“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?”
A small businessman who emigrated to the U.S. from another country, kept his accounts payable in a cigar box, his accounts receivable on a spindle, and his cash in the cash register. His son, who had just graduated from a business college said, "Pop, I don't see how you can run your business this way." "How do you know what your profits are?" "Son", he replied, "when I got off the boat, I had only 36 cents and the pants I was wearing. Today your sister is an art teacher, your brother is a doctor, and you’re an accountant. I have a car, a house, and a good business. Everything is paid for. "Just add it all up, subtract 36 cents and the pants, and there's your profit."
If it were only that simple.
Jesus asked His disciples, “who do people say that I am?” And they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. But then He asked the zillion dollar question. “Who do you say I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”
But it quickly becomes obvious that Jesus counts profit and loss differently than we do. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
Peter’s a savvy businessman and feels the need to instruct Jesus. Actually, he “rebukes Him.” The word in the Greek is, “epitimao.” The root of “epitimao” is “timay” which is a word that comes from the world of finance. “Timay” is the value or the price that is set for something. “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the “timay” the price of him on whom a “timay” a price had been set…” (Mat.27:9)
To ‘REBUKE’ is to publicly declare that the price that’s been set is TOO HIGH. When Peter “rebuked Jesus” he wants to ‘devalue’ the price that Jesus has set for being THE CHRIST. He tells Jesus that the cost is just too high.
In the Old Testament, the Prophets have to REBUKE the people of God, telling them that they’ve set the wrong price on the false gods. They’ve over-valued them. The prophet’s REBUKE tells them that their idols are actually worthless.
In the gospels, Jesus REBUKES the demons and the wind and waves that have overestimated their power against Him.
On several occasions, Jesus REBUKES His disciples.
• When they want to call fire down from heaven to fry the Samaritans He REBUKED THEM.
• When they try to forbid parents from bringing their little children to Him for a blessing, He REBUKED THEM.
• The thief crucified next to Jesus REBUKED his fellow thief crucified on the other side for UNDERVALUING Jesus. “Don’t you fear God?” he asks.
But our gospel today, which is also reported by Matthew and Luke, is the only time in the NEW TESTAMENT where anyone ever REBUKES Jesus. What Peter does here is unprecedented in the Scriptures – but quite common among us really.
Jesus hears the devil’s voice coming out of Peter’s mouth just as it spoke through the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And this second Adam did what the first Adam failed to do. “Turning and seeing his disciples, he REBUKED Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”
Peter has ‘overvalued’ the “things of man” and drastically ‘undervalued’ the “things of God.”
The “things of God” are not priced the way the “things of man” are. “Having in mind the things of man” we weigh something ‘worth’ or ‘value’ and that determines how much we’re willing to pay for it. And if we later discover that it’s really not worth what we paid, we REBUKE the merchant who overcharged us, or we REBUKE ourselves for being so stupid.
But “having in mind the things of God,” we’re struck by the fact that this is not how things work at all.
• God sees what is utterly worthless and He pays the highest price for it – and then delights in calling it ‘HIS.’
• God sees what is rotten and corrupt and useless – and He “spends all that He has in order to acquire it.”
• God sees the poor and the widow and the homeless and blind and the diseased and the outcast and the lowly – whom this world declares to be ‘worthless,’ but that He declares, “they are precious in my sight.”
• God sees ‘enemies’ who want to kill Him – AND DO – and sheds His blood for them and reconciles them, and says, “you are my friends.”
• God sees that which is dead, and what is more worthless that that which is dead – and He pays the price to ransom them even from the grave.
The God who created all things out of nothing, can also create out of the opposite. In His reply to Peter, Jesus shows us that He is THE CHRIST, “precisely in the fact that He is mighty in weakness, glorious in lowliness, living and life-giving even in death.” (Paul Althaus)
Here’s an example of the way that the “things of God” work in such contradiction to the “things of man.”
God chose Abraham to be the “father of a multitude of nations.” And you can try all that you want to find a reason for ‘WHY ABRAHAM?’ And you’ll never find it – because it’s not there. God did not choose Abraham because Abraham was WORTHY. All of Abraham’s WORTH comes from God who called him and blessed him. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.”
God chose Mary to be the mother of God. And although the church has written an interesting story that says that Mary was chosen because she was holy and therefore special – it’s not in the Bible. God chose Mary for reasons that were not about Mary.
AND MARY GETS IT. She gets it way better than Peter does. Peter’s REBUKE of Jesus is countered by Mary’s MAGNIFICAT. Peter DEVALUES what God is doing in Christ and Mary MAGNIFIES what God has done in Christ.
It’s the same for us. God does not see ‘VALUE’ in us and then make a smart investment to purchase us while we are still undervalued by this world. No, He purchased us “while we were still sinners,” with nothing to offer except for our idolatry and wretchedness. Even while we were REBUKING HIM, He paid the highest price that can be paid FOR YOU. “Christ died for you.”
And THIS IS WHERE WE FIND OUR TRUE WORTH AND OUR TRUE VALUE! No matter how others may UNDER-VALUE you or DEVALUE you – “have in mind the things of God.”
The same Peter who REBUKED his Lord and DENIED HIM, now denies himself and MAGNIFIES his Lord to you. “Know that you were ransomed…not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:19-20)
THIS IS WHERE WE FIND OUR TRUE WORTH AND OUR TRUE VALUE. Let the whole world REBUKE you. They cannot UNDERVALUE you. Because we do not “have in mind the things of man” where people are valued by how lovely or strong or productive or popular they are, or by the number of ‘likes’ they get on their Facebook page.
And at the same time, this also means, that because we do not “have in mind the things of man BUT the things of God” we do not value others the way the world does either. Social status, political power, wealth, success, beautiful – is the same to us as weakness, failure, unproductive, lost and ugly. None of this determines a person’s worth according to the “things of God.” For same INCOMPARABLE PRICE was paid for ALL.
“The things of God” REBUKE the “things of man.” And the suffering, rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ has turned this world upside down.
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?
To be clear, the ‘self-denial’ that Jesus is talking about here is a radically different thing that the ‘self-denial’ we impose on ourselves for Lent when we give up eating chocolate or ice cream or drinking beer. That’s a denial of something for the sake of self. What Jesus is calling for here is a denial ‘self’ itself.
“Deny yourself.” “REBUKE YOURSELF.” There’s a lot of cross and death in that word. Quit overvaluing the things that devalue your life before God and devalue the price that He paid for YOU.
Mark illustrates the cross that we all encounter in this ‘denial of self.’ The word “to deny” appears in only two places in Mark’s gospel.
• Once here, where Jesus tells the crowds and His disciples that following Him means they must “deny themselves.”
• And then the word appears again in chapter 14, where Jesus tells Peter that he will “deny me three times this very night.” A REBUKE that is confirmed by a rooster.
It is likely that Jesus is addressing Peter’s refusal to “deny himself” and willing to “deny His Lord,” that lies behind Jesus’ words to the crowds and His disciples. “For whoever is ashamed of me and 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.”
A man who had made a lot of profit came to Jesus one day. “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Go and sell all you have and give everything to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:17-22). Here is a man who would not deny himself because he overvalued his lifestyle and undervalued the priceless call of Christ to ‘come, follow Me.’
It isn’t just financial wealth that stands in the way of following Christ and must be denied. Sometimes it’s the way we allocate our time or the activities that we commit to that force us to either deny ourselves or deny Christ. Sometimes it the bad habits that we’ve fallen into that we have refused to deny for far too long that must now be put to death that we might not deny the call to follow the Christ.
Compare the balance sheet of the rich man’s life to that of Paul’s. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Col. 3:7-8).
Our gospel today is a clarion call to repent and do a proper cost accounting of our lives before God. We count our profits as they are measured out to us in the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus, not in the “things of man.” As we learn to correctly answer our Lord’s question, “who do you say that I am,” we also learn who we are. And we turn from REBUKING our Lord to MAGNIFYING Him who has made us so precious to God.