One of the great movies that came out in 1981 was Chariots of Fire. Did you see it? Seems such a long time ago now, but what a wonderful story of commitment, devotion, integrity, and sacrifice. Movie-goers also thought it was good as it received numerous awards. The sort of movie that you don’t forget.
Chariots of Fire was all about two men—Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams—both keen athletes competing for their country back in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The big difference was that Eric Liddell was a strict Christian who would not run on Sunday. It went against his religious belief. He was respected for that, but many couldn’t understand why he believed that. He won gold for the 400-metre race and felt God’s pleasure when he ran. He became hero for his Scottish homeland. He was born in Scotland to missionary parents. This wonderful movie has strong patriotic and spiritual themes, and if you haven’t seen it, get a copy somewhere.
Later on Liddell became a teacher and missionary in China and placed in a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese in 1943. He lived a selfless life, giving himself to help his fellow inmates, until his death at age 43. But there was something I didn’t know until recently. Eric Liddell did have the chance to leave the camp when Winston Churchill personally intervened in a prisoner exchange program. He had the opportunity to leave but refused to do so, allowing a pregnant woman to go instead. This was typical of the man’s courage and unselfish attitude. He wanted to live as Jesus did. He sacrificed himself for another person. What a powerful theme.
The terrible years of 1941 to 1944 saw the death of one million residents living in Leningrad, during the siege. They starved to death. No food, no heating. Water pipes froze and broke, denying residents of any drinking water. The Germans bombarded the city with artillery attacks. But what is not generally known is that 12 scientists guarded the seed bank and food that was protected. They starved to death themselves, ensuring that future generations of Russians would be able to eat.
In more recent times, on January 13 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 smashed into a frozen Potomac River in Washington, DC after heavy snow storm. It was a terrible accident and only six of the 79 people on-board survived the initial impact. Some 20 minutes later, a helicopter arrived to rescue the survivors.
After getting one man to safety, the helicopter threw a life ring to Arland Williams, one of the passengers in the freezing river—who immediately gave it to the passenger next to him. He kept on doing this, choosing to allow others to be saved, until he died himself, exhausted. He was a true hero on that tragic day. He’d used his last ounce of strength to save a complete stranger.
Self-sacrifice—what a powerful theme. What is it? It is the sacrifice of one’s personal interests or wellbeing for the sake of others or for a cause. Sacrificing your life for someone else is probably the most noble thing anyone can do.
Francis of Assisi once wrote this: “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” And that’s the key, isn’t it?—overcoming yourself to let another live. In the Bible we have this inspiring verse from Jesus in John 15:12-14 (NKJV):
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
There is no greater love than to sacrifice yourself for another. Thank God that Jesus freely gave up his life for us. He died on the cross as our substitute—he took our sins upon his shoulders, dealing with the sin problem once and for all. That is true sacrifice.