Jesus tied much of his teaching to the cross, especially when it came to being a disciple. We are journeying through everything Jesus did and said. The passage we read today in Matthew presents some challenging ideas. What do they mean and what are we to do in response?
Jesus didn’t teach just to dispense knowledge but to effect change! Every follower of Jesus must seriously consider his teaching and we will do that today.
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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
But he turned and said to Peter, “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.”
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? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:21–28 (ESV)
Before we get to the guidance for followers, we will handle the difficult portions of this passage.
“Get behind me Satan!”
This is not addressed at Peter, though on the surface it would seem so. Jesus’ temptations recorded in Matthew and Luke present the same temptations. One recurs, by implication, at least two more times. Here is one time — a short-cut to the Kingdom introduced by Satan that does not include the cross. Again, in the garden, we see the tempter as Jesus prays — ‘not my will but yours be done.’
Satan uses innocent human statements to tempt, whenever possible. Peter spoke out of his love for Jesus that he would not have to suffer such a horrific death. Satan used that simple utterance to tempt Jesus to avoid the painful and obedient path.
“Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
This is not referring to the second coming as some have erroneously taught — that would require some of the disciples to still be alive! This may be a reference to the transfiguration, which was witnessed by Peter, James and John — though not likely. It fits much better with Pentecost and the explosive growth of the church.
The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. This is the Spirit of Christ, which is God in Spirit — another counselor — sent to minister as Jesus did. It is the Son of Man in a very real way.
Now, what Jesus is teaching us in this passage?
The crucifixion is a necessary part of God’s plan. From the beginning sin resulted in death. The entire sacrificial system was built on that reality. In order to introduce a better covenant, there had to be a better sacrifice. Jesus became the better, the perfect, sacrifice — a once for all sacrifice.
The resurrection was God’s powerful statement of absolute sovereignty. This meant victory over death which is Satan’s ultimate power. So this became God’s demonstration of power over Satan. Death and resurrection become two parts of one event in God’s plan.
Human perspective is flawed by human perception. We tend to rely on our physical senses and reasoning ability. We tend to think of short-term comfort and ‘success’ and have great difficulty with the spiritual and the eternal.
God’s reality is the ultimate reality and must be relied on for decisions and perspective. Because of God’s omniscience, we need to slow down and seek his will. We need to undo our way of thinking and gain the mind of God. When we do this, we gain incredible insight and the very best path on which to live.
We cannot gain God’s perspective by effort or imagination. We cannot always see God’s will. Even a perfect knowledge of God’s word will not get us God’s perspective!
We must lose our lives in order to gain his! A disciple’s life following conversion is the way of the cross. We must die to ourselves continually. When we die to ourselves, we are resurrected to new life. This is not a casual, whimsical or poetic death. It is a real, painful, self-denying, total surrendering, giving up of all we hold dear death, because we love Jesus, we love that he loved us and we love that he died for us.
When we lose our lives, we find our new life in Jesus
We discover the rich abundant life Jesus promised. We begin to experience eternal life (in quantity and quality) and the power of God alive in our lives. We gain our eternal souls and an eternal reward.
Our new life allows us to fully experience the reality and power of the Kingdom of God!
Have you done it? Have you experienced the death and resurrection power of Jesus in your life? If so, then be determined every day to take up your cross and follow. This will take you into a new dimension in your spiritual life.