Jesus on Hacksaw Ridge: Veterans Day Sermon
Preached at New Boston Congregational Church on Nov. 6, 2016
and New Hope Church, AG, Southwick, MA. on Nov 13, 2016
Audio Sermon (Edited)
Our scripture for today’s message comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verse 16.
16 He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.
17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
Let’s face it, when the Lord Jesus read from the Old Testament in the temple, it was different—really, really different from when anyone else read from the sacred scrolls. The voice of Jesus rang with the power of the Holy Spirit, not just your usual run-of-the-mill reading of Scripture. When he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me”, it wasn’t just a quotation, it was a fact. When he said, “He has anointed me …”, he meant it. And after he rolled up the scroll he said, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” the folks realized that this Sabbath day was not just another Saturday at the temple. This was the real deal.
Later it would bother these good Jewish people and thy got so mad at “Joseph’s son” they tried to throw him off a cliff to kill him. And from then on their Messiah would be misunderstood, scorned, tormented, shunned, beaten and eventually crucified. Jesus, who had come to heal them and save them, would become their victim.
Today as we recognize our military servicemen and women and their families we acknowledge the sacrifice they make in the defense of our nation. Our security depends on those who volunteer to stand on the ramparts at the edge of freedom to face down our enemies who desire to bring chaos to our peaceful nation. I am going to give you an account of such a man, a soldier who served with the 77th Infantry Division, the Statue of Liberty Division in the Pacific Theater in WWII. His name was Desmond Doss.
Desmond Doss was brought up on a farm near Lynchburg, Va. His mother was a devout Christian, a Seventh Day Adventist, their sabbath is Saturday. His father, a veteran of WWI suffered from what we now call post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and he drowned the memories of his wartime experience with alcohol. The Doss home was a scene of violent domestic abuse.
Fortunately for Desmond, his mother’s influence was more powerful than his father’s and he grew up with an ironclad faith in Jesus Christ and immovable convictions. One such conviction was honoring the sabbath, and another was never to take a human life.
Despite his beliefs Desmond enlisted in the army in April of 1942, believing that it was his duty to join his fellow Americans in the conflict.
Pvt. Doss was trained as a medic, and he was assigned to Company B of the 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division (The Statue of Liberty Division).
Doss was different, and his odd behavior and religious beliefs caused him unendurable hardship during his time in the infantry. He read his bible and prayed all the time. He asked to be allowed to keep Saturday as his sabbath, and be excused from work. But the most egregious bone of contention between him and his unit was his refusal to shoot a weapon, in fact he even refused to touch a rifle. As a result his fellow soldiers and the officers in his chain-of-command considered Doss a slacker and the weakest link in their unit.
Barracks life was constant torment for the shy, skinny bible boy. He was insulted, harassed, shunned and ridiculed. During his prayer times the men threw shoes at him and shouted humiliating taunts at him. They thought his Saturday privileges were unfair. They felt that he would be worthless when they were sent into combat because he would not bear arms.
His Company Commander, Captain Jack Glover decided it was his duty to run Pvt. Doss out of the army. He was convinced that Doss would be more of an impediment to good discipline and morale in combat that an asset. In one of the many confrontations between the Captain and the Private, Glover said, “You are not going to be by my side in combat if you don’t carry a gun.” Doss answered, “Don’t ever doubt my courage because I will be right by your side saving life while you are taking life.”
Captain Glover took his case to the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Gerry Cooney, the regimental commander, Col. Hamilton and eventually to the 77th Division where they upheld Doss’s status as a conscious objector, not to carry arms.
Captain Glover persisted and began processing Doss with a “Section 8” discharge for mentally impaired. But that was struck down because Doss’s actions did not reflect any mental disability, just his religious convictions.
Another officer, Captain Cunningham, charged Pvt. Doss with a court martial for refusing a direct order, that is to carry a rifle. Doss again was proven innocent of the charge. So in retribution, Cunningham put Doss on work details, and would issue him no passes or leave even though Doss was authorized.
Henry Haverlock of the motor squad said later, “I have to give him credit, you see, he had a lot of intestinal fortitude to stand up to all that ridicule.”
Another soldier said, “They threw shoes at him when he was praying. I don’t think I could have taken what he did, but he hung in there. Because of his strong beliefs. He was 100% in his beliefs.”
In an interview later Desmond Doss said, “I knew once I compromised I’d be in trouble.”
In March 1944 the 77th Infantry Division shipped out to the Pacific. Their first taste of combat was in Guam where Company B of the 307th fought hard against their Japanese enemies. The infantrymen of Company B began to realize that their medic, Private Desmond Doss was not the least bit afraid to risk his life to minister first aid to them under enemy fire. But they were still skeptical. It wasn’t until they fought in Okinawa that they saw what had to be the power of God on their “weak link”, their “slacker”.
On April 28, 1945 Pvt. Desmond Doss wrote a letter to his wife, Dorothy,
“4-28 to 5-9, Thank God that I’m still alive. On the 28th we went up to relieve the 96th division which had not been able to move for many days. They were held up at a ridge about 300 feet high. It was called the Maeda Escarpment.”
Enemy forces were entrenched in reinforced pill boxes (concrete machine-gun emplacements), caves and tunnels. It was a sheer wall of 300 feet. The Japanese had been up there for many years developing an impregnable fortress.
Quotes and commentary from Infantrymen:
“You couldn’t make much of an advance. It was a situation of kill or be killed.”
“One time we had some Japs cornered in a cave and we had an interpreter with us. He told them to come out with their hands up. They refused. We hit it with a flame thrower. We saw people coming out of the cave on fire. Soldiers and women. It was pitiful.
“We occupied the top of the ridge during the day and at sundown they’d drive us off.”
9 times in 7 days the battalion was driven off the escarpment. Japanese machine-gun fire was so intense that Americans were cut in half. Every inch of the plateau above Hacksaw Ridge was decimated by artillery fire and mortar fire. 8 company commanders were lost in less than 36 hours. Platoons of thirty men would come back with five or six.
They called for cargo nets to climb the cliff. Three men volunteered to go up and secure the top of the net. One was the company medic, Desmond Doss.
On May 2nd the assault was in progress before Desmond could pray for the men.
The Japanese waited until B Company reached the top. Artillery Grenade, mortar, machine gun and rifle fire.
Wounded soldiers called out for “Medic!”
Medic Ralph Baker found an unconscious soldier with head and chest wounds. Both legs blown off. American medics were trained to make decisions: help a man who would die, or move on to help a more probable survivor? Baker left him. But Doss was guided by a different code of honor. “I go as long as there is life, there is hope.” He treated the double amputee and dragged him to safety. The man survived and lived to be 72.
“Japanese came in such hoards so many of them. Mortar rounds came down like clumps of grapes. They just swarmed over us killing us right and left.”
The routed Americans were called to a hasty retreat. Some were shot or bayonetted as they tried to climb down the cargo nets.
Out of 155 in company b, 55 retreated under their own power.
The rest remained on top.
At the command post there was a rumor that there was a man up on top treating the injured and bringing them back down the cliff.
“There’s some nut up there risking getting his butt shot off saving the wounded infantrymen.”
That nut was about to become the most beloved medic in the 307th Infantry regiment. What Desmond Doss did over the next 12 hours was nothing short of a miracle.
“I was in my foxhole watching Doss go out into the killing field with mortars exploding and bullets flying all over. I looked over the edge of my position and Doss just walked out there and found a wounded soldier, treated him, dragged him back and lowered him down with a rope.”
Desmond dragged or carried each man to the edge of the escarpment by himself. Some 50 to100 yards through the killing field.
“It was miraculous. I couldn’t understand how he could do this.”
Doss: I kept praying the whole time, “Lord please help me get one more. Help me get one more.”
“It was as if God had his hand on his shoulder.”
Knowing the Japanese would torture the wounded soldiers, Desmond refused to leave one soldier on the battlefield.
After the war a Japanese soldier reported that several times he had Doss in his sights, but every time he pulled the trigger his gun jammed. Doss was never hit or wounded.
In 12 hours Desmond lowered down 75 men. Averaging 1 man every 10 minutes.
Men who had tormented him, beat him, harassed him, scorned him, mocked him, shunned him, declared: “When you saw what Desmond Doss did that night on Hacksaw Ridge, you know he was all right.”
4 days later after recovering from their retreat, the command decided it was time to attack again.
Col. Hamilton’s 307th regiment was ordered B Company to assault the ridge again on 5 May 1945.
By now the men of B Company had come to respect and trust their courageous medic, Desmond Doss. He was like their security blanket, knowing that he would take care of them no matter what.
5 May 1945 fell on a Saturday, Desmond’s day of rest.
Doss: “Captain Vernon asked me if I would go. I said yes, but I have to complete my sabbath prayers first.”
Col. Hamilton, commander of 307th regiment approved the delay. The same Col. Hamilton who tried to shame Doss into carrying a gun back in stateside training. He put the entire division on hold while Desmond read his bible.
Hamilton: “I guess it more or less said, we have permission from God.”
That day the men of the 307th Infantry held the escarpment called Hacksaw ridge for good.
The fighting continued and several days later an artillery shell severely wounded Captain Jack Glover. It was Pvt. Desmond Doss who came to the aid of the man who tried so hard to kick Doss out of the army.
Glover said to Doss on a return trip to Okinawa: “I realized how wrong I was in my opinion of you trying to get you out of the service. My mindset was physically fighting the war, and your mindset was in treating the wounded and having nothing to do with killing.”
This is a true story of a Christian soldier who would not buckle under heavy peer pressure and official military pressure. A man who, although he suffered at the hands of his fellow soldiers, he showed himself to be a man of extreme moral and physical courage, by saving the very men who scorned him.
You may not be crawling through bomb craters under a hail of enemy bullets but you all live in a culture hostile to the Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ. Secularism has become the national religion of this great country and you find yourself every day pitted against a population that mocks our biblical values and scorns the Christian church; a culture that feels morally superior to those of us who hold fast to the precepts that flow from the heart of a loving God.
Our recent history is marked with significant moments of our national backsliding: 1961 banning classroom prayer, legalizing abortion, allowing business to operate on Sunday, liberalizing obscenity standards for entertainment, modern dress codes and styles that forsake common modesty, cultural norms about men and women living together, and the celebration of non-biblical lifestyles. Modern American norms have now drifted so far away from God and His Truth that almost the entire materialistic, godless, humanist foundation of society itself — moral, political, religious and judicial — is in absolute rebellion against God and His commandments. Such illegal laws of man make criminals out of even the righteous and the innocent by making decrees that are impossible to keep in good conscience toward God. It’s a lethal battlefield out there, a killing zone for the truth. But we are commissioned to run out there with the same prayer of Desmond Doss, “God let me save one more. Let me save one more.”
And when you get wounded, Jesus Christ is here today to rescue you out of the enemy fire. You may be pinned down with your face pressed against the ground because of any number of oppressive challenges. Jesus Christ is your combat medic, courageous and ready to come to your aid and pull you back to the field hospital.
This morning I am asking our rescuer, Christ Jesus, to come and minister his healing hand to you. Jesus is present here today to pour out the oil and the wine on your wounds, be they physical, emotional, financial, relational, moral or spiritual.
Are you trapped under the debris of battle? Jesus is here to set you free.
Are you wounded? Jesus is here to set you free.
Are you paralyzed by fear? Jesus is here to set you free.
Are you exhausted by the fight? Jesus is here to set you free.
Are you help hostage by your sins? Jesus is here to set you free.
Jn 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.