April 06, 2020 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza
All four of these young men volunteered to serve their country in the United States Army. All four were chaplains. Alexander, George, Clark and John. On the night of February 2, 1943, all four of these chaplains were serving together aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, an Army transport ship. It would be their last night alive.
The Dorchester was at capacity, carrying 902 military men, merchant seamen and civilian workers across the frigid waters from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland. Suddenly, everything changed. The Dorchester was hit squarely by a torpedo from a German U-boat. In just twenty short minutes, the Dorchester would sink to the bottom of the North Atlantic and 672 men would meet their Maker.
The four chaplains went to work immediately in the crisis. Chaos broke out in the horror of death, injury and impending doom. The four chaplains had the courage to calm the terrified, help the wounded and lead the disoriented toward safety. "Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live," said Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend George Fox. One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oily water surrounded by dead bodies and ship wreckage. "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar remembered. "I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."
What happened next was a sight one does not often see. When the ship ran out of lifejackets, the chaplains gave theirs to four scared young men. "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven," said John Ladd, another survivor who saw the four chaplains' selflessness. As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see and hear the four chaplains, arms linked and braced against the tilting deck, praying to God and singing hymns together as the ship sank into the icy waters and they slipped into eternity. These chaplains made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their very own lives so others could live.
This Memorial Day weekend we honor the memory of these four and scores of other military men and women who died while serving their country. The freedom we so often take for granted was paid for with a heavy price. We must also remember that such sacrifice comes only from God.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Jesus Christ came on a rescue mission to this earth some 2,000 years ago. God the Son left the glory of heaven to become a "God-Man." He is fully God and fully man with two natures in one person. He came to live. He lived His life here on earth and obeyed God perfectly. He came to die. He laid down His life for His people as a sacrifice. He came to die in our place. You see, God is just and therefore must judge our sins. Sin mandates the death penalty. Such a punishment consists of an eternity in hell.
Jesus’ mission was a mission of mercy and love. Jesus took the believer's place. He bore the punishment that we deserved. In His love and mercy, He voluntarily sacrificed Himself for us and He satisfied God’s justice. His rescue was a complete success and He defeated the evil that makes us a fool and a slave. The believer's punishment was paid in full. Jesus served our sentence. Not because He had to, but because He wanted to. His love and mercy are so great that He satisfied the rightful demands of God’s justice for the Christian. Make no mistake, the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are applied only to those who put their full faith and trust in Jesus.
You will not find Jesus’ tomb anywhere on this earth. He died but death could not defeat Him. He rose again on the third day and He ascended into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. One day, He will come again to earth to judge the living and the dead..
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 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." (Romans 5:6-8) Human love may motivate the most extraordinary persons (like the four chaplains) to sacrifice their lives for "good" people. Divine love, on the other hand, motivated Christ to die for rebellious and undeserving people like you and me. Christ died for His enemies.
Christian author J. Vernon McGee asks these questions of us: "Do you know any folk who would die for you? Could you put upon the fingers of one hand those who would be willing to die for you? By the way, could you put upon one finger those who love you enough to die for you? Well, you certainly could put it upon one finger, because God loved you enough to send His Son to die for you. And if it were necessary, He would appear today to die for you again, if it would take that to save you. He loves you that much." God's love is infinitely greater than the greatest human love.
Christ died for the ungodly to bring them to God. When He hung upon the cruel cross, the religious leaders mocked Him, saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him." (Matthew 27:42) In order to save us, He had to sacrifice Himself. Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) The sins of God's people throughout all time were laid upon Jesus. "In giving his life as a ransom for many for the forgiveness of sins he must, for the moment, be separated from his Father, " observes theologian R.T. France. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Christian author Murray Harris writes, "So complete was the identification of the sinless Christ with the sin of the sinner, including its dire guilt and its dread consequence of separation from God, that Paul could say profoundly, 'God made him … to be sin for us.'”
This world is not all there is. It may seem so, but that is only an illusion. It will suddenly and unexpectedly end one day, or you will die, whichever comes first. The sands of time are sinking. God offers us a lifejacket in Jesus Christ. Most will not care until it is too late. Then they will be swept away forever. The regret about the eternal rejection they made will gnaw at their souls like an continuous cancer, forever.
Will you accept a lifejacket from Jesus Christ? Or will you go down with the sinking ship of God-rejection?