Saving Private Ryan
Main Point of Discussion: We must live our lives in accordance with the sacrifice made for us.
The Movie Clip: Earn this.
Saving Private Ryan dominated the Oscars with 5 wins when it was released in 1998. There’s a good reason for that: it’s one of the greatest movies ever made! The realistic and often horrific film follows the journey of an American platoon of World War II soldiers as they march across war-torn Europe in search of Private Ryan, the only living son of four brothers who have been killed in the war.
It’s a unique plot; usually, the platoon of brave soldiers puts their lives on the line for a mission. In this case, the mission is the life of one man. But since the United States government wants Private Ryan (Matt Damon) pulled from active combat duty before he is sent home in a body bag like all his brothers, Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his band of brothers set out to find and save him.
The movie ends with most of the men in the platoon losing their lives trying to save Private Ryan. It’s a story of sacrifice, from beginning to end.
Introducing the Clip:
In this scene I’m about to show you from Saving Private Ryan, Capt. Miller, played by Tom Hanks, has been fatally wounded in a battle against Nazi soldiers. Capt. Miller’s mission was to search Europe, find Private Ryan, and send him safely home because all of Private Ryan’s brothers have been killed in combat in WWII. That’s the policy of the United States government. However, in trying to save Private Ryan, Capt. Miller and most of his men die. Capt. Miller and his men have paid a huge price to save the life of Private Ryan. Let’s listen in on the words Capt. Miller says to Private Ryan just before he dies.
BEGIN CLIP AT 2 hours 35 minutes and 44 seconds (in Chapter 19)
- (Scene opens with P-51 Mustangs swarming overhead as American troops run through a battle-ravaged village in Germany. Officers are barking orders to soldiers as they fortify their position over the enemy. Capt. Miller is mortally wounded and being treated by Private Reiben. Private Ryan walks over to the two of them as they look at what’s going on around them.)
Reiben: Medic! (grabs his rifle and runs off towards the soldiers) Medic!
Private Ryan: They’re tank busters, sir. P-51’s.
Capt. Miller: Angels on our shoulders. (he looks at Private Ryan and moves his lips, inaudibly)
Private Ryan: What sir?
Capt. Miller: (pulling Private James Francis Ryan close to him as he dies) James, earn this. Earn it. (Capt. Miller dies)
Voice of General Marshall: My Dear Misses Ryan, It’s with the most profound sense of joy that I write to inform you, your son, Private James Ryan, is well and at this very moment on his way home from European battlefields. Reports from the front indicate James did his duty in combat with great courage and steadfast dedication, even after he was informed of the tragic loss your family has suffered in this great campaign to rid the world of tyranny and oppression. I take great pleasure in joining the Secretary of War, the men and women of the United States Army, and citizens of a grateful nation, in wishing you good health and many years of happiness with James close by your side. Nothing, not even the safe return of a beloved son can compensate you or the thousands of other American families that have suffered great loss in this tragic war. I might share with you some words which have sustained me through long dark nights of peril and loss and heartache. And I quote, “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.” Abraham Lincoln. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, George C. Marshall, General Chief of Staff.
(scene shifts to the Old Man Ryan looking at Capt. Miller’s tombstone)
Old Man Ryan: My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day, I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope it was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me. (he then stands up)
(Stop scene before his wife walks up)
This scene showed the sacrifice one person was willing to make for another, and how that person took the sacrifice seriously enough to live every single day of his life accordingly. Jesus has made an even greater sacrifice for you and me than Capt. Miller made for Private Ryan, so we must live our lives in a way that shows God we take the sacrifice of His perfect and holy Son, seriously.
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we begin, let’s all go around the circle and share our names, and whether or not we PERSONALLY know anyone who has fought in a war.
- ASK A FEW: As we watched the video clip, do you think you would be afraid if you were in Private Ryan’s shoes?
- ASK A FEW: What did Capt. Miller do for Private Ryan?
- ASK A FEW: In this clip, what did Capt. Miller say to Private Ryan just before he died?
- ASK A FEW: What did Capt. Miller mean by this?
- ASK SOMEONE: How did Old Man Ryan say the sacrifice had affected him?
- ASK A FEW: In what ways does this scene parallel the story of Christ’s crucifixion for our sins?
Read the following passage:
Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT)
1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
Tonight we watched a clip from one of the most powerful films ever made, Saving Private Ryan. In this clip, we saw the personal sacrifice that Capt. Miller made for Private Ryan, and we also heard his dying words spoken to the young private. He simply said, “Earn this.”
You know what’s fascinating to me about this clip? I’ll tell you. In a very powerful and graphic way, it shows me what Jesus has done for us. When Private Ryan needed to be saved, along came Capt. Miller. Private Ryan could not save himself; his enemy was too powerful for him. But, with Capt. Miller’s help and sacrifice, not only did Private Ryan survive, but the enemy was overcome.
Private Ryan knew that he had been given new life because of Capt. Miller’s sacrifice, so he lived the rest of his long life trying to “live up to” the sacrifice Capt. Miller and his men made for him. Living a life worthy of his “calling” consumed this young man throughout his long life.
You and I should also live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice Christ made for us. Paul gives us a short list of really important habits and practices to focus on in our lives. If we commit to living a life that follows these commands, we will live a life that is worthy of our calling. We will bring honor to Jesus and show Him that we took His awesome sacrifice seriously.
We will show Jesus that because He was willing to live and die for us, we are willing to live for Him.
Close in Prayer
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.