This chapter is something of a hinge point in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus confronts the disciples regarding his identity as the Christ. He also teaches them about the costs of discipleship.
Matthew 16.pdf (Omar Yamout)
Matthew 16.mp3 (Omar Yamout)
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, one of the requirements of all citizens is to feel good. When they don’t, which is often, they pop pills containing a hangover-free drug called soma, which makes them feel better immediately. The worse they feel, the more soma they take, and all is well – at least until it isn’t. But the readily available soma never seems to run out. For extreme happiness, say on a weekend, larger doses of soma become pleasantly hallucinogenic.
This is not the world we live in. Ours is old and seemingly less brave, though we can argue that it takes a lot more courage to live in it. Our Savior set the example by walking the path of crucifixion, the same path he calls us to in Matthew 16:24-27.
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 soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 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.
At the end of the day, or the age, really, what we want is to have followed Jesus. Much of the time this doesn’t involve feeling pleasant, at least not in the way our flesh desires. Crosses are not meant to be comfortable. But there is a different type of satisfaction, a type that Huxley’s citizens were never allowed to achieve. It’s a confidence inspired by following our Savior, of losing our lives in order to find them. This path has a certainty to it, its satisfaction has a depth, that no amount of soma can give us.
Jim Elliot said it really well when he said, “I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.”
We must not forget, however, that self-denial while following Jesus is only temporary. It’s the price we pay for discipleship, for walking near to our cross-bearing Lord. On the other side of the resurrection, we look forward to a cross-free, existence for all eternity in a new heaven, a new earth and a New Jerusalem.
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
John the Baptist was languishing in prison. Conditions were harsh even for him, a man unaccustomed to comfort. Further, he was not a criminal, and he knew he didn’t belong there. Where was that Messiah that was going to set the world right? Jesus was certainly that very man, wasn’t he? There was the voice from heaven and the Spirit descending like a dove. He was a relative and John knew him well enough to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the one. But again, here he was, locked up and no happy ending anywhere in sight. Who can blame him for asking Jesus for some word of hope or instruction?
The doubts of a saint are vastly different from the doubts of the skeptic. When we find we don’t have the Jesus we wanted, we need assurance, even if we are determined to believe. It’s a question of trust. We can trust someone during difficult times, but still acknowledge that the times are difficult. Disappointment with God is a real thing. Our faith may waver, but it will not fail. Surely, as we wait, God will strengthen our heart.
The skeptic sees things differently. Difficulties just add to his denials. She builds a wall of doubt out of bricks inscribed with objections. Trials are never an acceptable outcome of obedience. Disobedience can always find its reasons.
The saint knows better. The narrow gate and the difficult way lead to life. The rugged cross is something to cherish and something to cling to, while awaiting to exchange it for a crown. Is this the Jesus we wanted? No matter, it is the real Jesus. And he would tell us the same thing he told John:
“The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
In Romans 5:7-9 Paul reminds us,
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Today we remember the greatest example of love the world has ever known. This is the day we remember that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. True, Paul writes this at a time when many who would read it were alive at the time of Christ’s death. He could say “while we were still sinners” and look back on the crucifixion and the space of time before he believed in its value. We look at it somewhat differently.
Notre Dame altar cross, early Tuesday, April 16, 2019, by Philippe Wojazer, Reuters
From our standpoint Christ died before we were ever born. He died before we ever sinned. He also died long before we saw our need for a Savior. How wonderful that by the time we saw our need, the Savior was risen. The price for our sin had already been paid. All that was lacking was our making use of Christ’s payment and asking it to be applied to us.
The love he shows to us is every bit as great as if we had known Christ personally while he walked the earth. He was the lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. We are the sinners, who have corrupted the world by our sin.
As children of the very wealthy are in danger of not appreciating the true cost or worth of their riches, we run the risk of not appreciating the price that Christ paid. We were born into a world whose sin was already dealt with at the cross. We have been forgiven based on a work done long ago, a completed suffering. We need to take some time to consider the cross. Grace can be freely extended to us only because our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself to a death that we deserved.
Thank you, thank you Jesus.
Your Son reminded us that sometimes the best we can expect out of this world is trouble.
His disciples often faced difficulty, opposition and persecution and they endured. Give us that same kind of strength.
From Christ’s instruction we learn that our worst enemies and betrayers might be those we would expect to be our closest friends. Those who should love us and those we love may respond with hatred and rejection. We thank you that Jesus experienced all of this first. We are certainly no greater than he is.
Help us, Father, to remain steadfast, to be faithful and to endure. We may desire happiness, comfort, approval and blessings, but they may not be ours at this time. Just as Jesus endured to the end and was glorified, help us to stand firm knowing that his story did not end at the cross and neither will ours.
If we experience no glory or honor in this world, may our lives still bring glory to him, for Christ is worthy.
Toward the end of his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said,
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Wouldn’t it be great if following Jesus was the easiest thing we could do? Popularity, public approval, material well-being, and an absence of trials and temptations. Isn’t that the life most of us would like to have? It turns out a life like that is more likely to lead to destruction.
We can learn a few things from Christ’s first followers. Neither the Gospels nor the book of Acts, nor the rest of the New Testament gives any evidence that those early believers were getting voted “Most Likely to Succeed” or winning popularity contests of any sort. They didn’t take the easy way out. Why should we expect anything different?
We need to be careful here. Lack of popularity is no guarantee we are faithfully following Jesus either. It might just mean we are doing a lot wrong.
Still, when we try our best to serve God in accordance with his revealed will, we can expect it to bring some difficulty. We can also expect that quite a few others will decide to go another way — through a wide gate and down an easy path. Many will take the easy way out. Look around. Which gate are you heading going through and which path are you following? How does it compare with the way of the cross?
Unity, Diversity and Our Identity in Christ
Part 6 of 14
David composed many of the Psalms. In them we see numerous references to the coming King.