Why Celebrate ANZAC Day?

By Grant Dibden

A little over 100,000 Australians have died in wars. Several hundred thousand more were wounded and countless others suffered psychological damage. Of these casualties the vast majority were between 18 and 25 years old. Just think that if you had been born 100 years earlier it could have been you or your brother or sister.

ANZAC Day commemorates a great defeat at Gallipoli where 8,700 soldiers were killed and the rest withdrew 8 months later after making no progress. ANZAC Day is a day we remember those who have died in war, and those who have been injured or psychologically hurt. This commemorating of a great defeat seems very strange to other nations. Australia’s most reverent day of military remembering doesn’t recall a great victory. Why? It’s certainly not for the lack of great victories, or impressive military achievements. Australians have fought courageously and successfully in war over the years and there are plenty of victories to choose from.

But our most respected day of military remembrance goes back to an occasion of defeat and terrible loss. Why has our defeat at Gallipoli become nation-shaping? Why it is that us Aussies, who are notoriously disrespectful show a reverence as we commemorate annually the defeat that was Gallipoli?

I think it’s because Gallipoli symbolises for us the qualities of courage in the face of great adversity, of endurance, of caring for your mates and of sacrifice.

“Gallipoli symbolises … courage … endurance … sacrifice.”

A little over 100 years ago, Australians were involved in fighting on the Western Front. These pictures give you some idea of what it looked like.

Australian troops were on the Western Front from March 1916 until the end of the war in Nov 1918 – some two years and eight months.

One digger, W.H. Downing, described the conditions on the Western Front like this when he wrote:

[On the front lines], dead lay everywhere. The deeper one dug, the more bodies one exhumed. Hands and faces protruded from the slimy, toppling walls of trenches. Knees, shoulders and buttocks poked from the foul morass … We were soaked from head to foot with … sweat and icy mud.

…Soaked equipment laden with one hundred and seventy rounds of ammunition and two or three bombs [weighed you down tremendously] … rifles became entangled in the thousands of old telephone wires festooned across and along the trench in a mesh of tentacles … [that] knocked helmets in the slime, caught men under the chin and tripped their feet as they lifted them within the mud.’

Men in the front lines stood hour on hour in icy slush up to 30 centimetres deep and were put out of action with trench foot – a form of frost bite that often ended in gangrene and the loss of toes or even feet. They were weakened by hunger, shattered in nerve by the continued barrage. The rain poured in torrents …. Some were forced to crawl. No matter how overcome, few dared rest. Because they might be unable to move again – might fall asleep and perish before morning. [1]

The men did not have baths for weeks, even months. Millions of rats infested trenches, spreading infection and contaminating food. There were two main types: the black rat and the brown rat, which could grow to the size of a cat, which was especially feared. These gorged themselves on human remains, disfiguring them by eating their eyes and liver, making them more grotesque. Lice too, and their nits, were a terrible problem, breeding in the seams of filthy clothing and causing men to itch constantly. [2]

Can you imagine living in those conditions with shells landing around you and the constant threat of snipers? Enduring these conditions for several years? Can you imagine doing the same — day after day, month after month, year after year — virtually getting nowhere? That’s what happened in the trench warfare that was the Western Front.

We respect the endurance and never-give-up attitude that saw so many of our troops killed and that kept our troops in the atrocious conditions of the trenches on the Western Front. We are inspired by the reckless valour that was displayed at Gallipoli. And we’re thankful for the personal sacrifice of those who gave their lives.

And so, on ANZAC Day we remember their blood trodden into the mud of a foreign land. We remember their sacrifice. And we remember the sacrifice of many more who fought and died in other wars.

We should be grateful. And while we don’t glorify war, we should remember the sacrifice of those who went before us … because there is something noble about sacrifice, isn’t there?

And the sacrifice of Jesus is still at the centre of the symbolism of Anzac Day — with its crosses for the fallen, the sacrificial language, the reverence. The greatest sacrifice is mentioned in John 15:13: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love hath has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

It records what Jesus said to his friends just before He laid down His life for them and for you and me. But Jesus’ sacrifice is on a different level.  One hundred years ago, thousands of people gave their lives so we might enjoy life today. Two thousand years ago, one perfect man, God’s own Son, gave His life so that all of humanity might enjoy life for all of eternity. Jesus, the perfect man, God in human form, who made all that exists – that Jesus – He died for you. He died in our place – in my place and in your place – to pay the penalty of death that we deserve for our sins, for the wrong things each and everyone one of us has done. Because no one is good enough to get into heaven on their own merit.

Jesus died to bring you, personally, into a relationship with Him so that you may know the Creator of the universe … not know about Him, but know Him, and He know you deeply and intimately, where you can experience His love, know you’re accepted not because of how you live but because of what Jesus has done, and enjoy God forever. How good is that? When I understood what Jesus had done for me, I was going into year 11 and it changed my life and it continues to shape my life.

But, we often don’t get what it means to be a sinner. We think we’re OK. We’re nice people and what we do isn’t that bad. We’re not sinners like paedophiles or murderers or drug pushers or robbers. We’re nice people and, yes, we occasionally slip up but nothing too serious. But the Bible says we are all sinners. Every one of us. I know I am.

You see, sin is basically about rebellion. Sin is going our own way, doing our own thing, running our life our own way and that includes living as though the God of the universe, who made all things and sustains all things, isn’t there! Or maybe He’s there but that has no effect on how I live. That’s what the Bible means by sin. So big sins like murder and robbery are part of it, but so are the wrong things we do every day – the not doing what you know to be right. It’s the lack of kindness and not treating others as you would want to be treated, the angry thoughts, the lust, the little white lies, the greed – it’s all the stuff we hope no one finds out about. These too are out-workings of our rebellion, of running our own life.

Our forgiveness is a costly but free gift deliberately offered by God. But there is a catch to this gift. It’s not much of a catch, but there is one – we must take the gift. Say, I give you my house but you don’t take it; it isn’t yours. If you say, “You wouldn’t do that, Grant, that’s too good to be true!” or “No, thanks. I want to stand on my own two feet, I want to earn that house,” then you won’t have the house, will you? But it’s even greater than that. It’s as if I have a huge place, like Buckingham Palace, and you’re an ordinary worker, one of those ordinary people that we are remembering today; there’s just no way you could ever earn anything like the money to buy the palace. It’s just impossible. There’s no way you could get the palace except by accepting what is an extraordinary gift.

And that’s what we have to do to be reconciled to God. We can’t sit on the fence. We are either a child of God or we’re not. We either take the gift or we don’t.

Taking this extraordinary gift requires you to submit to Jesus’ rule. To stop rebelling against His rule. To stop running your own life and submit to Him, in every area of your life. Sure, you’ll never behave perfectly in this life, but you can repent, you can say sorry when you sin and come back under Jesus’ rule.

You can know about Jesus, you can go to a Christian school or college, or you could even go to church. But that is not the same as submitting to His rule. You’ve heard about Jesus and you may even think He’s a great guy or a great teacher, or even God the Son. But that’s not enough. You have to say you’re sorry for your rebellion and the wrong things you’ve done that are an outworking of that rebellion. And you have to submit to Jesus’ rule in your whole life. You have to ask Him into your heart to be your Lord and Saviour.

And Jesus’ rule isn’t of the demanding, harsh, strict disciplinarian type. No, it’s of the loving, compassionate, merciful type. See, when you know Jesus and are known by Him, when you’re in this personal, intimate relationship with the One who said “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, … rest for your souls.” – you will want to do the right thing because you know that is the means by which you can know Him better, the means by which you can deepen your relationship with God. You’ll want to live for Him, you’ll want to live under His rule because you trust Him, the wisest and most loving person in the universe.

100 years ago, people were dying on the Western Front in their thousands. Who knows what these current world events hold for you. But if you are trusting in Jesus, when death at last lands on you at age 18 or 80, it will come not as a scary end, but as the beginning of life with God in heaven. It will come not as an end to life but as an entry to eternal life with Jesus. Trust the Saviour. Submit to His rule by taking the gift that is freely offered, but so costly to give.

Pray. Confess your sins and accept Him into your heart today. And if you do accept the gift – or want to find out more or have some questions – please contact us as we’d love to help you grow in your relationship with God.

[1] Patsy Adam-Smith, The ANZACs, Penguin, Camberwell, 1991, p261, 262
[2] “Life in the Trenches”, accessed on https://www.firstworldwar.com/features/trenchlife.htm

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