Good morning! In a week from tomorrow Australia will be celebrating Anzac Day. We will honour the heroes of conflict and war. This morning I want us to reflect on what a ‘hero’ is.
Australia today seems obsessed with sport and entertainment, and the word ‘hero’ is overused. We give excessive money and fame to young men and women just because they can wield a cricket bat, pass a football, or sing in a way that moves people. These people may be disciplined and talented, but not many are really heroes.
We’ve cheapened the idea of a hero. I think of the countless people who suffer bravely over long years due to an illness or injury. I think of many who make a courageous decision to do what’s right, knowing they will pay a huge cost and sacrifice a great deal.
This morning, let’s consider the greatest hero of all, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews portrays Jesus as the greatest hero. He writes: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus’ (Heb 12:2). When we concentrate on Jesus, we have an inspiring example that encourages each of us to live more heroically.
This morning we’re thinking about what it means to be a hero. Last year in the Sydney Anzac Day March there was a WWII veteran, whose name was Pat Lee. I was moved by the photo of Pat in the paper. He was 94 years old, hobbling along with his walking frame. The crowds lining the street congratulated him. Pat wore a tin hat, on which was painted the words ‘Lest we forget’. He carried an Australian flag, and a poster saying ‘I am not a hero. The heroes are those who died. Support our Aussie troops at home and overseas. “Lest we forget” – them.’
Pat Lee reminds us of the bravery of hundreds of thousands of young Australians willing to sacrifice for their country. Young people who unselfishly and without complaining left their homes, loves ones, and safe lives behind to fight overseas. We Australians rightly honour them on Anzac Day. As the poster held up by Pat Lee reminds us, we must be vigilant that the exploits of all our veterans, and those men and women currently serving overseas, are never cheapened. Many of these people are true heroes.
What is more heroic than a person, without a second thought for their own safety, deliberately putting their body between their mates and an enemy’s bullet? What is more heroic than flying an aircraft through a wall of anti-aircraft fire? What is more heroic that staying at your post on deck a boat that is being shot at by a storm of machine-gun bullets? What is more heroic than a wife staying home to look after young children for long years, with constant anxiety that her husband’s life is in danger?
The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament wanted his readers to be more heroic. He knew they were facing hostility because they were Christians, and many were tempted to give up their faith in Christ because of their suffering. In Hebrews 11 there is a long list of Old Testament heroes, men and women of faith and courage who remained faithful to God in the midst of hardship and discouragement. At the end of the list, in chapter 12, the writer points to the greatest hero of all: Jesus Christ. He writes: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (that’s Hebrews 12:2).
After the next song, let’s consider how Jesus, the greatest hero, inspires us to be heroic, and brave enough to do what’s right regardless of the cost.
Last year my wife and I visited Turkey. One of the highlights was a few hours at the Gallipoli peninsula. The grandfather of my wife served with the Australian forces during WWI in Gallipoli and France. It was deeply moving to visit Anzac Cove, and Lone Pine. We reflected on those Anzac heroes who were willing to leave the safety of home, family and friends to battle against what they saw as a monstrous threat to international peace and security. As our tour bus was leaving Gallipoli I was offered the mike and invited to explain – to the mostly North American tourists – what this peninsula means to Australians. I told the story of these courageous men, both the Anzacs and the Turkish soldiers, who faced machine guns and persevered in horrible conditions. Many of those soldiers died, or bore injuries, or suffered nightmares for the rest of their lives. Several on the bus told me they were deeply touched by the story, and some choked up with tears.
While we remember these heroes, it’s important to honour the greatest hero of all. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus of Nazareth was the greatest hero. He writes: ‘let us fix our eyes on Jesus’ (12:1). The Lord Jesus Christ was the only one who could pay the cost of death in the place of sinners, and he willingly made that sacrifice. He was willing to suffer and die, not for a country, not just for friends, not just for good people who are worthy of such sacrifice. He suffered and died in the place of all of us, people who have all rejected God and who are rebels. Jesus endured the beatings, the flogging, the abuse, the mocking, the shame of a criminal’s death, being nailed to the cross for six horrible hours – all to bear our sin, to pay the price for our forgiveness. The pain Jesus willingly faced as he went to the cross and died was the greatest pain any human being has had to endure. Here is the most heroic action ever taken. During this next week of Easter, especially on Good Friday, we’ll be reminded of his heroism and sacrifice for us.
The writer of Hebrews says that when we follow the greatest hero, Jesus Christ, it has big implications for how we live. His heroism is meant to be an inspiring example for us. Hebrews says the Lord gives to each of us a ‘race marked out for us’ (12:1). That race involves the path of serving God, loving people, caring for the vulnerable. We’re to run this race with courage, persevering over the long haul. The writer says that, like a disciplined athlete, we should ‘throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles’ (12:1). Jesus, our great hero, has run the race already and is now at the finish line waiting for us. We’re encouraged by his heroic example to endure, not to ‘grow weary and lose heart.’ (12:3). Jesus offers not only the perfect example, but when we look to him we receive the necessary help to keep persevering (see Heb 2:18; 4:16).
Jesus is the greatest hero. We catch a glimpse of how heroic Jesus was as we consider people who sacrificed their lives for others.
Many of us have heard of the infamous bridge across the River Kwai. The bridge was built during World War II by prisoners of war, including some Aussie diggers. At the end of each day, guards would collect tools from the work party. Earnest Gordon, in his book Miracle on the River Kwai, tells of one occasion when a guard shouted that one of the shovels was missing. He demanded to know who had taken it. Ranting and raving, he worked himself into a fury and ordered whomever it was to step forward. No one moved. The guard became even angrier. ‘All die! All die!’ he shrieked. As he cocked and aimed his rifle at the group of prisoners, one man stepped forward and accepted responsibility. The man was dragged in front of the group of prisoners and clubbed to death with the butt of a rifle.
Later that night when they returned to the prison camp the tools were all counted again. There were no shovels missing, they had simply miscounted the first time. The man who died was innocent but he had chosen to die in order to save the remaining prisoners.
It’s fitting for us to remember the sacrifice and honour the courage of that soldier at the River Kwai. He was a true hero. The story is told of an Australian soldier in a military hospital in France who gave his healthy strong blood to be infused into the weak body of an injured soldier. Some of the troops and nurses collected a small sum of money which they wanted to present as a gift to the soldier who gave his blood. When the money was offered the man replied: ‘No, I cannot take money. I did not sell my blood; I gave it.’ That was the spirit of every person who sacrificed for their country in times of conflict.
These stories of heroism remind us why, when we think of heroes, we give special thanks for the Lord Jesus Christ. He heroically died for us, giving his blood for you and me, and was raised back to life as the mighty victor over sin and death. As Hebrews says, the Lord Jesus is now sitting ‘down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (12:2). This truth that Jesus is the enthroned King means a lot to Christians. We become weary with the rigorous demands of the long spiritual journey. We can be assured that our frail lives are in the strong hands of Jesus, the mighty Lord. Nothing can separate us from his strong love, even when we go through hardships that discourage us and make us want to give up exhausted in the race. The right response to a great hero like Jesus is to dedicate ourselves to him, to live for him and be true to him all our lives.
We all admire heroes. There are many people of courage and endurance that we rightly honour as examples of heroism. We need heroes, for you and I give up so easily. We’re distracted by the trivial, and discouraged by the trials. The greatest hero of all is Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews says: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus’, who ‘endured the cross … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (12:2-3).
Let me pray: ‘Loving God, we honour those heroes who make great sacrifices for others. We thank you most of all for the Lord Jesus, who is the greatest hero. Give us courage to trust him and follow him, regardless of the cost. Enable us to persevere in doing what is right, despite the sacrifice. This we pray in the name of the one who sacrificed his all for the sake of the world: Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, Saviour and Lord. Amen.