Losing life to Save it
Let’s open the Word of God to Mark 8:34-38. This would perhaps be the most important one that you could ever hear because it is the pinnacle of our Lord’s teaching, with regard to inviting sinners to come to Him. Here are the words of our Lord to sinners, inviting them to come for forgiveness, blessing, peace, joy, and eternal life with Him forever. Here is the way to life in heaven.
Here is the way to heaven. Listen to our Lord’s words starting in verse 34, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” This same account is given to us in Matthew 16 and in Luke 9. And similar words are expressed at times through the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This invitation is the opposite of self-centered invitations. This is not an invitation to health, or wealth, or fulfillment, or prosperity, or healing, or a boosted self-image, or trouble-free living. This is an invitation to self-denial, cross bearing, and obedience. But this is the Lord’s invitation, and this is the one invitation that we must give to others if we are faithful to Christ’ words.
Matthew 10:32, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Then He said, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a person’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
When somebody becomes a believer, they immediately are alienated from the people in their own household who reject Christ. And He goes on to say, “Who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me. And he who doesn’t take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it; he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
In Luke 9:57 - 62, Jesus basically says, “If you say you want to follow Me, but you have any other agenda that is more important than Me, then you can’t be My disciple. A person said, “Oh, I want to follow you, but I need to go home and get my inheritance. Oh, I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go bury my father. I have got to negotiate things to make sure I have money while I’m following You.”
Jesus said, “Don’t start to follow and turn back or you’re not worthy.” He’s always talking about the price of following Him. And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is not easy. You have to say no to family. You have to say no to the things of the world, no to the love of sin.
People want the kingdom. They want forgiveness, they want eternal life, but the price is everything. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and doesn’t hate His own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can’t be my disciple.” Jesus simply means, I’ll follow Christ, even if it costs me my family and it might even cost me my life,”
So let’s look at the text, and the principle in verse 34, “He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” Now, the context is in verse 29 when Peter says, “You are the Messiah. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So, they understand that Jesus is God in human flesh.
Now, their view is that the Messiah is going to come and establish a kingdom. And He’s going to make Israel the most powerful nation in the world, and all the nations will be beneath Israel. The Messiah will reign in Jerusalem over Israel and extend that reign over the world. They believe that all the promises to Abraham, David and to all the prophets, are coming to pass now.
But then Jesus says, “The Son of Man will suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes” – that’s the Jewish Sanhedrin – “and be killed, and after three days rise again.” But it was so contrary to everything that they believed and hoped and expected, so that Peter, speaking on behalf of them said, “No, no, Lord. That’s not the way it’s going to be.”
And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. Jesus said to Him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; you have man’s interests in your heart, not God’s.” Man is interested only in the glory. Man is interested only in the kingdom. Man is interested only in the blessing, but God requires the cross. There will be no kingdom; there will be no blessing if there is not a sacrifice for sin of mankind.
There’s no crown without a cross. And here comes the invitation, “If anyone wishes to come after Me” – if anyone. He is saying this to affirm the nature of their true faith. And He is saying this as an open invitation to the crowd that’s surround them. It’s a reaffirmation of the original commitment of the disciples to follow Jesus, realizing that it’s going to require self-denial and a cross.
Let’s study first self-denial. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself.” What you are saying is, “I no longer want to associate with the person that I am. I realize my sinfulness. I realize I cannot earn this. I abandon the works righteousness system. Works to gain righteousness dominates Judaism and all religions in the world. That you can work to be good enough for God to accept you.
When you come to Christ, you deny yourself. You see that all of your desires – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life – all your ambitions were all wrapped up in yourself. The heart sees in itself only sin, and realizes it must abandon itself if there’s to be any hope of a relationship to God. Giving up your trust in self, your confidence in what you are by nature, you now depend on Christ alone.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” The word “poor in spirit” is the word for abject total poverty. I do not want to be the person that I am, I want to become the person that You want me to be.”
The proud sinner wants Christ and his pleasure, Christ and his possessions, Christ and his sin. The person who is crushed is so desperate he wants Christ and will give up everything. Jesus told two parables in Matthew 13, one about a man who found a pearl of great price, and in order to get it, he sold everything. Another about a man who found a treasure hidden, and in order to get it, he sold everything.
The treasure is worth more than everything he had. That’s the picture of coming to Christ. And this becomes a way of life for a Christian. You’re not just crushed and broken at the beginning. You remain that way. In fact, you grow that way. You grow upward, like a tree, in your knowledge. At the same, your roots go down deeper and deeper into humility.
Second, cross bearing. Verse 34, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross.” What does Jesus mean? Well, Jesus had not yet told the disciples He would be crucified. So, when He talked about a cross, they think about death by crucifixion. Thirty thousand Jews were crucified by the Romans in Israel around that period of our Lord’s life.
What was Jesus saying? “Well, if you want to follow Me, you’re going to have to follow My reproach. I’m headed toward death, and frankly, so are you.” And we know that all but one, of the Twelve were martyred because He wouldn’t deny the faith. Peter himself was crucified upside down. Jesus said, “This salvation I’m offering you is so valuable that you need to give up everything, even death.”
This is a willingness to endure persecution. The cross here, is a metaphor for suffering. Not every believer who comes to Christ will die, but there’s suffering along the way, rejection by family, by relatives, by the people we work with, people we know, and people we care about. There is a serious hostility towards those who are faithful Christians, because they are a rebuke to the world.
“If you come to Me,” Jesus is saying, “you will endure persecution.” “You will endure rejection, reproach, and shame.” And in Matthew’s account, He even adds that it would occur daily. They knew what He was saying. “This is going to cost you everything.” This is not going to be wealth and prosperity now, but later one day in the kingdom of Christ when He returns.
We’re in a hostile world, and it’s still going on, isn’t it? Because Christ has not yet come back to establish the kingdom. So, they’re being told to say no to putting yourself first, willing to pay any price because salvation is so valuable. Would you sell everything to buy it? Even your relationships, in many cases temporarily because you could lead somebody to Christ.
The gospel is offered based on, “Does this offer have enough value that you would give up everything for it?” And if it doesn’t, then you don’t understand it. You’re caught up in the temporal passing world and have no sense of that which is everlasting. True conversion views Christ, the gospel, salvation and heaven so precious that no personal sacrifice is too much.
People lay down their lives for causes. Would you not rejoice to die one day, to see Jesus standing on the right hand of God and to be welcomed into the glories of eternal heaven, like Stephen was? This is not about what you get in this world. Your life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away. And when you face that moment, 1 Peter 4:12 - 14 says, “He’ll give you grace.”
Have you read Fox’s Book of Martyrs? That great litany of profound testimonies of those who have died giving glory to Christ and feeling the grace that comes to the one who stands in the place of the martyr. It goes on today. People are dying today for the cause of Christ around the world, more today than perhaps at any time in the past, in countries where they pay with their lives.
Loyal obedience would be the third one. “And follow Me.” What does it mean? The word actually means to imitate. You imitate Christ. 1 John 2:6 says, “If you say you abide in Christ, you ought to walk the way He walked.” Obedience then becomes the essence of discipleship. We obey the Word of God with joy; with love; with gratitude; and we obey it gladly.
James 1 says, “We’re not just hearers of the Word, we’re doers of the Word.” Well, that’s the principle. Now, here’s the paradox. Verse 35. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” If you want to keep control of it, live it your way, cherish your sin, you can do that. You can save your life temporally, but you will lose it eternally. We’re not talking about giving up your life for the poor.
There are a lot of noble causes for which people give up their lives. We’re not talking about dying as a soldier; or dying as a hero. “But when you will give up your life, you lose your life for My sake and the gospel.” It is only when you lose your life, and yield it up for Christ that you save it. Such humble self-sacrificing willingness comes because you understand the gift of salvation.
Verse 36 poses a question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Was that a really astute decision? Remember the man about whom Jesus spoke, who kept building bigger and bigger barns because he had more stuff? He said to himself, “Soul, take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.” And then comes the divine voice, “Tonight you die.” What are you going to profit?
It is the common belief that man is the happiest when he has the most stuff, the most that the world has to offer. Verse 37, “Because what are you going to give in exchange for your soul?” How are you going to buy back your soul? All the money, all the power in the world cannot buy back your soul. What is of equivalent value to your soul? Your soul is worth more than everything in this world.
You will live forever. There is no price for your soul except the provision of Jesus Christ on the cross. He paid an infinite price because of an infinite value attached to you. It’s winning by losing. Verse 38, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
There’s a coming judgment. In 2 Thessalonians 1, it says that Christ will come from heaven with His holy angels in flaming fire to take retribution on those who do not obey the gospel. This is a severe invitation because judgment is attached to it. And if you choose not to do it because you’re ashamed of Christ, and you want to fully embrace your place in the midst of this sinful generation.
You take your place with the perishing world, with the doomed rejecters to whom the gospel is a shameful thing, you will face divine judgment. When Christ comes, He comes to judge the world. How valuable do you think your soul is? It was valuable to God so that He sent His Son to provide the purchase price, namely His own death, to buy your eternal soul. Let us pray.