Calvary Road Baptist Church

“IS THIS ALL THERE IS?”

Mark 8.36

 

My sermon this morning will focus on a question the Lord Jesus Christ asked His twelve disciples. His question is profoundly important because there is little hope of finding the right answers in life unless the right questions are asked. Oh, the questions He would ask. Before we deal directly with His question, I want to make sure we are on the same contextual page. To that end, let me review what had recently happened with the Lord Jesus Christ in His dealings with His twelve apostles leading up to the asking of His particular question.

At the height of His popularity during His 3½ year public ministry ending with His crucifixion, He left the region of Galilee, where Jewish religious and cultural influence was very strong, and took His apostles, those especially chosen twelve disciples, to the terribly wicked and spiritually debased city of Caesarea Philippi, located at the foot of Mount Hermon, north northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Once they had arrived on the scene of that city’s public immodesty and gross idolatry, something the apostles had likely never before been exposed to, the Lord Jesus Christ began to pose some questions: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” His disciples answered. Then the Lord Jesus Christ asked them, “But whom say ye that I am?” No one asked questions like He asked questions. Simon Peter recognized Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. The Lord Jesus then pronounced a blessing on Peter and then referred to His coming crucifixion in Jerusalem. Simon Peter rebelled at the very idea of Christ’s crucifixion, resulting in a sharp rebuke from the master. Because Peter faltered at that point, the Lord Jesus Christ then began to describe to them all the three characteristics of real discipleship.

First, the picture of discipleship. I will read in turn from the three gospel accounts:

 

Matthew 16.24: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

 

Mark 8.34: “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

 

Luke 9.23: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

 

The word picture the Lord Jesus Christ paints for His disciples is of a voluntary martyr. A martyr, of course, is one who gives up his life for something by dying. A disciple is one who gives up his life also, but not necessarily by experiencing physical death. Mark 8.34 shows a multitude of people listening to Him, people that He has gathered unto Him. But the opening words of the verses I have read show that His words are intended for His disciples, which would mean His apostles, plus those who were close to Him and committed to Him. It is, therefore, safe to say that the words “If any man” or “Whosoever,” depending on whether you are in Matthew, Luke, or Mark, do not apply to all people everywhere. He is addressing only to those who are in a position to become disciples, those who recognize the Master for Who He is. In short, only people who are Christians can be disciples of Jesus Christ. This is an important point to make, since there are so many people who are confused about this. One pastor I have in mind is mistaken in his thinking about this. Though he is a very popular Bible teacher, he erroneously embraces the idea that a person gets saved when he decides to become, commits to being, and then takes the steps to begin demonstrating that he is, a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Careful. People are not saved by works of righteousness. Neither is anyone converted by means of intellectual assent to doctrines and principles. Conversion results only for those who close with Jesus by faith alone and experience the miracle of the new birth. It is to those who have closed with Jesus by faith alone that the criteria for then becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is laid out.

The phrase “If any man,” then, refers to “any man” who is a Christian. In addition, “whosoever” is “whosoever” is a believer in Jesus Christ. The scope of His description understood; let us now look at the sequence. Christian? For you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, for you to be one of those who responds to the call to “come after me,” there are three things Jesus declared must occur in your life, and in proper sequence. Note that we have here what is called a first class conditional sentence. If the first part be true, if you come after Him, then the second part must be true, these three things will be present in your life. For a Christian to come after Jesus as His disciple that believer must first “deny himself.” What does it mean to deny yourself? Remember, if you can, the Lord Jesus Christ predicting Simon Peter’s denial of Him three times before the cock would crow the night He was betrayed. It is clear from that passage that to “deny” means to disown, to disclaim any connection. That is what Peter did, three times. To be a disciple, then, you must break those links that tie you with yourself, you must in a manner of speaking disown yourself, or at least disavow yourself. The basis that underlies what the Lord Jesus Christ commands of His disciples is found in First Corinthians 6.19-20:

 

19     What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

20     For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

 

The child of God rightly sees himself as being bought with a price and cleansed from spiritual defilement. That being true, you do not belong to yourself. You belong to Jesus. Therefore, you can deny yourself because you know that, by right of creation and by right of purchase, you belong to Another and you are not your own. To deny yourself, then, means giving up rights and privileges that you used to think you deserved. However, you do not really deserve such things, because you belong to Another.

So, how might a man disown himself? How might a man deny himself, to follow Christ? How about doing without some of your money so you can give to the cause of Christ? How about doing without some sleep so you can help make Saturday night evangelism a success for your own and others’ children? How about giving up your future as a rich industrial tycoon to heed the call to the ministry? How about forsaking personal glory so that Christ might be glorified? How about denying yourself Sunday evenings watching 60 Minutes so you can assemble with the saints for a study of God’s Word? How about being willing to give up your very life rather than shame Christ by denying Him at the muzzle of a madman’s gun? A young Christian girl at Columbine High School did that very thing.

So you see, denying yourself amounts to more than just denying your sins and sinful desires. It amounts to denying your own self-centeredness and selfishness. It means giving up your comfort zone. It is refusing to sit upon the throne of your own life. It is yielding prerogatives for the greater good of Christ’s cause. For a man to follow Jesus as a disciple he must, second, after he has denied himself, “take up his cross.” Here we see the vision of the voluntary martyr come into clear focus. You see, it was the practice of the Romans, skilled as they were in the exercise of institutional and imperial brutality, to require one who was to be crucified to carry his own cross to the place of execution, or at least to carry the crosspiece. However, the Master does not portray each and every one of His disciples carrying their crosses to the place of execution in a literal sense. Had He meant that there would be no need to take up your cross daily, as Luke so clearly brings out. You only need to carry your cross one time to the place of crucifixion and your physical life comes to an end. What the Master is describing here is the carrying of your cross in a metaphorical sense each and every day of your life. Not every disciple carries a large piece of wood on his shoulders to a place where his life will be snuffed out, but every disciple does carry a burden of personal responsibility on his shoulders to a place where obedience is demonstrated. Is it not obvious here that this is something no lost person can possibly do? Turn to Romans 12.1-2 and I will show you why:

 

1      I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2      And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

 

Here we see Paul expanding on the picture the Master painted on His way to Jerusalem for crucifixion. However, keep in mind, those of you who are familiar with Romans, where this passage comes in. Paul urges his readers to present themselves as living sacrifices, another way of telling them to take up their crosses daily, after he has shown them about sin, salvation, sanctification, and glorification. In other words, this is something only genuinely Christian people can do. This is something genuinely Christian people will do.

After the person who is already a Christian has denied himself, and after the person who is already a Christian takes up his cross daily, then he can, and only then he can, “follow me,” as Jesus said. To follow the Lord Jesus Christ has to do with obeying Him, with moving through life in the direction that He has lain out by His example, with following His instructions, with doing His will. In First Corinthians 11.1, Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” However, there is a serious misunderstanding that I am compelled to speak to once again.

I recently talked to a man that I had presented the gospel to who I had hoped trusted Christ. When I asked him why he thought he would go to heaven when he died, he said, “Because I have followed Jesus.” Stop right there. You do not “follow Jesus” to get saved. Only people who are already saved are commanded to, and can actually, follow Jesus. I told the fellow, “The thief on the cross could not follow Jesus. He was nailed to a cross. Yet he was saved from his sins by the Savior. There has to be another way to be saved than following Jesus.” There is another way, since following Jesus is really not a way at all. If you are here and you are trying to make it to heaven by following Jesus, your attempt at following will only take you to Hell. You cannot follow Jesus and have any hope whatsoever of being saved from your sins.

The picture we are given in Matthew 16.24, and Mark 8.34, and Luke 9.23, is not the picture of someone getting saved from his sins, but of a saved person acting like a disciple. A disciple, one who is already saved, must and will deny himself, take up his cross daily, and then follow Jesus. So, what happens when the genuinely saved person seeks to follow Jesus without denying himself and without taking up his cross? Nothing. He will fail. Having described the picture of discipleship, the Lord Jesus Christ now speaks more about this matter of discipleship. What the Lord Jesus Christ said next was both a statement of principle and a prophetical utterance. Both of these realities, understood together, show indisputably that what the Lord Jesus Christ demands of His disciples is nothing less than total commitment to Him personally. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ expects you to give your absolute all to Him. Though the thought of such a thing horrifies some people, is that not what every country with any hope of victory demands of its soldiers in time of war? Is that not what Chairman Mao demanded of his followers? Is that not what Islam demands of its followers, as well as Buddhists and Hindus of their followers?

The demands placed upon disciples are very high, and it must be so. It cannot be otherwise, or that which you claim to believe, or claim to follow, loses its importance. A disciple must be devoted to some thing or someone bigger than himself, or his discipleship is a mockery. Because of the constraints of time, allow me to describe the scenario that our Lord develops to His chosen men. If you cannot stand up for the Lord Jesus Christ during the easy times it is quite obvious that you are simply lost and no real Christian at all.

Sound extreme? Muslims die all the time for their false religion. Remember the Kamikaze pilots in World War 2, dying for Emperor Hirohito? Buddhists during the Vietnam War on occasion poured gasoline on themselves and set themselves on fire to advance their false religion. Although it must be clearly understood that there is nothing in God’s Word that sanctions suicide to advance the cause of Christ (because suicide never advances the cause of Christ), there may very well in your lifetime arrive an opportunity at which time you will be threatened with your life if you do not deny Christ by word or deed. When such happens you must, if you are really saved, know that it is God’s will that you be willing to die for Christ.

The Lord Jesus began this course of instruction by reminding His disciples, using a picture of discipleship. After that, He put before them the principle and prophecy of discipleship. Now, in the form of two rhetorical questions, the first about gaining and the second about giving, the Master provokes them to ponder the profit of discipleship. I read Luke 9.25, Matthew 16.26, and Mark 8.36-37:

 

Luke 9.25: “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?”

 

Matthew 16.26: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

 

Mark 8.36-37:

 

36     For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

37     Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

 

My friend, it has always been the way of man to wonder, “What’s in it for me? What do I get out of this? Where is the personal benefit?” May I suggest how this question is answered by the faith of a child of God? Faith recognizes that the highest good and the most noble cause is God’s good and Christ’s cause. However, faith also recognizes that God’s graciousness prompts Him to seek the good of His Own, as well. When a man comes to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation of his soul, he is trusting Jesus to have His way with him. From that point onward, with needed reminders to flawed and forgetful creatures, believers need to hear afresh and anew the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” Second Timothy 1.12.

Look at these two rhetorical questions in our text. Mark 8.36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The word “soul” in this verse is the Greek word “yuch.” It is also translated “life” in other passages. Consider the question very carefully and you will see that the answer is so obvious that no answer is given. It is patently obvious that there is absolutely no benefit of any kind for a man who, though he has gained the whole world, loses his soul, loses his life. You see, the things of this world, including this entire world, can only be enjoyed by someone who is alive to enjoy those things gained in this world. However, that person who chooses the things of this world over the Lord Jesus Christ is someone who is going to lose his life in trying to gain it. In other words, he has made a bad choice. This life is given to you to prepare for eternity, not to grab all you can of this world while you are here. Therefore, if you have not come to Christ and then used the rest of your time on earth to lay up treasures in heaven, you have played the very big fool, indeed. Mark 8.37: “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” The word exchange is a commercial word that refers to the price of sale for an item of merchandise.[1] Again, the answer is obvious. There is no price high enough to motivate a man to sell his soul, to sell his life. No matter what anyone offered to you, recognizing that you could not transfer that benefit to anyone else, you would not take it in exchange for your life. The point here is that, once you have forfeited eternal life you have nothing with which you can get it back. Therefore, to seek worldly possessions and power at the expense of a place in heaven is an unconscionable blunder. The only explanation for it is the blindness of sin. Such a decision makes one a fool without peer.

The Lord Jesus Christ had spoken of His impending crucifixion in Jerusalem. Peter, who had only moments before acknowledged Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, balked at the announcement. The Master’s response was a stinging rebuke of Peter, you will remember, and this refresher course on discipleship. The picture of discipleship is to deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow Him. The principle and prophecy of discipleship is to lose your life that you might gain it for the gospel’s sake. The profit of discipleship is benefit beyond anything this world could ever hope to offer.

This world thinks the disciple of Jesus Christ is strange, bizarre, and weird. However, they are the blind, illogical, and foolish. In return for material things and pleasures that last only a season, they are casting away every opportunity they will ever have for an eternity with Jesus in heaven. What Peter and the others needed to be reminded is this: If you are a disciple, then your commitment is to follow the Master wherever He leads. Wherever He leads, because you trust Him. Right?

 

SERMON:

 

Perhaps you are not a Christian. Thank you for patiently sitting through the exposition, this morning. I promise not to keep you much longer.

Just a few thoughts from the incomparable Son of God, Who asked questions in ways no other man ever asked them.

In Mark 8.36, He said these words to His disciples: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The answer is obvious. Of course, there is no profit for anyone who, though he gains the whole world, ends up losing his own soul. Your soul is obviously more valuable than anything else is.

However, there are other considerations that arise from our Lord’s provocative question, considerations that not many people give serious thought to:

 

First, THIS VERSE ASSUMES SUCH A THING AS PROFIT AND LOSS

 

The Lord Jesus Christ mentioned profit. He asked about profit, a concept that is not foreign to any of us. To be sure, a business must operate at a profit to avoid bankruptcy, and each one of us must make more money than we spend to avoid being a pathetic moocher who depends upon others to support him. However, have you ever given thought to eternal profit and loss? Have you given thought to ending up ahead versus ending up in the hole? People sometimes picture their destiny being decided by scales, and if they do more good than evil the balance is tipped in their favor and they go to heaven. That presumes people are able to do good, something the Bible explicitly declares to be impossible. Thus, in the profit and loss game of life it is possible to experience loss.

 

Next, THIS VERSE ASSUMES SUCH A THING AS AN ETERNAL SOUL

 

If the soul is not eternal, nothing matters. If the soul is not eternal, nothing is really important. If the soul is not eternal, there are no real consequences. If the soul is not eternal, all is completely futile. If such is the case, there is no right and wrong and no moral or immoral.

This question posed by the Lord Jesus Christ assumes the existence of an eternal soul. Thus, some things are important, really important. Thus, some things are consequential, truly consequential. Finally, some things are meaningful, truly meaningful.

If language has any basis in reality, and if consciousness has any basis in reality, then each man’s soul must be eternal and undying. Do you realize what that means? If it is possible to experience loss, and if your soul is eternal, can you afford eternal loss?

I am assuming that you are intellectually honest enough to really think. If loss is possible (and I promise you, loss is more than likely), and your soul is eternal, then your soul will suffer the consequences of ending in a loss position. Is that a truth you are willing to grapple with?

 

Finally, THIS VERSE IMPLIES THAT THIS LIFE IS PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE

 

What if the purpose of life as we know it and experience it is not the accumulation of as many marbles in your sock as possible? What if there are more important but less obvious things to take care of than getting the most marbles? My friend, that is precisely the point of this question our Lord asked so long ago. By the time you get old, unless you are a complete fool, you recognize that much of life is counterintuitive. That is, the approach you ought to take to life and its issues is most assuredly not what appears to be the obvious approach. Why, then, have you not considered that the whole enchilada is not the same way?

Consider how God does things: When He decided to choose a people, He did not choose a great people, a large people, a powerful people, or an obvious people. Not Egyptians, Babylonians, or Romans, but Jews. When He sent His Son, it was not to Babylon or Nineveh, Alexandria or Rome. He did not even send His Son to Jerusalem. He sent Him to the little backwater village of Bethlehem. Does that not reveal Him to think and do differently than you and I would normally expect? Thus, keep your mind open to God’s dealings being different than you might expect.

Two things are not obvious, but are true: First, it is not obvious that this life is prelude to the next life, but it is true. You had better spend your time here getting ready for there. Second, the way to prepare for the next life is not so obvious. There is nothing you can do to persuade the God who has it all and who needs nothing. There is another way.

 

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Quite a question from a man who gave His life to atone for the sins of others. Though the Lord Jesus Christ posed this question to His apostles as a challenge to discipleship, as a provocation to raise their level of commitment, keep in mind where this question was posed.

Caesarea Philippi was a city unlike any other city those apostles had ever, in their limited experience, seen. Gross idolatry and wickedness was rampant. Nevertheless, this was the setting Jesus chose to challenge His followers. Los Angeles is not much different from Caesarea Philippi in most respects. It is a godless city, with more than its share of promiscuity and idolatry. Therefore, it is fair to ask the question here: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Have you the intellectual honesty, and the humility, to address this question and its implications? Or are you like most people, too proud to consider the possibility of error and not honest enough to pursue the truth where it takes you? Maybe your marbles are money. It may be that your marbles are ease and comfort. For some, marbles are delusion. Whatever marbles you are filling your sock with, keep in mind that it will do you no good to get all the marbles only to lose your own soul.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 111.

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