43/97 14.12.97 Scripture: Acts 22:30-23:11
RECENTLY, here at Wesley, were my step-father Joe and his brother Maurie. Both are now in their eighties. They had travelled to Sydney from Melbourne to attend Spring Fair. Afterwards I took them to The Kokoda Track Memorial Trail through the park and the mangrove swamps by Concord Hospital.
During World War 2, Joe was required to work in the family bakery. Maurie had enlisted in the 2nd AIF and had seen action in the Middle East. There they stopped Rommel and his victorious Eighth army. They had dug underground like rats in Tobruk and survived eight months and fought him to a stand-still at Alamein and pushed Rommel 700 miles back to defeat.
The battle-weary Australians were then wanted to defend home. 16,000 Japanese were on the Papua New Guinea Owen Stanley Ranges. Nothing stood between Port Moresby and Queensland. Soldiers were in short supply and the youngest sons in the family were conscripted. Joe and Maurie's youngest brother, Eric, left Box Hill for Port Moresby in the 39th Militia raised in Box Hill in October 1941. They were semi-trained, only 18 years of age. Yet those apprentice bakers and bread-carters, factory hands and milkos became incredible soldiers. They had no tents, blankets or mosquito repellent. As the Japanese surged down Kokoda, the 39th inflicted severe casualties.
The Australians were vastly outnumbered. The Australian strength at one point was only 110 men. The Japanese had great superiority in numbers and came within 30 miles of Port Moresby. They would have wiped out the 39th but for the arrival in the nick of time of the 2/14th from the Middle East.
Maurie had arrived with the others from the Middle East, and instead of heat, flies and sand, they now were up to their knees in mud, soaked in rain and covered in sweat and leeches. The battered remnants of the 39th volunteered to fight on rather than withdraw. On the 9th September 1942, Eric was killed. For the next four months those who remained pushed the Japanese back over the high mountains to the sea in the north inflicting heavy casualties.
Joe had been to Kokoda to see the jungle cemetery where Eric was buried. Now the two old men in their eighties stood before the large black marble facades on which have been sandblasted pictures of the Kokoda Track. I stood back and took a few surreptitious photographs. Maurie murmured "That Golden Staircase went up the sheer face of the mountain. 2000 steps made in the mud by the engineers, each one two feet high with the mud held back by felled saplings. It was hell to climb."
We looked at a photo of a soldier with the Bren gun firing into the tree-tops. "Snipers. The nips climbed up, and tied themselves to the trunk of the tree and shot us as we passed underneath. You'd see their bodies, shot by the blokes up ahead, hanging in the trees." By November 1942 they had re-captured Kokoda, and pushed downhill to the sea. The Japanese advance on Australia had been repulsed.
There's a picture there of a chaplain with a wounded digger's head cradled on his knees, with a worn and mildewed Bible, reading, `Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.' Then the words of Jesus, `I am the resurrection and the life.'
Joe and Maurie stood in silence and thought of Eric. I quietly asked them their re-action to the Track. Maurie replied: "Bloody Kokoda. Death. Despair. And hope, a hope for life, that one day it would be over, that we would get back to Australia and our families, to freedom, to food, and dry clothes." In the midst of despair they were living in hope. In the midst of death they were thinking of the words of resurrection and life. The resurrection of Jesus took on a new sense of meaning among the memories of death and despair along the Track. No wonder these soldiers valued their padres who shared danger and death with them to tell them of life and hope.
Jesus brings hope and meaning to people. Hope, resurrection, life, they go together. Paul, under threat to his life, grasped those same factors. He had come to the central point of the Christian faith. It is not the Sermon on the Mount, not the way we behave, not the golden rule of doing to others what we would like them to do for us - the central point of our faith is the resurrection of Jesus, following His death upon the Cross to save us from sin. This is the key factor to Paul in the statement he made to the Sanhedrin in Acts 23.
When the Roman Commander who was holding Paul a prisoner, learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, he acted cautiously. He decided to let the Jews make up their own minds as to what should be done. "The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them." "Let Paul tell his story. Let the Jews decide what to do with him - it's not my problem!" The Commander wanted out!
Acts 23:1 "Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, `My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.'" The way of addressing the chief priests, was "My elders and my rulers." But Paul had belonged to this very group. He had been a member of the Council. This was his peer group. "My brothers". He got no further. "At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth."
The law said no Jewish prisoner was to be struck, or tortured or punched. Paul knew this and he reacted. "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" He was quoting Jesus who declared of this same group: "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside." (Matt 23:27). This was strong language.
Paul knew his rights. "You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" Those who were standing near Paul said, "You dare to insult God's high priest?" Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that Annas was a rogue who did not care much for his own people and collaborated with Rome. He used his office for graft and bribery. Eventually there was an inquiry into his actions and one of his own people murdered him. Facing Annas and the others, Paul decided to divide the opposition. "Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, `My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.'"
That started it. There was immediate quarrel. "A dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. `We find nothing wrong with this man.'" The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
Of all the things that Paul could have declared to that Council, why did Paul raise the question of the resurrection? "I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." Although this statement divided his enemies, it is the central doctrine of his faith. The resurrection of Jesus has something to do with our lives. When our world seems to be falling down around us, if we are under tremendous stress or battling for life whether it is in the courtyard of Pilate or on the Kokoda Track, when there is no way out in human terms, then we receive with relief the promises affirmed by God when He raised Jesus from the dead.
Some of those facing Paul believed in the immortality of the soul. This means that after we die our souls live on in a spiritual state somewhere in a spiritual realm. Although there are many today who share that view, Christians do not believe in the immortality of the soul. We believe as the creeds affirm, in the resurrection of the body.
We believe that with all of our present imperfections and sins we are accepted by God. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, ultimately this worn-out shell of a body will be raised to new life in a glorified and perfected state. On Kokoda Track, the tortured men could look at their ulcer-eaten limbs and believe that God in His mercy would one day make them whole, as He raised the broken body of Jesus and gave to Him a glorified body.
God raised Jesus from the dead as a sign that we are accepted as His friends. We were in rebellion against God, sinful, alienated from Him, but God in Christ reconciled us to Himself. That is the doctrine that swept around the world when Martin Luther began the Reformation of the church. Luther rediscovered what Paul had found years before, Rom. 1:16-17 "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: `The righteous will live by faith.'" When we die with Christ, are buried with Him, we shall also be raised with Christ and will live with Christ. Our sins, which separated us from God, were cancelled when Jesus went to the cross on our behalf. Our belief in Jesus leads to our justification by faith. God vindicates Christ and He justifies us.
Christ was raised from the dead so that we could also be raised with Him. The resurrection is a sign that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. In the resurrection God renews the world.
The resurrection is a sign that God is bringing new life and hope to the whole of creation. The universe was marred by sin from its beginning but it will be remade. In the resurrection it is not us but the whole of creation that will be renewed. Paul's world was one of misery. He saw the old world as groaning with the suffering of people. Nowhere was this attitude more acute than in Rome, so Paul wrote to them to look forward with hope. Romans 8:18-21 "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."
The resurrection brings with it the recreation and renewal of the whole world. It is central to our Christian faith. We can sing with Charles Wesley,
"Finish then, Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless may we be;
Let us see our whole salvation
Perfectly secured by Thee:
Changed from glory into glory.
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise."
To Paul, beaten, abused, jailed, threatened with death: there was hope in the resurrection. For the men on Kokoda, emaciated, minds dulled, spirits depressed: there was hope in the resurrection. You grow in faith when you hold the resurrection hope.
Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes
Return to TRA home page