One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius." He stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" He answered, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God." - Acts 10:3-4
Cornelius was a devout man, a man who knew the Lord, even with the little revelation given him. Cornelius was a faithful man, a man who prayed continuously before the Lord, as best he knew how. Cornelius was a loyal soldier, a man who served his country in spite of its pagan ways, to the best of his ability. Cornelius was the first gentile to believe in Jesus, the very first non-Jew to accept Christ as true Lord and only Savior.
This weekend we celebrate "Memorial Day," a day dedicated to the memory of those who fought and died in the service of the homeland. But, as proper as it is to honor those who have sacrificed, even sacrifice to the point of death, for the freedoms and values of our country, we know that even such a great sacrifice as this cannot ultimately save a man. Many have and will go to the grave out of love and honor for their country, dulce es decorum estpro patria mori, as the old saying goes. Cornelius probably would have done so, and maybe even did do the same.
But, countries come and countries go. Nations rise and fall. They are as wicked and sin-stained as they are great and awe-inspiring. To die for country is not wrong or bad and it can sometimes, depending on the country and the cause, be for great good. But it was not Cornelius’ love of country that saved him, it was his love of God and his prayers. Prayers that ascended to God "as a memorial." For when we pray, we remember the God who is and acknowledge the Lord who saves. It was Cornelius’ remembering the one true God every day, whether at home, in camp, or on the frontlines, that God honored by sending Peter himself, the friend of Jesus, to convert the first gentile Christian. With Cornelius, the mission of the Gospel to the whole world begins. And all because he remembered God.
Today we remember fallen soldiers with gratitude, those who knew God and even those who did not. Their services to this country were rendered equally. But even more, we remember that it is only faith in God and not just country that wins the decisive battle. The Christian soldier fights not just for today or even for the next hundred years, or as long as the life of a nation may last. The Christian soldier, like Cornelius, fights for eternity. For it is for the eternal that he has been called to duty.
Anthony Costello has a BA from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN and two Masters Degrees from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in Christian Apologetics and Theology. Anthony's areas of focus are Apologetics and Systematic Theology. He has published in both academic journals and magazines and co-authored two chapters in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, edited by Josh and Sean McDowell. He is a US Army and Afghanistan Veteran.