The World is Not Enough - Matthew 16:21-27
Each film is seen by 500 million people in the first five years. The silhouetted, tuxedoed, pistol holding figure is now as well known as an international logo as, say, Coca-Cola. In Japan he is called Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - suave, sophisticated, invariably surrounded by a bevy of beauties and never without a rye comment for every
occasion, particularly having just dispersed another villainous megalomaniac to an early grave. While the new female 'M' may disdainfully dismiss him as a 'misogynist, dinosaur, a relic of the cold war', to the audience he still affectionately remains James Bond, special agent 007. According to producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, their aim is simple - to provide two hours of escapist, high class entertainment. And by and large they succeed.
But for the creator of James Bond, the writer Ian Fleming, Bond was much more than that. He was his alter ego. In many James Bond mirrored his own life, with the Bond family motto very much to the fore 'The World is not Enough.' Educated at Eton and later Sandhurst, Fleming went on to pursue a globe trotting career as a foreign journalist. During the Second World War he served in Naval Intelligence and, like Bond, reached the rank of Commander. Also with Bond he shared an obsession for high speed cars, women, gold, drink and good food. He may occasionally have been shaken but never stirred.
But what we see in the life of Fleming is the darker side of what happens when fantasy steps out into reality, when the world is not enough and style is everything. So, take Fleming's view of the 'love' of women for example. He once expressed this to a friend as "women are like pets, like dogs." You see, Fleming was never jealous of a woman's other attachments because, to be frank, women were not worth that much emotion. The same self - centred egotism showed itself in relation to his male friends. So, Lord Rothmere, the newspaper proprietor, extended his friendship to Fleming for 14 years, not suspecting that all the time he was busily seducing his wife. When, Lady Rothmere finally became pregnant, her husband divorced her, and much to everyone's surprise, Fleming married her. But Fleming was a sado-masochist, and she entered a life of frequent whippings and beatings, until he began to embark upon other adulterous relationships, partly because his wife's scars from two Caesarean births revolted him so much. You see, on the screen, Bond may be charming, but when translated into real life he is an arrogant, misogynist, soulless monster.
Now tonight, I want to suggest to you that when you buy in to the idea, as most of our contemporaries are doing today, that the 'world is not enough', that is to say, when you try to find all meaning and all value in this world alone, then nothing will ever be enough. Like Fleming you invariably end up destroying and being destroyed. You see, real purpose and lasting value, are only found outside this world, in the one who made it and some two thousand years ago came into it - Jesus, the Son of God. And it is to some of his words that I want us to turn this evening because whatever you may learn while being at University, nothing will make such a difference to your life now, and your eternal destiny later, than these words spoken by Jesus. Here they are as printed out for you, Matthew 16: 25 'Whoever wants to save his life (literally soul) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man or woman if they gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can someone give in exchange for their soul?'
Now when the Bible talks about our 'soul' (psyche), it is not referring to some sort of invisible spiritual sunbeam inside, an extra-terrestrial attachment to our personality. The soul is what you are, rather than what you have. You are made a physical, spiritual, psychological entity. That is the soul. The real you, if you like - the true self. Now can you think of anything more valuable than that? How do you put a price on something like that? To lose your soul is tantamount to losing your self. So what is the point in gaining all the money in the world if you are not there to enjoy it? Or, if in the process of gaining it, you are corrupted by it? You may still have quantity life, but next to nothing in terms of quality life. What is the value in gaining fame and fortune in this life, if all of that is reversed in the next life, and the next life goes on for ever? That's what Jesus is getting at. You see, Jesus is not engaging in polite small talk here. He is dealing with things we would often rather not think about, but which he wants us to think about because so much is at stake - our very souls.
So let me ask: What happens when we think that as far as life is concerned 'The World is not Enough? 'Well, according to Jesus, three things. First, we encounter a paradox, an apparent self - contradiction. Second, we pay a penalty and that is dire. But third, God pays a price and that is astounding.
First, whenever we try to find purpose, meaning in this life alone, we lose it. But when we stop, and turn to Jesus, we find it. Look at again at v25 'Whoever wants to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for me will find it.'
In the film, City Slickers, a movie about three middle class guys undergoing a mid life crisis in which they decide to ride the range in order to find the 'cowboy within', the whole experience causes them to reflect deeply upon the meaning of life. At one point the lead character, played by Billy Crystal, turns to the others and asks, 'Do you want to know what the secret of life is? It's this,' he says, raising his single index finger, 'It's One thing.' The trouble is that he doesn't go on to explain what that 'one thing' might be. But the Bible would agree that it is 'one thing', the one thing being God himself.
But the problem we face is that we don't quite know where to look for that 'One thing', and we look in all the wrong places. We try to save our souls, as Jesus puts it, as if it were all up to us, we call the shots, make all the decisions, we decide what is valuable and what isn't - and the result is that we lose it - lasting satisfaction never comes our way. But the moment we stop trying to please self and begin to follow this man from Nazareth - Jesus - losing our souls for his sake, then we find out what it's really all about.
Some years ago the journalist Bernard Levin, who isn't a Christian, wrote these words: 'Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non - material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times, noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it.... it aches.' Isn't that true? In many ways we as a country have never had so much and yet we are a country littered with soulless individuals, ever seeking but never finding.
Now it is interesting that Levin speaks about having this 'hole' inside, because in the 17th century the Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal said something very similar. He argued that within each one of us there us a 'god-shaped gap.' That is, by nature at the deepest level of our being, we were made for a personal relationship with our Maker - the One thing. But being as we are, we are not that keen on coming to him on his terms and so we try and fill that gap with all sorts of other things, but invariably fail, we 'ache.' Because only one shape will fit the spiritual gap When God ceases to be number one, nothing else ever takes his place. The paradox is the more we have the less satisfied we become.
Which brings us to our second point, namely, there is a price to pay. 'Whoever seeks to save his life' says Jesus will lose it.' No question about it! And we lose our true selves in two senses.
First of all, we lose ourselves, by becoming less wholesome and unfulfilled people in the here and now. Just let me mention three modern day 'soul winners', alternatives to God by which we try to save and satisfy ourselves.
There is of course materialism, trying to gain the whole world, or as much of it as you can manage. 'Make enough money and everything will follow' as one of the corporate lawyers said in Ally McBeal. And whether its is new Labour or old Tory or any political shade in between that seems to be the dominant outlook. But what does it do to the soul, what sort of people does it make us into? More caring, more contented? Hardly! Do you remember that series 'Hollywood kids'? They lacked for nothing, materially - you name it they had it. But in case after case after case, the one thing they lacked was love - they were poor rich kids - emotionally starved. Materialism never satisfies. You see, it is not a material vacuum we have it is a spiritual one. Sinead O 'Connor has put
the matter bluntly, she said 'As a race we feel empty. That is because our spirituality has been wiped out. As a result we fill that gap with alcohol, drugs sex or money.' And she is absolutely right, that is exactly what we do. The result? We lose our souls.
Then there is careerism. There is an old French proverb, 'Work is worship.' And that sums up what most of us are doing far more than we are willing to admit. Even within many of our universities the old idealism of pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake, boldly going where no one has been before, has been replaced by a short term pragmatism - what will help me get employed? What will bring in the money? What will help Britain prosper? The result is that we live to work, not work to live. The late property developer John Redland worked hard all his life and made a lot of money. Upon his recent death, he stipulated that his ashes be made into egg - timers, and be presented to his bank manager and taxman. Why? Well, towards the end, reflecting upon the goals which had directed the best years of his life he said this 'One day I suddenly thought I'd worked hard all my life only to hand over most of my cash to the bank and the taxman. When I kick the bucket, I may as well go on working for
them.' But you know, often the committed workaholic deep down is on the run, maybe from himself, maybe from his family, but ultimately from God - keep busy don't allow disturbing thoughts about the meaning of life to crowd in, for who knows you might have to change. The result? You lose your soul.
But it has to be said that religion is one of the greatest soul destroyers around. As we shall see, with the exception of Christianity, all religions are attempts at DIY - do it yourself. Whether it is the supermarket approach of New Age where we pick and choose the essential ingredients which satisfy us, or the self - indulgence of ritual - formal or free; at the end of the day it is us, rather than God who is at the centre. He, she or it - the idol of our own making - is there to serve us. To make us feel good. To get us out of scrapes. But our souls are destroyed all the same, for we become slaves to the thing we worship - a fabrication of our imaginations.
But there is a far more serious losing of the soul which Jesus has in mind and which I must tell you about. Not only do we lose ourselves now and increasingly become less than fulfilled human beings, but we shall be lost in eternity. Notice what Jesus goes on to say in v 27 'For the Son of Man (another term for Jesus) is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to his deeds.' He is talking about judgement day, and he - Jesus - is going to be the judge. You see, whatever we commit ourselves to now, as shown by our deeds -, what we live for - determines what we shall reap then - the rewards. When you think about it, what is
materialism, careerism, religionism, but a commitment to number one - self. We may want to wrap it up differently, but strip away the tinsel and that is what you are left with. And if it is to serving self that we give ourselves in this life, then that is all we are going to be left with in the next life - no friends, no family, no God. Elsewhere Jesus calls this
hell. As we have seen we may experience something of that in the here and now, that sense of lostness, loneliness, disquiet - but if we keep on we shall experience it in all its full awfulness at death. Then what will having the big house matter, the string of qualifications after our name, the number of women or men we have scored with in our sexual conquests? Jesus is serious. He teaches judgement and our consciences confirm it is coming. You reap what you sow. If we say 'No' to God now. He will say 'No' to us then, giving us in death simply what we have wanted in life - life without God. And that is hell, an eternal black hole in which we are encased in the cyst of our own selfishness. What is left of our soul becomes our prison. You see, what we need today, and what Jesus brings, is the eternal perspective. And this, if we are honest is
our real problem with Christianity. It is not that the church is old fashioned (so is breathing), nor that sermons are boring (as if our weekly outing to Tesco isn't), nor that science has disproved the Bible, it hasn't. Our real problem is that deep down our hearts are cold towards God and we prefer to save our own souls by pursuing the world. Do not tell me it is not so.
So what are we to make of this question of Jesus in v 26 'What can a man give in exchange for his soul?' Let me ask you: How much are you worth? What value would you place on your soul? What would you consider being so valuable that you would be willing to ask for that in return for your soul? Well surely there is nothing - the world is not enough. There is nothing you can give which will measure up to your eternal worth. You cannot buy back your life from sin and the judgement that comes in its wake, and neither can I. But God can.
Let me tell you something.
When from all eternity, the true and living God looked at you, the creature he had lovingly made, and saw how you set you heart on everything and anything but himself. When he saw the mess you and I have made, He knew that a price had to be paid for our souls to be set free and he knew the world was not enough. That is why he sent his Son Jesus into the world. Jesus tells us about it earlier on in v 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, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.' There is a divine must about it all. This is what he is going to give in exchange for your soul - his soul, pure and sinless that it is. So that there on that cross, covered in spittle, pierced with nails, naked and bleeding, Jesus pays the price for our rebellion against his Father. The cry 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me', is the cry of the soul abandoned to hell, bearing our punishment in our place, so that what we deserve he receives and what we don't deserve he freely fives - the cleansing of our souls and the gift of eternal life - when the God shaped gap is filled as the risen Lord Jesus comes into our hearts by His Spirit. That is what its all about. That is how much you matter to God. God loves you so much that the world was not enough for you, a million worlds would never be enough to pay the price for your rebellion and mine - he had to give himself.
But you say, how does it become real? Look at v 24 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' Three things you must do if you want to become a real Christian and know God personally. First, Jesus talks about 'coming after me.' That is you surrender to him as your Ruler and Rescuer. He is the only person who has the perfect God - shape, he is God. He is risen from the dead and
rules this universe - all of it. So stop rebelling against him, recognise he has done everything to put you right with God and ask him to come into your life now. Second, Jesus says 'deny yourself.' This logically follows. The reason we lose our souls is because it is self that is on the throne of our lives. So if Jesus is to occupy that throne we have to get self off it. Thirdly, Jesus talks about 'taking up your cross and
following him.' The cross in Jesus day was an instrument of death. Anyone seen carrying had only one end - public rejection and an early grave. We have already seen that to be a Christian in one sense means dying to self and living for Jesus, which is true life anyhow, so that is no great loss. But it also means being willing to be identified with him to such an extent that you are willing to be known as a Christian to your family
and mates at Uni., that you are willing to risk being unpopular and thought of as being odd. Jesus leaves us with no choice. Follow him and you have eternal life, reject him and he will reject you - though he does not want to do so. But whatever, you cannot be a secret Christian, carrying a cross does not give you that option.
So what is it to be? Living a soulless life in this world and losing everything in the next, or knowing the sweet love and life Jesus brings to any who turn to him?
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