Our text for this morning continues from last week by saying, “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” (v. 21). Now remember, Peter and the disciples had just confessed that they believed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. I am sure that Jesus is thinking that the disciples understand His mission and so He begins laying out the master plan in more detail.
The reason Jesus came to earth was to be our substitute, to suffer the punishment for our sins, the eternal spiritual death penalty, to give His life for ours. He did not come to invest Himself in this world. He did not come to write a book nor to earn a wage in order to build a financial empire. He came humbly. He was born in a stable. He lived perfectly for us, in our place, because we cannot. He obeyed all of God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s promises, all His prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, perfectly. He took all our sins upon Himself and the sins of all people so that we might be given forgiveness through the payment of the price for sin which was His death. These details are what He is now laying out for His disciples. He wants to make sure that they understand what it means that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (v. 22). Peter does not like what Jesus is saying. He does not like all this talk about suffering and death. This suffering and death talk does not fit into Peter’s idea of what it means that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This should not surprise us, because we do not like to talk about death either, and as you may have noticed, neither do the TV preachers and so called “evangelicals” of today. Certainly we do not like to talk about the death of someone who is very close to us, a loved one perhaps and especially, a young loved one. And certainly that would not fit into our understanding of messiahship either. If we take a close look at the “Messiahs” that have come and gone in this world, we notice that they are not the Messiah as presented in Holy Scriptures. I believe that one of the reasons Peter, TV evangelists, evangelicls, and we do not like this death and dying talk, especially when it comes from Jesus, is the implication of such talk. The implication of such death and dying talk is that we are sinners who are, left in our sins, destined to eternal spiritual death, and unless the price, the price of life, is paid, we have no hope, thus, to recognize that Jesus had to suffer and die for us is to recognize and to confess the gravity of our true sinful nature. And we do not like that, it is not good for our self-esteem.
And so Jesus rebukes Peter, “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” (v. 23). Jesus knew the reason He came to earth. He knew the task that was ahead of Him. He had already been tempted by the devil himself to try a different way of “saving” the people. Now, here, one of His own disciples was tempting Him to try a different way. It is only Jesus’ death that will save all people. His death for our death. His life for our life. Thus, Jesus’ death would go contrary to the devils plan and so the devil will use whatever means necessary, even working through one of Jesus’ own disciples to stop Jesus’ plans to save the world. And so, Jesus calls Peter, Satan.
“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 life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (vs. 24-26).
The question that comes out of Jesus’ words to His disciples is the rhetorical question of, “What is discipleship?” “What does it mean to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus?” Jesus answers that question by saying that a follower of Jesus is one who denies him or herself. A follower of Jesus is one who takes up his or her cross. And I do not believe that He is talking about the crosses we put on ourselves. When we put ourselves in the position to be tempted to sin, that is not a cross which is put on us because of our faith. That is a self inflicted cross. In other words, and you have seen this scenario in movies and commercials on television and in real life, when someone has an addiction of one kind or another and still puts themselves in the position to be tempted with the excuse, “I can handle it.” That is a self inflicted cross. We would all probably relate the most to this self inflicted temptation when we go to an all you can eat smorgasbord and think that we will not over do it. Yes, we often forget that gluttony is a sin, just as stealing, killing and the like. Anyway, these things are not the crosses and self-denial of which Jesus is speaking.
When Jesus says to deny ourselves and take up our cross, He is speaking about living our faith even if it means being made fun of at work or leisure. He is speaking about not joining in, but walking away from the group that is telling the “off color” joke at the office coffee pot or around the office water cooler. He is speaking about walking away and not joining in the group that is “bashing” the boss or the new employee, or the person everyone loves to “hate,” or even a member of our own congregation. He is speaking about living your life in such a way that others notice that you are different, really different, not different like everyone else.
Jesus tells us that we are to lose our life in this world in order to save our life in heaven. It is a matter of investment. Do we invest all our time and energies in this world, or do we invest them in the world to come? Do we live as if we have plenty of time (like the rich man who built bigger and better barns and said to himself, “today, I will eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my soul” and that very night his soul was required of him), or do we live as if today might be our last day on this earth? If you knew that today would be your last day on earth, would you do anything different? Would you live any different? And if you would, then why are you not? After all you do not know when you will die. Your birth certificate does not have an expiration date on it. There are so many things vying for our attention in this world, important things no less, but the question we need to ask is this, “What is more important? Our 50, 60, 80 or 100 years in this world, or our forever eternity in heaven?”
You know, the devil is a smart guy. He does not tempt you to do something he knows you will not do. Not too long ago, the things of this world were scheduled around church activities. Today church activities are discounted to being just one of many options of which to be a part. Sunday morning rolls around and, to use the language of our world today, we have the “choice” of going to the beach, after all it is a beautiful day. Or we can go on a picnic. Or we can take our child to the school sponsored athletic event. Or we can sleep in. Or we can go shopping. Or we can go hunting, or golfing. Or, we can first go to church and worship the Lord, go to Bible Study and be in discussion and fellowship with other Christians, and then do these other things. What we choose to do we choose according to what is most important to us, our true priorities, our life in this world, or our life in the world to come. What we choose we choose according to the leading of the Holy Spirit or according to the leading of the devil. And yes, we acknowledge that we are all here this morning, but we have this struggle going on every week.
How do we lose our life in this world? We lose our life in this world by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus. And yes, this is a hard thing. Jesus did not say it would be easy. Denying oneself is never an easy thing. The question we might ask, instead of “Is this easy?” is “What is the result?” The result, according to Jesus, is life, even eternal life! Remember, the very reason Jesus came to earth was to deny Himself, take up His cross, suffer and die so that we might have forgiveness. With Jesus, even when we put other things in this world ahead of Him, there is still forgiveness, because that is what He came to earn for us.
We might boil our text down to this question, “What is the worth of a soul?” or “How much does life cost?” To Jesus, the worth of a soul is His own life. We are constantly reminded, as we should be, that the wages of sin is death, eternal spiritual death. Our sins have earned and continue to earn the eternal spiritual death penalty for us. And yet, that is not what we are given. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, we are given forgiveness and life, eternal life.
“What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” What is the value of our soul? We answer that question with the way we live our lives. Self-denial is not an easy thing. It does not come naturally. It is the difference between valuing the things of this world or the things of heaven. I am told that the way to catch a monkey is to find a hole in a tree. To drive nails into the hole so that you can put your hand in the hole, but if you make a fist you cannot pull it out because it will be caught by the nails. If you then place something shiny in the hole, a monkey will put in its hand, grab the shiny thing and will be caught. The monkey could easily escape if he would let go of the shiny thing and pull out his hand. But the monkey will not let go. Too often it would appear that we are like the monkey. We see the shiny things of this world. We take hold of them and we refuse to let them go. Whereas, if we would just let them go, we would be free. We tend to grab hold of the things of this world thinking that these things will give us freedom and happiness, but all the while they only bring us pain and suffering like the nails in the hole. When, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we let go of the things of this world we have true freedom and happiness.
Our “What does this mean?” of our text for today is that Jesus came for us. He came to live for us, perfectly because we cannot be perfect. He came to obey all God’s laws perfectly for us because we cannot. He came to fulfill all God’s promises and prophecies concerning Himself as the Messiah. He came to take all our sins upon Himself. He came to give His life for ours. Jesus’ suffering and death earned forgiveness for us. God gives us all His good gifts and blessings by His grace, through faith in His Son, which He gives to us as well. And He stirs in us to live our lives in such a way, that with His help, they say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.