Some Thoughts on Sacrifice

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When I was in 7th grade US History, we got to the Great Depression and the Second World War and to supplement the textbook, our teacher told us some stories that he had heard about that time from his own parents. He told us about the sacrifices made by people on the home front already during the Depression and continuing into the war years when millions of people put their careers, family’s etc. on hold to join the military. Then, he asked if we thought people in our generation would be willing to make such sacrifices in a similar situation.

This rhetorical question my teacher asked that day has often come to my mind over the years and sadly, the last year has provided a very definitive negative answer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the entire world with a terrible problem. Millions of people have been hospitalized and the death count has been terrifyingly high, even if the reporting by many government’s has been unreliable. If even half of the people who are reported to have died from COVID-19 did in fact die from COVID-19, it would still be a terrible tragedy.

On that note, governments all over the world, very much including here in Israel, have made many mistakes in this situation, including the release of a great deal of information which later turned out to be incorrect and had to be retracted or amended. Plans made in haste by governments, often based on incomplete or incorrect data, have also been haphazard and poorly executed, making a difficult situation even worse.

This has been met with impatience, cynicism and high levels of suspicion among their populations.

On the other hand, one could try and give governments and doctors the benefit of the doubt and say that they’re doing their best while suffering from understandable human frailty combined with the incredibly difficult and complex challenges that they’re facing with the inadequate tools they have at their disposal.

All of that having been said, whatever the reasons behind what our governments are doing and failing to do, if you and I want the COVID-19 crisis to pass, all most of us who are not in the medical field can do is pray into the issue and at the same time, follow the example given to us by the “Greatest Generation” which fought WWII and do what we can to help our governments and the medical experts do what needs to be done. This will require, as it did from the “Greatest Generation” a great deal of patience and grace, and it will also require some personal sacrifice.

Now, at this point, I’d like to quickly review the sacrifices we were asked to make in this crisis.

We were asked to wear masks, wash hands, maintain 2 meters distance from each other and, in general, to avoid contacting other people and thereby exposing ourselves to the risk of infection as much as possible. Most governments accompanied the request for people to do these things with very reasonable and straightforward explanations, provided by some of the world’s leading medical experts, about why it was all necessary.

The response from many people who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ has been absolutely heartbreaking.

Scornful, contemptuous, hysterical and above all else outraged refusal to cooperate has been widespread, while a deeply resentful and grudging assent has been granted by most others. As my cheerfully crude grandmother might have said, people were asked to wear masks but they responded as if they’d been asked to chew their own arm off without any anaesthetic.

Conspiracy theories have run rampant in this season, and the Body of Believers here in Israel has not been immune to this phenomenon. I’ve lost several friends over the past year, on Facebook and also in real life, simply because I refused to get upset about the requirement to wear masks and wash my hands. This was, for some people I’ve known, loved and respected for years, a bridge too far. It was evidence, in their minds, that I had entered into a pact with Hell itself and turned my back on the Lord and His eternal truth.

You can almost hear the Enemy laughing in delight at all the damage this nonsense has been allowed to do to the Body of Christ.

Now, as I sit here writing this, the Israeli government is reportedly discussing taking coercive measures to push people who have not yet taken the vaccines they’re (savagely and unmercifully) providing free of charge to the general public in a (diabolically evil) attempt to allow us to return to our jobs, schools, etc. It seems to me as if they’re done asking us nicely to make sacrifices for the general good (as well as our own individual good) and have decided that it’s time to force us to do the things which they shouldn’t even have to ask us to do.

It fills me with tremendous sadness that it has come to this, and it makes me even more sad to think about what I’m sure the response to this latest development will be from the Body of Messiah in Israel, based on the reaction of many to what’s already come before this.

With all that in mind, I have the following thoughts to share for anyone who is interested.

I don’t know why God allowed COVID-19 to happen, along with all the fallout from it, but I think it’s possible that God wanted to see how willing His Church is to make sacrifices on behalf of others.

Let me explain why I think this might be the case.

In the first few centuries following the First Advent of Jesus Christ, the Roman Empire was struck by several devastating plagues. It was illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire at that time, so Believers had a perfect excuse to mind their own business and not draw attention to themselves. But instead, they nursed many people back to health and they themselves often paid with their own lives because in the process of caring for the sick, they got infected and died. Some might say they were foolish to do this, but by sacrificing their own lives so that others could live, they were simply following the example of the One who sacrificed Himself so that “all who believed in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.”

In other words, they were living the Gospel instead of just preaching it. The revival that followed all throughout the ancient world speaks for itself.

Now, contrast that with the reaction that unbelievers are likely to have when they see Believers like you and me refusing to wear a mask despite every serious medical expert in the world telling us that it’s necessary to slow the spread of this terrible 21st century plague. What kind of effect do you suppose that might have on their willingness to listen to us when we try to share the Gospel with them?

Brothers and sisters, here’s the bottom line.

Sacrifice goes against every instinct we have for preserving our lives and the things about our lives that we enjoy. At the same time, sacrificing those things can be the only way to build and/or preserve things which are bigger than our own lives. Jesus Himself gives the quintessential example of that, and we are called to follow His example, not just talk about it.

Sacrificing our own personal lives, convenience or perhaps even our own personal freedoms, for the common good, is also a way to make even our most bitter enemies acknowledge and respect the Gospel message that we claim to represent. On the other hand, a belligerent refusal to make personal sacrifices for the common good will have the exact opposite effect, even if we have what we consider to be very good reasons for refusing to make them.

The Believers in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries knew this, as did the “Greatest Generation” which fought WWII.

We in the modern Western Church, including here in Israel, DESPERATELY need to re-learn this lesson. That is the reason I wrote this blog. I’m sorry it went on so long and I thank whoever read it till the end. I hope it blessed you.