Many people today seek happiness and fulfillment in possessions and pleasure and power and popularity—fleeting riches and temporal satisfactions, but at what cost? Sadly, for many in our culture, materialism has become their god.
This desire for temporal things is in direct contradiction to our Lord’s counsel to His disciples when He said: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
During his ministry, Jesus demonstrated His identity through messages and miracles. He wanted His disciples to understand that He was the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer. He preached with great authority—He healed the sick and even raised the dead. He quoted Old Testament prophecies and fulfilled the requirements of the Law. His presence was electrifying to the people of Israel, but even His own family was confused about His identity.
At that critical moment, Jesus took a break from the crowds and led His disciples on a backpacking expedition to the regions of Mount Hermon. There, alone with the Twelve and after months of instruction, He gave them a final exam recorded for us in Matthew 16:13-20. It consisted of two questions.
Jesus was pleased. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
But suddenly, Jesus began a new course of study. His first course had been His Person, and the second was now His Work—His identity and His mission. Who He was, and What He had come to do.
So having graduated the disciples from the first course, He immediately began the second: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day” (Matthew 16:21).
This took the disciples by surprise. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’”
In that context, Jesus gave His famous quotation about the danger of gaining the whole world and losing one’s own soul: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (verses 24-26)
Jesus spent the remainder of His earthly ministry prior to the resurrection trying to graduate His disciples from His second course of study. They did not fully grasp the cost of discipleship. Even after the resurrection, Jesus was overheard asking Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15)
What Are “These”?
“These” are anything and everything in your life that isn’t Jesus. When we take up our cross and follow Him, it means that we love Him more than any of “these things” in life. On the mountain slopes at the headwaters of the River Jordan, Jesus posed these two questions to all of humanity: Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?
Lord, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Yes, and My mission is to die on the cross and rise from the grave for you.
And if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Only in the Christian life does surrender bring victory, and only in loving Him more than “these things” can we gain to lose and lose to gain.