Like many in our country I have been amazed by the stories of the men who gave their lives to protect the women in theater nine nearly two weeks ago. It has caused many to stop and reflect on the nature of manhood and the inherent desire in men to protect women in a moment of crisis. And many would say that is a good thing. We are thankful for the heroes, the protectors, and the men who gave the greatest sacrifice in the face of tremendous danger.
But in a lot of ways these stories fascinate us because we all feel the weight of what it means to sacrifice your life. We have grown up hearing stories of war heroes, ordinary men, and family members who considered the needs of others before themselves. And as much as our praise of such men is rooted in the God given understanding that men are supposed to protect, there is also a God given recognition that we all need a sacrifice in our place, even if that knowledge is masked by pride and sin. In the terrifying moments of danger threatening to overtake us, none of us would tell a would-be hero, “I would rather not have the sacrifice, thank you. I will take my chances.” Yet we do it all of the time when a far greater danger crouches at our door seeking to devour us. Our need for a sacrifice to absorb the violence of our sin is far greater than what any ordinary human being can ensure. They can only buy us a few more years, and after that comes judgment. But Christ has taken it all upon himself, and promises that no amount of earthly torment can take away the protection and provision that his substitutionary death accomplishes.
We are drawn to the stories of sacrifice and heroism because we all want to believe that this world is not as bad as it seems, and that there is hope in the midst of chaos. We all want to believe that when terror strikes we will have a sacrifice ready to take our place. And there is. His name is Jesus. He is the perfect protector, provider, and healer when everything else around us threatens to undo us. While we can praise these men who gave their lives for their family and friends, we must not let our praise stop there. There is a better sacrifice for us. It is a sacrifice that abolishes death and destruction. These men bravely gave their lives, but it cost them something that cannot be reversed apart from the sacrifice of another.
James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal tweeted earlier last week, somewhat insensitively, that he hoped these women were worthy of the sacrifice. He went on to explain that he meant that these women had been given a gift in the sacrifice, namely the gift of life. It is now their responsibility to use that gift well, essentially proving their worthiness of the sacrifice.
But if sacrifice is defined in terms of the worthiness of the recipient, then it is not really sacrifice at all, is it? What motivated these men to cover these women we will never fully know. But for many of us, we know what would motivate us. Love. Even if they had been fighting with their girlfriends’ right up to the start of the movie, these men probably would have still given their lives. Yet we want to know the details. We want to know the backstory to the relationship. We want to know that she was worth his life being taken from him. Why? Because like our gravitation towards sacrificial imagery, we like to know that the one receiving the sacrifice is worth it in the end. If one of these women had been cheating on her boyfriend, or ready to break-up with him, we would not appreciate the sacrifice as much. If she squanders her life over the next twenty years, we think he will have died in vain.
And a lot of times this is why it is so hard for us to accept the sacrifice of Christ. When Jesus died for sinners, like you and me, it had nothing to do with our worthiness as a recipient of his death. Yet, he did it anyway. He took every ounce of our sin on himself and covers us with his righteousness instead, protecting us from the horrific wrath to come, and there is nothing we did to deserve it. In fact, everything we have ever done proves we don’t deserve a lick of it.
The discussion surrounding these Aurora three and the women they saved is going to be around for a while, and it should. Over time stories may emerge about these men that portray them as less than ideal sacrifices. But it shouldn’t startle us. A mere earthly sacrifice by a boyfriend or husband, while noble and good, is not enough to remove the stain of sin. We need a greater sacrifice. The Old Testament saints knew this well when they continually had to return to the altar to make atonement for their sins. The blood of bulls and goats can no more take away sin than the blood of an imperfect man. We all need Jesus as our sacrifice.
So let us have the discussion about the great sacrifices made in Aurora. But let us not end there. As Christians, it should cause us to remember the even greater sacrifice that enables us to lay our lives down not only for our friends, but our enemies as well. It should compel us to tell those around us that the reason we are drawn to heroic tales is because we have a void in our souls telling us that we need to be rescued as well. And it should give us greater hope that no matter the sacrifice we make on this earth, we have been rescued from the greatest enemy of all—our sin. There is a day coming when this will all be over and we will be with our rescuer forever.