“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” Those words were found in the diary of missionary Jim Elliot, who at the age of 28 was martyred in Ecuador by the Huaorani people – the very tribal group he was trying to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Elliot’s words are immortalized, and they rise right up and out of our Lord’s teaching here in Matthew 16. Elliot clearly found conviction for his own life by the Lord’s words.
Our Lord lays down heavy words in this passage. They are heavy because they emphasize the cost required in following Him. We must understand that cost is not optional in the Christian life. It is fundamental. Every Christian finds they in a daily tradeoff where you choose to either live that moment for Jesus Christ or live for something else. There is a cost to follow the world – it costs you in your walk with Jesus Christ. And there is a cost to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus will require giving up worldly gains. Just like following the world will require giving up godly gains.
Also, it is a cost that has different aspects to it: material, social, relational, financial, and more. While these are most certainly encompassed within the sphere of Christian sacrifice, I don’t believe Jesus is focusing on these. I think here instead the Lord speaks of the cost of perspective. He is entering down into the underlying heart of a believer’s perspective. How does he see himself? The world? The things and successes of the world? Most importantly how does he see Christ? This life is full of competing attractions that vie for our allegiance. If we are to maintain allegiance to Christ first we will find that it actually requires allegiance to Him alone. If our love for Christ has not produced a hatred for everything else we still have more love to give Him. He said, “Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Nothing can be allowed to get near our “first love” (Revelation 2:4). It is this perspective alone that will truly enable a believer’s willingness to sacrifice for Christ and shape his attitude while doing it.
#1: Jesus Christ Demands I Forsake My Self (v24-25)
First of all, Jesus Christ demands that I forsake myself. Notice verses 24-25, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Okay, what is going on here? Our Lord lays down some serious terms. Well this statement is made right after rebuking Peter. Notice the previous verses starting in verse 21. Peter didn’t get it that the Messiah’s mission led straight to death. Peter’s problem was a misunderstanding of what Christ came to do. Peter, like all Jews, were expecting the Messiah to come and save them politically and restore Israel to it’s glorious place in the world. But Jesus did not come for the throne but for the cross. The salvation He came to give Israel was spiritual, not political. They were under Rome for sure, but, they had an infinitely more serious problem than that: they were under God’s judgment for their sins. And He came to die for their sins to deliver them from the condemnation of God. So Peter, in his ignorance, tries to “straighten” Jesus out. But Jesus sees what’s going on, He sees Satan at work through Peter, trying to divert Jesus from the cross – which is man’s only hope. (***Satan often is at work in ways that appear good and noble when in fact they undermine the plans of God). The point Jesus drove home to Peter is that He as the Messiah must die. For mankind to be saved He must die. For Peter to have life, He must die. And after pointing out the necessity of His own death, Jesus then transitions into the necessity of His disciple’s death. Jesus is not talking about martyrdom because He’s talking about how to live your life for Him. Living for Him is dying to your self. It’s self-repudiation. It is the perspective that I have nothing to do with myself anymore. I am all about Christ. The Christian life is a daily dying to self. Living for self and living for Christ are mutually exclusive. If you’re going to live for Him you must die to you. You must deny you. This is what Paul talked about in Romans 12:1 when he said, “Brothers, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as LIVING SACRIFICES, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.” In 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
Peter was learning right then and there that death was fundamental to the Christian life. It sounds paradoxical, but it’s true. To have life, you must die. And death is what we Christians must want. We must want the death of our old self, our old sin-ridden self. Paul said it this way in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and fellowship of sharing in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death…” What does that mean? Becoming like Him in His death? It means Paul wanted to be as humble as Christ so that he would practice self-denial the same way Christ did. Jesus wasn’t self-assertive, but, self-denying. Jesus submitted Himself to His Father and it led to His humiliating death on the cross. Remember the Garden? Remember His prayer? “Father, if it is possible for this cup to pass from me, yet not my will but yours!” That is how Jesus died. Absolutely given over in perfect humble submission to God. This is how Paul wanted to become like the Lord in His death – absolutely consumed with what God wanted for him and complete abandonment of what Paul wanted for Paul.
For Peter, it was a stinging lesson, but one he learned well. In his first letter, written 30 years later, he says in 4:12-19. Now Peter learned that trading in the world for Christ was trading up. And no amount of grief and suffering endured for following Christ could ever dissuade him from going after his Lord.
Application #1: Now, do you see here how Jesus commands allegiance to himself? For anyone else these words would be the peak of arrogance. No one but Jesus can make these kinds of promises of life and so no one else can call others to forsake all they have and follow them.
Application #2: Do we see here that living for Christ means living for Him. We aren’t following a set of ethics or a string of teachings that float around in the universe. We follow Christ. Him. Personal. And when we are committed to Him first THEN following His commands and demands flow out of our lives. We can follow His teachings without following Him. But then what you get is the attempt to live the Christian life by self-effort. It is hollow because it carries on outwardly with conformity to Christ but inwardly there is no first love for Christ. There is no heart underneath the external religion going on making the whole thing artificial. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I now live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
First, Jesus Christ demands we forsake ourselves for Him.
#2: Jesus Christ Demands I Forsake the World (26)
Secondly Jesus Christ demands we forsake the World. Notice verse 26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” His question is rhetorical and meant to accentuate the foolishness of making this world and all it offers the goal of our hearts. And notice how he draws this out with hyperbole, it’s like he’s saying, “Peter, listen, even if a man could amass the greatest fortune in all history, rise to the highest rank of power, achieving legendary feats, be loved by all, what would it gain him if with his last breath he lost his own soul?”
Paul gives us such a perfect picture of what this looks like in Philippians 3:7-9. Turn there with me. [Read]. Look how he spurns all he once was apart from Christ. Everything he treasured and saw as his life trophies he now hated and saw as trash. This only happens when he sees Christ! In Christ Paul saw someone infinitely superior in worth to all he has set his heart on in this world. That’s why verses 10-14 go on to declare his new ambitions and pursuits – all centered in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul died to the world and lived for Christ. Living for Jesus Christ necessitates dying to the world. Galatians 6:14 says, “Through the cross of Jesus Christ the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” First John 2:15 says “If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.” James 4:4 is very stern, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Jesus said in John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
First John 2:15-17 explains what is meant by “the world”. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” When Jesus says you can’t serve both God and money He says that the obsession and worrying over money reflects worldly values. It is having the things of the world in mind, not the things of God.
What is the world offering you that competes for your allegiance to Christ? Wealth? Worries? Reputation? Opinions of others? Possessions? Beauty and looks? Offenses? Status? Achievement? Employment? Friendships? Comfort, convenience and ease? Jesus said “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Nor does true life flourish when we obsess over these worldly things. Similarly, having all these things does not mean we have true life. You can have all this and not have the true life that comes from Christ. Look at the church of Laodicea!
Application #1: Jesus is bringing to the forefront the correct way to prioritize one’s life. A Christian prioritizes the Lord first. That’s why He is called Lord.
Application #2: This teaching from our Lord also touches on contentment. We have all we could desire in Christ.
J.D. Rockefeller, when a reporter asked him how much money is enough, allegedly answered, “more than what I have”. There is something revelatory in that statement. It conveys the corrupt human nature that says nothing is ever enough. Proverbs 27:20 says “The eyes of man are never satisfied” Ecclesiastes echoes the same thing when it says, “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.”
#3: Jesus Christ will Reward Me for My Allegiance to Him (27)
Lastly Jesus Christ will Reward us for our Allegiance to Him. Notice verse 27, “…” The sacrifice of ourselves and the sacrifice of the world for the sake of Christ will not go without reward. Jesus wanted this thought to stay with us which is why it’s one of the last things he said in the Bible, in Revelation 22:12, He echoes what he says here in vesre 27, “Behold, I am coming soon. My reward is with me and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy of comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Peter asking what the reward will be for them for following Christ (Mthw 19)