Saving Private Ryan was a popular movie released in July, 1998. The story is centered around a mission assigned to Army Rangers to penetrate deep into enemy territory during WW II to find and bring to safety paratrooper Private James Francis Ryan. Ryan had three brothers who had all been killed in the war. A preacher and former Army Ranger living in Seattle named Tom Allen saw the movie. He later wrote that he was “extremely proud” of the movie until the last minute. After many skirmishes and some Rangers killed along the way, the unit finally finds Ryan and tells him, “Come with us. We’ve come to save you.” Near the end of the movie, they do indeed save him, but only after a fierce, gory battle in which only a few Rangers survive, including Ryan. Tom Hanks, the leader of rescue mission, has been shot and is on the ground dying. Then comes the moment Tom Allen says made him angry as a former Ranger. As Ryan leans over Hanks, Hanks whispers, “Earn this.” Allen writes, “Everyone in the theater is crying because Tom Hanks was shot; I was crying because he said, ‘Earn this.’ The reason that made me angry is no Ranger would ever say, ‘Why?’ Because the Ranger motto for the past 200 years has not been ‘Earn this’ [but] Sua sponte, ‘I chose this.’ I volunteered for this.” Allen says that if Hanks was really a Ranger he would have said, “Sua sponte, I chose this … I give up my life for you” (from preachingtoday.com). I saw the movie, and it is a gripping war story based on actual events.
Now consider – the gospel of Christ is about Jesus’ mission to save us as sinners from losing our souls. The Bible says in Matthew 1:21 the virgin Mary would miraculously conceive and “bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Luke relates more fully in Luke chapter 1–2 about circumstances of Jesus’ birth. The scene should still evoke awe and wonder. Jesus, God come in human flesh, was born through a virgin’s womb, then wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. From that arresting scene of weakness and vulnerability, all four gospel accounts move along to Golgotha, the only other place on earth I would never expect to see God — battered, bloodied, and nailed to a rough, wooden cross. And all of it (from His birth to death and then, praise God, resurrection) Bible writers assert, to save us from sins which separate us from God. We do not have space here to dig into it, but we can’t earn or merit or deserve or pay for what Christ did. He saved us by His grace. That doesn’t mean faith and gospel obedience is unnecessary (Ephesians 2:8-10 * Hebrews 5:9 * Galatians 3:26-27). But my friend, if there was any way we could have earned our rescue from sin, why the cross? The one thing we must never hear God saying through the cross is, “Earn this.” Nothing—not money, human ingenuity, power, popularity—nothing could be more false than the notion sinners can save themselves (Matthew 19:25-26). Jesus was not a victim. His death for our sins was voluntary. He said, “I lay down my life for the for the sheep…No one takes it from Me” (John 10:11, 16-18). No wonder the apostle Paul would write, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Jesus chose to die for you. Why would you not choose to live for Him?