“Remember the Alamo” was the thunderous battle cry of General Samuel Houston when he led his army in a fierce battle against Mexican President General Santa Anna on the banks of the Jacinto River on April 21, 1836. The battle lasted only eighteen minutes, and Texas became an independent country. On December 29, 1845, it became the 28th state of the United States of America.
During my recent vacation in San Antonio, I was fascinated by the history of the Alamo. Alamo was initially founded as a Roman Catholic religious mission in 1724 and eventually turned into a fortress for some two hundred men, including such famous men as James Bowie, William B. Travis, and David Crockett. These men were voluntarily defending the fort against the encroaching forces of the Mexican General Santa Anna. His final assault on the Alamo in the early morning hours on March 6, 1836, lasted only 90 minutes, and every one of the brave men defending the fort died.
As I toured the old fort and went through the exhibits, one name stood out: James Butler Bonham (1807–1836). Although he is one of the lesser figures of the Alamo, he played a key role, for he was a courier or a messenger of the Battle of Alamo whom Travis sent to get aid for the men trapped in the Alamo. During Bonham’s final mission to bring news to Travis that reinforcement was not forthcoming, many outside the Mexican lines tried to dissuade him from returning to Alamo. In response, Bonham spat on the ground and said, “I will report the result of my mission to Travis or die in the attempt.”
A fascinating truth about this “Messenger of the Alamo” is we do not know what he looked like. He died before the advent of photography, and no portrait of him exists. In the capital city of Austin, Texas, there is a portrait named James Butler Bonham, which actually is the portrait of his nephew, who presumably resembled James Butler Bonham. According to a published anecdotal story, the family of Bonham wanted to place the picture of the nephew so people may know the appearance of the man who “fought and died for freedom.”
As I mused on this historical tidbit, I could not help but think of what Jesus told Philip when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus said to Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus was the express image of the Father such that when the disciples of Jesus saw Him, they were seeing the “portrait” of the Father. But they didn’t know it. Jesus Christ, who walked the dusty roads of ancient Palestine, is not with us now in flesh and blood. But because of His atoning death on the cross, resurrection from the grave, ascension to heaven, and sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, Jesus lives in us. The question is, how can people see Jesus in us? They can only see Jesus if we resemble Him in our character, conduct, and conversation. In the words of an old hymn, “While passing through this world of sin, and others your life shall view, be clean and pure without, within, let others see Jesus in you.”
When Jesus was on the earth, He was the light of the world (John 9:5). Now that He has ascended to heaven, He has commissioned us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13–14). The Alamo invokes different images in different people. For me, it stands as a vivid reminder that just as James Butler Bonham faithfully served as the messenger of the Alamo, we must be willing to carry the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mk. 16:15; Acts 17:30–31) to the world even if it means facing death. Unlike the messenger of the Alamo, who had no good news to convey to those trapped in the fortress, we have the good news of the gospel that says all who call on the name of Jesus will be set free from the bondage of sin and fear of death (Rom. 10:13).