It was a heart-stopping event that was the talk of the then-world. The day was September 5, 1986. Neerja Bhanot was the head-turning head purser of Pan Am Flight 73 to New York from Mumbai. Just 22 years of age was this gutsy beauty. She was to celebrate her birthday on September 7th.
Enroute to New York, this flight was to stop at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan and later on in Frankfurt, Germany. It was around 4:30 a.m. when the flight landed in Karachi. What a stop for re-fuelling became a spot for terrorist-boarding!
This is what happened: Four Palestinian terrorists menacingly came towards the flight dressed in airport security uniforms. As the flight’s door was opened in the business class side, these terrorists managed to enter the flight even as the last passengers from Karachi were boarding. They carried submachine guns and grenades.
Neerja had the presence of mind to move swiftly near the phone inside the flight and call the Pilot and the cockpit crew (the co-pilot and the flight engineer). “Hijack,” she muttered and the three people inside the cockpit escaped through a hatch-way in the roof. The flight was now effectively frozen – immobilised. With the Pilot and team having scooted from the plane, the terrorists’ plan to fly the plane to Cypress and demand for the release of Palestinian prisoners being held there went for a toss. The cockpit crew logic was this: “When the pilots abandon the plane, the plane becomes an unattractive object for hijacking.”
For the next seventeen hours, the plane stood in the airport under the control of the armed terrorists – “emotionally surcharged burly terrorists” (as Neerja’s dad, a journalist, would write later on). That’s when Neerja, the senior-most flight official inside the plane, stayed cool, calm and collected. She made announcements on behalf of the terrorists. Her smiles amidst the storm was like a breath of fresh air for the scared-to-death passengers. It offered them hope of rescue.
Neerja knew that the terrorists meant business when they shot dead Rajesh Kumar, the 29-year-old Indian American who was sitting in one of the front seats when the plane’s pilots did not return even after their repeated requests and warnings. When she overheard the terrorists’ plan to kill American passengers in that plane of 379 terrified passengers one by one, till the pilots returned to the flight, she came up with a plan. She and her crew members hid the passports of the American passengers by dropping the passports on the ground and pushing them under the seats as they were in the terrorists-assigned jobs of collecting all the passenger passports.
After the power inside the flight failed because of fuel exhaustion, the flight was plunged into darkness with the hijack drama entering into the seventeenth hour having begun early in the morning. That’s when the terrorists themselves got terrorized, knowing the Pakistani forces inside the airport could now engage them in combat at any second. They started shooting the passengers and hurling hand grenades indiscriminately. Their plan – it was very clear – was to kill as many passengers as possible.
That’s when Neerja swung into action and flung open one of the emergency doors of the flight. She could have easily been the very first to exit the plane by rolling out of the ballooning slanting cushion from the plane to the ground (the chute). But instead of choosing the chute she chose to help children – three of them. Yes, she bravely chose to stay back guiding frantic and ducking passengers to that emergency exit. Neerja used her body to shield three children inside the flight even as she guided them to the exit door’s chute. She received atleast three bullet wounds – on the abdomen, the shoulder and on her arm (her dad writes). Around 20 passengers died and 120 were injured in the mayhem unleashed by the terrorists. Neerja too died. But not before rescuing those children and many other passengers.
Just as Neerja chose the safety of the still-inside-the-flight children before the chute-escape, Jesus Christ, the only God-in-flesh, chose to love and save you and me, instead of escaping the cruel cross – the only way that was available for our salvation. Jesus’ disciple, Peter, suggested that Jesus skip the cross – the cruel punishment that was reserved for the worst of scoundrels of that time – some two thousand years ago (Matthew 16:22-28, The Bible). Yet, Jesus chose to march towards Jerusalem to be crucified on a cross, the Bible, God’s Word in human words, records (Luke 9:51).
Jesus was beaten till his back looked like plowed field. He was nailed to a rugged cross. They taunted Jesus while he hung there. “Come down from the Cross”, they sneered (Matthew 26:40). He could have. He had the power to. Certainly. Rusty nails cannot hold all-powerful God to a Cross, can they? Yet, he stayed on. He died. Why? He died for each one of us. On Good Friday. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” – this the Bible teaches (Romans 5:8).
Unlike Neerja, Jesus was sinless (In the 2016 gripping movie, Neerja, some of the imperfections of Neerja are shown in a lighter vein: she doesn’t eat the food packed for her by her dear mom at her workplace, she carelessly forgets to wear a ring her mom asked her to…). Unlike you and me, Jesus was spotless. We have ALL sinned, the Bible declares (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death, which is to ultimately burn in hell. This is the prediction of the Bible, a book which has never gone wrong in its hundreds of predictions of the future (Revelation 21:7,8; Romans 6:23).
Make no mistake here: Jesus wasn’t dying for his own sin like we all deserve to. One of the thieves crucified next to Jesus realized this and said: “We rightly deserve to die. But Jesus has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23: 39-43, The Bible). Jesus never committed any sin. His close relatives, his best friends and his worst enemies could not find a single sin in him, the Bible records (Matthew 3:14; John 8:46; I John 3:5).
Jesus Christ died as a sin-substitute for each one of our sakes (Isaiah 53:5, The Bible). Because he was 100 % God infinite, he could die for an infinite number of people of all times and ages (Hebrews 9:28, The Bible).
Because he was 100 % humans as well (born of virgin Mary), he could die as a substitute for you and me – members of the human race (I Peter 3:18, The Bible).
Thanks to his precious blood, each one of us can receive forgiveness of sin, the Bible declares (Hebrews9:14). But we must repent from sin and put our trust in him to receive this life-purpose-giving forgiveness, the Bible teaches (Acts 2:38).
Jesus invites you with these loving words: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest!” (Matthew 11:28, The Bible). Are you ready to come to Christ?
Don’t delay your coming to Jesus. Here’s why: the Jesus who died, rose from the dead and said he would come again as Judge of all the earth, at any second (Revelation 1:7; 16:15, The Bible). He is the only Savior who can save you today. Not only that – he is the Judge from whom there is no escape for those who reject him on the final day. At that time, there would be chance for salvation or forgiveness of sin, the Bible reveals (Hebrews 9:27). So, do it now! And when you place your entire trust in Jesus, you will have “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8, The Bible). This is what Good Friday is about. This is what Easter is about.
After you come to Christ and receive his forgiveness: 1) CHEW on the Bible. To read the Bible you could download the free ESV Bible App onto your SmartPhone. 2) CHAT with Christ in prayer. 3) CHECK-INTO a local Bible-believing, Holy Spirit-directed church. 4) CHAMPION Christ’s cause through your life and lips using your time, talents and treasures.
(This was written by Dr. Duke Jeyaraj, the founder of Grabbing the Google Generation from Gehenna Mission, a ministry to presentday people. Find out more by visitingwww.dukev.org and by liking www.facebook.com/googleduke and www.facebook.com/dukebook. You can read more writings of Duke like these at www.purposespot.blogspot.com).