In Revelation 5:9–10, the voice of heaven rings out in praise to Christ:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
In other words, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified, by his blood he paid the ransom to bring into being a new humanity under the lordship of Jesus Christ. He paid the debt that would satisfy and remove the wrath of God against everyone who would embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and Treasure of their lives.
Therefore, Jesus is not a tribal deity. His kingdom, his new humanity, his church, his bride is “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The ransom has been paid for this new humanity. It is finished. God is satisfied.
What’s not finished is world missions, the ingathering of the bride from all the peoples of the world. “I lay down my life,” Jesus said, “for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this [Jewish] fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:15–16). I will “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).
And how will they hear his voice? Paul answers with a series of questions:
How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14–15)
How are they sent? How does that happen? It happens because God, in a service like this (and in ten thousand other ways), stretches out his hand in the preaching of his word and touches goers to go and senders to send. A miracle happens. The Spirit blows where he will. And goers come into being. Senders come into being. And it is wonderful in our eyes.
He uses words like Matthew 28:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18–20)
Is that going to happen? Is that ever going to be finished? Jesus left no doubt: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). There are a thousand uncertainties in the world today. This is not one of them. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Through goers and senders, through people like you, in ways nobody can explain.
Missions Amidst War
Someone might say, “You know, with war in the Middle East and Europe and across Africa, this is not an optimal moment for world evangelization and for you to call for new missionary recruits in this service.”
The problem with that is that Jesus says the opposite:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . . Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. . . . And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:6–7, 14)
Jesus says they happen together. Wars and world evangelization. They’ve always happened together.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865):
- Sarah Doremus founded the Women’s Union Missionary Society for sending single women to Asia.
- The Episcopal Church started missionary work in Haiti.
- The China Inland Mission (today OMF) was founded by Hudson Taylor.
During the First World War (1914–1918):
- C.T. Studd was glorying in a great revival movement in the Congo.
- The Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) was founded.
During the Second World War (1939–1945):
- Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe Bible Translators.
- New Tribes Mission was founded.
- The Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society was founded (now named WorldVenture).
- Mission Aviation Fellowship was formed.
- Far East Broadcasting Company was founded.
During the Korean War (1950–1953):
- The World Evangelical Alliance was organized.
- Bill Bright created Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA.
- Trans World Radio was founded.
Wars and rumors of wars are not going to stop world evangelization.
So, we do today what we have done every second Sunday of Missions Focus for decades at Bethlehem. At the end of this message, I am going to invite three groups of people to come to the front as evidence of God’s work in your life: (1) global partners, (2) those who are in Bethlehem’s Nurture Program, (3) and those who believe God is stirring in your life to move you sooner or later toward cross-cultural missions long-term. You may be 16. You may be 60. You may be sure. You may not yet be sure, but that is the direction you are moving unless he stops you.
One of the ways that God mysteriously calls people into missionary service is through the preaching of God’s word, especially from texts about how not to waste your life — like today’s text, Luke 9:23–27.
Jesus has just said in verse 22 that he is on his way to die: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” It’s not surprising, then, that the next thing he does is describe the cost of being the disciple of such a Savior: I lead the way by suffering and dying. You follow by suffering and dying. Verse 23: “And he said to all [not just some], ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”
There are three ways to get behind Jesus and be his disciple.
1. Deny yourself.
First, to get behind Jesus and be his disciple requires self-denial. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” There will always be pleasures, comforts, and securities in this life that Christians must renounce to be faithful followers of Jesus. If you are set on pursuing all the earthly pleasures you can imagine, and all the comforts of this life, and all the security of power, you will not be able to be a Christian.
2. Take up your cross.
Second, to get behind Jesus and be his disciple requires that you take up your cross daily. Verse 23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.” The cross is the beam of wood where you will be crucified with Jesus. To take up your cross is to take up your electric chair, to take up your gas chamber, to take up your lethal injection. It is to join Paul in saying, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Like the lieutenant said in Band of Brothers, the way to not be afraid of getting killed in battle is to assume you’re already dead. It’s a wonderful thing to face death every day as a person who is already dead. To wake up every morning (“daily”!) and say, “I belong, body and soul, to Jesus Christ. He is my life. I am not my own. I have died to self-rule, self-sufficiency, self-exaltation, self-preservation. He may do with me anything he pleases. My life is his, not mine.”
3. Follow him.
And third, to get behind Jesus requires that we follow him. Verse 23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” “Me.” Not mainly my healing, but me. Not mainly my exorcisms, but me. Not mainly my forgiveness, but me. Not mainly my deliverance from hell, but me. To be a disciple of Jesus is to desire Jesus more than you desire his gifts.
Do you remember the words of John Paton, the missionary to the New Hebrides, after he had been surrounded by hostile natives as he hid in a tree just above their heads? Years later he wrote,
Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back on your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then? (quoted in John Piper, Desiring God, 240–41)
So, from verse 23, to be a Christian means the denial of many pleasures, comforts, and securities, the death of self-rule, self-sufficiency, self-exaltation, and self-survival. And delight in Jesus above all things. Denial. Death. Delight.
Four Foundation Stones
Now, in verses 24–27 come four foundation stones holding up the truth of verse 23 — four arguments, each in turn supporting the one just before. You can see it: verse 24 begins with “for” (because!), verse 25 begins with “for,” and verse 26 begins with “for.” And even though verse 27 doesn’t begin with “for,” that’s the way it functions. Let’s listen to the Lord Jesus as he argues why being his disciple requires self-denial, daily death on the cross, and delight in him.
1. If you lose your life, you’ll save it.
Verse 24: “For [because] whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” If you try to save your life by refusing self-denial and refusing to take up your cross and refusing to delight in Jesus, you will die, you will perish, you will go to hell and lose your life. That’s the negative half of the argument in verse 24. The positive half is this: if you do lose your life — that is, if you embrace self-denial, if you embrace daily death on a cross, if you embrace Jesus as your treasure — you will save your life (literally, you will save “it,” that is, “your self”). If you lose yourself, you save yourself.
Here’s the way St. Augustine stated the paradox: “If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore you may not love it, since you do not want you to be destroyed. But in not wanting it to be destroyed you love it” (quoted in Desiring God, 241).
That’s right. And Jesus knew it was right. There is nothing sinful about wanting to live forever with Jesus — nothing. It’s sinful not to want to live forever with Jesus. Which means there is no such thing for the Christian as ultimate self-denial. There’s only temporary self-denial for the sake of long-term gain.
Jesus scolded his disciples when they gave the impression that it was a burden to follow him.
Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28–30)
And, of course, that doesn’t mean that if you leave your house you get ten houses, and if you leave your wife you get ten wives. It means that if you lose everything in this world and still have Jesus, you are rich beyond calculation. Which is why so many missionaries who have suffered so much have said with David Livingstone, “I never made a sacrifice” (quoted in Desiring God, 243).
2. The world is not worth your soul.
In verse 25 comes the next foundation stone in Jesus’s argument. It supports verse 24: “For [because] what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
The answer is nothing. So, the argument goes like this: “Whoever would save his life will lose it,” because even if you succeed in saving your life — by avoiding all self-denial and all cross-bearing and all spiritual delight — and gain the whole world, you lose your life. It profits nothing. You die and go to hell.
If Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg don’t deny themselves and take up their cross daily and delight in Jesus, they will perish. The richest men in America are on a collision course with total loss if they don’t have Jesus.
3. Shame now leads to shame forever.
In verse 26, Jesus gives foundation stone three, supporting verse 25. “For [because] whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
The reason total success at gaining your life, and owning the entire world, is a catastrophe (verse 25) is that you would have to be ashamed of Jesus in this world in order to make that your life goal. And to be told at the glorious return of Jesus that you have been ashamed of Jesus is the second worst thing you will ever hear.
What’s the worst thing that the owners of the world could hear at the last judgment? Jesus tells us in verse 26: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes.” The worst thing to hear is the King of the universe saying, “I would be ashamed to have anybody like you in my kingdom. Depart from me. I never knew you.”
Dear friends, deny yourself, die with Christ, delight in Jesus, and you will not hear those terrible words.
4. Glory really is coming.
The fourth foundation stone in Jesus’s argument comes in verse 27, which supports verse 26. Verse 27: “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” That’s a reference to Peter, James, and John and what happens before their eyes eight days later.
You see that in verse 28: “Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” He was transfigured before them, and they saw the glory of what Christ will be like at the second coming. They saw, before they died, a preview of the second-coming glory of verse 26: “when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
That is the way Peter recounts the transfiguration in 2 Peter 1. It was a sight of the glory of the coming Christ. In that way, Peter, James, and John saw the coming kingdom before they died. So, the argument of verse 27 is this: the glory of verse 26 is really going to happen, because I’m going to show it to you in eight days on the mountain.
He Is No Fool
So, Jesus’s main point in this passage is that to be his disciple means three things: (1) to embrace the denial of many pleasures and comforts and securities; (2) to embrace the death of self-rule and self-sufficiency, self-exaltation and self-preservation; and (3) to pursue delight in Jesus himself.
The main foundation stone in support for this way of life is this: if you lose your life in that way — that self-denial, that death, that delight — you will gain your life forever. Which means that the missionary credo of Jim Elliot (and so many others) was exactly biblical when he said, “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”