Just days before he would be crucified, Jesus’ disciples, Andrew and Philip, told him that certain Greeks desired to “see Jesus”. This intimation caused the Lord’s mind to contemplate the outcome of his impending sacrifice. In a remarkable answer to this request the Son of God reflects,“ The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” ( John 12:23). He would be glorified by being raised and given eternal life. But this would be the “firstfruits” of what his death would bring forth. It was essential: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (v24). As he went on to explain, he was the “corn of wheat” that would be lifted up, crucified: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (v32). He must die in this way so that these Greeks and many others might “see Jesus”.

He then expanded the principle on which others would be included. If they would inherit eternal life, then they too must surrender their lives: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me,him will my Father honour”(v25-26). There was nothing exclusive in these words; they applied to all, Jew and Greek, the term “any man” embracing all.

Great men of old knew that service to God called for sacrifice, the present being forfeited for the future reward, but no one’s mind had ever been exercised on this subject to the same extent as our glorious Lord.

Jesus’ mind had mulled over how this principle applied to himself and indeed to others; it had been so rationalised that he could express it succinctly, which he often did. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus forewarned the twelve what would befall him in Jerusalem, that he must “suffer many things … and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt 16:21). Peter’s feelings were aroused and he remonstrated with the Lord, only to be rebuked: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (v22-23).

But that was not all. Peter’s words demonstrated how deficient the understanding of the disciples was. Time was running out; Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end. Addressing the twelve, he made it clear that the disciples’ lot would be no different in principle to his: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (v24-25). Again we have these cryptic words embodying crucial truth, which we do well to contemplate.

Challenge in the words

The phrase; ‘finding life by letting it go and losing life and finding it;’ we can comprehend but we need to do more as it embodies the essence of discipleship, the following of another. Inseparable is sacrifice of self, condensed in the words “deny himself ”, “take up his cross” and “follow me”. We cannot be his disciples if our lives revolve around self or we seek the prizes the world holds out. When we were baptised we buried the old man and put on the new. We have to constantly challenge ourselves. What are our values? Is Christ’s example the standard we are striving to emulate? Are we prepared to put our own desires in second place and respond to the needs of others? Do we visit the sick, the aged, and those in need? Or do we just go on our merry way without a thought for the lot of others? Perhaps we know of some exemplary brothers and sisters who ‘put themselves out’ for others and we are inspired by them. So, in this way, we ‘lose our life’ now but in the future we will ‘find’ it because we shall be rewarded with eternal life.

A problem

Finding life by letting it go is very difficult for the natural man to accept. This is because it often means forsaking the things that bring satisfaction to the natural man: indulgence, pleasures, pride in achievement and honour in accomplishment. We are in the world but not “of it”. We cannot pursue its pleasures and activities because we have given our lives to another. And yet we know when we think about our lives that there is no other more rational decision that we could have made than to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We are living in dramatic days in which men’s hearts are failing them for fear of what the future holds. All the signs we have been looking for are coming to pass, making it clear that our Lord is standing at the door about to return. The problems confronting the leaders of the world are so many and complex that they defy solution. The greatest sign before our eyes is Israel, miraculously regathered and restored, and in the very vortex of the world’s turmoil and strife.

No, there is no more reasonable decision that we could have taken than to align ourselves with the Son of God and our heavenly Father. So that means our choice to lose this life that we might find life at the Lord’s coming was ultimate wisdom. In order to retain this conviction, this perspective, we need to remain close to our Bibles. There are so many distractions for disciples that we cannot afford to divert our attention for a moment. The world is aggressive and demanding and we need to resist it. Our daily Bible readings prayerfully undertaken can help like nothing else to keep us focused.

Fidelity to Christ

We cannot be half-hearted in our service to our heavenly Bridegroom. He made no secret of the fact that disciples would have to “confess him before men”, if they wished to have their names confessed before his heavenly Father (Matt 10:32). Jesus said that he came not to send peace but a sword; that families would be divided and nothing should compromise loyalty to him: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (v34-37). These might seem like harsh words and almost impossible to digest until the issues involved are pondered and the worth of eternal life put up against the transient present. Jesus again rounds out these words with those we have been thinking about: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (v38-39).

Two questions to answer

In his words spoken at Caesarea Philippi, which we have already looked at, Jesus adds two questions to help his disciples appreciate the point he was making. The life he was offering them was valuable beyond anything this world could offer: there is just no comparison. How could he make the disciples, and indeed ourselves, see that that was true? Well, he sets before them two questions:

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul [life]?”

“or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul [life]?”(Matt 16:26).

They are questions which had no doubt exercised the Lord’s mind. The answers are an emphatic, “Nothing,” in the first case, and an emphatic, “Everything,” in the case of the second. None of us would quibble about these answers. These questions then help us to get our thinking, our values, right.

What value is there in riches on the day of one’s death? What point is there in being the richest man in the cemetery?!

Faced with death, a man would give all in his possessions to extend his life because nothing is as important or precious as one’s life (Psa 49:8): “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecc 9:4).

Strangely, the logic of these two questions does not always commend itself to us and we can become enmeshed in a airs of little worth and matters of merely a temporal nature.

To add point to his questions, the Lord added the assertion, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt 16:27). The guarantee of the reward for faithful service lay in the fact that, as Son of man, all things would be subject to him and he would come in his Father’s glory with his angels and rewards would be dispensed proportional to faithful works: just how much one has been prepared to “lose his life”. To add reality to his words the Son of God intimated that some of those present, Peter, James and John, would not die before they had visible experience of the Transfiguration, a foreshadowing of “the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (v28).

The perfect example

What the Lord enjoined upon his disciples he fulfilled to perfection in his own life. He would be the model they should emulate: there was no hypocrisy in his words; he did not ask of them what he was not prepared to do for them himself.

As the Saviour of men, our beloved Lord had to do his Father’s will in all things. In order to uphold his Father’s righteousness, he had to be without sin: he had to live a perfect life, a life culminating in obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. Our beloved Lord knew what was required of him and that upon him depended the world’s redemption. It was an almost unimaginable task. All before him had “sinned and come short of the glory of God”. It was by his knowledge that God’s righteous servant would justify many, for he would bear their iniquities (Isa 53:11). He was equipped for the task; it was achievable, for he was God’s “only begotten Son” (John 1:14; 3:16).

What was entailed?

The Lord Jesus could not live a life like his peers and contemporaries. His mind was absorbed with learning what his Father would teach him. Morning by morning he was awakened and instructed (Isa 50:4); to him was given “the tongue of the learned” so that he could “speak a word in season” to him, who, like you and me, is weary. The early loss of Joseph meant that Jesus became the bread winner for a family of at least six siblings. A measure of responsibility for their upbringing would have rested upon him as an exceptionally prudent eldest son. Not for him what we might consider our rights: a husband or wife, children and earthly possessions, as they might have hindered his quest for spotless righteousness. And so, when Jesus appeared before John the Baptist, a voice from heaven approved the years preceding his public ministry: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

So Jesus’ life was absorbed in service to his Father and he paid the ultimate price; he gave his life, indeed that he might find it, for he rose from the dead “the third day” (Matt 16:21; 17:23). He did this because he loved his heavenly Father, who so loved us “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” ( John 3:16).

When we contemplate our Lord’s love for us and what he has done for us, it makes perfectly reasonable his call: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:25-26).

What an honour and privilege we enjoy, knowing the Truth as it is in Jesus Christ!