Sacrifice is not a concept that anyone really enjoys. Although we are hearing the word more often these days due to price inflation in such core areas as food and energy, most of us do everything we can to avoid having to make sacrifices. As ironic as it sounds, we will make sacrifices in one area to circumvent having to make a sacrifice in another! This points out the human tendency to hold some part of our lives closer and dearer than others—and we are loath to let go of even a small bit of what we love the most.
Jesus Christ did not live this way. In His human life, He was all about sacrifice—His whole life was a sacrifice. And His is the life that has been exalted as the perfect pattern for our own.
In terms of Jesus' sacrifice, anyone familiar with the Bible will first think of His sacrificial death at Calvary to atone for the sins of mankind. His crucifixion was indeed the greatest act of sacrifice in the history of the world, a perfect demonstration of His own teaching in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." His supreme offering of His sinless life paid the terrible cost of all of mankind's sins for all time (see Hebrews 9:26-28; 10:10, 12, 14).
In John 3, speaking to Nicodemus, who later helped Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Him for burial, Jesus states a primary purpose of His incarnation: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up [signifying His crucifixion]. . . . For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:14, 17). He was, as described by John the Baptist, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), who was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). The apostle Peter makes it personal for us:
. . . knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. . . ." (I Peter 1:18-20)
His sacrifice had been prophesied in many places in the Old Testament, as in the first recorded prophecy, Genesis 3:15: "And I will put enmity between you [the serpent, Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." Isaiah 53:6 encapsulates the prophecy of the Suffering Servant: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Jesus Himself refers to the prophecy of His death in Psalm 22 with His cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). Many places in the Old Testament show either a need for or a hope in a coming Redeemer (see, for instance, Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Isaiah 47:4; 59:20; 63:16).
It is difficult for short-sighted human beings to realize how the foreknowledge of His suffering and death must have weighed on His mind, perhaps from His childhood, since at the age of twelve, He told Joseph and Mary that He "must be about [His] Father's business" (Luke 2:49). Knowing He had come into the world to bear the sins of every man, woman, and child must have been an unimaginably heavy burden for Him. It was an obligation that was constantly before Him. Certainly, the expectation that on His shoulders rested the destinies of countless billions of people was a cup—His weighty lot—that He would gladly forgo if He could (see Luke 22:41-44). However, He was committed to doing God's will in everything (see John 6:38; 8:28-29), so He bore it in faith.
We must look further, deeper, beyond His sacrificial death to His equally sacrificial life. His daily walk was an example of the Golden Rule, doing for others what we would have them do for us (see Luke 6:31). As Jesus says of Himself, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Thus, His life was dedicated to exhausting Himself through giving to others. The gospel accounts relate occasion after occasion when He preached or healed or cast out demons or comforted everyone who came to Him for help (see Mark 3:7-11; 6:54-56; Luke 4:40; etc.).
Yet, He made many other sacrifices, ones that we do not often consider. Perhaps the greatest one is that He never married and had children. Of course, His Father had already promised Him the church as His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-27, 32; Revelation 19:7), but He never experienced the joys and comforts of having His own family. He gained all His experience in family matters as an obedient Son and loving Elder Brother in the house of Joseph and Mary.
In addition, He sacrificed things that most people prize as good and worthy, like ambition, wealth, prestige, position, popularity, and many other such elements of "success." He had the wherewithal within Himself to attain any or all of these pinnacles of human achievement, but He shunned them all for the greater reward before Him: "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, . . . for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). He considered His many fleshly sacrifices as nothing compared to the tremendous future He would enjoy in the Kingdom of God.
This is the lesson that the apostle Paul teaches in Philippians 3. Using his own life as an example, he relates that he had just about anything a person could want: the right genes, the right social standing, the right education, the right enthusiasm, and the right reputation. "But," he writes:
what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things . . . as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
So he advises in verse 15, "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind." Like our Savior Jesus Christ, we must be willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (verse 14). The glorious life of the coming Kingdom of God is attained through sacrifice, and the way we know (John 14:4).