Matthew 16:21–28

The Cost of Saving Our Lives

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

August 27, 2017

 

Our passage this week immediately follows last week’s account in which Jesus explored with his disciples the matter of his own identity as God’s Messiah. So he first asked them who others said he, the Son of Man, was (v. 13). Having heard the offered suggestions, Jesus then turned to his disciples and asked them who they thought the Son of Man was (v. 15). And Peter, speaking on behalf of all of the disciples, provided the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). And for providing this answer Jesus indicated that Peter was blessed for his Father in heaven, not flesh and blood, not human ability, had revealed this to him (v. 17). This exchange ended with Jesus ordering “his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah” in verse 20, for his time had not yet come and his Messiahship would have been misunderstood as being merely political or national rather than cosmic.

Now though Jesus commanded his disciples not to tell others that he was the Messiah, he nonetheless continued to teach them and our morning’s passage records the time when he first told them about the events that were soon to transpire in his life. So we read in verse 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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Again, though Jesus’ disciples had understood him to be the Son of Man, God’s promised Messiah who was also the Son of the living God and thereby God himself, worthy of all worship, even the disciples didn’t quite yet understand the universal dimensions and implications of Christ Jesus’ life and mission. And Peter yet again no doubt represents what they all would have been thinking upon hearing Jesus say that he “must go to Jerusalem” and not only “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law” but also “that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

For how could they reconcile Jesus’ identity—the Jesus they had followed and known as God in the flesh—with Jesus’ mission—to suffer, be killed, and raised again? How was it possible for Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, Son of the living God and therefore God himself and not end up as a national, political ruler but instead suffer and be put to death at the hands of religious and political leaders? From the disciples’ standpoint, this wasn’t possible and so we read in verse 22 how “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!…. This shall never happen to you!’” At least two things are notable about Peter’s attitude here. First, his boldness. Though at this time it would have been unheard of for a disciple to correct, much less rebuke, his master, Peter’s boldness is somewhat understandable, isn’t it? For he had recently been commended by none other than Jesus himself for correctly understanding, by the Father in heaven’s enabling, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. So as Peter trusted his instincts in answering that question, here he trusted his instincts in assuming Jesus was wrong in what he said concerning his future fate. Surely the Messiah wouldn’t suffer many things; surely the Son of the living God wouldn’t die. How could he? He was God in the flesh! Yet Peter had overlooked the fact that the very Scriptures that foretold Messiah’s coming also foretold his suffering and death. The Messiah was Isaiah’s suffering servant who would be “despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain;”[1] he would be “pierced for our transgressions, …crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace [would be] on him, and by his wounds we [would be] healed.”[2] This Messiah would bear “the sin of many, and [make] intercession for the transgressors.”[3] And though “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and…make his life an offering for sin,”[4] “[a]fter he [had] suffered, he [would] see the light of life and be satisfied; [for] by his knowledge [God’s] righteous servant [would] justify many, and…bear their iniquities.”[5] The point is that because the suffering and death of God’s Messiah had been foretold in Scripture, it shouldn’t have surprised Peter when Jesus spoke of it.

But the other thing that is notable in Peter’s reply is that you can’t help but wonder if he stopped listening at the point at which Jesus said he “must be killed.” Because Jesus didn’t merely say “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law;” he didn’t merely say, “he must be killed;” But he also said, “and on the third day be raised to life.” Had Peter really heard Jesus, then one would expect him to have turned to Jesus and asked him about the last part of what he said: “Jesus, what do you mean that on the third day after being killed you’ll be raised to life? How is that possible? Please, tell us more!”

So perhaps because he didn’t hear or couldn’t grasp the significance of Jesus’ words or couldn’t get past the awful thought that Jesus, whom he loved more than life itself, would suffer and die, Peter felt the need to rebuke Jesus; to contradict him; to set the record straight: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” But this matter wasn’t up for discussion. Again, Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection from death on the third day were a matter of God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Because they were the entire reason for his having come to earth in the flesh in the first place, his suffering, death, and rising from death were non-negotiable. And so we see Jesus—the very Jesus who had so unequivocally blessed Peter for correctly acknowledging and confessing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God—now turning to Peter and just as unequivocally rebuking him as recorded in verse 23 as “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘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.’”

How does someone go from profound spiritual insight to blindness?

How does someone go from being blessed by God to being rebuked for aligning himself with Satan?

How does someone go from being handed the keys to the kingdom of heaven by Jesus to becoming a stumbling block to him?

How does someone go from being told that upon him the church would be built—to being told his concerns are not of God, but merely human ones?

How does someone go from hero to goat?

And why liken Peter to Satan? Isn’t that a bit harsh? Satan is the embodiment of all that is evil. He is the father of lies. So our sympathies—at least initially—may lie a little with Peter. Yet we need to see here not a dispute or disagreement between a teacher and his disciple, but we need to keep before us the bigger picture for in seeking to dissuade Christ Jesus from accomplishing his life’s purpose, his entire mission for having come to earth in the first place, Peter is indeed acting like Satan. Recall how in the wilderness temptations,[6]

Satan sought to tempt Jesus—who had been fasting for 40 days—to do his magic by turning stones into bread. Jesus replied by reminding him what the Scriptures taught, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God;”[7]

Having failed to persuade Jesus, Satan next attempted to lure him, God who had taken on human flesh to save all flesh, to end his life by throwing himself down from the highest point of the temple[8] for surely, according to Satan’s twisting of Scripture, God’s angels would keep Jesus from harm.[9] Yet again, Christ Jesus responded by rightly handling Scripture, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”[10]

Satan’s final attempt to try to turn Christ Jesus away from the reason he came to earth was to offer him, who was already Creator and King of all that exists, the kingdoms of the world and their splendor—if, that is, Jesus would bow down and worship him.[11] But Jesus resisted the tempter yet a third time: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[12]

Satan’s desire has ever been to lure away and destroy God’s creation. He has ever desired God’s creation to worship him rather than the God who made all that exists. He has ever desired the reverence and awe that is due only to God Almighty, Maker of all humankind. Had Jesus yielded to any of Satan’s temptations, he may have gained the whole world—but he would have lost not only his soul, but the souls of all for whom he came to suffer and die and rise from death to save. For if Satan had convinced him, then he, not God, would have won. Satan would have been the most powerful. Satan would have ruled the world. Therefore anyone seeking to dissuade Jesus from his intended mission of salvation is, by association, working with and for him even if they are unaware of doing so. This is why when Peter rebuked Jesus and told him that never should he suffer and be killed, Peter went from being exalted—when he rightly proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God—to being humiliated. “Away from me, Satan!,” Jesus said to Satan. “Get behind me, Satan!,” Jesus said to Peter for Peter hadn’t realized that the entire reason for Christ having entered human history in the Person of Jesus hung in the balance. The reason God in Christ had come in human form was that he might suffer on our behalf—and die on our behalf—and, by being raised from death, so conquer death on our behalf that we might never, ever, be separated from our Creator and Redeemer—not in this life, not in the life to come. Again, what Peter seems to have missed is that Jesus wasn’t simply saying 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;” he wasn’t simply saying that “he must be killed;” but, he was also saying that “on the third day” he must “be raised to life.” If by his suffering and death Christ Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our disobedience and indifference to him, the Lord of the universe, then by his resurrection he graciously bestowed upon us victory over sin and Satan and even death itself. And in what follows, Jesus went on to explain how it is that one is able to receive this gracious gift from him.

Starting in verse 24, we read, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”[13] This is now the second time we’ve heard Jesus say this.[14] The first time it was in the context of our needing to love Jesus more than our father, mother, son, or daughter.[15] This repetition tells us how important this point is. To be a disciple of Jesus requires that we take up our cross and follow him. To be a disciple of Jesus requires that we put God first in our lives. It requires that we die to self-will and embrace God’s will. Again, a cross is a symbol of our judgment—and sin—and guilt. Though in Jesus’ case, he was falsely accused of crimes that led to his death, in our case, death is deserved for we—all of us—have ignored the magnificent and wondrous God in whose image we have been made and have turned from his ways to our own. We have chosen behavior, thoughts, and actions that lead to death rather than behavior, thoughts, and actions that lead to eternal life. So we must deny the lure of temptation and sin and instead take up our cross and follow the one who lived, suffered, died, and rose from death for us and our salvation.

In verses 25 and 26, Jesus continues, “25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Sisters and brothers, you and I, who are heirs of western culture and civilization, are also heirs of some of its most prized tenets and beliefs. And not all of these are in accord with a life of following Christ for we live in a time and age that seeks to find its own meaning and create its own happiness rather than receive and seek to fulfill the meaning of life God has given us in his Written and Risen Word. Yet none of this is a new or a surprise to God. As Ecclesiastes teaches us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”[16] Isn’t this attempt to create the meaning of our lives and seek those things we believe will make us happy precisely what we saw our first parents do in the Garden? For they had been given everything they needed to live their lives as God intended, yet they desired the one fruit he had forbidden.[17] And having been given clear instructions by God, their Maker, as to the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience, they nonetheless chose to disbelieve God and instead believed the serpent as they sought to know good and evil on their terms rather than God’s.[18]

We similarly forget—or choose to neglect the fact—that the pleasure we imagine forbidden objects to hold will lead to our destruction, not our happiness. We ignore the fact that the God who made us in his image knows far better than we what will actually bring us the peace and joy we all crave. We deny the fact that can’t save our lives; we can’t save ourselves. Even if we should gain the world—that is, even if we should gain all the money and power and influence and popularity and fame we may crave—even these will not save our lives. They may offer a fleeting sense of happiness and satisfaction but if placed above a desire to know, love, and serve God, they will only bring us despair and discontentment for the cravings we feel can only be met by the God who made us for himself. As Jesus similarly reminds—and exhorts—us in his Sermon on the Plain,[19]32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is why Jesus teaches that if we lose our lives for his sake, we will find our lives in him for he offers us: his life for our death; his holiness for our sin; his peace for our turmoil; his hope for our despair. Recall how last month[20] we considered Jesus’ words in Matthew 11: “28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus is ever calling us—the weary and burdened—to himself. He knows we desire rest and he desires to give us rest. Though there is a yoke involved in following him, it is an easy yoke with a light burden. Jesus calls us take on this yoke and learn from him for he is gentle and humble in heart. And as we do so, we will find rest for our weary souls. For to deny ourselves requires knowing our need for Christ. It requires knowing we can’t live these lives on our own nor were we intended to do so. No, we were made for him and he calls us to give the entirety of our lives to him rather than to the things in this extraordinary world in which he’s placed us.

Indeed, “what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” This earthly life is the short part of eternity and Jesus is calling us to stop being so short-sighted and to remember instead that nor only our earthly lives but our entire eternity lies in him. As he states in verse 27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Christ Jesus will return one day and on that day those who have denied him will be judged for that rejection; and those who have given their lives over to him will be rewarded for it.

Now as to the closing verse—“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”—various interpretations have been suggested by scholars. This is most likely a reference to Jesus’ transfiguration which immediately follows our passage. Listen to how Peter, when he later looked back on the transfiguration,[21] confessed: 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” So what Jesus may be indicating here by his final words is that his transfiguration was an early indication that he, the Son of Man, had come in his kingdom. And the spread of his kingdom by means of not only his preaching, but also his later death, resurrection, and ascension—as well as the giving of his Holy Spirit—were all a continuing confirmation that in him, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of Man indeed, had come in his kingdom. And to these events some who were present were indeed witness.

Brothers and sisters, let us embrace God’s sending of his Messiah and pray for the strength to resist the temptations of fame and wealth and reputation and power and instead seek our treasure in Christ.

Let us choose to care for those in need—to feed the hungry—to give something to drink to the thirsty—to offer hospitality to the stranger—to provide clothes for those who need it—to care for the sick—to visit those in prison. These are just some representative examples Jesus himself provides of what it means to deny ourselves.[22] For ultimately being a disciple of Christ Jesus and following him means that we must look to the needs of others even as he did. It means that we seek to be stewards of whatever goods we may have and that we see these goods not only as God’s provision for us—which they surely are—but also as a means of God providing for those around us. This is how we love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; this is how we love our neighbor as ourselves—not be hating ourselves but by doing for others as we would like others to do for us. It’s not complicated, but it isn’t easy to do. And yet this is what God in Christ, who bought our lives with his, calls us to do—to be like him.

Because we belong to him, let us do the most we can for those who are the least. For as we do for the least of these, so we do to our gracious Savior, Lord, and King.[23]

Let us pray.

[1] Isaiah 53:3.

[2] Isaiah 53:5.

[3] Isaiah 53:12.

[4] Isaiah 53:10.

[5] Isaiah 53:11.

[6] Matthew 4:1–11. Parallel in Luke 4:1–13.

[7] Matthew 4:1–4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

[8] Matthew 4:5–7.

[9] Satan references (and misapplies) Psalm 91:11, 12.

[10] Deuteronomy 6:16.

[11] Matthew 4:8–10.

[12] Deuteronomy 6:13.

[13] Parallel may be found in Mark 8:31–38: 31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” In the parallel found in Luke’s Gospel, the incident with Peter isn’t included but following Peter’s correct answer that Jesus is God’s Messiah (Peter being blessed by Jesus is also omitted by Luke), Luke records: Luke 9:21–27: 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

[14] Sermon on June 25, 2017, “Total Devotion,” Matthew 10:24–42.

[15] Matthew 10:37–39: Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

[16] Ecclesiastes 1:9.

[17] Genesis 1:6:When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

[18] Genesis 1:4–5:“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[19] Luke 12:32–34. Parallel may be found in Matthew 6:19–21: 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

[20] Sunday, July 2, 2017; “Coming to and Resting in Jesus,” Matthew 11:16–30.

[21] 2 Peter 1:16–18.

[22] Matthew 25:35–37: 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

[23] Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

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