Hiroo Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines by his Japanese imperial commander during World War II. He was ordered to do all that he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island. There were three others with him.
One day, they came across a leaflet from the local islanders saying “The war ended August 15th. Come down from the mountains!” The few remaining cells discussed this leaflet extensively but eventually decided that it was Allied propaganda trying to get them to give themselves up.
Eventually, near the end of the same year, local islanders, fed up with being shot at and raided, got a Boeing B-17 to drop leaflets all over the jungle. These leaflets had the order to surrender printed on them from General Yamashita. The few remaining cells once again scrutinized these leaflets to try to determine their authenticity. In the end, the wording of the leaflet pertaining to the method with which they would be sent back to Japan seemed fishy to them, largely because the wording made it seem as if Japan had lost, something they couldn’t fathom. Japan couldn’t lose, so the war must still be going.
When this didn’t work, more leaflets were dropped with newspapers from Japan, along with photographs and letters from the soldiers’ families. Delegates were sent from Japan to go through the jungle speaking over loudspeakers begging the soldiers to give themselves up. In every case the cells encountered, there was always something suspicious in their minds about the way it was done to cause them to believe it was an elaborate hoax by the Allied troops.
Years passed in the jungle with these four soldiers continuing to perform their sworn duty of harrying the enemy at every opportunity and gathering intelligence as best they could. At a certain point, when most everybody they saw was dressed in civilian clothing, they began thinking that this too was a ruse from the Allied forces to lull the Japanese guerrilla soldiers into a false sense of confidence.
Over time, they had gradually let their solitude twist their minds into thinking everyone was an enemy, even their own fellow Japanese, who would occasionally come and try to find them and get them to come home.
Isn’t that crazy?
Hiroo did not believe that the war had ended, but the fact is it did! His belief did not affect the reality that the war had ended, but it did greatly affect how he lived for 29 years!
For 29 years, he lived in a reality that the war was still raging.
The same can be said of the resurrection. People may not believe it happened, but the fact is it did. Believing whether or not Jesus death and resurrection happened does not affect their realities, but it certainly affects how you live and enjoy your life.
On the very first Easter Sunday, the disciples weren’t hiding in the jungle, but in an upper room. They had been told by some of the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. That’s crazy—more crazy than an atomic bomb bringing Japan to its knees in just a couple of minutes. John and Peter saw the empty tomb, but they must not have really believed it. They were scared. They were scared that the war had just begun. Their leader had been killed, and now their fellow Jews were coming after them!
Jesus himself came and found them huddled together, paranoid of the enemy. He appeared in their midst and whispered, “Peace be with you!” Then he showed them something that would give them certain peace: His hands once limp now moving and His side once pierced now healed—Life after death! The war is over!
“Jesus said again, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’ and when he said this He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the holy spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you withhold the sins of any they are withheld.’”
Jesus sends the Church to tell people hiding and scared, “The war is over! Death is conquered! Sin is paid for! You don’t have to hide from God or others anymore. You don’t have to live in fear of God’s wrath. Surrender! The Lord welcomes you with open arms!
There are people in dark rooms in your town. They live in fear like Hiroo Onada: suspicious and paranoid, fighting their past and their sin, while in fear of judgment day and death. They live in a landscape marred by sin and suffering. The war is far from over for them, and don’t be surprised if at first they think you are passing out propaganda, because it does sound way to good to be true! Don’t give up on them, just as Jesus didn’t give up on Thomas.
Heck, every now and then we all need to hear ‘The war is over,’ probably at least ever Sunday. Its easy to let the worries of the world suffocate hope. It doesn’t take much to go to bed paranoid after reading the day’s news, paying the monthly bills, and waiting for the lab results for a loved one.
Well, it ain’t propaganda! It’s true. It happened. It’s greater than an atomic bomb. God died for you! Man rose again from the dead for you! The war is over, so start living like it!