The King Who Satisfies (2): Lose Your Life
Last week we were in Luke 9.1-17, where we saw that the kingdom of heaven had come; that the good news of the kingdom is Jesus himself; that Jesus is a king who perfectly provides for the needs of his children; and that his children are ultimately and perfectly satisfied in all that he is for them.
But this often doesn’t hold with the experience of many people who profess to be Christians. In a city like Paris where stimulation is easy and what people think of you after looking at you for thirty seconds actually matters, many Christians are actively, actually embarrassed to be Christians. And because they are, they can feel happy and content in God when they come to church, but the second they walk outside these doors, all trace of that satisfaction is totally gone.
This is the kind of dilemma Jesus will set before us today (and he’ll give us the way out).
The Christ Must Suffer and Be Glorified (v. 18-22)
18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” [“Christ” is a title, like “the king,” and it means Messiah, or Savior.]
At this point in the story, people were all over the place in their understanding of who this guy Jesus was. The only people so far who have actually affirmed that Jesus was indeed the Christ was Simeon—the man who met Mary and Joseph when they presented Jesus at the temple as a baby—and the demons whom Jesus was casting out of possessed people. Even the most educated religious leaders, the most well-versed in the Scriptures, were convinced that he was either just a prophet, or that he was a charlatan. No one thought that he was the Christ.
Which is why this is so significant. Peter, who is the first person (after Jesus begins his ministry) to actually affirm that Jesus is the Christ, was an uneducated fisherman. He was a working-class guy who came from little and who had little. But he knows who Jesus is. His answer to Jesus’s question proves that his faith really did come from God (Jesus will say as much in Matthew 16.17). It wasn’t superstition, and it wasn’t mystical; it was real, true faith. It was immature faith, sure; it was full of holes in his understanding. But it was genuine, real faith that God had given him.
Now that sounds like really good news—for the first time we have someone actually saying, “The Christ has come!” But look what Jesus says next (v. 21):
21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one...
Isn’t it strange, when the Christ finally comes, to see him telling those who get it, those who understand who he is, to not say anything? Someone finally puts two and two together, and says, “You are the Christ!” And Jesus says, “Ssssshhhh!”
He’s said this before to others, after performing miracles—he says, “Don’t tell anyone what I’ve done.” And we’ve seen before that he’s telling them to keep it quiet because if anyone thinks he is the Christ, it will make his ministry more difficult: people will want to set him up as a great military or political leader (because that’s what they thought the Messiah would be).
That’s true. He’s trying to keep his identity quiet so he can keep on doing the work of ministry. But here he adds another layer to the secrecy, another reason why he doesn’t want anyone to know who he is.
Here, he’s essentially saying, “Don’t tell anyone who I am, because if too many people believe I’m the Messiah, they might not let me die.” V. 21 again:
21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
This has to happen. I am the Christ, and the ultimate goal of the Christ was never to liberate the Jews from Roman occupation. It was never to be a political, or even a moral, leader. The ultimate goal of the Christ, from the very beginning, was to suffer, and be killed.
These things had to happen. It was always, only, going to be this way: the Messiah came to die. And he has to die in order that he might be RAISED.
People often have a pretty deep misunderstanding about what Jesus came to do. Unbelievers imagine Jesus’s death on the cross, and they see Jesus as a symbol of altruism, of self-sacrifice; or, if they’re Christians, when they consider what Christ did for them, often they only think of his death for us, as if that were the main part, and that he was raised mostly because it would be a bummer to have the hero die at the end.
The reason, of course, is that this is the way they’ve been taught to imagine Jesus. What is the traditional symbol of the Christian faith (the ornament that people wear on necklaces)? The cross, right? And it’s not a bad thing that we keep the cross in our minds—it is at the cross that Jesus took our sins on himself and was punished for our sins, in our place. It is at the cross that the wrath of God was definitively turned away from his children and towards Christ, so that we wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment of our rebellion against him. This is a glorious truth that should always be in the center of our minds.
But if we are to do justice to the gospel, next to that cross in our minds, we need to see the empty tomb.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15.14,
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
The cross wasn’t the end of the story! Jesus didn’t stay dead! Three days after he died, he was raised by the power of the Spirit. Because he had lived a perfect life and didn’t deserve death, death couldn’t hold him!
It was at his resurrection that God publicly validated Jesus’s sacrifice, and declared it sufficient and effective to reconcile us to him.
It was at the resurrection that everything Jesus came and lived and died for was applied to God’s children—even to those who wouldn’t be born for thousands of years.
It was at the resurrection that his life became our life and his death became our death.
The cross is not a fitting centerpiece of the Christian faith if it does not come hand in hand with the empty tomb. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
And what is more: if this man Jesus, the Christ, who lived and died and was raised, is to be our Savior, then we will have to be his disciples. And the very definition of a disciple is someone who follows the Master where he goes, and who does what the Master does: even if it means sufferng and dying ourselves.
His Children Will Save Their Lives By Losing Them (v. 23-27)
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Those who were sentenced to crucifixion were required to go from the place of sentencing to the place of execution while carrying their cross. It’d be like a condemned man having to wheel the guillotine which would shortly cut his head off to the public square. This was a brutal obligation—adding insult to injury, pain to fear. This is what Jesus had to do.
And Jesus says that if we are to follow him, we must daily do that very thing.
But what does that mean exactly? How do we “take up our cross”? Well, Jesus gives us a first clue when he says, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself. Let him accept to lose what he thinks he needs (even if that means his life). Let him accept the possibility that everything he has built for himself up to now—his career, his family, his friends, his passions—be taken from him.
Think of the apostles. In v. 27, Jesus says,
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
In other words, at Jesus’s resurrection, the kingdom of God on this earth will be inaugurated. Many of you standing here—all but Judas, in fact—will be alive to see that happen. But after you have seen that kingdom established… You may well have to die as I will die.
With only one exception, according to tradition, all the apostles were brutally martyred—crucified upside down, skinned alive, dragged through the streets, beheaded… The only exception was the apostle John, who died an old man…but even he was dropped in a vat of boiling oil at one point. (I don’t know which is worse.)
Without exception, every apostle had to reach a point where they were willing to let go of the very thing every human being holds dear: their lives.
This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
More than likely, most of us will never be required to go that far. But even before they were martyred, the apostles had all lived that way. They could have settled down and built quiet lives for themselves. They all could have simply done their jobs and been comfortable where they were.
If they had been living today instead of two thousand years ago, they could have invested in a career, bought a home, gotten married, had kids, moved out to the suburbs where living costs are cheaper and their kids would have a yard to play in, and simply gone on like most everyone does. They could have spent their lives making love to their wives and playing catch with their kids and being entertained and sleeping in on the weekends and watching their kids have kids, before retiring in the countryside and planting tomatoes in their garden.
But they didn’t. They left their homes. They devoted their lives to the work of the ministry. And they were killed for it. They never sought death out; but they were ready for it, if it should come.
The question is, again, why? Why would they do that? What would motivate them to look at the comfortable life they could live, and then to look at the life of suffering and self-denial they’d live if they followed Jesus, and to choose the latter?
Well, Jesus tells us why. And how wonderful is it that in giving us the reason why we must deny ourselves, he appeals to our desire for happiness, for satisfaction!
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
You see what he’s doing. He’s redefining what life is.
We all have a pretty clear idea in our minds of what “the good life” is. And it’s different for all of us. If I think about it instinctively, “the good life,” for me, is the house Loanne and I left to come plant this church.
Before coming here, we had bought a house in Normandy. We loved that house. It was big but not too big; we had renovated it from top to bottom, just the way we liked it; there was a beautiful garden in the backyard with a rock wall surrounding it. This is where we were living when Jack was born, and we had bought that house with the idea of raising our kids there, of building our family there. In my mind, when I just instinctively think of it, that’s what “the good life” looks like to me.
And so because we left that house to come here and plant a church, it would be easy for us to look at this text and say, “Well we’ve done this. We denied ourselves. We took up our cross. We followed Jesus. We lost our lives—or at least a part of it—for his sake.” That’s the way most people instinctively read this text.
But what Jesus is saying is far more fundamental than that. He doesn’t just say that taking up our cross means letting go of what we want, letting go of the things we enjoy, or the things that make us comfortable. He says we must lose our lives. It’s not just about losing what we want; he’s requiring us to lose ourselves.
Here’s a better picture. My name is Jason. I’m a heterosexual male; I grew up in the United States and have lived in France for 14 years; I have a wife I love; I have a six-year-old son, and a daughter on the way. I’m a pastor. I love reading and music and movies. That is “who I am.”
But when I became a Christian, all of that changed. It didn’t change superficially—I’m still a heterosexual male with a wife and two kids who loves reading and music and movies. What changed is that those things no longer define my identity. Those things are not what is most fundamentally true about me.
What defines my identity now is this: I am a sinner, saved by the grace of a Savior who lived my life and died my death and was raised for my justification. I am a child of God, reconciled to my Father through the finished work of my brother, Jesus Christ.
Every other thing about me is subservient to that reality.
When I met Christ, I “lost my life.” The person I was died. The things that person held most dear took a backseat to the greater reality of who I had become. The things that person would have devoted his life for before are no longer what is most important to me.
Before, I was living the life I wanted. Now, I am living the life I was created for.
In other words, the Christian life is not simply loss. I’ve lost some things, absolutely. But if I’ve lost them, it’s only because they were no longer what was necessary (or, in many cases, even desirable) for the person I’ve become.
Before, I was living the life I wanted…but what I wanted was pretty limited, if I’m honest, because I wasn’t designed to be satisfied by those things. So in exchange for the life I lost, God gave me a new life—I never would have naturally imagined this life for myself, but it is the life I was created for, the life for which I was designed, the only life which will fully and ultimately and eternally satisfy me.
In losing the person I was, I gained the person I AM. This is what Jesus meant. This is what it means to take up our cross and follow him, to lose our lives in order to gain it. And we know that is what he means because of what he says in v. 25:
25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
I could have lived out the entire rest of my life in that house in Normandy, being the person I was and enjoying the life I’d built. And I probably would have been happy. But I would have been happy only because I was ignorant that there was something even better just out of my line of sight: losing the person I was and gaining the person I am, for his sake.
A Change of Priorities (v. 26)
And what we see next is that this fundamental change—losing who we were to become who we were created to be—will produce a radical shift in our priorities.
It’s not just about enjoying the “new me” in Christ. If I have found my life in Christ, if I am ultimately satisfied in him, then that new identity and new satisfaction will have far-reaching implications, in the very practical matters of how I live my life, and what I’m willing to do with it. And he gives a seriously pertinent example.
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.
It would be difficult to find words more applicable to our current situation. Let’s be honest: the biggest trial most Christians in Paris will face today is not martyrdom, but shame.
They will be ashamed to actually say aloud what they believe is true.
They will be ashamed by the choices they make.
They will be ashamed by the behaviors they choose not to engage in.
They will be ashamed by the way their families and colleagues and friends look at them now that they have “bought into” the stupidity of belief in Jesus.
Jesus is reminding us that all of that shame is woefully misplaced. The Christian is the one person in the world who truly has no shame left—firstly because Jesus has taken that shame and put it on himself, but mostly because what he has received in exchange for that shame is good!
And the one who truly understands what Christ did for him—why the Son of Man came to suffer and die and be raised—and who accepts it, knows that any shame he still feels is misplaced, and lives his life unashamed, because it's dumb to be unashamed of a really good thing.
The Christian who truly has faith in Christ will reject that tiny voice which says, “Go ahead and build a comfortable life for yourself. What will people think of you if you choose to live in a tiny apartment in Paris to stay close to their church, and live the mission of the church along with them?
“What will people think of you if you choose to not spend your time and energy and money on leisure, but instead invest it in the kingdom?
“What will people think of you if you choose to not invest in a romantic relationship with an unbeliever, when it would so clearly work so well?
“What will people think of you if you make decisions that are ethical, but that hurt your career?”
The Christian will reject that voice because he knows that if anyone would think ill of any of those things, it’s because they don’t understand our Savior. There is no longer any shame left for us, because Jesus took it all.
And that reality will be so pre-eminent in our minds that it will reorganize all of our priorities. We will be willing to accept certain sacrifices for him, and reject certain behaviors our society celebrates, because we will know that the only place where I no longer have anything to be ashamed of is in him.
1) Let go of your shame. This is serious business: Jesus says that whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory. The way we bear the gospel—whether we are overjoyed or embarrassed to belong to him—goes a long way to telling what our faith is really worth.
Imagine receiving an extravagant, very expensive gift. There are two possible reactions to receiving a gift like that. You can either be embarrassed by the fact that you received such a thing, and not want anyone to know about it; or you can be so happy about the gift that you tell everyone about it: “Can you believe what this person did for me?”
The question is, which choice honors the giver the most, and makes us the happiest? The answer is obviously the second. If we are embarrassed by an extravagant gift we’ve received, it’s only because of our pride—for some reason, we think that if others know we received a great gift, it will make them see us in a less-than-flattering light.
But in the end, who cares?! This is a good thing we received! If we were seeing even a little clearly, we would be happy about the gift, and we would be singing the praises of the giver.
The gift we have received from Christ is forgiveness of our sins, and his righteousness attributed to us. We needed that gift, and our need was our shame. But this gift has the particular bonus of erasing the shame because of which we needed the gift. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and so we no longer have anything to be ashamed of.
So be happy in the gift that you have received, and sing the praises of the Giver—in public, where everyone can hear it—without shame. If I can dare say it like this: be proud of your Savior, no matter what anyone else may think of him (or of you, for following him).
2) Save your life. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. There is an incredible promise here, and it is a free gift, but not in the way we often think. It is free in that because you couldn’t earn it, it had to be given to you; it is not free in the sense that it costs you nothing. It will cost you your very life.
But if we think about it, we understand how we could seemingly lose everything to gain everything. A cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy accepts extraordinary suffering today—anyone who has gone through chemotherapy can tell you that they come close to what feels like death’s very door. But they do it in order to live a longer and fuller life, a life that they wouldn’t be able to appreciate in the same way if they hadn’t gone through that suffering.
When we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him, there is pain that comes with that—but there is also unfathomable joy. Today. Not tomorrow. Not just in heaven. There is joy, in the suffering, today.
It’s the joy of a clean conscience.
It’s the joy of renewed relationships.
It’s the joy of knowing why we were created.
It’s the simple joy of knowing that we are his, and that he is good, and that we will continue to grow in our understanding of why he is our ultimate pleasure, for all eternity.
We take up our crosses because we want to be happy in him today, and because we have the promise of infinite joy in him for the next ten million days.
3) Love your Savior. It seems an obvious conclusion, but The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Once again, the amazing conclusion of the gospel is, If Jesus would come to do these things for us, what kind of Savior must he be?
If you don’t know him this morning, don’t assume that this gift I’ve been talking about this morning is only for us—for those of us who are already Christians. At one point in our lives, every person here, without exception, didn’t know him either. He came to live and suffer and die for those who want to save their lives, and who are willing to do anything—even losing their lives—to save them.
And the truth of the gospel is that the thing which will make human beings the happiest and most satisfied, the thing which will ultimately fulfill us, isn’t any one thing Jesus can do for us, but Jesus himself.
So if you want to save your life, look to the Savior. Look to Jesus, and like Peter, confess that he is the Christ of God. He is the Savior. He is the Messiah. He is the only Savior we have; and he is the perfect Savior, the only Savior we’ll ever need. Turn to him in faith, and discover—perhaps surprisingly—that the fulfilled, satisfied life you dreamed of can be summed up in the simple fact of knowing him. It’s what you were created for, and it’s what you want, even if you don’t realize it.
Pride, essentially, is assuming you know everything you need to know. But if you really knew everything you needed to know, this is exactly what you would ask for. So let go of your pride; let go of your shame; save your life. Like your Savior, deny yourselves; like your Savior, take up your cross; follow your Savior in his suffering, and you will follow him in his glory as well. This is everything you would ask for if you knew everything there was to know.