Truth Taught- Jesus commands us to live a life of complete and consistent self-denial
Peter has made the amazing declaration that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God and Jesus has declared that God the Father has revealed this truth to him. Then, in our text from last week Jesus explained to Peter what His Messiahship means, namely, that He has been sent to die and then be raised on the third day. When Peter hears this, he rebukes Jesus. Jesus’ version of His messiahship and Peter’s version didn’t match. Jesus knew that His Kingdom meant gathering a people for Himself and that meant He had to die for their sins. This is the reality of what being the Messiah means. Peter had a different idea. His was here and now. Jesus was so popular and He could do so many things. He could remove Rome and restore the glory to Jerusalem and Israel. This was the Messiah Peter envisioned, not a dead Messiah.
So, we saw what Jesus’ Messiahship meant for Him. Now today, let’s look together at what it means for His disciples throughout the centuries. Here’s what Jesus’ Messiahship means for us today as Christians. As we read this, we will need to reckon with what Jesus tells all of His followers throughout the ages. How will we react? Will we be like Peter rebuking Jesus because what Jesus tells us about being a follower is not what we envisioned Christianity to be or will we accept and embrace Jesus’ commands? Like every passage in the Scriptures, we must deal with what we read. We either accept it and obey it or we reject it and disobey what it says.
Matthew 16:24–28 (ESV)
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. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
1. Complete and Consistent Self-Denial
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.Jesus begins with If anyone would come after me. This is a clear indicator that Jesus is no respecter of persons. Our Lord doesn’t treat people who seek to follow Him differently. If you’re wealthy, your money can’t make your way easier. If you’re highly intelligent you cannot reason your way to a different type of Christianity than the rest. Our Lord’s words here are for all who call themselves Christians.What does following the Messiah look like? Here, we enter into the paradox. When we deny ourselves we will receive far more from Christ than we ever gave up. Jesus explains very clearly and concisely that He requires a loyalty which is a daily submitting your desires and goals to His lordship and being loyal even if it requires risking your life to remain faithful to Him. To deny oneself is to disassociate from your will and seek Christ’s will. It means to place loyalty to Jesus before our own interests and comfort.
He is telling us to take up our own cross (One-time active command). In other words, every day deny yourself and in the state of complete self-denial continue to follow Jesus, which means to seek to be like Him and obedient to Him as we discover Him in the Bible.
Such a demand only makes sense if following Christ is of more value than your interests, comforts and even your own life. There is life now and then there is true and lasting life later. There is temporary life and everlasting life. So, this demand only makes sense if what we gain by complete and consistent self-denial is of greater value than what we might risk.
Let’s be clear on what Jesus is telling us. There are two things Jesus is focused on here. He desires us to live every day in self-denial so that we are focused on Him and not ourselves. Secondly, Jesus is after complete and consistent loyalty to Him and a willingness to risk everything even our lives if following Him should require it. We are to be so committed to Christ that we will even risk our lives and become a martyr should God’s providence require it.
Throughout Christian history there have been martyrs for Christ. In Acts 7 we learn about Steven being killed for his faith in Jesus. The Apostles were all killed for their faith. This is a reoccurring theme for 2,000 years. Today, The Voice of the Martyrs estimate 11 Christians per day are murdered for their faith.
Why is martyrdom something that occurs. The lost world hated Jesus and it will hate us too.
John 15:18–20 (ESV)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
The lost world has always hated Christians. Why is this the case? I’m sure there may be other reasons but one that is prevalent throughout history is that being a Christian means often disobeying the governing authorities. Governments love power and to have a portion of the population disobeying their orders and mandates cannot be tolerated. Christians are those who stand up and say abortion is murder, same-sex marriage is an abomination, transgenderism is a great evil, we refuse to worship Caesar and burn incense to him, we do not fear the government but we fear God, we will not deny Christ and we will only worship Him.
One of the more famous accounts of the government murdering a Christian is found in the account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp.
Polycarp was a bishop of the early church, a disciple of the apostle John, a contemporary of Ignatius, and the teacher of Irenaeus. According to Irenaeus, Polycarp “was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact with many who had seen Christ.” He lived from the latter half of the first century to the mid-second century. Polycarp was martyred by the Roman government, and his death was influential, even among the pagans.
Some of the details of Polycarp’s death are up for debate. It’s agreed that he was arrested as an old man and sentenced to be burned at the stake for his devotion to Christ. The Roman proconsul took pity on Polycarp and urged him to recant. All he had to do was say, “Caesar is Lord,” and offer a little bit of incense to Caesar’s statue, and he would live. Polycarp’s stalwart response: “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” So he was taken to the place of execution. One tradition states that, when the guards realized they had no nails or rope to affix him to the post, Polycarp assured them that no restraint was necessary—that Jesus would empower him to bear the flames. Another account says that the flames avoided his body, arching over his head. When the guards realized that Polycarp could not be burned, they stabbed him with a spear—and the blood that ran down extinguished the flames.
Despite the scant information we have about Polycarp, he serves as a powerful example for us. His reliance on the Gospels and the Epistles gives evidence of the inspiration of the New Testament. His dedication to the theology taught by the apostles encourages us to take their writings at face value even as we follow his lead in not concentrating on the nonessentials. And his steadfastness in the face of death inspires us to remain faithful to Christ.
Like Polycarp, we must live our lives in a way that is stubborn for Christ.
Jesus goes on to tell us that if we live always seeking safety, seeking to save our earthly lives we will lose eternal life.
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
The point Jesus makes here is that His people are to live boldly for Jesus not cowering in fear. We must not be afraid to risk everything to follow Jesus.
2. The Logic of Value Removes the Paradox
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.
A. Our souls are very valuable
Jesus shows us a picture of the person who is at the far end of the spectrum. This person has lived his life under the value system of this world order and has mastered it. There is nothing that remains out of his reach. He has, as Jesus tells us, gained the whole world.
This phrase should remind us of what Satan told Jesus during the temptation of Christ…
Matthew 4:7–10 (ESV)
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
In this account, Satan was trying to get Jesus to want and to acquire the whole world. Jesus knows what it’s like to be offered the whole world. Our Lord is the perfect picture of what we are to do with this world. He denied Himself and followed His Father perfectly. We too are called to submit to Jesus while denying ourselves and follow Him. He shows us what it looks like to refuse this world.
For us our Lord uses the logic of value. He tells us that what if you lived your life seeking the things of this world? And what if you gained it all but in the process of gaining the world’s riches you lost your soul? Our souls are the most valuable possession we have and to loose them in our search for lesser things makes no sense at all.
This would be like watching a child crawling to the side of a cliff and running after it only to stop because you dropped a penny.
By faith we see that there are things of ultimate value and then there are things of lesser value. Never risk the eternal for the temporal.
This is the logic of value because Jesus is using these types of terms…
Exchange or Return-
Temporal things may look like profit but if they cost your very soul and nothing you have is as valuable as your soul is then what could you offer God to get your soul back?
B. Jesus is returning in great glory and will repay us
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.
According to what a person has done, in context, is not so much speaking of sin but speaking of loyalty in the face of hostility.
The risk is worth it when we consider the fact that Jesus is returning in infinite glory and will reward His followers who have remained loyal to Him even in the face of great persecution and even martyrdom.
So, Jesus presents His reward to His faithful followers as a greater value than anything we might lose while remaining faithful to Jesus.
This is great encouragement for us as we seek to remain steadfast even in times of suffering because of Christ.
Remain loyal to Jesus because your soul and His reward are more valuable than anything you may lose even your earthly life.
3. Some of the Apostles Will See the King in His Glory
28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
This has been a verse that is somewhat confusing and has wrongly been used by sceptics to seek to disprove Jesus’ Words. However, to understand it we must follow the flow of thought and read it carefully.
The flow of thought is on potential martyrdom for Jesus’ followers. Our Lord is saying first that some of those who hear Him speak will not taste death as a martyr until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
Here, He is not speaking of His return but of His being crowned in glory and receiving His kingdom.
There are at least two times when they saw this:
The first is found in the very next passage when three of the apostles see the King in His glory at the transfiguration. This will be an event like no other when they saw Jesus as He is now.
The second is at the accension when they witnessed Jesus going back into heaven to receive His glory and majesty back from the Father as His reward for achieving God’s perfect plan for Him.
This is the Daniel 7 event when the Son of Man ascends into heaven.
Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV)
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
As they witnessed our Lord in His glory in these two events and also in His resurrected body the disciples were greatly encouraged to live out their lives in self-denial.
These same events are written for us to be encouraged to live our lives with our gaze fixed on Christ and His glory.
I pray we would live our lives with stubborn loyalty to King Jesus. When times of persecution come we will not submit to the government or to others who would try to get us to deny our Lord.
We can remain faithful to Christ in those times as we remind ourselves…
Gospel of Matthew by RT France