Praise and possessions — those are two dominant idols of our age. The desire for self-glory and the desire for material wealth. So what is the Christian’s relationship to the praise of the world and to the possessions of the world? Pastor John explained in a really helpful sermon at the 2019 Gospel Coalition National Conference in Indianapolis, a sermon on Jesus’s words in Mark 8:31–38. I’ll begin by reading the text.
And he [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Here’s Pastor John.
Mark 8:36–37: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” This is about possessions. It’s about stuff, money, houses, books, computers, land, businesses.
Suppose your heart considers the worth of Jesus and considers the worth of possessions: the gladness you could have in Jesus versus the gladness you could have in possessions. And suppose your heart is drawn to prefer possessions — which is what is happening to billions of people. Suppose your heart is drawn to prefer the worth of possessions, and you turn away from Jesus, and you embrace as superior to Jesus all that earthly possessions can give you.
And suppose you succeed. All your life you succeed — nothing but success. And by the end of your life, suppose you own everything. The world — just everything. Not just Apple and Google and Mobil Oil — all of it is yours! You call all the shots; you own them all. That’s what Jesus envisages, right? “Gain the whole world.” And then you die. And instantly, you realize it was suicide. It was eternal suicide.
And suppose, facing Jesus, you say, “I’ll give you everything. I’ll give you everything I have. I own it all. I’ll give you everything — the whole world — in return for my soul.” What do you think he will say? I think he will say this: “You would try to buy your soul with the very possessions that destroyed your soul — the very possessions that you preferred over me?” Christ-replacing, Christ-belittling idols have no currency in heaven. He will turn his face away, and you will perish forever.
What you just tried to do with your money, that ransom — it’s in vain. For the many, for the elect of God, the ransom is paid, and you preferred not to be a part of it. You preferred not to be with Jesus. You preferred to make crystal clear you were not elect. That’s what you meant to do. You’re going to go with the alternative treasure. Oh my, don’t do that. That’s Mark 8:36–37, and the intention is to clarify how “for my sake and the gospel’s” in verse 35 is a more precious reality than mere things.
Do you feel freedom welling up in your heart right now? I do. I mean, there are temptations at 73 with stuff. I need all the help I can get to be free. You do too. Free, free, free from the main idols in the world: possessions and praise.
Let’s look at praise. Mark 8:38: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words . . .” And notice again: me and my words. Verse 35 said, me and the gospel. Here, it’s me and my words.
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
Jesus is making clear that there are two audiences for our lives. The first audience is “this adulterous and sinful generation” — adulterous not mainly because they sleep around, but because they find more pleasure in God’s creation than in God. And thus, they commit adultery against God, which is the essence of sin. The other audience is the Son of Man at his coming, his glorious Father, and millions — I’m going to say millions from Daniel 7:10 — of holy angels. That’s a lot of glorious beings to smile at you or turn away.
And the question for us is this: Whose approval do we crave most? Whose praise are you most desperate not to lose? In whose presence do you fear most being shamed? Which relationship is most precious to you?
This brings us back now to verse 35: “Whoever would save his life will lose it.” Whoever lives to save his reputation, to avoid shame, to save his acceptance with the people that matter to him — namely, an adulterous and sinful generation; this just points out the insanity of it all — will lose his respectable and popular life. The Son of Man, the all-glorious Father, the millions of holy angels, will, in one terrifying moment, turn their face away in eternal shame — if you have tried to save your reputation. “I gotta save my reputation. I gotta save my acceptance. I gotta save how cool I am in the lives of everybody.” You’re going to die, and millions of angels, the noblest creatures in the universe under God, will turn their faces away.
But the second half of verse 35 says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, “Whoever experiences me, and my suffering, and my rejection, my death, my shameful crucifixion, my resurrection — whoever experiences all that as more precious than the respectability of popularity, more precious than being accepted, being admired by an adulterous and sinful generation, you’re going to live forever under the smile of the Son of Man and his Father and millions of angels.”
Deny Your Way Home
Here’s the sum of the matter. Mark 8:31–38 is first news: the greatest news in the world. Verse 31: “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” He must be rejected. He must be killed. And he must rise again. The merciful, sovereign, all-controlling God planned it, prophesied it, performed it: the suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man. And therefore, it’s not random; it’s gospel. It’s ransom. It’s grace.
The way into the gospel — so that you not only experience the suffering, the rejection, the death, but the resurrection unto eternal joy with Jesus — is to experience the birth of a new self that looks at the suffering, the rejection, the killing, the rising of Jesus, and then looks at possessions and looks at praise, and says, “Possession-loving self, praise-loving self, I deny you. I kill you. I reckon you dead. You have no dominion in my life.” That’s a new man. That’s a miracle. That’s salvation. “And if it costs me my life to deny you — possession-loving self, praise-loving self — I die gladly to be with Jesus forever.” That’s the point of this text.