From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to His works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
- Matthew 16:21-28
Yesterday, we read that Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." Here is the true turn in Jesus' ministry: this paradox of revelation that He is the Christ, and that He will suffer and die at the hands of the religious leadership. This is scandalous because it was expected that the Messiah would live forever. He has already prophesied that He will leave only "the sign of the prophet Jonah" for those who demand a sign (see Wednesday's reading). It is inconceivable, in the context of expectations, that salvation shall come through suffering and death (see also 1 Corinthians 1:23). Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus confirmed such faith came from the Father in heaven. But here, Peter unwittingly speaks for Satan, urging Christ that He must not fulfill this mission.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." We note that Jesus did not explicitly state to the disciples the manner in which He will die. But here, He refers to the cross -- and it is something for all of them, for everyone who would be His disciple. In His time, the cross was a "dreaded instrument of Roman punishment" (says my study bible), but it becomes here in His words a symbol of suffering by Christians in imitation of Him. Self-denial for the sake of love of God and love of the gospel makes the cross a symbol of Resurrection. Such self-denial or suffering is never an end in itself nor is it a punishment. It is, rather, a means of overcoming a fallen world and the evil we find in it -- for the sake of the Kingdom and for our own salvation and spiritual wellness (see Galatians 5:24).
"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." My study bible says that the central paradox of Christian living is that in grasping for temporal things, we lose the eternal; but in sacrificing the 'worldly,' we gain eternal riches that are unimaginable (1 Corinthians 2:9). Jesus points to an exchange; so much of His teaching falls into this understanding. Forgiveness is yet another example. The reality of the Kingdom is a heavenly participation even in this world; we give up a perspective that sees life as separate or without it. Here, Jesus refers to one's very life as that which is saved and found.
"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Our souls are truly our very lives. My study bible says that this question emphasizes the utter foolishness of accumulating worldly wealth or power without consideration for the things that truly give us life. It reminds us in a very powerful way that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (6:1). It seems to come down to a question of what we're willing to sacrifice, for what treasure. What is it that we treasure the most?
"For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to His works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Jesus reminds us of Judgment; the one thing survival in the Kingdom will depend upon. But His final remark is also a reference to the Transfiguration (tomorrow's reading) as well as to those in every generation who will experience the presence of the Kingdom in their own lives.
How do we define what our lives are? How do we define what life is and means to us? Throughout Jesus' ministry, He has been preaching about the Kingdom, and its advent among us. And He will continue to do so. He has given us a prayer, which we call "The Lord's Prayer." And we pray to our Father in heaven, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Life in its fullness, Jesus stresses, is all about this Kingdom that lives even within us and among us while we are here in this world. But to truly realize that life in abundance, sacrifice will be necessary. These sacrifices aren't random and they aren't legalistic and they aren't done as some sort of "check off" list in payment of some irrational demand. They are the things that get in the way of our realization of this Kingdom and this life in our own lives. Most of all, sacrifice has to do with the ways in which we meet the "fallenness" of the world, the evil that we find. Jesus will face deep injustice, a false sentence, a court that has decided He must die before they try Him. But it is in how He meets the death prepared for Him that we find our own salvation: all is in the hands of the Father, and how Christ is taught He must meet that death. It is and will be the ultimate sacrifice: but it will also be the death of death itself. It's such a great, strange paradox -- but I believe we must approach it through the idea of exchange. Exchange, that is, of a limited life or worldly perspective for life in abundance, knowledge of the Kingdom, a heavenly reality that coexists within us and among us, an extraordinarily expanded and enhanced perspective: His Way. I have written above that forgiveness is a similar type of exchange. We "give up" the things that plague us and hurt us to God; in exchange, we're given a way through life that is not merely focused on some sort of evening up or vengeance. We give up a very material perspective for a better, more full point of view. In place of what we leave behind, we are given a way to well-lived life, sage counsel, and a path that is unlimited in terms of spiritual wisdom we may learn as a result, including a transcendent self-discipline. This is not a teaching that would simply deny us nice things or a comfortable life. Everything comes under this sort of exchange when we think of life as limited to the worldly vs. life as expanded and enhanced through Christ's life and Resurrection, His Wisdom and light, the abundance He offers to us. That would include the fullness and depth of all that is good, true, and beautiful. The early Church would call this "the way of life" vs. "the way of death." If you think about it, just one moment of such an exchange can make all the difference in a life headed the wrong way, burdened with destructive impulses, or slavery to a kind of life that never truly rewards with the fullness of life God can give us. The author of life offers us life -- not only His life but also life in abundance. He asks of us that we give ours to Him: our perspective and limited understanding, our way of seeing the world. That is the real sacrifice. Our exchange is the world and our lives given back to us, with so much more added unto us.