And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever 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; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:34-38)
The context of these memorable words spoken by Jesus, is Peter’s attempted rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus’ harsh rebuttal to Peter. Peter was offended by Jesus’ suggestion that He, Jesus, would have to be hated. rejected, and crucified, before he would be glorified.
And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.(Mark 8:31-33)
What we have here is the constant and ongoing tension between God’s values and the things man esteems. Notice that Jesus rebuked Satan in Peter; not for being a Satanist, but for being a humanist! “You savor… the things that be of men…” What are these “things of men”? They all revolve around the Self; self Love, self-righteousness, self-preservation, self-gratification, self-justification, self-seeking, self-glorification, etc. .
Peter couldn’t perceive any need for the Messiah to suffer, be rejected, humiliated and killed in order to perform his God-given mission. Such defeat ran so counter to the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. Peter could certainly relate to a Messiah that would crush Israel’s enemies, or who was destined to exalt Israel’s status in the earth. But a suffering Messiah? How could that be of God?
The cross is offensive. To this day, a major part of the problem people have with accepting the message of cross of Jesus, is that people can’t believe that they are really so lost, so corrupted and distorted by sin, that it took nothing less than the shameful death by crucifixion of the Son of God as a substitute, to bring us into a right relationship with a Holy God.
Jesus assembled the crowds who were attracted to Him, and warned them that they would not truly be able to follow Him, unless they were willing to deny self, in other words to say “no” to self once and for all, as well as on an ongoing basis.
We can’t even commence following Jesus unless we are brought to the point where we renounce our own righteousness, and admit that we are sinners before God, utterly impotent to save ourselves, in need of forgiveness and cleansing. So much for self-esteem!
Following Jesus means putting God’s interests above everything else. And when God’s values conflict with those interests which come naturally, the disciple is taught by the Lord to willingly deny his own self interests, to the glory of God. The supreme model for this is in the garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord prayed, “If there is any way to let this cup pass, Lord, but not my will but thine be done…” .
As a human being, Jesus wanted to find a way out of the un imaginable suffering that he anticipated; who wouldn’t? Of course Jesus loved himself and sought to preserve his life. But never at the expense of his highest value, which was that God’s name be hallowed.
Therefore he prayed,’Was there any way at all, in God’s will, to preserve his life? to avoid the suffering, humiliation and death? If there is a way to avoid it, that doesn’t deny God the glory due his name, please show me! I don’t want to go through this’!
“Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done…” .
Jesus is not imposing some kind of unnatural self loathing on his disciples, for we are to be grateful for the life God gave us, and it is assumed by God that all men ‘love themselves’, for it is written, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself…“.
The passage assumes that we love ourselves, and commands us to love our neighbors at least as much as we already love ourselves. I should care for my neighbor as I care for myself. This calls all of us to empathy, compassion, sympathy, and consideration in all of my dealings, it is the essence of the ‘golden rule’. It assumes self-love, and there is no conflict with it.
But the tendency of fallen mankind as a result of the fall, is to love one’s self supremely, to exalt one’s self above all that is “called God, or that is worshipped…”. To Paul, the last days are perilous indeed, almost unbearable, because “Men shall be lovers of themselves…lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God…”, and as a consequence they will become,
“…covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded…”( 2 Timothy 3:1-4)
In our nightmare age, the pseudo science of psychology has actually cultivated the supreme love of self as a virtue to be pursued, with disastrous results. People have cast off the normal restraints of modesty, and consideration, because psychology has led them deeper and deeper into the pursuit of self-love, self-healing and self-realization!
Ironically never have so many felt the need of prescription drugs and otherwise, to try to feel better about themselves. Happiness eludes the self-centered and self-absorbed.
Oh that troubled souls would listen to Jesus!
Happiness cannot be attained as an end in itself, it is only and ever a byproduct of being right with God. The self cannot be preserved, other than by saying no to it, and yes to God at every crossroads.
The core of all sin is self worship, for by sinning we are saying “I am my own master, I make my rules, I do what I want…”. There can only be one “Most High….” , therefore Jesus tells us first of all, in this teaching on the soul and it’s value, that we must be willing to deny self to be his disciple.