Smoke and haze filled the air and flashes of fire could be seen in the distance. The bombardment began on Tuesday afternoon and continued throughout the night as the cannons on British warships kept up their merciless pounding of Fort McHenry in the Baltimore harbor.
The war had begun two years before, in 1812, over the right of the United States to neutrality in the shipping lanes during Britain’s wars with the French ruler, Napoleon. Francis Scott Key, a noted Washington lawyer, and John S. Skinner were meeting with the British to negotiate the release of a close friend, William Beanes, held captive on a British ship in Baltimore’s harbor. For this reason they found themselves on a prisoner-exchange boat at the rear of the British fleet.
Successful in obtaining their friend’s release, they were held in temporary custody lest they return to Baltimore and provide an early warning of the imminent attack.
Throughout the night and into the early morning hours of September 14, 1814, these two Americans paced the deck, deeply concerned for the ill-equipped fort that was Baltimore’s only protection. When the morning was come, fog settled over the harbor. It was past 7 o’clock when a break in the mist gave Francis Scott Key a clear view of the American flag still proudly flying over the walls, signaling the survival of Fort McHenry.
At the sight of the flag, he hurriedly wrote verses of poetry on the back of an unfinished letter to express his delight. Later, these four verses were set to the music that we sing today as the “Star-Spangled Banner.” In 1913 an executive order made this song the national anthem for the US.
There was another event that also took place in the early morning, nearly two thousand years ago; an incident of far greater importance and consequence to our souls. Whatever may have been the causes for the mistrust and hostilities of the War of 1812, there is no question that hostility to God and sin in the human heart was at work in this other, greater event. The Gospel of Matthew records: “and when the morning was come all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.”
The Lord Jesus was taken by men and given a mock trial. He was falsely accused. The Roman Governor, Pilate, announced, “I find no fault in Him.” But, willing to appease the people, Pilate ordered Roman soldiers to lead the Savior to the place of execution outside the walled city of Jerusalem. He, the Son of God without sin or fault, was a victim of the early morning plotting of sinful men who wanted Him dead.
The Bible tells us our sins stand between God and us. “For your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). It was for our sins that He was crucified at Calvary. I Peter 2:24 tells us of the Lord Jesus, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”
The Son of God bore the penalty and judgment from God for our sin. Another verse in that same book tells us, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”
The Lord Jesus gave His life’s blood so that our sins might be forgiven. How can you come into the good of this event and know with certainty that your sins are forgiven? Look again to God’s Word: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It was the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered the penalty for sins. Trusting Him as your Savior will bring you everlasting life and forgiveness of sins.
“Be it known unto you therefore … that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; And by Him are that believe are justified from all things (cleared from every charge of guilt), from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).