18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) The identity of Jesus: Peter correctly identified that Jesus was the “Christ of God”. “Christ” refers to the promised “annointed one” of the Old Testament, the coming Messiah, who would save Israel from her sins and enemies, subdue the nations, and make all things new. But even though Peter was correct in seeing the identity of Jesus, he was not correct in understanding the mission of the Messiah.
2) The mission of Jesus: During the time of Jesus, the people of Israel were looking forward to a coming Messiah, but understood that promise in primarily political and national terms. They wanted a king who would end the oppression of Rome, give them back their liberty, and make Israel great again in the world. But Jesus had a different mission, a much greater mission, to save not only a remnant of Israel but a remnant of all the nations. But it also involved great sacrifice. So he had to correct the expectations of his disciples. Jesus came to suffer and die for sinners in order to bring them eternal life. He warned the disciples many times, as he did here, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (vs. 22) The Messiah must face rejection and death and then rise again. Glory would eventually come, but it would come through the suffering of the Cross. Jesus did not just come to smash his enemies, but first to save many of them through his death and resurrection. Judgment would eventually come, but not before all the nations heard the offer of pardon from the crucified and risen king.
3) The mission of those who follow Jesus: This pattern of suffering before glory is the also pattern of Christian experience. Christians will resemble the example of Christ himself. We are called to take up the “cross” daily (vs. 23). In Jesus day, the cross was a symbol of utter humiliation and shame, a death reserved for the worst criminals. It meant the utter rejection from Roman society. For a Christian to take up his cross daily means you consider yourself dead to the world and it’s fading pleasures and values. You see them for what they are, hollow and meaningless in light the demands and hope of eternity. Gaining the whole world, if it’s a fallen condemned world, has no value in saving the soul. It’s like playing king of the mountain on top of a dunghill. Only Jesus can save the soul. And the only way to have Jesus is to take up your cross with him. You follow the values and ambitions of Christ, looking forward to a new world with God. You ally yourself to Christ, and trust in his cross and resurrection as the only source of salvation for your soul, and follow him no matter what suffering may come. And it’s called a cross, because that daily choice is a hard one. The lure of worldly pleasures, respect, and wealth is strong. You may often feel like you are dying needlessly while the rest of the world lives on in freedom and pleasure without any worries or cares. But one day, Christ will return in glory to judge the world and bring an end to this fallen world, and make all things new for his people. At the end of the road of the cross is a resurrection. And only those who took up the cross daily and looked forward to that coming day will be acknowledged by Christ and welcomed into that new world. And in that day all the suffering, sacrifice, and self-denial will seem like nothing compared to the joys of life with God in eternity.