Gaining the whole world but losing one's soul (Mark 8:34-38, by Dr. Merv Coates)

“Gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul”

Message by Dr Merv Coates, MBCC 31 January, 2016

One of the things I like about MBCC is hearing your testimonies of how you came to follow Jesus.  Today I want to share the testimony of another international person.  Before Christmas I was at Massey University, talking with a student called Diego Costa, from Brazil. J Yes, he has the same name as a famous soccer star.     Diego had recently turned his life over to Jesus, so I asked him how he came to know Jesus.   I loved hearing his story & actually asked him to share it with you at Mairangi Bay today, but he had to return to Brazil just last week. So, he’s written it out for us to share with you.  So sorry I can’t read his story with his wonderful Portuguese accent

Before coming to NZ Diego had a privileged life back in Brazil, working in a big multinational company, and had a beautiful girlfriend.   But listen to what he writes.                                                                                                                   “Things were going so well.  But inside of me, I knew that there was something missing in my life – an emptiness that I tried to fill with many things.  When I arrived in NZ I was surrounded by students,  and most of them just wanted to “enjoy the good life”, without thinking about the consequences – nightclubs, parties, drinks, drugs, sex  + energy drinks to keep them awake through the whole night… then sleeping during the whole next day”.                                                                  I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THEIR STUDIES!) 

Diego continues: “I soon realized this life was empty and pointless. But I didn’t know what to do. I decided I wanted to look for God. I wanted to know Him for myself. So I started reading the Bible. I didn’t have a clue about the structure of the Bible, and where to start & I couldn’t understand very well.  But I would not give up. At that time, something amazing happened – a friend of mine from Brazil contacted me to tell me he had become a Christian!!  I was so surprised, but soon noticed some big changes in his behaviour. He also started to share some Bible verses on Facebook & some videos about Jesus. I wanted so much to learn what had changed him, so the next holidays, I flew to Netherlands where he is now living. I wanted to see what he had seen, I wanted to learn what he had learned, I wanted to have a close relationship with God. I stayed there for 15 days, studying the Bible with him, and praying, watching sermons on the internet, from when we woke up, until night-time.  I can honestly say that those were the best days of my life. I didn’t know how to pray before, I didn’t talk to God. I didn’t know that learning from the Bible, and about Jesus would give me such pleasure, relief and satisfaction. The word of God transformed my life, the way I see the world & my purposes in life. I came back to New Zealand a new person.  I was “born again” in April, & I was baptized.”

For Diego this was a spiritual breakthrough. Today we have read about a break-through moment in the lives of Christ’s first followers. In Mark 8, Jesus starts to reveal more fully what He came to do. And of course people start to divide / polarise in their opinions about Him.    

So at this point, Jesus asks His followers 3 crucial questions:  Question 1 is this: “Who do the crowds say I am?”     Of course many in the crowds are captivated by Jesus. They have seen for themselves His miracles /His supernatural power.  He casts out evil spirits.  He heals people with leprosy - blind people & deaf people.  Some even saw Him raise a dead girl to life; and He claims the authority to forgive people’s sins.                                                                                     They hear His amazing teaching, & it gets them thinkingMaybe … He’s a prophet.   Some say He’s the prophet Elijah (come back to warn God’s people).   Or maybe – just maybe he’s John the Baptist – come back to life after Herod recently cut off his head?   

At this point Jesus shifts attention from the crowd, and asks His 2nd question.  This time Jesus looks directly into eyes of disciples/ followers, and asks, “What about YOU, who do you say I am?” It’s a question we all need to answer at some point.   And Peter declares: “You are the Christ!”   Peter has seen all the signs, and heard Jesus’ teaching, and is now convinced that Jesus is God’s promised Deliverer, the Messiah they have been waiting for, for many centuries.”                                                                                                                               

Of course, Peter is right about WHO Jesus is!  But the next few verses show that he’s still very confused about how Jesus will bring in His kingdom.  So now Jesus reveals something that shocks Peter deeply.   In verse 31, “Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must SUFFER many things, & be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after 3 days rise again.”   

Well, poor Peter just about explodes!!  For him it is not possible that God’s Promised Deliverer, who has done no wrong, will be publically humiliated & disgraced.  He can’t believe that this Jesus who will one day rule over all nations, has to suffer mockery, & extreme torture & be killed by people he came to save.                                                                                                                   

So in verse 32, Peter “takes Him aside and begins to rebuke Him.”  Can you imagine telling Jesus off!?  Matthew’s Gospel reports that Peter is forceful: “Never Lord! This will never happen to you!”  But Jesus just looks at Peter and stuns him, with these words:  “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns.”  

Whoa - Don’t you hate that feeling!?  When God shows you that you’re completely wrong about something He’s trying to teach you??    So Peter’s heart sinks.   BUT Jesus is kind to him.  Jesus doesn’t want to crush Peter.  He just wants to open his spiritual eyes to a deep spiritual truth.    Jesus is saying this =  “If you think I can win back God’s world without suffering – that thought comes from Satan / the deceiver/ the Evil one.   GOD’s way is this: First, the suffering, the sacrifice for the sins of the world, then the glory!   

  • Now, Jesus continues with a 3rd and final question – one that God used in my life to impact me as a 19 year old considering my life & my future – and it still impacts meJ.  I want you please to think about it carefully today.

Let’s READ together Mark 8:34-38: And watch out for the question Jesus asks.

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.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever “loses” their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet lose their soul?   Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 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.”      

At this point, Jesus puts in front of us 2 kinds of life. 

1st, Jesus highlights the tragedy of a life mis-spent.  This is the most foolish mistake you can make.  Jesus warns us about the awful danger of “losing our own soul.”

As a 19 year old student, weighing up my life, I was struck between the eyes by these 2 penetrating questions from Jesus:  “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet lose your own soul?  And [the twin question] “What will you give in exchange for your soul?”   These questions haunted me – I couldn’t get them out of my mind.   Jesus is saying, “To gain the world but lose your own soul is the worst possible bargain you can make.”

Elsewhere Jesus illustrates this with His parable of the rich fool. Luke 12:13-21. “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store all my crops. Then he said, ‘This is what I will do, I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, there I will store my surplus grain.’ And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be for those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”   

How was this man a fool?  He was apparently clever – at least as a business-man. God had caused his crops to grow well.   But he couldn’t see the big picture of how he could use his riches to bless others and glorify God.                                                                                                                      

In the same way, if you try to hang on to your life for your own sake, you will lose it.  Suppose you do well financially …but lose being part of God’s good purposes for your life?  What do you gain?    

Let me tell you the sad story of one of my Australian uncles. A few weeks ago, my lovely Mum died – in Australia.  She was 98 years oldJ. While in Melbourne at the funeral I was reminded again of this story my Mum had told me about one of her brothers / My Uncle Frank.

As a young man Uncle had a strong relationship with God.  He often shared the message of Jesus with friends, at work, & in special outreaches.  However he fell in love with a very attractive, clever young woman. He was captivated by her, but she had no time for God. He wanted to please her. As a result, slowly but surely, Uncle Frank slipped away from his commitment to Jesus. 10 years passed, 20, 30, 40.  And now as an older man, as he lay sick in hospital bed, uncle started to realise what had happened. A friend bought pile of books from 2nd hand store.  In that pile was a modern translation of New Testament.  He began reading. He read words of Jesus, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. …What shall it profit a man if he gain whole world & lose his own soul?”   That encounter brought him back to God, but with so little of life left to serve the Lord, & he told my mother, “How I regret those wasted years.”                                                                                                                                        I’m sure that at that point Uncle would have exchanged his assets to have things over again.  Jesus asks, “But what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus is implying that there IS nothing you can give in exchange for your soul? Because your soul is worth more than anything else you possess or will ever possess.  Your soul is “priceless” – you are a treasure in God’s sight, with the potential to last forever and also to be part of God’s purposes NOW. 

I have a question:  What do you think it means to “Lose your own soul”??  

The word translated soul can mean lifeBut Jesus is not just speaking about physical life.  He’s talking about your ability to live in relationship with God your Creator, and become who God designed you to be in his world.                                                                                           Jesus says you can “lose that life”.  

Firstly, there is a sense in which you can lose your soul here & now.  This means right now, in your daily living, you can be cut off from the life God designed you to have.   It means not to have God to strengthen you for the challenges of your life.

To lose your soul means not to have God to guide you in decisions of life – about marriage / career paths / your ambitions. Not to have God to cleanse your conscience when you have done wrong &  feel ashamed, nor to have God to comfort you when your heart is breaking over hurts/ disappointments in your life.

It means not to have His protection against the devil & his lies & deception, as he goes about his work destroying people’s lives.

I can’t imagine living like that!

Yes. There’s a real sense in which you can lose your soul now. And the thought of living like that makes me shudder. If you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul, you have made a very poor bargain.                       

But there’s something even worse – That is, when that state of separation from God becomes permanent – to be cut off from God’s future purposes – when He fully brings in His Kingdom.  Jesus warns us in verse 27 that “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words … the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”                                           

Jesus reminds us that this life is not all that there is.   History is not just going to drift on until we destroy ourselves – by nuclear power or whatever else.  History is building up to a climax, when Jesus Christ will physically return to earth, & usher in a completely new era of history.                                                                                                                         

Part of that includes a judgment day.  Acts 17:31, “God has appointed a day when he will judge the world.”              Romans 2:16, “God will judge our secret sins”.                                                                                                                                                 But what a great relief it is to understand this:  that Jesus sacrificed HIMSELF in order to rescue us from shame on the day of judgement! So for us that opens up a wonderful new possibility / invitation.

THE BEST DECISION YOU CAN MAKE    The way to find life in its fullness    v.25 “Whoever gives away his life for my sake will find it.”

In John 10.10 Jesus tells us, “I have come to give you life, life in all its fullness” / life that is “full and meaningful”.   There are some people who FIND life in all its fullness.   Surprisingly, the people who FIND life in its fullness are those who give their lives away for God and His purposes.                              

So, what does it mean to “give your life away for Christ’s sake”?  It means we come to a point where we ask Him to direct our lives.  We put our future into His hands.   And we do this because we know that God can make more out of our life than we ever could.    We commit our resources – our time, money, talents, energy – to do whatever He shows us & we consider that to be a bargain & our greatest privilege! 

So now, at the end of our service, I invite you to make that commitment to Jesus.  You know, before Christmas, our friend Diego was at a beach barbecue outreach run by Christian students from Massey Uni.  Next to him was a friend who did not know God in a personal way.  And during the time of worship, as God’s presence was being felt, Diego leant over to his friend, and said, “You should get to know Jesus!!”  I’m sure he’d say that to you today also:  “You should get to know Jesus!!”   Can I ask you, Do you know Jesus personally today?                                                           

Maybe some here are like my old uncle – you’ve once known God closely, but now you’ve moved away from God and His purposes for your life.  If so, today can be a Break-through moment for you.                                                                                               Today God gives all of us another opportunity – to freshly kneel before Christ, to surrender freshly to Christ as your Lord and Director of your life.                          

You can do that now, as you stand and sing a SONG that is a prayer - addressed to Jesus.  The song goes, “Jesus, All for Jesus. All I am and have, and ever hope to be …All of my ambitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into your hands.”

If this is what you want to say to Jesus Christ today, I invite you to sing this as a prayer from your heart.   If you do so, GOD will hear your prayer.   If you have questions, or want to know Christ for Yourself, please don’t miss this opportunity.    Straight after the service, come and talk to one of the pastors, or myself.  We’d love to pray with you, and give you some help.                                                                                                  

I’ve also got many copies of a small booklet that will be of great help to you.  We often give it to University students and others. It is written by a lawyer who became a pastor, and founded the famous Alpha course.  It’s called “Why Jesus?”   We have copies in Mandarin, and English and Hindi and Korean.  And I’m sure it’ll be a help to you.                                                           

So now as we go, let us close with a blessing on our lives:   “Loving Father you know our hearts. You read our thoughts.  Please help us today to commit our lives completely to you. And now we pray your blessing on all our lives and families, here in NZ and abroad.   Now may the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the LOVE of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.    Amen.”