The year was 1945, and WWII was drawing to an end in the Western Theater, but things still had a way to go in the Pacific Theater. On April 1st, the U.S. Army launched a joint attack of combined forces of allied nations against the Ryukyu Islands in Japan. The largest, and thus most strategic, being Okinawa. The highest ridge on this island, nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge,” was a flat plateau at the top of a 400-foot bluff. The Japanese had completely covered the top of the ridge with booby traps and machine gun nests, and were just waiting for the allies to make an attempt at taking it. On April 29th, the U. S. 10th Army attempted to do just that. They scaled the rope ladders they had created, suspended from the top of the cliff, and climbed into a whirlwind of bullets. The fighting was so intense, that the translation of the Japanese nickname for this battle is “hailstorm of steel.”
Well, it didn’t take to long for the soldiers to be forced back down the bluff they had just ascended – all except one man. His name was Desmond Doss. He was a medic with the 77th Infantry Division of the 10th Army, and he looked back and saw all of his wounded comrades lying on top of the ridge. He knew that the Japanese would show no mercy for these injured men, brutally killing all they would find as soon as the U.S had cleared the ridge of those still able to move by themselves. What he did that night is unparalleled in bravery and courage. He had taken a vow many years earlier to never take up a gun to kill another man (he nearly did it to shoot his abusive father years ago, and that is where it all started for him).
But even still, he stayed up there all night of April 29th and rescued single-handedly over 75 of his comrades-in-arms. He would drag them one by one to the edge of the cliff, lower them by a rope litter he had carried up, and then stop and pray. After he safely rescued each man, he would bow and pray, “Lord, thank You for giving me this one. Please, give me one more.” And he went back again and again and again.
When I first heard of what this man did, I was like, “No way. Nobody could do that” – but he did. What a situation he was in, and what grit he had to knowingly go back over and over again to rescue someone else.
But as I considered this story, I realized we – as Christians – are in a very similar scenario. We are a type of “rescuer” to those caught in a deadly war that struggles for control of their soul. The need is so great around us, that so often it is overwhelming. Where can we ever begin? There are just so many who still need to hear the Gospel message. But the words of Desmond Doss echo those of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 –
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”
Paul is not saying we “do whatever it takes,” in terms of allowing sin into the church in order to make the lost “more comfortable.” Instead, he is calling us to understand the starting point of the individual we are witnessing to. He states this quite clearly in verse 20. He already was a Jew, so he wasn’t saying he became like them in his manner of life. What he was saying was this: “I know the Jew’s understanding of the scriptures, and what foundation work I need to lay before I introduce Christ.” and that is what he did with all these other groups. He didn’t live outside of the true law of God, but didn’t rigidly hold to the Mosaic Law, so as not to lay a stumbling block in front of the Gentiles. He knew that the Gentiles (as a whole) did not worship God, neither did they have or accept the Scriptures. Therefore, when Paul begins sharing in Athens in Acts 17, he does not begin with passages like “For unto us a child is born,” or “He was wounded for our transgressions.” He did lead them to that point, but that was not where he began – as he did with the Jews earlier in the same chapter.
We are not just to have a prepackaged gospel witness that we just spout off to anyone who will listen. Instead, we need to understand as best we can where each individual is coming from, what preconceived ideas or knowledge he has about God. And then we must use that knowledge to lead them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just this past week, I had an opportunity to talk with a man who was wondering how to forgive himself for somethings he had done. Using the idea of forgiveness as a jumping off point, I was able to share the Gospel with this man. He did not accept Christ then, but we did discuss our need for the salvation that Christ offers. He was seeking forgiveness, but he could not understand how to forgive himself until he understood God’s forgiveness.
But back to the passage: notice how Paul makes a very interesting, and shocking, statement at the end of verse 22: “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Did you catch that? Three times he describes his efforts as “all-in,” but does so to “save some.” Incredible. While we do not compromise the Gospel in any way in how we share or how we discuss sin, no cost is too great to ourselves to share the gospel. We must give it our all: even if it demands our very lives.
We must not become discouraged by the number of those who do not listen to our message. For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are lost (1 Corinthians 1:18), but it is the “power of God” to those being saved. even if it is just a few who we can lead to the Lord, we must do so, and must do so with all our might, soul, and strength.