Mark 8:34-38 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
This morning’s message deals with “losing our lives.” Just what is involved in that process?
- There is something to lay down.
Jesus said in verse 35 that whoever wants to save his life will lose it. At first read this verse could really be misunderstood. Someone could read this verse and conclude that following Christ means you can’t live an enjoyable life or that you can’t pursue anything you might be interested in doing in life, or that you would no longer get to express your will or desires throughout your life. What I would remind us all is that the gifts and talents we have which drive our natural desires to enjoy music or sports or to want to pursue math or technology, the personalities we have which cause us to gravitate towards certain experiences—these are all gifts of God in order that we might have fun and enjoyment in life.
So, following Jesus doesn’t mean not living life or not enjoying life. God doesn’t want to “take life from us,” but He wants to give us the best possible life. A partial key to understanding verse 35 is found in verse 36. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Losing our lives means we understand that our spiritual lives are the real lives and we live as spiritual people in an earthly world. It means that what happens to our soul is more important than how we experience life in our physical bodies. Notice the hymn writer didn’t write, “It is well with my boyfriend and myself” or “It is well with my job,” but “It is well with my soul” which means no matter what happens to us in the physical, our spiritual selves can always be well, whole, vibrant, and alive. It means that where real life is gained and lost is in our soul beings, and if we have real spiritual life in our soul being it will impact the way we live out this life in the flesh.
Another partial key to understanding the losing of our lives is found in verse 34 where we read that Christ followers deny themselves. Denying ourselves means allowing God to put to death at least two things in us. The first is our sinful nature and the second is our desire to control our destiny.
As we lay down our sinful nature, the nature that leads to destruction, the nature that if followed would cause us nothing but heartache and sorrow, God gives us a new nature. The natural nature that is broken by sin and is self-centered gets replaced with a supernatural, righteous nature that desires wholeness and godliness. And I Timothy 6:6 helps us understand what is awesome and true about losing our lives in this way: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” As we trade brokenness and self-centeredness for godliness and righteousness and a Christ-centered existence we experience “great gain.” As we lay down our “right” and desire to control our lives in terms of choosing to live God’s way versus the way of self and the world, we experience great contentment.
See, losing our lives is not so much the idea of losing them but trading them for the life of Christ which is better by far. Jesus lived a perfect life. By getting rid of our sin nature and having the righteousness of Christ placed inside us we are able to strive for perfection. By laying down our desire to be in charge, we are adopting the submissive “Thy will be done” posture that Jesus expressed.
This decision to follow Jesus isn’t a once-a-week Sunday decision. It is a daily decision. Let me just help us all this morning with something if this idea of self-denial, of losing your life, of dying to self still doesn’t sound attractive. People who refuse to die to self in order to find Christ are the living dead. They might be doing things their way according to their wants and wishes, but they are doing them as people who are spiritually dead. Unless we trade our lives for the life of Christ we will go through this physical life as spiritually dead people and go into eternity that way as well. Only people who make the exchange, who make the trade, get spiritual life. So many people think, “I don’t want to follow Jesus because that will change my life in a bad way.” No! It will give you the only life that is worth living because apart from Christ you are actually spiritually dead. Jesus only asks us to lose something so that we can gain something!
When we say we are doing to deny ourselves we are saying we are willing to give up our current identity because we realize there is a problem with WHO we are! That is why you can’t justify a sinful lifestyle and claim to be a follower of Christ because people who will follow Jesus will be people who abandon who they are and what they have been about because they admit it isn’t pleasing to God.
What does the first part of verse 35 say? “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.” You can choose to keep your sin nature, and you can choose to be the master of your own destiny. Hang onto it as long as you can. Live the way you want. Hold on to sin. Cherish that. Pursue that. You will have temporary custody of your earthly life, so to speak. But when your last breath on earth comes, you will have lost any chance at real life because when eternity starts you will lose any chance at spiritual life which is the only life that lasts forever.
So to deny ourselves is to renounce a self-centered life where we hold on to our sin nature and we hold on to our desire to control our destiny and we surrender to a Christ-centered life where His nature replaces ours and where He directs our steps. That is how we “lose” our lives.
- Second, in this losing of our lives, there is something we take up.
Jesus says we are to take up our cross. What does that mean? Wasn’t His cross sufficient? Why do we have to carry one? You have no doubt heard the phrase, “I guess this is my cross to bear.” Does cross carrying mean we have a burdensome experience when we follow Christ?
Every scholar you read after will tie cross carrying to self-denial. It has with it the idea that we die to our will and our ways and we take on the will and ways of Christ. Paul echoed these words about cross carrying and crucifixion in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “Galatians 2:20-“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Yes, Jesus gave His life for us, so we give our lives to Him in return in order that He can express His life again and again and again through each one of us.
For our purposes, I want to suggest an additional idea about cross carrying. Let me start by telling you that when Rome forced people to carry a cross on their necks and backs they were making a statement that the person who was doing so was in submission to Rome. We know Jesus was submissive, but not to any earthly authority. He was submitted to the Father’s will 100% at all times regardless of the cost. So the idea of being submitted to a greater authority is definitely part of carrying a cross. Surely that principle is associated with losing our lives and denying ourselves.
There is something else, however, that I want to suggest. It is something that I couldn’t find scholarly evidence to support, but I don’t believe any scholar would refute its truth. While those gathered at the cross of Christ viewed it as a sign of torture, those of us on this side of the Resurrection see it as a symbol of Redemption and Victory. Hold onto that thought for just a minute.
Revisit verse 35: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Based on this verse we are to lose our lives for two reasons as I see it. One is that we would become like Christ and have new life in Him. That is the “whoever loses His life for me” part. And the second reason I see we are called to lose our lives is for the sake of the Gospel! What if, in addition to all of the things about self-denial, submission and sacrifice, that carrying the cross also meant doing whatever we could everywhere we could as often as we could to bring redemption to the world by sharing the Gospel no matter the cost? In that respect, losing our lives means taking on the mantle of cross bearers by becoming Gospel sharers! So in this regard, losing our lives means picking up the Gospel message.
This is a different level of discipleship. It is going to a deeper place. When we deny ourselves we say, “Lord, change me.” When we take up our cross, we say, “Lord, use me!”
And if I might, let me suggest one more possibility when it comes to what it might mean to carry a cross. What those gathered at the cross saw was an execution of a person. What God saw was the execution of a plan. Those gathered at the cross saw torment. God saw triumph. You see God has a way of transforming things. What they might appear to be on the surface really isn’t what they are at all. Only God can take a symbol of death and humiliation and turn it into a trophy. Jesus trusted God enough, and believed in the Father’s plan enough, that He willingly endured suffering and pain because He knew, He knew, He knew He would come out on the other side and the price would be worth the plan being fulfilled. The cost would pale in comparison to the purchase it made. What appeared to be the worst possible case scenario became the most beautiful demonstration of love ever and was the greatest miracle of all time. There would never have been a Resurrection without a crucifixion. So what I want to say to you is the cross is a place of transformation because when you walk with God things aren’t always as they appear!
So, I would like to suggest that carrying our cross means we give God the moments of suffering and pain and difficulty that come to each of us without panic, but in faith believing He is up to something good. Somebody this morning, maybe several “somebodies” need to believe God for transformation. He can transform the worst of the worst situations into the best of the best moments of our lives.
You see, we are all going to suffer at different times throughout life. My point is that carrying our cross means we choose to suffer differently from the way the world suffers. We don’t lose heart. We take courage. We don’t get bent out of shape, but we are conformed to the image of Christ. Jesus showed us how to suffer well, and when we pick up our crosses we are to show the world that suffering isn’t random. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned us or has changed His mind about loving us. It means that we trust Him enough to believe He has a bigger and perfect purpose that will be for our good (Romans 8:28) and His glory.
1 Peter 2:21 “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
Instead of looking for ways to throw the cross in the ditch and make a run away from suffering, we need to move through it with confidence and complete trust in the plan of God.
In Isaiah 53 we get a portrait of the way Jesus handled life when it was unjust, when it was unfair. Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
These are the steps we are to follow after. This is the mindset we are to have when we lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel. Even when it is a set-up and feels like a trap as the events of the crucifixion must have felt to Jesus in His humanity, He didn’t try to wiggle out of obedience to the Father by crying, “Foul!” In the words of Pastor David, “He stayed bowed down.” And those who stay bowed down are exalted. Gave His life that we might have life and He was exalted in the process to the highest place above all people and places and things.
Someone needs to hear me this morning. If you feel like you don’t deserve what is happening to you, if you feel like it is unfair what you have had to endure or overcome, listen, while life isn’t fair, we serve a God who can take unfair and transform it into something beautiful, something incredible, something spectacular. Carry your cross by leaving your pain and suffering in His hands to allow Him to mold it into something wonderful!
- Finally, when we lose our lives there is something to take on. Jesus tells us to
deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Denying ourselves is a decision. Taking up our cross is an attitude. Following Christ is a lifestyle.
We understand the principle of followship. Some of you follow politics. You know who is running, who is ahead, where they are speaking next. You know who is accusing someone else of playing dirty and you know what they tweeted
When Jesus spoke the words, “Follow Me,” they were in the present imperative which means, “Keep following Me.” This is the reminder that discipleship is an ongoing and daily thing. We are to take on Christ and His life every day. And it isn’t always easy.
Turn to Luke 9:57-62 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus wasn’t a cold-hearted person. He isn’t an overbearing task master. He isn’t unmoved by our human experience or desires. But Jesus wants His followers to know there is a cost to following after Him. It could mean loss. It could mean a life without earthly security and luxury. It could mean a change in the nature of your relationships. Following Jesus means we leave the route and the road up to Him.
Jesus was clear about “followship” and that being His disciple was a life-time commitment. When Jesus called the first disciples He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They followed even though it cost them everything, their homes and their professions. They were willing to follow because what they understand that what they were leaving behind was nothing compared to what they were walking into.
Don’t hear this morning that if you follow Jesus you won’t have anything and will have to leave all of your friends and family behind. That might be the case, but likely it won’t be. What it does mean, however, is that passion and willingness to follow Christ mean that you trust that whatever sacrifice you could be called to make would be worth it for the sake of the Gospel.
Listen, we come to Christ because of what we can gain, but we follow Him because of what we can give.
The following are actual responses from comment cards given to the staff members at Bridger Wilderness Area in NW Wyoming:
New Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
The existing trails need to be paved.
Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call…
Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
There are too many rocks in the mountains.
Citation: Mike Neifert, Light and Life (February 1997), p. 27
What these comments reveal is that the people who made them didn’t get what it meant to be staying in a wilderness area. They were looking for something different than a wilderness experience. They wanted to experience the wilderness, but on their terms.
A lot of people have the same ideas, suggestions and demands when it comes to following Jesus. Following Jesus means we do so on His terms. Sometimes His terms will involve a steep climb. Sometimes there will be rocks to scale. Sometimes there will be noises to put up with and bugs to endure. Sometimes our pickles might get stolen!
Losing it. Losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel. This is the call we as Christians must wrestle with. Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus.
One last thought. Think of losing your life like boarding an airplane and going through security. You must be willing to put everything under examination and let anything go to undertake the journey. Think of your personal items that you may have to put into the screener’s box for examination: your wedding ring to represent your relationships, your watch to represent your time, your shoes to represent where you go, your wallet to represent your possessions and funds etc. If anything is deemed by security to be a threat to the mission of the flight you must be willing to either stay behind or sacrifice the item (mailing it back) for the mission.
During this Year of the Gospel, will you go all the way with Jesus? Will you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel?