Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘sacrifice’? Perhaps it brings to mind those heart wrenching moments in war films when the hero steps in and makes that decisive move. Or perhaps it makes you think of the crushing and yet inspiring recount you read in the newspaper of one person giving their life for another?
But let me ask you another question. What does the word ‘sacrifice’ mean in the context of your life? What are you willing to give up? What sacrifices are you willing to make?
I know for me ‘sacrifice’ can come in an array of packages, from giving up the last cookie in the packet to letting someone else take my favourite seat in the café. From stepping back to let someone get onto the bus first to giving up half an hour sat in my room with a cup of tea and a book or a film to spend time with someone else.
Yes, these are good sacrifices to make, they are small everyday ways of putting others before ourselves. But don’t you think the heart of sacrifice is grounded in something so much greater than this? Don’t you think we might be called to something beyond occasionally letting a little privilege go?
Here is a story of sacrifice, an illustration we were given in one of our daily devotions as a team in Vietnam…
There were once two cities.
In one city there was a king, and he was good. He had a son who loved him, obeyed him and knew that his father cherished him before all else. Everyone in that city loved the king and their prince, they were gracious, they were just and they were humble.
In the other city there was a throne. But the kings that sat upon it never lasted long. The people in that city were proud, and would often fight with one another, each in turn trying to prove that they were the best. The city did not like the other one. Though it was from this other city that theirs has been formed, they were in rebellion, they wanted to destroy this other city, that they might be the strongest kingdom in the land.
But this fight didn’t go two ways. Even as the second city rebelled against the first the good king still had great love for the city across the way. And his son did too. The king had decided to find a way of resolving the conflict and anger that had arisen in the other city. His son volunteered himself to do anything that may have to be done in order for peace to return. It broke the king’s heart to send his son away. But he knew it had to be done.
The son would go to the other city, the one in which he was hated and he would live as one of them. He would tell them of the love that he and his father had for this people and he would go right into the midst of the chaos of a city that was turning against itself. He would pay the ultimate price, he would die for this city. He would show them how much they needed the city with the good king, and he would give his life in doing so.
This story tells of the sacrifice of the Father and the Son, it reflects the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Jesus knew suffering throughout his whole life. He was born into poverty, experiencing real human pain and suffering. He came into this world and took on human form so that he could suffer, so that he could die for us. And for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to work, the road to the cross had to be full of the worst human experience, that he might be fully God and fully man, fully able to conquer sin and fully able to die. Jesus lived the full depths of human experience and human pain and yet, still, he didn’t sin, that he might be able to die in our place and face the punishment that we deserve.
Later in Mark’s gospel we are given a picture of the willing and sacrificial heart that Christ has for us:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus is leading the way, he is striding towards his death, with his eyes fixed on what he is about to do, the ultimate sacrifice that he is about to make.
Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve.
He willingly gave his life as a ransom for many. He willingly offered up himself at the cross so that we may not receive the punishment our sin deserves.
One of the things that inspired me the most on our trip to Vietnam was the testimony given by each of the missionaries we met, and the sacrifices that each of them had made.
In one team meeting we talked about how we see, in the Bible, in examples set by individuals like Paul, that mission does cost us, that taking up our cross and following Jesus doesn’t just require the odd good act, but instead requires all of ourselves. Questions were raised as we talked about how much we were willing to give, ‘Do we love Christ?’, ‘Do we love the gospel more than our own lives?’, ‘Are we truly prepared to live for Him?’
We saw again that the gospel demands everything. The missionaries that we met talked of what they’d given up in order to come out onto the field. They talked of singleness, of having wanted a family. The talked of comfort and the familiarity of home. Of community and those that they had left behind. Of the good bible teaching that they had once taken for granted. They had given up ambition and career.
They inspired me because they were following the model given to us by Jesus. They were taking up their cross and they were following him. They were giving themselves for the work of the gospel. Each story was different, and each sacrifice made inspired me. Was I willing to give up this much for the gospel? Was I willing to take up my cross, for the one who died on the cross for me?
The lifestyle of the world, the temptation to just do what we want can press in around us. But Jesus calls out sharp and clear in the midst of our struggles for earthly power:
Not so with you.
We are called not to be like the world, but instead to be like Jesus. Jesus lived a life devoted to his Father. He gave all that he had. He lived a life of self denial and sacrifice, knowing that glory would one day come. We so often seek self-greatness and recognition. Jesus took on suffering, shame, rejection and death, for us. He knew that one day glory would come, that the road he was walking did not end with death, but with being raised to life and restored to heaven. And because he died for us, we have the same hope to hold onto, through the road of pain and suffering we know that, one day, glory will come.
To those of you who trust in Jesus, I want you to hear this call…
Follow the path, the road that God wishes you to take. Commit yourself to the cause of the gospel. Live your lives to saying no to you own impulses and instead follow the road that Jesus walked for us. Where your gifts are, use them to walk the road of Jesus. Walk this road in whatever way you are given. Walk this road each day. Reflecting the sacrifice that he made for us. Each day dying to what we want and living for Jesus
Because whilst following the path of Jesus means great sacrifice, we were reminded, too, that the hope of heaven awaits, and that one day we will all go home, and be with our saviour in heaven. We reminded that he has walked this road before us and that he is walking with us still.
Amongst all these inspiring stories of sacrifice, one thing that was said particularly struck me:
‘We may think that there are many sacrifices in mission, but we don’t think of everything we are given and we don’t imagine the blessings we might receive.’
God is gracious. He gives more to us than we could imagine. He loves us far more than we deserve to be loved. He knows the road that we must take and he leads us by his hand. If we let go of our lives and live for Jesus then we will come to enjoy his blessings in heaven for eternity.