21From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:21–28)
Following Christ means abandoning one’s own ways, desires, inclinations, and directions and following only Christ. More distinct than the color gray and more square than the circle, following Christ means abiding in Christ and in His Word. Go outside of these and you will no longer be going after Christ, who is the Light (John 8:12) Go outside of Christ and His Word and you will be following the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are ways of darkness.
It sounds easy enough to follow Christ. Indeed, isn’t this what all Christians contend they do. We go to church. We confess our sins. We confess the truth of God’s Word. We pray. We present ourselves as ‘nice’ and ‘friendly’ people. We at least try to be civil toward each other, at least when others are around.
And yet, even with all of these ‘externals,’ as much as we would like to think that we unashamedly and diligently follow the Savior, we don’t always fair so well when it comes to believing, or even giving thanks, for the way that God does things. We grumble and complain, believing that our circumstances should be better, that God should do something, that somehow, we know better than God does! “I shouldn’t be suffering.” This shouldn’t happen to someone like me.” “How come things haven’t improved yet?” “God, we’re waiting. Anytime now!”
Rather than rejoice in the tremendous blessings that God freely gives us for Christ’s sake, we become impatient and begin to doubt His promises. We look for what we don’t have instead of that which we do. We, in essence, fail to trust His Word as we ought. We look elsewhere than to our Lord for contentment, for satisfaction, and for peace. We place ourselves in the frontline of our lives, while God gets placed in the backseat to our own plans and goals.
Rather than determine that the Word of Christ is God’s Word because it is of Christ, we deny them their power because of how they are delivered to us. Though we might piously deny this, in reality, we do not always hear them as such. Instead, we feud over delivery and style, all the while forsaking the substance. The words aren’t right. The sentences are out of place. It all seems so poorly delivered. There’s little passion. It can’t be God’s Word because it doesn’t meet my expectation of what that Word should be.
But look again at the text above. Peter had just rightly confessed the identity of Jesus (Matthew 16:16-17). Now, taking His eyes (ears) off the Word and Jesus, he gets it all wrong. Peter was going according to how he thought things should be and not according to what Jesus was saying.
We might want things to be different. We might want the Word to be presented in such a way that it clearly appears to be the Word of Living God. We might want the power and the glory and the honor for the church and for the Lord. Such, however, is not the way of God, but the way of man.
Jesus is laid in an animal’s feeding trough at his birth (Luke 2:7). He comes humbly and lowly, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:5). He gets mocked, beaten, bloodied, and killed. He doesn’t appear to be the Savior at all. We certainly don’t recognize Him to be. Nor do we recognize His bride, the church, in all of her glory this side of heaven. Her bumps, bruises, discord, unrest, and blemishes hide her true beauty. The same goes for God’s people, too (1 John 3:2).
Looks certainly are deceiving! That’s why God’s people do not continue having in mind the things of man, but turn to the things of God. Only with the things of God does absolute trust remain sure and certain. Setting one’s mind on the things of man is by far the more natural and gratifying. Yet such is the way that leads to death, not life.
Thus does Jesus rebuke Peter, and say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?”
Only in denying self (including one’s own expectations and desire for glory and success), taking up one’s cross, and following Christ can one begin to do so and come after Him, and continue to come after Christ. Peter went wrong where he followed what came from within himself (Matthew 15:19). So do we! Our only recourse is to turn to the Lord and to hear and believe what He Himself says (minus what we think He ought to say or the way that we think He should say it). And in doing so, we will know what a gracious God we truly have, in Christ. We will also know that just as it was for Christ, so it will be for those who seek to follow Him. Then, in Him, we will find our help and our strength. Amen.