Matthew 16:21-26 NET.
21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?
Our Adult Sunday School class recently watched a video series based on Kyle Idleman’s book Not a Fan. In his book, Idleman said “There is a tendency to define yourself as a follower based on how you feel about Jesus, but following requires there to be more than a feeling. Following requires movement.” The book title reflects the fact that many think they are followers of Christ, but they are merely fans. A fan is enamored with Jesus, but not committed to obeying him.
In today’s passage of scripture, Peter starts acting not like a follower of Christ, but like a fan of Christ. He gets off target in his relationship with Jesus, and Jesus must rebuke him and get him back moving in the right direction. It would do us all well to study this Passage in more detail. We have determined to be more than just fans of Jesus. We are committed to following him.
The first thing we see in today’s text is that Jesus was fully aware of God’s plan for his life (21).
God had a plan for Jesus Christ. If you are familiar with the tract “The Four Spiritual Laws” you will recognize the first one is “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” Well, God’s wonderful plan for Jesus’ life meant that he had an appointment in Jerusalem. There he would suffer many things at the hands of the religious and political leaders. There he would be wrongly accused of all kinds of crimes. There he would be put on trial. There he would be beaten and humiliated. There he would suffer the agony of death by crucifixion.
God’s plan for Jesus’ life on earth involved many wonderful things. But it also involved much hardship, suffering and failure. Some people describe the life of faith as if it is one victory after another, with no defeats and no negative and discouraging thoughts. Well, if you judge Jesus by such a description, he fails the test of faith. For Jesus, following his Father meant doing things he didn’t want to do, and suffering for things that were not his fault.
One difference between Jesus and us is that we do not always know all the details of following God. I’m glad that is the case because I know myself. If I were to know all the ramifications and results of following God, I would be constantly tempted to turn away. I don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to be misunderstood and hated and ridiculed and condemned. Nobody does. But Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him in Jerusalem and he went anyway. That is what it means to follow God’s plan.
Peter – on the other hand – was an obstacle to that plan (22-23).
As soon as Peter heard Jesus describe God’s plan for his life, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” This is the same Peter who had just told Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was true and is true. Jesus is more than just a prophet. He is more than just an enlightened teacher. He is more than just a Rabbi. Jesus is God’s one and only Son. He is also the Anointed One – the Messiah – the promised king of Israel. As the Christ, he is also the king of God’s new kingdom which is coming to earth.
Peter knew all those things about Jesus and testified to that truth. Jesus had told Peter that he did not get that knowledge from flesh and blood. It had been revealed to him by the Father in heaven. Peter knew a lot about Jesus, but he was not prepared to look at the other side of the coin. When Jesus started talking about the suffering that he would experience, that is when Peter said, “this must not happen to you.” He was prepared to hear the good news of the gospel, but he was determined to rebuke the bad news of the same gospel.
Just like that – Peter turned from being a proclaimer of who Christ is to being a stumbling block to Christ. Just like that – Peter changed from being a revealer of God’s plan to being an opponent to God’s plan. Jesus looked right into the eyes of his disciple, and he told him “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
We are not following God’s plan until we are committed to following his whole plan. His whole plan includes some wonderful things and some not so wonderful things. If we only accept part of the plan, we are rejecting the whole plan. That is why there are some “Christians” who will stand before Christ, and he will tell them to depart into the fire. They will think they are representatives of Christ and his kingdom, but they will really be stumbling blocks.
To repair this damage, Jesus challenged Peter and all believers to follow him to the cross (24).
He said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” That is one command that must be obeyed in three stages. The first stage is self-denial. Peter had to learn to let go of his own expectations and qualifications. He had determined to follow Jesus, but in his mind, there were certain conditions to his commitment. He would follow Christ to the throne, but not to the cross.
Whenever we say “Yes, Lord, but” we are putting conditions on our commitment. Those conditions are stumbling blocks for us, and they make us stumbling blocks for others. Self-denial means looking for all those conditions and caveats and qualifications that are part of our plans that may not be part of God’s plans for us. It means letting go of self to follow the Savior. Self does not want to suffer, but to follow God’s plan, we may have to suffer.
The second stage is taking up the cross. Jesus literally took up his cross and carried it to the place where they hung him on it. Many of his disciples did the same thing when it came time for them to die. But all true followers will have a cross to bear in some way. Your cross may be where Jesus wants you to live. Your cross may be the job he wants you to have. It may be the people he sends you to reach. Self wants to avoid the cross, but a denied self takes up the cross and bears it because it is God’s plan to reach others.
The third stage is following the Savior. He not only took up his cross, but he also allowed himself to die on it. To follow means to follow through. You are not following if you take an exit before you get to your destination. Peter wanted to start with Jesus in Galilee and end up with Jesus at his return, but he wanted to skip the difficult stage of the trip. It doesn’t work that way. When we commit to follow him, we are committing to follow all the way.
That is why Jesus warned all believers of the obstacles to their salvation (25-26).
He knew that along the way, we would be tempted to get sidetracked. That is why he told his disciples “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?”
A more literal translation of his statement would be “Because whoever wants to save his neck will destroy it, but whoever destroys his neck on account of me will find it. Because what does a man profit if he gains the whole world but loses his neck? Or what will a man give in return for his neck?” Cut off your neck and you will die. It is that important to preserve it. That was why Jesus used that image. Our instinct for self-preservation is an obstacle to our salvation. To truly follow Jesus, must be willing to die for him.
A second obstacle Jesus mentions is our desire for gain. We must be willing to lose everything for Jesus. He is the pearl of great price that we must be willing to sell everything to get. Of course, the irony is that we are going to eventually lose everything anyway. Even the breath in our throats is going to disappear someday. When that happens, all that we have acquired in life will be gone. None of it can buy us back a second of life. Following Jesus costs us everything, but it is the only way to gain the permanent life he promises.
There will come times in our life when the decision to follow Jesus will be tested. Today’s text reveals one of those times in Peter’s life. He wanted to follow Jesus, but his own desires and ambitions would not accept the direction Jesus was going. Peter learned a valuable lesson that day. The life of the true follower always leads to the cross. Any Christianity that does not begin with self-denial is always a false Christianity.
That is why Jesus said that we must enter his kingdom by repenting. It is not just our sins that we must repent of. It is us. It is our desires, our ambitions, our expectations. It is all those things that we want that would keep us from doing and being what Jesus wants. All those things are leading us in the wrong direction. We must turn around and face the cross. Our way is not the way. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
 Idleman Kyle. Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. Updated & expanded ed. Zondervan 2016. p. 106.