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Sunday, March 17, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Take Up His Cross”

“Take Up His Cross”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 17, 2019 :: Matthew 16:21-28

The first verse of our passage for today marks a major turning point in the book.

Last week (in verses 13 through 20), Jesus was about as far away as he ever got from the city of Jerusalem. He was up north in Caesarea Philippi, and He asked His disciples “THE QUESTION.” The question that this theological biography of Matthew has been asking and answering for us from chapter one, verse one.

“Who is Jesus?”

Jesus said to them, “Who do you say I am?”

And we thought together of how there are several potential answers to that question: liar, lunatic, legend, or Lord.

And how you answer that question determines the course of your life both now and forever.

Well, do you remember what Simon Peter’s answer was to that question?

Peter passed that test with an A+! He said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

That’s right! God gave Peter the correct answer.

And then Jesus gave Peter a big promise. He named him, “Rock” and said that on the basis of his right answer to the big question, Jesus would build His new covenant community, the church, on the Rock of Peter and his right answer.

And He would give Peter and the church the authority needed to be an unstoppable force for the kingdom of heaven. Not even death can prevail against us.

Jesus said, “I will build my church.”

And so now in verse 21, Jesus turns a major corner.

He begins to set His face towards Jerusalem.

No more strategic withdrawals to a Gentile-populated territory.

He begins to head towards His fate.

And He begins to explain in plain terms to His disciples exactly what was going to happen to Him.

In fact, He began to explain what kind of a Christ He was going to be.

Peter was right that He was the Christ, but he didn’t really know what that meant.

In verse 20, Jesus told them not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.

That was because they didn’t understand what that was!

But now He was going to explain it to them.

Let’s read the first verse. Verse 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, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Finally, today, we are going to get to our Hide the Word verse. Matthew 16:24. This has been our memory verse since like the second Sunday of January. I thought we’d reach it more quickly than we did.

But it’s been good to repeat it over and over again.

Say it with me once more:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

“Take Up His Cross.”

What a thought that is!

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ...and we all do, right? That’s why we’re here. If you want to be a follower of Jesus (that’s the focus of our whole series on the Gospel of Matthew, following Jesus), then you need to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him.

Maybe this should be our memory verse all year long!

It’s definitely worth meditating on.

But before Jesus tells us to take up our cross, He tells us that He will be taking up His.

I have two main points this morning, and here’s number one:

#1. JESUS HAD TO TAKE UP HIS CROSS FOR US.

Let’s look more closely at verse 21.

There is a tiny little word in verse 21 that is just mind-blowing.

“From that time on [from the time when Peter got the question right] Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Now, we are very familiar with this, but it was news to the disciples.

Jesus has alluded to this all along. There have been hints and foretastes.

But now Jesus is making it explicit and crystal clear.

He will be suffering. He says, “suffering many things.”

That’s an understatement, isn’t it? When you read to the end of this book. What He went through...the trial, the torture, the mockery.

They spit on Him!

They pressed a crown made of thorns onto His head.

So that His head was bleeding.

Jesus knew that was coming.

He will be suffering many things.

He will be killed. Unthinkable.

And...on the third day rise again.

Which is amazing news that is even harder to understand.

It says in verse 21 that Jesus “began to explain” this to them. He’s going to do it several more times as the book unfolds. This is the first of three or four major predictions of His passion.

It becomes the theme of the last half of this book.

And did you catch the little word that packs such a big punch?

M-U-S-T

“He must got to Jerusalem. He must suffer many things. He must be killed...”

The Greek word is for “must” even smaller. It’s only three letters: delta epsilon iota.

“dei”

In New Testament Greek, that almost always means it’s a divine necessity.

God requires it.

It must happen.

This is something Jesus MUST do.

Jesus had to take up His cross for us.

Now, that’s not the kind of thing that Peter had in mind when He said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ.

That’s not the kind of thing that most people in Jesus’ day thought the Messiah ought to do.

The Messiah, they thought, should be their rescuer from the Romans.

The Messiah should conquer.

The Messiah should bring a conquering kingdom.

Not be killed on a cross!

So, Peter decides to rebuke Jesus.

Yes, you heard that right.

Peter, I think was feeling his wheaties, from his A+ answer in verse 16, so he decides to correct Jesus, and that never goes well. V.22

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

Well, I’m glad that He loved Jesus. I’m glad that He didn’t want to see Jesus be hurt.

But Peter went from an A+ to F- minus. V.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 things of God, but the things of men.’”

So much for Peter being the first pope.

He certainly wasn’t infallible. The first thing he said after being told that he was the Rock, was that he was an unwitting spokesman for Satan!

“Get behind me, Satan. [Cut it out. Get out of here.] You are a rock alright, but it’s a stumbling rock. You’re trying to tempt me. To tempt me to give up doing things God’s way and do things Satan’s way.”

“Satan already tried this approach in the desert (chapter 3)! He tried to get me to acquire the kingdom without the cross. To go around the cross.”

“But it doesn’t work that way.”

“I’ve got to go through the cross.”

“That’s God’s way.”

Jesus had to take up His cross for us.

That’s what God said.

Any way of trying to bring the kingdom without going through the cross was (v.23) man’s way, not God’s way.

The cross is God’s way.

This is profound.

Jesus knew what being the Christ really meant.

Yes, it will mean conquering.

But first it means being crucified.

Yes, it will mean the kingdom.

But first it will mean the cross.

Jesus knew that the Messiah was predicted not just in just in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110.

But also in Isaiah 53.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus had to take up His cross or we would not be saved.

It was the Lord’s will.

On that day, Peter did not understand. But thankfully the Lord is patient with us, and eventually Peter did understand. Probably better than most.

In His first letter, Peter riffs on Isaiah 53 when he says, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

This is God’s way of doing things.

It’s different from the world’s way. It’s different from man’s way. And it’s definitely different from Satan’s way.

The world, the flesh, and the devil will tell you that you can have all kinds of blessing with no suffering.

“Just name it and claim it.”

There are people who claim to be Christians who teach this sort of thing.

“You don’t have to suffer.”

“God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.”

“And live your best life now.”

But Jesus had to suffer.

Paradoxically, in God’s plan, suffering is the path to glory.

The kingdom comes through the cross.

But Jesus is not the only one who has a cross to take up.

Jesus is not the only one who is called to walk the path of suffering.

Following Jesus also calls for cross-bearing. v.24 Our “Hide the Word” verse.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Not only did Jesus have to take up His cross for us, but:

#2. JESUS CALLS US TO TAKE UP OUR CROSS FOR HIM.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

It means self-denial and cross-bearing.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me,” that’s another way of saying, “If anyone wants to be my disciple.”

Sometimes we say “come after me” to mean “chase after me to arrest me or harm me.”

But this is literally saying to drop into line behind Jesus.

He’s going this way, and I’m right behind Him.

Jesus says that if anyone wants to line up behind Jesus, there are just a few simple ground rules. Simple but not easy.

#1. Deny yourself.
And #2. Take up your cross.
And #3. Go ahead and follow Him.

Deny yourself.

What does that mean?

Does that mean fasting? Does that mean giving up nice things?

Sometimes, I think it does. It can lead to that.

But to deny here basically means to “renounce yourself.”

Not just to deny yourself some good thing for a time, but to repudiate yourself.

I would add “as lord.”

To deny yourself as your lord.

To give up being the boss of your life. To disown yourself as the lord of your own life. The captain of your soul.

To stop following yourself.

Stop following yourself.

Have you done that?

The shorthand word for that in the Bible is to repent.

To turn around from following yourself, your own desires, your own path, your own lordship, and take up your cross.

That means to count yourself as dead.

Or as good as dead.

These people had all seen a cross do its terrible work.

We have not seen it, and we would puke if we did.

It’s a shocking metaphor that Jesus would call us to take up our cross.

For Him, it wasn’t a metaphor.

And for some of his disciples, it wasn’t a metaphor either.

Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down.

I think that Jesus wants to be ready to take this cross thing literally. WE must be ready to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake.

To accept the rejection of the world.

To live our lives as on a death march to the world, the devil, and our own flesh.

To deny yourself and take up your cross.

That’s what it means to follow.

How are you doing at that?

How are you doing at denying yourself?

That’s not a question that we ask ourselves enough.

How are you doing at living a life of repentance?

One pastor has written this about v.24:

“Christ-follower, how’s the self-denial going? Are you saying not to sin, those sins that so easily entangle you? And are you saying yes to Christ, doing something difficult for Jesus’ sake? Do you sacrifice time, money, convenience, comfort, safety to do those things that Jesus especially sees–the list he gives at judgment day–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned? Yes, self-denial is the sum of the Christian life.” Douglas O’Donnell (“Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth,” pg. 462).

I was struck last Sunday when Abe prayed for the Wild Game Dinner.

He prayed for all of the same things that I would have if I were the prayer coordinator for this outreach.

But he also prayed that God would humble us.

And I thought, “Huh. I wouldn’t have prayed that. I need that. But I wouldn’t have thought to pray that.”

When was the last time that you prayed that the Lord would humble you?

When was the last time that you prayed for the Lord’s help in denying yourself?

Of renouncing yourself as your own lord.

Jesus says that it crucial! Look at the “for” in verse 25.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

That’s paradoxical isn’t it?

That’s the opposite of what we tend to think.

That’s upside-down!

Jesus said something almost exactly like this back in chapter 10, verse 38.

He’s calling us to choose. Which one do you want more?

“For whoever wants to save his [earthly] life will lose it, but whoever loses his life [in repentance and self-denial and crossbearing] for me will find it.”

Which do you want more?

The apostles lost their lives for Jesus. Paul lost his life for Jesus.

And they found life in Jesus!

There is another “for” in the Greek of verse 26.

“[For] What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Jesus is explaining why we should take up our cross.

Because He’s worth it!

It’s so easy to get our priorities out of whack.

To go after the world:

money
cars
sex
prestige
pleasure
power
...and even family!

For so many family has become an idol.

Health, wealth, prosperity, family, a good job.  What if you give up your life to gain those things and don’t give up your life to gain Christ?

Would it be worth it?

What is your soul worth?

Jesus is worth it all.

The most important words in verses 24 and 25 are the little two letter word “me.”

If anyone would come after ME...follow ME...loses his life FOR ME.

Jesus is worth it all!

And one day soon, He will show that to be true. V.27 Another “for.”

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

I think that last promise in verse 28 is at least partially fulfilled in the Transfiguration which we will look at next week, Lord-willing.

But the first promise in verse 27 will show that we have made the right choice in deciding to follow Jesus.

The Son of Man (that’s Jesus) is going to come in His Father’s glory. What a thought that is! And with His angels. I can’t imagine.

And when He comes, He will reward each person according to what He has done.

If you have denied yourself and taken up your cross and followed Him, then you will be richly rewarded in Him!

But if you have denied Him and denied your cross and followed yourself, then you will get what you deserve.

I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I know that it’s 2000 years sooner than it was when Jesus said this.

And I know that Jesus said this to underscore how important it is to do it before it’s too late.

Do you want to come after Jesus? To line up behind Him, to be His disciple, His follower, to be rewarded by Him when He returns?

Renounce yourself.
Disown yourself as lord.
Deny yourself.
Repent.

And take up you cross and follow Him.

That’s the path to glory!

That’s the path that Jesus walked for us and the path He call us to walk for Him.

***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise

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