(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
"Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it"
24th May 2007
This strange saying of Jesus is found in Matthew 16v25. But let's start reading at verse 21.
When this verse says “from that time on”, it means from the time that the disciples acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ – the Son of God, and Jesus taught them about the authority that the church would have on Earth:
When they understood who Jesus really was, and that the gates of Hell would never prevail against the church, then He started to teach them about the trial, torture and crucifixion that He would need to suffer.
This teaching was too much for Peter to handle. As they say, it “did not compute” for him. He still thought of the Kingdom of God as if it was like a Earthly kingdom – he was looking for power, luxury, and security. He was yet to learn that the Kingdom of God is about meekness, suffering and perseverance, about turning the other cheek and going the second mile.
He was thinking in Earthly terms: why suffer? If you’re the Son of God, and have authority from Heaven, why not just refuse it? Those who opposed Jesus said much the same when He was crucified. They couldn’t believe that Jesus chose to be crucified:
Jesus could have come down from the cross any time He wanted. But He chose to die, both out of obedience to the Father and out of love for us.
Peter’s intervention was just what Jesus didn’t need; when God calls you to make a sacrifice, the last thing you want is a well-meaning friend telling you that you don’t need to make it. And Jesus let him know it:
As we’ve already seen, it wasn’t long ago that Jesus was giving Peter massive encouragement. But hear Jesus now!
We can all of us be really in tune with God one day, and really out of tune with Him the next. We can all think in an Earthly way sometimes, and forget the way that God works.
Then Jesus went on to teach Peter, and all who were there:
Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die, because that’s what God the Father wanted Him to do. And being a Christian means taking up our cross.
Evangelicals everywhere would agree that this is primarily about becoming a Christian. When we come to faith in Jesus, we accept that we can’t sort out our own life, pay for our own guilt, earn our own passage to heaven, fix our own problems. We need God to take over. At that moment, we yield all we are and all we have to God, throwing ourselves on His mercy. We stop trying to save our own lives, and ask God to do it, because we realise that we can’t.
If we’re to follow him – become His disciples – then we must lose out lives; we must put to death the idea that we can do what we want, that we know best, that we are in control of our own lives. We must yield authority over our future, our thinking, our possessions, ourselves to God.
When we come to Christ, we accept that we must obey God. We must do whatever God wants, whether we want to do it or not, because we’ve given Him authority over our lives.
We lose our lives, and then we find our lives are far better in submission to God than they ever were before.
And those who will not yield their lives to Jesus Christ – those who try to save their own lives - will, sooner or later, lose their lives and everything they have.
But there is a second, very important, application of this teaching.
Many of us have been Christians for a long time. And many of us have considerably more than we had when we were first saved - more possessions, more money, better health, better relationships, a better reputation. That shouldn’t be surprising; Jesus died to redeem us, to heal us, to give us abundant life, to provide for us. But it means that we have more to lose and, consequently, more to protect. For many Christians, giving up all we have for God is much harder now than it was when we first became Christians. And, to some extent, we now hold back what we have from God.
And that’s one reason why our Christian lives are less dynamic, less fulfilling, less effective, than they used to be.
As we mature in the faith, we should be happier and more fruitful for God – because He’s had more time to heal and grow us. But, because He provides us with such riches – financial, relational, emotional and spiritual – it can be less true than it was that we yield all things to Him. Ask yourself, how would you feel if God told you to give all your possessions to the poor?
When God first met me, it was easy to give Him everything – because I didn’t have much. I didn’t have many possessions, I didn’t have good relationships, I didn’t have much of a good reputation (to put it mildly). And it was good that that was true, because it’s hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19v23) because he has so much to protect.
But now it’s hard to stop protecting what I have, and just trust God.
We can choose to cling on to what we have, and let our relationship with God wither as a consequence. Or we can repent, get back to our first love, and acknowledge that we are not our own, we were bought with the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6v19-20), and everything that seems to be ours is really His. And then we can get back to living through faith in God – and we can rediscover fulfilment, fruitfulness and joy.