“Follow Me” (Matthew 16:21-27)
Salvation is all of grace (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:4-5). The Bible gives us no room at all for us to think that we are somehow saved as the result of any good deeds that we do. We are saved by the grace of God alone on the grounds of Christ’s finished work alone as we believe in Him. And yet, Jesus makes clear in this passage that when we come to receive that grace, we must recognize what it will cost us. You aren’t saved because of the price you pay to follow Christ, but when you enter into this gracious salvation, it must be in the understanding that it will cost you your selfish life, and possibly much more.
I. The Cost of Being the Christ (verses 21-23)
In Matthew 16:16, Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now that Jesus’ disciples are fully aware of who He is, they also have to be fully aware of what He must undergo. Therefore, “from that time,” Jesus now begins to tell them exactly what He “must” suffer in Jerusalem, and that He must rise again (verse 21). When they hear words like “Christ” and “Son of God” their minds would immediately jump to concepts like power, authority, glory, kingdom, etc. However, the glory that belongs to Him would would only come on the other side of the cross.
Peter, however, simply can’t understand how it could be that the Messiah who came to deliver Israel would die. So, he rebukes Jesus and attempts to turn Him away from the things He is saying (verse 22). Jesus counters with an even stronger rebuke, calling Peter “Satan” (verse 23). His words, “Get behind me, Satan,” (lit. “Go behind, Satan”) are reminiscent of his final words to Satan in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:10). Satan was attempting to convince Jesus that there was an easier way to gain the kingdoms of the world, a way that wouldn’t involve suffering. And now, in a similar way, functioning as Satan’s mouthpiece, it’s as though Peter is attempting to convince Jesus that there is an easier path marked out for the Christ. Surely God would not allow His own Son to suffer the way that Jesus has described!
Jesus’ response is immediate. He doesn’t waste any time discussing the matter with Peter; He simply puts him in his place, recognizing the stumbling block that Peter was in that moment. He has no interest in entertaining another word from Peter as long as he continues to set his mind on man’s interests, rather than God’s. As one commentator stated it: “Jesus does not for one moment entertain the tempting thought or turn it over in his mind. Here is an example for us who frequently dally with the serpent and then find his poisonous fangs lodged in us.”
II. The Cost of Following the Christ (Verses 24-27)
Though the cost is of a different nature (i.e. not an atoning sacrifice), Jesus says here that all of His disciples must walk in a similar path if they are going to follow Him. He says there are three things that must be true of anyone who wishes to come after Him. First, he must deny himself, separating himself or parting ways with selfish desires and the priority of self, in exchange for Christ and Christ’s priorities. Second, he must take up his cross. For the disciples, the idea of taking up a cross for them would have been very real and literal. They would have understood Jesus to be saying, “If someone is going to follow me, he must be prepared to follow me even to martyrdom.” The same heart of determination to be faithful to Christ no matter the cost must belong to every disciple of Christ, even where literal martyrdom may not be an immediate threat. Third, he must follow Him, living a life of constant, devoted obedience. The expectation for all of Jesus’ disciples is that they continually abide in His love by keeping His commandments (John 15:10).
The incentive for this costly decision to follow Christ is the promise of true and lasting life (verse 25-26). The person who wishes to preserve their selfish life now will suffer the consequence of losing their soul to the torments of hell forever. On the other hand, the one who gives up everything to follow Jesus now will never be disappointed. There is nothing that you could possibly give up for Christ’s sake that compares with the life you will find in Him. And the assurance for both of these individuals—the sober warning for the one who refuses Him and the comfort for the one who follows Him—is that He is coming soon in glory to repay all for their deeds (verse 27).
- Why would Jesus say that He “must” go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and be raised? What are some of the reasons for this sense of absolute necessity?
- In what ways is the cross we are to bear similar to Christ’s? In what ways is it different?
- Is there anything at all that is keeping you from full, unhindered obedience to Jesus Christ? Are you following Him no matter the cost to yourself? Are you living in light of the joy and hope that belong to all who forsake this life to find true life in Him?