In the movie Saving Private Ryan, a group of Army Rangers receive a mission to go deep into enemy territory to save Private Ryan. They hit skirmish after skirmish, and some of them are killed along the way. They finally get to where Private Ryan is holed up, and they say, “Come with us. We’re here to save you.” He says, “I’m not going. I have to stay here because there’s a big battle coming up, and I’m not going to abandon my fellow soldiers.”
What do the Rangers do? They all stay and fight, and almost everyone dies except Private Ryan. At the end, one of the main characters—played by Tom Hanks—is sitting on the ground. He’s been shot and he’s dying. But the battle has been won.
Private Ryan leans over to him, and Tom Hanks whispers, “Earn this.” But it’s very unlikely that any Ranger would say, “Earn this.” Why? Because the Ranger motto for the past two hundred years has been “I chose this.” In other words, I volunteered for this. So, if Tom Hanks was really a Ranger, he would have said, “I chose this. You don’t have to earn this. I give up my life for you. That’s my job.”
And so, when you look at the cross and see Jesus hanging there, what you don’t hear is “Earn this.” What He says is “I chose this. You don’t have to pay anything for it” (adapted from Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion; citation: Tom Allen, Preaching Today #200).