Take up your cross

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Matthew 16:21-28

1. Some things are difficult to accept

Have you ever found that something that someone told you difficult to accept or believe? You heard what they were saying but you just couldn’t bring yourself to believe what you were hearing. You thought to yourself that ‘no way could that be true” or “no way is that going to happen”.

1.1 My brother’s news

I remember when by brother told Kylie and me that he was going to get married. At first we just didn’t believe him and Kylie told him and his new fiancée so. At the time Kylie was pregnant and in hospital being rehydrated because of severe morning sickness. My brother and his friend who he had only met six weeks previously came up to visit. This was the first time that we had met her and after the initial introduction my brother came out with the news that he and Wendy were getting married.

I remember Kylie’s surprise at the news. We were both in shock and she told my brother, who liked pulling her leg (playing practical jokes) that he must have been joking – that it couldn’t possibly be true. More than once, Kylie told him in the presence of his new fiancee that she just didn’t believe him. Kylie blurted out what we had both been thinking. It had only been a week before that my brother had told us that the two of them weren’t going out, and that they were just friends. But a week later he was telling us they were getting married. We didn’t believe it could be possibly be true and Kylie blurted out what we were both thinking – that it was all a joke and it wasn’t going to happen – but six weeks later they were married.

1.2 Jesus’ news

Well, the first time Jesus told his disciples that he was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem it was Peter who blurted out what all the disciples would have been thinking. It can’t possibly be true because they knew that he was the Messiah. He was God’s king. He was the Son of the Living God. They thought that there was no way that Jesus should or would end up on a cross in Jerusalem, if he was who they thought him to be. Peter had just confessed that he believed that Jesus was the Messiah  (their King) and that he was the Son of the living God and Jesus hadn’t denied it. The disciples didn’t believe or they didn’t want to accept that the king that they had been waiting for would end up suffering and dying in Jerusalem. It was Peter who said what they had all been thinking and we read that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Jesus. Have a look with me at Matthew 16:21-22.

Matthew 16:21-22

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.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” [1]

Today/tonight we want to look at this story because after Jesus sorts Peter out about what he can and cannot do; Jesus would go on to explain what it would mean for anyone who wanted to follow him. This is what we want to think about today. But to understand what it means to for us to follow him we must first understand what Jesus was saying that it would mean for him to be their king and why Peter found this so hard to accept.

2. What it meant for Jesus to be king

Matthew tells us from the time that the disciples first realised that Jesus was the Messiah that Jesus began to explain to them that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and there and on the third day be raised to life.

2.1 He must go to Jerusalem

What Jesus told the disciples that day was that he must go to Jerusalem and there suffer and die and be raised to life. There was a divine necessity about Jesus going to Jerusalem to do this. It was to happen this way, not because things were out of control and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it, but because this was the plan and purpose of God.

2.2 He would give his life as a ransom

At this point Jesus hadn’t explained why this must happen. His words to Peter, in verse 23, made it clear that it had to do with the things of God but it isn’t until chapter 20 that we hear Jesus explaining to his disciples that he was giving his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:28

 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The ransom for many would be a ransom for the sin of the many. Right at the start of the gospel, it was reported that when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he was told that Mary would give birth to a son and he was to give him the name Jesus “because he would save his people from their sins”. Jesus would go to Jerusalem to save his people from their sin. Having come to the point where they recognised that Jesus was the Messiah; the Son of the Living God the Lord Jesus began to explain to them that as the king he would go to Jerusalem and give his life as ransom for the many.

2.3 Peter rebuked Jesus

When Peter heard what Jesus was intending to do, he didn’t believe it. He told Jesus that this wasn’t going to happen. “Never, Lord! …This shall never happen to you.” You can’t help but like Peter. He was the sort of guy that could go from a great moment of insight to getting it totally wrong in the next breath. Having confessed that Jesus was the king the Son of the Living God, he began to tell Jesus what he could and couldn’t do. He rebuked him telling him that he wasn’t going to be able to do what he had come to do – to lay his life for the many. The Lord’s words to Peter highlight just how wrong minded Peter was.

Matthew 16:23

23 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.”

At this point Peter had come a stumbling block to Jesus. He was getting in the way of the things of God. He was tempting Jesus to be a different sort of king to the one God wanted him to be. In this way he was acting in a similar fashion to the way that Satan had treated him when he tempted Jesus at the start of his ministry, to avoid the suffering and just seek the glory. At this point, Peter was acting as a tool of Satan because he didn’t have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns. He was thinking of Jesus in a selfish human sort of way where Jesus would be the sort of king that Peter would rather have him be, rather than the one that God intended him to be.

I think many are tempted to make a similar sort of mistake to the one that Peter made. We are tempted to think of Jesus in very human sort of way. We want Jesus to be the sort of king we want him to be rather than what he needs to be. We can come up with our own notions of what he can and cannot do and we fabricate our own Jesus to follow and to worship, one that is pleasing to us and easy to follow.

I will call this the “genie the bottle” sort of Jesus. This is the Jesus who is there to just grants me all by wishes in life and fulfil my dreams. He is the Jesus that is meant to make my life smooth sailing. He is the Jesus that is all about helping me to achieve what I want to achieve. He is the Jesus that is about making my life comfortable or a successful or prosperous or he is the Jesus that I bring out when I need him to get me out of trouble.  Sadly, we can come up with our own version of Jesus that has nothing to do with who Jesus really is or what Jesus has promised us. He looks like the real thing, but he is our creation. When he doesn’t deliver what he doesn’t promise to deliver we take him aside and rebuke him or we get upset with him or we even give up on him. But what we have given up on isn’t Jesus at all. It is just our own idolatrous version we’ve made to look and sound like him. The Lord himself said that there would be people who would come up to him on the last day claiming to be his disciples and even to have done things in his name but who he will have to turn away because he never really knew them (see Matthew 7:21).

What sort of Jesus are you following? Are we thinking about Jesus merely in human sort of way? Are you there to worship and serve him or is he there to do and say what you want him to do and say? Do you understand what it truly means for him to be king and for you to follow this sort of king?

3. What it means to follow this king

Although Peter and the disciples had come to realise that Jesus was Son of the Living God, the Messiah they needed to understand what it meant for him to be their king and what it would mean to follow such a king.  Having explained that he would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die and be raised on the third day Jesus went on to explain to the disciples what it would mean for them to follow him.

3.1 Take up your cross

It’s here in verse 24 he told them that it meant taking up their cross and following him..

Matthew 16:24

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

A disciple takes up his or her cross and follows Jesus. Jesus makes this clear by putting it in the widest terms. “If anyone would come after me…” This wasn’t just a word for those in the first century. It’s a word for all of us who would be Jesus’ disciples (learners of him)  – first century, second century 21st century. All those who would follow Jesus must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. In the ancient world if you took up your cross it was because you were on the way to be executed. The Romans made those who were about to be crucified carry their cross beam to the place that they were being executed. They then would hoist the condemned man or woman up on it and there they would die a painful death.

3.2 Deny yourself

Taking up your cross doesn’t just mean having to put up with something that is unpleasant or unwelcome or awkward although it could include all those things. But rather it refers to dying to self and living for something bigger than yourself, living for Jesus. This is why these words are coupled with the words that those who would be his disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him.

We are to no longer live for self but live for him who died for us. He died to save us so that we might be forgiven and live a new life. If we are to follow him, then we can’t still hang on to the old life that we used to have – the one where we were the centre of everything. We must die to self and say to ‘no’ to the person that we find it hardest to say ‘no’ to, our own selves. In all the little moments of life we are to learn to say ‘no’ to our own selfish desires and say ‘yes’ to those things that we know pleases the Lord Jesus. We can’t go on following our own selfish desires if we are following Jesus.

3.3 Follow me

But we are to be careful here because it is easy to fool ourselves and the way that people do it is that they come up with their own version of Jesus, the Jesus in the bottle sort of Jesus. Sadly, people preach this sort of Jesus. The Jesus who is there to just make me happy, the one that you bring out to grant your wishes or help you when you are in trouble. But your own version of Jesus is really no Jesus at all, and such discipleship is just an imitation of the real thing and it isn’t worth anything.

Friends your life is no longer yours to live as you see fit. It is to be lived for him who died for you. It isn’t any different today than it was in the first century. We might not have him here with us now in the same physical way that he was when with the first disciples, but he is still present with us through the Spirit and he is  asking the question as to what your life is all about and whether you are saving it for yourself of whether you are losing it for him. Is work all about you and your honour and your career or is it about honouring Jesus and serving him there? Do you look to love and serve those around you or are you looking to be served and loved by those you gather around you? Do you say what you mean and do what you say or do you say what others want to hear and do what is only convenient and cost you nothing?  Do you come to church looking to be served and loved by others or do you come to give your life to serve and love others? Do you store up things for yourselves or are you generous and rich towards God and others? Are you saving your life for yourself here on the north shore making sure that you there is little cost to following Jesus or are you spending your life her serving him?

3. Three reasons for taking up your cross

The Lord gives three reasons in verse 25 to 27 for why we ought to take up our cross. Each verse is introduced by the word “for” although unfortunately our NIVs have chosen to leave the word out at the start of verse 26.

(1) It’s only by losing your life that you find it (25).

The first reason is that it is only by losing your life for the sake of Jesus that you will find life. Paradoxically if you try and save your life for yourself you will ultimately lose it. If you get on with life here and now as though this is all there is, then this will be it for you. For where your treasure is there is also your heart.

(2) It’s not worth forfeiting your soul (26).

The second reason builds on the first. The Lord Jesus says in verse 26 that whatever it is that you think that you gain for yourself in this life is not worth it if you forfeit your soul. This word for “soul” is exactly the same word that was translated “life” in verse 25. These verses are very closely connected and are part of an argument that is continuing. Even if you gain the whole world it couldn’t make up for the loss of your life couldn’t it!

The sums don’t add up. It doesn’t matter which way you calculate it. Whatever you think that you gain in this world by living for yourself here and now can’t possibly be worth it, if in the end you miss out on the life that only Jesus can give you.

Jim Elliot wrote that “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot wrote this in his journal in Bible College just 7 years before losing his life in 1956 while taking the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. He and the four others who died in 1956 knew the risks that they were taking – they knew were a savage people – they knew that their lives were in danger – but Jim Elliot was no fool. He gave up what he couldn’t keep to gain what he could never lose. 

Unfortunately, sometimes people exchange following Jesus for what they can have here and now. Some unfortunately will exchange life for the wealth that they can have here and now and others will do it to be at the top of their profession or to chase their career or in order to have that dream house or that dream family or to pursue that allusive lifestyle that they think will make them happy. But none of these things last and in the end such a choice never makes sense for the Son of Man is coming.

(3) The Son of Man is coming (27)

This is the last reason that the Lord gives for taking up your cross. He is coming in his Father’s glory with his angels and he will reward each person according to what he has done. I think these words relate to the choice that we have made about him and whether we have chosen to take up our cross and follow him or not. Friends, the choice that we make now about how we respond to Jesus has eternal consequences. One day we will stand before him and the decision we have made to follow him or not will be the only thing that really does matter

Friends, we all need to stop holding on to what was never ours to keep in the first place. Life isn’t about me and my plans anymore but about following him. We must give up our human way of thinking about Jesus that wants to fit him into our north shore way of life and instead deny ourselves and let him have our lives and let him give order to all the other things in them. Jesus said to his disciples…

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”


[1] Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.