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The Matthew Series 41. DYING TO LIVE

When I was a teenager I remember enjoying a funny movie called Rat Race. It stars actors like Cuba Gooding Junior, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Lovitz, Rowin Atkinson, John Cleese and Kathy Bates and tells the story of a bunch of high-rolling gambling addicts that are bored with life and come up with a new thing to bet on. They round up a motley group of average families and individuals, give them each a key to a safe situated cross-country, and tell them that the first one to arrive at the safe can keep the $2m inside. The movie is a comical look at how much each family or person endures to win that money. They more-or-less happily endure hot-air-balloon crashes, helicopter crashes, run-ins with lunatics and extremists, being lost in the desert, going hungry, going tired, going without – all in the hope of winning that $2m. What would you endure for $2m? How about $10m? Would you spray-paint your in-laws house for $10m? Some of you might say you’d pay $10m for a chance to spray-paint your in-laws house. What if it was something that injured your character and reputation? Would you lie in court for $10m? Would you cheat on your spouse for $10m? How about $100m? Would you commit murder for $100m? What about $1b? Would you murder a vagrant hobo for $1b? How about $100b? Nobody ever needs to know you did it. Your answer to these questions speak of what you want out of life.

Tonight’s passage also speaks of what you want out of life. Jesus takes us right to the heart of matters. Let’s read together from Matthew 16:24-28 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” This passage comes right after a section that Barry’s been covering for several weeks where Jesus is speaking to His disciples about some really important matters. Firstly, Jesus asks His followers who people say that He is, and Peter chimes in with the right answer: The Son of God. Right after that, Jesus begins to explain to them that the outworking of His identity means that He will have to suffer and die a terrible death. And it’s coming soon.

Peter, always the teacher’s pet, tries to protect his rabbi, and strongly urges Jesus against this way of thinking. But Jesus knows what He’s doing, and so He rebukes Peter, then in our passage tonight we see that Jesus proceeds to tell Peter that not only Him (Jesus), but all who would be His must also walk in that way of self-denial, cross-carrying and death-expectancy. Fortunately, there’s hope too. Jesus then teaches the gains that will come from such losses. So let’s look at our passage tonight in more detail, and there’s three things I want you to see from our passage tonight. Firstly,

1) THE CROSS IS FOR CHRISTIANS A few weeks ago, we celebrated Easter. On Friday evening, the young adults gathered together at the Church here to watch that movie, The Passion of the Christ. There’s a scene in that movie that really struck me for the first time. As Jesus, after being beaten and flogged to within an inch of His life, carries His cross towards Golgotha, He stumbles many times. Eventually, He can’t keep going, and the Roman soldiers pull a man out of the crowd to help Jesus carry His cross. That man’s name was Simon and he was from Cyrene. All this so far we know.

But then a scene takes place that I’d never considered would happen. Before he unwillingly helps Jesus carry the cross, Simon turns to the crowds around him and loudly declares that he is being forced to carry this man’s cross against his own will, and that he is innocent of any crime. He tries desperately to both carry the cross and preserve his own reputation.

I wonder how many of us try to do the same thing. We know we have to carry our cross if we want to get into heaven, but we’ll do it unwillingly – only because its being forced upon us. We’re often reluctant to walk with Jesus, because of the suffering it’ll mean; perhaps the harm it’ll do to our reputations, our pride, our comforts. What if carrying the cross means taking Saturdays to get involved in a dirty, inner-city ministry? What if carrying the cross means praying over our meal in public at work? What if carrying the cross means losing out on business deals that are shady? We’re reluctant, at times unwilling to follow Jesus then.

As I look ahead towards next year, I know that God has called Sarah and I to pack up our bags and our baby and move to a mission station in KZN. There’s no family to welcome us there. We don’t know the people we’ll be moving to. We don’t know how we’ll do the work they’ve got for us to do. We don’t know the language. There’s no salary waiting for us. We’re giving up all we know and love to go to a strange place. And yet, Jesus says, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He’s told us to go; it’s not our job to know all the details, it’s our job to obey. And before you say, Good for you, pastor. This is your job! NO! my friends – Jesus said to his disciples ‘If anyone would come after me…’ In this move, I am not a pastor, I am a follower of Jesus, just as you are. I am no more equipped for this task than you are, no more gifted or called, I am trying with all my heart simply to follow my Lord. You are called to do the same! Will you do the same?

The cross is for Christians. The shame that comes with it is for Christians. The suffering that comes with it is for Christians. The disgrace that comes with it is for Christians. The burden that comes with it is for Christians. It isn’t for missionaries and pastors or your parents or someone else: The cross is for you if you would be a Christian.

Not everyone’s cross will be the same. Only to the rich young ruler did Jesus instruct selling all he had, giving to the poor and following Him. We don’t have that call expressly given to anyone else. He didn’t call everyone to leave their families and be with Him on His earthly ministry, just the 12 – some He sent to other tasks, some He left in their homes. Jesus doesn’t intend for all His followers to literally carry their cross (though some did), in the same way that He didn’t call all of His followers to sell all they had and follow Him. The call to all, however, is to be willing to do so, and the call is to live in readiness to obey God under any and all circumstances. Hold your worldly possessions so lightly, friends. Hold your money lightly – be ready to part with any or all of it at any time. Hold your cars lightly. Hold your jobs lightly – be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Hold your homes lightly. Hold your delights lightly. Be ready to skip meals, change jobs, lose friends, leave family. Hold your hopes and dreams lightly. Don’t hold your plans for your future so tightly that you won’t move when Jesus calls you to move. Secondly,

2) THE PRICE IS RIGHT Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” I was struck years ago by the realisation that everything is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The Mona Lisa, for instance, is estimated to be worth $830m. But that’s only if someone is willing to pay $830m for it. If no-one decides to buy it, it’s worth nothing. There’s a parking spot in Manhattan that costs $1m. It’s a roughly 3m by 4m patch of ground. But people are willing to pay $1m for it. The domain name Insure.com was sold to Quinstreet for $16m. It’s a domain name. $16m. That’s a hundred times the average price of a home in America. The Graff Pink Diamond: $46m. It’s a rock. It’s only worth $46m because someone’s willing to pay $46m for it. If no one decides to buy it, it’s worth nothing. It’s a rock. Now God has placed a price on your soul; and it’s worth more than all these expensive things put together. You could set the Graff Pink Diamond into the Mona Lisa, put the artwork into your $52m 1963 Ferrari GTO, park it in your $1m parking space in Manhattan, and all these things together wouldn’t come close to the value of your soul. --------------- The problem is, we often don’t believe that. We believe our value to be far less than that. And I can prove it with a simple question: How much time do you spend striving to gain the world; and how much time do you spend striving to gain the kingdom? For many of us, we’d need to admit, we strive to gain the world. We attend Church, pray sometimes in the week, but our priority and greatest efforts go toward gaining wealth, gaining power over people, gaining fame and recognition, gaining objects that bring us more comforts… How much time do you spend striving to gain the kingdom? How intentional are you in your striving to gain the kingdom? How many courses do you take to teach you how to gain the kingdom? How many books do you read about gaining the kingdom? There’s only one way to gain the kingdom: Pay the price. And the price is very simple: Surrender your soul; that which you hold most valuable – lay that down at the foot of the Risen Saviour.

To save life means to lose life; to save life is to lose it. Meaning: To gain eternal life, to gain the kingdom, hold temporal life loosely and only in connection to Jesus’ call and instruction. To hold temporal life dearly is to lose out on eternal life.

A man must surrender his life and nothing less to God, no exchange is possible.

How valuable is life? It is infinitely valuable. If you lose it, you can never gain it back again. But if you have it, you can never lose it.

That brings us, temporarily, to the confusing question of vs. 28 “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”. This verse has always been a crux to commentators, who cannot decide what is the event being referred to.

There are different understandings. Some believe that Jesus was speaking about the transfiguration. But that doesn’t make much sense because that would happen about one week after Jesus promised that some would not taste death. Some commentators believe that Jesus was speaking about His resurrection and then His ascension, but that also was only a short time away. Some others believe that Jesus was speaking about Pentecost and the growth of the Church in the early days, but that doesn’t the answer the question of seeing the Son of Man (not the Holy Spirit), coming in His kingdom. So what does Jesus mean when He says “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”? ---------------- I thought about this for some time. Jesus says in John 8, “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” And in John 5 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” And in his later letter (1 Jn 3:14), John says of Christians, “We know that we have passed from death to life.” In ways that we cannot fathom, we can see from God’s word that life begins, but it has no end. Life doesn’t end when your heart stops beating and your brain stops transmitting. That is what people fear experiencing, but that is by no means the end. Biblically, that isn’t death.

Why? Because you aren’t a body, in possession of a soul. You’re a soul, in possession of a body. When the body ceases to function, the soul continues on. For a soul saved by grace, it continues on in life. “This is eternal life”, Jesus says, “to know You [Father] and the One that You have sent.” Eternal life has begun for you, Christian, and will never end. It is an unending growth in the knowledge of God and intimacy with our Father.

But for the unbeliever, the soul continues on in death. It is already dead. It remains dead. “Whoever believes in Jesus”, reads John 3:18, “is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

If you are a child of God here tonight, know that eternal life doesn’t await you, it’s already here. You don’t have death ahead of you, you have life in you, and ahead of you. What’s the value of it? It’s pretty precious. It’s worth what was paid for it: The blood of Jesus. “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18).

That’s why Jesus says in our passage tonight, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” If you reject the offer of life through surrender to Jesus, and then you are to stand before God on the day of Judgment and offer Him the whole of your worldly possessions and goodly actions, it wouldn’t serve to gain you life any more than if you were to offer Him the mud from under your shoe. Proverbs (11:4) tells us that Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

The only price that God will accept for Life is your complete surrender. To offer up on the altar all that you have and are and hope to be. To offer up even your hopes and dreams, and if it were to watch God throw out those dreams, throw out those possessions, to watch Him do so without the least resistance or rebellion. And to do so trusting God’s promise that to lose all is to gain all. To end off this passage then, we have a beautiful promise of the certainty we have. And so we can say that thirdly,

3) THE PROMISE IS UNDOUBTABLE Jesus says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

Jesus gives his followers a simple invitation: If anyone would come after me, he must 1) deny himself – give up all his selfish, self-centred desires and take on instead the desires of the Saviour; 2) take up his cross – be ready and content to face all suffering, shame and trials that are associated with being a follower of Jesus; and 3) follow Him.

In exchange, we gain life – eternal life, freedom from the fear of death or worry in life – promise of a delightful inheritance. How can we be sure? Because Jesus Himself will come back to give us the reward we’ve earned. He won’t delegate this task to an angel, or invite us to collect it at the gate. He comes in glory, He comes in power, He comes with an eye for you.

Friends, can you trust the promise of Jesus? There’s no need to question ‘what if’? All that’s left for us is to trust and obey, and look ahead with anticipation for the coming of our Lord and Saviour.

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