Recently I finished reading James Bradley's book, Flags of our Fathers. Bradley's father was a Navy Corpsman (medic) who served our country in WWII. Specifically, he served by tending to the wounded and comforting the dying soldiers on the island of Iwo Jima. What brought John, James' father, fame, however, was his role when he, along with five other soldiers, hoisted Old Glory atop Mount Suribachi.
The known-by-nearly all photo taken by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the action of six men (five Marines and one corpsman) that would inspire a nation. From the junior Bradley's writing I learned that the photo taken was actually of the raising of a second American flag. The first had already been raised and then removed for safekeeping as a souvenir. While neither flag was raised in the heat of battle, each was flown in recognition of the achievement of American troops during one of the costliest battles in U.S. history.
To say that John Bradley, after 1945, rarely spoke of Iwo Jima is a huge understatement. John avoided the subject as best he could. His reason for doing so really came down to his understanding of a hero. To the Navy medic who saved dozens of lives and comforted even more men who perished, the true heroes of Iwo Jima were those men who did not come home.
Most of us would take exception to John's understanding and suggest that indeed he was a hero. I would. Not all heroes die before they become worthy of such a title. But many do.
In the New Testament book Hebrews, the author provides a roll call of sorts in regard to examples of faith. He mentions the likes of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Moses' mom and dad, and several more by name. Then, near the end of the roll, the writer mentions those for whom we have no name.
Only God knows their names and we know only three- and one-half verses worth of information about those men and women. We do know, however, that they are heroes of the faith. They faced ridicule, loneliness, pain, and even death itself in order to spread the gospel and glorify Jesus the Christ.
Just as the flag-raising of John Bradley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, Franklin Sousley, and Mike Strank inspired millions of American (and Allied) citizens, the nameless faithful of Hebrews' bold and selfless actions inspire millions of citizens of the Kingdom of God. They shined their lights so that God would receive glory. That's what real heroes do.
What purpose does the writer's listing of heroes serve? The answer is, appropriately enough, given after the word therefore.
Jesus-followers are to keep the actions of those in the cloud of witnesses in mind as inspiration. Such keeping prepares us for the even more important act of observation -- the fixing of our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
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