In the Gospel of John, these immortal words of Jesus are recorded: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Jesus was directly referencing His pending death on the cross, where He voluntarily laid down His life as the sacrifice for the sins of man. But He was also challenging His disciples to follow His example in living for others and not for themselves. This is a defining characteristic of Western Civilization, which has been shaped by Christianity.
On Memorial Day, we remember and honor the memory of those who, as described by President Abraham Lincoln, "gave the last full measure of devotion..."
I've been to the battlefield in Gettysburg several times, where over 7,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives. It's a relatively short drive from D.C., so I've taken my children there over the years. We've stood in the spot where Lincoln is believed to have made his now famous address.
President Lincoln was not the main speaker on the afternoon of November 19, 1863; Edward Everett was the keynote and he spoke for two hours, delivering a speech that was over 13,000 words in length.
Lincoln's address was about 270 words, but it has become one of the finest speeches in the history of English public oratory. It would be fitting to quote just a portion:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The challenge that President Lincoln put forward 159 years ago is our challenge today. Against the backdrop of a divided and troubled nation, we must resolve that those who have laid down their lives for their friends -- for this nation -- will not have done so in vain. We must resolve that once again, we shall have a new birth of freedom. This freedom will not come by complacency or by compromise, it will come when we have the courage to call the nation back to the only thing that can provide a lasting unity -- the truth (John 8:31-32; 14:6).