Summary: Christians bear their crosses as Christ bore His for them.
Matthew 16:21-28 NKJ From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" 23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
Some years ago I heard the story of a Russian man who was born to atheist parents, grew up in an atheist town and attended an atheist school. He had never in his life heard the truth of Jesus Christ. But somewhere along the path of his life he saw a picture of a man who had died on a cross. He never forgot that picture and often wondered why he was strangely drawn to that picture. He wanted to understand it. At first he thought the man must have been a very bad criminal. Then he thought that he might have been a very persecuted man. Eventually he met a Christian who also knew about this picture. Anxiously the Russian man asked the Christian to explain it to him. He did, and finally the Russian man knew why he had such a strange attraction to that picture. The picture, of course, was of Jesus’ crucifixion. The explanation was this man’s ticket to salvation.
Jesus is the Christ - What Does This Mean?
Last Sunday our Gospel lesson came from the verses right before today’s lesson where Peter boldly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But Peter didn’t fully understand what that meant. Jesus went on to explain that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer, die, and rise again. Peter, like so many people before and after him, could not conceive of the Son of God suffering like that. The Son, he thought, should be crushing His enemies, not being crushed by them. But Jesus was only fulfilling the plan that God had in mind from the foundation of the world. In the very first promise of the Messiah, God told Satan, “You will crush His heel, but He will crush your head” (Genesis 3.15). Jesus would suffer and die at the hands of God’s enemies. But in the end He would rise from the dead, and His victory would mean forgiveness and salvation for those who trust in God.
If we would all be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that this makes no sense at all. We can understand Peter’s confusion. When has anyone conquered by being killed? What army has ever won a war by being destroyed in battle? It doesn’t make sense as long as we have in mind the “things of men” as Jesus says. But so typical of Jesus... There’s much more to this.
Let me try to explain it this way. There was a farmer who was having trouble with snakes squeezing into the cracks and crevices of his chicken coup and devouring eggs. No matter how much he tried to seal up every crack, the snakes somehow managed to slither in. One day he decided to trick the snakes by placing a fake, porcelain egg among the other eggs. The hungry snakes would devour the fake eggs but be unable to digest them. With the big, hard lump in their bodies they were also unable to slither out through the cracks they had entered. They were caught and destroyed.
What Peter was struggling to understand and what Jesus was gradually unfolding before his eyes in His earthly ministry was that He was not just another ordinary man. He wasn’t even just an extra-ordinary man. He wasn’t a man who came to use the ways of men to destroy evil. He was the perfect, pure, righteous, truthful Son of God. Satan had the power to crush anything of this world and of men. But he couldn’t crush Jesus. In fact, by trying, he was crushed. This is why we, like the Russian man, are not only drawn to this picture of a dead man on a cross, but more importantly to the meaning of it. In death, the death of the cross, Jesus defeated the cause of death and ended its reign over this earth.