Way of the Cross (Matthew 16:21-28)
Several years ago, I had a physical. I stepped on the scale and weighed 300.2 pounds. My bloodwork wasn’t much better: my A1C and my cholesterol were dangerously high. And my neuromuscular issues were full-blown: I had to use a walker to get around.
I told Tammy that I had to do something: so I started Weight Watchers and exercising. Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of weight, but I’ve had to give up a lot. I don’t always get to eat as much as I want; there are restaurants where I simply cannot go. I get up at 4:00 am seven days a week so that I can exercise. I swim around 10 miles a week, and I ride between 250-300 miles a week. There are days I don’t want to get up at 4:00, there are days I don’t want to swim, and there are days I don’t want to ride, but I do what I must.
You’ve also made sacrifices. Maybe you, too, had to go on a diet—maybe because of diabetes or cholesterol or heart issues. Maybe you had to start an exercise regimen. Maybe you had to quit smoking, and it was hard to quit. Maybe you had a problem with alcohol, and you stopped. Maybe you had some other habit that you had to give up. Maybe you sacrificed a great deal to get your college degree or to keep your marriage together or to raise your children or to advance in your career.
Jesus, in this morning’s text, spoke about sacrifice. Peter had just confessed his faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and Jesus explained that he—the Messiah—would sacrifice greatly. Jesus then told his disciples that they, too, needed to sacrifice. This morning, we want to think about the “Way of the Cross” and understand: “The way of the cross is the way of self-denial.”
Scripture (Matthew 16:21-28)
Jesus explained what being the Christ, the Son of the living God, meant: He was going to die a horrible death in Jerusalem and be raised again on the third day.
Many Jews in Jesus’s day expected the Messiah to destroy the Romans, not die on a Roman cross. Peter, therefore, couldn’t understand a Messiah who would suffer and die, so Peter told Jesus that wasn’t going to happen. It was beyond rude for a disciple to correct his teacher in Jesus’s day, but Peter couldn’t help himself when he heard the “nonsense” Jesus had said.
Jesus was apparently tempted to follow Peter’s way, for he said, “Get behind me, Satan!” The term the English Standard Version translates “hindrance” is literally “stumbling block.” The Greek term referred to a trap set for an enemy and came to be used metaphorically for something that tempted one to sin or caused someone to stumble in his faith.
How could this disciple who had just confessed his faith and received the keys to the kingdom be a stumbling block to the Lord? Because his mind was on the things of man, not the things of God.
Jesus called on his followers to suffer like he would: to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow him. Following Jesus means giving up your wants and your desires. As people struggle with sexual identity today, we constantly hear that people should be who they are; Jesus said, “No! You give up yourself. You cannot be yourself and be my disciple.” The Greek term for “deny himself” actually means to give up your personality. Coming to Jesus means that you give up every part of you.
One must also take up his cross; Romans expected the condemned to carry the crossbeam to the place of execution. As one carried his crossbeam, he would be ridiculed and mocked. Following Jesus means enduring mockery and ridicule and giving up yourself.
As one gives up his life, he gains true life.
It does no good to have a great life and accomplish much only to end up in an eternal hell.
Jesus will come again and repay each one for the deeds he has done in the body.
Some of the Twelve would see Jesus come into his glorious kingdom, the church.
“The way of the cross is the way of self-denial.” As Jesus went to the cross, he gave up his own way. In the Garden, he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He didn’t want to hang on that cross and endure the pain and agony with the sins of all the world on his shoulders, but he gave up his will to do God’s will. Paul wrote about Jesus’s crucifixion: “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Jesus obeyed his Father so greatly that he literally picked up his cross and died for the sins of the world. And Jesus calls on you to obey and to pick up your cross and follow him. You do that by denying yourself: “The way of the cross is the way of self-denial.”
How do you travel the way of the cross? How do you deny yourself?
You must Cross-Examine your heart and determine what you need to give up to follow Jesus. When I started losing weight, I had to determine what I needed to give up, and you need to determine what you need to give up to follow Jesus.
Cross-Examine your soul and discover what you’re holding onto. Cross-examination is important for the Christian:
- “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28).
- “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5).
Cross-Examine yourself. What sin do you hold in the recesses of your heart? What sinful thoughts do you entertain? What actions pull you away from God? What resentment do you harbor? What habit keeps you from denying self?
Two: Cross Out
After you Cross-Examine your heart, you Cross Out whatever prevents you from following Jesus. In other words, you stop your own way and do things God’s way.
You see, your life, your desires, your personality, your thoughts, and your actions are dead in Christ.
- “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6).
- “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
- “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
- “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col 3:5).
- “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24).
What do you need to Cross Out from your life?