The Cost of Discipleship (Matthew 16:24-27)

I wonder if you have seen the film, The Devil Wears Prada? If you have, you won’t forget Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep. She is the editor of New York’s most popular fashion magazine Runway. Ruthless and cynical, she is intimidating and manipulative – the queen of the fashion industry. Andy Sachs played by Anne Hathaway is the rather naïve young graduate fresh from university who wants to be a fashion journalist. A down-to-earth girl she lands the magazine job “a million girls would die for”: junior PA to Miranda Priestly.  She is quickly sucked into all the glamour, power and ambition of the fashion world.  Andy puts up with the eccentric and humiliating requests of her boss because, she is told, if she lasts a year in the position she will get her pick of other jobs, perhaps even the journalistic position she truly craves. In the middle of the film, there’s a poignant scene where Andy has an argument with her boyfriend, Nate, because her work is consuming all her time. They’re standing outside a restaurant late one night and Nate complains about how she has missed his birthday, how she’s constantly late for all their dates and how he hardly ever sees her any more. She replies, “But Nate, I didn’t have a choice.” He looks at her as if to say, “Of course you’ve got a choice.” And then her mobile phone goes. It’s her boss. 

Miranda Priestly. As she stands there, she is faced quite clearly with a choice. Outside the restaurant with her boyfriend at 11:00pm, the choice is very clear – to answer the phone or not. There’s a pause as the phone continues to ring, and then Andy says, ‘I’m sorry Nate’ and she reaches to answer the phone. Immediately, Nate responds, “The person whose calls you always take – that’s the relationship you are in. I hope you two are very happy together.” And with that he walks away. For Andy, her career was the phone call she always took. Her career was the biggest influence on the decisions she made. Now don’t tell me you have not been there. That you have never chosen the thrill of the out of hours phone call from your boss, that cuts into a date, or time with your spouse or your family.  Whose calls do we always take in life? Who or what are the strongest influences for us when we have a decision to make?[i]  Is our work a profession or an obsession? In his book, Christians in the Marketplace[ii], Bill Hybel’s observes,  

“Nearly 20 centuries ago, Jesus asked his disciples a question that continues to challenge the minds of thoughtful men and women.  Recorded in Matthew 16:26, it reveals a wisdom far beyond the wisdom of this world, and an unparalleled comprehension of economics and human values.  With it, Jesus cut to the core of man’s quest for meaning, for fulfillment, for security, and for prosperity.  He probed the thoughts that are pondered deep in the recesses of human hearts.”

“What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

World conquest isn’t easy.  It demands a high price. May be even your soul? Some try and appear to succeed.

“He didn’t have much choice but to sell. It was summer 2006, a little more than two years after Mark Zuckerberg had created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room as a way for him and his friends to better connect with schoolmates. College kids across the nation clamored for access, which Zuckerberg doled out, school by school. By mid-2006, about 7 million users, most of them college students, had a Facebook account….  when Yahoo came calling with a bid of $1 billion in cash, the pressure became too much. He relented, verbally agreeing to sell Facebook to Yahoo…. [however] Zuckerberg [was] convinced … Yahoo wasn’t a serious partner and that Facebook would be worth more on its own. He rejected the offer and became famous as the cocky youngster who turned down $1 billion. Today, Zuckerberg, 23, is famous for other reasons. For one thing, analysts think he could be the [nation’s] richest man under 25, with a net worth estimated at $1.5 billion.[iii]

Pretty cool for 23? At 23 you might be tempted to think “the world is at your feet” But ask the same question at 73. I don’t know what impact having that kind of money is having on Mark Zuckerberg’s soul, but I know what a fraction of that would do to mine. Remember how Satan tempted Jesus? 

“the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

Jesus resisted that temptation. But could you? Are you?

In the verses before us today, Jesus tells how to. How work can be our profession and not become our obsession? Please turn with me to Matthew 16:21-28. Let us notice three imperatives that will inoculate us from allowing our work to become an obsession.

  1. The Cost of Being Christ’s Disciple: Denial (16:24-25)
  2. The Value in Being Christ’s Disciple: Calculate (16:26)
  3. The Incentive for Being Christ’s Disciple: Reward (16:27)

    The Cost of Being Christ’s Disciple: Denial 

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

Following Jesus involves critical decisions about our priorities.

Notice the direct language, the imperatives Jesus uses:

“must” – Following Jesus is not optional.
“deny” – Following Jesus will not be popular.
“cross” – Following Jesus is a one way journey.
“lose”  – Following Jesus may not be safe.

Notice also that this is not an invitation but a summons, a call.

“my disciple” = that says who we follow. Christianity is not about a belief system, a set of rules or a moral code. Its about a person – Jesus and following him. Who we follow.

Then he says,

“deny themselves” = that says how we follow.
“take up their cross” = says where we follow.
“whoever loses their life for me will find it” = says why we follow.

We cannot accuse Jesus of ambiguity here or of lacking clarity, can we? He lays down the terms of being his disciple simply, clearly and plainly. There is no negotiation, no second opinion.

If Jesus is indeed the only way to God, then there is only one way to follow him. His way. Luke’s record of this conversation, adds the word ‘daily’ (Luke 9:23). “Taking up their cross daily”.  

This is therefore not a once for all decision but a daily choice. That is why our membership covenant, begins with the commitment “To follow the example of Christ in home and daily life, and to bear personal witness to him”.  Not my will but his. 

Not my priorities but his. This is not about what will make me most happy, wealthy and secure. It is about discerning how Jesus wants me to invest my life for him. And with the imperative command comes a glorious promise. “whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Incredibly poor – maybe. Indescribably happy? Certainly.  The cost of being Christ’s disciple: Denial. 

Following Jesus involves critical decisions about our priorities. 

The Value in Being Christ’s Disciple: Calculate

“What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Following Jesus involves ultimate questions about your values. 
“It is as if for a moment Jesus speaks the language of the city.  “Let’s talk business,” He says. “Let’s talk terms, profitability, bottom lines, Return on investment, net gains, guilt edge, a long term partnership, I mean really long term. But let me ask you the first question.  Is it good business practice to invest 60 years of your life building an empire, reaping all this world has to offer, and then find you have lost your soul for eternity?  Does that compute? Is that a good trade?  60 years for eternity? 
Think about it.  What will all your high achievements, your records, your status, your investments, and all your power do for you when your finite quota of days on earth is spent?”
Hybel’s says, 

“In our businesses and secular organizations, 
we may be considered “key people,” uniquely gifted in identifying the basic problems that jeopardize profitability and productivity.  We may excel in the marketplace, becoming the presidents of companies, 

the chairmen of boards, the chief executives of corporations.  We may be respected for our insight and perception of the realities of business.  But can we apply our practical business savvy to the larger matters of life and eternity?  We know how to make the right choices in business; do we likewise know how to make the right choices in life?”

Then Jesus raises the stakes with a second question. A question perhaps for those who have begun to waiver over the first.  
“Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?” (Matthew 16:26). “Let’s do a deal. Let’s talk trade, values and comparisons.  You have one soul, right?  Is there anything worth trading for your soul?  I mean anything?” Mmmm? No, I don’t think so, is there? These are profound, haunting words aren’t they? 
Jesus says there is a connection between “gaining the world” (whatever that means) and neglecting the greater issues of life.

Hybels says, 

“It amazes me that otherwise responsible men and women continue to make this same foolish choice.  Even people who claim to be Christians persist in their attempts to gain the whole world, while day by day they experience the disintegration of their health, their marriages, their children, and their spiritual lives.”

One translation of this verse puts it “what can a man give to buy back his life?” The idea is that he has already lost it by making a fatal choice. For the soul there is no equivalent. 

When it has once been lost at death it cannot be relived or recovered. Time travels in one direction. We never get a second go at it. Profit or loss? Fair exchange or false accounting? Two questions we must answer for ourselves.  The cost of being Christ’s disciple: Following Jesus involves critical decisions about our priorities. The value of being Christ’s disciple: Following Jesus involves ultimate questions about your values.

The Incentive for being Christ’s Disciple

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27)

I wonder, are you sufficiently incentivized at work? What does it take to keep you motivated to go to work tomorrow morning?  Next month? Next year? 1% above inflation? 2%? How big does that end of year bonus need to be? How many noughts?
Anticipating that you might just need an incentive to persevere, Jesus promises a reward. In fact Jesus often speaks of this reward  – see Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23, 35.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23) 

Now Jesus does not spell out what that reward is, but it will be great and it will be worth leaping about. There is a clue in our second reading from Colossians 3.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24) 

This is how we ensure our work is a profession not obsession.

We are working for the Lord, not for human masters. And what is the inheritance of those who follow Christ? In 2 Corinthians,  

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 4:16-18)

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17) 

This is our inheritance. When we live for Christ, we become more like Him. We become more and more the person God intends us to be.  So, to lose yourself for Jesus and for the gospel is not an act of desperation; it is an act of devotion. James Caviezel was asked how he felt about playing Jesus in the film The Passion. He replied, “I love him more than I never knew possible. I love him more than my wife, my family. I don’t want people to see me. All I want them to see is Jesus Christ.” How about you?

Let me close with a beautiful song by John Stoddart called “Anything”

Let’s use it as a prayer.


“How do I get close to you when you seem so far away?
What I wouldn’t give to talk to you, face to face.
I have to keep believing, that it won’t be very long.
Till the day I look up, and it won’t be a dream.
Chains breaking all around me, I can finally be free.
So if you are wondering what you mean to me.
You’ve changed my whole reality.
And nothing in this world can take my heart, because,

I’ll do anything, anything for you.
I’ll do anything, if you only ask me to.
I’ll do anything, anything just to be with you.    

How do I keep getting up, every time I fall down?
Such a strange kind of walking, with my feet up off the ground.
I’m not giving up, till I make it back home.
Where I know you’ll be waiting, with your arms open wide.
What a day for reunions, when we meet up in the sky.
Somehow I know it will be worth it all.
These tears I cry, the times I fall.
Because you’ve made yourself so very real to me.

I’ll do anything, anything for you.
I’ll do anything, if you only ask me to.
I’ll do anything, anything just to be with you. 

I’m waiting for the day, when we can fly away.
Promise me you’ll live inside my heart, my heart.

I’ll do anything, anything for you.
I’ll do anything, if you only ask me to.
I’ll do anything, anything just to be with you. 
I’ll go anywhere, if I can be right by your side.
And I’ll give up everything, everything, 
just to look into your eyes.
I’ll do anything, anything.” 

Can you say that to Jesus?

I’ll do anything, anything for you.
I’ll do anything, if you only ask me to.
I’ll do anything, anything just to be with you. 
I’ll go anywhere, if I can be right by your side.
And I’ll give up everything, just to look into your eyes.
I”ll do anything, anything. 

Can you? Will you?

[i] Jago Wynne Working without Wilting (IVP) pp. 35-36


[iii] Fred Vogelstein

John Stoddart ‘Anything’