Now Jesus has revealed to the disciples who He really is, the gospel turns a corner, as the ‘how’ starts to get clearer. Don’t forget the Gospels aren’t just a history of Jesus leading up to the new covenant coming into play at the resurrection, they were written for churches to use and be instructed and encouraged by. Jesus tells them that the way to triumph involves suffering and hardship – v.2, self denial, maybe even forfeiting their lives – v.24-25.
Jesus is not the political Messiah coming to overthrow the evil of the state like an ancient Martin Luther King. He must suffer and die to rescue people from their sin, not the Romans. Peter of course misunderstands Jesus. None of us are perfect – we can enjoy mountain top experiences with the Lord one day and mess it up the next.
Take up your cross
If we come after Jesus (literally follow Jesus) then that involves denying self and taking up the cross to follow Him. So the “following Jesus” sandwich has self-denial and taking up of cross as the meat of the bread – following Him. But Jesus doesn’t just blast us with the those two huge commands, He gives us three “for” statements to tell us why:
i) Finding real abundant life – v.25
ii) Not forfeiting our soul – v.26
iii) Reward – v.27.
What does it mean to take up our cross?
The cross was a horrible instrument of execution, practised by the Roman authorities, where someone was hung and suffocated, usually over a whole day. It was a slow, painful death.
Taking up the cross means at least four things then:
i) Official opposition – the authorities did crucifixion
ii) It was shameful – as the person was naked and beaten
iii) It involved unspeakable suffering
iv) It led to death.
So taking up our cross for Jesus’ sake and the gospel is not a ‘lazy-boy’ comfortable thing. Are you willing to be opposed? To be shamed? To suffer? Even to die? Think of the gain – abundant life, an eternity of reward to enjoy for momentary suffering.
What does it mean to deny yourself?
Self hates those four things above! So self denial says ‘No’ to Mr Old Self.
Now in the light of the cross and resurrection, becoming a Christian means that our old self is dead anyway and just needs to be denied!
What does it mean that some will not taste death until the Son of Man comes in his kingdom?
Some commentators say that ‘coming in his kingdom’ refers to the resurrection, others to the destruction of Jerusalem and others to Christ’s second coming. The clearest meaning is the resurrection being the inauguration of the kingdom, bringing in its benefits. So they didn’t die before that! Of course the kingdom is now and not yet and will be fully consummated at the end of the age, when Christ returns.
All of these sayings happened at Caesarea which is significant. That was a Gentile area, full of pagan temples overlooked by a massive temple to the Emperor on the hillside. With that backdrop Jesus is asking the disciples and us…
– Will you choose between the world, with its pagan practices and immorality, and Jesus?
– Will you publicly confess Christ even in the face of hostility?
– Will you fight this spiritual battle?
– Will you realise the cost of following Jesus?
Will you do that, knowing that there is a great reward, power to do so and a ‘well done good and faithful servant’ coming soon?
That’s enough food for thought for one day, we will look at the Transfiguration when we get to Mark 9.