Memorial Week: WWII and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – What it means to take Jesus Christ seriously

Subject: Memorial Week: WWII and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – What it means to take Jesus Christ seriously

Matthew 10:32: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father in heaven.”

Jesus Christ is very serious in our verse this week. If you are willing to publicly confess Him in this life, He will publicly confess you before His Father one day when you stand before Him to account for your life. This is the stage being played out today in American culture. As America moves further away from biblical truths, people who say they stand with Jesus Christ are being given the opportunity to make it public.

This is not new. In fact, history is repeating itself. Last Monday was the 72nd anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history, known as D-Day. On June 6, 1944, over 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops landed along the 50-mile stretch of beaches of Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany. By the end of Day 1, over 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Their deaths allowed the remaining troops to take the beach and then march across Europe, on their way to defeating Adolf Hitler’s army.

Why did America, under President Roosevelt, launch such a massive assault to destroy Nazi Germany? Bill Federer, in his ‘American Minute’ article, explained what finally drove FDR to action: “FDR stated in his State of the Union Address, January 6, 1942: “The world is too small…for both Hitler and God… Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their…pagan religion all over the world…by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika.”

Hitler disguised his disgust for everything Jesus Christ stands for early in his political career. In a 1922 speech Hitler called Jesus “our greatest Aryan hero.” But once elected Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, a different Adolf Hitler emerged. In ‘Twentieth Century in Crisis’, Larry Azar quotes Hitler: “The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity.” Azar explains that “Hitler believed both Judaism and Christianity were evil and had to be destroyed, seeing Christianity as an illegitimate Jewish child and, as a Jewish child, was swine like its parent that must be eradicated.”

How did the Christian church respond? Christians were mostly silent, believing they could live peaceably with Hitler. In ‘Hitler’s Cross’, Pastor Erwin Lutzer explains that Hitler saw the church as weak opposition: “Hitler spoke of both Protestants and Catholics with contempt, convinced that all Christians would betray their God when they were forced to choose between the swastika and the Cross: ‘Do you really believe the masses will be Christian again? Nonsense! Never again. That tale is finished. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes.’”

In ‘Basic Christianity’, Pastor John Stott echoes the same weakness in many churches today that Hitler saw: “Thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.”

But a shining light for Jesus Christ emerged to publicly resist Hitler and admonish the church to stand on the foundation of Christ as the true King: pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Because he spoke publicly for the cause of Jesus Christ, he was executed on by the Nazis on April 9, 1945, a few days before the Allied armies defeated the Nazis and liberated Germany. He died a follower of Jesus Christ.

In ‘Bonhoeffer’, Eric Metaxas quotes Bonhoeffer on the necessity to take Christ’s words in Matthew 10:32 seriously: “One admires Christ going to His death as a heroic sacrifice for His ideas. Only one thing one doesn’t do: one doesn’t take Him seriously. One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place. Understanding Christ means taking seriously His absolute claim on our commitment. And it is now of importance for us to clarify the seriousness of this matter and to extricate Christ from the secularization process in which He has been incorporated since the Enlightenment.”

As we leave another season of reflecting on Memorial week, and the brave men and women who gave their lives because no one was willing early on to stand for Christ, America’s Christians must learn from history and take Jesus Christ seriously, or within our own borders history will repeat itself.

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