Summary: It’s too bad that not all believers experience the confidence God wants us to have as His children. But He has gone to great lengths to give us this confidence through the sending of His Son.
I think the greatest film that’s ever been made in the history of filmmaking, and this is my own humble opinion, is “Saving Private Ryan.” And the reason I like Saving Private Ryan so much is because it has one of the most potent theological statements ever made in film. The thing is it’s not an accurate theological statement, but it’s a potent one. If you don’t know the story, I will tell you the story.
It’s D-Day, and the allied forces have stormed the shore on Normandy. And after storming the shore, in that battle, in that terrible war and also in the war in Italy, there were three sons who died; three sons of a family of four sons. Those three sons died, and when the news of that reached the bureaucracy of the army, they discovered that not only were those three sons dead from the same family, but there was one brother who was still perhaps alive. And so they decided to bring him home. His name was Private Ryan, James Ryan. And so a small squad of men, a patrol, led by Captain John Miller (who is played by Tom Hanks) is told to go out through enemy territory and find this paratrooper, James Ryan, who has been dropped into enemy territory with thousands of other men, and bring him out. And so they go in and they go through a couple of other battles in the process, and they finally get to the town where he is with a small group of men, who are all that’s left of a group that’s trying to hold a bridge in this town. They’re trying to hold on to this bridge to keep the Germans from taking it. And if they aren’t able to hold it against the Germans, then they’re going to blow it up. Well, Tom Hanks (Captain Miller) and his men come and find Private Ryan and say, "Hey, you’re out of here! We’re taking you home." He says, "I’m not going. I’m here to do a job. These are the only brothers I have left. These men I’m fighting with here. And I’m not going." So, Captain Miller and his men decide to stay and they have a terrible battle. There are only about 20 of them against tanks and heavy guns. And, ultimately, near the end of the film (and I’m sorry to ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but here it is anyway) at the end Captain Miller (Tom Hanks’ character) gets shot trying to blow up the bridge just before the Germans take it. And then when he’s lying there dying, P-51s come in and bomb the tanks, and so the allied forces win. And there’s Captain Miller dying under the bridge. And James Ryan comes up to him and they’re talking together and Captain Miller whispers something and Private Ryan comes closer to him and he whispers again, and he says, "Earn this. Earn this." Well, I can’t give you a very accurate rendition of what happens next, so I want us to see that on the video.
Fifty years later James Ryan, with his family, goes back to the cemetery where Captain Miller is buried and finds the grave and talks to Captain Miller. (At this point we ran a video from the film, showing this scene.) Pretty sad. I don’t think that that man meant to put chains on James Ryan, but he really did. Didn’t he? Chains. And for 50 years that man woke up and wondered if today he would be able to earn what was done for him by those men. Most people would say, "Yes. That’s right. That’s what he should have done. Others died for him, so he owes them something. He has to earn what they did for him. And to spend 50 years trying, wondering that whole time if you were succeeding, it’s not only okay. It’s good."
Aren’t you glad that Jesus Christ didn’t say on the cross, "Earn this."? Aren’t you glad? And yet, I’m afraid some Christians believe just that. That we are to live a life and expect God to have that same attitude that says, "You’ve got to earn this now." You’ve got to wonder all the time if you’re good enough. You’ve got to spend your whole life in helpless insecurity, wondering if when you stand before God He will be able to look at you and say, ’Well, okay, you’re in.’" I’ve got some good news for you this morning. God doesn’t want you to think that you’ve got to earn it. That’s man’s idea. God is different. God is so incredibly different than that. And His response is, "Take it, it’s yours. It’s a gift. I am giving it to you. I am initiating this death for you to do for you what you could never do for yourself. And I want you to be confident, to be assured, to even be bold as you stand before Me."