Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to 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 will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” – Matthew 16:24-27
My wife and I used to live in the Washington DC area and we noticed it is a city where many people desire to be important. Stretch limousines, impressive titles, photos on the front page, fashionable clothes, powerful connections, and wealth, are all marks of importance in the capital of the United States. Importance is usually an estimation of significance based on a position of power, the things we own, the work we do, and the people we are associated with. It all comes down to what or who we are identified with, our personal identification.
The question that we need to answer is whether our importance is valid or not. Do we have the right kind of personal identification that makes a person important? People lose their power, get laid off from their jobs, contract debilitating illnesses, their wealth deteriorates, and people die. Importance in this world is so temporary.
How can you have truly substantial and unending importance? It all comes down to your personal identification. When Jesus knew that His time on Earth was coming to an end, He taught Peter and the other disciples about how to have true importance, not in this world, but in the Kingdom. He taught them that to truly have importance in the Kingdom, you must identify with His sovereignty and suffering.
By the time of the events in Matthew chapter 16, there had been a growing movement of resistance to Jesus through the Pharisees and Sadducees. The chapter begins with them asking Jesus to give them a sign from Heaven that He is the Messiah, the One who will reign over Israel and the world. In fact, back in chapter 11, John the Baptist had asked him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” And He pointed to His messianic miracles as the signs. These Pharisees and Sadducees had seen these same signs. And now they were asking for a sign from Heaven? As if He hadn’t given them enough already. Jesus replied that no other sign was going to be given to them except the sign of Jonah. The sign of being in the earth for three days. It was the sign of resurrection that would be given to them.
Then Jesus departed from them to speak to His disciples. Jesus was preparing to turn toward Jerusalem and the cross. He wanted to hear the disciples’ affirm their faith in Him, to make explicit His purpose to die on the cross and rise again, and to explain the requirements and rewards of discipleship. Matthew 16:15-17 says, “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’”
Before the disciples could identify with Jesus’ sovereignty, they had to receive revelation about Jesus. Peter’s response showed that He had received this revelation, and He affirmed its truth. By his statement Peter identified with Jesus as the Messiah, the Divine Son of God, who has the sole right to rule Israel and the world.
Jesus knew that to properly identify with His sovereignty, people must also identify with His divine suffering. Jesus was willing to go through awful suffering with His eyes on glory. Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus is already enjoying glory, but He will manifest it to the world when He comes back to earth “in His glory” to reign “on the throne of His glory” (Matt 25:31). However, first there had to be the suffering of crucifixion to pay for our sins (Luke 24:46).
To take up your cross (Matt 16:24) means to identify with Jesus’ suffering. Give up on your selfish desires to save your life in this world, to save your sense of self-importance. Taking up your cross doesn’t mean putting up with the normal aches and pains of this life. Taking up the cross is publicly identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection. It is living with a willingness to suffer rejection, pain, and death at the hands of the world while following Christ to his ultimate Kingdom glory.
For those who identify with His suffering, Jesus gives a promise. You will receive a recompense. We’re not talking about works righteousness, but He will repay everyone according to his deeds. Christ will more than replenish what we have given up. He will more than give back what we give up to follow him unto Kingdom glory. Those who follow Jesus will find real life in His glorious Kingdom reigning forever and ever with Him.
Psalm 146:3 says, “Don’t put your trust in princes, nor the son of man in whom there is no help.” Believers, we need a desire to follow Christ to His Kingdom glory. As we meditate about our Lord’s death and glory, may we renew our commitment to Him. Because only by identifying with Jesus in His sovereignty and suffering, will we be truly important people.