Intro – To be truly saved is a costly concern. It cost God His own beloved Son. It cost the Son, Jesus, His reputation and His life. And it costs those who get saved as well. Jesus says in v. 23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To die to oneself – to one’s ambitions, rights, desires and pursuit of pleasure is costly. But today we want to look at the reward. The price is high, but is it ever worth it?!
Nancy gave Pam a ride home from work one night. Pam noticed a large, rectangular box in the back seat. Nancy said, “Oh, that’s a new 50” HD TV set. I got it for my husband.” Pam nodded and said, “Good trade!” That’s Jesus’ message here. Denying self to gain Him – greatest trade ever. Trading time for eternity. Jesus uses 3 metaphors to make His point. Each begins with the word “For” used in the sense of “because.” Here’s why it’s a great deal to die to self – because, because, because.
I. It’s the Only Way to Gain Life
V. 24: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Sounds convoluted, doesn’t it? Save your life by losing it? The world says, “It’s all about you! Take charge. Tap your inner champion! Make it happen. Get on it!” Jesus says just the opposite. Not “take charge”, but “submit”; not “follow your dream”, but “seek God’s”. At the heart of His message are two vital assumptions – 1) I can’t actually make it on my own – I’ll lose myself in the effort, and 2) I can’t lose by giving my life to Him. What I gain will be far more than I give up. But most people won’t go there with Him. They won’t trust Him. They trust themselves more than Jesus. They are trusting their salvation to themselves. They are not truly saved.
Our natural instinct is to focus intensely on one person – me! If I don’t, who is going to? I am the most important person in the world to me. I am born with an innate inclination to pursue my own ambitions, my own desires, my own agenda. The verse literally reads, “For whoever wishes (present tense, ongoing desire) to save his life (aorist tense, one time event) will lose it.” To save one’s life means to protect my existence and give it meaning. To save my life is to pursue two ends – what makes it all worthwhile now and eternally.
But Jesus point is the harder we pursue our own ambitions, the further we will be from protecting our existence. On the Little Rascals one time, Stymie was riding in a wagon pulled by a little goat. His method was ingenious. He held a carrot on a stick out in front of the goat. The goat took off to get the carrot. But, of course, the faster it moved, the faster the carrot moved. The poor little goat could never catch up. If he chased long enough he would kill himself. One of the gang hollered, “Hey Stymie, where are you going?” He replied, “I don’t know – but I’m on my way.” That’s what Jesus pictures here. He is saying, “Your efforts to save your own life are a one-way trip to nowhere!”
In Isa 43:7 God says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” I wasn’t made to glorify me; I was made to glorify Him. The harder I pursue my agenda, the more I lose. Human success or failure is irrelevant. Without Him, I might as well brand a big “L” for “Loser” on my forehead. That’s who I am outside of Christ. I’ve traded eternity for time!
But look at the rest of the verse: “but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” If I will give up my rights, my ambitions, my agenda, my control –deny self and take up my cross daily – I can save my existence! I’ll become who I was meant to be. I’ll fulfill my destiny here AND in eternity. That’s what comes when I defer to Him as Lord. Then it doesn’t matter whether I am a great worldly success or whether I die a martyr’s death, what I get in the end is far greater than what I gave up.
Make no mistake, there is a cost. “Whoever loses” implies sacrifice. It’s painful to give up control. But the payoff is fantastic. We give what we treasure to get what God treasures. We win by losing. We keep by giving. This is why it’s hard to enter the kingdom of God. Matt 7:14, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It is the most unnatural act in the world to give yourself up to Christ, but it’s the only way to get what He offers.
A woman of 90 finally engaged a woman to help her. Her niece asked how it was going. The woman replied, “Well, I don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning, washing clothes or marketing. My make-up is applied, my hair combed. Everything is done for me.” But the niece detected some reservation: “So, how do you like having a companion?” The old woman replied, “I don’t have a companion. I’m under new management.” So are followers of Jesus Christ. We’re under new management. It’s costly, but we’ve traded up – time for eternity. And in the process, we saved our life!
II. It’s the Only Way to Gain Eternal Profit
V. 25: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Same message; different words. Following Him costs us our life – but it’s way worth it. Here Jesus uses an exaggerated contrast. Imagine you could gain the whole world. The desire for material riches is a strong pull against kingdom values. It is so tangible, so immediate. So He says, suppose you actually could stockpile all the world’s gold and silver, that you had all the world could offer in terms of wealth, power, pleasure, glory, beauty. The lifestyle of the rich and famous is yours. If that’s all you had, you’d have lost yourself. Why? Because the moment you die, it would all be gone. All the world equals zero eternal asset. You traded eternity for time and lost.
Solomon inherited a powerful kingdom from David and great wisdom by God. From there he became one of the wealthiest men in history. He had more money than Croesus, world class intelligence, power without limit. He had 300 wives and 700 concubines – all the pleasure one could want. He had it all, but he forsook God; he lost himself in the process and he concludes in Ecc 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Howard Hughes – richest man in the world? Only wanted one thing -- more! He wanted more money, so he turned inherited wealth into billions of dollars. He wanted more fame, so he became a major broker in Hollywood. He wanted more pleasure so he paid fortunes to indulge his every sexual urge with virtually anyone he wanted – male or female. He wanted more thrills so he designed, built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world. He wanted more power, so he dealt political favors so skillfully that two US presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more. But along the way, he lost himself and died a wretched, paranoid drug addict – a wasted, billionaire junkie. And if he didn’t know Christ, I imagine today he’d give all he ever had for a bit of water to cool his tongue like the rich man in Luke 16 who awoke in hell. He gained the whole world but forfeited himself. Most sell out for a lot less.
How could someone gain the whole world and end up profitless? Because at the end of 80 or 90 years, no matter how much one stockpiles, it all goes away in the blink of an eye. All you’ve worked for is gone; now eternity stretches out before you last a vast endless wasteland – an eternity in which you have made no investment – an eternity where Jesus is preeminent, but you rejected Him in favor of your own desires. You’ve traded eternity for time; payday is here and you’ve lost everything. Sounds foolish when you put it like that, doesn’t it? That’s because it is foolish. You made a trade that was doomed from the start. Like the rich man of Luke 18 who built new barns to hold his wealth. Now he was ready to really live. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luk 18:19). But God had different plans and told him, “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Lu 18:20). Where is our investment?
The world is so enticing? Who would turn down a fortune in money and power and pleasure? But in light of eternity, its value is so overstated! A man bought his wife a brand new diamond ring. A priceless gem. The jeweler wraps it in a fuzzy jewelry box and the man takes it to his wife. She opens it and there it sits – the beautiful priceless ring. She says, “Oh, this is too wonderful. It’s gorgeous. I’ve always wanted a fuzzy black box like this. Thank you.” She throws the ring aside and clutches the box to her heart. You say, “That’s too foolish for comment”, but the ring represents your eternal soul and the box represents everything you value on earth, and that woman is no more foolish than most people who ever lived who have refused Christ for something the world offers because it is immediate and enticing.
Ard 1000, Emperor Otho ordered the excavation of the tomb of Charlemagne who died about 180 years prior. He wanted to salvage the treasures buried with him. The treasures were found, but an even more amazing sight met the workmen. There sat the skeletal remains of King Charlemagne, seated on a throne, crown still resting on his skull – regal reminders of a man who had gained the whole world. But lying in the great king’s lap was an open Bible. His bony finger pointed to our text, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” How do we invest in eternity? By following Christ now. The missionary, Jim Elliott, martyred by Indians he was trying to reach in Ecuador, said it as well as it can be said, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” To profit eternally means to be rich toward God now. Pay now, profit later.
III. It’s the Only Way to Gain Jesus
The last incentive: 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Ever been ashamed of Jesus? I have. Didn’t want to be thought stupid or religious or different by others. I preferred their respect to His. We sometimes deny Him so others don’t deny us. Easy to do.
God forgive us, but if this is the pattern of our lives, we had better examine closely. Is the faith we claim genuine if we deny Him constantly? II Cor 13:5 urges, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” One test question is, “Do others know I stand for Christ? Do I value the respect of others more than I value His good pleasure?” How can we argue with Jesus saying, “If you’re ashamed of me, count on it, I’ll be ashamed of you with my Father.” One comedian said, “You can tell when your date is embarrassed and doesn’t want anybody to know she’s actually going with you. It’s the little things – like, when you open the door for her, she gives you a tip.”
Are we ashamed to be with Jesus? Nobody wants to be ridiculed or scorned, even in fun. But truly saved people stand for Christ rather than the favor of people. R. C. Sproul says, “Imagine what it would be like if God appeared with his Son standing next to him, and surrounded by the court of the heavenly host of angels. How would you feel if they looked at you and were ashamed to be associated with you? Jesus makes it very clear that if we are ashamed of him before the world, then he will be ashamed of us in the presence of God the Father. I would far rather put up with the scorn, rejection and shame of the whole world, for my whole life, than to have Jesus ashamed of me before the Father for five seconds.” We may slip at times, but we will not deny Him.
Bruce Larson is a pastor who as a 10-year-old had a father who was 70 with a heavy Swedish accent. He says, “On the occasions when school friends came home to play with me, they would often remark that my grandfather had a funny way of talking. I would never admit that he was my dad.” Of course, he’s sorry now. Will we be ashamed? Jesus says, “If you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you before the Father. When those who mocked are put to shame, you will be right there with them. I died to pay for your sins. How can you be ashamed of me?” Can’t argue the fairness of that position.
Contrast that with the record of Stephen. Arrested in Acts 6 for standing up for Jesus of Nazareth, he gave an impassioned sermon showing that Israel had often persecuted their own prophets, and now this group had killed the most righteous and holy of them all. That did not go over well as seen in Acts 7:54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Think about that, Beloved. Moses asked to see the glory of God and was denied because it would kill him. Stephen, on the verge of being killed anyway, was granted the privilege of seeing right into the center of heaven where he saw the glory of God. Wow! Furthermore, 9 times in the NT we are told that when Jesus finished His work on earth he was seated at the Father’s right hand.” Nine times! But look! As Stephen is about to be executed he sees Jesus, not seated but standing at the right hand of the Father. Standing in honor of this one who was not ashamed of Him, saluting his courage, claiming him as His own and rewarding his faithfulness. Stephen lost the respect of the world, but he gained Jesus. So what do we want? I pray never again to be ashamed of belonging to Jesus. What a picture of how He rewards those who love Him. What Jesus gives back is always worth far more than what we give up!
Conc – What does it mean to be truly saved? It means to deny oneself, take up one’s cross daily and follow Jesus. Anything less is self-deception. Most of us are too tied to this world to be truly saved. We’re like the lady who said, “I didn’t want to marry him for his money, but that was the only way I could get it.” We’ve sold our soul to get whatever we can out of this life with little thought for the next.
John Bunyan didn’t do that. Arrested for preaching the gospel in 1660, he could have been released any time by promising to quit preaching. But he would not and so for twelve long years he languished in prison bringing suffering upon himself and his family. Constant stress. Constant uncertainty. When asked why he would do that, Bunyan answered, "I first passed the sentence of death upon everything, including myself. Second, I lived upon God who is invisible and I looked for things which are not seen." Bunyan was doing what truly saved people do – looking beyond time into eternity.
To be truly saved is to treasure Jesus above anything. Saving faith is costly, but what Jesus gives back is worth far more than what we give up! But it’s even better than that because the main thing we get isn’t a reward; it’s not even eternal life; it’s Jesus Himself. But we have to decide – is it me, or is it Him? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Let’s trade time for eternity. Let’s choose Him. Let’s pray.