The Power to Lose It All
Scripture: Mark 8:31– 9:10
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. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.
Our world knows only the power that comes from winning—winning elections, contests, or fame. Jesus says something amazing in these verses. He says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Those who would pursue God’s kingdom are called to embrace a different power, the power to lose. To lose everything.
Today we wrap up our series on the kingdom of God, a series we’ve called The King and His Victory. As we put this series behind us, I hope that the meaning of the kingdom of God will stay with us and orient our lives in all we do and think. I hope that the reality of the kingdom of God will help us see that we who are in Christ possess a power that is unknown in the world today. The power of the kingdom gives us who are in the kingdom the power to lose.
To seek the kingdom of God we will have to embrace the power to lose everything all for the surpassing worth of following God’s king. And we will embrace it as we consider how the kingdom comes, how we enter into that kingdom, and how we can desire it more than anything else.
How the Kingdom Comes
First, consider how the kingdom of God comes. It does not come as we might expect. So if we do not have our assumptions challenged, we will miss it.
The Necessity of the Passion
In verses 27-30, there’s an important dialogue Jesus has with his disciples. We studied this conversation last week as it is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Who is this Jesus that Christians follow? He is the Christ, the Messiah. He is, to say it another way, God’s King. He is Lord of the world, even Lord of the universe. There is no one higher in status and privilege than he.
But now look at verse 31. With Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ!” still ringing in our ears, Jesus “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.” The next verse says, “And he said this plainly.” Jesus was clear about the price he was about to pay with his own life. This was no invention of his disciples after he had died, a way of making up for the apparent failure of their religious cult leader. Jesus did not make it up either. No, he “taught” his disciples, taught them that the Son of Man must suffer, that he must be rejected and killed and after three days rise again.
The necessity of his suffering was based on the teaching of the scriptures. The Old Testament scriptures, rightly interpreted according to Jesus himself, are all highlighting the necessity of the Messiah suffering many things all the way to death on a cross. Recall that the resurrected Christ had to show a couple of bewildered Christians as they journeyed to a village named Emmaus, that it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things” and then, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:26-27).
The passion of the Christ is the consistent teaching of the Christian scriptures, in the Old Testament as well as the New. The scriptures are not rightly interpreted, and cannot be rightly applied, unless the necessity of Christ’s passion is emphasized.
The Demonic Intent to Stop the Passion
If that is the way of the Christ that Christians follow, the necessary way, then nothing could be more non-Christian than to suggest otherwise. Nothing could be more demonic, more Satanic, than to suggest a path of ease for Christ rather than a path of suffering. Isn’t that, in fact, what the devil tempted Jesus with, a quick and painless path to acquiring his kingdom? The devil once said to him, “All these [kingdoms of the world and their glory] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” To which Jesus replied, “Be gone, Satan!” (Matt 4:8-10).
That story has much in common with the one before us today. After hearing Jesus teach plainly about the need that he suffer, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” But Jesus turned and rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (vv. 32-33) Jesus isn’t saying that Peter is the embodiment of Satan, that he is possessed by Satan himself. But he’s also not mincing words. To suggest that the path of suffering is not the way of the Christ is to oppose Christ to the strongest degree possible.
I can imagine that Peter meant well when he rebuked Jesus for speaking so frankly about his suffering and death. I’m sure Peter thought he was on Christ’s side, wanting him to reign, to have it all. I’m sure he wanted to see Christ honored and glorified. He wanted Jesus to be exalted, not humiliated.
I’m sure he meant well also when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet. But Jesus said to him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (Jn 13:8). I’m sure Peter meant well when he drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, and cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus healed the wounded man, and said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:10-11).
And I’m sure many of us mean well and think that we are defending the kingdom of God, when we show our own force of strength as Christians. When we unite together politically to stop the spread of a secular society. I’m sure we think we are doing the Lord’s work and fighting for his kingdom in many of the ways we behave in the world.
But what if we’re not? What if, in the midst of our zeal for the Lord, our desire to see him exalted, we are found opposing God (Acts 5:39)? Because, you see, the kingdom of God comes according to God’s plan and according to the actions of his king. And it comes through his suffering and death and resurrection. Are you ok with that? The kingdom of God does not need your help. You might even be in the way.
How to Enter the Kingdom
Indeed, we are all in the way, born as enemies of God, opposing his kingdom. And since the kingdom of God comes through the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, it should come as no surprise that to enter this kingdom involves a similar kind of loss for us. In our next episode (vv. 34-9:1), we find Jesus speaking to a broader audience, to the crowd as well as his disciples. The following teaching of Jesus applies not just to the original apostles, not just to the formal leaders of Christianity, but to everyone who wants to be included in it.
And Jesus teaches plainly, to all who would hear him, that not only does the way of the Christ involve loss; the way of Christians does as well. Away with any hint of prosperity Christianity, the idea that being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a follower of Christ, is going to be altogether different from the way that Christ himself walked. That simply does not comply with the teaching of Jesus. The only way to enter the kingdom is to lose it all.
Denial, Death, Discipleship
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus explains in verse 34, he must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny yourself is not merely giving up chocolates for Lent. Notice that the condition is not denying something to the self but denying the self itself. How do you deny yourself? The second condition, to take up your cross, shows that we must embrace a Christ-like death. As Jesus took up his cross, we must walk the same path. We have to die like Jesus died. Yes, that means dying as a martyr, if it be the will of God that you do so, a willingness even to be murdered rather than to deny your faith in Christ. But most of us who are not in any real threat of that might miss the importance of this. Like Peter, we are quick to say to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37). But, like Peter, we find ourselves instead denying Jesus before the rooster announces the arrival of the next morning.
So let us take a moment and count the cost for entering the kingdom. Jesus has just told us what it will cost us to be his disciple. This is what is required to be a Christian. The question, “What must I do to be saved?” is answered elsewhere, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:30-31). But to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” means to not believe on yourself—to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus. To be a convert to Christ means taking up the mantel of discipleship. And following Jesus will cost you everything.
Keeping Some for Myself
Jesus says this plainly in verse 35. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” So I ask you today, have you lost your life for Christ?
What does that mean? It means you have shifted the center of gravity off yourself and your will for your life and on to Christ and what he wills. This kind of self-denial is not recklessness, as if God rewards us for doing destructive things to one’s self. Self-denial is not self-pity, a form of pride that disguises itself as self-hatred. But let us not think it means a mere “willingness” to give everything up for Christ, a willingness we assume we possess while calculating that such willingness will never be put to the test.
Beware the sin of holding back a little something for yourself, like Ananias and Sapphira who sold a piece of property but kept back part of the proceeds for their own gratification (Acts 5:1-2). Do not think you can lie to the Holy Spirit and get away with it. If you try to save your life, you will lose it.
“How do I deny myself?” you ask? “How do I lose my life? What must I do to be saved?” These are not, on the face of it, bad questions. But they may be. Because they may be a clever way that we’re trying to have our cake and eat it, too. These may be ways for us to look for a way to save our lives. Just give me the price I have to pay, no matter how high the price may be, and I’ll pay it. But the price you have to pay is everything. You pay this price and you’ll have nothing left—not one dime, not one penny, not one breath.
Life in Christ
If you want to be a Christian, if you want to follow Christ, you have to stop trying to win, stop aiming to save your life, and put all your efforts instead on losing. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s the only way to live. Put all your effort into losing your life for Christ and for his gospel, and you will find life.
But what does it mean? It’s important to know that the word soul in verses 36-37 is the same word as life in verse 35. Jesus is not comparing material things with non-material things in these verses. He’s not saying, “Give up all your possessions and live in misery and then, when you escape the body, your disembodied soul will be alive and free forever.” Of course, our possessions and wealth do pose a serious risk to our eternal life, but it’s not because these things are material. It’s because they are mortal. They will not endure forever. So we must not set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches (1 Tim 6:17-19), or on anything else that will not last forever.
Jesus invites us instead to follow him into his eternal kingdom, a kingdom that is embodied but also immortal, a new creation that comes through death and resurrection. So if you want to enter that kind of kingdom, you cannot pay a price high enough. You cannot pray enough prayers or do enough good deeds. You cannot make yourself worthy, no matter how hard you try. But there is something you must do. You have to find life in Christ alone. He must become your life through denial of self, death, and discipleship.
How to Desire the Kingdom
To put the matter as simply as I know how, look at what Jesus says in verse 38. To follow Christ, to be a Christian, to enter the kingdom, you have to lose all shame about him and his words. What does it look like to not be ashamed of Christ and his gospel? It means you have complete confidence in him and his kingdom. It means you desire him and his kingdom more than anything else. Desire. We’re talking about the kind of desire that says, like Buddy the Elf, “I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it.” How do you get there? How do you desire the kingdom like this?
A Taste of the Kingdom
It would be hard to desire the kingdom if you didn’t have any encounter with it at all. You can’t fall in love with someone you’ve never met in some way. You can’t remain completely ignorant of the kingdom and yet desire the kingdom. We need to taste it now. And you can.
In chapter 9, Peter, James, and John got a taste of the kingdom in the transfiguration. This story is a foretaste of the consummated kingdom of God. Jesus is “transfigured” so that he appears in his resurrected, immortal body. And two prominent Old Testament figures, Elijah and Moses, are there with him, fully embodied and immortal. It was a powerful, albeit terrifying experience.
And wouldn’t it be nice if you could have that kind of taste of the kingdom? Wouldn’t it help you to desire it more than anything else?
Listen to God’s Beloved Son
The thing is, the three disciples who had this experience were as much confused by it as anything. The most important moment in the whole experience was the clarifying words that came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (v. 7).
Peter, in writing about the experience later, emphasized this moment. “We ourselves heard this very voice from heaven,” he writes in 2 Peter 1:18. But then he tells his audience that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention” (2 Pet 1:19). Even though we will not have the same experience he had, we have this crucial experience in common: we hear the same voice, speaking to us from the Holy Scriptures, urging us to listen to God’s beloved Son. The desire for the kingdom will grow as we listen to the testimony of God about his Son from the sacred text.
What Does Resurrection Mean?
As Jesus and the three disciples came down the mountain, he “charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” So they did, but they continued wondering what this rising from the dead would mean.
After Easter Sunday, it all began to come together. The resurrection of Jesus means that the kingdom of God has come. It has come in victory. Jesus has suffered the penalty of sin for all of his people, on their behalf. But he has also been raised from the dead, indicating that through faith in Jesus and in following as his disciple, we also get a taste of the kingdom that is coming in fullness soon enough.
What does it mean? It means that in Christ, we have already died to sin and its condemnation. It means that in Christ we have overcome that power through resurrection. It means that in Christ, we are new creation, the old has passed and the new has come. It means that even if we die, yet shall we live, not in some disembodied soul, but in resurrected, immortal bodies. This is the kingdom of God. This is why we seek his kingdom first. This is what it means to be a citizen of this kingdom.
It means we have power, the power to lose it all.
 R. T. France, Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2002), 339.
 So James R. Edwards (The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002], 256) can even say that these are “a necessary means of salvation.”