Scripture: Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For 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. Truly, 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 16:24-28 ESV
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Observation: In yesterday’s Daily Focus (click here to read it), Jesus rebukes Peter for expressing his sympathies that align with Satan’s foil rather than the will of God. And his disciples will continue to struggle with the reality of Christ’s mission and how it will impact them until the Holy Spirit indwells them and overcomes their grief from dashed aspirations and their fear of what awaits them. Here, though, Jesus partially pulls back the veil to reveal in part the cost of following him.
To “come after” Jesus, his disciples will need to deny themselves of worldly pursuits that would compromise the well-being of their souls. And paradoxically, if they genuinely desire to thrive in his kingdom, they must forsake anything or anyone who would compete for their loyalty—even at the expense of their mortal lives. Jesus then reasons what profit one would gain from temporal pleasures at the expense of their eternal soul. He concludes with a glimpse of the end times when he will return in glory with his angels and judge the world according to their deeds. And he tags on a cryptic message about how some of his disciples will still be around when he comes with his kingdom.
Takeaway: Theologian Michael Wilkins argues that the symbol of the cross is not directly about suffering and death but about aligning with the Father’s will over ours: “The cross is for Jesus and those who follow him in discipleship a metaphor of the Father’s will for a disciple’s life. It involves the negative, ‘denying self’ (a person’s own will for his or her life), and the positive, ‘taking up the cross’ (accepting God’s will) and ‘following Jesus’ (putting it into practice)” (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p.572). And the reward for taking up one’s cross is the gain of kingdom life under the gracious reign of our loving King.
But what does Jesus mean that some of his disciples will not taste death until they see him coming in his kingdom? Some scholars reason that he refers to his resurrection or the imparting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But Peter, in his second epistle, provides the best clue: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV). Here, Peter refers to the Transfiguration, which Matthew chronicles in the next scene. Thus, Wilkins argues that Peter later interpreted Jesus’ allusion to his “coming in his kingdom” to when John, James, and he saw Jesus’ glorified body and heard the voice of the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (16:5 ESV).
So what’s our takeaway? Jesus expressed a sense of urgency for his disciples to decide whether they would listen to him and align with his and the Father’s wills or lean on their understanding of right or wrong, good or evil. It’s an age-old problem that started in the Garden of Eden and still confronts us today. And it remains a matter of urgency, for we have much to gain or lose depending on our decision. But the gain far and eternally outweighs the loss.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who stayed on course in doing your will until his last breadth so that we who put our faith and trust in him would gain our souls and eternal life in him. Still, we struggle to align our wills with the two of you, even in the face of sin’s consequences. So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit and confess when we stray and realign with your good, pleasing, and perfect will? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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