These are my sermon notes and commentary on Mark 8:35. They have not been proofed for spelling or grammar. I present them to you as is.
Every one of us here today is interested in saving our lives. Every one of us here also ask the questions: Why am I here? Why was I born? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life? How do I have a meaningful life? How do I make my life complete, full, and rich, worth the living? Deep down every one of us has a hunger for life and a desire to find it and understand it and experience it. We were designed that way and with that hunger.
There are two approaches to life.
- The first approach says to save your life: hoard it, clutch it, cling to it, grasp it, try to get hold of it for yourself, take care of yourself, trust yourself, see that in every situation your first and major concern is, “What’s in it for me?” Life is about you and your happiness. Save your life from any pain, discomfort, or suffering.
- The second approach says to lose your life: give your life away, invest in something bigger than you, and move out in dependence upon God.
The ironic thing is that if you try to save your life, you will lose it; but if you give your life away, then you will save it. This is what Jesus wants His followers to seriously consider when it comes to their lives. Look at what Jesus had to say in Mark 8:34-38, Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (NLT) Let’s focus on verse 35 today.
The Greek word translated “life” is psyche, which can mean either “life” or “soul.” Therefore, we can paraphrase the paradox two ways. It could be read like this:
- Whoever wishes to save his physical life will lose his spiritual life, but whoever turns over his physical life for My sake and the gospel’s will save his spiritual life.
Or the verse could just as easily be paraphrased this way:
- Whoever wishes to save his soul will lose his soul, but whoever turns over his soul for My agenda, he is the one who will get to keep his soul.
Obviously this is a strange paradox of truth. So, what does Jesus mean by all this and what does it mean for you? Let’s break it down into bite size pieces.
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it
Jesus says, “If you try to hang on to your life….” What does it mean to “hang on to your life?” What does that look like? Some translations try to capture the meaning by saying, “For whoever wants to save his life” (NASB). Again, what does it mean to try to “save” your life or to “try to hang on to your life”?
Let’s start with this word “life.” What are people trying to hang on to and save? The word “life” (psuche) refers to the soul. This is the part of you that thinks, wills, and feels. This is your thinker, doer, and feeler part of you. This is the real you; the deep down part inside you – your soul. This is where you find your personality, your hopes, and aspirations.
Now listen carefully, as you live your life your soul will be expressed in your life. What you think about, how you feel about things, and what you do and the decisions you make are all reflected in what you call “life.” Your life is a reflection of your soul. What you find important is reflected in your life.
- If you think and feel that health is important then you will do things that are healthy. That is a reflection of your soul.
- If you think and feel that money is important then you will do things that are driven by money. That is a reflection of your soul.
- If you think and feel that relationships are important you will make decisions that prioritize relationships. Your “life” represents your interests, your passions, your, your relationships, your hobbies, your pleasure, your career, and so on.
But Jesus comes along and says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.” What does it mean to try to “hang on” to your life or to “save” your life? This describes the person who is focused on the temporary and earthly things of this life. They are consumed with this life. They are going to fight for the kind of life they want to live. You get glimpses of this in several areas.
- You will find a person hanging on to their life as they fight the aging process. You will find this person spending a lot of money on health and beauty aids. They may spend a lot of time on exercise, diet, surgeries, and medications to preserve their youth. Their soul (mind, will, and emotions) is wrapped up in their physical appearance and health. I’m not talking about the person who is exercising and eating right so they can have more energy and feel better. The Bible talks about taking care of our bodies. I’m talking about the person who is trying to “hang on to their life” and are afraid of becoming old and dying. While they are trying to hang on to their life, their real life that God intended for them to have is passing them by. They are losing what their life is really about.
- Another glimpse of someone hanging on to their life is the person who is consumed with their possessions. This is the person who has to have things to be happy. They have to buy things, store things, have bigger things, and more things. Their life is about what they own, collected, and possess. This could be anything. This could be a hobby, a house, cars, clothes, boats, shoes, toys, and so on. Their soul (mind, will, emotions) is wrapped up in their possessions. This person’s life can be summarized by what they have and what they collect. Their “life” is represented by stuff. While they are trying to hang on to their life, their real life that God intended for them to have is passing them by. They are losing what their life is really about.
- Another glimpse of someone hanging on to their life is the person who is consumed with pleasure. This person is all about having fun, laughing, and enjoying life. They think about comfort, ease, happiness, gratification, amusement, satisfaction, entertainment and excitement. Their soul (mind, will, emotions) is consumed and driven by what makes life happier and easier. They will avoid any tough decisions and anything that may cause discomfort or conflict in order to hang on to their happy life. Their “life” is represented by pleasure. While they are trying to do everything they can to live a happy and comfortable life, their real life that God intended for them to have is passing them by. They are losing what their life was intended to be about.
John addressed this subject of hanging on to the wrong things in life when he said in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT).
So Jesus says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.” You will find that you have everything you want, but you will not want anything you have. You will find that all of the life you tried to grasp and keep and hold on to slipped through your fingers. It’s like holding on to sand a tightly as you can. The tighter your grip the more sand you lose.
But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.
Then Jesus says something incredible. He says, “But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
Jesus says, “But….” Circle that. This is a big “but.” This “but” represents a change of direction in attitude and actions. It also marks the change in one’s eternal destiny. This is a term of contrast and of transformation.
Jesus goes on to say, “But if you give up your life….” Let’s stop right there for a moment. Jesus does not say, “But if you give up your life you will save it.” Jesus is not calling you and me to simply be sacrificial people or generous people or people who go the extra mile to bless and help people. Jesus is not saying that every form of self-sacrifice has eternal value. There are people who give up their lives for all kinds of causes and purposes. Some people give up their lives for animals, for political movements, for medical advancements, and the list could go on and on. There are people who sacrifice time and money and big chunks of their life for good causes and they make life better for many people. This is not what Jesus is talking about. He is not calling you and me to simply be sacrificial people.
What is Jesus saying? Let’s look at it again. Jesus said, “But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” Jesus is calling us to a life of sacrifice that is related to Him and His message. Our sacrifices are to promote Him and the gospel.
Let’s break this down a little further. The word “sake” has two meanings.
- First, it means “for the purpose of” or “in the interest of.” It can be used like this, “Jack and Jill moved to Arizona for the sake of their health.” For the purpose of their health or in the interest of their health. For the sake of their health they did something.
- It also refers to the attitude that is “out of consideration for” It can be used like this, “Jack and Jill didn’t give up for the children’s sake.” When you do something out of consideration for someone else you are identifying and placing importance, significance, and value on that person with your actions. When you do something for the “sake” of another your actions are directly related to that someone. You are making that change for them and their benefit.
So Jesus is saying, “I want you to take your life, your soul – your mind, will, and emotions – who you really are and sacrifice them for my sake.” Out of consideration for who I am, what I’ve done, and what I will do give me your soul, give me your life. Give your life to my purpose and my interest. Give up your life for my sake.
Not only are we giving up our lives for his sake, but also “for the sake of the Good News.” These two must go together. If you only sacrificed for His “sake” that could lead to selfish religious isolationism. This is where you sacrifice time to spend time with Jesus and other Christians. You bury yourself in Bible studies, prayer meetings, reading Christian books, and listening to sermons. It’s all about you and Jesus and your personal growth. But Jesus balances all this with the phrase “for the sake of the Good News.” Because we live for Him, we live for others. Because He is our Master, we share His message with others. We give up our lives in order to spread the news about Jesus being Lord and the salvation He offers. We now think about how our lives, our homes, our hobbies, and the years we have left can be about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we embrace this. If we give up our lives for His sake and the sake of the Gospel what will we discover? Jesus says, “If you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” You will save your life! From the human point of view, we are losing ourselves, but from the divine perspective we are finding ourselves. When you give up your life for Jesus and the gospel you discover what real life is all about. You discover who you really are in Christ. You protect your life from becoming someone who were never meant to be. You rescue your life from a meaningless existence. You prevent your life from becoming a waste. You will save your life.
Let me be clear here. This is not talking about giving up your life you can be born again. This is not talking about sacrificing your life so you can become a Christian. The Bible is real clear that good works and good deeds of any kind does not save anyone. What Jesus is saying, “If you want to follow Me you must understand that I am going to call you to a life that dies daily. I’m going to call you to deny yourself and take up your cross on a daily basis. But when you truly follow me you will discover that your true life is found in giving up your life.”
Listen carefully to what Paul says in Acts 20:24 where he captures this idea, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (NLT).
Later Paul would say something very similar in Philippians 3:7-9, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him” (NLT).