top of page

Lost Sheep at Hacksaw Ridge

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Jesus finds the lost sheep

You have heard it said, “Christianity is a crutch.” But I tell you, Christianity is a hospital…

The year is 1920. The boy, Desmond Doss, playfighting as boys do, almost killed his brother Hal. Together with his religious upbringing as a Seventh-day Adventist and this frightening childhood event, Desmond took the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” very seriously. Now, a young adult, he takes an injured man to the hospital and there meets a nurse, Dorothy Schutte. A romance develops and Desmond tells her of his interest in medical work.

Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Desmond joins the army as a combat medic. His father, Tom, was distraught about his decision to join the army—he was a World War I veteran. Desmond and Dorothy get engaged, and he leaves soon after for Fort Jackson. He is put under Sergeant Howell’s command.

During his training, Desmond did exceptionally well physically, but there is a problem. He is a Seventh-day Adventist and so refuses to train or hold a rifle on Saturdays, and so he becomes an outcast among his fellow soldiers. Sergeant Howell and Captain Glover do all they can to discharge Desmond for psychiatric reasons. But this was overruled based on his religious beliefs. As a result, they torment him. They subject him to harsh labour to force him to want to leave. One evening, his fellow soldiers beat him ruthlessly. Yet, Desmond refuses to identify these attackers. He does not give up and continues training.

Desmond and his unit finish their basic training and are released on leave. He returns and plans to marry Dorothy, but he is arrested for insubordination because he would not carry a firearm. His fiancé and Captain Glover visit him in prison and urge him to plead guilty so that he can be released without charge. He refuses, unwilling to compromise his beliefs. He pleads not guilty at trial. Just before he is sentenced, his father burst in at the scene with a letter in hand from a former commanding officer. The letter said that an Act of Congress protected Desmond’s pacifism. His charges were dropped at once, and Desmond and Dorothy were finally married.

Together with his unit, Desmond was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division deployed to the Pacific region. During the Battle of Okinawa, the unit was instructed to relieve the 96th Infantry Division. And their task was to ascend and secure the Maeda Escarpment, that is, Hacksaw Ridge. Both sides had suffered great losses.

Desmond finally earns the respect of one of his squadmates, Smitty, after saving his life on the battlefield. While they camp for the night, he shares with Smitty about the time when he almost shot his drunken father who had threatened his mother with a gun which is why he has an aversion to holding a firearm. Smitty hangs his head, “I am sorry for doubting your courage.” The two reconcile.

The Japanese launch a serious counterattack the next day and drive out the American army off the escarpment. Desmond’s new friend, Smitty is killed, and several of Desmond’s squad are injured on the battlefield. Among the shooting, shellfire, and explosions, Desmond could hear the cries and muffled whimpering of the mortally wounded soldiers. Many of these soldiers tormented him during their basic training, but Desmond returns to save as many of them as he is able, carrying the wounded soldiers, one at a time to the edge of the cliff where they would be let down with a rope-pulley system. Every time he would pray for an opportunity to save one more soldier, and so he would return to the hellish battlefield of fire, blood, and agonizing cries. Finally, he rescues Sergeant Howell, the very man who sought to discharge Desmond for psychiatric reasons and made his life exceedingly difficult. They escape Hacksaw Ridge under enemy fire. As dozens of wounded soldiers presumed dead arrive at the base, the rest of the unit below Hacksaw Ridge are joyously amazed.

Captain Glover, who initially also conspired against Desmond, turns to him, “We will not launch another attack without you, our men are inspired by your selflessness and sacrifice.” Now with American reinforcements, despite a Japanese ambush, the scales of the battlefield are turned. But even so, there were many more wounded American soldiers including Captain Glover whom Desmond was able to save. Not long before the battle was won, Desmond is injured by a grenade explosion. He descends from Hacksaw Ridge, holding the Bible Dorothy gave him close to his chest, a reminder of his devotion.

Desmond was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman for rescuing 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge for service beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa. He never fired a shot and yet he walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific region with nothing to protect himself, other than his faith. He is an example to all of us, a man of tenacity, courage, and great self-sacrifice. But more than this, his actions give us a picture of Jesus and his purpose for coming into our world.

The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1–7)

In Luke 15 the tax collectors and sinners gather around to hear Jesus. He welcomes them, but the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law grumble among themselves, “This man, Jesus welcomes sinners and he even eats with them!”

Jesus gets earshot of their grumbling and tells them three parables, the first is the lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

He continues to explain, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Imagine the joy at the bottom of Hacksaw Ridge when the wounded who were thought dead were brought to safety. How much more joy in the heavens.

Jesus comes not for those who are righteous, he comes for the unrighteous, those who are wounded by their own sin. And in self-sacrifice, he would happily leave all his sheep in search of the one lost sheep and bring him safely into the fold.

The idea of God­—in Jesus Christ—saying: I will forsake heavenly bliss and infinite honour and become a man, I will descend to the realm of humanity, live as they live, work as they work, suffer as they suffer, and be tortured, mortally wounded and executed so that I can rescue as many as I am able and bring them to the Father, is utterly alien to every other world religion and philosophical system. Actually, it’s scandalous and offensive. But Christ did that, he willingly and selflessly sacrificed himself by putting himself in the very midst of our suffering.

The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8–10)

I began by telling you the story of Desmond Doss and Hacksaw Ridge to help you understand Jesus going after the lost sheep. To help his audience understand, Jesus told another story, the parable of the Lost Coin, the second of three parables: “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” Again, Jesus says, “In the same way … there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The third and last parable in this series is the parable of the Prodigal Son. I want to do something different here because we have looked at the lost sheep and the lost coin representing tax collectors and sinners, all those who are thought unworthy. But what about those like the Pharisees who keep the law perfectly and are faultless in their devotion, or so it seems; what about them? For this, we need to go to 1 Timothy 1:12–17, and I am going to call this the Prodigal Pharisee. This is not a parable, but a real-life account.

The Prodigal Pharisee (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) in Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor. He was an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin with an exceptional education (Philippians 3:5). Trained and raised as a Pharisee, Paul studied in the Jerusalem school of Rabbi Gamaliel, a leading Jewish thinker of his time. This would be like studying under theologians like Karl Barth or N. T. Wright.

Pharisees were a sect of Jewish religious leaders that had arisen during the time between the Old and New Testament in response to the growing secularization in Israel. They were known for their intense zeal for God’s law. So much so that their clinical and over burdensome zeal for the law of God blinded them when the very God they worshiped stood in front of them in the person of Jesus Christ, while his kingdom was breaking into their world.

Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, he persecuted the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:5b–6). He was informed about the followers of Jesus who were known then as “the Way”. Filled with zealous fury against those who would later be known as the Christians, Paul pursued them, going from house to house, imprisoning them, and having them executed.

Yet, this Pharisee, an expert in the law of God breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, was found and rescued by Jesus on his way to the synagogues in Damascus. Here the resurrected Christ appeared to him face to face when a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:1­–4). “Saul” is the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek name, Paul. He reflects many years later as he writes to his apprentice, Timothy:

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:13–16).

Despite Paul’s blasphemy, violence, and persecution of the church, Jesus rescued him, and so he proclaims, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” Understandably, Paul was received into the church with caution because of all the pain and destruction he had caused, and reconciliation was not instant. He spent 14 years after his conversion growing in his faith before he went again to Jerusalem. Only after that did he begin his missionary journeys spreading the good news to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:18; 2:1–2).

Paul’s unrivaled intellect and his unwavering commitment to the mission of Christ made him the central figure in Christianity and its expansion in the ancient world.

Jesus: Rescuer, and Physician

We can learn two lessons from this Prodigal Pharisee, the first is that no one is unredeemable. Jesus goes out to rescue the worst of sinners. Those who know me well enough know that when I sin and I come to repentance I repeat over and over, “There is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in me.” I live by this! For those who dare to say, “My sin is too great!” Know this, “Paul’s sin was greater, and Jesus’ mercy and saving power were infinitely greater than Paul’s sin.”

The second lesson is this: Jesus goes out to find the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal Pharisee, not to make them Christians to go to church on Sundays, as important as that is, but he rescues us for his purpose. He has a purpose for each of us, he calls you and I to participate in his mission. I urge you to find out what God’s purpose is for you, and if you are unsure what God’s purpose for you is, begin by loving and serving others; that will go a long way in living in God’s purposes, even if you don’t know the specific details of God’s purpose for you yet.

Christianity is not a crutch, it is more than that, it is a hospital. For some of us, we are lost and wounded in the very heart of the bloodied battlefield, and Jesus is extending his nailed pierced hands offering you a firefighter’s lift and will hoist you on his shoulders, there is nothing you need to do, just accept his mercy.

For the rest of us, Jesus calls you and me to be a Desmond Doss, to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world of tremendous loneliness, suffering, and woundedness, and point others in our words and actions to Jesus Christ the great rescuer and physician.

Synopsis of Hacksaw Ridge adapted from:


bottom of page