A visitor from the States told about a recent experience in his household when his family could only use two of their four bathrooms because of plumbing problems. We did not show too much sympathy. At the time nine of us lived in a house with one bathroom. In fact, his story made me feel a twinge of resentment at the “hardship” we go through as missionaries, serving the Lord with only one bathroom here in a far-off country.
After a bit of self-pity mixed with pride, I was reminded of how little we sacrifice to be missionaries in Japan in the late 20th century. Missionaries in other countries make much greater lifestyle sacrifices. That helped me gain some perspective on our “sacrifice”. Missionaries in other times and centuries made even greater sacrifices. Many died aboard ship just trying to get to the field. Many buried all or most of their children in a foreign land. Yet when we had discovered a life-threatening problem to Mark (in the womb) on a Friday, Carol was in a specialist’s waiting room in Philadelphia Monday morning. That’s incredible! I remembered the Moravians who gave up their freedom and became slaves in another country in order to take the good news to slaves in that country. Our perceived sacrifice came into even sharper perspective.
But there is nothing that puts any perceived sacrifice into clear perspective like the Incarnation. Think of it! God the Son left heaven’s glory for the humble, dirty, smelly stable in Bethlehem. He did not sacrifice two or more flush toilets for one, but had none. He did not sacrifice central heat for kerosene heaters, but had a fire. He did not sacrifice two cars for one, but had a donkey or sandal leather. I would have picked a comfortable western country in the late twentieth century, not primitive Judea. We thought a 15-year commitment to modern, comfortable Japan was a pretty big sacrifice. But the Eternal Son of God joyfully endured 33 years of filth, smell, cold, and heat. I would have sought a much faster solution to the problem of man’s sin.
The physical discomforts of primitive Judea seem like nothing compared to the other things He endured for us. Think of the temptations, the moment-by-moment pressure of being fully tempted to sin just like us, and yet never giving in to it so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for our sin (Heb. 4:15; WSC #27).
And then, finally, consider the agony of the cross. Not so much the physical pain. Lots of men have endured that, and never sweated drops of blood in fear of it. But the agony of bearing the full poured-out wrath of the Father, even though innocent! And doing all this not for deserving people, but for sinners.
If we think we have sacrificed anything for Christ in the way of our vocation, lifestyle, tithes and offerings, time, etc., we need only reflect a little on the indescribably great sacrifice of Christ. “The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” makes any “sacrifice” we make for Christ pale with insignificance. It calls us to give our all, not out of guilt, but in gratitude, for Him who gave His all for us.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (II Cor. 9:15).
Daniel Iverson III Christmas 1989 (edited by Judith Newland)