The Necessity of Self-Denial and the Value of the Soul (16:24–28)
In order to see the connection of these verses we must remember the mistaken impressions of our Lord’s disciples as to the purpose of his coming into the world. Like Peter they could not bear the idea of the crucifixion. They thought that Jesus had come to set up an earthly kingdom; they did not see that he had to suffer and die. They dreamed of worldly honors and temporal rewards in their Master’s service; they did not understand that true Christians, like Christ, must be made “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). Our Lord corrects these misapprehensions in words of special solemnity, which we shall do well to lay up in our hearts.
1. Trouble and Self-Denial
First, let us learn from these verses that we must be ready to face trouble and self-denial if we follow Christ.
Our Lord dispels the fond dreams of his disciples by telling them that his followers must take up the cross (verse 24). The glorious kingdom they were expecting was not about to be set up immediately. They must be ready to face persecution and affliction if they intended to be his servants: they must be content to lose their lives (verse 25) if they wanted to have their souls saved.
It is good for us all to see this point clearly. We must not conceal from ourselves that true Christianity brings with it a daily cross in this life, while it offers us a crown of glory in the life to come. The self must be crucified daily; the devil must be resisted daily; the world must be overcome daily. There is a war to be waged, and a battle to be fought. All this is the inseparable accompaniment of true religion: heaven is not to be won without it. Never was there a truer word than the old saying, “No cross, no crown?” If we have never found this out by experience, our souls are in a poor condition.
2. Precious Souls
Second, let us learn from these verses that there is nothing so precious as a human soul.
Our Lord teaches this lesson by asking one of the most solemn questions that the New Testament contains. It is a question so well known, and so often repeated, that people often lose sight of its searching character; but it is a question that ought to sound in our ears like a trumpet whenever we are tempted to neglect our eternal interests: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (verse 26).
There can only be one answer to this question. There is nothing on earth, or under the earth, that can make amends to us for the loss of our souls. There is nothing that money can buy, or people can give, to be named in comparison with our souls. The world and all that it contains is temporal: it is all fading, perishing and passing away. The soul is eternal: that one single word is the key to the whole question. Let it sink down deeply into our hearts. Are we wavering in our religion? Do we fear the cross? Does the way seem too narrow? Let our Master’s words ring in our ears: “What good will it be for a man?” and let us doubt no more.
3. Rewards at the Second Coming
Third, let us learn that the second coming of Christ is the time when his people shall receive their rewards. “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (verse 27).
There is deep wisdom in this saying of our Lord’s when viewed in connection with the preceding verses. He knows the human heart: he knows how soon we are ready to be cast down and, like Israel of old, to be “impatient on the way” (Numbers 21:4). He therefore holds out to us a gracious promise. He reminds us that he has yet to come a second time, as surely as he came the first time. He tells us that this is the time when his disciples will receive their good things. There will be glory, honor and reward in abundance one day for all who have served and loved Jesus; but it is to be in the dispensation of the second advent, and not of the first. The bitter must come before the sweet, the cross before the crown. The first advent is the dispensation of the crucifixion; the second advent is the dispensation of the kingdom. We must submit to take part with our Lord in his humiliation if we desire to share in his glory.
And now let us not leave these verses without serious self-inquiry as to the matters which they contain. We have heard of the necessity of taking up the cross and denying ourselves: have we taken it up, and are we carrying it daily? We have heard of the value of the soul: do we live as if we believed it? We have heard of Christ’s second advent: do we look forward to it with hope and joy? Happy is the person who can give a satisfactory answer to these questions!