On Gaining the World and Losing Yourself

The Easter season is upon us, the liturgical part of the year when we reflect upon our own depravity and inability to be righteous or holy. In this season, leading up through good Friday and Black Saturday, we long for a savior to come free us from our sin, clothe us in His righteousness, and bring the kingdom of heaven to the earth—a peaceful, merciful, and just kingdom.

Jesus predicted His death, burial, and resurrection on several occasions. Today, I want to look at one of those occasions as we think in accordance with the Easter season.

Luke 9:18-27

18 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν προσευχόμενον κατὰ μόνας συνῆσαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτοὺς λέγων· Τίνα με οἱ ὄχλοι λέγουσιν εἶναι;  19 οἱ δὲ ἀποκριθέντες εἶπαν· Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, ἄλλοι δὲ Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι προφήτης τις τῶν ἀρχαίων ἀνέστη.  20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς· Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; Πέτρος δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· Τὸν χριστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ.  

21 Ὁ δὲ ἐπιτιμήσας αὐτοῖς παρήγγειλεν μηδενὶ λέγειν τοῦτο,  22 εἰπὼν ὅτι Δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ ἀρχιερέων καὶ γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐγερθῆναι.  

23 Ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς πάντας· Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καθʼ ἡμέραν, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.  24 ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δʼ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ, οὗτος σώσει αὐτήν.  25 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος κερδήσας τὸν κόσμον ὅλον ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἀπολέσας ἢ ζημιωθείς;  26 ὃς γὰρ ἂν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους, τοῦτον ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται, ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν ἁγίων ἀγγέλων.  27 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ἀληθῶς, εἰσίν τινες τῶν αὐτοῦ ἑστηκότων οἳ οὐ μὴ γεύσωνται θανάτου ἕως ἂν ἴδωσιν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

Jesus’s Identity (v. 18-20)

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.”

After Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men and their families (cf. v. 12-17), Jesus retreated from the crowds to pray by himself—which he often did. On this occasion, His disciples were with Him. Jesus’s disciples had just served more than 5,000 people. That large crowd just heard Jesus speak (cf. v. 11) and witnessed His miracle. Jesus asks His disciples who the crowd thought He was that they would follow, listen, and be fed. The disciples overheard their conversations as the people dined on fish and bread. They probably even engaged in some of those conversations. Some said He was John the Baptist, revived or reincarnated after Herod had beheaded him (cf. v. 7). Some said He was Elijah, the one to precede the Messiah. Some said He was one of the other prophets. Resurrection was already on the minds of the crowd, but none said that Jesus could possibly be the Messiah who brings the kingdom of heaven to the earth—at least not that the disciples heard as they ministered to the crowd. So, it was that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God to a multitude of people who did not know who He was.

Then, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Here, we see Luke’s account of Peter’s great confession, “The Christ of God.” “Christ” is not a last name but a title meaning “sent one” “savior” and is used in place of the Hebrew, “Messiah.” Every time we see “Christ” in Greek (in the New Testament), we know it is the Messianic title. Peter recognizes Jesus as the Messiah of God—the one who would bring the kingdom of God to the earth, bring peace and justice and mercy, and inaugurate a kingdom of which there will be no end to its increase (cf. Isaiah 9). Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.

Jesus’s Work (v. 21-22)

But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

Jesus instructed His disciples not to tell anyone. Don’t go back and argue with those who make other claims in the crowd. Why? First, the Son of Man (a title Jesus uses to highlight His assumption of human flesh according to Isaiah 9:6) must suffer many things, be rejected by the Jewish religious leadership, be killed, and raised up on the third day. Isaiah predicted such in Chapter 53 of his prophecy. Hosea even included a detail about resurrection on the third day. Jesus must endure these things and be raised prior to the salvation of His people and the ever-increase of His government and of peace (cf. Isaiah 9; 53). Upon His resurrection, according to Jesus here, His kingdom would increase and bring peace and justice to the earth—and eternal life to His chosen people. See, the resurrection is more than merely a religious celebration. The resurrection is the advent of peace and justice on the earth as Christ is saving people from the darkness. All of the advances humankind has made in ethics, charity, medicine, technology, cross-culture, linguistics, physics, and more since the First Century owes itself to the resurrection of Christ and His fulfillment of His own promise to renew the world, undo Babel, and see the world redeemed. Even COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine stand as witnesses to the ever-increasing kingdom of God on the earth. COVID-19 has been one of the least devastating pandemics in the history of human kind. Because there is a worldwide system of ethics that did not exist before, there is more accountability when one dictator does something terrible. The world cares, unlike before, to hold powers accountable in a way that does not breed more war. Open your eyes, the proof is there.

The resurrection is everything. The world is becoming more and more Christianized in a sincere way, not in a fake religious way. Even Atheists and Agnostics are acting like Christians. It’s not missionaries making that happen. It’s Christ through the power of His Spirit. After His resurrection, Jesus will instruct His disciples to go teach all nations everything He has commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because, in His resurrection, He is given all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18-20). The Gospel is shaping and renewing the whole world in ways that were unachievable prior to the First Century, the resurrection of Christ.

Christians in the Kingdom Age (v. 23-26)

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Then, Jesus applies His own life and ministry to His disciples and anyone who would come after Him into the kingdom of heaven (cf. 11). Think about what Jesus is teaching, here. In context, He is not talking about some ethereal heavenly realm. He is not talking about merely being saved from Hell or following in His footsteps. Jesus is talking about going after Him (because He is the first one) into the kingdom of God, which is on the earth according to Isaiah 9 and all the prophets. The coming of the kingdom means ever-increasing peace, justice, and the government of Christ on the earth. If anyone is to go after Christ into such a kingdom on this earth, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Christ (live the way He lived).

Think about this for a moment. Jesus is giving us the path to ever-increasing peace, justice, mercy, and so forth on the earth. This is not some pipe-dream reserved for a future time. Jesus is telling His disciples who will tell others. You want peace on the earth and an ever increasing justice, mercy, charity, and everything those entail? 

Deny yourself. Stop seeking self-gain. Stop being so entitled. Stop caring so much about your own prosperity, financial gain, material possessions, perfect health, perfect safety, political gain, religious power, and so forth. You cannot serve both God and mammon; it is impossible to serve two masters (cf. Matthew 6:24).

Take up your cross daily. Be a living sacrifice (cf. Romans 12:1). The cross was the primary tool for execution under Roman rule. Jesus would give Himself on a Roman cross in order to benefit others. He instructs us to do the same, though this does not always entail literal death on our parts. We give of ourselves to edify all humanity rather than exalt ourselves. This is the way.

Then, we follow Jesus—live like He lived on this earth. Jesus explains what He means later in Chapter 9:

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62)

To live like Jesus lived means we (1) take no ownership of anything in this world. Even if we do technically own something or have a home in which to sleep, to live like Jesus means to count it as loss for the sake of knowing Christ (cf. Philippians 3:7-9). To live like Jesus means we (2) forsake the cultural responsibilities handed to us by the world in order to take on the new responsibilities given to us by Christ in the kingdom of heaven—namely proclaiming the Gospel in this age. To follow Christ means (3) being service minded in the kingdom, not serving two masters. We cannot be both in the kingdom and out. Blessed is the one whose earthy family is part of the kingdom. Our place is the kingdom of heaven, not any one of the kingdoms of the world apart form Christ. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Jesus continues to explain. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. If you seek self gain (material, religious, political, etc…), you will lose your life to those things. If you lose your life, give up your pursuit of material, religious, political, etc… gain, for Christ’s sake, you will save your life—you’ll gain life in the kingdom and experience increasing peace and justice on the earth. What do you profit if you gain the whole world but lose yourself? Personal gain means nothing. Wealth means nothing. Power means nothing. Fame means nothing. You will die and Christ will be exalted anyway. Whoever is ashamed of Jesus’s teaching, here, Christ will be ashamed of that person when He comes in His glory, the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels—here meaning at His resurrection (not some future coming in glory from our time). Christ is ashamed of those who seek to gain for themselves. When we seek gain for ourselves, we work against peace and justice because we must always gain at the expense of others. Fame, celebrity culture, is inequality. When people gain power, they always gain power over other people. Riches are always amassed to the poverty of others. Instead, we should be concerned about giving of ourselves, serving others, edifying others, and seeing the increase of Christ’s government and of peace in our time.

Jesus’s Promise (v. 27)

“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus makes a promise. Some of the disciples will not die until after they see the kingdom of God inaugurated on the earth—a beginning to the ever-increase of Christ’s government and of peace. The 12, except Judas, will witness the resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom on the earth. They, and we, participate with Christ as He builds His kingdom and brings peace and justice to the earth. Again I say, the resurrection of Christ means everything.

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