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Tony's Reflection 72
Charlemagne (748-814) was one of the greatest emperors who ever lived.
His territory covered much of Central and Western Europe and it was the grandest, most powerful kingdom since the Roman Empire. His wealth would have been unimaginable and by any standards he was a huge success.
His tomb, in Aachen Cathedral, Germany, was opened and explored by archaeologists in 1988. They found the expected treasures, but there was a surprise waiting for them in the centre of the vault.
They discovered, sat on a great marble throne, the skeleton of the King himself, with an open Bible on his lap. His finger was pointing to this verse:
“What have you gained if you win the whole wide world and lose your soul?”
It seems that Charlemagne (or at least his skeleton) had learned the secret of true success and what really matters. He had taken to heart what Jesus had to say in this week’s episode from Mark
We have just seen Jesus spelling out to the crowd what it will cost to follow him. Laying aside all your personal dreams and ambitions, to take up his agenda instead. In some times and places it involves facing the possibility of martyrdom. For all believers everywhere, it means “putting to death” your desires, when they don’t match up with what Jesus has planned for you.
It is not a recipe which guarantees you will be healthy, wealthy and successful in this life… although sometimes these things come. Charlemagne himself was a Christian who had all these things and knew they were given to him by God to enjoy.
Charlemagne was unimaginably rich and successful, yet he recognised there would be no point in all that, if he “lost his soul”.
Your soul lasts forever - but health, wealth and prosperity do not.
As a very small child what mattered most to you? Your favourite teddy, perhaps? Whether you were invited to that special birthday party? Whether you got “onto the team” at school?
As I look back almost 60 years to my childhood, that’s quite literally a lifetime ago. All of those things no longer matter. They have all faded away.
The health, wealth and success we all chase as adults will also fade away. Maybe our parents encouraged us to go after these things. Perhaps we have dreamt about them, worked hard for them over many years. All these things matter so much and for so long - but they will become as irrelevant to us as the toys we had as toddlers.
None of these things last. Our souls, though, last for eternity and matter for all time.
The heart of what Jesus has to say is not to do with whether or not we are rich and successful. It is somewhere else altogether.
“Don’t have your eyes on riches and success in this life,” says Jesus. “They come and go. Whether you have them or not doesn’t really matter. There is something else, though, that really matters…”
The crowd listening are spellbound. Jesus is speaking with such authority about the things that matter most. They are a little bewildered, too. It seems like everything they might wish for themselves and their children doesn’t really count, after all.
They know Jesus. They have seen the warm attractiveness of his life. His love for God, his love for people. They know the power of his teaching, too. They have seen his words make demons quake with fear, cut right to the innermost failings of his enemies and utterly transform the lives of those who trust him.
They hang on his every word. They are deadly serious as they listen and so is Jesus as he speaks.
What is it that really matters?
Jesus knows they are asking that question and so he spells out the truth with a passion and conviction which is total:
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”
How do you make sure your soul is not lost, for all eternity?
It all comes down to your attitude to this life and all the pleasures it holds. Do you want to grab hold of life and its delights for yourself and those close to you? To “save your life” and keep it for yourself and your pleasure? If you do, then when eternity dawns you will find you have lost it all, including yourself. You will be left with nothing.
On the other hand, if your number one passion is pleasing Jesus, not pleasing yourself, believing his good news and helping others to do the same, the picture is different.
If you do that, you will save your soul, when Jesus comes back and eternity begins.
A hushed silence falls over the crowd.
For the first time, they see clearly the challenge of following Jesus. But they see the rewards, too.
Do you see them both - the challenges and rewards - too?