Matthew 16:21-28: Your Cross and His Cross

At last, somebody understands Jesus!  Earlier, He tossed this query toward His disciples, “Who do people suppose the Son of Man is?”  Above the others, Peter rose, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Happy with the reply, Jesus responds, “You are Peter [petros].  On this rock, [petra, your confession] I will construct my Church, and Hell’s gates will not defeat her.”

The Rock receives praise, not as Petros, who he is as a man, but because of what he professed—his petra.  Such trust in Jesus as the promised Savior is what God will use to build His Church.  Now, aglow with such approval, Peter, Jesus, with the rest of the disciples proceed to travel south toward Jerusalem. 

On the journey, Jesus drops another bomb—He will suffer many things and die, but, on the third day, He will be raised.  Not “rise,” with Jesus doing this, but “raised.”  The divine passive, revealing God, His Father will vindicate Jesus through His countless workings.  Yes, God can turn our harmful actions around, into something worthwhile.

Oh, and this must unfold, must, unfurling a mystery of God’s kingdom—the need for Jesus’ suffering and death.  Not one option among many.  No, this pivotal event “must” be Jesus asserts, confirming God is working through Him for His purposes.

“All this,” is what Matthew writes, which Jesus prepares to “show” them.  “Show?” So, these must be real occurrences, not only words, propelling Jesus toward His death.  Not words alone, but actions, what Jesus begins to reveal.

Well, Peter doesn’t want any of this.  The gates of death and Hell shall whither against Christ’s Church.  Oh, he takes this as Jesus declaring His ultimate victory.  Still, he doesn’t believe his Messiah must die to demolish death’s power and shatter the gateway of Hell, so death may never keep us as captives again.

From the parts he prefers, Peter concludes Jesus won’t suffer and perish.  No, He will conquer and rule, which happens to be the dominant idea among the Israelites.  Yes, Scripture does speak of a tormented and dying Messiah in Isaiah 53, but this applies to Israel as a nation, not some person.  Under Rome’s thrall, the awaited Messiah will emerge and restore Israel from its death of defeat, not die and arise himself. 

“No, you’re wrong, Jesus, this won’t happen to you.”  Does this disciple discern more than his Teacher?  Don’t be foolish!  Like the Devil did before (4:3, 6), telling Jesus to turn stones into bread, Peter demands Jesus to deliver Himself from death.  Little does he perceive that he the Rock, is now a “rock of stumbling,” obstructing Jesus.

“Get behind me, Satan!”  Never did Peter sting from such a bone-chilling rebuke.  Hey, he isn’t in league with but is the Devil!  Why?  Only when we realize “get behind me” does any of this make sense.  Those three words are the ones Jesus used when He first called Peter to be His disciple.  Though our translations state, “Come follow me.”

By seizing the role of the teacher for himself, Peter becomes an obstacle.  No longer learning from his Lord, Peter attempts to take command.  Like an undesired boulder, Peter entrenches himself, undermining Jesus.  The pupil isn’t above his master, and a satanic mindset won’t accept instruction.  The only real alternative before Peter is to switch places with Jesus, become a disciple again, and follow Him. 

To plumb the pages of the New Testament is to dive deep into the Old.  The scriptural connections Jesus and the New-Testament writers expect us to find, require us to drench ourselves in the Old Testament they used, the Greek-language Septuagint.  Contemplate the cross, something Jesus’ disciples are to “take up.”  How are we to figure this out?  Let’s listen to some of 1 Maccabees, a book of Scripture in Jesus’ day. 

Now, if Jesus is talking about martyrdom, we should understand Israel’s struggles for independence.  More than 100 years before Rome captured Israel, untold Israelites sacrificed themselves as they battled to subdue a foreign enemy, Syria.  For those fighters, dying a martyr’s death mattered if it only happened because of their beliefs.  All revolved around one’s faith and remaining faithful.  Though one’s grave may come, martyrdom itself didn’t count, being loyal to God did.

Ponder the repercussions.  To ask a follower to take up his cross is insane since someone should only die a martyr if required to remain faithful.  How can Jesus ask this if He is but a mere man?  Does this not smack of blasphemy?  Yes, unless He is also the Son of God!  So, Jesus compels others to take the cross and conform to Him.  To Himself, which means this is more about who He is than what the person does.

Does carrying a cross demand your martyrdom?  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus,” Galatians 5:24 reads, “crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires.”  For Peter, this meant Jesus no longer needed to do what he demanded.  No, he needed to obey Jesus instead.  To renounce yourself is to take up your cross, which is a cry for the end of anything interfering with following Jesus.  Of course, the genuine Jesus, who He is and what He does, not the one you, me, or Peter may want.

To assist us along, Jesus expounds on what denying yourself involves.  First, by this, “for whoever desires to save his life,” next by “for what will it profit a person.”  Are you chasing after what you think you need or what Jesus says?  In the strangest of ironies, as you seek to save your life, wandering on your path and not abiding in Jesus, you take the road of perpetual death.  Don’t endeavor to “preserve” what your fallen mind believes is indispensable.  The opposite will occur, losing your life forever.

Let’s go to when Satan tempted Jesus.  In one temptation, the Beguiler instructed Him to bow down before him in idolatry.  Why?  To attain the whole world, for many, the ultimate dream of the ages.  In the end, however, this present reality is an empty pit, devoid of everlasting joy.  Don’t exchange the timeless and eternal for the temporary. 

So, our Lord’s question hits home, “What shall a man give in return for his soul?”  Such a rare term, Jesus selects, translated as “in return.”  Only in four places does this word engrave itself in Scripture: here, in Mark for this same occasion, and twice in Sirach.  Yeah, again, the Apocrypha, but we must do this to sense the weight of Jesus’ words. 

In one place, this term expressed something valuable, above calculation, or comparison.  “Faithful friends are beyond price [the same word Jesus uses]; no amount can balance their worth” (Sirach 6:15).  The other extols the worth of a loving wife to her husband; “nothing is so precious,” the text reveals (Sirach 26:13-14).

Ah, do you now grasp what your “soul,” your life, means to Jesus?  Can anybody give anything for something as priceless as your life?  No, which is the point!  No regular person can, but God does.  The word conveying an incomparable value shows only Jesus is able to supply what you need for your redemption.  No one else can.

Of course, Jesus demands nothing of you that He doesn’t require of Himself—but something only He can accomplish in a way you never can.  Only when you realize this, can you begin to fathom what taking up the cross and following Jesus includes (10:38-39).  Your cross is His cross.

Your heavy cross only reaches its culmination in Christ.  Though Jesus next will speak of what His cross will one day bring into being.  “The Son of Man [Jesus] will come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and He will repay each person according to his deeds.”  Will your works be deserving?  Only if cleansed by Christ from the killing cross.  All others must depend on their righteousness, which will only fail them.

Now we understand why people who want to save their lives lose them—and why others who lose their lives because of Christ will find them.  The reason is this—this same Person will descend on the Last Day as judge of all.  Why?  On His death-filled cross, He paid for everyone’s sins.  So, Jesus can identify those covered by His righteousness and those relying on themselves.

Still, Jesus goes on, for He also says some who are standing close to Him will not die before He comes in His kingdom.  “Some” is the operative term.  After Jesus finishes here, He will travel atop a mountain for His transfiguration.  Some of them standing with Jesus now (Peter, James, and John) will soon behold Him in His royal power, ablaze in light, and conversing with Moses and Elijah. 

The same three will be with Jesus while He prays at Gethsemane, where He starts to unveil, “show,” His arrival in true royalty.  Not as we may speculate but by submitting to His Father’s will, inducing Him to sweat drops from His brow like blood.  The required agony, death, and resurrection now commence, what Jesus foretold He would “show.”  The anguish in the garden moves Him not only closer to the cross but its completion.  So soon, Jesus becomes our ransom payment and atoning sacrifice (20:28, 26:29).

To lose your life based on who Jesus is, your Sin-Forgiver, is to discover life, not death.  Yes, immortal life, all flowing from Jesus’ death from His cross.  Never-ending destruction no longer prevails against you because Jesus came to His kingdom on the cross.  At the place of death, He took your sin and mortality to grant you His mercy and life.  Remember, when Christ’s cross becomes yours; your cross then clings to His.  Now, you can yearn for His coming, for you, too, will share in His glory.  Amen.