Matthew 16:21 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.
This was not what the disciples wanted to hear, nor did they understand it, because it did not fit their concept of the Messiah. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne . . . forever (Isaiah 9:7). [T]he earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9), wrote Isaiah. This is what the disciples had in mind, but there were other verses they were overlooking.
[H]e was led like a lamb to the slaughter. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away. . . . For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death (Isaiah 53:7-9), wrote Isaiah also.
These and other verses make it clear that Messiah would be killed. When Jesus tried to explain this, Peter got upset. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Never, Lord! he said. This shall never happen to you! (Matthew 16:22).
But rebuking Jesus is seldom wise, and Jesus responded sharply. 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 (Matthew 16:23). This was difficult for Peter to hear, but he had actually spoken for Satan.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil, Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-9), without going to the cross. Peter was doing the same thing. He was telling Jesus to usher in the Messianic golden age without dying for the sins of the world. Get behind me, Satan! was not an overreaction, but a measured response to someone who was speaking for the devil. Like Peter, we can say words that are divine, and others that are demonic.
Matthew 16:24 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
This was a shocking development. The disciples planned to be part of Jesus’ glorious kingdom, but now he was talking crucifixion. And not just his, but theirs! Jesus was committed to dying for his disciples, and he expected the same from them. Jesus can be demanding.
On any given day, in fact, there are many who pay the ultimate price for their faith in Jesus Christ. In an atheist country, a twenty-two year old evangelist was beaten to death by police. In a Muslim country, a twelve year old boy was sentenced to death for telling others about Jesus. There are even places where rewards are given for information leading to the arrest and execution of believers. [T]he time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God (John 16:2), said Jesus.
There is not much persecution in the United States, but there is still a cross for each of us: the cross of discipleship. We must say no to ourselves, so we can say yes to Christ. Following Jesus means denying ourselves for the sake of the gospel.
But crosses are uncomfortable, so we tend to whittle them down: a little less believing, a little less obeying, a little less praying, a little less reading, a little less gathering, a little less giving, a little less serving, and a little less telling. Over time, we whittle down our crosses until they are just the right size to put into our pockets.
Pocket-sized Christianity is the religion of choice for many, but this is the devil’s counterfeit for real Christianity. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23), said Jesus.
Matthew 16:26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
There is little advantage to gaining the world, since we cannot hold on to it for very long. Alexander the Great conquered much of the world by the time he was thirty-two years old, but then he died of an unknown cause. By the time of Jesus Christ, he had been dead for over three hundred years. Gaining the world for a while, and losing your soul forever, is not a good trade.
And yet, in spite of the time they spent with Jesus, the disciples had worldly ambitions. They may have been kingdom-minded, but they had not become eternity-minded. In light of his approaching death, Jesus turned the conversation to the value of their everlasting souls.
A good definition of wisdom is preparing for the future. Parents are glad when their children do their homework, chose good friends, and make wise choices, because that is the way to a preferred future. If they despise education, choose bad friends, and make poor choices, their future is bleak. A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother (Proverbs 10:1), says Proverbs.
Jesus takes wisdom further by making us think about eternity. It is better to lose your life now, and save your soul forever, than to save your life now, and lose your soul forever. The purpose of time is to prepare for eternity. That is biblical wisdom.
It is also good news for both winners and losers. If you are a loser now, you can be a winner then. And if you are a winner now, you can be a winner then too. A wealthy business man called his partner at two in the morning. I just made the greatest deal of my life, he said. I just traded here for the hereafter; I just traded time for eternity. That is the offer Jesus makes to each of us.
Reflection and Review
Why was Peter upset with Jesus?
What does it mean to carry your cross?
How are you preparing for eternity?