Leading verse by verse through Mark 8, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship in Georgetown Tx shows the upside down nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Showing that those who physically lost their bodies for the sake of Jesus would gain eternal life and those who clung to the old-covenant world-system would lose it, this week’s installment of “The Kingdom: What It Means” also gives practical application to the 21st century believer.
part 21 – to save life or to lose it
Last week we began discussing the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. Our natural or intuitive paradigm is first are first and last are last, that being the best is typically defined by having the most servants. However, in the Kingdom of God, our paradigm is much different. In the Kingdom the last are first, the first are last, whoever wants to become great among you, Jesus said, must become the slave of all. In the Kingdom, we don’t define greatness by having the most servants but by being the most like a servant. In short, the best serve the rest.
This morning we will continue to look at life in this upside down kingdom. Our text for this morning is Mark 8:34ff. Turn there with me and I’ll set the context.
At this point Jesus had begun to proclaim the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He had chosen twelve disciples to accompany him, designating them as apostles, pouring into them, teaching them more intimately than others. With these twelve, He traveled throughout Israel preaching and teaching, performing miracles. Many people began to follow Him in addition to the twelve, so he had developed a following. At this point, following Jesus was cool and there was virtually no risk; nothing to lose, everything to gain. He was growing in popularity, so the closer you were to Jesus, the more popular you were. But as we are about to see, Jesus issues a warning explaining that the tide was about to turn, so before you guys follow me any further, I want you to know what you’re getting yourselves into and count the cost, because for most of you, the cost will be your life.
Before we jump in, I want you to notice the footnote in verse 35. The Greek word means either life or soul; also in verses 36 & 37. As we read and discuss, I am going to consistently translate this as life because in my study, this appears to be what is meant.
Mark 8:34ff 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their life? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their life? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Here we see once again, that Jesus takes one’s natural inclinations and turns them upside down. Just as the natural tendency is to think first are first and last are last, the natural tendency is to think that the means to preserve or save life is by striving to do so with our own devices. But Jesus turns that upside down, and inside out; in the kingdom, it is backwards. He says that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Him and for the gospel will save it.
Talk about upside down. Let’s unpack this verse by verse.
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Again, up to this point, it was risk-free to follow Jesus, nothing to lose, everything to gain.
However, Jesus, knowing what was on the horizon, issues a warning. Hey, you guys want to be my disciple? Let me tell you something. Right now, it’s easy. Though it’s all fun and games now, pretty soon, it’s about to get hard. It’s about to get nasty.
As Jesus continues His ministry and grows in popularity, the religious leaders grow increasingly jealous of Him, Jesus becomes more and more vocal about their hypocrisy and wickedness. Eventually, these religious leaders would be instrumental in orchestrating his crucifixion. With that in view, he says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Deny themselves and take up their cross? Yes, you want to (literally) come behind me guess what, you must take up your cross. That’s where I’m headed, that’s where this journey leads and many of you will experience the same fate, many of you will be put to death and many of you will, like me, be crucified.
Now, 2000 years later, we have a sterilized view of the word cross. We think of cross and we see pretty gold jewelry around one’s neck. But in reality, the cross to them was a torture device. It was an instrument of death. We don’t use crucifixion today so this doesn’t hit us the same way. If we really want to communicate the death of Jesus with our jewelry, a modern day bling should really have an electric chair hanging from it.
So no more fun and games going forward. Being my disciple is no longer about watching me do miracles, enjoying my teaching, and being popular. It is about to include being hated, being persecuted, and probably being put to death. Just so you know. Just want you to know what you’re signing up for here.
35 For whoever wants to save their lifewill lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Whoever wants to save their life. Who is that? Well that is virtually everyone. Who in their right mind doesn’t want to preserve their life? We recognize intuitively that human life is precious. That is why life preservers exist. That’s why bullet-proof vests exist. That’s why we go to the doctor, take medicine, and vitamins, why some people eat healthy, and exercise. That’s why we do whatever we have in our power to preserve our lives.
Not only do we value our own lives but the lives of those we love. That’s why intuitively, people are sad when loved ones die. That’s why we would do everything in our power to come up with one million dollars if a kidnapper held one of our children for ransom.
For whoever wants to save their life…well that’s pretty much everyone, with the exception every now and then of that emo kid or the crazy suicide bomber. For the most part, those in their right minds, intuitively recognize the value in human life and seek to save their lives, seek to preserve life.
But look what he says about that. This is a sobering reality. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it. I don’t care who you are, this is true about you. You will die. One day. I will die. One day. I don’t care how well we eat, how many burpees we do, how many vitamins we take, one day you and I will die. Everyone who wants to save their life, (no matter how hard they try, will lose it one day. That’s reality.
BUT, whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. You will die one day, he tells them, and if that day happens to come in the form of an untimely death at the hands of haters, not to worry, because whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel of the Kingdom, will save it. You may be put to death because of me, but if you are, there is good news, you will actually save your life. Wait, wait, WHAT? That’s upside down talk. How does that work?
In Kingdom language, when we speak in terms of life and death, often times we mean spiritual life and spiritual death. Spiritual life, Biblically speaking is being in fellowship with God and spiritual death is being out of fellowship with God. By placing your faith in Jesus, you go from spiritual death to spiritual life. You go from being out of fellowship with God to being in fellowship with God. Sin separates man from God, but in Christ his blood shed on the cross atones for our sins and we aren’t guilty anymore. God sees us as clean and we can be in his presence, we have life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So I believe here, Jesus is using the term life to allude to the spiritual life, the abundant life, the eternal life that one enjoys through placing their faith in Him and goes beyond the grave. So he is essentially saying, “You want to follow me? It may lead to an untimely physical death at the hands of haters, but beyond the grave you will continue to experience the abundant life, the eternal life, the spiritual life that begins now.” Whoever wants to save his [physical] life will lose it but whoever loses his [physical] life for me will gain [spiritual] life, [eternal] life.
What an upside down kingdom. How counter-intuitive. How backwards.
He continues to add some perspective:
36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their life? That word translated as world is kosmon and it means system or world order. Biblically speaking, their kosmon, their world, was their covenant, their Jewish religious system. Now the leaders of that covenant world would eventually give followers of Jesus an ultimatum. Either you continue to follow Jesus and we put you out of the synagogue and maybe put you to death OR you continue to be a part of our fellowship and deny Jesus. You deny Jesus and you get to continue to have all that this Covenant World has to offer and continue to be a part of the synagogue and have good standing with the religious leaders.
So I believe that a paraphrase of this verse would be “What good is it for someone to gain all that the Jewish religious system has to offer and yet forfeit the eternal life that is found in Christ alone?” In your short life on earth, you can gain everything your society & culture sees as valuable: have your ancestry traced back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, circumcise the flesh, eat kosher, make sacrifices at the temple, dwell in the Land of Israel, and continue to be a part of the synagogue and have good standing with the religious leaders, but then poof, you’re gone, and what does it all matter? What about all that when you die? What good is all that in the grave?
If the goal is fellowship with God, the OC world of their day could not ultimately deliver. As Paul says in 2 Cor 3, that system was a ministry of condemnation and death. The New Covenant in Christ, on the other hand, is a ministry of life, in which one has his sins forgiven and gains eternal life.
If the goal is to be clean so you can have fellowship with God, you’re clinging to the wrong thing by hanging onto that OC world.
PEE PEE HAND TOWEL. The other day I was in the kitchen and I heard Jordan and Ellie screaming at one another across the house in the bathroom. They were in there washing their hands. I could tell they were fighting over something so eventually I went to investigate. I got there and they were sitting on the ground fighting over a hand towel, it looked like tug of war. So I grabbed it out of their hands only to have Breann tell me that it was the towel used to clean up urine off of the floor. Here they were fighting over a urine soaked towel. What good is that? If the goal is to be made clean, isn’t drying with a pee pee towel a little counter productive? That is a perfect illustration of what Jesus is saying here. If the goal is being clean before God, what good is it for a man to cling to the OC world that can never make him clean?
To deny Jesus in order to gain everything the OC cosmos has to offer is to cling to a pee pee towel. The only way a man can be made clean in God’s sight and thus to have life is through Christ. To deny Jesus is to deny the very means by which one is made clean. It’s saying, “No, I don’t want a clean towel. I’ll take the pee pee towel.”
So Jesus asks, what good is it for someone to temporarily gain everything that the OC world had to offer and then die apart from the eternal life offered in Jesus Christ? It does no good. On the other hand, it is far more profitable to forfeit all that the OC world had to offer, recognize Jesus for who he is as the Messiah, follow him in faith, and receive eternal life, even if that means an untimely death at the hands of haters for his names sake, because everyone is going to die anyway and when one loses his physical life for Jesus’ sake, he will actually be saving his life, continuing to experience spiritual life beyond the grave in fellowship with God.
Next verse, more perspective:
37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their life? You cannot pay any amount to anybody to ensure that you continue to live. And when physical death comes, you cannot pay any amount to return to the land of the living. And spiritual life is no different. The shedding of the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin and give spiritual life. What can anyone give in exchange for their life? Jesus asks. Nothing. The implication when you consider the whole Bible, is that since we cannot pay any ransom for our own lives, we must trust in Jesus to pay that ransom which saves us from an eternity in the grave separated from God forever. Only God can grant eternal life and the means by which one receives eternal life is Jesus. John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father except through me. So, Jesus is saying, if you want to try to save your life and deny me so that you won’t be put to death, that’s fine. Just know that after that, you will eventually die anyway and at that point you cannot pay any amount to receive life beyond the grave.
But those who forfeit the world and all that the OC religious system had to offer, those who say no to self preservation and yes to me, those who acknowledge me before men, I will acknowledge him before the Father, and though they may be put to death physically, they will have spiritual life beyond the grave, because while they cannot give anything in exchange for their lives, I, Jesus, have given something in exchange for their lives, I have given my life.
38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Unfortunate break in chapter (Mark didn’t put there; later by translators for the purpose of navigating). The very next verse is Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
So here is our connection with the Kingdom. The Kingdom was announced in Jesus’ ministry that it was at hand, it was near. When would it come in fullness? Virtually everybody agrees that the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness would occur at the Second Coming of Christ. Unfortunately, many people miss the timing and the nature of the Second Coming. The Bible teaches that the Second Coming of Christ is a coming in judgment upon Israel, not a literal physical bodily coming but a coming of the Lord in judgment consistent with all of the comings of Jehovah in the OT, which was manifest in the destruction of a nation by a foreign army. Here, in speaking of his coming in His father’s glory, Jesus is referring to the destruction of Judea at the hands of the Romans in AD 66 – 70. At that point the OC was fully replaced by the NC and the Kingdom had come in its fullness. (More in How in the World?)
Jesus is saying that when I come in my father’s glory, if you were among those that feared men more than God and sought to preserve your life by denying me, you will be among those who are not counted worthy of the Kingdom and you will be destroyed, shut out, experiencing not only physical death but you will remain spiritually dead and you will not again see the light of life; you’re done forever.
But those who are not ashamed of me and are willing to follow me, not only now while it is easy, fun, and popular, but when the adversary is seeking to devour you like a hungry lion, you take up your cross and follow me even to death, they may kill you physically, but you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom and you will have spiritual life beyond the grave in fellowship with God which is the ultimate goal.
The good news is that we can breathe a sigh of relief. While those in that first century generation would face persecution by the religious leaders, and even be handed over to death by their family members, those of us who are followers of Jesus do not face such persecution. In AD 70 that world system, that kosmos was put to rest along with Christian persecution by the Jews.
We should rejoice that we have such freedom here in America that we can openly follow Jesus and express our faith with very little if any persecution or repercussion.
Jesus’ original audience had a choice to make, an ultimatum. Either
- deny Jesus and temporarily enjoy all that the OC system had to offer but then go to the grave without spiritual life where they would be separated from God forever, or
- follow Jesus at the risk of forfeiting good standing with the religious leaders, risking physical death, but gaining eternal life, fellowship with God on earth and then beyond the grave.
While we don’t live in the same world system as they did, we, too, have a choice to make: whether or not we will follow Jesus. If you have not yet chosen to follow Jesus, I invite you to do so today. Through faith in Jesus, you enter into the Kingdom of God, where your sins are forgiven and you have fellowship with God.
As it did for those in the first century, the choice to follow Jesus MAY result in an ultimatum. We may be forced to make a decision between either Jesus or (fill in the blank). If we really believe that Jesus is who he said he was, then this is a no brainer, but if the day comes when we are forced to make a decision between EITHER following Jesus OR enjoying something that this world has to offer, our allegiance should remain with our King.
I believe that one major point that Jesus makes in this passage, in the end of Mark 8, is that Jesus followers, should not be ashamed of Jesus. I believe that this is a timeless precept. I don’t believe that honoring Jesus Christ and acknowledging Him as the Messiah, as the King was limited to that first century generation. I believe it was harder for them than it is for you and me. It was scarier for them as the prospect of death was just around the corner. But I don’t believe it was limited to them. I believe that citizens of the Kingdom should be proud of their King, honoring him with their lips. And as we have mentioned over and over, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart and God does not desire a people who honor him with their lips, but whose hearts are far from him. We should honor him first and foremost in our hearts, and that being the root will, I believe, yield the fruit of verbal honor, for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
Are we ashamed of Jesus or will we openly acknowledge him, identify with him, honor him, glorify Him, praise Him.
Right now, in America, we are free from persecution. There is no tangible reason to be ashamed of Jesus. It is virtually risk free, nothing to lose and everything to gain. What if the tide turns in our lifetime and it becomes difficult and costly? What if our government deems Christianity as criminal? What if it gets to the point that Christianity is outlawed because of its narrow-minded exclusive claims and the government goes to great lengths to prosecute those who follow Jesus? They monitor our emails, facebook posts, use drones to follow us to church, what we do if we began to face a similar persecution to that of our first century counterparts? Are we prepared to acknowledge Jesus and identify with him even if it means jailtime, even if it means being ostracized, even if it means death? Now, hopefully that will never happen, but what if it does? Do we love Jesus with all of our hearts to the degree that we would acknowledge him before men no matter the cost? I believe that our passage in Mark 8 and other parallel passages indicate that we should.
As citizens of this upside down kingdom where whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it, let’s be proud of our King, acknowledging him openly, praising him publically, without shame. Let us honor King Jesus with our hearts, with our lips, with our lives.