Wednesday, December 20, 2006

“Saving Private Ryan” and God’s seeking heart

Poster from Wikipedia's review of Saving Private Ryan at weeks ago, I bought from the National Bookstore a bargain priced, original video of “Saving Private Ryan.” As a lot of you may know, “Saving Private Ryan” is the 1998 Academy Award winning film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. Nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, the film, set in World War II, won in five categories (Best Director; Best Film Editing; Best Cinematography; Best Sound; and Best Sound Effects Editing).

When I first saw “Saving Private Ryan,” I was amazed at the parallels with the Bible’s message of a sovereign God undertaking a daring mission in enemy territory to rescue lost men and women. But I’m getting ahead of the point of this article …

Wikipedia in its review of “Saving Private Ryan” summarizes the film’s events in this way:

The story follows a squad of U.S. Army Rangers from the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944 to their defense of a strategic bridge in the fictional French town of Ramelle on the Merderet River. The film begins with a graphic recreation of the landing of the first wave of troops on the beach. The film focuses on Captain John Miller who eventually manages to lead a group of men through the German beach defenses to reach the heights overlooking the beach.

The story shifts to the U.S. War Department offices where thousands of death notification letters are being typed for delivery to the families of the dead soldiers. It is discovered that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family have all died within days of each other and that their mother will receive all three notices on the same day. The fourth son, James Francis Ryan, a paratrooper, remains unaccounted for somewhere in France. General George Marshall orders that he be found and sent home immediately.

The scene changes back to Europe, where Miller assembles a group of eight men to carry out the order of finding Ryan and returning him safely to the rear. One of the men, Upham, is a map maker and budding novelist who is included in the squad as a French and German interpreter. He is shunned by the others, who see him as an outsider and a liability to the squad; he clearly lacks the physical qualities of a soldier. They scoff at his plans to write a book about the bonds of brotherhood that develop between soldiers in combat. Upham also discovers from the others that they have a cash pool going to determine Miller's home town and his peacetime occupation.

Possessing virtually no information as to Ryan's whereabouts or the location where his unit parachuted into France, Miller and his men must move from town to town and among other American units to find him. Shortly after the unit arrives in a small village under heavy counter-attack by German forces, Caparzo is killed by a sniper. They hear Ryan may be with a unit of Airborne troops fighting for control of the village. Unfortunately, he turns out to be an entirely different man, James “Frederick” Ryan.

Growing increasingly frustrated, Miller's squad pushes ahead and comes across a field where wounded soldiers have gathered. A glider pilot has collected the dog tags of dead men and Miller's men search through them. Ryan's name is not among them, and, in desperation. Miller begins asking passing soldiers at random if they have seen or know him. Miller gets lucky and finds a friend of Ryan's (the man has lost his hearing from a close grenade explosion and yells all his answers, in a rare moment of humor in the film). He tells them that Ryan has joined a mixed unit and is defending a bridge in the nearby town of Ramelle.

Before arriving in Ramelle, the squad finds an abandoned radar outpost guarded by three German soldiers armed with an MG42 machine gun. The discovery of a squad of dead GIs, pparently ambushed by the gunners, leads to Miller's decision to attack the position despite the objections of his men. During the ensuing action, Wade (the squad's medic) is fatally wounded. The unit takes its anger out upon the only surviving German soldier, first beating him and then ordering him to dig graves for Wade and the other dead Americans. Miller takes a moment for himself, quietly weeping over the loss of Wade and Caparzo, and the stress of the situation he and his squad find themselves in. Upham develops a rapport with the German soldier (referred to as ‘Steamboat Willie’ in the credits, due to part of their conversation), and over the protests of the squad, who want to execute the soldier, Miller orders the man blindfolded and released. Hot-headed Brooklynite Reiben is pushed to mutiny by this action and threatens to desert the squad. The ensuing argument climaxes when Horvath points his pistol at Reiben and threatens that if he does not rejoin the squad, he'll be shot. Miller defuses the situation by revealing his civilian vocation (an English teacher) and his quietly emotional speech about duty and responsibility convinces Reiben to stay.

As they approach Ramelle, the squad encounters a German half-track personnel carrier and hide, puzzled when it is heavily damaged by an unexpected explosion. After a brief firefight, the squad makes contact with a small Airborne patrol armed with a bazooka. By chance, one of the soldiers is Ryan.

The squad joins the remainder of Ryan’s Airborne unit holding the bridge in Ramelle. The bridge is strategically important; the German and American armies both need to hold it in order to cross the Merderet River. Miller tells Ryan about the deaths of his brothers, but Ryan refuses to leave his unit, even under Miller’s direct orders. Unable to complete their original mission as planned. Miller and Horvath decide that the squad will stay to defend the bridge from German attacks.
Soon after, Ramelle comes under attack by Waffen SS tanks and infantry who outnumber and outgun the Americans; the force consists of at least 50 men accompanied by self-propelled guns and Tiger tanks. Running out of ammunition and anti-tank weapons, the Americans are pushed back by superior numbers and firepower. Jackson, in a sniper’s post in the bell tower, shoots German soldiers until he is killed when the tower is destroyed by a shell from a German Marder III. Mellish desperately holds a machine gun position in the window of a house, but is overrun by German soldiers after he runs out: of ammunition. A member of the Waffen SS (who is often mistaken for ‘Steamboat Willie’) kills him, with a knife after a short but brutal hand-to-hand struggle. Upham, who was supposed to be resupplying Mellish, sits paralyzed with fear on the stairs as the German leaves the room and passes him without a word.

Miller retreats across the bridge with Reiben, Ryan, and a badly wounded Horvath, who collapses and dies soon after. They prepare to destroy the bridge, but a near miss from one of the German tanks knocks Miller off his feet and sends the detonator flying. He attempts to venture back onto the bridge into heavy enemy fire to retrieve it, but is shot (though not killed outright) by ‘Steamboat Willie’, who has rejoined the German army since his release. Dazed and dying, Miller vainly fires his service pistol at the Tiger tank advancing across the bridge, when it impossibly explodes. Moments later, a pair of P51 Mustangs fly over, having arrived as air support and bombed the tank. Upham emerges suddenly from his hiding spot and takes several of the remaining Germans prisoner, including Steamboat Willie. Willie tries to talk to Upham, but, having witnessed Miller's shooting, Upham deliberately shoots him and tersely orders the others to leave.

Miller is tended to in vain by Reiben. His final words to Ryan are: “James... earn this. Earn it.” Ryan's face morphs into that of an old man, standing near Miller’s grave at Colleville-sur-Mer, where the film opens. Before saluting the grave, an emotional Ryan expresses his hope that Miller will regard the life Ryan has tried to lead as a ‘good man’ as enough to repay the debt he owes Miller and his squad for their sacrifice.
Essentially, the movie revolves around a daring rescue mission by squad of eight soldiers led by Capt. John Miller (played by Tom Hanks), meant to locate inside enemy held territory and bring home safely Pvt. James Francis Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in action. Gen. George Marshall, in act of grace and mercy for the grieving mother (just like Pres. Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War) had ordered Ryan rescued and brought back home.

The squad of soldiers (played by Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, and Giovanni Ribisi) encounters firefights, frustrations and disappointments in trying to locate and rescue Ryan. As two of their comrades are killed, the squad begins to seriously and mutinously question whether one man is really worth the sacrifices they have to make.

In one scene, Capt. Miller and his squad meet a glider pilot tending some wounded paratroopers. The pilot said that some 24 men died when the glider dropped like a big rock from the sky. Unknown to the pilot, the glider had been fitted with heavy metal plates to protect a general. Capt. Miller remarks as to the irony of 24 men dying just because one man selfishly wanted to ensure his own protection and survival.

When Captain Miller and the remaining members of his squad finally locate Ryan, the latter refuses to leave the other paratroopers defending the bridge. Ryan couldn’t understand what he did to merit Capt. Miller’s dangerous mission to locate and rescue him, while his other paratroopers were facing danger and death in defending the bridge.

When Capt. Miller lay dying in the climactic scenes of the movie, his last words to Ryan were, “James … earn this. Earn it.” In the last scene of the movie, decades after the war, Ryan tearfully asks his wife, “Tell me that I have lived a good life …” His hope was that he had lived a good life which could somehow repay the sacrifice of six soldiers who died trying to rescue him.

It is interesting to note how some of the soldiers died. The Jewish soldier (played by Adam Goldberg) cries at the beginning of the movie when he was given a Hitler Youth knife. He gets killed when he gets stabbed by a German soldier in a brutal hand to hand combat. Private Daniel Jackson (played by Barry Pepper), the sniper, kills Germans by specifically and deliberately picking out his targets and killing them with single shots. At the end of the movie, the German tank specifically and deliberately, much like a sniper, aims its cannon at Jackson and kills him with a single blast.

God’s seeking heart

Much like the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” the Bible tells the story of a sovereign God who undertook a daring mission to rescue men and women from their sins. Luke chapter 19, verse 10 says, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The best-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, tells us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The Bible declares in Romans 3:23 that God is holy and that men and women are sinners: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And what are the results of man’s sin? Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Unlike “Saving Private Ryan,” however, where Ryan for decades after his rescue, lived a good life in order to “earn” the grace that was shown to him and to repay the sacrifices of Capt. John Miller and his men, the Bible tells us that we do not earn our salvation by good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 say, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Or as Titus 3:5-6 state, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”

One of my favorite books, which I highly recommend to you, is Philip Yancey’s “What’s so amazing about grace?” (copyright 1977; Zondervan Publishing House; reprinted in the Philippines by OMF Literature Inc.). In page 45, Yancey states, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

Further on in page 70, Yancey defines “grace” in this way:
I grew up with the image of a mathematical God who weighed my good and bad deeds on a set of scales and always found me wanting. Somehow I missed the God of the Gospels, a God of mercy and generosity who keeps finding ways to shatter the relentless laws of ungrace. God tears up the mathematical tables and introduces the new math of grace, the most surprising, twisting, unexpected-ending word in the English language.

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more – no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less – no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us much as an infinite God can possibly love.
The Bible declares that Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for the forgiveness of our sins. Colossians 1: 12 to 22 tell us:
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.
Acts 4:12 tells us that salvation is by Christ alone: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

What must we do then? God, man, Christ, response - repentance and faith
Who is God? The Creator and sovereign Lord

God exists. He is the Creator. Because He made us, we are totally dependent upon Him. He can do as He pleases. He is in charge of the universe. (Genesis 1:1)

God is holy. He never sins. He always does what’s right. (1 Peter 1:15-16)

God loves us. He wants to have a friendly relationship with us. He wants us to be saved and has provided a means of salvation. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 2 Peter 3:9)

God is absolutely sovereign. He’s the King of kings. (Ephesians 1:11)

As Creator, God is worthy of man’s worship. (Revelation 4:11)
What is man? Utterly sinful and unable to save himself.

People are basically sinful. People do bad things because they are sinful. Each person has sinned against a holy God. (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 5:12, 3:10-23)

Man is dead in trespasses and sin. He has no fellowship with God. (Ephesians 2:1, 4:17-19)

Sinners are separated from and under the wrath of God. This is man’s primary problem, and he cannot solve it by himself. (John 3:18, 36)

Sin deserves to be punished. That punishment is eternal separation from God and from everything good. (Romans 6:23a; Isaiah 59:1-2, 64:6)

Those who remain in their sin will spend eternity in hell. (Revelation 20:14-15)
Who is Christ? The sacrifice, Savior and Lord

He is the Son of God, God in the flesh, and lived a perfect, sinless life. Jesus is the Savior. He came to save us from our sin. (Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; John 1:1; 1 Peter 2:22)

Christ died for our sins, was buried, and arose the third day. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Christ took the punishment for our sins. He suffered instead of us. He was our substitute. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:4-7)

He is the only way of salvation. There is no other means. (John 14:6; Acts 4:12)

Jesus is both Lord and Savior. We must recognize His Lordship. Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; Romans 10:9)
How should I respond to the Gospel? Repent of my sins and trust in Christ.

The gospel message demands a response. Just knowing the facts of the gospel does not mean that one is saved. You must make a personal decision regarding the facts.

Simply acknowledging your sin is not enough (e.g., Judas was sorry that he sinned). people to turn from their sin and seek forgiveness. And when you trusts Christ as Savior, you are also recognizing Him as Lord. Christ as the New Testament presents him is both Lord and Savior.
Salvation occurs when you repent of your sin and believe in the person and work of Christ. (John 3:16; Acts 20:21)

Repentance is turning away from and rejecting sin and turning to God. It is being sorry for sin and wanting to be forgiven. 1 Thessalonians 1:9; Acts 20:21, 26:20)

Faith is trusting in Christ to forgive you. It is a trust in and commitment to Him. It is trusting Christ alone to be saved. Belief consists of knowledge, assent, and wholehearted trust. (John 3:16, 36, 5:24; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Discipleship is costly. Following Christ may require a major change in your lifestyle. (Luke 14:33)
Eternal life here and now

The first 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” graphically portray American soldiers experiencing horrendous kinds of death as they stormed Omaha Beach defended by the Germans spewing gunfire from their bunkers. The good news of the Bible is that if you have truly repented of your sins and believed in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have eternal life here and now. As I John 11 - 13 tell us, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”


Merry Christmas!

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