Matt. 16.24 thru 28 Deny Yourself and Take Up Your Cross
Deny Yourself and Take Up Your Cross!
Focus: That the hearers may know that God is with them as they bear their cross.
Function: That the hearer pick up their cross, die to self, and set their mind on the things of God.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How exciting to be able to preach on such a momentous text today. This point in Matthew’s gospel is the pivotal moment in Matthew. We have an important transition that is taking place here, in that Jesus is beginning to turn the page on His self revelation to the disciples and begins to explain what must take place at the cross! Up until now He has been teaching through parables and miracles and now He is illuminating the full measure of what He has come to His people to do. Everything the disciples do from this point on is profoundly important in their lives and their walk as Christian witnesses.
The context of this passage is important. Remember, this conversation with the disciples directly follows Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is surely a significant step in Peter’s walk of faith in which he is representing all of the disciples…but there is more. This confession is important and is certainly genuine and accurate…but there is more to understanding the person of Christ and what His ministry on earth is all about. He most certainly is the “Son of the living God” and He is by definition the “Christ.” The word Christ is the Greek translation of the word “Messiah” in Hebrew and he certainly is this Messiah! The Messiah that Peter confesses that Jesus is was expected by the Jews to be a conquering hero that would exercise God’s rule over God’s people. But, as we know now, this rule would come in a different form than what many had expected. He was to be the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah 53, who was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” The one who was prophesied about by Simeon when he held the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple and said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…”
In our text Jesus was transitioning from teaching with parables to giving the disciples the straight talk about what “must” take place going forward. Now this was difficult for Peter and the rest of the disciples to hear. Peter immediately takes Jesus aside and rebukes his Master saying, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” What can we make of this reaction?... Peter was not ready for this truth and could not yet be at peace with what was to come for his Teacher. This was taking Peter out of his comfort zone. Jesus suffering and being killed did not sit well at all with Peter who loved Jesus and had just confessed His Messiahship. But what does this objection mean in the larger scheme of things?... Peter may be uncomfortable with what was being explained to him, but what kind of implications does his rebuke carry...? He is impeding the gospel of Christ by saying that Jesus cannot die! He doesn’t want to let Jesus complete His ministry on earth! He is not wanting to let Jesus fulfill all of the prophesy telling of the Messiah and the cup He must bear!
Now who is Peter to tell Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, what will and will not happen? As if Peter can really tell the creator of the universe what will “never happen.” Jesus points out whose work this is… This is the work of Satan! Jesus lets Peter know in no uncertain terms just that. He responds to Peter’s rebuke by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” To deny the will of God, in taking up His cross, is to deny the gospel itself and is the desire of Satan! To want to stop the forgiving act that would lead to the salvation of trillions can only be the work of the Prince of Darkness! When Peter puts his own desires before the work of the Lord, this is when we see that Jesus gives the title Satan to Peter. Peter, who just minutes before, confessed “Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus exhorts Peter by telling him, “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” This retort spells it out for Peter and for us. Peter wanted, for himself, an easy savior to follow. One that would be the “all powerful Son of God” that was the Messiah the Jews had in mind. Not one that had a cross to bear for all those who followed Him. Peter doesn’t want anything to do with the discomfort of the suffering and dying that would have to be done to fulfill the prophesies of God…
Now Jesus continues by having compassion on the disciples (once again) and explains further, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is where the complete picture of discipleship comes into focus. This is where the rubber meets the road for us! You see we have the advantage of knowing that, in fact, all that Jesus said would happen, did happen! Then there is the directive that Jesus gave following His explanation of the gospel. He tells us that, “whoever loses his life for me will find it!”…
Have you ever shied away from something that you had a feeling He would want you to do? Or…have you not wanted to give up that last part of your sinful life? How about the temptation to cut corners for your own gain…ever? This is how we can slowly give our soul over to Satan. But Christ directs us to keep our minds on Him. He calls us to pick up our cross…step out of our comfort zone and follow Him…even to death and the persecution of the cross! I struggle personally with this all the time. This is not an easy thing to do. Anyone that says it is…doesn’t understand completely what this entails.
Through this call we are to take up our cross, whatever that may be in our individual lives, and find our life by losing it for Christ’s sake. Just in the act of attending church in today’s world we bear the persecution of the cross. Or when people question our commitment to other activities, after we say we cannot attend because we have to go to church. Or when we endure the scoffs that are heard when we, as educated people, confess that we believe there is an intelligent designer that created the universe. But we are called to take this even a step further…out of our comfort zone… to strike up a conversation with our coworker or the person next to us in the check-out-line and tell them about a savior that forgives us and loves us just as we are. It is often times easier (as classic Lutherans) to sweat and sacrifice to build new facilities than to go out and invite people to come to them… This is also part of the cross that He asks us to bear. This is how we lose our life to Him and set our minds on the things of God and not on the things that we like to do. In our text, Peter and the disciples thought confessing that Christ was the Son of God was enough and the persecution of the cross was not necessary. Don’t get me wrong, it is faith alone that saves. But what is Jesus telling the disciples, and us, in this text? We may think that what we do around the church is enough. We bring our pot luck dishes or serve on a board or two and this tells the world we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God…or does it? He may ask us to take a step out of our comfort zone and talk to our neighbor or coworker about the person of Jesus Christ and what He has done in our lives…and possibly invite him or her to church. Maybe we think just attending church once in a while might be enough. But is it…I’m not trying to tell you how to be a Christian, but I am asking you to think about what the text today is telling you. He is telling you to deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow Him…to lose our life for His sake…
This can only be done with the help of a Savior that has already done the work on the cross. He has won the race and given us victory over death, so that the stings of scoffs or even laughs cannot hurt us. We have a savior that gives us the words to say and gives us the Holy Spirit to do the work of changing the heart of that person that is so in need of this gospel message! We only have to deliver the gift He has given us to deliver, and let it do the work…kind of like a time bomb.
You see I know about these time bombs, because I am the recipient of one of those time bombs (or maybe many small ones). I wish I could go back to all of the people that witnessed to me through my thirty years of growing up unchurched, some in very purposeful ways, and others just in passing, all of which had an effect on me. I definitely scoffed at some of those people…and even laughed, but you should know, when you deliver His message…it is received even if it doesn’t seem like it. And when I was invited to church, in God’s timing…I went…and the Spirit did the work throughout all of this.
This is tough stuff! We can only do this with the help of the very same person that demanded this of us. It is only through Jesus’ crossbearing that we can bear our own cross! Only His death can enable us to lose our life for Christ’s sake. And only through His resurrection will we find our life again-here and hereafter. You see He will come again “with His angels and the Glory of His Father” as promised. And we will be with Him. This is the greatness of the gift He has given us. It can transform lives, from a lost life to a found one through the death and resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
Remember…ours is a gracious and merciful God. Know that Peter, who was the spokesman for Satan in this text, only days later is invited to the mountain to be a witness of the transfiguration and the Glory of God. So…know that our stumbles in bearing our cross will also be forgiven.