1. Vs. 24 says "anyone." Vs. 25 says "whoever." Vs. 27 says "to each one." Jesus is talking about all people. "Anyone" and "whoever" imply the universal atonement. All have been saved and are eligible. Furthermore, all, without exception,will be judged.
2. "To come after Jesus" means to be a Christian, a believer in Christ. That requires three things: a. denying oneself; b. taking up one's cross; c. following Jesus. To deny oneself means to turn one's back on self as Peter denied Christ. The Christian says to his sinful self: "I want nothing to do with you." To take up one's cross means to bear patiently whatever Jesus lays on a person: sickness, loss of goods or name, affliction etc. To follow Jesus simply means to trust Him, keep on denying oneself and keep on bearing the cross. The cross of the Christian is not the same as Jesus' cross. He bore the sins of the world. Only He could do that. The Christian's cross means suffering simply because he is a Christian.
3. Vs. 25 means: "He who wants to preserve his natural life, in which he yields to his natural desires, will lose his soul. But whoever mortifies the sinful self for Jesus' sake will rescue his soul." This is a great paradox. The world saves its life but loses its soul. God's children lose their life but save their souls.
4. To deny oneself means to crucify the sinful flesh with its affections and lusts as Paul says at Gal. 5:24.
5. To come after Jesus means to believe that lie has done everything necessary for salvation forever. Self denial and cross bearirig lie in the area of sanctification, that which is required in the life of a believer.
6. On the last day Jesus will repay ever human being accordirig to his works. That is a principle of both Testaments. Cf. Ps. 62:13 and Prov. 24:12. That does not mean that people will be saved by what they have done. When people become Christians they become spiritually alive. They are dead to sin and alive to God. The new man in them follows the Lord. The new man denies itself, takes up its cross and follows the Lord. As Luther said: "Faith alone justifies but faith is never alone." Faith without works is dead. Jesus said at Jn. 15:6 "If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like the branch and withered and men gather them and throw them into the fire and they are burned."
7. Vs. 26 denotes an utter impossibility. No man can gain the whole world. But even if he could, it would not be enough to gain his own soul. On the verbs "to gain" and "to lose" read Philippians 3:7-11. Paul considered all things a loss because he gained Jesus. He considered all worldly things dung, manure, when he found the righteousness of Christ by faith. When Job lost everything he said: "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord." And later he said: "I know that my Redeemer lives."
8. Read the parable of the rich man, Lk. 12:16-21. He said to his soul: "Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years. Eat, drink, and have a good time." But, that night he died. He lost his soul. Read the parable at Lk. 16:19-3l. The rich man was not lost because he was rich. The poor man was saved not because he was poor. The rich man lived only for this life. The poor man was evidently a believer in Jesus. Abraham, Job and Joseph of Arimathea were wealthy but they were children of God. Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there will also your heart be." Mt. 6:21.
9. To deny oneself does not mean that sex, money and other things of this life are sinful. Col. 3:2 says "Keep on thinking about things above, not about the things on the earth." A Christian thinks about things above by the proper use of things on this earth. He lives his life by his faith in the Son of God Who loved him and gave Himself for him." Gal. 2:20. There are two "I" in every Christian: the crucified, sinful "I" and the believing, redeemed "I".
THEME: The Great Paradox: Gaining-Losing; Losing-Gaining
Is. 55:9 says: "'My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts." Paul says at I Cor. 2:13: "We speak not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches." Jesus says that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom of God. We must believe what His Word says and live by that. He explains the paradox of our text.
I. GAINING LEADS TO LOSING
A. What gaining means here. In vss. 21-23, just prior to our text, Jesus predicted His suffering death and resurrection. Though Peter meant well, he tried to dissuade Jesus from this course. He wanted to preserve Jesus' life. Jesus said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are an offense to Me. Because you are not thinking the thinqs of God but the things of men." Peter's idea of gaining would have meant losing everything. In vs. 24 Jesus says: "If anyone wishes to come after Me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow after Me." If a man wants to be a Christian without denying his sinful flesh and without bearing the cross which Jesus lays on him, he is trying to save his soul but will lose his life forever. At Rom. 6:2 Paul asks: "Shall we who have died to sin still live in it?" Of course not! Baptism causes us to die to sin and live to God, forgiven and renewed by faith in Jesus. In vs. 26 of our text Jesus asks: "What will a man give in exchange for his soul?" The answer is: "Nothing!" All the world's money, goods and fame cannot redeem one soul.
B. What losing means here. Vs. 27 is a warning to people who are not fruitful Christians. Works are not the cause of salvation but only the fruit and proof of saving faith. But if there are no works, then there is no faith either. James says: "Faith without works is dead." In the parable of Mt. 25:31-46 Jesus pictures the lost did not produce fruits of faith. In Philippians 3:7-11, Paul tells us that the works, merits and righteousness of sinful man are only dung, manure. If that's all a man has, he will be lost.
II. LOSING LEADS TO GAININIG
A. What losing means here. The words "for My sake" in vs. 25 are very important. People who lose their soul for Jesus' sake will save their life forever. Who are such people? They are the ones who come after Jesus. That means that they confess their sins and believe the Gospel which forgives their sins. They hear the Word of God and keep it. They hear the Gospel which is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. Such people deny themselves, take up their cross and follow after Jesus. Such people are alive to God. They refuse to live in sin. They say "nyet" to the devil, the world and the flesh. They sin, but not wilfully. They are tempted but they do not yield to temptation. But if they DO sin they flee to the arms of the forgiving Jesus. Such people take up their cross. There is no punishment for Christians. Sickness, trouble, affliction come to Christians, too, but they proceed only from God's love. Hebr. 12:6. "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22. That's what Jesus means by losing one's soul for His sake.
B. What gaining means here. What will the believing, self- denying, cross-bearing Christian find when he dies? Read Mt. 25:31-46 again, Jesus will see his many deeds of love which prove his faith and He will say: "Come you blessed of My Father, enter into My kingdom." What will he gain? Read Lk. 16:22. Like the poor man he will be carried to Abraham's bosom. Vs. 25 says that he is now comforted. Jesus says: "Those who have done good will go forth to the resurrection of life." Jn. 5:29.