What is the most basic instruction for the Christian? To be a Christian is to have been justified in Christ through His substitutionary atonement. What does it mean to live like a Christian?
After confessing that Jesus is both the Christ and the Son of the living God, Peter opposed the work his Messiah must do according to the Law and Prophets. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach His disciples what it means to follow Him at the most basic level.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
How we live (v. 24-26)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
After Peter opposed Him and He called Peter His adversary, Jesus addresses all of His disciples. If any of them really wanted to go after Jesus, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Let’s think about the components of this admonition together.
If anyone wishes to go after Jesus; What does Jesus mean, “If anyone wishes to come after Me…”? We keep in mind the most recent part of the story. Jesus showed His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised on the third day (v. 21). When Matthew records Jesus’s admonition, here, about His disciples going after Him, Matthew is building upon the teaching of Jesus’s death and resurrection. At the end of this passage, in verse 28, Jesus will mention His coming in His own kingdom. The destination in view is the kingdom of Heaven—the resurrection from the dead. Different parties within Judaism disagreed about the resurrection from the dead. Jesus teaches that there is a resurrection. That resurrection is His resurrection. The coming of the kingdom of Heaven coincides with His resurrection. We will see this in more detail when we get to verse 28. Jesus is revealing how His disciples live and go after Him into His kingdom.
Notice, also, the if… then… nature of Jesus’s statement. There is first the desire to go after Jesus. If anyone really has the desire to go after Jesus, then that person must produce the basic fruit, or works, of a disciple. Jesus, here, is consistent with His own root produces fruit anthropology (Cf. 7:17-18). This is not a works-righteousness. The desire, what we believe is gained in regeneration, comes first. God is binding those on earth who have been being bound in heaven (v. 19). After the desire to go after Christ into His kingdom is realized, that’s conversion, we are compelled because of our new regenerated state to bear the fruit of discipleship. We must bear this fruit because we have a new heart that compels us.
He must deny himself; What does it mean that those who wish to enter Jesus’s kingdom will deny themselves? Jesus is admonishing His disciples after Peter opposed what is written in the Law and Prophets concerning the Messiah’s work. Peter had preconception about the way things should be. His preconceptions, whether they came from tradition, popular teaching, or his own preferences, caused him to disregard what was written in God’s word even though Jesus was showing him plainly. Jesus told Peter that Peter was thinking about human interests rather than God’s (v. 23). In the context of the conversation in this discourse, Jesus is teaching that if anyone wants to go after Him into His kingdom, they must deny their own interests, human interests, and be concerned about the things God is concerned about. If we are in Christ, we are compelled to so be concerned.
He must take up his cross; Peter forbade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die even though it was necessary according to Scripture. The Roman cross is the most prominent instrument of death for those who are executed in the First Century AD. What Jesus’s response after calling Peter His adversary? He indicates that not only must He go and die, but if anyone wishes to go with Him into His kingdom, that person must go die as well. We will elaborate about what that means in a moment. The desire to enter Jesus’s kingdom compels the disciple to die with Christ.
He must follow Jesus; It sounds common sensical for Jesus to teach that in order to go after Him, one must follow Him. Sometimes we need to hear common sense. Peter forbade that Jesus should obey the Scriptures and fulfill the Law and Prophets. He was trying to lead Jesus. Jesus reminds all His disciples; That’s not how this relationship works. Jesus tells His disciples how things are and must be. They don’t reveal anything to Him. He is the shepherd, and they are the sheep. No matter how friendly Jesus is, Jesus’s lordship does not change. We don’t counsel Him according to our own human interests. He leads us according to God’s interests. If we desire to go after Him into His kingdom, we are compelled to follow the way He says things must be. How can we follow if we do not know His instruction? His instruction is the Old Testament; He showed His disciples from the Law and Prophets the way things must be (v. 21). He has also preauthenticated the New Testament as His instruction; He is building His church upon the testimony of the apostles (v. 18-19). Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew recorded Jesus’s basic desire concerning His people:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (11:28-30).
Jesus’s basic desire concerning His people is that they take the yoke of His teaching upon them, learn from Him. It is not that we do a bunch of stuff, burden ourselves with religiosity, or make sure everyone around us is meeting a certain set of expectations. Those are human interests and actually keep us and others from going after Jesus into His kingdom. Jesus wants our attention. He wants our hearts, minds, and strength. He wants the Father’s interests.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Now we can return to the notion of death to self. In the context of Jesus’s teaching, what does it mean for someone to lose his or her life for Jesus’s sake? Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, is dealing specifically with our human interests. If we lose our lives, forsake our human interests for the sake of Jesus’s interests, we will find them. There is life in Jesus’s instruction. When we follow our own ways, preferences, and interests, life is death—it’s hell, a self-perpetuating hell on earth. All you have to do is look around to see where our seeking after human interests and entitlement has gotten us. What could we possibly gain that is worthwhile if we lose our souls? What could we possibly earn in this life that we could exchange for our souls? Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus has everlasting worth. Any pursuit on this earth will end. Jesus desires we choose Him over every other pursuit—over ministry, worldly labor and wealth, status, position, comfort, preference, power, or worldly education—every other pursuit. Yet, there are many people who claim to be Christians who place Jesus and His church (the kingdom He is building for Himself; v. 18), as any priority other than their first. Jesus is Lord, not us. His kingdom is first, not ours. He calls us to give up ours and seek His. There we find life.
Why we live (v. 27-28)
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Why does Jesus call people to give up their own interests, their own kingdoms, and seek after His alone? Since He is king, He will come in the glory of His Father and with His angels. As the just judge, He will repay every person according to his or her deeds. Jesus will judge us according to whether we lived by our own interests or by His. If we prioritize anything or anyone, including ourselves and our own kingdoms, before Him and His kingdom, His wrath will be revealed against us. Our fruit has revealed our root.
When will Jesus judge people? When will His kingdom be realized? Jesus teaches that some of His twelve disciples would not die until the see Him coming in His kingdom. When the disciples ask Him about the signs of His coming and when it will all happen in Chapter 24, verse 3, we know that Jesus has already revealed to them it would be within some of their lifetimes. The end of the age will come and the kingdom of Heaven will be established on the earth within their lifetimes. Jesus will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will repay every person according to his or her deeds within the lifetimes of some of his twelve disciples. Matthew will expound more on this starting in Matthew 24. For now, we know that Jesus’s coming in His kingdom is immanent to the apostles. Jesus’s judgment is immanent to the apostles. May we seek first His kingdom and righteousness rather than our own. May we be concerned about His interests rather than our own human interests.
…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. – Jesus.
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