The sound of glass shattering woke me. I bolted up in bed. The clock on my dresser read 2:43 a.m. Lying beside me, Lois woke. “What’s that?” she whispered. “Sounds like the front door glass breaking,” I answered, crawling out of bed. I grabbed my walker and reached for my baseball bat. If somebody was breaking into our house, I hoped he would be intimated by a 71-year-old leaning on a walker panting to lift a bat into a killer stance.
But before I reached the bedroom doorway, a huge flashlight blinded me. I could barely make out the man who held it. He towered over me and seemed wrapped in black, just a slit for his eyes. That’s when I noticed what I feared—a gleam of light reflecting from a long knife held in his left hand.
“You are infidels!” he screamed. “You have three minutes to deny your despicable faith, bow down, and confess “There is no god but Allah. Otherwise, death to the infidels!”
The story is fiction. (though I do keep a baseball bat handy. If you break into my house I figure you’ll fall over laughing enough so I can crack you on the head.) Of course, for many people, while the details differ, the story is true. So let’s suppose this question: what would I do if faced with a choice to deny Christ or die?”
In Mark’s Gospel it’s not a Muslim terrorist, but Jesus who makes a death-demand . . .
“If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
That is what this demand means. (See my “Selfie” post http://theoldpreacher.com/selfie/). Though all of his disciples won’t be martyred, Jesus demands that anyone who would come after him be willing to be.
Why would Jesus demand a potential disciple be willing to die? Jesus explains:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (8:35).
“For” introduces the reason. Jesus identifies two groups of people. First, “whoever wants to save his life.” As the contrast with “whoever loses his life” shows, “to save his life” means “to protect his life from death”. Jesus says such a person who makes saving or protecting his life from death will actually “lose” it. “Lose” here means “bringing his life to ruin and destruction.” The Greek verb tenses provide a more-detailed look, which we might translate this way: “whoever decides he wants to protect his life from death will progressively bring his life to ruin and ultimate destruction.” In other words, when Jesus calls and you decide to save your life from death instead, your decision will lead to a life of progressive ruin and final destruction.”
The second group consists of “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel”. The same meanings attach to the same words. To lose one’s life for Jesus and the gospel means to die for Jesus and the gospel. But that person actually will save his life from death. See the slight alteration in this clause. Whereas in 8:35a, Jesus said “whoever wants to save his life . . . “, in 8:35b, Jesus said “whoever loses his life. Does Jesus mean martyrs-for-him will actually save themselves? That would contradict the whole of the Gospel! Jesus is most likely implying that when we hear his call and choose to follow, at that very moment we die to living life to save ourselves and at that moment choose to “die” for Jesus and the gospel. If martyrdom comes, it comes as the logical and ultimate outcome of that decision we previously made.
But why is this save-life/lose-life, lose-life/save life necessary? Again, “for” introduces the reason.
“For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world,
yet forfeit his soul?
Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (8:36,37)
“Good” refers to what is profitable, valuable or beneficial. “Gain” means “to profit or acquire an advantage”. “Soul ” is the “inner essence of who and what we are before God (as opposed to our “flesh” or body). So we might translate like this: “What’s the profit if a man acquires the whole world yet suffers the loss of his very inner essence?” King Solomon is a case in point. Asking and receiving great wisdom from God, he nevertheless gained a “world” of wives who soon led him into idolatry.
Jesus’ question in 8:37 is rhetorical. He expects no answer because there is nothing a man can trade for his soul and come out the winner. So save-life/lose-life, etc., is necessary because the world inherently hates Jesus. Jesus and this world order are mutually exclusive.
But why is our soul so important? For the third time, “for” introduces the reason–and also reveals what Jesus meant earlier about losing our life for his sake and for the gospel.
“For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation,
of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed,
when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:39).
Here Jesus seems to refer specifically to people of his generation. However, Paul’s use of the same word in Philippians 2:15 where he speaks of “this crooked and depraved generation” may imply that any generation can be so-described. “Ashamed” refers to a fear of embarrassment or fear that one’s expectations may prove false. So we might translate, “For whoever is embarrassed about me or afraid that what I’ve said won’t prove true, of him the Son of Man will be embarrassed . . . ”
Finally then, “soul” is significant because the Son of Man is coming in his Father’s glory with the holy angels to judge. Therefore, “losing the essence of who and what we are” is more than a metaphysical consideration for the present. The condition of our soul ultimately determines our eternal destiny.
* * * * *
Back to the bedroom. Holding flashlight and knife, the terrorist is screaming, “You are infidels! You have three minutes to deny your despicable faith, bow down, and confess “There is no god but Allah. Otherwise, death to the infidels!”
What will we say?