And now for the rest of the story.They believed that God miraculously intervened into their lives that day. Stanley Praimnath’s office was just a few feet from where the hijacked United Airlines flight 175 hit tower two of the World Trade Center. Brian Clark’s office was located on the eighty-fourth floor, just above the point of impact. He was one of only a handful who escaped who were in floors from above the plane’s impact. Listen to their testimony which aired this past week on PBS. (Note to reader- a video clip of the men's story was aired to the congregation.)
Brian Clark’s story is that he found himself trapped on the eighty-fourth floor with a co-worker. They could have gone down any number of stairwells, but they choose stairwell A which was the only stairwell not completely destroyed by the plane’s impact. As they descended they met two women headed in the opposite direction, up. The women said, "Stop! Stop! You've got to go up. You’ve got to go up because you can’t go down. There is too much smoke and flames below."
An argument ensued as the group argued about which way to go. But Brian heard someone banging and crying out for help. "Help! Help! I’m buried! I can’t breathe! Is anybody there? Can you help me?" It was Stanley Pramnath. Brian left the group in the stairwell to help Stanley. The group began ascending the stairs toward the roof.
Stanley’s story is that he saw the United Airline plane rapidly approaching in his window. In that instant he cried out, "Lord, you take control. I can’t help myself here." Moments later he found himself trapped under debris up to his shoulders. His office was engulfed in smoke. A large section of the plane’s wing was lodged in doorway of his department. Miraculously, he was unharmed from the explosion. Stanley remembers, "I don’t know where I got this power from, but the good Lord, he gave me so much power and strength in my body that I was able to shake everything off. I felt like I was the strongest man alive."
As he continued to cry out to the Lord to save his life, he heard Brian Clark’s voice and saw his flashlight shining in darkness. His gut reaction was, "This is my guardian angel. My Lord sent someone to save me!"
But a wall of debris blocked them from each other. Stanley again prayed, "Lord, you’ve got to help me. You’ve brought me this far, help me get to the staircase!" In that moment he asked Brian, "There’s one thing I've got to know. Do you know Jesus?" Both were Christians. They prayed for strength to break down the wall. Moments later they had punched through the wall and Brian lifted Stanley to safety. They both fled down stairwell A and then out the building to safety.
When I heard that story I couldn’t help but note some interesting facts. First, there was only one way of escape and that was by descending stairwell A. Stairwell A was the only stairwell that had survived the devastation. Unfortunately, it was one of the least used stairwells in the building that morning. Only a few knew about it. Only a few found it and only a few used it. Most everyone else tried the elevators or waited to be rescued on the roof or tried exiting through other stairwells.
Second, there were competing voices of salvation that morning. That lady was confident that the only way to escape the fire and smoke was by going up. She had the right stairwell but was headed in the wrong direction. Despite her sincerity, despite her good intentions, despite her defiant confidence, she couldn’t have been more wrong. She misled dozens to their death. Dozens died that morning because they followed the wrong voice.
Third, neither of the men could save themselves. Without Stanley, Brian would have likely followed the group to the roof. Without Brian, Stanley wouldn’t have been able to get into stairwell A. Without that light shining in darkness, they wouldn’t have known the way. By their own account, without Jesus they wouldn’t have had the strength to do what they did.
How do we know what salvation looks like?
By now it should be obvious where I am going with this story. This story is a portrait of what salvation looks like. We know that evil and rebelliousness against God is the root cause of all our suffering and pain and death. Because of our sin, we are under God’s righteous wrath. But we aren’t destined for God’s wrath. We are destined for salvation. God wants to give us new life in Christ. He has intervened on our behalf.
But there is only one way of escape. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone. His work on the cross opened up a pathway to the Father. Jesus’ shed blood covers our sin and takes God’s curse away so that we can stand righteous in his sight. We can’t save ourselves. It is not by our power or might, but by the Lord that we can have the joy of salvation. Alone, we are powerless. And yes, there are dozens of competing voices out there. Every day there are voices telling us to go another way. Try this. Try that. Believe this. Believe that. These voices are sincere. These voices are confident. These voices are persistent. They seem to have credibility. But as we have seen in Romans these voices, though sincere, are wrong.
Scripture speaks concerning Jesus Christ.
Consider the testimony of scripture concerning Jesus Christ. In Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV) Jesus says, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
In John 14:6 (NIV) Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
In Acts 4:12 (NIV) we read, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
In Romans 1:16-17 (NIV) Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel (the good news of Christ), because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' "
We learn from scripture that there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But herein lies the tragedy. The tragedy is our silence. In Romans 10:1-3 (NIV) Paul mourns those sincere souls who have lost their way. He says, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness."
In Romans 10:9-13 (NIV) Paul basically says, "Man! Salvation was right there for them!""...if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. 'For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile— the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' "
But in Romans 10:14-15 (NIV)Paul speaks to the tragedy of our silence. Why do some miss it? "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'"
Paul goes on to remind us that not everyone who hears the goods news believes. The Israelites heard the good news but didn’t accept it. But in Romans 10:17 (NIV) he comes back to his point, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."
What is Paul saying? He is saying that our silence is the reason some that people don’t get saved from the devastating consequences of sin and evil. He is saying that our silence is spiritually lethal. We must point people to Jesus Christ. Sometimes we are afraid to point people down the path to salvation. We're afraid that people might disagree with us. We're afraid that we might lose an argument. We're afraid that we might not say it in just the right way. We feel intimidated by those who appear more confident. The best part of us wants to believe, "They’re sincere. They’ll be okay. Maybe there is another way. Maybe they are good enough to find it. Maybe they know more than me."
What is the cost of our silence?
And so we let them alone and up the stairs they go to a Christ-less eternity. But the cost of our gospel silence is death. How will people believe if they don’t hear? How will they hear if no one preaches? And how will someone preach unless they are first sent?
This week I have been watching all these people on television coping with 9/11. There are all these people who have physically survived the World Trade Center collapse, but who are devastated spiritually. They have lost their way. They do not know Jesus Christ. For them there is no bigger picture. No person or thing to put their trust and confidence in. There is no hope beyond the grave. They are alive, but they are perishing. These people aren’t just from New York. They are around us every day. They live in every corner of the globe. They are our children. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. People we bump and grind with every day. They haven’t heard. They haven’t known. They haven’t believed. Jesus Christ is something less to them than the savior and lord of their lives. Our voices should be hoarse from sharing the gospel with them!
Something that struck me about the story of Brian and Stanley is that the joy of salvation is intense. After Brian rescued Stanley the two men embraced. They formed a special bond. Stanley said of Brian, "The guy held me and embraced me and he gave me a kiss and he said, 'From today, you’re my brother for life.' "
As they fled the building, the two men stopped at a church and turned around and looked up at the burning structure. Stanley was overcome with emotion and told a minister, "This man saved my life." But Brian told Stanley, "You know, you may think I saved your life, but I think you saved my life, too. You got me out of that argument as to whether I should go up or down. I’m here, and I’m fine, and it’s because of your voice in the darkness that I made it." Stanley thought Brian was his guardian angel, but Brian was more than that. They became brothers in the Lord. They had each other and the Lord to thank for their salvation.
But the joy of salvation was also bittersweet. Brian remembered those who lost their way and perished in the tower that day. He had lost sixty-one friends, dear friends who he had worked with and laughed with for years. Many of them could have also been saved if only they had known about Stairwell A.
Most all of us this morning are Christians. We are just barely escaping the wrath of God ourselves by the skin of our teeth, through faith in Jesus Christ. Why can’t we bring someone along with us? Isn’t there just one person you can influence to share in your eternal destiny? Can we be that voice in the darkness that leads another to salvation? Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Don’t be ashamed of the truth! Don’t be ashamed to say what needs to be said. You won’t regret it in the end because you will have a new brother or a new sister in the Lord, for life.
We can waste our years away trying to understand evil. Or we can be contagious Christians who attract people to our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. September 11, 2001 is a call to action. Evil is disgustingly real. People are perishing. Homeland security is a myth. Death shows no favoritism. Time doesn’t wait. But you can be a true hero. You can overcome evil with the good news of Christ.
But we have to speak up and we have to make a point and we have to jump and shout and we have to shine our light and we have to wave our arms, because people need to know. Silence is the real tragedy.