Friday, April 19, 2019, is the annual remembrance of the LORD Jesus Christ’s death on a cruel Roman cross that paid the price for our sin. The crucifixion of Christ was the turning point of all history where God the Father reached out to humanity with the priceless gift of His only Son, Jesus.
Through that sacrifice, we are given the opportunity to come to God and receive His grace and the gift of everlasting life. Yet, the cross is more than the greatest sacrifice; it is a primary example for those who love Christ.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26 [ESV]
There are three facets of this teaching gem which Jesus gave to His disciples that bear some examination. These were spoken not simply as instructions to them, but to everyone who has claimed the mantle of Christ ever since.
The Sacrifice of Self-Denial
There is nothing more antithetical to modern society than self-denial. Yet, in truth, it has been that way from the beginning.
The original sin of Adam and Eve is a testimony to this. They refused to deny themselves the one thing which the Creator prohibited when faced with the pressure of temptation.
Humankind has been prone to that path ever since. It is unimpeachable truth that everyone has refused to deny themselves something great or small on at least one occasion and likely more than that.
The business of advertising for products or services is a fruitful source for examples of saying no to self-denial. One doesn’t even have to examine television commercials to find such examples today [although TV still has the most].
Just scan the titles of your emails or the ads and headlines from prominent websites. There you will find many emotional words begging you to take action NOW! Words such as “hurry,” “urgent,” or a favorite of many ‘journalism’ blogs, “blockbuster news!”
One of the most important techniques a new salesperson is taught is to create a sense of urgency and need for the product right away. The vast majority of sales pitches have this element expressed by phrases like, “for a limited time only,” or “offer expires today.”
Since the days of the Great Depression in America, the principle of delayed gratification has faded from the general teaching and upbringing of successive generations. Nowadays, the latest and greatest are all everyone seems to want, and they want it now.
Many industries espouse immediate satisfaction as their goal for the customer. Perhaps the most common example is seen with ‘smartphone’ usage where user impatience is often vocally expressed upon a delay of more than a few seconds for a text or a download to be sent or received.
In order to follow Jesus as He taught, the natural impulses of impatience must be sacrificed on the altar of the cross of Christ. That means a genuine intent to deny self and to embrace the long and lifetime personal ‘via dolarosa,’ carrying our individual cross for Him each day.
What Do You Have to Lose?
This question is twofold. First, what do you have to lose if you do follow the prescription of the LORD? Second, what do you have to lose if you don’t?
Jesus tells us here that if we follow Him, we will save ourselves by losing our life. He doesn’t mean most of us will lose our physical life, though there are some even today who put their own lives at risk when called to preach the gospel in hostile environments.
Those are the missionaries who take grave risks of imprisonment, torture, and death to bring the hope of Christ around the globe. They are the people whom organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors advocate for and support.
These are truly the unsung heroes of the earth who practice the ultimate in self-denial for Jesus. When He returns, those heroes will be unsung no more and will embrace joy everlasting in a universe made right.
However, our LORD knows that only a choice few are called to that kind of work. For the rest of us, we are called to follow Jesus and demonstrate His love and grace to a different personal audience of co-workers, friends, and families.
While this may seem a less difficult task than moving to a different nation and living among a foreign culture, it can actually prove more arduous in the end. Jesus gives us insight as to why this is so.
And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:57-58 [ESV]
Anyone who has unsaved family members or friends can attest to the fact that you will likely face both unbelief and some hostility when you testify to them about Christ. Amicable relationships are another one of the things which may be ‘sacrificed’ when we carry the burden of our own “crosses” to follow Jesus.
One’s worldly ambition must also be nailed to a personal ‘cross.’ It is not wrong to seek to succeed in the world unless that success means living for the world and not for Christ.
Remember that the Bible doesn’t teach that riches and money are inherently sinful. Rather it teaches that the love of money is sinful and leads to ever more sin, as is loving anything or anyone more than God.
So what is lost if one does not embrace Jesus in faith and follow after Him? It is far more than losing friends or comfort or even mortal life; it is the forfeiture of the self and the soul.
Don’t Forfeit Your Soul for the World
One of the biggest points Jesus is making involves comparing the value of the material things of the material world with the value of the spiritual things of the spiritual realm. Our LORD is very clear about the value of both items and the verdict is that the riches of the entire world pale in value next to the human soul.
One of the most obvious reasons this is so is the factor of time. Time is something we measure but cannot master even with all the wealth in the world.
Time reminds us that we are mortal and our material lives will eventually cease. And no matter how much our physical life is extended or enhanced through science and medicine, death will remain on our horizon.
When one believes that the material world is either the most important world or the only world, it becomes easier to attempt to ‘gain the whole world.’ Our folly in this endeavor is the fact that all the riches in the universe could not buy us even a little more time.
Time is the one factor that everyone acknowledges is real, whether or not they believe in God. Yet, time is beyond our reach because it belongs to the triune LORD who created time in the first place.
Time is also the prison of the physical universe, including the physical body. For just as the universe had a beginning, so did our bodies, and just as our bodies will have an ending, so will the universe.
What is known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics or the Law of Entropy, confirms that time is running out for the universe. This scientific ‘law’ teaches the obvious fact that everything decays and runs down.
God’s Word taught that same principle long before science and it is called corruption. There are two types of corruption mentioned in the Bible, moral and physical.
Physical corruption leads to the destruction of the body, while moral corruption leads to the destruction of the soul. In a thrilling passage of the New Testament, Paul describes it this way.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 [KJV]
If you or I make gaining the material riches of the world our goal in life, we will lose both life and riches. Worse, we will willingly have forfeited our souls for that which is only temporary.
When Christ was horribly crucified He was not seeking to gain the world but to give sinners the chance to gain eternal life. Jesus confirmed that eternal life was real when He rose again, as will be discussed next time.
Sources: The Holy Bible, King James Version, Public domain
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Jason St Peter’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of The People Speak!’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Sharon Tate Soberon’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of id-iom’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text