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LIVING, DYING, LIVING AGAIN.

EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE 2003

Ephesians 2:8 
18th April 2003

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age had a front page story entitled "Saving Private Lynch: US gets its own back." It is the inspiring story of the midnight raid by US Marines in Iraq who rescued an injured prisoner of war, Private Jessica Lynch.

Private Jessica Lynch, aged 19, is now home in the United States recovering from her injuries. She has a head wound, a spinal injury, fractures to her right arm, both legs, and her right foot and ankle. She was captured on March 23 after her Company convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah. When US commandos staged their daring rescue, they found a frightened woman hiding under a sheet as they stormed into her hospital room. A US Marine called to her as he approached her bed, "Jessica Lynch, "We are United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home". Peering from behind the sheet as he removed his helmet, she looked up and said, "I'm an American soldier, too". The rescue of Jessica Lynch will remain one of the better images of the horrific war in Iraq.

1. LIVING.

Everyone in her home town remembers Jessica as a vibrant young woman. She was full of life with a willingness to help people and to serve her country. That was the way people thought of Jesus. He was such an outstanding person many wanted Him to become King. People remembered the way Jesus cared for the needy, healed the sick, and comforted the widow. That was why they found His death and burial overwhelming.

The newspaper heading about Private Jessica Lynch reminded me of the Oscar winning Stephen Spielberg film, "Saving Private Ryan." That central plot concerns three brothers who have been killed in World War 11 while a fourth was alive behind enemy lines. General George C. Marshall, hearing of this, and turns to a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby during the Civil War when her five sons had been killed. Abraham Lincoln promised no mother would ever again lose her entire family of sons. General George C. Marshall decided that the fourth brother must be found and returned home. The unfolding story is of a small team of eight soldiers charged to find and return Private Ryan even at the cost of their own lives.

Some died saving Private Ryan. We are spared nothing of the sacrifice, death and questioning whether it is all worthwhile. You ask "Is Private Ryan worth the cost?" When Private Ryan is eventually found, his Captain grimly says: "Earn this!" But how could Ryan earn the release from death and the gift of new life given him?

2. DYING.

All over Iraq today, there are people who have been liberated at tremendous cost. One Iraqi was quoted in the newspapers as saying, "I was born 30 years ago, but today is the first day I have lived." When Jesus died upon the Cross people knew the reality and cost of the Cross. The pain and death was real.

The film "Saving Private Ryan" concludes with Ryan, now an aged veteran, at a Normandy war cemetery, with its lines of gravestones. As Ryan views the stones his memories and insights are sharpened by the horror of it all. He falls to the ground at the foot of a memorial cross, in tears and wonders if he has earned this sacrifice. He asks his family members who have accompanied him, "Have I been good? Have I been worth the sacrifice?" His family, like people at a funeral, try to reassure him that his life has been good and that the sacrifice was worthwhile. But Private Ryan, in mature years, knows that there was nothing he could ever have done to earn his life. There was nothing in him that made him worthwhile.

The question for us is, are our lives of such value to merit Jesus dying for us? "Has my life, as it has been lived, been worthy of the sacrifice of Christ for me?" We stand beneath the Cross of Jesus, and wonder: "Died He for me, who caused His Pain, For Me, whom Him to death pursued?"

This is a profound question for each of us. When we confront the Cross we are deeply moved. "Saving Private Ryan" and "Saving Jessica Lynch" makes us think of Jesus dying to save us. The death of Jesus and invites our response. If it is true, have I earned it? Has your life been worth it?

3. LIVING AGAIN.

Jessica Lynch was literally brought out of the tomb to new life. So was Private Ryan. All Christians know that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they have been given a new chance.

When we look at the Cross of Jesus you must wonder, "Has my life been worth this sacrifice?" Some people believe their good deeds since have pleased God and so they have earned their salvation. Others, much more humble, believe they could never be worth the sacrifice of His Son. Both of these views are wrong! The Bible makes it clear when it over-turns our common values.

THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO EARN HIS SACRIFICE. One hymn writer put it very clearly: "Not the labour of my hands, Can fulfil Thy Law's demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone: Thou must save and Thou alone."

YET YOUR LIFE WAS WORTH HIS SACRIFICE. This is the amazing thing. In spite of everything you are, have ever thought and done, God still thinks you are worth the sacrifice of His Son. Even though you once rejected God, God graciously accepts you in Christ. Though God cannot approve of your sin if He is to remain righteous, God is not hostile towards you. He loves you. He has made possible our reconciliation to Himself. For "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that who-so-ever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life."

God loves the helpless. Even though it might be only one sheep that had strayed and was lost, God still thought it worth sending his Son to seek and save it. So with us, even at the cost of His own Son's life, God sent His Son to seek and to save the lost! That is incomprehensible! Such is the inexhaustible mercy in the loving heart of God. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8

When we stand beneath the Cross of Jesus, and consider His sacrifice to save us, Private Ryan, Private Lynch, Private Smith, Jones or whatever your name is, we can do nothing but throw ourselves at the foot of the Cross and ask: "Have I been good? Have I been worth the sacrifice?"

The answer is, you may have been good, but your goodness is not what saved you. It was the loving mercy of Jesus who died on the Cross so you could be saved.

Have you been worth the sacrifice? Yes, but not because of anything you are or have done. You are worth the sacrifice because God loves you. God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die in your place. All you can do is to throw yourself upon God's love for you and accept the gracious act of Christ's death in your place by faith.

But you will also endeavour from now on, to ensure your life will be lived in obedience and pleasing God. You will want to earn it, but no amount of righteous living or charitable acts or meritorious conduct can do that. All you can do is to receive it with thanksgiving.

That is why on Good Friday, Christians stand at the foot of the Cross and say: "Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood, Sealed my pardon with His blood: Hallelujah! What a Saviour!"

And that is why on Easter morning we realize that because He lives, we too can live. I know some of you object to that thought. You think it is just some Christian myth, something made up. You are not happy being an atheist, but you do not want others to know you want our joy and happiness at Easter. Yet you cannot believe that a "Second Adam, to the fight and to the rescue came." You stand there saying there is no God, and Jesus did not die for our sins, with all the conviction of the Iraqi Minister of Information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who stood before the TV cameras every day saying: "The American infidels are not winning. They are committing suicide by the hundreds at the gates of Baghdad. Be assured Baghdad is safe."

The rest of the world knows the truth of Easter, but you persist with the lie. Last Thursday, an atheist who comes to our Thursday lunch-time Wesley Church service, said to me after I had preached on the meaning of the Cross: "It is not fair. You religious people are the ones who have holidays. The Muslims have Ramadan, the Jews have Passover and you Christians have Easter. We atheists have nothing." I replied to him warmly, "Yes you do. You have April 1st!"

The Bible says "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Psalm 14:1

On this glorious Easter morning while the Christians are singing, "Christ the Lord is risen today" you hide under the sheets and wish it were true!

But listen! It is true! Jesus comes into your room and speaks to you by name. "Private Lynch, Private Ryan, (or whatever your name), I have come to protect you and taken you home!"

You have no rank, no status, no significance of your own. But God thinks you are worth it! Respond to Him with gratitude and thanksgiving! He died to rescue you, to bring you back to life, to take you home!

Peek out from under the sheets and realise it is the Risen Lord! He is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.