Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 16E

Chapter 16:24-27

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  • What are God’s interests? 

    • Last week Jesus scolded Peter for not setting his mind on God’s interests

      • Jesus disclosed that He must suffer and die, but Peter vehemently objected to that possibility 

      • He probably assumed his objection to the plan would please and even comfort Jesus

      • So I’m sure Peter was surprised when Jesus rebuked him, calling Peter’s idea the devil’s work, not God’s desire

    • Peter probably wondered how could a desire to protect the Messiah from suffering and death not be aligned with God?

      • And the answer of course is that God intended to do great good through Jesus’ death

      • God was working to free humanity from sin and condemnation 

      • So as horrible as Jesus’ dying would be, it was the greatest good the world has ever known

    • The Father’s plan to put His Son on the cross reminds us that God is in the business of turning bad circumstances to good

      • God’s ways are not man’s ways, but what are God’s ways? Can we learn how to avoid Peter’s mistake?

      • Can we understand God’s interests well enough to avoid doing the devil’s work?  Jesus shows us how:

Matt. 16:24 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.
Matt. 16:25 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
Matt. 16:26 “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?
Matt. 16:27 “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.
  • Before we look at Jesus’ instructions, we need to get a better appreciation for the misconception that led to this moment

    • The fundamental mistake Peter made was in assuming that God’s highest priority was preserving earthly life

      • That’s why Peter said “God forbid” that Jesus should die 

      • He couldn’t believe God would desire that outcome for anyone, much less for His Son the Messiah

    • But Peter was thinking about death from a human perspective

      • Human beings are preoccupied with our own death

      • Though the exact moment of our death is a complete mystery, we all know it’s coming…no one escapes it

      • So because we live in the shadow of inevitable death, saving our earthly life dominates our thinking

    • And yet ironically, the world’s solution to death is largely to ignore it altogether

      • Many people live their lives pretending it won’t happen, at least until it’s impossible to ignore and they’re forced to confront it

      • And if you bring up the topic of death, the world tries to end the conversation, just as Peter tried to stop Jesus from discussing it

    • In fact, when you think about it, it’s amazing that the world isn’t more preoccupied with death

      • Given the short time we spend on earth, you would expect the world to spend every day consumed with finding a solution

      • And some in the world do search for an answer, and their search takes them in many different directions

      • Some find a solution in religion, some seek medical miracles, some settle for better cosmetics  

      • But in general, most give it little thought at all, because we can’t bear the thought of it and ignorance is bliss

  • Unbelievers live in fear of death, and their fear drives them to push death out of their minds, but that’s not the way God thinks about death

    • When the first man, Adam, sinned, he received a death sentence 

      • In Chapter 2 God warned Adam that in the day he ate of the fruit, he would die, meaning his spirit would fall under condemnation 

      • So the very instant Adam ate the fruit, he came under a death sentence and his spirit was corrupted 

      • But Adam’s physical body lived on…at least for the moment 

    • So when God confronted Man and Woman in the Garden, He added additional penalties, including physical death

Gen. 3:19 By the sweat of your face 
You will eat bread, 
Till you return to the ground, 
Because from it you were taken; 
For you are dust, 
And to dust you shall return.”
  • God declared that Adam’s body came from dust and now as a result of his sin, Adam’s body would return to dust one day

    • Adam’s spiritual death would now be accompanied by his physical death

    • But this wasn’t a punitive measure…the Lord was also taking a step toward solving the problem Adam created

    • Because when it comes to death, God’s ways are not man’s ways 

  • From God’s point of view, the death of our sinful body has two primary positive effects  

    • First, the death of the physical body puts a time limit on mankind’s sinful existence on earth

      • All humanity lives “on the clock” knowing life is finite

      • And the Lord has placed in everyone a conscious awareness that judgment awaits

    • So the deadline imposed by the death of our bodies forces us to consider the problem of death and to seek for a solution

      • We have a powerful incentive to learn the truth about death and God and the afterlife 

      • And in that search perhaps we might find Him

Acts 17:25 … He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
Acts 17:26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
Acts 17:27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
  • The Lord gave everyone life and determined our appointed times (meaning set a limit to their days) that we might seek God

  • So when it comes to death for the unbeliever, God’s interests are not man’s interests

    • God wants the death of our body to drive us toward Him

    • Meanwhile, the world is trying to ignore the very thing that God is using to get their attention

    • In the example of death, it’s easy to see how sin drives humanity away from God even as God makes Himself known

  • But when a person comes to faith in Jesus and is born again, our understanding of life and death changes dramatically

    • No longer are we afraid of death, because the penalty for our sin has been removed by Jesus

      • So now we know that even as we experience physical death, we won’t experience spiritual death

      • So physical death isn’t a problem for us…it’s a solution because it puts an end to the sinful body 

    • And that’s the second reason the Lord introduced physical death after the fall – He was making a way for something better

      • The death of our physical body sets us free from this container of sin, a vessel that is irretrievably corrupt and unrepairable

      • We can all see the negative effects our body has on our walk with Jesus, and it troubles us everyday

    • Paul describes the daily fight we have against our bodies in Romans 7

Rom. 7:22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
Rom. 7:23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Rom. 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Rom. 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…
  • Our body wages war against our spirit, our inner person, and that war is tiring and depressing and we yearn to be free of it

  • And when we experience the physical death of our body, we will be set free from that burden once and for all

  • Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!

  • In the meantime, knowing we will die one day and escape this body and this world, Paul says physical death encourages us to abide in Jesus

2Cor. 1:9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
2Cor. 1:10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,
  • We’re dying a little bit everyday…we’re running out the clock of our lives, and yet we have no fear of that moment

    • So neither should we trust in our own strength or ability nor anything else in this world

    • Trusting in something in this world is ridiculous when we know it’s not lasting

  • Watching our life fading should encourage us to rely more on Jesus each day

    • Because as Paul says we know He raises people from the dead

    • In other words, we place our certainty and trust in what is waiting for us after death, not what we leave behind in death

  • What would make you happier: keeping your current worn out car forever or getting a brand new one?

    • Would you prefer to have a brand new perfect house or a fixer-upper?

    • Believer, your body is a worn out junker and a serious fixer-upper

    • And Jesus is planning to give you a brand new one in a day to come

    • And to make way for that new one, He set a date that your old one gets turned in

  • Jesus will raise you from the dead, which means your sinful body will be replaced by an undying glorified one

    • So in the meantime, don’t show more interest in the junker body than in the new glorified body Christ has prepared

    • Place your hope in the next life, look forward to your next body, the next home, the next world…not what you have here

    • Stop trying to live as if your life here is the highest priority – and God’s greatest concern 

    • Living here forever wouldn’t be a blessing…it would be a curse…it’s a life sentence on death row

  • That’s God’s perspective on life and death, and it’s the perspective the believer must have to serve Jesus well

    • But it wasn’t the perspective Peter brought to that moment, and it’s often a perspective we struggle to maintain too

      • And that’s what Jesus was talking about in our passage

      • In v.24 Jesus says that anyone who wishes to come after Jesus must deny himself and take up his cross

    • To go after Jesus means to be His disciple, walking in His ways, representing Him, serving Him, making your life a living sacrifice

      • He’s not talking about how to be saved…that was covered earlier in the moment of Peter’s confession

      • Jesus is addressing the attitude of a disciple, of a believer who serves Jesus well

    • Now that we have been saved, our service to Jesus requires personal sacrifice but not everyone is willing to give Jesus that service 

      • Not everyone who comes to faith in Jesus serves Him equally well – or even at all

      • The fact that so much of the New Testament exhorts us to make sacrifices for JESUS tells us not everyone does it

      • It’s also why the Lord holds out the prospect of eternal reward for those who do serve Him…because He wants to motivate us

    • And key to finding that motivation to serve Christ is thinking about life and death the way God does, Jesus says

      • And key is learning to deny ourselves, which means fighting against the desires of our sinful flesh 

      • Because our body may be dying, but it’s not powerless

  • Medicine and science won’t tell you this, but the Bible says our flesh is a powerful force with a will of its own, independent of our mind

    • Our physical body opposes God and our spirit at all times, and you can see this truth at work in your life everyday

      • Do you have a persistent sin in your life that you know is wrong and you want to stop…and yet it’s still there?

      • You just keep doing it even though you tell yourself you shouldn’t do it

      • So ask yourself why do you continue to do it? Why isn’t your intellectual decision to stop reason enough to cease from sinning? 

      • Because your flesh doesn’t agree with that decision, because it’s programmed from birth to oppose God at every turn

    • It’s like we have two dogs fighting for control inside us

      • One dog is the new spirit we received when we were born again by our faith in Jesus Christ

      • According to Paul in Romans 6, our new spirit is perfect in its desires, and it always wants to please God by obeying Him

      • Paul says in Romans 7 that our spirit agrees with the Law of God, and left to itself, it would never lead us to sin

    • But we carry our new spirit in a body of sinful flesh, the same flesh we inherited from Adam

      • Our flesh is always working to pull us off track even as our spirit is encouraging us to obey

      • They are literally at war with one another, but which one is truly “us”?

  • Our new spirit and old flesh are both “us”, at least for now, and they are like two dogs fighting for control inside us

    • So which dog is going to win that battle? As the old saying goes, the one you feed gets stronger and the one you starve gets weaker

      • And in v.24 Jesus is saying you need to deny that devil dog inside you what it wants

      • Deny it by being aware of its desires, putting up barriers so it can’t get what it wants, while praying to escape temptation

    • Jesu says take up your cross, which is a clear reference to crucifixion 

      • In the Roman method of execution, the condemned was forced to carry the horizontal beam of his own cross 

      • By analogy, Jesus asks we crucify our flesh, putting it to death, so to speak

    • His point is if we are going to serve Jesus well, we must participate willingly in the process of our own sanctification

      • Sanctification is a process of yielding to the Spirit while denying our flesh

      • The Lord does the real work of our sanctification, convicting us of sin and leading us into obedience by the power of His Spirit

      • And our role as disciples is to work with the Spirit by participating in the execution of our flesh’s desires

    • And the Lord will not force a disciple to engage in that process…we get to decide how much we yield to the Spirit

      • So we all have a choice to make in this regard…because we’re all called to serve Jesus with our lives

      • Every minute of every day is a service to Jesus, whatever walk of life we pursue

      • And the question is whether we’re “all in” with Jesus?

  • Jesus says our choice is simple: we can choose to save our earthly life or lose it

    • To save our life means to seek the life that our flesh desires, to protect its interests at every turn

      • And what kind of life does our flesh want? It wants what the world offers…wealth, fame, power, luxury, sex, entertainment

      • “Saving our life” means doing what we want here and now instead of what God is asking us to do in serving Jesus

    • But Jesus says this choice comes at a cost, because as a Christian, you can’t have it all

      • Or in the words of that great philosopher, Bob Dylan, “you're gonna have to serve somebody”

      • There’s always a cost for saving your earthly life, for pursuing your flesh’s desires rather than Jesus’ desires

    • Jesus says the cost is that you will lose your life

      • But the Bible talks about two lives for a Christian 

      • There is the life we lead here now and there is the life we will lead in the Kingdom, the life that begins after our resurrection

      • This life is temporary, the next is eternal

      • In this life we encounter testing and trial, in the next life we receive reward 

    • Jesus says if we live this life trying to make the most of it (trying to “save” it), then we put at risk things of the eternal life

      • And which of these two lives should be more important to us?

      • In v.26 Jesus asks what profit is it for us to gain the whole world if it results in us losing our soul?

      • And after chasing the whole world and gaining it, what good does it do when your soul is at risk?

  • Jesus isn’t saying that our salvation is on the line; we know that because our soul is not gained or lost on the basis of how we live our life

    • Just as no disciples of Jesus ever obtains the “whole world” likewise, no disciple ever lost his soul because he pursued the world 

      • Jesus is using hyperbole, speaking in exaggerated terms to make a point

      • The point is every time we prioritize this life over the next life, there will be an opportunity cost 

      • And we’re making a terrible bargain, trading eternal riches for temporal gains

    • In fact, it works both ways: the more you seek for the one life, the less you will have of the other

      • That is, the more you pursue the flesh’s desires in this life, the less you serve Jesus and therefore the less you receive later

      • And the more you prioritize serving Jesus now, the more sacrifices you make now but the more the Lord rewards you in the Kingdom

  • And in v.27 Jesus reminds us that a moment is coming when repayment comes for everyone

    • At His Second Coming to establish the Kingdom Jesus repays all humanity according to deeds

      • For the unbelievers, their deeds are evil, and since they lack the forgiveness of Christ’s atoning work, they receive judgment

      • For the believer there is also a judgment of deeds, but our judgment is solely for the purpose of assigning reward

      • And we too will be repaid for our deeds done in the body

    • In other words, gaining the whole world is only attractive until we remember the reality of death again

      • Death puts an end to everything we accomplish here, including to all that we accumulate

      • So no matter how much you accumulate, your life is not the sum of your possessions

      • And when you leave it all behind anyway, what was the point? Was owning it for a few decades really that important?

    • Our coming judgement is our incentive to crucify the flesh, to make the hard choices

      • To favor the right dog inside us, to follow Him as His disciple

      • If you are willing to lose this life, to crucify your flesh’s desires, you will gain far more in Heaven than you stand to lose here

  • As Jim Elliot observed, he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose

    • Peter tried to hold onto something he could not keep

      • He tried to forbid Jesus from dying to protect something he valued in this life, something his flesh wanted

      • And in the process Peter was placing something eternal at risk, something the Father wanted

    • Jesus was meant to die on a cross, and so was Peter one day

      • And everything that happened in Peter’s life between those two moments belonged to Jesus

      • And if Peter served Jesus well during that time, Peter would see a life in the Kingdom well-rewarded

      • If he got absorbed in saving this life, he would miss what Jesus had for him

    • Peter was fighting to preserve the wrong life, and we do the same thing too whenever we let our flesh’s desire decide our path

      • Let the Spirit guide you, listen to His counsel through study of the word, and prioritize eternal outcomes over earthly

      • Live with eyes for eternity, and anticipate your death with hope and joy knowing it’s the moment of your reward