Living Life to the Fullest
Matthew Series #092
September 6, 2015
“Father, it’s so wonderful to be together this morning, to be fellowshipping with other believers around Your Word, reflecting upon Your grace and Your goodness to us, coming to a fuller understanding of the Gospel and all that You have done for us, and coming to a realization that as those who are adopted into Your royal family, there is a higher calling, a challenge not just to be satisfied with having eternal life and being justified, but living for Jesus, being a witness for Him in every area of our life and accepting the challenge of the Gospels to be disciples, and to press on to that high calling of Jesus Christ, as Paul says.
Father, we pray that You would challenge us in our study of Your Word today. Open our eyes to the truth that we might understand in our own lives how to apply this better. We pray this is Christ’s Name. Amen.”
Our passage is in Matthew 1, starting in verse 21.
One of my favorite things to do is to read church history. I like reading through church history, something I’m doing right now in preparation for a course I’m going to teach for Chafer Seminary next year, as well as reading through Christian biography, although I don’t always have as much time to do that as I would like.
But as we read through church history, one of the things that should impress us is the number of Christians down through the centuries that have been in prison, have been tortured, that have had all of their possessions stolen from them by various governments, and even been executed—because of their faith in Christ.
Some of them lived short lives. We think that a long life when measured in years is somehow related to the fullness of life, but many martyrs of the church did not live to be a very old age.
We recognize that some lived many years in prison where they did not have food, where they may have been tortured, and where they were subject to disease. And many in fact died from disease.
We think today of Pastor Saeed Abedini who is a US citizen and a pastor from Idaho who has been in prison now for three years in Iran.
We remember that there are many believers throughout history that have suffered persecution and loss for Christ. That’s odd for us as American Christians because we live in a historical bubble. We live in a time when, since the beginning of the 1700s, Christians in this country don’t get persecuted for their faith.
I think things are changing.
Recently I read the example of one of the lesser known martyrs in church history, a man by the name of John Dick, who was young man. He was the son of an Edinburgh lawyer, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, and he studied theology there in preparation to be a minister of the Gospel.
He never made it. I would sometimes like to write a book on the martyrs who trained and prepared for the ministry, only to have their life taken as they were on the threshold of that ministry.
God had still prepared them. Their lives had significance and meaning, but not what they thought. And that’s true for all of us. Sometimes we think we know what God’s plan is for us, and it’s a different plan.
But John Dick was in preparation to be a Presbyterian minister. This was at a time when Britain’s King Charles II was restored to the throne. All Presbyterians were identified as outlaws and criminals. He was brought before the Committee of Public Affairs on August 29, 1683. They found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to death by hanging.
He was placed in the jail by the courthouse, and here I have a picture of it. This is known as the Canongate Tolbooth, and it was constructed in 1591. It had two large upper cells, and John Dick was tossed into one of them along with two dozen other religious prisoners.
The men joined together in prayer seeking God’s help as they planned a mass escape. News, though, leaked out, and then Presbyterians all over Scotland were praying for a successful breakout.
On the appointed night they sawed their way through the bars on the window, and as they did so, there was a narrow street in the back, and one of the bars fell from the window to land down on the street not far from a century. Of course, everyone held their breathe, hoping and praying that this would not have alerted the century, and it did not.
The next morning it was discovered that they had all escaped and for the next several months, they were all successful in hiding, but six months later he was the only one to be recaptured.
During that time he wrote his 58-page testimony that was entitled—they didn’t have short titles in those days, “Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government of the Church of Scotland and the Covenanted Work of Reformation in the Three Kingdoms,” which despite its title, circulated widely. It was one of the best sellers.
But he was captured, and was taken to the scaffold to be hung. On that scaffold, like so many other martyrs, he sang hymns to the glory of God. He sang from Psalm 2. He read Ezekiel 9.
He preached his last sermon, saying, “Remember when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac said, ‘Here’s the wood and the fire, but where’s the sacrifice?’ ” And John Dick turned and gazed upon the gallows and said, “Now blessed is the Lord, and here is the sacrifice,” referring to himself.
Down through the centuries there have been untold, maybe hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions of believers who have suffered for their faith in Jesus Christ, but for us as Americans we’ve never had to encounter that.
We have a life that seems to be pretty abundant with all of our material blessings and with our jobs and our careers, with all of the things that we have. But how would it be if our lives were threatened on a daily basis with the loss of everything that we have?
Now in 1683 when John Dick was martyred, the idea of freedom of religion, unhindered by and uninterrupted by the power of the state, was pretty much unknown, even in the colonies at that time.
For it wasn’t long before that that the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony kicked Roger Williams out because he didn’t agree with their Puritan theology. He went down and founded a colony now known as the State of Rhode Island.
He was always changing his theology. Baptists look to him as the first Baptist in America, but he was only a Baptist for about six months. Then he went on to other things.
But there were others in the colonies. Quakers had a difficult time until William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a haven for the Quakers.
By the time we get into the middle part of the early 1700s, there had come a recognition in the colonies that people were here because they needed to worship freely without interference from the government. That was finally set forth in law when the US Constitution was adopted, and it was made a part of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.
Let me put this up on the screen. A lot of folks haven’t read this in a while, but I think it’s important to pay attention to this.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,”
That’s been the focus. That’s called the Establishment clause.
For probably the last 50 or 60 years since WWII, most of the judicial decisions have been related to that.
But the next clause is equally significant, especially today in the light of what has happened with same-sex marriage:
“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,”
Where did you think people would freely exercise their religion? Well, if you listen to some people who are hostile to Christianity today, they say, “Well, this is fine and good. You can freely exercise your beliefs at your church. You can freely exercise your beliefs at home, but don’t bring them into the market place. Don’t bring them to work with you.”
“For heaven’s sake, if you work for the government, if you’re in the military, if you are a court official or a magistrate, you now are under the authority of the government. We have a new law that mandates that you perform same-sex marriages in violation of your conscience.”
“So free exercise, yes, but keep it at church. Don’t bring it to the market place or out in public.”
This is going to change things for a lot of Christians as we look at this new situation in the US, because the Christian life that we have experienced in a country wherein our religious expression in the public market place was not questioned, now it is being questioned.
This last week we had this county clerk in Rowan County in Kentucky arrested and put in jail because of her conviction that God has condemned same-sex marriage, and that homosexuality is a sin.
Now she’s got a lot of other strange theology, but that’s not the issue. Under the First Amendment, the issue isn’t what a person believes, but the sanctity of their belief—that they have the right to believe what they believe, that it is a sincerely held (that’s the legal language in numerous court cases), sincerely held religious belief, and that that is hers and that she has the right to that.
But that has brought about a clash. So now we see looming on the horizon for each of us the reality that suffering, persecution, and perhaps even martyrdom might visit the shores of the United States and North America.
In much of the world, Christians experience this all the time, and this has been the norm throughout the Church Age. We in America have lived in this historical bubble for about 300 years.
In the rest of the world, they don’t have a First Amendment to protect them, and when they trust in Christ they put everything at risk.
We see the headlines that blare at us every week about these Christians in Syria, Christians in Iraq who have lost everything, that ISIS has run them out of their towns and their cities, confiscated all their goods. And for many Christians in the world, this has become normal.
The sad thing with these Christians coming out of the Middle East is that the countries in Western Europe and the United States are welcoming the Moslem refugees with open arms, but they are ignoring these Christian refugees. And they are left with nothing. They are the ones who are persecuted because we live in the devil’s world.
Now this morning, we’re going to see some passages that focus on what our attitude should be in preparation for some persecution, hostility that may come at our direction, and that’s in this passage in Matthew 16.
Here’s a map giving us a little bit of the background of where Jesus is located. He has moved as we saw last week. He’s taken His disciples from down by the Sea of Galilee from Bethsaida up to a town, primarily a Gentile town, called Caesarea Philippi.
It’s distinguished as Caesarea Philippi because Philip the Tetrarch is the one who built this, as he was—as I pointed out last week—sucking up to Caesar, and he wanted to make sure he got extra benefits and brownie points for naming this town after Caesar.
Rulers did that all over. You have Caesareas in what is now Turkey, Caesareas in Syria, there’s even another Caesarea over on the Mediterranean called Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea by the Sea.
Jesus took His disciples here as I pointed out last time. It’s not really said that they went there for R&R, but He’s not going there to be with the crowds, and He’s not going there to teach.
The only thing that we’re told is He goes there to give a specific lesson to His disciples, and that’s this Q&A that takes place beginning in verse 13 when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi. He asked His disciples a question.
As He asked them this question, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?” He’s trying to get them to think through His identity and the implications of His Messianic identity.
They already knew He was the Messiah. There’s been several times up to this point that they have recognized that He’s the Messiah. In fact, at the very beginning when Andrew went to get his brother Peter, he said, “Come for we have found the Messiah.”
So as they’ve gone through the last two and a half years, the implications of that identity have gradually dawned on them more and more, and they’ve become more and more aware of that, and Jesus is just trying to bring out a little more.
He’s been training them we’ve seen since Matthew 13 for their future rule as leaders in the church. And this section culminates in that.
Then it also provides a transition for our passage this morning into Jesus’ preparation of them for what will take place in terms of His crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
So Jesus asked the whole group, He says, “Who do y’all say that I am?” Peter answered for them and said, “You’re the Messiah, the Mashiach, the Son of the Living God.”
Then Jesus said two things:
First of all, He pointed out that understanding this on the part of Peter was a blessing for Peter.
Secondly, He said that ultimately this was not something that Peter figured out on his own because of his own IQ, but because God had revealed it to him.
But then Jesus makes His point, and He gives this new teaching based on the realization of His Messiahship. He said, first of all He was going to build something new called the church.
I’ve pointed out that this is the first time the word EKKLESIA is used in reference to the church in the New Testament. It’s only used twice: here in Matthew 16 and in Matthew 18—the only two times that the word “church” is used in the Gospels, and it’s said to be something future.
It’s not already in existence. It’s something that He is going to build in the future.
He says that He’s going to build the church on this rock, which as I pointed out last time, is a reference to Himself. He’s referred to as the Chief Cornerstone.
The term “rock” is used as a name for God throughout the Old Testament, and it is a reference to Him. In fact Peter in 1 Peter will refer to Jesus as that Chief Cornerstone. He learned his lesson well.
Third, Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against Him. The gates of Hades is not Hell. Hades is a place where the dead go.
We pointed out last time that Jesus took them to this specific location near Caesarea Philippi because the backdrop of this enormous rock escarpment would also serve as a little training aid for the idea of the terminology of “rock” and the play on words that that has here.
But also that that dark opening to the left was part of a temple to Pan. Pan lived in the underworld. Pan was a Greek god who lived in Hades, and this was considered to be one of the openings to Hades. And the Greeks had built a temple there.
They would bring sacrifices and throw the sacrifices down the hole in order to placate the gods. So this was called the gates of Hades, and it refers to the place where the dead go.
What Jesus is saying when He says that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it is that death won’t prevail against Him. He’s already alluding to the fact of His resurrection. That’s the implication there.
He’s not talking about the angelic conflict. He’s not talking about the fact that Satan won’t defeat Him. He is basically saying death won’t defeat Him, and that becomes clear in His first statement that we’ll look at this morning.
Then He said in His closing statement that authority in this new entity, this church, would be given to these disciples.
As I pointed out last time in Matthew 16:19, this is always, it seems, poorly translated in our English Bibles. There’s a reason for that, and that is because translators are not always aware (they should be), but especially older translations have not always paid attention to rabbinic usage of terms.
When Jesus says, “I will give you the key to the kingdom of heaven,” He’s not talking about keys that will open up the door so people will get into Heaven. We typically think of that image of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and when you die and you arrive there, he’ll open the gate and let you in. That’s not the idea.
Having the keys was a sign of authority, a symbol of authority, and scribes in Judaism would carry keys as a sign of their authority.
So He’s talking about the fact that “I will give you authority in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s not the church. As we’ve studied, the term “kingdom of Heaven” consistently refers to the Millennial Kingdom.
Now generally speaking, Matthew has used the term “kingdom of Heaven.” But on four occasions he uses the term “kingdom of God,” but in all of the parallel passages in Mark and in Luke, they use the phrase “kingdom of God” consistently, whereas Matthew uses the term “kingdom of Heaven” probably because he’s sensitive to his Jewish audience.
Jews are very careful with the name of God, and you’ll sometimes see when you’re reading Jewish literature that they will spell the name God “G-d” to indicate they’re showing respect. They’re not going to pronounce the name.
In the Old Testament whenever you would have the name Yahweh written in the text, the proper name of God, the vowels that the Masoretes put under that name in the Hebrew text were the vowels from the Hebrew word Adonai, meaning Lord.
It was a hint to the reader that when you read this out loud, don’t say Yahweh, say Adonai instead.
So when you take the vowels from Adonai and put them with the consonants from Yahweh, it came out with this invented word that was first used by a monk in about the 14th century called Jehovah.
There’s no such word “Jehovah” in the Hebrew. There’s either Yahweh or Adonai, but there’s this combination that occurred, and so that lead to an invented name for God.
So the “kingdom of Heaven” always refers to this Messianic future kingdom. He’s talking about the authority that they will have in the kingdom. He’s not talking about the Church Age, but He’s talking about the future kingdom.
Then He says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
There are a lot of different interpretations of that, but if you start off thinking the keys of the kingdom have to do with getting into Heaven, then you think binding and loosing has to do with getting into Heaven. And that’s a popular understanding.
But probably the best way to understand this, because the terms of “binding” and “loosing” were used idiomatically in rabbinic literature for making a decision, is this: if they bound something, that was positive; if they loosed, they wouldn’t allow it. So they would either prohibit it, or they would allow it. And that was standard rabbinic terminology.
So basically Jesus is saying, “Whatever you prohibit—and it’s a perfect tense verb meaning it will have already been prohibited in Heaven—and whatever you permit on earth will have already been permitted in heaven.”
Basically what that translates to, to put into our vernacular a little more, “Whatever you forbid on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be whatever is already permitted in heaven.”
Then Jesus said, as we closed out last time, He told them, “Don’t tell anybody that you recognize this.”
Now why did He say that?
Because it’s going to cause a great commotion. Again it’s already been announced that He’s the Messiah. It’s not like He’s saying don’t every tell anybody. They’ve been telling people for three years. He’s saying, “Calm down a little bit because we don’t want to stir up trouble ahead of time.”
He’s on a time schedule now, and the crucifixion has to occur in light of biblical prophecy in Jerusalem on Passover. So He’s telling them to just keep it quiet for now.
Then in verse 21 He begins to teach them something else. This phrase begins “From that time”. Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised the third day.
After announcing to them that He’s going to build this new entity and that they’ve got authority in the kingdom of Heaven, their minds are already filled with the glories of the kingdom. Because remember, they’re products of their Jewish culture, and the Jewish culture at that time had looked at the prophecies in the Old Testament. Like most of us, we overlook the bad things and focus on the good things.
When they read about the Messiah, they primarily thought about the Messiah who was going to bring in this glorious kingdom. And the primary view at that time was that the Messiah would come and that He would raise up an army in Israel. He would defeat the Romans, and He would re-establish David’s kingdom on the earth.
And they completely ignored the prophecies that were related to His suffering and related to the Cross.
This is typical. They wanted the crown without the Cross. They wanted the glory without the suffering. So they ignored that. And like their counterparts in the culture, the disciples were still very much focused on this earthly glorious kingdom.
In fact, after the crucifixion and His burial, resurrection, just before the ascension, what’s one of the last questions that the disciples ask Jesus? “Is it now that You’re going to bring in the kingdom?”
Even at that point, they still hadn’t quite grasped the fact that this kingdom was going to be postponed. It’s not that it was going to be a spiritual kingdom, but that this literal, geophysical kingdom that the Messiah was going to establish was going to be postponed, and it would not come until His Second Coming.
In fact, in this very passage we’re looking at, if you look down at Matthew 16:27, we have the first hint, the first suggestion of the Second Coming that we have in the New Testament, where Jesus says the Son of man will come.
He talks in verse 21 about the fact that He will be killed and raised the third day. And then in verse 27 He says, “The Son of man will come.”
That’s the first indication of what the general outline of the future is. Jesus is going to be crucified, He’s going to be buried, He’s going to rise from the dead, and then sometime later, He’s going to come back. And that will be a second time. So actually, verse 27 is the first hint of the Second Coming.
Now Jesus begins to talk to them about what is going to take place. He’s going to prepare them for what is happening. Matthew uses this phrase “from that time” and that indicates a shift in Jesus’ teaching.
From Matthew 13 to this point, we have seen Jesus teaching and training His disciples. But from this point to the crucifixion, Jesus is preparing His disciples for the crucifixion and what will come afterward. And they still don’t quite get it.
This phrase “from that time” forward was used previously by Matthew in Matthew 4:17 when He introduced the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after He comes back from being tempted in the wilderness.
So this is a clear indication that a major shift is taking place in the way that Matthew is presenting the life of Jesus, and He says, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples.”What He’s going to do is to help them understand what is about to take place.
He’s hinted at this a little bit. He’s suggested that His death was impending. For example, in Matthew 12:40, He says that the Son of man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
In John 2:19 which actually takes place very early in Jesus’ public ministry, He said to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.”
In John 12:7 He talked about His burial.
In passages such as Matthew 17:9; 12:22, 23 He will talk about the fact that the Son of man will die, and then be raised from the dead after He has suffered at the hands of His enemies.
So Jesus is continuously mentioning this, but their minds just can’t wrap around the idea that their Messiah, their Jesus, is going to be crucified. He’s so wonderful! He’s so great! Look at how He’s fed the crowds. Look at His teaching. How in the world can He be crucified? This just can’t happen.
But Matthew says He began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem. The word that is used there in the Greek is interesting because it’s not that this is probably going to happen, but this is necessary to happen. That’s the idea here, that God’s plan must be fulfilled. It’s necessary for these things to take place in this way.
We should ask the question, why is it necessary? Why is it necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem? Why is it necessary for Him to suffer many things? In the hands of the religious leaders, why is it necessary for Him to be killed? Why is it necessary for Him to be raised on the third day?
The first reason, of course the obvious one, is because of sin, because of spiritual death that came into human experience when Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At that instant, he died spiritually, and it plunged all of the universe [into the corruption from sin]. It didn’t just affect Adam and Eve. It affected all of creation because Paul says in Romans 8 that the creation groans awaiting the redemption of the Son of God.
All of the universe, the entire universe came under the corruption of sin. So it’s necessary for the penalty for sin to be paid in order for God to redeem not only the human race, but in order to redeem creation.
That payment for sin has to be paid because of the character of God, because His righteousness demands a sin penalty. His justice demands that that penalty be consistent with the decree of death, and that that spiritual death must be paid for by a qualified substitute. No human being, no creature could qualify for that.
This was the argument that Athanasius used in defense of the eternality of the Second Person of the Trinity—that only someone eternal, someone infinite could provide a death that would have infinite and eternal value.
So Jesus says it’s necessary. Four things are necessary:
- First of all He has to go to Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem?
Because Jerusalem is the focal point of the prophetic plan. Jerusalem is the place where the temple was located. Jerusalem is the place, the mountains of Moriah, the temple is on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
This is the place to which Abraham took his son Isaac, an early picture of the substitutionary death of the Messiah. As he took Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him, God provided a substitute sacrifice through a ram that was caught in the brush, and Abraham sacrificed the lamb instead of his son there on Mount Moriah, that this is foreshadowing of what would take place eventually.
Jerusalem is where He will be crucified. This is what has been predicted by the prophets. So He has to go there because this is the predicted place of His crucifixion.
- He has to suffer many things because the suffering is the result of His rejection, that He came offering Himself as the King, offering Himself as the sacrifice, but that He would be rejected. This is indicated in the first two verses of Isaiah 53. He would be rejected.
- Third, He’s going to be killed. And the word that’s used here in the Gospels, APOKTEINO, which can refer to other categories of killing, most often it refers to a violent form of death, often murder, but in the New Testament where it occurs 74 times, it is most often used in the four Gospels, and it is used to refer to the violent killing of God’s messengers again and again. So the word that is used here indicates and connects Him to rejection and to death.
Years later Peter will write about this blood of Christ, spotless and without blemish, He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
- And then it’s necessary that He be raised up on the third day so that He can demonstrate newness of life and in preparation for His future return and Second Coming.
Now Jesus starts to teach this, and He’s showing them probably from the Scripture because the word there indicates He shows them something. He begins to show His disciples He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed and raised from the dead.
When Peter hears this, he just can’t get his mind around it. It doesn’t make sense to him because he expects this glorious kingdom. So in arrogance we see the reaction that he has to this.
I want you to just picture this scene. Jesus is instructing The Twelve that He’s going to be rejected, He’s going to be killed, He’s going to die, He’s going to be raised from the dead.
And Peter, who has been on this mountain top emotional experience because he got such praise from Jesus just a few moments earlier when Jesus said, “Well, who do you say that I am?” And he said, “Well, you’re the Messiah, you’re the Son of God,” and Jesus praised him for that—and now he’s hearing that this Jesus that he loves, who is the Messiah, that He’s going to die.
Peter just can’t think like that. So he says, “Lord, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let’s just take a little break here, and let’s have a little chat.” So he takes the Lord aside, and he basically starts to straighten Jesus out. Now you ought to know that right away you’re in trouble when you try to straighten Jesus out on something. But Peter is blind to what is going on here.
Then we see this incredible reaction from the Lord. The Lord reacts and uses language that’s the same language that He used in the third temptation with Satan. He says, “Get out of here! Be gone!” That’s what he said to Satan. He uses that same terminology, and He says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
So what is happening here as Peter takes Him aside, he begins to rebuke Him and says, “Lord this shouldn’t happen to You!”
Now what we see pictured here is this conflict between man’s way of thinking and God’s way of thinking. We see the conflict between divine viewpoint, which looks at history through the lens of redemption, through the lens of the angelic conflict, through the lens of God’s need to provide a solution to sin, and what that must be, and man’s idea of what is necessary to bring glory.
So Peter is still operating on human viewpoint and on his ideas, and Jesus has to straighten him out.
It is so true that even believers (for these guys have been believers for a couple of years; they’ve been sitting at the feet of Jesus for a couple of years), but just like many believers today, they can get pretty confused and get off on the wrong foot and get involved with human viewpoint thinking.
It’s an example of God’s plan versus man’s plan, and God’s thinking versus man’s thinking. Peter shows his foolishness. But you see, this is what is indicative of human viewpoint.
Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Now that’s not talking about physical death. That’s talking about a death-like existence. When we are born, we’re born physically alive and spiritually dead.
But when we trust in Christ, we become spiritually alive. But Paul says in Romans 6 that we can continue to live in death. We can continue to live like we’re spiritually dead.
That’s what happens when we walk according to the sin nature, and why it’s necessary to confess our sin and to be restored to fellowship. Otherwise, we live on the basis of human viewpoint, and it results in a death-like existence.
In Proverbs 8:36 we read, “But he who sins against me—that’s the personification of wisdom which is the thinking of God—he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death.”
You ever think about that, that when you’re involved in sin, that what you’re basically saying is “I hate life and I love death? I hate wisdom, I love foolishness?” Because essentially that’s what we’re saying.
Proverbs 14:27 says, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.”
So the Bible presents this bi-polar reality. It’s either death or life. It’s either wisdom or foolishness. It’s either walking by the spirit or walking according to the sin nature. It’s either the truth of God or it’s a lie.
There’s no middle ground. There’s no mix-up of a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s God’s way or no way. And when it’s not God’s way, then it conforms to Satan.
I talk a lot about human viewpoint, but human viewpoint is Satan’s viewpoint because Satan is the adversary. That’s what the term means. He’s the adversary of God, and he is the one who seeks to destroy God’s plan and purposes. He has a better way.
He has a better idea, and so Satan’s plan is to prevent Jesus from paying the penalty for sin and carrying out God’s redemptive plan. So that kind of thinking is what influences Peter.
Think about this: whenever you are operating on human viewpoint, you’re basically operating as the devil’s disciple. You’re basically operating on human viewpoint, on lies, and on your concept of how reality ought to work rather than God’s way.
In human viewpoint, it’s the glory, the political power, and the success that is primary. But in divine viewpoint, the path to glory was through suffering. The path to success was through failure. The path to power was being abused by the human empirical power of Rome.
What Peter is saying to Jesus is that “Your death doesn’t fit with my understanding of who You are and what You should do. You’re too important to die, so let’s change the plan.” That’s what we think often in our arrogance.
But Jesus turns to him and says, “Get behind Me, Satan”, your thinking is Satan’s thinking, so you are acting like the devil’s disciples at this point, and “you are an offense to Me.”
Now what’s interesting is this word for offense is the same word that is used to describe Jesus as the rock of offense, the stumbling block, in the prediction of Isaiah 8:14, which is referenced by Peter and quoted by Peter in 1 Peter 2:8.
So the Jesus who is the stumbling block, who is the true rock, is now accusing Peter—remember the little rock—He’s now accusing Peter, the little rock, of being the rock of offense.
So we recognize that we only have two options: We’re either going to be in line with God’s plan or the devil’s plan, and we need to focus on divine things and not human things.
Jesus uses this then to address the whole group—must have been a little embarrassing for Peter after one minute before he was highly praised, and now Jesus calls him the devil—and then Jesus uses that as a teaching point in front of the other eleven disciples. Talk about a lesson in humility!
“Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’ ”
We’ve seen this before. He’s mentioned this in Matthew 10:38, and used this same imagery of taking up a cross and following Me.
Jesus is talking about following Him. This passage is not about getting eternal life. This is about realizing the fullness of life. This is not a passage about how to get to Heaven.
The Gospel isn’t, “take up your cross and follow Me.” The Gospel isn’t, “deny yourself.” The Gospel isn’t good news based on works. The Gospel is based on the good news that all we have to do is to have faith in Christ.
That is the free gift of salvation. “For by grace we have been saved through faith and not of ourselves. It is the gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Salvation is a free gift. However, there is a distinction between the free gift of salvation and the rewards that come to a faithful servant. And that’s what lies behind the whole call of discipleship.
Discipleship is not becoming saved. All disciples are believers but not all believers are disciples. A person who is trusting Christ as Savior is a believer, but then the challenge comes: are you willing to follow Jesus? And to what degree are you willing to follow Jesus? Are we just willing to follow Him maybe 10% or 30%? Or are we willing to follow Him completely?
So Jesus is laying down the conditions here for those who are going to be true followers of Jesus. He talks about the fact that He is going to be persecuted. He’s going to suffer many things, and He’s going to be killed and raised on the third day.
What we know is that Jesus is going to go through rejection. He’s going to go through betrayal. He will experience hostility. He will be arrested. He will be brought up on unjust charges. He will be publicly scorned and ridiculed and He will be deserted by His closest friends and associates.
He will suffer physical pain. He will suffer heartache. He will be tortured unmercifully, and He will die a horrible, agonizing death. Now He says “if you want to follow Me, you’ve got to be willing to step to the plate also.”
Now see, that’s a challenge. But what’s the alternative? See, what Jesus says here is that if we want to have real life, then we have to be willing to deny ourselves, and to take up that cross and follow Him.
Well, what that means in Roman culture: You couldn’t crucify a Roman citizen, and they were under the authority of Rome. But if you were a non-Roman, if you were a Jew, if you were a criminal who had violated the authority of Rome, then when you were going to be executed with this horrific death, and then you would carry your cross—just the crossbeam.
You would carry that cross to the place of execution, and along the way you’d be beaten and you’d be whipped and you’d be ridiculed. The point was a visible show to everyone that you had now been forced to submit to the authority of Rome.
This became an idiom in the ancient world—that the person who took up his cross was someone who submitted to authority.
What Jesus says here is you’ve got to give up your own ideas of authority and doing it your way, and you have to be willing to submit to the authority of God no matter what that brings in your life, and “follow Me.”
In Matthew 10:38 He said, “the one who doesn’t take up his cross is not worthy of Me.”
What Jesus is saying is that in human viewpoint the path is straight to glory without the suffering. We don’t want the hardship—we just want the treasure.
But what the Scripture says is the path to glory for God is through suffering. That’s what was involved in His mission as the Messiah.
Look at 1 Peter 1:10, 11. We studied this by way of introduction in our 1 Peter study on Thursday night, and we’ll get into this in more detail coming up. But often when people look at this verse, they’re thinking only in terms of the work that Christ did on the Cross and that work of salvation.
But when Peter starts in verse 10, he says, “Of this salvation.” We’ve seen that this is salvation or deliverance from the sufferings of this life. That’s the context in verses 8 and 9.
So then Peter says, “Of this salvation”—that is this idea that we have to go through suffering and testing as God refines us through the difficulties and the heartaches of life to trust in Him. That is how we grow.
And the prophets, he says, came to realize this, that the Messiah didn’t come in glory first, but that He would suffer first. The path to glory came through the Cross first, and then the crown.
In verse 10 he says, “Of this salvation—this deliverance through fiery trials—the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”
They understood that. Old Testament prophets understood. It was the cross first, then the crown. But in the first century, they didn’t understand that. They had forgotten about the suffering part.
But God has promised us that we can handle the suffering. This is Paul’s attitude. This is how our attitude should be when we face the opposition of the world.
Paul says, “I also count all things loss.”
What do you put first? Your pleasure, your comfort, your job, your career, the ability to pay your bills? Or do you put Bible class first? Do you put growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ first? Do you put your spiritual life first no matter what else matters?
Paul says, “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for who I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish”—that’s a nice, cleaned up word. Actually, it’s manure, that’s cleaned up a little too, SKYBALA.
He says, “I count all things manure that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection—and what?—and the fellowship of His sufferings.”
See, if you want to be a disciple, it’s not just arranging your schedule so you show up at Bible class two or three times a week or that you read your Bible for 15 minutes every morning. A lot of Christians can’t figure out how to do that. I feel sorry for them.
If you can’t figure out how to arrange your priorities in your scheduled to make the Word of God your greatest priority so that you can truly grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and be strengthened in your soul for the difficult times that come, then when those difficult times come, and they’re coming…
We have seen the first Christian in the history of this country put in jail for her faith. This is a new world. If you can’t rearrange your schedule to make the Word of God your priority, then you’re going to have serious trouble in the years to come. We have to prepare now before the times are necessary.
Another great promise, 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly will be persecuted.”
Doesn’t that make you feel warm all over? American’s in the past took that academically, but now it looks like it could be a reality.
But Paul says, in Philippians 4:12, 13, “I know how to be abased, I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things”—what he has just said is, “I know how to be hungry. I know how to be in prison. I know how to have nothing.” And then he says—“I know how to be full. I know how to have everything and be prosperous, and I know how to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I can’t tell you how many times you hear some athlete who says, “I’m going to go out and win the game, or I can do better in this competition because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
This is not what this is saying. That means that I can handle the good times and the bad times because Jesus strengthens me.
Jesus drives the point home in verse 25. He says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
That’s the opposite of what people think. We want to preserve our life, and the idea here is that if we want to save our life and live it on our terms, it won’t be the life that we think it will be. It’s not going to bring us the happiness, the joy, the peace. It may bring us comfort and security and stability for a time, but it’s not going to last.
He says if you really want life, if you want to know the fullness of life, if you want to really enjoy life…
Sometimes you hear young people say, “I just want to live life to the fullest.” If you want to live life to the fullest, then it’s not doing what you want—it’s doing what God wants.
It’s living your life in obedience to Him, and sometimes that leads to the jail and to the dungeon. Sometimes it leads to martyrdom. Sometimes it leads to losing everything that you hold dear in this life. But what matters is the glory that comes afterwards because we have lived our life for Christ.
Jesus says the same thing in John 12:25. He says, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who haves his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
What’s the condition? “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me.” We have to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that to make this choice is wise, because if you want to really have life, then we have to follow Him.
If your personal career or money or comfort or home or children or any other detail of life is more important to you than the Word of God and your spiritual life, then what Jesus is saying is, you’ll ultimately lose life, and you won’t really have it.
He’s not talking about going to the Lake of Fire here. He’s talking about what He referred to in other passages of Scripture as the abundant life. Remember Jesus went to the cross, and He died there and suffered there for us—not because the Cross was joyful, but because of what it would accomplish.
Hebrews 12:2, “It was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross.”
We may be called upon in this life to follow the Lord through difficult, devastating circumstances to maintain our faithfulness and to obey Him. But that’s the path to life. That’s not the path to loss. But human viewpoint says that’s the path to loss. We may experience incredible pain, suffering, and heartache because we’re going to do the right thing.
I can’t tell you how many people I know, young people, older people, people in their 30s, people in their 40s. I know young women in their 30s and 40s that would make incredible wives, but they can’t find a man that’s worth it. I know some men that would make great husbands, but they can’t find women who are focused on spiritual truth. Sometimes I think we ought to get them all together, but that’s not necessarily going to work.
But we live in a culture where you have to keep your priorities. I know people who have had jobs, and they’ve been asked to do things in their job or in their career that violates their conscience, their belief in the Word of God.
In some cases, they’ve been able to work out some sort of agreement with their employer. By the way that is legally mandated by the civil rights act—that an employer cannot force an employee, even a government employee, cannot force an employee to violate their conscience, unless it’s going to cost them a tremendous amount of money or be extremely difficult for them to accommodate them. But they’re required to accommodate by law under the First Amendment.
That’s something that has to come into play in reference to some of these cases. There are dozens and dozens of county clerks and magistrates across this country who are refusing to assign marriage certificates for same-sex marriage because of their Christian beliefs.
And we have this one, I think it’s going to be a test case with Kim Davis in Kentucky. We have to recognize there can be a third way. It’s not go to jail or give up your job.
I’ve heard Christians say, “Well, she needs to give up her job.” No she doesn’t, because the implications of this are incredible.
This is going to impact every government employee, everybody in the military services. Everybody who works for the government is going to be impacted on this one where eventually all the rest of us will be impacted also.
It’s not “quit your job,” because she has a guarantee in the First Amendment. And that guarantee is an absolute. The employer (the government) also has a right, that these government services that she’s supposed to provide should be provided.
The citizens of that county need to expect that the county government is going to provide those services. So there are limitations on her as well.
There’s other ways. North Carolina passed a law, I don’t have the exact verbiage in front of me, but in North Carolina basically the state government made a provision that there would be a work around in the case of magistrates who believed, on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs, that they could not perform same-sex marriage.
It’s a Daniel 1 conclusion. Remember in Daniel 1 when the Babylonians were going to force all the Jews to eat a non-kosher diet, and Daniel went to the chief of the eunuchs, and he said, “Let’s work out a deal. We’re going to put us on our diet, and then at the end of a certain amount of time, you can weigh us, and you can test us, and you can see who’s healthier, who’s stronger, who’s better.” And the eunuch said, “OK, we’ll work out a deal.”
See there was a compromise that was made, and that can happen. But in some cases that’s not going to happen. Jesus couldn’t compromise, and He went to the Cross.
“And for the joy set before Him, He despised the shame for the glory that would come when He set down at the right hand of God the Father.”
What we’re talking about here is life. Jesus says if you want to have real life, the path to life is giving up what you want in order to serve Him completely. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
John 10:10, He said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
That’s what we’re talking about here. Is it you just want to be saved and that’s it? Or do you want to have the abundant, rich, full life, real living that comes with perusing spiritual growth and spiritual maturity?
Then Jesus closes out, He says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world?”
What profit is it if you have a great family? What profit is it if you live in a nice home? What profit is it if you get your PhD or you rise to a high executive position, and you make a high 6-figure salary or a 7-figure salary? What profit is it and he loses his own soul? What profit is it if you do that and you don’t have real life? You sacrifice your spiritual life in order to gain things in this world.
So He says, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” That’s not eternal death. The word soul there also means life. You just give up this abundant life.
“Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Is it worth it to have success in human terms and to lose success in God’s terms?
Then the warning, verse 27, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father”—this is the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation—“will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Are you going to sit there with your hand empty at the Judgment Seat of Christ or when you die and you come into the presence of your Savior, are you going to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Which is it?
The issue in this passage isn’t getting eternal life—that’s believing in Jesus Christ alone. The issue that Jesus is pointing out is it goes beyond that. If you want to follow Me, are you willing to accept the cross, the difficulties, the heartaches, the suffering that may come with it in order to have real life?
That’s the challenge for us. Are we willing to rearrange our schedules, rearrange our lives to make the spiritual priorities first and foremost so that our lives count for eternity? The result will be an abundant life today.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to look at the truth of Your Word, to be challenged with what it means to follow You. It’s not as simple as just showing up at Bible class once or twice a week or taking notes or spending some time in Christian fellowship, reading our Bible 10 or 15 minutes a day, but really truly following the Lord Jesus Christ, being willing to take the hit, being willing to lose that which we desperately desire in order to serve You, to have our lives count for eternity.
Father, we want to make it clear to anyone who may not be saved, who may not have a sure and certain sense of their eternal life that you only get that through faith in Christ. It’s not on works. We don’t get saved by following Jesus, denying ourselves or taking up a cross. We get saved by trusting that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. He paid the penalty, and that free gift is ours by simply believing in Him.
Father, we pray that You’d challenge us with what we’ve studied today. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”