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“Earn It”

Two nights ago, I watched the movie, Saving Private Ryan.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I’m sure that most of you have seen it before.  It was made in 1998.  Somehow, it never made its way to my DVD player, although I have heard references to it many times.

This was probably the first time in a long while that I’ve sat, riveted, to the television…no knitting in my hands.  I did not want to miss a single scene.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I’ll sum up its storyline.

Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is tasked with the job of searching for Private Ryan (Matt Damon), a paratrooper who has landed somewhere behind enemy lines.  General George Marshall orders Private Ryan’s extraction after learning of the death of Ryan’s three brothers. His desire is to spare Ryan’s mother further heartbreak.

The movie is graphic.  War is not a pretty thing though.

I sat, horrified, as I watched soldiers get slaughtered on Omaha Beach.  When I heard a reference to Kasserine Pass, I was proud that I had paid attention during my military history class.  I knew that this was the site of a battle in North Africa during an early phase of World War II.

As I watched the movie, I listened for a line that my pastor spoke about in a recent sermon.

You can hear Captain Miller utter the words in the following scene:

If you missed it, he says, “Earn this; earn it.”

Poignant words.

He was telling Private Ryan that he needed to live his life in a way that would be worthy of the lives sacrificed to save it.

I couldn’t help but think about Jesus, who sacrificed His life so that we — sinners — could live.

There are a couple of popular “theories” about going to heaven:

1)  You have to earn your salvation by doing “good” things.

2)  If you don’t do anything “bad,” then you’re a “good” person and will go to heaven.

According to the Bible, both trains of thought are misguided.

God’s Law demands a payment for sin.  God will only accept the blood of an innocent one — hence the sacifice of an unblemished lamb in Old Testament times.

There is nothing we can do to earn salvation.  It is a gift offered to all people.

Go through the 10 Commandments and ask yourself how many you’ve broken.  The Bible says that hating someone is the same as murder (1 John 3:15).  Lusting after another person is the same as committing adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28).  Stealing is…well…stealing, whether it be another’s words (plagiarism) or time on the job (i.e. goofing off).  Taking the Lord’s name in vain is blasphemy (Exodus 20:7).

There is not one person on earth who can say they have kept all ten Commandments.  Hence, every single person is “bad” according to these standards.

What if I had been standing in front of Jesus as he neared the time of his death.  I wondered if He would have told me to, “Earn this.”

I remembered the story of the criminals who were crucified with Jesus.

In Luke 23:39-43, we read the following:

39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]

43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I am so thankful that Jesus didn’t look across at the criminal on the cross and said, “Earn this; earn it.”

That criminal couldn’t.  He had been condemned to die.  He was hanging on his own cross.  His life was over.

He knew he was a sinner.  He acknowledged it before God (remember that Jesus is God).

He knew he needed a Savior and recognized Christ’s authority over sin.

Powerful stuff and a powerful example to us.

We cannot earn our way to heaven.  Just like the criminal, we are condemned to die.

This sounds harsh, but the message should not be sugar-coated.  Yes, I know that’s the popular way to present the Gospel these days, but folks, it’s the truth.

The awareness of our sinful nature should drive us to our knees in humble submission to God.

One day we will be asked to pay the penalty for our sins.  We may have served on the PTA, given food to the homeless, or taken in stray animals, but at the end of our lives, those things won’t matter.  Just like my “good” works didn’t exempt me from paying my speeding ticket last summer, neither will they cover over my sins on Judgment Day.

Good works FOLLOW salvation.  They do not precede it.

I’d venture to bet that had the criminal, by some miracle, been granted a stay of execution at the very last moment, he would have lived out his days in service to our Lord.

What did follow that man’s conversion was God’s grace.  Surely it softened death’s sting.  All he had to do was ask for it and take hold when forgiveness was offered.

Perhaps the most fitting words are, “Accept it.”  In doing so, we bring glory to Jesus for the sacrifice He made for us.

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