BEAR THE CROSS TO WEAR THE CROWN (MATTHEW 16:21-28)
Being a disciple of Christ is quite costly in many parts of Asia and Africa even though it is quite a tame or mild affair in the Western world. In Iran, 32-years old pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, leader of a network of Iranian house churches, was charged with apostasy in 2010 for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert from Christianity to Islam. Four days of trial under the threat of a death penalty did not change the pastor’s mind, who insisted that he was a Christian and no longer Muslim, so he was sentenced to death by hanging.
Later Nadarkhani’s charges were revised when Christian organizations protested, but it made little change; now “he is a Zionist and has committed security-related crimes, including repeated rape and extortion.”
It is just as unsafe to be a disciple of Christ today as it was in Jesus’ time. If you accept Jesus for food, fun and friendship, you could be in for a rough ride and rude shock. Being a disciple is associated with discrimination, danger and death for some folks.
What are the risks, responsibilities and rewards ahead for followers and disciples of Jesus? How can we guard ourselves against low and lukewarm Christian commitment?
There is No Greater Gift Than to Share His Crucifixion
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. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 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." (Matt 16:21-23)
Everybody but John had signed up for a new company pension plan that required a small employee contribution. The company paid all the rest. Unfortunately, 100 % employee participation was needed; otherwise the plan was off.
John’s boss and his fellow workers pleaded with him over and over, but to no avail. John said that the plan would never pay off.
Finally, the company president called John into his inner office. The president said, “John, here’s a copy of the new pension plan and here’s a pen. I want you to sign the papers, now, and if you don’t you’re fired.
John signed the papers immediately.
The president asked, “Would you mind telling me why you didn’t sign earlier?”
John answered, “Nobody explained it to me so clearly before.”
Note that Jesus addressed the disciples (v 21), those who were with him long-term and for the long haul. When the disciples arrived at the comfy coast town of Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13), midway from the hometown of Galilee to the destination of Jerusalem (Matt 20:17-18), Jesus dropped a bombshell on them and warned them of the cost of discipleship. Jesus’ words did not begin with a “might” or “maybe,” but a “must” (v 21) – so it is not a request but a requirement, not an option but an obligation, not a choice but a certainty. On top of that, the word “must” is doubly forceful because it occurs for the first time in the book of Matthew, the all-important first word after the explanatory “that,” not just an afterthought footnote - “that must to Jerusalem to go.” “Must” in any language or book is a regular word, but a rare find in Matthew. For example, it appears the first time early in Luke (Luke 2:49) and in John (John 3:7), halfway in Mark (Mark 8:31), but not quite as late and overdue as in Matthew, yet the understatement in the book serves to highlight its importance and heighten the tension.
The next word startled the disciples as well. The word “suffer” (v 21) marks its debut in the book. To say that they were surprised at the deferred disclosure or belated revelation is an understatement. It was more of a shock than a surprise to the disciples. After all this time, three good and glorious years together, they were stunned, staggered, shell-shocked, stupefied and stumped by the bad news. In gets worse in Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:22) - “suffer” and even the word “kill” occurs for the first time.
The disciples couldn’t be more disturbed, distressed disillusioned, distraught, and disappointed that Jesus was the crucified King and not the Conquering King, so much so that they missed the forest for the trees and majored in the minor, failing to hear Jesus’ declaration that He was a more than just a suffering Messiah; He was the Risen Savior. Jesus underscored that he must rise again (Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22, John 20:9). He revealed his suffering twice in Matthew (Matt 16:21, 17:12), but countered it six times in Matthew with his resurrection(Matt 16:21, 17:9, 23, 20:19, 26:32, 27:63) – three times more than the talk of suffering, but all that was lost on the disciples.