Matthew 16:13-28: Take Up the Cross
February 15, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Exodus 38-40; Psalm 37:23-40; Matthew 16:13-28; Acts 23:1-11
Peter’s confession of Christ is justly famous, for good reason, and yet frequently misunderstood at the same time. Jesus begins by asking who people say that he is (16:13). This is a technique for teaching, asking a question in good Socratic mode, not because Jesus was either ignorant of what people were saying about him, or especially interested in the popular vote. He wanted to use this question to get the disciples to give their answers so that he could create a “teachable moment” among his little band of followers.
They answer telling him that basically people think that he is some sort of prophet, though exactly what kind of prophet is a matter of debate (16:14). Simon Peter then chimes in with the right answer, what he thinks himself: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (16:16). Absolutely right, Peter; come to the front of the class, receive a gold star, and an A+ grade this week. But actually, Jesus is quick to point out, this answer was not because of Peter’s intellectual brilliance, or theological profundity, or because he had been particularly observant, but because God had revealed the answer to Peter (16:17). Any insight into spiritual matters that we have should never be a cause of pride among us, for any such insight is only found in the sovereign gift of God and his illumination of our minds.
Now comes the part over which there has been much division in Christendom. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (16:18). Surely this means that Peter is founder of the church, the primary apostle, and gives credence to the Roman claim to precedence in ecclesiastical matters of authority? Any time there is a question about a text, it is important we read it in its context. And, indeed, in the very next section, from verses 21-23, we see the conversation carries on as Jesus starts to lay out what kind of Messiah/Christ he is to be: a suffering Christ.
Peter, though, emboldened by the right answer he has just given about Jesus’ identity, takes it on himself to correct Jesus. Not so Jesus! You cannot be right about that! Let me set you straight, Jesus! (16:22). Well, now Peter is entirely wrong (having been a moment before, 16:16, entirely right). And if we are to interpret the previous verse 18 as meaning that the “rock” is Peter himself (instead of what Peter said), then here we must interpret the same way, that Satan is Peter himself (instead of what Peter said). It is far more likely that instead of Peter having gone from being the rock to being Satan personified, that in fact what Peter said earlier was the foundational rock of the church, and what Peter said now was demonic attack upon the church.
Indeed, Jesus then makes that interpretation quite clear in verses 24-28. To follow Jesus means to follow the way of the cross, as Jesus is following the way of the cross. To follow Jesus means to deny yourself; it is to put God first. In this sense when we become a Christian, and when we follow in the life of discipleship, we “lose” our life. We lose the life that is fundamentally selfish; that life or “self” which was originally intended to be in perfect communion with God, submitting to him, has because of the fall in all of us become “selfish.” For our “self” to truly “live” we must deny that “selfish self” in order once again to bring the self back into line with its original created intention, that is the self in submission to God, which is truly “life.”
Jesus then warns us that this path is the only path that makes sense: “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (16:26). He encourages us that God will reward with eternal blessing those who take up their cross and follow him. He predicts that there will be some who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (16:28), meaning, surely, in context, that the kingdom comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and there are some who will see that very part of the coming of the kingdom before their own physical death.
So let us then take up our cross and follow Jesus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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