Matthew 16:26-27 (NIV) “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For 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.”
Jesus is continuing His teaching on the cost of following Him. He had just shocked His closest disciples with the clear statement that, if they really intended to follow Him, they had to be willing to not only accept Jesus’ going to the cross, but they had to be willing to take up their own crosses, to literally lay down their own lives for His sake.
Now Jesus moves forward with some profound, and profoundly disturbing truths. Each person has an innate sense of self-preservation that wants to look out for number one, that causes us to pull back from danger and loss, and to seek safer or more profitable paths. But Jesus again points out that the way of self-preservation, ironically, is the way of death. And, conversely, the path that leads to sharing in Jesus’ death is the path of life, because if we share in Jesus’ death, we will also share in His resurrection (cf. Romans 6:5).
A person can turn away from Jesus to a safer, more profitable path, and may gain the whole world. But he or she will do it at the cost of their soul. The Son of Man, Jesus, will return at the end of the age, and when He does, He will demand an accounting, even from those who follow Him (cf. Matthew 25:14-46). At that time, each person’s reward (or penalty, as the case may be) will be based on what they have done.
In this life, a person can choose the path of worldly honor and wealth, or the path of looking out for his or her own best interests and safety, by turning away from the calling of Jesus to take up their own crosses and following Him. But they will do so at the cost of their souls. But those who lay down their lives for Him, who take up His work of seeking and saving what was lost (Luke 19:10), and of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) will not only receive life in their souls; they will find, as they follow His leading into the dark and threatening places of this world, or even to their own physical death, that they experience a depth of His presence in their lives and hearts beyond anything they could ever imagine.
Father, many of us have been taught that the Christian life doesn’t require anything of us beyond the initial surrender, that You love us, and wouldn’t call us to do anything dangerous or costly. So these words of Jesus feel discordant to our hearts. But they are indeed His words, reiterated several times across the gospels, and amplified numerous times by the writers of the epistles. The life of following Jesus is a life of commitment, of surrender, and of steadfastly following in His footsteps, even to the cross. And that those who turn back when the going gets hard are not fit for Your kingdom (Matthew 10:37-39). I surrender to You, Lord, and commit myself to following You without reservation. I will go where You tell me to go; I will do what You tell me to do; I will say what You tell me to say, whatever the cost. Let my life from here on out be lived for Your glory alone. Amen.