Many of you may not be familiar with World War II history, but I'm sure a number of you are. Before the United States got involved in World War II, there were quite a lot of battles taking place in the northern countries of Africa. If you are familiar with that era of history, there was a German general by the name of Erwin Rommel. One of the youngest generals ever to serve in the Nazi war machine of World War II. He was also known as the Desert Fox because he was able to move his men around pretty well in that northern desert area. Many of us will remember his successes as we read the historical accounts of northern Africa missions. He was made a field marshal and then became general over a large number of the military personnel for the German army.
In fact, he had pushed the German war machine all the way across northern Africa, close to Alexandria, when the British put into place, General Frederic Bernard Law Montgomery to push him out of Alexandria. You see, he was hoping to cross and get in to Alexandria, a very important port city of northern Africa.
The New York Times wrote of an author by the name of Horst Gaertner. My own version of the American dream is what the article was there in the New York Times. I remember reading that about a young German soldier. He found himself in World War II in northern Africa under the command of Gen. Rommel, the Desert Fox. Horst Gaertner was a soldier there and he had been actively involved in killing Allied forces to make sure that the battle front was kept strong for the German army. He entered northern Africa and Tunisia, went across Libya and all the way across over into Egypt and almost into the port city of Alexandria.
But Horst Gaertner, when Rommel fled his command and got on a ship and fled back to Germany, was captured by the British, brought back to Tunisia and put on a Navy ship and brought over to the United States and placed in one of the more than 600 POW camps that the United States had in World War II.
As he started his story, thoughts came into his mind. I'm a condemned man. I have fought for the enemy. I have killed Allied forces, and as he continues his story, he says I was part of that Nazi war machine, and for the rest of his life he knew that he would be a condemned man. Especially if he was put on trial by the United States government. He had heard the reports of the war in Europe coming to an end and that the Pacific was roaring along but looked favorable for the United States.
Being a POW in one of our camps there in New Mexico, he was very unhappy with his future, realizing the challenge that he was going to have for his own freedom and liberty, and in 1945 just before the war ended, he escaped from the POW camp in New Mexico and he ran out into the desert night. In the darkness he ran and ran and he came across a sharecropper where he worked for a number of weeks.
That was the beginning of Horst Gaertner's life. Running, feeling he was condemned, and always moving forward, afraid that he was going to be caught for what he did. In fact, he took a number of jobs in various places. He was a tennis instructor for a little while. He was a ski instructor in the Rocky Mountains. In California, in the Donner Pass, in 1952 there was a tremendous blizzard and a train was stuck in this blizzard and he was one of the rescue team members who went up and saved over 200 passengers who were on this train.
Because of all the reporters and news cameras and everything that was out there reporting this wonderful thing that these men did in saving these 200 souls from freezing up on this pass, he was so concerned that his identity was going to be known that he continued to run for his entire life. He got married. He would come home. He would say, okay honey, it's time to pack up, let's move. He moved from place to place, from job to job because he knew that he was a condemned man. That he himself had murdered Allied troops.
One day, after 20 years of marriage he came into the kitchen. His wife was sitting at the table and he said, listen honey, pack it up, we're moving. For the first time, she rebuked and said, no we are not. You are running from something George, and I want to know what it is. So for the first time he sat down with his wife and he shared from his heart his past history. That he was a former soldier in Hitler's army, that he was assigned to the northern Africa army and that he was one who killed many Allied soldiers in the deserts there. That he had been brought here is a POW and had escaped and had become a prisoner of war on the lam, and he was running ever since.
She looked at him and said, let's just go to the office of immigration and naturalization. The war has been over for decades. So finally at the age of 64, Horst Gaertner made an appointment and went into that government office. When he was in that office, his record came up and he discovered that the United States government had released him from prison and that they had automatically made him a United States citizen. He never knew this. All the years that he was running, he never knew that he had been given papers to become a citizen of the United States and they never ever had any record of him being a POW.
When I read that article in the New York Times, many thoughts came to my mind. How many times would it be that the knock on the door and you would wonder who it was. How many times would the doorbell ring, how many times did a cop pull alongside you at an intersection and maybe your heart jumped a little bit because you were thinking, oh no, they found me, or even more impressive, the blue lights behind your car as you're driving down the road. Horst often would go pale thinking that he, as a condemned man, was going to be caught and prosecuted for what he had done. That he would go back to prison.
Then I had to think, how many of us in our churches, how many of us in our Seventh-day Adventist schools, how many of our military veterans have something in their history that they feel condemned about. That they struggle with.
Then we read this in Romans 8:1. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus. Would you repeat that with me. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you had the Greek, and you could read that, the imperative is right in the beginning. No condemnation therefore, for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Where is it that Paul suddenly in this chapter bursts forth with this admonition of removal of guilt and condemnation in one's life? As we read here, where is it that brings us to the point that Paul specifically focuses, that we are free from condemnation in our life as long as we are in Christ Jesus.
Very early in my career which is only been three years in the military, I was at my first base at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. I had met one of my other colleagues, a chaplain, and he invited me down his flightline office and I went down to his office with him and we were there in his office talking and a knock was at the door. One of the staff sergeants was there and he said, chaplain, I have a problem with one of my airmen. He hasn't had a lot of integrity right now in the workplace and he needs to have a chaplain talk to him.
So we invited this young airman into the office. He was a one striper. He sat down and here he is with two officers and we're just looking at him and he's looking at us and we just said, what's going on? What's going on right now in your life? He had just finished his school and was now newly assigned to our base. As we began to talk he said that he was from Texas. I'm from Texas as well and so I said, what part of Texas are you from. He said East Texas. I said, like the Longview area? He said, just a little bit north of that. I said, like maybe Jefferson, and he said, yeah, Jefferson. So we're talking a little bit longer and I could tell some things triggered in my own mind as to who this young person was. I said, you know, there's a lot of schools in that area. Did you go to maybe, Jefferson Adventist Academy? He said, yeah, I did.
Now remember, we'd never met each other before. My colleague is sitting and looking at me wide-eyed like I had this type of gift of knowing or reading people's minds. I'm new to him and he has no idea.
So the airman started talking to me a little about it. I said did you go to school as a dormitory student or as a village student? As we're going through this process he starts talking about his pastor, and I said, oh yeah, Pastor John Taylor right? And then my friend's eyes opened wide and so did the airman's and it was amazing how God had used that experience to learn about this young Seventh-day Adventist, graduated from one of our schools, who was running away from some very big things in his life. Integrity was one of those issues that he was dealing with.
You know, God puts us in places where he needs us. Right? We are the hands, we are the feet, we are the ears, we are the eyes of Jesus. We have the privilege of being in places where God wants us in order to meet the need that is there. Jesus is never too busy to meet you where you are. He just may use you to meet those others where they are.
We looked at this verse in Paul's writings in Romans 8. We're going to go now to the seventh chapter. Just before that. As you look at that particular verse, Romans 7:24, it says, what a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Go all the way back now and look at where Paul comes from in Romans. From the very first chapter all the way through to the point where he comes to this question, oh wretched man that I am.
Look at Romans 1:18. For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth because of their wickedness. Condemnation. Look at Romans 1:21. Continuing on there. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their speculation and their foolish heart was darkened. Condemnation. Man is like that. Foolishness, condemnation.
One of the things that all of the military branches have our foolish soldiers. Foolish airmen. Young adults, young 18 and 19 and 20-year-olds who are running away from something, usually. Who want a change in their life so they join the military. They get tired of their parents telling them what to do so they join the military. Stupidest thing I've ever heard. You mean to tell me you want your freedom and you join the military. We have no freedom, those of us who are in uniform. We fight for freedom. We desire freedom, but we have no freedom. So here they're running from something. The foolishness.
One of the things in the Air Force is we have these core values. To make sure that foolishness can be met. For us it's integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Those are the three core values of the United States Air Force. If you have those three core values, you will be a very successful airman. If we can instill in a young airman integrity, service before self and excellence in everything we do, you have a good individual there. Those are the core values that we use to help people to overcome their foolishness. As Paul said, we are foolish because of the sins that we are in.
Now let's go to Romans 2:11. It says here, for God does not show partiality or favoritism. There is no partiality with God. All who have sin without law will perish without law.
I remember one of the very first sermons that I preached. It was on John 11. John 11 is the story of Lazarus. Many of you know that Lazarus was in the tomb for three days. What better chapter to talk about the state of the dead and where they are for three days. That was a real challenge for those people sitting in the audience, listening to this new chaplain who comes to their congregation and preaches to them and we're talking about John 11 and I'm talking about people sleeping in the grave.
This lady afterwards, when I was greeting them at the door, said to me, I have been a Christian all of my life, but I have never heard this idea that people are not in heaven at the time of their death. Then she said, but just this morning I was listening to a radio station and I kind of thought of what radio station it was when she told the station. I said well is the speaker on that Doug Batchelor? And she said I don't know who the speaker is. That's not important chaplain Campbell. The content was that the person who was speaking said that those who die are in the grave lying, sleeping, waiting for the soon return of Jesus. She said, chaplain, I had never heard that before. Now remember, we're standing out here in the entry and we're talking and she said, what do you say, because I know you're preaching from the word of God, and I said, if you read the word of God, there is every indication in there that when you die you sleep in the grave and you wait for Christ's soon return. She said, that's exactly what the person on the radio said, and I've never heard this before. She was one of those who came to my Bible studies that we had on Friday night. One of those who was baptized before I left.
God can use you in tremendous ways to lift the foolishness that is out there. That Satan would have people to be in.
In Romans 3 as you go on, Paul continues with the foolishness, but he starts impacting this Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 5:12. Therefore just as through one man, sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have what? All have sinned. Condemnation. Paul brings condemnation to every single chapter and verse as you read this in Romans.
And then you have this idea in Romans 7:18. He says this. I know that nothing good lives in me. Nothing good lives in me. That is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. Condemnation. So the theme continues until Paul finally says in just almost desperation, if you read it the way that it's supposed to be read in verse 24. Oh wretched man that I am. Who will set me free from the body of death? Condemnation.
Then he hits it in Romans 8:1. No condemnation therefore for those who are in Christ Jesus. That's the simple result of the passion of Jesus Christ. The reason why he came. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In the military environment there is a lot of condemnation. There are a lot of actions that our young people do. They go into people's homes or into their villages in the dark of night in Afghanistan or Iraq and they find those individuals who have blood on their hands, who are the enemy, and while they're doing that there are family members who are in those locations, and these men and women in uniform come back and they sit before a chaplain in the office and they feel such guilt for the emotional impact that not only they themselves are facing but what they have imposed on someone else. Young 11 or 12-year-old in that house.
As you continue to read what Paul says here, he says, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death. We're not talking about the 10 Commandments here. We are talking about that when Adam and Eve sinned, they chose to go against God and God had to come up with some rule, some order, some laws intact for him to bring those who were lost back into his fold. So the spirit of life that God had instilled upon this world in the very beginning of time was removed because of sin, so he had to put a new law into place. If you are going to die in your sin, he said, let us make sure that the blood of Jesus Christ can wash that way. Because he wants to make sure that this condemnation that we feel is gone. That Horst Gaertner his entire life walked through his daily experience and constantly felt that he was a prisoner still, even though he was free. Felt that he was condemned in his sins even though his past was not even on record anywhere.
There's a story of a man who was living in England and he loved to drive his Rolls-Royce all around the countryside. He came to the United States because he needed to have some medical attention. There in New Hampshire where he was at this medical clinic, he had his Rolls-Royce there in the parking lot and he would drive it through the countryside and enjoy it. One day that Rolls-Royce began to act up. He tried to find some place in the United States in order to have his Rolls-Royce fixed but there was not a place for that to happen.
So he called back to the dealership there in England and told them that the Rolls-Royce in the parking lot where he was in America needed to be fixed. They said all right. Two days later they sent over a mechanic. Rolls-Royce paid a mechanic to fly over. Brought in his suit-case some of the mechanical goods that he thought he would need from the explanation of what happened. He fixed this Rolls-Royce in the parking lot and went back to England.
The man continued to drive his Rolls-Royce around the countryside there in New England and went back to England after he had his treatment and he was going through this paperwork about a year later, and as he was going through it he realized that he never ever got a bill from Rolls-Royce. Being the honest man that he was he wrote a letter. He drafted it up and sent it to them and he said, about a year ago I called and there was something wrong with my Rolls-Royce and you flew a mechanic over and you fixed it. But I never received a bill from you, so if you'll find the bill in the office I'll be happy to pay it. Please send it to me.
He received a letter back from Rolls-Royce. Just a few sentences. It said, in the files at the headquarters of Rolls-Royce there is no accounting that anything has ever been wrong with your Rolls-Royce anywhere or at any time. No record at all of this. Totally taken away from him. This Rolls-Royce that he had fixed.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. When we get to heaven, Jesus is going to look through the files and what is he going to see for those who have the blood of Jesus Christ? Nothing. There's not even going to be a record there. That's great isn't it? And when is this? In this time that Jesus fulfilled that law. The Commandments don't save us. Jesus saves us. The Commandments don't make us perfect. Only Jesus makes us perfect. The Commandments don't make us holy. Only Jesus makes us holy. The Commandments don't make us righteous, for only Jesus is righteous.
This word holy, I had a real good challenge with one of my supervisors, my senior chaplain. For some reason in the military chaplain's force, there is a holiness about Christmas Eve and a holiness about resurrection Sunday, Easter. In fact, it got so bad trying to deal with these two things, a letter went out from my senior chaplain and it said, you are expected to be at the Sunday's services because it is the most holy day of the Christian calendar. I had some issues with that.
As a military chaplain, we are there to preserve the First Amendment right of every individual. Whether we believe it or not, we're there to protect it. And here was a military chaplain telling me that the most holy day of the Christian calendar was on a Sunday. I said show it to me in Scripture. That's where I would like to see it. Of course he wasn't able to and I didn't say it in those words but I would like to have. He was a major and I'm only a captain. But I said, Sir, what I see in Scripture, what you just wrote on that paper, there are some discrepancies.
Now he wasn't at the services that Sunday. My colleagues were in the front row in the gospel service, the traditional service and then the contemporary service. I made it very clear to everyone in there that no matter who tells you what day is holy, the only holy day that the Bible talks about is Saturday, the seventh day. I tell you, it got some looks. But I'm not here to water down any of that truth. I don't have to as a military chaplain. I can preach whatever I want to. I am under the rights of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Now if they don't like what I say, they can say, okay Chaplain Campbell, you're not going to preach anymore. You're done. But that hasn't happened. And it won't happen because how can they do that when you're preaching Scripture and preaching the truth.
So this holiness idea of what makes us holy, only Jesus is holy. So let's go all the way to the end now where he's talking about all this holiness and then he comes into this condemnation and then in the end of this particular chapter in Romans 8:35, Paul begins to say things like, who will separate us from the love of Christ. Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Nothing can take us from the love of Christ. Look at verse 38. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height or death or anything else. You think he covers it pretty well? He says none of this is ever going to remove you from the love of Jesus Christ. Therefore we cannot be condemned. We may feel it, but we have to know that the closer we are in that connection with Jesus Christ, the less condemnation we will feel.
I'm going to close with this one final illustration. In 1878, Victoria was Queen of England. Her third child was Princess Alice. Now Princess Alice was forced to marry a German King, of Hesse, and so she relocated from England to this German state in Hesse. She took up residence there in Darmstadt, Germany and became the queen. She and Lewis had seven children. A number of these children had contracted what was called black diptheria back in those days. In fact, one of the little girls had already died from this illness and their youngest child, a little boy, was now sick with the disease.
The doctor, so worried that this royal couple would get sick, told them that there was no way that they could go into the room where their son was lying very ill. In fact, we have caregivers and we have nurses who are going to take care of him for you.
So it was that Princess Alice was standing at the door of her son's bedroom. He was lying in that bed, sweating and sick and very weak. He looked up and he asked the nurse, why is it that my mother doesn't kiss me any longer? That was too much for Queen Alice and so she went through that doorway, got into the bed, and kissed her son and held him and gave him the love that he needed. By the end of that week, Queen Alice had also contracted diptheria and had been buried.
Now let me tell you something. We are like that little boy dying. We are in this bed of sin and suffering and death, and Jesus Christ could have just stood at that doorway and watched it all unfold. But instead, he crossed that threshold, came into that bed with us, kissed us with the kiss of grace, held tightly to us and the illness and sickness that was once ours in sin was transported to him and he contracted it and he died because of it.
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor the present, nor the future, nor anything will ever keep us from the love of Jesus Christ.
Father in heaven. Thank you so much for your love to us, for it shows that not only our Father loves us, but the spirit loves us. And not only that the spirit loves us but that your son, Jesus Christ loves us. Father help us to leave this idea of condemnation behind. Allow us to walk in the presence of your grace and your love because we believe in the blood that was shed for us. We pray this in your name, Amen.
Hymn of Praise: #223, Crown Him With Many Crowns Scripture: Romans 8:1 Hymn of Response: #647, Battle Hymn of the Republic
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 11/16/11