18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"
19They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
20"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
23Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." (NIV)
1. It matters to Christ whom we believe him to be (vv. 8-21).
- Today, as then, there are many false ideas that the world entertains about Jesus - we need only look at the Religion section of major bookstores (one book I recently saw is entitled How Jesus Became Christian), or the front covers of major newsmagazines released at Easter or Christmas time. One common fallacy is that he was just an extraordinarily good man who was "deified" by the gospel writers. Says the late John Lennon: "Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
- More pervasive is the idea (increasingly found even within professing Christian churches!) that Jesus was just one religious prophet/teacher among many others, including Mohammed (Islam), Buddha, Confucius, Dalai Lama, etc.
But Jesus will accept no rivals; He insists being looked upon as unique.
-"If you do not believe that I AM (cf. Ex 3:13-14), you will die in your sins." (Jn 8:23-24)
-"I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn 14:6)
-Yet, why did he "strictly (warn) them not to tell" Peter's confession to everyone? Many Jews were expecting a political Messiah who would rescue them from the Roman Empire, and He may have thought that their premature knowledge would lead them to take him as their own Messiah by force.
2. Jesus knew fully well what his mission was, and it went completely against the grain of many of the Jews' expectations of the Messiah (v. 22).
Part of the portrait that many in the world have painted about Jesus is that because he was human, he did not fully know what his mission was or what it was going to cost him. (this is one of the ideas found in the book and movie "The Last Temptation of Christ"). Verse 22 blows this idea to smithereens; Jesus absolutely knew what He was doing and where He was going!
And, in contrast to the desire of many Jews who wanted a political Messiah, his mission would bring him suffering and death (and, only after these things, victory).
3. Following Christ requires putting the pursuits of self-preservation and self-promotion to death (vv. 23-27).
- the cross is the image reminding us of what Christ had to suffer on our behalf; but in verse 23, Jesus also portrays it as the way of life that His people must embrace.
- Denying one's self does not mean that we should never give attention to ourselves, nor our own interests, but that we put the interests of God and other people first (Mt 6:31-33; Phil 2:3-11; 19-22).
-To deny self and follow Christ means that illness may befall us while we are doing His work (Phil 2:25-30).
- To deny self and follow Christ also means that one must be willing to accept whatever rejection by others that God would have us face. Such rejection may take any of these forms: perceived as strange; being ignored, excluded, treated with indifference, ridiculed, slandered, isolated, physically attacked, or worse (Ps 22:7-8; 25:16-20; 119:139; Lk 6:22; 2 Co 4:8-11; 6:4-10; 1 Pet 4:1-6; 12-19; 2 Pe 2:6-9; Rev 12:11; 20:4). Many Christians, throughout history and up to today - particularly in other countries - have been imprisoned or martyred for their faith.
Discussion Question: What challenges does living in the West present to Christ's call of discipleship? How can we confront these challenges?