His Sacrifice Motivates Our Service

In seminary, I was inspired by the story of two early Moravian missionaries, Johann Dober and David Nitschmann. These men became burdened to reach the inhabitants of an island now known as St. Thomas with the gospel; most of these inhabitants were slaves on a plantation. But the plantation owners feared the gospel and its results, and would not allow the missionaries to talk with the slaves. They would only allow slaves to talk with slaves, so these missionaries sold themselves into slavery in order to take the gospel to the islanders. Working in bondage in the harsh conditions of a tropical climate, they reached many of them with the good news.

The story goes that after these men sold themselves into slavery, they were put into shackles and loaded onto the boat as cargo. And as the boat pulled away from the shore, Johann Dober lifted his hand up to heaven and cried out, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.”

That’s quite the inspiring story. The trouble is, it’s not entirely true. Yes, these men were burdened for these slaves. They even resolved to sell themselves into slavery if necessary. But they didn’t need to. They boarded a ship as free men on October 8, 1732, and spent two years among the people of St. Thomas.

Other religious denominations were very opposed to the work, and while a few people eventually joined them, most other believers at the time said it was too dangerous and a waste of resources. In J.E. Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church, he records,

For fifty years they labored in the West Indies without any aid from any other religious denomination. They established churches in St. Thomas, in St. Croix, in St. John’s, in Jamaica, in Antigua, in Barbados, and in St. Kitts. They had 13,000 baptized converts before a missionary from any other Church arrived on the scene.

Honestly, I find the true version of this story more inspiring than the embellished one. It’s one thing to be ready, in one dramatic gesture, to sell yourself into slavery. But to get up every day and face the difficulties of ministry in that kind of context—with no support and seeing no fruit—that takes a resolve and dedication that goes deep. These men could have given up and gone home at any time. But they stuck it out. It wasn’t in a moment, but over a lifetime, that they said, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.”

The only thing that will motivate someone to that kind of sacrifice is truly knowing what “the Lamb” has done for them. The Lamb was not just slain; the Lamb was slain for you. And when you realize that, you begin to have the kind of radical stirrings that led Dober and Nitschmann to leave everything behind.


Thousands of years before Dober and Nitschmann, on a high mountain, Abraham had nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac. But God sent an angel—and a ram—to stop him.

Generations later, David had an encounter with God at the very same spot, pleading with God’s angel to stop his destruction (2 Samuel 24:16–17). God responds by telling David to build an altar and make a sacrifice: There it is again—the lamb.

David’s son, Solomon, would eventually build the temple on that exact spot, and Israel would offer sacrifices week after week, year after year. Lamb after lamb after lamb, all paying the price for their sins.

And then, finally, the true Lamb of God would be lifted up on a cross on top of a mountain. No one showed up to tell God to stop. The knife of judgment slashed into him, because he was bearing in his own body the punishment for our sins. The true Lamb, at last.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. And when we realize what that means, our only right response is worship. When we’ve experienced God’s grace, we have to do something to express it, not just with our lips in song, but with our lives in service, raising our hand and proclaiming, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.”