith” (Heb 12:39). Hebrews 11 is not an exhaustive list of the faithful as there have been countless others who have gone before us throughout the history of the Church.
Running in the Present
Our remembrance of the faithfulness of those who have gone before us should serve to increase our faithfulness in the present. We remember the past, but we do not try to live in it or dwell on it. God has given us the past to remember and learn from, but not to live in. We are given only one day and that is “Today”. Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt 6:11). Paul likens our lives to a race for us to run and he gives us three important truths about how to run the race faithfully:
Run with Freedom
We are told to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” When you are running a race, it is important to wear the proper attire. It would be foolish to run a race in a large winter coat. It would not be wise to run in cowboy boots. What good runners have in common is their proper athletic apparel. We are told to run with the freedom that comes from being forgiven of all our sins. Jesus’ death removed our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). As the old hymn says, “My sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord!” We are freed from the punishment and the burden of sin. Our sin is not to be lightly brushed aside but acknowledged and confessed. When we confess our sin, we are cleansed of our sin. To run the race in faith, we must not dwell on our sin and/or our failures. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow produces repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.”
Run with Endurance
We are told to “run with endurance the race that lies before us.” The fact that we are told to run with endurance indicates that the race we are in is difficult. There are temptations (Luke 17:1) and traps (1 Tim 3:7) all around us. We have an enemy who steals kills and destroys (John 10:10) and is roaming around seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The Christian life is less like a pleasure cruise and more like a battleship. We are told to be alert numerous times (1 Cor 16:13, Acts 20:29-31, Ephesians 6:18). We are told to strengthen our weak knees (Heb 12:12) and not grow weary (Gal 6:9). In 1 Thessalonians 5:6, we are told: “So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be serious.”
Run with Purpose
Lastly, we are told to be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus is described as the founder/author/creator of our faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We are also told that Jesus is the perfecter/finisher/completer of our faith. Being the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus is the sustainer of our faith. We must remember what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Relishing the Future
We run the race set before us because Christ is sitting “at the right hand of the throne of God.” Your race is important but remember that the greatest race has already been won by Jesus Christ. Jesus “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Let us not grow weary or fainthearted as we take comfort in the fact that this is the race that God (who loves us) has set before us.
Take time tomorrow and the rest of this week to reflect on the sacrifice of our soldiers and to thank God for the liberty we can enjoy as citizens of the United States. Let’s be the best citizens we can for the good of our nation. Let us also remember those who have gone before us in the advancement of the kingdom of God. Remembering them, let us run the race set before us with endurance as we keep our eyes on Jesus.