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The Challenge of the Cross

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The Challenge of the Cross (Matt 16:21-23)


  1. The Cross Foretold (v. 21)
    1. The Significance of the Timing of this Revelation (v. 21a)
    2. The Startling Truth of This Revelation (v. 21b-d)
  2. The Cross Forbidden (vv. 22-23)
    1. How Peter Rebuked the Lord (v. 22)
    2. How the Lord Rebuked Peter (v. 23)


  • I’ve heard that it is proper etiquette that whenever you introduce two people that you should give the name of each person and then tell something about him or her – where the person is from or what he does.  “David, I would like for you to meet Don.  He is from Orlando, Florida.” Or, “John, this is Shawn.  Shawn is a professor of Church History.”
  • In a sense, in Chapter 16 Matthew is introducing us to Jesus Christ in this way.  He has been telling us about Jesus all along, of course, but here he gets to the heart of the introduction.  Who is Jesus?
  • Peter had the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)  Jesus himself provides the second part of the introduction.  What does the Christ do?  21 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)
  • From the opening verse of Matthew’s gospel to it’s conclusion with the Great Commission, Matthew is concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ – the long promised Messiah, God’s Anointed One – and with working out the implications of this weighty fact.
  • Chapter 16 presents a turning point in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and work.


Matt 16  16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock a I will build my church, and the gates of hell b shall not prevail against it.


  • In verse 16, Peter speaks for all the disciples when he confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Jesus’ reply is that such belief in Him is divinely revealed knowledge.  And it is through this powerful, divine, knowledge that Christ will build His church.
  • In verses 21-28, Jesus begins to show His disciples the implications of this knowledge.  Jesus speaks plainly about what is to come in Jerusalem.  There is both glory and pain in store for Jesus and His followers.
  • In verses 21-23, Jesus reveals that, despite God’s revelation, the disciples were still slow to comprehend the nature of His mission.  And in verses 24-28, Jesus teaches His disciples that to follow Him means to deny your will and to live in radical devotion to Christ.
  • This morning we will look at the first half of this passage, examining closely Jesus’ statement of His mission, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, and Jesus’ counter rebuke of Peter. 
  • In rebuking Peter, Jesus tells us that human reasoning cannot comprehend God’s purposes.  Like our first confession, our following after Jesus must also be on God’s terms.
  • Tonight, we will look at the second half of this passage and consider what it means to follow Christ to Calvary.

Matt 16  21 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! a This shall never happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance b to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

1.      The Cross Foretold (v. 21)

a. The Significance of the Timing of this Revelation (v. 21a)

Matt 16  21 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.

·        “From that time” seems to be a transition phrase Matthew used to indicate a significant change in Jesus’ ministry. 

·        The same phrase is used in 4:17 to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry to Israel. 

·        Here it is used to mark the beginning of Jesus’ private ministry to the Twelve.  The first phase of Jesus’ ministry was primarily public, with some occasional private instruction.  The second phase was primarily private, with some occasional public instruction.

·        God had just revealed to the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah.  Now He is ready to reveal the Messiah’s mission.

·        This is God’s practice of progressive revelation.  He doesn’t reveal ALL the plan to everyone ALL at the same time. 

·        Christ reveals His mind to His people gradually, and lets in light as they can bear it, and are fit to receive it.

·        Application:

o       Christian: Are you struggling to understand a certain doctrine or do you sometimes get frustrated that other believers sometimes fail to see what you see so clearly?  Trust God to reveal His truth in His time when His people are ready to receive it.  Don’t be impatient with your brothers because God hasn’t yet revealed a certain truth to them.  Jesus, our good teacher, knows they are ready to receive what He wants them to know.  And don’t be proud.  You only know what you do because God showed it to you.

o       Unbeliever:  You may find what we are talking about this morning to be incomprehensible.  Not that you don’t understand the words that are being spoken, but you just fail to see their significance.  You don’t see how it affects you.  The Bible says that Satan has blinded your eyes so that you are unable to see the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4).  Pray that your eyes may be opened, that God would reveal Himself to you in Christ.


Matt 16  21 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.

  • Did the disciples understand what Jesus was telling them?  In one sense they didn’t understand it at all, because when Jesus was arrested and killed, his death was a shock to them and they scattered, each to his own home, like the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-35).  Not one of them understood the necessity of his death or anticipated his resurrection.  In fact, most of them refused to believe in the resurrection even after they had heard about it.
  • On the other hand, the disciples understood Jesus’ words all too well.  Otherwise, why would Peter have tried to dissuade Jesus from this “mistaken” way of thinking? 
  • Peter had wholeheartedly responded to the truth about the Christ.  The truth about the cross was something else.  Peter could not accept that. 
  • The man who triumphed gloriously when faced with the deity of Christ, fell flat on his face when faced with the death of Christ. 
  • Godhead was possible to understand; Golgotha was impossible.
  • When Peter rebuked Jesus for declaring that He must be crucified in Jerusalem by the Jewish leaders there, he either forgot or ignored his earlier confession.  Peter had just proclaimed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16); yet when Jesus made a statement that did not fit Peter’s idea about the Messiah, the apostle held to his way above the Lord’s and found himself contradicting the Son of God he had just confessed.
  • Application:  Don’t miss the important lesson here: It’s possible to exactly right one minute and terribly wrong the next. 
    • One minute Peter is a prophet, a true spokesmen for God.  The next minute he is advancing the agenda of the devil, not realizing that in trying to deflect Jesus from the cross he is actually asking for his own damnation since apart from Jesus’ death neither he, nor any of us, can be saved.
    • If we are going to be right in spiritual things, it will only be to the extent we study the Bible and grow in understanding.
    • By this time Peter had been a believer for some time, so that the lessons drawn from this passage are therefore for believers.  Not even Christians can know and understand God’s ways except through a proper understanding and submission to His Word and the illumination of His Spirit.  When believers insist on their own way above God’s, then, like Peter, they become an offense and a stumbling block.


b. The Startling Truth of This Revelation (v. 21b-c)

  • Let’s look more closely at the startling truth of what Jesus told His disciples.
  • At this time Jesus began to show His disciples some deeper and more difficult truths about His divine plan and work.

Matt 16  21 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.

  • It was not that He had said nothing previously about His rejection and crucifixion.  In veiled ways He had spoken of his impeding death.  He told them “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:40)
  • But from this time forth, he was more forthright about His impending suffering, death and resurrection (17:9, 12, 22-23).
  • He began by concentrating on two aspects of the revelation, one full of hate and the other full of hope.  He indicated that the rulers would conspire against Him and kill Him, but they would not have the last word, for He would rise from the dead.
  • The disciples hardly heard the hopeful part.  The part that shook them to the core of their being was this: “He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed” (italics added).  Perhaps they caught the cadence of the ands.  And!  And!  And!  It was a deliberate drumbeat marking out each step in the onward march of the Son of God.  But they missed the last and, which was just as deliberate, just as decisive: “and be raised again the third day.”

  • Note the word “must” in 16:21.  It is stated once but implied throughout.  We could state the thought this way: “The One you have just confessed as Son of God must go to Jerusalem and must suffer many things and must be killed and must be raised again.”

  • The “must” of which Jesus spoke was not that of human devotion to a great ideal but a divine imperative and absolute necessity.  God had no backup or alternate plan.  This “must” came thundering out of eternity.  It was essential, unalterable plan of God set in motion before the foundation of the world.

  • Nevertheless it is planned by the Jewish leaders of their own free will and with their own malice for which they bear full responsibility.  God’s plan and human responsibility are no more mutually exclusive in Matthew than elsewhere in the Bible.
  • The passive verbs show that it is not Jesus who is the acting agent but the Jewish leaders or, in the final analysis, God.  These things are done to Jesus according to the predestined plan of God. (Acts 4:28).
  • Nevertheless, the passion narrative shows that Jesus is also active.  He goes the way assigned him as God’s obedient Son.  Yet no one takes His life from Him but He willingly lays it down (John 10:18)
  • Why was this plan necessary?  The answer is God’s love.  But the goal of God’s love may not be what you think it is.

o       We are all inclined to think that we are the center of the universe.  And so we look at Jesus on the cross and think, “See how much God loves me.”  Certainly it is true that the cross is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for mankind.  But that is not the whole story … it’s not even the main theme. 

o       Both the Old and the New Testament tell us that God’s loving us is a means to our glorifying Him.  "Christ became a servant ... in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15:8-9). God has been merciful to us so that we would magnify him. We see it again in the words, "In love [God] predestined us to adoption ... to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Ephesians 1:4-6). In other words, the goal of God's loving us is that we might praise him. The Psalms illustrate this as well.  Psalm 86:12-13: "I will glorify your name forever. For your lovingkindness toward me is great." God's love is the basis of our praise but His glory is the goal.

o       The love of God is not God's making much of us, but God's saving us from self-centeredness so that we can enjoy making much of him forever. And our love to others is not our making much of them, but helping them to find satisfaction in making much of God. True love aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that ends with earthly affection is eventually destructive. It does not lead people to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not true love; it leaves people without their final hope of joy.

o       How does this affect our understanding of the cross?  The death of Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of divine love: "God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Yet the Bible also says that the aim of the death of Christ was "to demonstrate [God's] righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed" (Romans 3:25). Passing over sins creates a huge problem for the righteousness of God. It makes him look like a judge who lets criminals go free without punishment. In other words, the mercy of God puts the justice of God in jeopardy.

o       So to vindicate his justice he does the unthinkable - he puts his Son to death as the substitute penalty for our sins. The cross makes it plain to everyone that God does not sweep evil under the rug of the universe. He punishes it in Jesus for those who believe.

o       But notice that this ultimately loving act has at the center of it the vindication of the righteousness of God. Good Friday love is God-glorifying love. God exalts God at the cross. If he didn't, he could not be just and rescue us from sin. But it is a mistake to say, "Well, if the aim was to rescue us, then we were the ultimate goal of the cross." No, we were rescued from sin in order that we might see and savor the glory of God. This is the ultimately loving aim of Christ's death. He did not die to make much of us, but to free us to enjoy making much of God forever.

2.      The Cross Forbidden (vv. 22-23)


a.      How Peter Rebuked the Lord (v. 22)


Matt 16  22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! a This shall never happen to you."

  • But the disciples didn’t understand this at the time of Jesus’ declaration of His suffering.  No doubt all the disciples were stunned by this revelation.  Peter was the first to recover.  Matthew says, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” 
  • Peter intended to give the Lord a little pep talk.  And there are many preachers today would do likewise.  “Don’t wait for the glory of heaven,” they say, “you can have ‘Your Best Life Now.’”  But isn’t that is a perversion of the very heart of the Gospel.  We look to a crucified Savior, not a man in a fancy car with shiny clothes and perfect teeth.  We exist to make much of God and not to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world.
  • Evidently the Lord did not allow Peter to finish, for Matthew says that Peter “began” to rebuke Him.  The word translated “rebuke” here literally means “to express strong disapproval of someone” and carries the idea of authoritative judgment.  It is normally used by an official or leader against someone under his jurisdiction.  It is the same word Matthew used of Jesus’ warning the disciples to tell no one He was the Christ (v. 20).
  • Application: 
    • Christians who are quick to rebuke Peter for such incredible presumption should be honest in recognizing that they, too, have in effect contradicted the Lord at times. 
    • As disciples of Christ we live in the ambivalence of trust and doubt, of confessing and fear of the consequences of this confessing, and of betrayal and remorse.
    • The believer who complains about his sufferings and trials and asks, “Why me, Lord?” shares in Peter’s presumption.  It is easy to accept God’s blessings, but not His testings.  It is easy to accept prosperity and health as part of God’s plan for us, but not hardship and sickness.  When joy comes to us, that seems to be our proper lot as a child or God, but when sorrow comes we are inclined to doubt our heavenly Father’s wisdom and love. 
  • Perhaps Peter’s presumption came out of his being the acknowledged leader of the Apostles.  It was to him that Jesus had just declared the Father had given special revelation (v. 17) and Peter may now have considered himself a spokesman for God.  He may have been guided by a Jewish Messianic understanding according to which the Messiah was a political military figure.  Or perhaps the response was simply typical of Peter’s self-confident personality.  Certainly his deep love for and dependence on the Savior made the thought of His death a fearful prospect, so that both love and fear entered into Peter’s response. 
  • In any case, his sinful pride led him to place his own understanding above Christ’s.  Peter was placing his own human will above the divine will of Christ.
  • To reinforce his rebuke, Peter said, “This shall never happen to You,” completely contradicting what Jesus had just declared was necessary.  Because he could not understand or accept the idea of a humiliated, abused, and crucified Messiah, Peter rejected God’s plan for redemption.  The wisdom of the best of men is typically antagonistic to the wisdom of God.

  • Application:


    • Note that sin corrupts even good emotions, such as love.  It also infects our all of our thoughts and all of our service to God as well.  The Fall into sin has affected all of life – our thoughts, reasoning, motives, and our emotions. 
    • Unbeliever: Do you see how hopeless it is to think that your reason alone can lead you to God?  1 Corinthians 2:14 says “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  I say this not to insult your intelligence but that you might see that unless you humble yourself and cry out to God to save you that you are lost.
    • Believers: My brothers and sisters in Christ, be on watch for sinful pride!  It creeps in unaware.  It effects our motives.  It takes our minds off of God’s purposes and places them on earthly concerns.

b.      How the Lord Rebuked Peter (v. 23)


·        Look closer at Jesus’ rebuke to Peter. 

Matt 16  23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance a to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

·        The Lord, it seems, turned His back on Peter, faced the other disciples, and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance a to me.”  Behind Peter lurked Satan.  The voice was the voice of Peter; the words were the words of Satan.

·        Jesus had spoken almost the same words to Satan himself after the temptations in the wilderness (4:10).  And although Satan left, we learn from Luke’s parallel account that “he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).

·        Satan continued to tempt Jesus throughout His ministry in every way he could.  Now he put into Peter’s mind the same idea He had tried to put into Jesus’: “God’s plan is too difficult and demanding.  Give your allegiance to me and your life will be immeasurably better.  My way is superior to God’s.”

·        That is basically what Peter was saying to Jesus: “My way is better than Yours and the Father’s.”  The same apostle who had just confessed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (v. 16) now contradicted Him.  The one whom the Father had just inspired to give that confession (v. 17) was now “inspired” by Satan.

·        If such a thing could happen to Peter, it can happen to any believer.  The same Christian who extols the plan of God can be lured into extolling the plan of Satan.  When he follows his own wisdom instead of the Spirit’s, the same one who has strongly taken the side of God can find himself unwittingly taking the side of Satan.

·        Application: Christian, be contentious of the battle for your mind.  There is a war going on for the control of your thinking.

NAU 2 Corinthians 10:5 We are destroying speculations and every alofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the bobedience of Christ,

·        Jesus knew that Satan had as surely put the rebuke in Peter’s mind as the Father had put the confession there.  Whether by obsession, oppression, or simply by supernatural influence, Satan had managed to prompt Peter to oppose Christ’s way and try to lure Jesus into disobeying God’s will. 

·        And because he succumbed, Peter found himself opposing the plan of God in the same way the devil had opposed it in the wilderness.  Before he realized what he was doing, he found himself speaking for Satan rather than for God.  In trying to defend Christ on the basis of his own understanding, he found himself standing against Christ.

·        Satan knew that the way of the cross was the way of his own defeat, and he therefore opposed the cross with all his being.  And it is because they are spiritual children of the devil (John 8:44) that unbelievers consider the cross of Christ to be a foolish stumbling block (1 Cor 1:18, 23).  Satan knows that the cross is the place of men’s deliverance from his dominion of sin and death, the only path from his kingdom of darkness to God’s kingdom of light.

·        The temptation to avoid the cross was a real temptation to Christ, because He knew the cross meant inconceivable agony to Him.  He knew what the agony would be in taking all the consequence of the world’s sin upon Himself and what a horror it would be to be separated from His heavenly Father even for a few hours.

·        The word that the ESV translates as “hindrance” means literally “a stone of stumbling” A few moments before, Jesus in effect had said to Simon, “You are Peter; you are a rock.”  Now He was saying, “You are a stone of stumbling.”

·        The word skandalon was originally used of an animal trap, in particular the part where the bait was placed.  The term eventually came to be used of luring a person into captivity or destruction.   Satan was using Peter to set a trap for Jesus.

Matt 16  23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance a to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."


  • “Setting your mind” means “take someone’s side; espouse someone’s view.” Paul says in Romans 8:5* “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
  • Throughout its pages the Bible contrasts God’s view of things with man’s.  Perhaps the strongest and best-known declaration of this contrast is found in Isaiah 55:8-9 “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • Because he is fallen and sinful, man’s ways are not the Lord’s, his interests are not God’s.
  • Together Verse 17, where Jesus says “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” together with verse 23 which says “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" defines the fundamental opposition between the agencies of God and man.  It is by God’s gift that Peter is a rock; it is from his own thinking that he is a “hindrance.”
  • Thus his objection serves as a type or model.  When confronted with suffering Peter thinks like a “human being” – rationally, egotistically, perhaps even from human love.  Jesus responds with a sharp antithesis.  These human standards have no validity before God.  His message to men is the call to a radically understood discipleship.
  • Because Peter was reasoning from his own finite and sinful mind, he found himself siding with Satan and opposing God.  When he trusted in his own perspective, he could no longer see God’s.  Because he did not continue to submit to the leading of the Father, he lost the Father’s perspective.  In his human wisdom he could not fathom why his Lord, the Messiah, had to “go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.”  He was thinking like an unredeemed, fleshly man and found himself becoming “hostile toward God” (Rom 8:7).
  • When believers focus on their present pain or potential distress rather than on the Lord who has allowed that pain, they are easy prey for Satan’s traps and can even become his traps for ensnaring others.  James therefore says, “Count it all joy, my brothers,1 when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).  “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial,” he goes on to say; “for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (v. 12).



  • From Peter’s rebuke and Jesus’ counter rebuke, Christians can learn two important lessons. 
  • The first is that God’s way of salvation does not correspond to men’s.  His kind of Messiah is not man’s kind.  Therefore the person who insists on his own kind of Savior and on coming to God on his own terms finds himself opposing God and moving away from Him.  Men’s ways never lead to God.
  • Men cannot have Christ on their own terms.  To reject the way of the cross is to reject Christ, no matter how much He may be professed and praised.
  • Although he failed totally on this occasion, Peter came to understand and love the way of the cross.  That was the way he preached at Pentecost and throughout his ministry.  He would on day write with great conviction and joy that Christ “Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet 2:24)
  • The second important lesson is that there is pain in God’s refining process.  As Jesus went on to explain in the next verse, He calls His disciples to share His suffering and His cross.  They are called to deny themselves and take up their own crosses as they follow Him (v. 24).  There is no crossless obedience to Christ.
  • To make spiritual gold of His children, the Father must burn off the sinful dross.  Of His redeemed remnant He says, “I will ... refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.  They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, “The Lord is my God’” (Zech 13:9).
  • To deny that pain is part of the process is to call into question God’s wisdom and to be open to Satan’s deception.
  • Finally, Christ's radical way of winning the nations is by the death of himself and the death of his people.
    • Jesus had told Peter that the gates of Hades would not prevail against God’s means of building His church.  So how will Christ unlock these gates?
    • They will be unlocked from the inside.  He gets in by dying. He gets out by resurrection. And now the gates are his. Revelation 1:18, "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."
  • This how we are told to bring the message of Christ to the nations.  Paul said "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). We die with him and live with him, by faith.

The Choice of the Cross (Matt 16:24-28)


  1. The Principal Involved (vv. 24-25)
  2. The Priorities Involved (v. 26)
  3. The Prophecies Involved (v. 27-28)

The Choice of the Cross (Matt 16:24-28)



  • History records that in the early years of the 1930’s, the established church in Germany mostly welcomed Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.  Like the rest of the nation, the church saw Hitler as a deliverer from the economic depression and a boost to national pride which followed the nation’s defeat of WWI.
  • In November 1933, a convention of German Christians met to pass three resolutions:
    • Baptized Jews were to be dismissed from the Church
    • The Old Testament was to be excluded from Sacred Scriptures.
    • Adolf Hitler was the completion of the reformation,
  • German Christians even rewrote the words to Silent Night to be about Hitler and replaced the Bible with Mein Kampf on its altars.
  • A young Lutheran pastor saw these changes as what they really were: a denial of the Gospel.  The pastor was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was at the forefront of the creation of the Confessing Church in Germany. 
  • In 1937, he wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world best by a dangerous and criminal government.  The book begins with these words:

"Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace."

  • After the Reformation, Bonhoeffer argued, the church again cheapened the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, and this had seriously weakened its witness.

Bonhoeffer said: “The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost.  We gave away the Word and sacraments wholesale; we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without condition.  Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving … But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”


  • Thus the collective conscious of a nation was at ease while the Nazi concentration camps executed people by the thousands.
  • It was at one such concentration camp that Bonhoeffer would be executed.  The details are too gruesome to relate here, but suffice it to say that Bonhoeffer understood well the difference between what he called “cheap grace” and “costly grace.”
    • He wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.  Communion without confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
  • If the Gospel made no demand on discipleship then Bonhoeffer could have happily joined in with the organized church in Germany and closed his eyes to the injustice and the denial of the Gospel that he saw around him.
  • But Nazi Germany is an easy target; but what about America today?  The cost of discipleship doesn’t seem too costly in the United States.  However, there are subtle idolatries that ask us to compromise our integrity and water down the Gospel for the sake of political correctness.
  • We must avoid both extremes of baptizing anti-Christian behavior or withdrawing to the point of quiet inaction.
  • This evening we will consider Jesus’ call to radical discipleship.  We will look at what it means to “Follow him” and consider His warning “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).

Matt 16  24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 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? 27 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. 28 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."


  • Let’s recap how we have come to these words:

·        Peter had confessed Jesus as the “Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16)

·        Jesus then told the disciples His mission was to go to Jerusalem and die.  But He would rise on the third day.

·        Peter didn’t like this plan.  He tried to rebuke Jesus into avoiding the cross.

·        But Jesus turned the rebuke around to Peter and said that without the cross there could be no victory.  God’s way was through pain and trial.  It was a necessary part of His divine will.  To avoid the cross was to follow Satan’s plan and not God’s.

·        Verses 24-28 sets forth the heart of Christian discipleship and it strikes a death blow to the self-centered false gospels that are so popular in contemporary Christianity.

o       It leaves no room for the gospel of getting, in which God is considered a type of utilitarian genie who jumps to provide a believer’s every whim. 

o       It closes the door to the gospel of health and wealth, which asserts that if a believer is not healthy and prosperous he has simply not exercised his divine rights or else does not have enough faith to claim his blessings. 

o       It undermines the gospel of self-esteem, self-love, and high self-image, which appeals to man’s natural narcissism and corrupts the spirit of humble brokenness and repentance that marks the gospel of the cross.

·        Understand:  To come to Jesus Christ is to receive and to keep receiving forever.  But Jesus repeatedly makes clear that there must be a cross before the crown, suffering before glory, sacrifice before reward.  The heart of Christian discipleship is giving before gaining, losing before winning.

·        This is not the first time Jesus spoke of the high cost of discipleship.  He had said,

 ESV Matthew 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

He had told the wealthy young ruler: "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."  (Mark 10:21)

In John 12:24, He said to the Greeks who asked to see Him,

ESV John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

  • But those teachings ran contrary to the popular Judaism of Jesus’ day, just as they run contrary to much popular quasi-Christianity today.
  • Like most of their fellow Jews, the Twelve expected the Messiah to throw off the Roman yoke, dethrone the Herods, and establish God’s earthly kingdom in all its glory.  It was therefore difficult to reconcile Jesus’ teachings about humility, sacrifice, and self-giving with that view.  Jesus did not act like the regal Messiah they expected.  Yet they knew Jesus’ miracles and his teaching could not be explained humanly, and by the work of God in their hearts they had finally come to recognize that He was indeed the Messiah (16:16).  The whole picture did not yet fit together for them.
  • Particularly as Peter’s brash reply to Jesus makes clear (v. 22), they were not yet willing to accept the idea of the Messiah’s rejection, suffering, and death.  Nor were they yet convinced that the way of discipleship involved those same great costs.  They were not yet thinking like God thinks but still like fallen men think, because their minds were not “on God’s interests, but man’s” (v. 23).




  1. The Principal Involved (vv. 24-25)


Matthew 16:24-25  Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

·        The paradox is often worked out in the history of the church.  The cross was not only for Him; it is also for us.

·        The world looks on this principle, the logic of the cross, as folly.  But as Jim Elliot, one of the five young men martyred by the Indians in Ecuador, wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” 

·        “After me” translates the same verb in 4:19 where Jesus said "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

·        Jesus’ call to the disciples at the end of His ministry is the same as it was at the beginning.  We are called to follow Christ to the cross.

·        It is also the same word as in v. 23.  Jesus just told Peter to “get behind” him because Peter’s words were expressing the thoughts of Satan.  Now he tells the disciples to “come after” him by using the same word.  Thus we learn that following Jesus means to forsake sin and walk with Christ.  There is a negative (a turning from) and a positive (a turning to) involved in following Christ.

·        Where are we to go with Christ?  To the cross.  The suffering of Jesus and the discipleship of suffering belong inseparably together.  The gospels teach us that it is truly possible to understand Jesus only by following him in suffering (cf. Mark 8:31-34; 9:30-37; 10:32-45)

o       Application:  This is not a doctrine for the “advanced class.”  We don’t accept Jesus as Savior and then, some day, make Him our Lord.  Becoming a Christian means to deny oneself, to love Christ above all others, to trust Him above our own wisdom, and to follow Him even to our death.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there is an “easy road.”

·        It is clear that following Christ’s path of suffering is not passive acceptance but an active form of life.  “If anyone would come after me …” expresses a conscious decision to go against one’s own interests in following Christ.

·        How does one come to make that decision? And what does it mean to “deny oneself?”  I’ll answer the second question first.   

·        The word “deny himself” is only used in this form here and in the parallel passage in Mark 8:34.  It refers to the negative side of what is positively expressed with “to confess Christ” or “to follow.”

·        It is expressed as a command.  The NAS, HCSB, and NIV translates it better than the ESV by expressing it as “he must deny himself”

·        In fact, all of the verbs in this verse are commands.  “He must deny himself … he must take up his cross … he must follow me.”  This is even stronger than what we saw in v. 21, where the must was once but implied throughout.  Here it is explicit command repeated three times.

·        To what, however, must one say “no”?  Is Jesus replacing an ideal of life that sees happiness as the freedom from suffering with a desire for suffering or asceticism?

o       Some Christians throughout history have thought that this is exactly what Jesus meant.

o       In the third century, the desert was said to have been inhabited by thousands of hermits who were inspired by Antony the Great.

o       Later men like Jerome, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi popularized monastic asceticism by living a solitary lives and renouncing worldly pleasures and goods. 

·        But this is not what Jesus is saying here.  His message is that grace is not cheap.  It costs Jesus His life.  And it will cost the disciples something too.

·        Self-Denial is not a matter of practicing Christian laws or ascetic self-perfection but of is a life that is not oriented toward the self.  It is made possible only by being bound to Jesus and the community of the followers he has created. 

·        To deny oneself is to be focus only of Christ and no more on self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.  It is a deliberate decision for a different orientation of life. 

·        The saying about losing one’s life calls attention to the reality of martyrdom.  Rightly understood, martyrdom is the final pinnacle of discipleship of the cross but is not its necessary condition. 

·        This is one fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam.  A Christian martyr does not earn salvation by proving his devotion.  Like the Muslim, a Christian’s complete devotion to God makes him willing to die.  However, the Christian is martyred because he is following the Lord who has saved him into an unjust persecution while the Muslim terrorist kills others and himself in order to earn his salvation.

·        We are assured by Jesus that life will be given to the follower of Jesus on the other side of death if martyrdom is required.  The focus, however, is not martyrdom but is understood comprehensively and means all suffering on behalf of the cause of Jesus. 

·        What should be plain, however, is that “bearing the cross” is not the minor nuisances that is sometimes referenced to in this manner.  Your boss, neighbor, or mother-in-law are not “your cross to bear.”  In Jesus’ understanding, the meaning of “bearing the cross” is orienting oneself to Christ as the model for life and knowing the experience of being borne by the exalted Lord. 

·        How do we come to make this decision?  The form of the word here for “deny” indicates that it is a single act at the beginning of an ongoing way to the cross.  It is a once-for-the-rest-of-my-life decision.

·        However, we tend to make repeated attempts to “deny ourselves.”  We know that is what Jesus said, so we go about it as our duty.  “I must deny myself, I must deny myself” we repeat it as a mantra.  

·        The only way that the decision to “deny oneself” can be a single act of unchanging devotion is to see the glory of God in Christ as our all-encompassing joy.

·        Jesus explains why we must follow Him on this road to Calvary:  the reason for denying ourselves is that we might gain our lives. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (v. 24)  This is the path of life:  we exchange the fleeting, shallow, pleasures of this life for the eternal, surpassing, pleasure of knowing God.

·        Look with me at Matt 13:44.

ESV Matthew 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

·        In this little parable, Jesus explains that the kingdom of heaven is worth giving up everything else in order to acquire it.  But don’t miss the reason for the man’s self-denial.  “In his joy he goes and sells all that he has.”  He denies himself all other pleasures in pursuit of the ultimate treasure, the kingdom of heaven.

·        Following Christ by denying the self is not the ascetic idea of forsaking all pleasure.

ESV Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

·        The paradox is that a Christian denies himself in order to receive true joy.  The atheist, however, denies himself nothing but, in doing so, he robs himself of joy. 

·        John Piper expresses this idea in the statement that has characterized his ministry for thirty years: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”


  1. The Priorities Involved (v. 26)

Matthew 16:26  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?


·        The disciples had been thinking in terms of a material kingdom, one that would begin at Jerusalem and conquer the world.  Satan had once offered such a kingdom to Christ.  But not, in the light of Calvary, there could be no thought of a worldly kingdom, at least not until God’s purposes in grace had been accomplished in the creation and maturation of the church.

·        The Lord was saying that in His own disciples there must be no desire for the world in its present state of sinfulness.  The carnal Messianic hopes of the Jews could have no part in the lives of those who had been to Calvary.  The Lord pointed to the price that would have to be paid if it were possible to gain the world.

·        Luke adds “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)

·        What does it mean to be ashamed of Christ and how does it relate to a life of chosen suffering? 

·        Christ has just said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)  And then he adds this about being ashamed of Him and His words. 

·        How is a refusal to deny the self, a life that avoids suffering for Christ, the same as being ashamed of Christ?

·        Because the only way to avoid suffering as a Christian in this sinful world is to choose a life that mirrors the world – in its priorities as well as its behavior. 

·        Do your neighbors, co-workers, family members know that you’re a Christian by the way you live? I’m not just saying “do you live a moral life?”  There are a lot of moral pagans, Buddhists, and Muslims.  I mean, do those who know you know that the lifestyle you have chosen only makes sense if there is a resurrection?

·        How many times do you hear Christian testimonies that say that life gets better with Christ?  How many times do you hear people describe the benefits of Christianity in terms that would make it a good life, even if there were no God and no resurrection?  There are psychological benefits, relational benefits, -- some even say financial benefits.

·        But how many Christians do you know who could say, “The lifestyle I have chosen as a Christian would be utterly foolish and pitiable if there is no resurrection?”  But that is exactly what Paul said (1 Cor 15:9).

·        Daily dying to self, daily taking up our cross, daily suffering is a gift.  Paul says to the Philippians, “29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29)

·        It is a gift in that it proves that we are Christians.  Jesus told his disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20).

·        Paul wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12)

·        Therefore, something is amiss if we do not experience persecution and trials for being a Christian.

·        Suffering is a gift because it weans us from self-reliance and forces us to trust God.

8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, a of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

·        This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering, more contentment in God and less satisfaction in self and the world.

·        I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.”  But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with Him has come through suffering.”

·        Charles Spurgeon said “they who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.”

·        The pearl of greatest price is the glory of Christ.  In our sufferings the glory of Christ’s all-sufficient grace is magnified.  If we rely on Him in our calamity and He sustains our hope then He is shown to be the all-satisfying God of grace and strength that He is.  If we hold fast to Him “when all around our soul gives way” then we show that He is more to be desired than all we have lost.

·        2Cor 12  9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

·        Suffering is designed by God not only as a way to wean Christians off of self and onto grace, but also as a way to spotlight that grace and make it shine.

·        Our sufferings make Christ’s sufferings known so that people can see the kind of love Christ offers.

·        The Calvary road is not a joyless road, but it is a painful one.  Painful, but profoundly happy.  When we choose the fleeting pleasures of comfort and security over the sacrifices and sufferings of following Christ, we choose against joy.

·        That is what Jesus is saying to His disciples in Matt 16:24-28.  Christ chose suffering; it didn’t just happen to him.  He chose it as the way to create and perfect the church.  Now He calls us to choose suffering.  That is, He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him on the Calvary road and deny ourselves and make sacrifices for the sake of ministering to the church and presenting His sufferings to the world.


a Peter sounds like the Greek word for rock

b Greek the gates of Hades

a Or "[May God be] merciful to you, Lord!"

b Greek stumbling block

a Or "[May God be] merciful to you, Lord!"

a Greek stumbling block

a Greek stumbling block

a Greek stumbling block

a Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated "brothers") refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God's family, the church

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