Heroes: Instinct, Deliberation and Love

By David M. McNabb

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As  Wesley Autrey  stood waiting with two of his daughters for the next subway train, the 50-year-old resident of Manhattan knew nothing of the situation that was about to face him.  Cameron Hollopeter, 19, suffered a medical problem and fell onto the tracks.  With the train rapidly approaching the station, there was no time to think – only time to act.  Autrey jumped down to the tracks, rolled the young man into the drainage trough between the rails and held him still while the two train cars passed over them with just two inches to spare.  While the danger was great, no one was injured.  The next day, Autrey said, “It’s all hitting me now.  I’m looking and these trains are coming in now. … Wow, you did something stupid.”  But he has no regrets, as he said, “I did something to save someone’s life.”

About a week later, in Middleboro, Mass., Kevin Sullivan’s quick thinking averted a horrible disaster.  Sullivan, 59, was working on a highway crew on I-495.  He was in a vehicle called a “crash truck,” which has flashing lights and is designed to absorb shock if a driver fails to notice the work detail.  He noticed a fully loaded tractor-trailer truck driving down their lane at full speed.  He quickly repositioned his vehicle to take the full force of the truck.  The collision flipped Sullivan’s truck over the guard rail and into the woods below.  Then the truck slammed into the state police cruiser that had been ahead of the crash truck, before coming to a stop.  Due to Sullivan’s actions, the trooper suffered only minor injuries, as did the driver of the tractor-trailer.  Sullivan, who has cuts and bruises on his face, including two black eyes, and was treated for a chipped cheek bone, commented, “The only thing I felt bad about is that I didn’t stop it from hitting the cruiser.  That’s what my job was, to keep it from hitting the cruiser.”

Here we have two similar, yet entirely different heroic scenarios.  One man left his home with his children, not knowing that he would find himself averting the death of a stranger.  Another left his home, knowing that he would be placing himself between his fellow workers and the threat of catastrophe.  While the net result is similar, the motivation is quite different: one – an act of instinct, the other – an act of deliberation.

In describing the love that Jesus has for us, I have used hypothetical scenarios like the two true-life stories here.  While it is heroic when a man like Wesley Autrey jumps to the aid of a stranger, it is unclear what would have been the result had he had the time to calculate the ramifications of the situation.  Could he actually be successful?  How would his two daughters have coped, had the efforts been in vain and the tragedy been two-fold?

Jesus, however, had plenty of time to think about what lay ahead.  When He left the splendor of heaven, in obedience to His Father, He knew that He was coming to Earth to redeem the souls of men by His death.  He knew that He had the power at His disposal to prevent His own death at any time, with twelve legions of angels standing by to deliver Him, if only He asked.  Much like Kevin Sullivan did with his truck, positioning himself to take the hit that would have inevitably come upon his co-workers, Jesus made His way to Golgotha, and displayed the greatest love a man can have, as He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  Ye are my friends…”  (John 15:13-14).

Jesus’ death was not an act of instinct, but of deliberation.  He knew the shame and suffering of the cross.  He knew that He had done nothing worthy of death, yet He also knew the judgment of God upon ungodly sinners, and was willing to sacrifice Himself, that we should not die, but have everlasting life!

Yes, that is the greatest love that a man can have, but did you know that there is a greater love that even this?  Imagine, for a minute, that Wesley Autrey was, for some reason, unable to jump down to push Cameron Hollopeter into the trough between the tracks.  Would he turn to his young daughters and say, “Girls, one of you get down there and push him between the rails!  Hurry, the train is coming!”?  That type of thinking strikes us as irrational!  Yet that is exactly what the Father did.

The well-known passage in John 3:16 declares, “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.”  John also wrote that the Father’s actions in sending us His own Son reveal to us His great love, a love that is beyond the greatest love a man can have.  “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. … And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:9,14).

Such infinite, matchless love!  Abraham loved and trusted God so much, that he was willing to offer up his promised son on the altar, if that was what it would have taken.  God, knowing His plan of salvation, and the sacrifice He had planned in offering up His own Son, honored Abraham’s intentions as though he had actually followed through.

But God did follow through, allowing His beloved Son to suffer and die.  Do you believe that today?  Do you know the love of God?  John said, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in Him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.  God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:15-16).

“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” (1 John 5:13).

Thank God for all the heroes in the world, but especially for His great love that has saved us from so great a death, and has made us sons and daughters in the household of faith.

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