September 11 marks the Twentieth Anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil. Nearly 3,000 Americans died, including more than 300 New York City firefighters and first responders when three hijacked commercial airliners toppled the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and penetrated the Pentagon. A fourth commercial airplane, believed to be headed for the White House or U.S. Capitol, crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers fought the militant-Islamist al-Qaeda terrorists on board.
We honor the memory of the victims of 9/11 and celebrate the sacrificial heroism of the first responders who bravely ran into the doomed Trade Center Towers as well as the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who fought to prevent the fourth airplane from hitting its intended target. And let’s not forget the sacrifice of the more than 2,450 American service members and nearly 3,900 U.S. contractors who died in Afghanistan over the past 20 years for the cause of freedom.
America’s resiliency over the past two decades has not faded since rescue crews pulled 20 survivors from the smoldering mountain of melting steel and concrete at Ground Zero. Remarkably, this past week, human remains from the Trade Center collapse were identified through DNA analysis. A feat that would not have been possible without the tireless and sacrificial search and rescue efforts of iron workers, structural engineers, heavy machinery operators, asbestos workers, boilermakers, carpenters, cement masons, construction managers, electricians, machinist, insulators, plumbers and pipefitters, riggers, sheet metal workers, steelworkers, truckers, American Red Cross personnel, countless disaster relief volunteers and 400 rescue dogs.
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released in early September revealed that, two decades since that infamous day in history, Americans increasingly believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks have forever changed their lives—even more so than COVID-19.
THE ULTIMATE FIRST RESPONDER
Yet some 2,000 years ago, The First Responder came on a rescue mission from Heaven to Earth to sacrifice His life so you and I could be set free from the bondage of sin and its penalty of death. That mission not only split the timeline of history but also changed eternal destinies “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
This is amazingly Good News because, in spite of our imperfections and depravity, we have a perfect, sinless Savior who was crucified on a cross in our place, so we could be made right with a Holy and Righteous God. In Isaiah 53:3-6, the Old Testament Prophet foretold of the Suffering Servant by whose wounds Christ-followers are healed. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Ponder the reality of this fulfilled prophecy. Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless Son of God, was scorned, rejected and publicly humiliated by being nailed, naked and bloodied, to a cross. Even though He was innocent, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, subjected Himself to His subjects’ judgment. In other words, the Creator of the Universe voluntarily submitted His glorious perfection, majesty, power and authority to the hands of those He had created.
Don’t miss this. Jesus didn’t surrender His Deity and He wasn’t a martyr. Martyrs willingly sacrifice their lives for causes bigger than themselves by taking stands that seal their fate. But martyrs can’t control when and how they die. At any moment, Jesus could have commanded legions of angels to free Him from the cross and spare Him the violently dehumanizing torture of the crucifixion.
When Christ hung on an old rugged cross between two thieves atop Golgotha’s hill, He did not surrender to the will of the Roman government—but to the will of His Father in Heaven. And He did this because of His unfathomable love for you and me.
First Peter 2:24 explains: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Those healing stripes are from the gaping wounds in Jesus’ flesh caused by the scourging at the hands of Roman soldiers.
According to Roman tradition, soldiers mercilessly struck their victims with a short cluster of whips similar to what’s known as a cat-o-nine-tails. Each strand of leather had a sharp piece of bone or metal attached to the end of it. When struck across the body it would rip off layers of flesh in strips several inches wide, causing excruciating pain and excessive bleeding.
According to Roman law, Jesus received 39 lashings across his back, chest and torso area. Then He was crowned with a wreath of thorns and had to carry His cross until He collapsed under its weight. After being crucified, soldiers pierced His side with a spear. Though He was God in the flesh, we should never minimize the inhumane suffering Jesus endured on our behalf.
“THE BLOOD OF MARTYRS IS THE SEED OF CHRISTIANS,” said Tertullian
Because God sacrificed His Son for our forgiveness and raised Him to everlasting life, Jesus’ disciples were compelled to sacrifice their lives so that the Gospel might reach around the globe for future generations.
Church historians’ accounts of what happened after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven tell of His disciples’ costly faithfulness. Philip was strapped to a pillar and stoned to death. Matthew was staked to the ground with spikes and beheaded. Jude was pummeled to death with sticks and clubs. Simon was tortured and crucified. John, son of Zebedee, was tortured and exiled to the island of Patmos. James, brother of John, was beheaded. The other James was pushed off the top of a building, then his broken body was beaten to death. Andrew hung on a cross for three days before dying. Bartholomew was beaten, skinned alive and crucified before being beheaded. Thomas was tossed into a fiery furnace, then speared with a javelin. And Peter was crucified upside down.
All of Jesus’ beloved disciples except John died a martyr’s death because they trusted in the risen Lord with all their heart. They refused to cowardly deny that Jesus had risen from the grave. In spite of the brutally violent attempts to snuff out the spread of Christianity, Jesus’ disciples did not relent or recant.
Even today, as Christianity is increasingly under attack in America while Christian persecution around the globe intensifies, Christ-followers are continuing to answer the call to say like the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Do you have a first responder type of faith that compels you to help rescue others from the condemnation of their sin by sharing God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ?