Summary: Perhaps Jesus' most challenging saying of all is that to save your lives we must be willing to lose it for His sake and the Gospels. We explore what this really means practically, and whether Jesus meant for it to be literally true.
The Paradoxical Sayings of Jesus
Lose Your Life to Save It
We continue in our summer series on the paradoxical sayings of Jesus. Jesus said a number of things which violate common sense, and seem to be impossible with regard to all the realities we face in this world, and would not have been believed had it not been for who Jesus turned out to be.
The two we've looked at so far are these: Jesus said, Give and it shall be given to you. And to be first, we must choose to be last.
And if those don't see to be self-contradictory, or difficult to apply, we now come to perhaps the absolutely most challenging of all of his paradoxical statements. Listen carefully to this, because this will challenge your most basic instincts, including your survival instinct. For Jesus said, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."
Now, one of my reactions to a statement like that is who would say that sort of thing? Really, who would ever even imagine that could be true? And then, perhaps more importantly, who could say that sort of thing, and say so with such authority that it would both be believed and remembered around the world 2000 years later. The only person I can imagine who would and could say such a thing would be somebody who knows something more than we do, and who more than that, is sovereign over the issue of eternal life and death. In other words, whoever said it must have been God in the flesh, the Savior of mankind, the man who is sovereign over immortality, eternal life and even eternal death.
The statement also shares a characteristic true of all of Jesus' paradoxical statements: It could only be true if God Himself is behind it.
The statement actually appears 3 times, all of the appearances are in the synoptic Gospels, or the Gospels with the same perspective, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Specifically, it's found in Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24. In each of the Gospels it appears in the context of the same story. Jesus and his disciples are in the far northeastern part of Israel, just below Mount Hermon, in Caesarea Phillippi and Jesus has just quizzed the disciples about who men say that He is, and then He asked them whom they say that He is. And of course, Peter provides Him with the great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God—probably largely speaking for the whole group of the disciples with regard to the startling conclusion they had come to after being with Jesus for some time—that He was indeed the great and long-awaited Messiah and King of the Jews.
It marks a critical juncture in Christ's ministry. One of his major goals has been accomplished—He has finally and fully persuaded Peter and most of the disciples of one of the two greatest teachings of Christianity—that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah, God in the Flesh and thus our Savior. Upon hearing and commending Peter for His confession of this truth which is vital for our salvation, Jesus immediately embarks on persuading the disciples of the other great truth with regard to Himself—that the Messiah had come to die for our sins and raised again on the third day. And essentially what Jesus is ultimately going to say in the course of the challenging discussion that follows is this: To be a true follower of Jesus—you need to lose your life for Christ's sake to gain it for eternity. Lose your life for Christ's sake to gain it for eternity.
We'll start reading in verse 31: "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly."
Now this is a completely new and revolting concept to Jesus' disciples, and to Jews in general. The general view of the Jews and the disciples is that the Messiah would be a political and military deliverer who would rescue the Jews from foreign domination. Jesus had made veiled references to His death and resurrection previously, but now, as Mark comments on it, he says that Jesus was stating the matter plainly. In other words, he was not making the point once, but he was stating it repeatedly and more than that, he was stating it in the clearest, most concrete and unmistakable terms so that the disciples would have absolutely no question about what was about to happen. Obviously, the idea that Jesus would be raised from the dead totally escapes the disciple’s notice—clearly due to their unbelief regarding such a possibility. They, and Peter, especially were focused on what they saw as very, very bad news—that the religious and political establishment in Israel, the elders or Sanhedrin and the chief priests and all those scholarly scribes who controlled what happened in Israel were going to reject Jesus so forcefully that they would kill him. And that notion was just absolutely unacceptable to them. At the very least, it was completely unacceptable to Peter, whom, as we have seen, was the most outspoken of the disciples, and often spoke for them. Peter was probably feeling pretty good about himself, having just been commended for making the great confession, and hearing that flesh and blood had not revealed this truth to him, but rather Jesus' Father in heaven. And it's often when we're feeling pretty confident about ourselves that we end up in trouble—pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. So Peter, having reached the heights of spiritual understanding, now falls to the very depths of spiritual deception and presumes upon Himself that He is able to correct, of all people, Jesus, the man He has just declared to be the Son of the living God.