Day 11: The Eleventh Day
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left” (Matt. 24:40).
The air was heavy with the smell of jet fuel, almost as heavy as the sadness that filled the air and our hearts that day.
As others scrambled down the concrete and iron stairways to safety, four strangers climbed up those same staircases. They stopped at every floor they reached to search for victims of the terrorist attack.
Without any official orders to do so, the four men—a Port Authority Police Sergeant, a New York City Police Emergency Services Unit (E.S.U.) Officer, and two New York City Firefighters, swept through the maze of offices together.
“Wow, I am surprised how many people have already left,” the officer hollered to no one in particular.
“Yeah, and with a quiet calmness it seemed,” a firefighter said.
The orderliness of the evacuation and rescue was not only a credit to the brave police officers and firefighters and unseen and unheralded workers who assisted, but also to the thousands of people themselves in those two towers who found themselves captives of a Godless act that September morning.
“There are still people stranded on floors above us,” the sergeant shouted.
Not everyone who was able to arrive for work that morning was capable of leaving, even after they understood the horrific nature of their circumstances. Many elevators and their shafts that earlier had carried disabled workers to floors high above were now inoperable. They were full of flames from the burning jet fuel.
“Hey, I have one inside this office,” one of the firefighters yelled. There was a man confined to his wheelchair, unable to escape on his own.
“Can you walk at all?” the other firefighter called to the man.
“No, what am I going to do? Please, please don’t leave me here,” he pleaded.
“Don’t worry, we are going to get you out of here,” the sergeant reassured him.
“I think each one of us might have to carry a corner,” the officer shouted after trying unsuccessfully to lift the man in the wheelchair with one of the firefighters.
Like the heroes they are, none of them made a comment about the huge size of the man. It was necessary for all four men to lift one corner of the chair. They slowly carry him down the many stairs. At times their legs and arms hurt so much they felt like giving up. But the thunderous sounds and vibrations of Tower Two collapsing and the thoughts of their loved ones spurred them on.
“Oh, thank God we are finally on the ground,” one firefighter muttered under his breath.
“Now all we have to do is get him over there,” the sergeant said, pointing across the street.
This was even more of a challenge than the stairway because of the horrible danger of being struck by bodies falling from the upper floors. A chaplain had already been killed by a falling body as he tried to enter the World Trade Center that morning.
“We made it!” the officer shouts after they had miraculously crossed the street carrying the man in the wheelchair.
But their elation would soon be stilled as they heard what sounded like a hundred freight trains. They looked up to see Tower One collapsing above them. The four men turned and dove or jumped into or under something in a desperate stretch for life at the eleventh hour. When the dust and debris of one hundred stories of building had settled, one of them was taken and the three others were left.
No one could ever predict that one of those brave rescuers would perish that day. Jesus spoke about how no one knows what day his life will be demanded of him (Luke 12:20). Although we do not understand why someone who had just performed such an honorable task dies, the Bible reminds us we live in a fallen world (Eph. 6:12). That means we live in a world in which evil men make decisions to murder innocent people by planning and carrying out terrorist attacks. God created us with a free will to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and the perpetrators on 9/11 chose evil.
In the verse today, Jesus is telling of his return. He promises to come again. In stark reality, he describes how at that very hour of his return one man who believes Jesus is who he says he is, is taken (to be with him). Another man who does not believe Jesus is the Son of God is left behind. They made their decisions, one will be in heaven forever, one will not.
Those four brave men on 9/11 made their decisions, and one was killed. Today is a day you have a decision to make: believe that Jesus is who he says he is and know that even if you perish, you will be with him in heaven.
Lord Jesus, thank you for all the brave men and women who came to attempt to rescue and risk their lives to save strangers. Thank you for giving them the fortitude to carry out their job that day and every other day. Comfort those who lost loved ones on this horrific day of 9/11. Amen.
(Paul F. Bauer, excerpt from Forty Days in the Desert)