It was Tuesday, June 6th, 1944: What is known as “D-day” when the initial assault wave hit the shore at Omaha Beach. The men stormed the beach at 6:30 am and immediately lives began to be lost for the sake of their country. It was a bloody battle and the Americans hit the beach like ducks sitting on a pond as the bullets flew in all directions. In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller survived the initial, brutal conflict at Omaha Beach. He set out to accomplish the mission given to him by his country, but as he marched forward the mission changed.
Captain Ryan was given the mission of saving the life of one Private, a young man named James Ryan who had gone into the service of his country with three of his brothers. By the time that Captain Miller heard Private Ryan’s name for the first time the Ryan family had suffered tragic loss. All three of James’ brothers had been killed in battle and the U.S. Government did not want to have to send four folded flags home to Mrs. Ryan. To try and avoid the loss of all of Mrs. Ryan’s sons, the military decided to have Captain Miller find the young man and bring him home safely to his mother.
Captain Miller took eight of the men in his unit that were left and set out to accomplish their new mission. For those of you who have not seen the movie you need to know that the men were not excited at all about having to abandon their mission in order to look for one man. The question that pounded them like the gunfire on Omaha Beach was, “Why should eight men have to risk their lives for one man — one man who might not even be alive?”
As they made their way through treacherous situations looking for Private Ryan they encountered a sniper hidden in the ruins of a small village, they faced a standoff as they stumbled on a group of Germans, and they were faced with what to do with a German prisoner of war after they bombarded a machine gun nest. Eventually they surprisingly came across Private Ryan, who was part of a rag-tag group trying to hold one of the last remaining bridges over a particularly important river.
Now, all they had to do was to get him home. This proved to be almost as difficult as finding Private Ryan. They engaged in a gunfight that was bloody, brutal, and in which the Americans were severely outnumbered and outgunned. There were Germans everywhere the Americans looked. Gunfire was coming from every direction. There were bodies littering the landscape. Along with those problems the German tanks were trying to take the bridge that Private Ryan and his buddies were trying to hold. With the conflict so brutal, Captain Miller still had his one objective to hold onto: deliver Private Ryan home to his mother.
During the long battle Captain Miller was shot and was severely injured. He was leaning up against a motorcycle unable to move with a tank coming at him, the final tank. Captain Miller was so desperate that he took his gun and began shooting at the tank. He could have picked up rocks and thrown them at the tank and had just about the same chance for success. As the tank was bearing down on him, a plane roared overhead and blew up the tank. The fighter planes ended the battle, but they could not end Captain Miller’s pain as he prepared to die leaning against the jeep.
Private Ryan came up to Captain Miller to check on him. When he told him that “tankbusters” had saved the day, Captain Miller looked at the young man and said, “Angels on our shoulders.” Private Ryan, not understanding what Captain Miller had said, asked, “What?” Miller pulled him close and said, “Earn this. Earn this.”
The words are startling, but I doubt that Private Ryan understood the weight of the words that had just been laid upon his shoulders, “Earn this?” How do you earn the blessing of having someone lay down his life for you? How do you earn a sacrifice offered on your behalf?
The very next scene of the movie answers the question as Private Ryan, years older and moving towards his golden years, is standing in front of the headstone of Captain Miller at a military cemetery where heroes of every war have been buried. James Ryan, the civilian, looks at the grave and begins to talk to Captain Miller’s grave trying to explain to him that he has tried to live a good life. You can hear the lack of certainty in his voice. You can sense that he feels like he has let Captain Miller down. You can sense that he is so uneasy. He says, “Everyday I have thought about the words you spoke to me. I’ve tried to do the best I could.” Suddenly, James’ wife comes to his side and he turns and says, “Please tell me that I’ve lived a good life? Please tell me that I’m a good man?” Mrs. Ryan tries to comfort her husband by telling him that he has lived a good life, but you just get the sense from looking at him that Private Ryan still feels less than worthy even though he has tried to “earn” what Captain Miller and the other men sacrificed for him.
I’ve had that scene in my mind this past week as I’ve thought about another man who died for others. There are some stark contrasts in the lives of the two men. Don’t get me wrong Captain Miller is a true hero, a hero who sacrificed his life for Private Ryan, but his heroism falls far short of the other Man I’ve been thinking about this week. One of the contrasts that comes to mind is the manner in which the two men set out on their mission. Captain Miller was ordered to risk his life in search for Private Ryan, but Jesus willfully offered His life in order that you and I might live. Another contrast that jumps out at me is the last words of each of the men. As Captain Miller prepared to die he looked deep into Private Ryan’s eyes and said, “Earn this.” As Jesus drew His last breaths He looked down at those who had put Him on the cross and said, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”
By anyone’s estimation, what Captain Miller did in risking his life for Private Ryan was heroic. It doesn’t matter that he was ordered to do so, he didn’t have to obey orders. Captain Miller is a real hero and what he did moves us in the depth of our souls. He didn’t even know Private Ryan. Captain Miller had done nothing wrong to deserve dying for someone he didn’t even know, didn’t even care about. Yet, he was given an order and he followed those orders to his grave.
There is another stark contrast that immediately captured my attention at the end of the movie. It is the contrast between “earning” and “giving.” The contrast between “works” and “grace.” Because Private Ryan was told to “earn” the gift of life that had been given to him he was imprisoned for the rest of his life in the shackles of having to perform. Because Jesus freely gave Himself for us, His life as a gift of grace that never could be earned, it sets us free to live fully, without fear, in love with our Savior.
This is truly the heart of our Scripture study for this morning found in 1 John 4:13-5:2. For those who will receive Jesus’ gift of His sacrificial death for our sins, we can be set free to love Him with all of our heart and to share His love with those around us. Turn in your Bible and let’s take a look at our Scripture for today.
13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 5
1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. (1 John 4:`2-5:2 NIV)
Our lesson this week has many similarities to the Scripture that we studied last week. Last week we spent our time focusing on the mandate given to us to love others because of what God has done for us. This week I want to spend our time examining the love that God has demonstrated towards us.
There is so much misinformation circulating today about the nature of God and His relationship to His creation. I will assure you that there is nothing that is more crucial for our living this life to its fullest measure than for us to have a correct understanding of God. If you miss out and misinterpret the nature and character of God then you are most assuredly in for a lifetime of heartache and frustration. On the other hand, if you can gain a grip on the biblical understanding of God and the way He relates to His people then there is absolutely nothing that can keep you from living in the fullness of His grace, mercy, and joy.
With that said, there is so much misguided information that is being rained down upon vulnerable, misguided souls in our land. Much of this misinformation has been and is being circulated by false teachers who have made God in their image. Stop and think of the different ideas we hear almost on a weekly basis by those who claim to know God.
Many folk grew up with the idea that God is a giant killjoy who is lurking behind every corner to catch them doing something wrong so that He can punish them. They walk in fear, utter despair because of their lack of understanding concerning the heart of God.
If you’ve ever known a child who grew up in this kind of home then it is easy to understand how this mindset, this constant atmosphere of fear, can paralyze a person and cause them to not want to do anything for fear of messing up and suffering the wrath of their mom or dad.
What is true for a little child is also true for the person who believes in their heart that God is out to get them. Many of these folks throw in the towel in their efforts to serve God because they feel that they can never do enough to please Him and if they mess up then God is excitedly waiting to get them. Like Private Ryan they are thinking everyday about “earning” God’s approval.
There is another group of people who are convinced that God is like a grandfatherly figure that cuddles and coddles His grandchildren on His lap. No matter what the treasured grandchildren do, the grandfather simply smiles and says, “Aren’t they cute!”
Those who have this understanding of God totally miss the heart of God. They are convinced that it really doesn’t matter what they do or how they live. God, because of His love, will simply smile a grandfatherly smile and pat them on the head. God cares more for us than to pat us on the head and watch us walk into oblivion, into destruction.
God’s love for us is beyond comprehension. The greatest theologians of history have sought to unpack the love of God and make it understandable. Some of them have served us well with their eloquent words and descriptive definitions of God’s love, but none of them has fully captured the unbounded, limitless love of God showered upon His people.
God’s love is so great that it could never be contained in the pages of a book. God’s love is so vivid that no artist could ever capture its grandeur. God’s love is so immense that no building, no matter how ornately decorated, could ever contain it. God’s love is so deep that the deepest sea would be but a wading pool in the ocean of God’s love. God’s love is so wide that there is no person on earth, no matter how vile or hate-filled, that is out of His reach. God’s love is so costly that the richest people on earth could pool their fortunes and not raise the first payment on an eternal note.
What is even more remarkable about God’s love is that it is extended to those who are undeserving, unworthy, and who possess absolutely nothing within them that is attractive. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said,
It was not possible for any thing in man to have merited the incarnation and the passion of the Redeemer. Our redemption, like our election, springs from the spontaneous self-originating love of God. And our regeneration, in which we are made actual partakers of the divine blessings in Jesus Christ, was not of us, nor by us. We were not converted because we were already inclined that way, neither were we regenerated because some good thing was in us by nature; but we owe our new birth entirely to his potent love, which dealt with us effectually turning us from death to life, from darkness to light and from the alienation of our mind and the enmity of our spirit into that delightful path of love, in which we are now travelling to the skies. As believers on Christ’s name we “were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The sum and substance of the text is that God’s uncaused love, springing up within himself, has been the sole means of bringing us into the condition of loving him. (C.H. Spurgeon, sermon on 1 John)
Spurgeon, perhaps better than any other preacher, understood the depth of God’s great love for His creation. Spurgeon understood that even our decision to turn to God is preceded by God’s grace moving us towards Himself. Sin has so corrupted us, so infused the very core of our being that we are unable even to choose to surrender our lives to God – it is God’s grace that moves us from ourselves to seeking after His face.
John writes to his readers and over and over again seeks to communicate to them God’s unquenchable love that moves, motivates, and animates their very being. John says in verses 13-15,
13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
Just like Private Ryan tried to assess his worthiness of Captain Miller’s life offered for his, we take stock of our good deeds to try and assess the condition of our hearts. How many times have you heard someone say, “I hope that at the end of my life I’ve lived a good enough life to go to Heaven.” Or someone else may say, “Hey, I’m a good man, a lot better than old so-in-so so if that isn’t good enough for God then there isn’t much I can do about it.” Those comments come from folks who do not understand the heart of God, and they certainly don’t understand the depth of God’s love for them.
We can’t determine whether or not we are right with God by the measure of our good deeds. Our good deeds are mere testimonies of our being right with God. John says that we know that we live in Him and He in us because God has given us His Spirit. God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.
In Romans, Paul says that it is the Spirit Himself that testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Paul writes,
12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:12-17 NIV)
Paul is not the only biblical writer who understands the role God’s Spirit plays in confirming in our hearts that we are God’s children. John has already written in 1 John about the Spirits role in our lives as children of God.
24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24 NIV)
God loves us so very much that He has provided for us a constant reminder of our security as a son or daughter of God. There is no place that we can go that God’s still, small voice is not present to whisper in our ear, “You are mine and I love you.” There is no challenge or trial that you will ever go through that can silence His comforting voice letting you know that you are not alone – He is your strength and your comfort for all times and in all situations.
Max Lucado tells a wonderful story about a young girl named Christina who grew weary of growing up in her poor neighborhood. Christina’s mother, Maria, loved her with all of her heart, but her love was not enough to keep Christina satisfied. Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture–taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.
It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did. (Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah Press, 1986, pp. 158-9.)
Just as Christina’s heart had ventured far away from home, many of us have ventured far away from our Heavenly Father. This morning we may be wondering if we have traveled so far that we are now outside of His arms of grace. My friend, there is no place that you or I could ever travel that would extend beyond our Father’s compassionate reach. He says to you this morning, “Come home.”
John’s comforting words speak to our hearts at this point as he reminds us that we rely upon our Father’s love for us. Listen to these powerful words,
16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19We love because he first loved us.
It is God’s perfect love that we rely upon. In good times His love raises us to heights that we’ve never experienced before. During difficult days His love sustains us when we think we cannot go on. He carries us on His wings of love in a way that no other could ever carry us.
One of God’s faithful missionaries, Allen Gardiner, experienced many physical difficulties and hardships throughout his service to the Savior. Despite his troubles, he said, “While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me.” In 1851, at the age of 57, he died of disease and starvation while serving on Picton Island at the southern tip of South America. When his body was found, his diary lay nearby. It bore the record of hunger, thirst, wounds, and loneliness. The last entry in his little book showed the struggle of his shaking hand as he tried to write legibly. It read, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”
The great missionary understood the love of God in a way that I pray all of us can come to understand His unshakeable love. So much of what we hear about today concerning God is founded upon a “let the good times roll” theology. We look for God in all of the good times, but I will assure that God can be seen most clearly in the darkest days of our lives my friend. There is nothing that makes the Light shine so bright as the darkest night. Corrie Ten Boom learned this most valuable lesson from her sister, Betsie, while they underwent excruciatingly painful experiences during the crazed days of Adolf Hitler. Corrie once wrote,
Often I have heard people say, “How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!’” Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. “No, Corrie,” said Betsie, “He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: ‘For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.’” Corrie concludes, “There is an ocean of God’s love available–there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love–whatever the circumstances.” (Corrie Ten Boom)
This, my friend, is the greatest of all lessons for a follower of Jesus to take to heart. Today we find teachers describing how to be happy, how to have a happy marriage, how to make money in the stock market, how to experience healthy relationships, and how to get all you want out of life. There is nothing wrong with these lessons going out from our pulpits all over the country, but the real tragedy is that their value pales in comparison to the precious jewel of understanding God’s love for you and for me. If God’s Spirit will allow this lesson to sink deep into our hearts and begin to transform our lives then we will find that His love sets us free. We will be free to love God with all of our hearts. We will be free to love those around us with an unconditional love. We will be free to risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom of God knowing that our Father’s love will sustain us even when we fail and come short of His glory. It is God’s love that sets us free. It is God’s love that releases us from the fear of having to worry about earning His love. It is God’s love that under girds us each moment of our life.
I want to close this morning with another thought from Pastor Spurgeon that will give us something to meditate on, pray over, and allow us to ruminate upon day in and day out for the remainder of our days until Jesus comes. Let these words fall upon you like a sweet and gentle Spring shower.
He loved me before I was born; before a star begun to shine he loved me, and he has never ceased to do so all these years. When I have sinned he has loved me; when I have forgotten him he has loved me; and when in the days of my sin I cursed him, yet still he loved me; and he will love me when my knees tremble, and my hair is grey with age, “even to hoar hairs” he will bear and carry his servant; and he will love me when the world is on a blaze, and love me for ever, and for ever. Oh, chew the cud of this blessed thought; roll it under your tongue as a dainty morsel; sit down this afternoon, if you have leisure, and think of nothing but this-his great love wherewith he loves you; and if you do not feel your heart bubbling with a good matter, if you do not feel your soul yearning towards God, and heaving big with strong emotions of love to God, then I am much mistaken. This is so powerful a truth, and you are so constituted as a Christian as to be wrought upon by this truth, that if it be believed and felt, the consequence must be that you will love him because he first loved you.
God’s hearts desire this morning is that you and I would come to experience the depth, breadth, and wide open spaces of His love for us. I pray that if God is speaking to your heart and calling you to come home that you will respond to His voice and ask Jesus to come into your heart as Lord and Savior.