The Square on the Hippopotamus
Some of you may have heard of this in your schooldays, but unless your maths teacher was a comic, it was probably not in the maths class. There you hopefully heard about "The Square on the Hypotenuse", the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras' famous theorem about the sides of right-angle triangles...
This is one of the most fundamental theorems in mathematics, science and engineering.
A (More) Revolutionary Theorem
Jesus, the Revolutionary Man from Nazareth in Israel, gave us a far more revolutionary theorem than Pythagoras', for Jesus' theorem is not aimed at maths for our heads (though there is nothing wrong with that - God invented mathematics) but at motivation for our hearts. In Mark's Gospel, 8:35, he says "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." Put another way, it is...
Now, if we are honest, that's not the theorem we often live by, though most people think doing a good turn, helping someone without any reward, giving to the poor, are all good things. There is a deep ditch (or even a great chasm) between what we applaud and what we actually do all the time.
Sadly, for many a lot of the time, and for some all of the time, the theorem of life looks more like this...
|Gain = Gain
|Loss = Loss
|The extreme is perhaps the "Greed is Good" ideal (gain = gain)
The Bible talks about this in the book of Proverbs, when it says "The leech has two daughters. 'Give! Give!' they cry" - Proverbs 30:15 (NIV)
At the opposite end (loss = loss) is someone in desperate poverty, who cries out with old Jacob "Everything is against me!" (Genesis 42:36 NIV)
It wasn't true for Jacob, and it is not true at all, even for someone with nothing.
The Foundations of Jesus' Revolutionary Theorem
Jesus gives us 2:-
A single soul is worth more than the whole world
- "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" verse 36
- sadly many cast their souls away for much less than the whole world; even just for laziness and negligence, never wanting to or bothering to ask "what is the value of my soul?" - meagre gains indeed.
- WHERE THEN THE "GAIN = GAIN" MANTRA?
When a soul is finally lost there is nothing valuable enough to buy it back
- "Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" verse 37
- at the last, when your soul has decayed to an endless, aching, empty, friendless, griping, despairing grumble, what of any value will you have to buy it back?
- paradoxically it is then and only then that the second part of the mantra is true....
- "LOSS = LOSS" ultimately and finally.
Exploring the Theorem
What it is NOT
- it is not going around with a sour face avoiding all good things. God invented all good things, and we are not to refuse His gift as something worthless. "...God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." 1 Timothy 6:17 NIV
- it is not selling everything and giving it to the poor (some did in the early church, but it was not a command to all - the rich are told to be generous and not to trust in their (uncertain) riches).
What it IS
- a matter of good focus
- the person who believes this theorem focuses on the FUTURE, not the NOW. They see that both gains and losses NOW are short and fleeting, but that the gains and losses for the eternity to come are likewise eternal and unchangeable.
- whereas the person who casts this theorem aside is looking only at the NOW, whose joys and sorrows are short-lived, and ignoring the eternal future, where the loss goes on forever.
It is not really all that NEW
- it is implicit in the Great Commandment of the Old Testament - "Love the LORD your God with all your with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" Deuteronomy 6:5
- it is implicit in God's instructions to Israel to care for the poor and for refugees
- it is implicit in the Psalmist's words, eg "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10 NIV
At last, the Revolutionary Command!
Built upon these truths, Jesus gives a command to those who would be his followers. It is not an arbitrary command, "Just because I say so", though what follows in chapter 9 blazes out his authority to do so. Neither is it a harsh command, for he leads the way, obeying it before us. It is a command that will do us good. He is like an army commander who commands his troops "Follow me, stick to the rocky places, for the easy ground is a minefield!".
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.r" v34
- Deny (yourself)
- Take up (the cross)
- Follow (Jesus)
What it is NOT
- it is not denying yourself legitimate pleasures for no reason.
- To do so is to deny God who gives us all good things. Paul the aged apostle can say "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want." Philippians 4:12 NIV
- To do so is the error of the ascetic person, thinking he can purge his soul of guilt by punishing his body. Paul knew how to fast, but he also knew how to feast.
- it is not selling everything and giving it to the poor. The rich are commanded to be generous with their riches. See 1 Timothy 6:18
- it is not just inconveniences in our lives, like an annoying acquaintance, or having aches and pains (though we should bear the one with love, and the other without grumbling).
- It is not looking for trouble. Matthew Henry says "We must not by rashness and folly pull down crosses upon our own heads (ed: that is to be a fanatic), but we must take them up when they are in our way (ie, in our pathway)."
- It is not a literal command - we are not to think we should have ourselves tied or even nailed to a wooden cross as some other fanatical people do each year. It is the bloody sacrifice of Jesus that frees us from quilt and shame, not (nor ever can be) our blood.
What it IS
- It certainly includes spending our time and money to help others (denying ourselves something that the money could buy for us, or something we could do with the time, for our own pleasure). "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." 1 Timothy 6:18 NIV
- it certainly includes bearing severe griefs without grumbling, and with the pieces of our broken heart laid in a basket at Jesus' feet (so that he can take them up into his arms).
What it is in its proper CONTEXT
- Context - the last part of v35 "for me and for the gospel"
- Context - v38, "if anyone is ashamed of me and my words"
- Context - v31-33, Peter's rash and ignorant denial of Jesus the Messiah's death for us sinners. He (and they all) wanted a King with a Crown of gold, not a Crown of Thorns.
- it is ultimately that "The cross is a willingness to suffer and die for Jesus and the Gospel" (NIV Study Notes). Jesus led the way, carrying his cross, and dying on it for our sakes.
- when to NOT deny ourselves means denying him
- we may go to our friends' feasts, but must say no to their orgies (porn-nights)
- we can celebrate Caesar's public holiday (we have plenty here in the land of Oz), but not burn our pinch of incense in worship to Caesar (thank God we live in a benign democracy; we may not always have this great privilege, and if the day comes when our government forbids us to worship Jesus our Lord, our duty then is clear).
- when someone says "You're one of those stupid Christians, aren't you?!", what will you say? - "(gulp) who, me?"
- when someone says "I having tomorrow off - tell the boss I'm sick." what will you say? "Sure" or "Ask me any favour you like, but not something wrong - I follow Jesus, and I can't lie for you."
WARNING - Strictly Observe These Instructions Or .......
Jesus then says "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." v38
If we are ashamed of him NOW, he will be ashamed of us THEN, at the end of this age. Jesus' warnings need to be taken very seriously. If he is the God's universal King and Messiah, as He claimed to be, and as the Jews of the day, his witnesses, knew He claimed to be (see John 5:18), then he has power to do what he says. The day of mercy in the gospel is still with us, but it must end one day, if God is to be fair and just (as all men think He should be! How quickly men cry "That's not fair God!")
What it is NOT
It is not meant for the fearful, weak believer in Jesus. Peter in a time of great stress and danger denies Jesus the night he was betrayed, but is forgiven and restored, and goes on to serve Jesus all his life, and at last to lay it down for Jesus' sake, being crucified for that name so precious to him.
The weak and trembling need not fear - though they cannot hold on 100% to Jesus, he will hold on 100% to them. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32 NIV
What it IS
It is meant for the play-acting "Christian", the hypocrite. Judas had a name as an apostle, but all he cared for was money, stealing from the common purse and taking the bribe to betray Jesus. He counted the Kingdom of God and Christ as feeble and worthless, shameful, and preferred to trust in gold and silver.
Whereabouts are you with Jesus' Revolutionary Command and Warning? With "feeble" Peter, or with "Strong" Judas?
Are you focussing your life on the NOW, or the soon to be THEN?
Mark's Gospel, chapter 8, verses 34 to 38 (NIV)
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
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Last updated: 12 Aug 2022
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