Immediately after the events we looked at yesterday Jesus began to prepare his disciples for what lay ahead for him.
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21).
He was getting them ready for what was ahead – his crucifixion. Peter took him aside and rebuked him. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (v. 22). Jesus sharply rebuked Peter, saying; “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 23).
Peter’s problem was characteristic of human thinking. Jesus was their hero, their champion. They thought he would restore the kingdom to Israel as it had been in the days of David. As some of his disciples said as they made their way to Emmaus three days after his crucifixion; “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). In their thinking, when Jesus was crucified all their hope was gone. Peter’s thinking was much the same as these disciples’ – Jesus couldn’t die or all they were counting on wouldn’t happen. He just could not conceive of any other outcome.
But Jesus informs them that not only must he be crucified, if they were to continue to be his disciples they would have to follow him to the cross! No, he didn’t mean they had to be literally be nailed to a Roman cross, but would, as he was about to voluntarily, willingly go to the cross, they must voluntarily, willingly die with him to the their own lives.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
Their thoughts did not include something so drastic as this. Of course they wanted to continue to be his disciples, but to take up a cross? Yes! This was their invitation to a crucifixion! Their own crucifixion!
We hear people say things like; “Everybody has his own cross to bear!” What they mean is that all of us have burdens that must be borne and problems that must be patiently and meekly endured. But Jesus was not speaking of such things. Incidental hardships, as difficult as they may be, are never referred to as a cross in the New Testament. There was only one purpose for a cross. A cross was an instrument of death. Jesus was saying to these followers of his, “If you are to be my followers you must die!” Not just once as he was to die, but to die daily!
If Jesus were talking about troubles or misfortunes that come to us it would not necessarily be a daily thing. Surely things of that nature eventually come to an end. The cross bearing he is talking about is something we voluntarily undertake. We CHOOSE to bear our cross. We do it in order to be his disciples. So the cross we are to take up is related to following him.
It is about denying ourselves. Again, this is not talking about denying ourselves something we like such as a second dish of ice cream or maybe a breaking a bad habit we have gotten into. It is not about fasting twice a week or anything of that nature. He didn’t say “Deny yourself something.” He said “Deny yourself!” That means that we must bring our whole being into subjection to his Lordship. We must make him the master of all things to our lives. Self takes a back seat to him. We do not insist on having the last word in all matters relating to life, but yield to his authority over us.
He said that in order for one to save his life one must lose it! Strange language, is it not? Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Yet this is the nature of the life of a true disciple of Jesus. This is one of the many paradoxes (seeming contradictions) of Christianity.
Actually, paradox is central to our faith as Christians. Without paradox there would be no gospel. Jesus yielded to his enemies in order to overcome them. He died to bring life and immortality to light. We must surrender to God in order to be victorious in life. We must die to self in order that we might live eternally. We must give up our life in order to preserve it.
Jesus then asked his disciples what would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his soul? The soul is more valuable than silver and gold, pearls and possessions, land and houses, cars or careers – or anything else of a material nature we might desire to have. These things all are destined to destruction. Then where will the one be who has trusted in them? Is this world more valuable than our soul? Is that which will live eternally less valuable that all the material possessions we may be able to amass while we live on earth? Is the trade-off worth it if we sell our soul for a “mess of pottage?”
Jesus asked them, “…what shall a man give in return for his soul?” After the deal has been done and we have made our bargain with the devil and our soul is lost, what would we give to have back what we have sold? If we had gained the whole world and all the riches in it we would gladly give it all to escape even a moment of the flames of hell.
So before we plead that Christianity is too hard or is not worth the effort to you, think about what you would be willing to give up if your soul is lost. After death there is not anything you would not give to have just one more opportunity to obey the Lord. But then it will be too late. Once the die or Lord comes again, (whichever comes first), it will be too late. Then why wait until there are no more opportunities?