Have you ever noticed the feeling of satisfaction and of accomplishment and of joy that comes when someone has gotten the point? Those of you who are parents have tried and tried to impart some principle of behavior or of conduct to your child, maybe even a small child, and after disappointment and discouragement and time and continued effort, that little boy or girl makes a choice that shows he has gotten it. You swell up with pride at what a fine young person you are raising. Or you wives, you have tried time and again to communicate some point about how you feel and how things seem to you to your husband. And that fellow who seems to be so brilliant and so capable in so many ways just seems to struggle understanding what you are trying to communicate. And finally, by some action or in something that he does, he shows that he has gotten the point. What a feeling of accomplishment that is! Or you teachers, you have labored and you have labored to try to communicate an idea or a fact. You have tried to illustrate it and you have tried to get it across first one way and then another way and it seems like you wonder if you are ever going to communicate this idea, and then some how that student shows that he has grasped the lesson. He sees what you are talking about and he follows through with it. That is a feeling of accomplishment.
This morning we are going to think about a disciple of the Lord who finally showed that he had gotten the point. I would like for you to consider with me what happens in Mark chapter 8 along toward the end of this chapter. Jesus, after much time in communicating lessons about the kingdom to his small group of disciples who traveled with him and who heard what he said and saw what he did, after time in manifesting his person, who he was, to these beloved men, takes them to Caesarea Philippi to a place by themselves. When he is there and they are alone, he says to these men "I want to know who do men say that I am? What have you heard?" And they give their answers. Some think he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other one of the prophets. People, in other words, have been impressed with him, they all account some greatness to him, but they haven't yet quite identified who he is. And then Jesus makes the question more personal to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter, apparently speaking for the group, said to him, "You are the Christ." In Matthew's record, it adds "the Son of the Living God."
Well, that was a point learned. But when Jesus began to try to illustrate to them or try to get across to them the implications of his identity, they hadn't progressed quite as far yet because Scripture says in Mark 8:31, "He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again." Why, that was a shocking idea to these men. It is not at all what they expected of the Christ. This mention about suffering and being killed and all of that was something that they were not willing to allow to happen to him. And so in verse 32, as he said this plainly to them, it says "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him." Now be careful to notice that Peter is not just sort of gently saying Lord I disagree with this course of action that you have set out on. What he is saying is, "Are you crazy? You can't do this. This is outside the realm of possibility. It is not going to be allowed to happen." In other words, there is the tone of correction to what Peter is saying to him here. If you can imagine taking the Christ aside and rebuking him, straightening him out, that is what Peter did that day. And the Lord didn't receive it well. At verse 33 it said that "turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter." And the tone of his rebuke is somewhat different. He said, "Get behind me, Satan!" How do you think Peter took to being addressed that way. "For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Then Jesus called his disciples to him and endeavored to try to get their minds attuned to the things of God instead of the things of men. He is trying to work on their perspective, in other words. He is trying to get them to see what really is important in the long run and what is not so important in the long run. How many of us ever have trouble keeping that perspective?
And one of the ways that Jesus did this, if you come to Mark 8:36-37, is to call attention to something that we all have and are and its value. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?" Not notice the word here in this version which is translated "life." It is a word that is translated in about half the versions "soul" in this place, at least, and a word which is translated also in many places "life". What the Lord is saying to Peter is, "Peter, if you are going to get your mind on the things of God, you are going to have to take another look at the value and the meaning of this part of you."
This word that we are referring to here has three shades of meaning that I think we all need to understand. In the first place, it is a word that can mean, certainly, just life. The life which animates our bodies and the life which causes us to be thinking and feeling and knowing and deciding, intelligent, living beings. It is the life that we have been given from God. It is the life which he has breathed into our nostrils. It is the life which causes us to be able to understand something of God and to relate to him.
Secondly, this word refers simply to the person, the idea of your inner being, your personality, in other words, what it is that makes you you. The person is that part, which along with heart, mind, and strength, causes us to be human beings. It is the life in us but it is what makes us beings, personalities, persons. It might be referred to as just yourself, then.
And then third, the soul or the life here, is that part of us which has to do especially with our spiritual destiny with God, the part of us which is more valuable even than the body. In Matthew 10:29, Jesus instructed his disciples to not just fear man who is able to kill the body but instead to reverence the one who has the power even to deal with body and soul in hell. The soul is the part of us which longs to be clothed upon with mortality and which in the resurrection will be given a body of glory like that of Jesus in order to dwell with him in his glory.
Your soul, then, is your life, your personality, and your spiritual destiny, your spiritual being. And Jesus in talking to Peter and the other disciples here uses the word of the market place to call upon his disciples to use some common sense. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he forfeits his life, his person and his eternal destiny for it? What can a man give in exchange for his life? If he is not alive, if he has no personality, if he is doomed, what can he give for his soul even if he wanted to make that kind of a deal?
Most of us are bargain hunters and we can recognize when something is a good deal and when it isn't. And it looks like when we are dealing with something this important, we would get the point even more clearly. What good does it do to gain the whole world if you have to give up your life, if your personality has to become warped and destroyed and if, in eternity, there is nothing to look forward to but lostness. What good would it do?
I would imagine that Peter and the other disciples had to roll that around in their minds for awhile. The way they acted in the days that were ahead while Jesus began to try to help them get the point that he was trying to make about what was facing him at the cross, the time he had to take, tells me that they were not real quick to see that point. But when I read Peter's writings in the New Testament, I discover that that perspective which Jesus was trying to get them to take is there and it is there vividly. I find Peter using the same point that Jesus had made to try to encourage Christians to keep their perspective even when a fiery trial was on them and even when they had to face the prospect of suffering. And I hear Peter saying to his readers, "Remember your souls." And he thinks that with that perspective they are going to be able to function heroically in everyday life.
Take a look with me at the little book of I Peter for a few moments. I want to call your attention to some of the lessons that Peter taught based on what he had heard Jesus say. In I Peter 1 in about verses 8 and 9, Peter mentions the revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of verse 7, in other words the Lord will reveal his glory in coming for his people. In verse 8 it says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Notice the perspective. Are you in fiery trial? Well, think about the end of your faith, the goal of your faith, the object of your faith, the whole point of the faith that we have in the Lord whom we have not seen and we don't see now but we still believe in him. The whole goal of that is the salvation of our souls. The time when we will have life, eternal life. The time when our personality, our being, will not any longer be affected by the struggle with weakness and sin and difficulty, but instead will have been refined and redeemed. The time when our relationship with the Lord will not be interrupted by space and by the gap between the divine and the human, but instead when we will see him as he is and be like him. That is the outcome or the object of the goal of our faith - the salvation of our souls. And while I live then, I want to keep that perspective. Not everything that happens in every day life has to seem like a major crisis to me. I don't have to worry about every little irritant that comes along and frustrates me. I don't have to lash out at people around me because I know what the goal is - the outcome of my faith, the salvation of our souls. That becomes what's most important. That becomes what really matters. That becomes the real chief concern and aim of life. That's why the song that says we have an anchor that keeps the soul thrills me. That's why to hear you sing "It is well with my soul" strengthens us. That calls our attention to what the real point is.
Go a little further with me. In I Peter 1:22, Peter says, "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." What happens when you and I obey the gospel of Christ is the purifying of our souls by the blood of Christ. I wonder if you have any room in your spiritual thinking and your religious views for any event which may in any way be thought of as an obeying of the truth which purifies your soul? We have been lead to believe at times so strongly that faith in Christ is just believing in him that we may miss the wonder of an event which purifies the soul. Notice in verse 22 and 23 here that that event is the same as being born again. Notice in verse 25 at the end of the verse, that this incorruptible seed or word which he is talking about is the gospel which has been preached to us already. It seems to me that this has to mean that there is an event, there is a time when a person responds to that good news, obeys that truth in a way in which the loving Lord uses what he has done for us to cleanse our souls and to bring us to new life in his family. I wonder what Peter could have been referring to? I know what he preached on the day of Pentecost. When he preached that Jesus was Lord and Christ, when they said "what shall we do?", he said "repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The Bible says he encouraged them with other words to save themselves. And then it says that those who gladly received his word were baptized that day and added to them by the Lord himself. I wonder if that could have something to do with this in I Peter 1 in which souls are purified? When we sing "is it well with your soul," what we are really asking ourselves is, have we been cleansed? Have we let the Lord forgive us? Have we accepted the gift of life from him? Are our souls therefore purified so that in our thoughts and motives toward each other we can love each other from the heart fervently? Are we free enough of suspicions and of resentments and of ill-will and of selfishness to be able to love from the heart? Have our souls, our lives, our inner beings, our persons been cleansed to the point that we are indeed able to look at each other without suspicion and without selfishness and without hatefulness and to truly love one another?
Thirdly, look with me at I Peter 2:11. The passage says, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh," (from the lust, from the evil desires of the side of us that is capable of the works of the flesh) "which wage war against your soul." When it talks about waging war, it doesn't mean a momentary hostility. It means a fixed state of animosity, fleshly lust, the lust for things that are wrong, the lust for things that are characterized by darkness, the evil passions for things that indulge how we want to look before other people or how we would feel or what we could our hands on to grasp for ourselves - those things, Peter says, wage war against your soul. So abstain from things like that. Don't go out and deliberately pursue the things that are going to be destructive to you in your innermost being. Don't feed your minds, your eyes, your ears, on things that are going to warp you and ruin you as a person and separate you from the holy character of God as a spiritual being.
Then third, come down with me to I Peter 2:25. Having referred to what Jesus did for all of us on the cross, Peter says, "By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." The good Shepherd is the good Shepherd of what? Of our souls. Of the souls of people who were living in sin but have now returned to him. He is the one who leads us beside still waters so we can find what is right and good for us. He is the bishop, the overseer, the guardian of our souls, who with his rod and staff of righteousness leads us in the right way and protects us from threatening enemies who would destroy us. We want to think of Jesus maybe, but not remember what it is that he is watching out for and what he is concerned for most.
And then in I Peter 4:19 we read, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." The word for entrust is the very same word Jesus used on the cross. Do you remember? Having suffered and borne the agony of our lostness he cried out, "Father, into thy hands I commend," (there's the word) "my spirit." And Peter is saying, "let's you and I entrust our souls to God like Jesus did." He is faithful, which means you can trust him with your soul, and he is the Creator, which means that he will be able to take care of it. If you and I by continuing to do what is right will entrust our souls to his care, we will be alright.
Look at what Peter is saying in this letter. That day at Caesarea Philippi he had a little difficulty taking hold of what Jesus was talking about until the Lord said, "It is like this, what good will you do if you keep yourself just physically comfortable if you have to forfeit your soul?" So Peter says to his brothers and sisters in the Lord, "Remember the salvation of our souls is our goal. Remember you purified your souls when you obeyed the gospel. Abstain from what would destroy your soul. Follow Jesus who will care for your soul. And keep on committing your soul to a faithful creator by doing what is good."
In Matthew chapter 11, the Lord, noting the crowds who were following him, said to them, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest" (what kind of rest, Lord?) "for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." We are invited but we do have to take his yoke and we do have to follow him.
Maybe this morning your soul is in deep need of rest. Maybe you are a person who is ready to place your faith in Christ, repenting of sin and being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Maybe as a Christian, you need to be reminded of what the true perspective of life is. Maybe you need to come home to the one who gives rest to souls. If we can help you in some way this morning to do either of those things, then won't you come right now while we stand and sing together.