During World War II in the Pacific, thousands of prisoners of war were forced by their captors to work on the Burma-Siam railway line that the Japanese were constructing for a possible invasion of India. The conditions, you could imagine, were horrible. Starved men, wearing only loin cloths, hacking their way through a jungle in 120-degree heat. Death was commonplace.
After one day’s work, the prisoners were lined up and a guard began berating them. A shovel was missing and the guard wanted to know who had stolen it. He walked up and down the ranks, demanding to know who took the shovel. No one confessed. Enraged, he shouted again, Where was the shovel? Again, total silence. That was it. “All die, all die!” the guard declared as he raised a rifle to start shooting the first man in line. Instantly, an enlisted man stepped forward.
“I did it,” he said.
The man almost immediately met a cruel death, right there before the other prisoners, who would have died, too, had this man not confessed.
There was one problem, however. That evening the tools were counted again. And—guess what? A mistake had been made in the inventory. The shovel hadn’t been lost after all.
What a powerful story. What an example of someone sacrificing himself for the good of others—a sacrifice that was most revealed in the most dramatic way possible by the death of Jesus on the cross for us. As Paul wrote: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).
How do we respond to this amazing truth? What kind of reaction can we give that even begins to match what we have been given in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Please, anything we do, our works, our good deeds, are like nothing.
Instead, all we can do is worship. Before the cross, what else is there?