Try to keep your life and you lose it. But give your life away for Jesus and others and you find it. The life you long for, the life you’re looking for, is found when you give your life away for others. It’s the way to joy.

November 25-26, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
JOY: The Outward Focused Life
#3—Give your life away
Matthew 16:21-26

Video: Wednesday’s Kids 

Introduction and offering:

You gotta love that! Our big deal this year has been to Think Three: think three generations ahead of you, and one on either side. The Morrows are doing that in a very cool and practical way—opening their home every Wednesday for dinner for kids before youth group. I love it! Way to go Morrows! I hope it stirs you to think about how God could use you to invest in the generation coming up behind you. It’s also an example of an outward focused life.

We’re continuing our series, “JOY: the Outward Focused Life.” One day this spring, I was praying about my selfishness, and I thought of the acrostic JOY: Jesus, Others, You.   The way to joy is to live for Jesus first, and then put others before yourself. So ever since then, I’ve been writing JOY across the top of my daily planner. It’s not to remind me to be happy—I may be the happiest person you’ve ever met. Check out these socks! I’m not reminding myself to be happy; I’m reminding myself not to be selfish, to live Jesus, others, you.

In today’s story, the disciples are at it again—being truly clueless when Jesus talks about His death. This time it’s Peter who steps in it! Here’s the story:

Matthew 16:21–26

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

In the verses just before this, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s the Big Question—the most important question. Who is Jesus? Peter speaks up, “You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the Living God.” Jesus responds, “Good job Peter; but no one told you this, and you didn’t figure it out on your own. God showed you.” Peter got it right: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Then Jesus begins to explain what that means: He must go to Jerusalem, suffer and die and be raised. He must—because this was God’s plan. But it sure wasn’t what Peter had planned. In Peter’s plan, the Messiah would drive the Romans out of Israel and “Make Israel Great Again!”   There was no plan for a suffering Messiah, a crucified God. That was crazy.

So Peter took Jesus aside to straighten Him out. “Never Lord!” Literally, the Greek reads, “Mercy!” or “Gracious!” It’s short for, “Lord have mercy” or “Lord be gracious to us!” And the meaning was, “May the Lord have mercy and be gracious to us and not let this happen.” Never! This shall never happen to you.

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Wow! From, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church,” to “Get behind me Satan; you are a stumbling block, a trap to me.” Unwittingly, Peter has repeated Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Matthew 4 tells the story of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. The adversary (that’s what the word “Satan” means) tempted Jesus to avoid the cross, offering Jesus shortcuts to fame and power. “Jump from the temple and angels will catch you. Everyone will be amazed and will follow you. Or just worship me, and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Luke tells us that after the temptations were over, Satan left “until an opportune time.” This wasn’t a one-and-done temptation. The devil came back at opportune times, tempting Jesus to avoid the cross—and this was one of them. Peter was the unsuspecting mouthpiece of the devil.

But it gets worse. Peter didn’t want Jesus to die, but Jesus goes on to say, “Not only will I suffer and die—you will too. All of you.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

We’re going to focus the rest of our time on verses 24-25.


Offering: a huge thank you to everyone who gave to the work of Spring of Hope in Kenya. You gave $41,000 which will provide clean water, food sources, employment, and an ongoing revenue stream for the ministry in Kenya. Also, 20 more children were sponsored, and 50 of you expressed interest in our mission trips to Kenya next year. Thank you!


  1. Do you want to be Jesus’ disciple? v. 24

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

This is one of Jesus’ most repeated statements—I’ve listed other places in the gospels where Jesus said this.

Do you want to be Jesus’ disciple? Notice the word “want.” You become a disciple of Jesus because you want to, you choose to. No one becomes a follower of Jesus accidentally; no one drifts into it. You want it; it’s a willful decision. This is why we often give people the opportunity to say yes to Jesus. At some point, you have to make a decision: I want this. I will follow. I choose Jesus. I’m going to give you a chance to do that later.

If you want to be Jesus’ disciple, He gives us three things that we must do: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow. Let’s unpack each one.


  1. Deny yourself.

How perfect is this! We’re talking about denying yourself a couple days after Thanksgiving! What do you think of when you hear “deny yourself”? Say no to that second piece of pumpkin pie. Eat more salad instead of dessert. Drink diet soda—yukky—instead of the good stuff. I’m terrible at this. I often tell my friends that I can resist anything except temptation! I prefer feasting to fasting, self-indulgence to self-denial. Anybody else overeat on Thursday?

ILL: Driving home after Thanksgiving, I was complaining to Laina that I can’t pack away huge amounts of food like I used to. I only had one moderate sized plate of food and was so full I couldn’t eat seconds or dessert. I broke into song—an old Beatle’s favorite: “Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be”—referring of course to my diminished capacity. Laina smiled and said, “What do you mean, you’re larger than ever!” Thanks dear!

So what does Jesus mean by “deny yourself?” Simply put, we say no to our selfishness so we can say yes to Jesus. We put Jesus first—ahead of ourselves. Jesus, others, you. Say no to my selfishness so I can say yes to Jesus.

Some object that self-denial is unhealthy and unnatural. In the extreme, yes. Over the centuries, some Christians took self-denial to unhealthy extremes. These ascetics were often admired as examples of holiness.

ILL: I’m reading Eric Metaxes new book, Martin Luther. He tells the strange story of Anna Laminit, a famous ascetic who lived in Augsburg, Germany. When Luther met her in 1511, this supposedly holy woman was revered for not having eaten a single crumb of food for 14 years. She subsisted only, it was said, on the Holy Sacrament itself. Because of this she had not pooped or peed in all this time. Some time later, she was revealed to be a fraud. But the point is that this kind of extreme asceticism was valued in the ancient world and made you holy.

Is this what Jesus had in mind? I don’t think so. Paul wrote to the Colossians:

Colossians 2:23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

That was Paul’s take on extreme asceticism—it lacks value to restrain sensual indulgence. It doesn’t really work. Jesus isn’t asking you to do that—aren’t you glad!

Healthy self-denial is part of emotional maturity—it is part of moving from childishness (I always get my way) to adulthood (I willingly deny myself for others). However, even healthy self-denial goes against the grain of our selfishness. In this sense, it’s not natural. I am naturally selfish—I need supernatural help to be unselfish. And for this, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why God gives us His Spirit—to empower us to live a new life—to live an outward focused life.

Galatians 5:22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

The Holy Spirit will produce in you love, joy, peace…and self-control. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, and then gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do it.

So what does self-denial look like? It might surprise you. It’s as simple as putting others ahead of your own self-interest.

ILL: Let’s go back to our video. How do the Morrows deny themselves? They say no to their selfishness and yes to Jesus and others every time they open their home to students for dinner. Does it cost them time? Yes, they hurry home from work. Does it cost them money? Yes—they’re paying for the food. Does it cost them effort? Yes, they’re cooking and cleaning and listening and loving. Would it be easier and cheaper for them not to do this? Absolutely. But in this act of love, they are saying no to self so they can say yes to Jesus and students. And in a way every act of love is an act of self-denial.

By the way, the Morrows are in the process of picking up their second adopted child from China—adding another hearing-impaired child to their family. That’s another act of love that includes self-denial.

First, deny yourself. Say no to your selfishness so you can say yes to Jesus an others.


  1. Take up your cross.

What does it mean to take up your cross? This phrase has worked its way into our cultural vocabulary and we use it to refer to suffering some inconvenience or displeasure.

“My in-laws are staying with us for a month. It’s the cross I have to bear.”

Or, “My car keeps breaking down,” or “My kids are driving me crazy,” or “My roommate is a piece of work. It’s the cross I have to bear.” Inconvenience, displeasure, suffering.

But what did it mean when Jesus’ disciples heard this phrase, “take up your cross?” They didn’t think of in-laws or inconvenience or displeasure or even suffering. They thought of death. The cross was an instrument of execution, and the only time a person took up a cross was if they had been sentenced to death and were carrying it on their way to their own execution. To take up a cross in Jesus’ day was to go to your own execution.

For Jesus’ disciples, this would be startling! Jesus was calling them to die! And it turns out that most of them would die for their faith in Jesus—they would be martyrs. But that seems like ancient history to us who are used to living in a nation that cherishes religious freedom. You are unlikely to die for your faith in America. But there are still thousands of Christians around the world who are. In fact, more people are dying for their faith in Jesus now than ever before. There are at least 53 nations where being a Christian is illegal and can get you arrested, persecuted or even killed. So for millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, to take up a cross and follow Jesus still means literally to take your life in your hands, to risk your life to follow Jesus.

So does that mean that this doesn’t apply to us? Not at all. In fact, Luke shows us that Jesus had something more than physical death in mind.

Luke 9:23 Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

What’s the word Luke adds? “Daily.” Take up your cross daily. Obviously, Jesus meant something else besides physical death. You can only do that once, not daily. But Jesus calls us to a daily dying—dying to our selfishness so we can follow Him. Jesus is calling us to follow His example of giving our lives away for others. Luke adds “daily” to show us that this is not a “one and done” deal. I like to think of it this way.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

Husbands, we are called to love our wives as Christ loved the church. How did Jesus love us? He gave His life for us. We are to love our wives by giving our lives for them, dying for them. It could be literal—you might take a bullet for your wife, or throw yourself in front of a speeding car, or die protecting her from HGTV or Shopping Channel. But for most of us, we won’t have to physically die. Instead, we’ll die daily.   We’ll give our lives away for our wives in hundreds of daily acts of self-sacrifice and service. We’ll put our wives before ourselves: listening when we’d rather talk; serving when we’d rather sit in front of the TV; doing what she wants rather than what I want. Frankly, sometimes it would be easier to just die, and get it over with!

What does it look like to take up your cross? It’s daily self-sacrifice. It’s daily putting others ahead of yourself. Jesus, Others, You.

ILL: Imagine God giving you $1000 to give away. Many of can immediately think of a large need you could meet. One and done—it’s all gone. But instead, God tells you to go to a bank and get 1000 $1 bills, and give them away one at a time. Instead of one grand act, it’s 1000 daily small acts of sacrificial love.

That’s how we love our wives like Christ loves the church. And it’s how we take up our cross daily—1000 small acts of sacrificial love, giving your life away for others. And here’s the cool thing—it’s the way to JOY!

Deny yourself.

Take up your cross.


  1. Follow me.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? Let’s start with: What did it mean for these disciples? “Follow Me.” First, it meant that they literally followed Jesus around. It meant they hung out with Jesus, they went where Jesus went and did what Jesus did. In this sense, the call to follow was a call to relationship, to be with Jesus. That’s first.

Second, it meant follow His example, teaching and lead. When a rabbi like Jesus called someone to follow, it meant that person was to learn from the rabbi, and put into practice what they learned.

Jesus is calling you to follow—in both of these ways.

First, “follow me” means that Jesus is calling you into a relationship. He wants you to be with Him, to hang out, to be His friend and companion. We can’t follow Jesus around physically, but we can be with Him spiritually. He promised to always be with us, so we can live with Jesus 24/7. For most of us, that means learning to be aware of His presence, and engaging Him in conversation through the day.

ILL: Here’s an imperfect illustration. I remember when I got my first cell phone. Someone asked me why and I told them that I got it so Laina could be in touch with me any time, any where. He said, “Why would you want an electronic leash?” That’s love! When I married Laina, we entered a 24/7, till death do us part relationship. We got married so we could be together. But there’s this thing called work that gets in the way. The cell phone just made being together a little easier. Even when I can’t see her, I can be in touch. To this day, I use my phone to be in touch with Laina far more than anyone else.

When I said yes to Jesus, I entered a 24/7 relationship with Him. And He’s given me a cell phone—it’s called prayer. He can text or call anytime, and so can I. We can stay in touch even though I can’t see Him.

Building this kind of friendship takes time and practice. I’m better at it now—more aware of Jesus’ presence and friendship than ever before. Not perfect—but better. And how cool is it that the God of the universe has called you to follow—that He wants to hang out and be your Friend! God wants a relationship with you!

Second, “follow me” means you follow His example, follow His teaching and follow His lead. It means that Jesus is our Lord, our Teacher, our Leader. It means imitation and obedience. It means being like Jesus and doing what He says. In fact, Jesus told His followers that the goal of a disciple (student) was to be like his teacher.

Matthew 10:24–25 The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters.

The word “student” is the same word that is usually translated “disciple.” To be a disciple is to be a learner. What are you learning? You are learning to be like your teacher; you are learning to be like Jesus. Look at the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18–20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is the mission Jesus gave His followers—including you and me. We are to make disciples wherever we go. We do this by baptizing them and teaching them…what? Teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. This is what disciples or followers do: they obey Jesus. They do what He says. And one of the things He says to do is to make more disciples.

You aren’t a full follower of Jesus until you’ve helped someone else follow Jesus! You aren’t a disciple until you’ve made a disciple! Look again at Jesus’ call of Andrew and Peter.

Mark 1:17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

Right from the get go, Jesus tells them that if they follow Him, He will send them to help other people follow Him. Follow Jesus and you’ll help others follow. Be a disciple of Jesus and you’ll make disciples of Jesus. Think about it: if following Jesus means doing what Jesus did, well, what did Jesus do? He made disciples. So to follow Jesus means you become a disciple maker; you help other people find and follow Jesus.

To follow Jesus is to be in relationship with Jesus and be on mission with Jesus.

Want to be a disciple of Jesus? Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus! Or said another way…


  1. Give your life away! v. 25

25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Try to keep your life and you’ll lose it; give it away for Jesus and you’ll find it! This is also one of Jesus’ most oft-repeated statements. I’ve listed the other references on your outline, and I want you to look at

Luke 17:32–33 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

Jesus gives Lot’s wife as an example of this principle. The story is in Genesis 19. Lot and his wife lived in Sodom, a city so wicked that God couldn’t find even one righteous person in it (except Lot), so He destroyed the whole city by raining fire and brimstone down on it. An angel led Lot and his wife and two daughters out of the city and told them to run for their lives and not turn back or they would be swept up in the destruction. But Lot’s wife turned back, and it says she became a pillar of salt. In other words, she was covered in the brimstone and died. She tried to save her life in this world, the life she knew, her selfish life without God—and she lost it. If she had left her life behind as God commanded, she would have saved her life. Remember Lot’s wife. Remember that if you try to keep your old life, you’ll only lose it. But if you lose your old life for Jesus, you’ll find a new life, a life worth keeping.

25 Days of JOY: take the challenge starting on December 1.

Here’s the deal: Try to keep your life and you lose it. But give your life away for Jesus and others and you find it. The life you long for, the life you’re looking for, is found when you give your life away for others. It’s the way to JOY: Jesus, Others, You.

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Give your life away