Joseph, a Gallalian described as a “just man”¹, found himself in a precarious position hundreds of years ago. Espoused to a virgin named Mary, he found everything he’d placed his future on falling to shambles. He and his future bride had promised themselves to each-other, and no doubt, Joseph was hard at work preparing a home for their family. This evidence of investment and love shows how heart-shattering it would have been to learn of her pregnancy.
No doubt, the child was not His. Joseph, therefore, would have been within his rights to vindicate himself of this infidelity in a public trial, setting the record straight as to his righteousness in the matter and Mary’s guilt. In another option, no doubt to the suspicion of their tight-knit community, Joseph could annul the espousal in private. The demands of justice were tugging at one end of Joseph while the pleas of mercy called from the other.
If you’ve not experienced such a moment where two principals paralyze you in your ability to make a decision, then just wait. It will happen. It’s difficult to choose between justice and mercy. The good news is that there is a way to bridge the gap: it comes through sacrifice.
Following a divine message from a heavenly being, Joseph immediately took Mary to be his wife. No doubt this would throw all of the gossip his direction as villagers supposed a more sinister reason for the shortening of the young couple’s espousal period. In the sacrifice of his own standing, in his willingness to forfeit the time to prepare a home, and to enter his new life as a provider completely helpless, Joseph foreshadowed the atonement the yet-to-be-born child would perform.
Over thirty years later Jesus would enter a grove of olive trees with his closest friends. As they fell into slumber the son of God began a sacrifice on behalf of all mankind. Undeserving of any punishment, Christ willingly took upon his own back the burden of every single consequence of the fall. His sacrifice on our behalf allows the entire human family to satisfy the demands of justice and obtain mercy, but it must never be forgotten at what price the gift was gained. It was through the agony, suffering, and death of our greatest friend.
If we are to truly be thankful for that sacrifice, then we should willingly so sacrifice in our lives. There is no greater way to honor the atonement than to sacrifice our will upon the alter. This principal is seen in the man who forgoes his dinner in order to bring food to a needy family whom he home teaches². This principal is alive in the woman who puts her career aside in order to nurture her children. In either case, these people do not deserve to have such a sacrifice asked of them. Quite simply, it is not fair. There comes a time in the life of us all when we must decided whether we want to live according to what’s fair, or what’s holy. We cannot be sanctified without sacrifice, and by it’s very nature, sacrifice is unfair. Joseph Smith taught that, “…a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation…”³.
Sacrifice is often defined as giving up something of worth now to receive something of greater value later. The problem with that explanation is that it overlooks the reality that those great rewards in futurity are never seen or understood as a certainty. Sacrifice requires blind faith. Were it a simple cut-and-dry investment then everyone would be willing to do it any time.
Still left to consider is the merit of any given sacrifice. In the Old Testament we learn of King Saul’s failure in this regard. This account is instructive. The Lord requested that Saul utterly destroy the Amalekites. Saul courageously waged war on them and defeated the enemy. Unwilling to waste the vast spoils of war, Saul commanded his people to carry it away, back to Israel. Samuel, the prophet of the Lord was made aware of Saul’s disobedience. Though Saul proudly announced his obedience in fulfilling the Lord’s command, Samuel rebuked him for only being partially obedient. Solomon’s excuse? He claimed that the animals pillaged were to be offered as sacrifices in the temple. The prophetic counsel given is deeply significant. Samuel said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”⁴
Put simply, obedience precedes sacrifice. Sporadic sacrifices do not make up for disobedience. Often we turn to sacrifice as a means of ridding our conscience of guilt because it is easier to give something up rather than actually do something. If that is our attitude, than our sacrifice is in vain and avails us nothing. True sacrifice is on top of obedience. In addition to this, it is usually made at the request of inspiration. Adam had the law of sacrifice made known unto him the voice of the Lord³. Likewise, we can be prompted in the manner of how we should sacrifice. It then becomes our obligation to follow the spirit with full purpose of heart.
The question each must ask themselves is whether the spirit has touched us recently as to those ways which we can sacrifice in order to please the Lord and progress. Elder Neal A. Maxwell offered a wonderful insight on the ultimate sacrifice.
[T]he submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!
Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!⁵
So, what are some of the sacrifices you’ve made, and what blessings have you seen from it?
How do you find the strength to sacrifice what the Lord has asked?
What else have you learned about sacrifice?
1. Matthew 1:19
2. ”A true man makes sacrifices in order to honor his commitments.” D. Todd Christofferson, “Let Us Be Men”, 2006 October General Conference
3. Lectures on Faith , 69
4. Samuel 15:22
3. Moses 5:4-5
5. “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father”, Ensign, Nov. 1995, 22