These men and women are rightly respected for the sacrifice they make and the freedom and liberty they provide. As a result, they are allowed to use the express lane through security at airports and regularly get upgraded on the flight itself.
They often gain free entry into tourist attractions. In some restaurants, signs at the checkouts read ‘Uniformed military eat free here’, and in many other restaurants and shops both serving military personnel and veterans receive generous discounts.
They are honoured at sporting events, and while driving around the country you will quickly notice the hundreds of thousands of little yellow ribbons stuck onto the back of vehicles exclaiming ‘Support our troops’.
But it goes even further for those who have gone ‘above and beyond the call of duty’. The Medal of Honour, the highest military decoration available in the US armed forces, was first created in 1861 to recognise ‘conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States’ (more information from www.cmohs.org).
It is clear again and again, when reading the amazing accounts of how these awards were achieved, that these people acted with total disregard for their own safety, for the benefit of others. Due to the nature of the award, it has been awarded posthumously on more than half the occasions it has been presented since the Second World War.
In January 2008, one of the most recent recipients, Robert J. Miller, lost his life in Afghanistan, but the citation says, ‘His extraordinary valour ultimately saved the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers.
‘Staff Sergeant Miller’s heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty, and at the cost of his own life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army’.
Privileges of holding a Medal of Honour include being saluted by all ranks (including the President), an increase in pay and pension, an invitation to all presidential inaugurations, special car licence plates, and having an allocated burial site in the Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition, freeways, airports and parks are regularly named in their honour. In Chicago, right on the waterfront of Lake Michigan next to the famous ‘Navy Pier’, you will find the ‘Milton L. Olive III Park’.
Private Olive is remembered for his unhesitating heroism during the Vietnam War. The citation says, ‘Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his, by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body’. He sacrificed his own life for his colleagues.
Rightly, we honour men and women like this. But, how much more are honour, respect, gratitude and debt due to our Saviour Jesus Christ?
Unlike a soldier, Jesus had no ‘duty’ to go above and beyond the call of. He simply did not have to save us. When he died, he was not sacrificing himself for his colleagues; instead, he gave his life for his enemies.
Yet he still did it, making reconciliation with God possible, thus opening the door of heaven to rebels like us. He did this, not because we deserve it, but because of his free mercy and grace.
‘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).
His rescue mission was not simply to die for us, but also to take all the punishment for our sin and guilt on himself. He absorbed the wrath of a holy God, on our behalf, on the cross.
He endured more than any soldier, and purchased the liberty of all who will trust in him. Unlike in a war situation, Jesus did not save our lives temporarily, he saves us eternally. He gives eternal life.
Recognise the debt you owe, and live in the light of it as a living sacrifice for Christ. ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Romans 12:1).