Losing Our Souls

Read Mark 8:31-38

Jesus caused quite a stir during His 3-year ministry.

Herod thought that maybe Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead.  (Luke 9:9)

Some thought that the Old Testament Elijah had appeared.

Mark 8 gives an account of Jesus feeding a crowd of 4,000 people.  This was a second occurrence of Jesus feeding a large crowd with a small amount of food.

Large crowds gathered wherever Jesus went.  He would leave on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and people would run around the lake to meet Him on the other side.  (John 6)  These “feedings” occurred because people followed Him into the wilderness without preparing food and such.

The crowds and attention Jesus gathered got the attention of religious and national leaders and even of the King.

In the midst of constant teaching, travel, crowds and activity, Jesus asks His closest followers a question.  “Who do people say I am?”  (Mark 8:27)[i]

In response they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”  (Mark 8:28)

Then Jesus made it personal.  “He asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”  (Mark 8:29)

At this point in Mark’s account Jesus warns them not to tell others who He was.

As these events are unfolding, the disciples are competing amongst themselves for position.  At different times they argued about who would be greatest in Messiah’s kingdom when He set it up.  James and John had their mother ask Jesus for a favor.  (Matthew 20:20)  She asked, "In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left."  (Matthew 20:21)

The other disciples were then indignant, and Jesus called a family meeting.  The quarrelling was a reflection of what James teaches in chapter 4 verses 1 and 2.  “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?  Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?  You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it.  You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.”

The attention of the crowds, the leaders and the knowledge of who their teacher was, was heady stuff.  At times, they showed over-confidence (Peter).  At other times, they showed pride (James and John). 

Jesus wanted to teach His followers a better way.  He did this by using His own example and by teaching them what was truly important.

Before we look at Jesus’s example and His teaching, let’s consider how much like these followers of Jesus we are.

In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks a question that is at the center of what we are talking about.  He asks, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

This is what is at stake.  The attraction of attention, power, success, fame and all the world has to offer was pulling at the followers of Jesus.

Do they pull at us?

Remember, it was these very things that Satan used to tempt Jesus in the wilderness.

Another question is, “What do we value?”

What price do we put on our integrity?  It is easiest for me to think in terms of money.  However, we value other things as well.  Someone might hate to be alone, and rather than be alone they might compromise their sexual purity.  Some give up their integrity in order to be liked or accepted. 

As Jesus talked with His disciples, telling them plainly that it was necessary for Him to die, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.  In Jesus’s reply to Peter, we see the danger.  He said, “Get away from me, Satan!  You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”  (Mark 8:33)  Here we see the danger is looking at things from a merely human point of view.

From a merely human point of view, following Jesus is foolishness. 

In Mark 8:31 Jesus told His disciples that the religious leaders would reject Him.  John 6:60-69 tells of those who were followers of Jesus, but when they could not stomach His teaching, they turned away and deserted Him.  “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!  But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Not everyone wants to be a follower of Jesus, but for the one who does, Jesus lays out the way to a richer, fuller, more abundant life. It is contrary to the human way of looking at things.  It runs counter to logic. 

Jesus teaches this way of life by example and he states it in His teaching. 

Mark 8:31 shows His example.  “Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law.  He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.”

Jesus also said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.”  (John 15:13-14)

Jesus taught by example that the way to live life is with unselfish love for others and complete devotion to the will of the Father. 

With His words, Jesus stressed the same thing.  Luke 9:24 says, “Whoever loses his life for me will save it.”  (NIV)[ii]  In connection to this, the 2002 edition of the NIV Study Bible says this in the notes:  This is “A saying of Jesus found in all four Gospels and in two Gospels more than once.  No other saying of Jesus is given such emphasis.”  (pg. 1589)

Mark 8:35 is one occurrence of this saying. 

Mark 8:34-38 contains Jesus’s statement of this teaching:
34Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.  35If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.  36And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?  37Is anything worth more than your soul?  38If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Notice that He says, “You must turn from your selfish ways.”  Other translations of this passage say, “Deny himself.”  This is a more literal translation.  The same word for “deny” is used when the Gospel writers describe Peter’s denial of Jesus, where he swore he knew nothing of the man.

It is contrary to a mere human way of thinking to say one must give up his or her life in order to save it, or that we must so entirely repudiate self.

Jesus switches to talking about the soul, thus equating life and the soul.

The soul is you.  The body without the soul is a corpse.  Your soul without your body is still you.  According to Jesus, to value anything up to and including our own life more than Jesus is to give your own life or soul in exchange for that thing.

The companion statement to denying one’s self is taking up one’s cross.

The cross was the Roman instrument of execution.  The condemned person was required to carry the cross beam on which he would be hung to the place of execution.  Taking up one’s cross is a clear reference to dying to self.

The New Testament has much to say on this subject. 

Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  (ESV)[iii]

Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

Colossians 3:1-3 says:
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

Jesus created quite a stir during His three-year ministry, but only a relatively small number actually accepted what He said. 

Since that day, many millions have chosen to follow Jesus.  Those who profess to follow Jesus are both the largest religious group and the most persecuted religious group in the world.

Taking up one’s cross does not mean that everyone needs to be a missionary, pastor or minister or even a martyr.  It does not mean that following Jesus needs to be a hardship.  We are promised that in this world, we will face hardship, and we all do.

If I can use myself as an example, I love what I do.  It is not a hardship.  It is a privilege.

A person gifted in a certain area will find joy in doing that thing.  Taking up one’s cross does not mean that one will not find joy in his or her work.  Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” 

Can we rejoice in the Lord having taken up our cross?

I certainly hope so, because the Bible commands both.  Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  (Matthew 11:30)

It runs contrary to mere human thinking but the way to life is to give it up for the Lord.  Another Scripture puts it this way, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”  (Philippians 2:3, NIV)

True freedom and joy comes in doing all things for the Lord and not for ourselves.

[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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