If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 16. As you will recall in our study of Matthew 16 and the first 12 verses of this passage, we see Jesus rebuke the Pharisees and the scribes and warn His disciples against their teaching. And then in verses 13 through 20, we see a confession by Peter which represents the view of the disciples of who the Lord Jesus Christ is. The crowds and the multitudes that Jesus was preaching to, they were not believing what Jesus was claiming about Himself and so, Jesus turns to His disciples and He says, “Who do you think that I am?” And they give him a two-fold confession. First, they ascribe to Him the title of Messiah. They say, ‘Yes, we believe you are the Messiah, the Christ.’ And then they say, ‘You are the Son of the living God.’ And so they acknowledged two things in particular about the Lord Jesus Christ – that He is the long awaited Messiah, spoken of by the prophets of old and that He has a special and unique relationship with God, indeed, He is the very Son of God incarnate. And that particular confession sets Jesus on the course for further teaching about His particular work on our behalf. And that's what we come to today hear in Matthew 16 verse 21. Let's hear God's holy word. It is His word. It is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, suitable, sufficient to grow us in grace. Let's look at the word of God.
O Lord, by Your Spirit, help us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the truth of this passage for the saving good of our souls. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
In the wake of Peter's great confession, a confession which represented the views of the disciples as a body about the Lord Jesus Christ, they were accepting His claims to be Messiah, Son of the living God. In the wake of that confession, Jesus immediately begins to teach His disciples about the nature of the work that He would do on their behalf. Early in His ministry, His disciples had heard John the Baptist say of him, “Behold, the lamb of God who comes to take the sins of the world away.” But they didn't know how He was going to take away the sins of the world. Jesus had spoken to them in the past about His death. And He had even spoken about His resurrection in the context of speaking about His death. Remember all the way back in Matthew chapter 9 verse 15? He spoke to His disciples about the necessity of His death. But He spoke of it in passing and He spoke of it in figures of speech. And then again, when He spoke about the sign of Jonah in Matthew chapter 16 verse 4 and before that in Matthew 12 verses 39 and 40. He spoke of His death, but again, in a figure, in almost a parable, comparing what He was going to do as the sign of Jonah.
But now, we come to a significant point of departure in Jesus' teaching of His disciples. He begins to explicitly and regularly and forcefully explain to the disciples the necessity of His death in connection with who He was. The disciples had now come to a point where they grasped more firmly than ever before who Jesus was, who He was claiming to be, and the significance of that. Now it was time for His disciples to learn more clearly than ever before what He was going to do on their behalf and why. Now, He would teach them how it was that He would take away the sins of the world. And I want to point you to, this is a very short passage, but a very rich passage and we could spend much time in it, so I want to isolate our thinking about two or three things in this passage.
I. We must understand the necessity of the cross if we are to understand Christianity.
The first thing I'd like you to see is in verse 21. Here, Christ foretells the cross. And we learn something very important. You cannot understand Christianity if you don't understand the cross. Christianity makes no sense apart from the cross. And this is one of the prime points that Jesus is driving home. We must understand the necessity of the cross if we are going to understand Christianity. Jesus' response to Peter in Matthew 16 verse 17 indicated that He agreed wholeheartedly with Peter's assessment of who He was. When Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus' words are not, ‘Well, Peter you don't quite have it right.’ It's, ‘Peter, you are blessed by My Father in heaven, because He revealed this to you. You didn't figure this out on your own. Flesh and blood didn't teach this to you, but My heavenly Father revealed this to you.’ And so He confirms that Peter's estimation of Him was true.
And as soon as He sees that the disciples have grasped that He is both the long expected Messiah and the very Son of God, He knows that time has come to teach them a more unsettling aspect to the good news. Now, He must teach them that Messiah must die. Now, you and I have known that from the time we came into the church. Perhaps, it struck home first when we fell under conviction and then when we were brought to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have been taught that since we have been affiliated with the church in any capacity, and so it's second hand to us. But we can not possibly overestimate the force and shock of that statement to the disciples. The disciples are utterly unprepared for the message that Messiah must die. We're going to see in this very passage in their reaction the fact that this takes them utterly by surprise. The prophesy about the fulfillings, about the sufferings and the eventual murder of the Messiah of God that Jesus is giving to the disciples here, is utterly disturbing and surprising and troubling to the disciples in every detail.
Think first of all of where He says He's going to suffer. He says He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. And that's such a shock to the disciples, because clearly, Jerusalem is very much in their minds as a center point of the hope of all the people of God. They have expected Jerusalem to be a center where the Messiah will set up His earthly rule, who will drive the Romans and the infidels from the land, who will reestablish righteousness according to the law of God again, will set up the houses of worship, will drive out the unbelievers, will establish a reign of righteousness which will go on and on and on. And they expect it all to happen in Jerusalem and they anticipate in some way that they're going to be a part of that. But their vision of the kingdom of heaven is utterly earthly. And they have no idea that Jerusalem, far from being the center of the rule of the Messiah, will be the center of opposition to the Messiah. We know from Matthew 24 verse 1, even right prior to Christ' crucifixion, the disciples are wandering around the temple mount, and they're saying to Jesus, ‘Behold, these buildings! How wonderful! They were established by votive gifts. The walls, they're massive.’ And you can hear the words of Psalm 122 echoing in their hearts, “O Jerusalem how compact… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” And you can hear the hope of these dear Israelites that Jerusalem will once again be the center of righteousness and the rule of David. And Jesus, of course, says to them in Matthew 24, and you'll see in the parallel passage in Mark 13:1, exactly where their hearts are in this, Jesus says to them, of course, “I tell you that this temple will be torn down and built up again in three days,” which utterly confuses the disciples, and that's not my point. My point is, notice how the disciples’ hopes are still even at that stage of Christ's ministry rooted in Jerusalem. And Jesus is here saying, ‘Jerusalem is going to kill Me. I'm going to suffer in Jerusalem. I'm not going to reign in the fashion that you expect Me to reign in Jerusalem. I'm going to be killed in Jerusalem.’
Notice, also, who He says is going to administer these sufferings. He says to the disciples that the chief priests and the scribes and the elders are going to be the ones who administer the suffering and who ultimately kill Him. Now, this is utterly shocking to the disciples. We, when we see chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees, we immediately see people with black hats, and we see the disciples as the people with the white hats on. Pharisees are bad. Disciples are good. The disciples couldn't quite see it that way. These were the men who had instructed them in the faith from their youth, and they had a tremendous veneration for these chief priests and scribes and Pharisees, and we see it throughout the gospel. We've seen it here in Matthew. And now Jesus is saying to them, ‘And by the way, these men will kill Me.’ The leaders of Israel, these people taken together, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, you know what they make up? They make up the highest religious tribunal in Israel. They are the very apex of the establishment of religious righteousness in the land and the Lord Jesus is saying, ‘Yes, they will kill Messiah. The cream of the spiritual crop of Israel, they will kill Messiah.’ William Hendriksen says this, “What Jesus is saying is this, that Israel's very leaders who should have been foremost to honor and worship the Christ were going to afflict Him and put Him to death.” Jesus also mentions in passing the nature of His sufferings here. He says He “Must suffer many things, and He must be killed.”
Now, Jesus does not give us specifics here. He does not say how He is going to be killed. And I wonder if there was a deliberate method to the Lord Jesus' restraint in telling His disciples at this point, simply that He was going to be killed, and not telling them how He was going to be killed. I wonder if the Savior felt, ‘If I tell them now that's it's going to be crucifixion, it's just going to be far too much for them to take in.’ And so, it is only later as Jesus continues to reiterate this particular truth that He tells them not only is it that He is going to die at the hands of the leaders of Israel, but He is going to be crucified. He is going to suffer the most ignominious death that a person could in the Greco-Roman world. An accursed death. And in Matthew 17 verses 22 and 23, He picks up this same message again and teaches it. In Matthew chapter 20 verses 17 through 19, He picks up this same message and reiterates it, and at that time He tells them that He is going to be crucified. And then again two days before the Passover, He tells them that He is going to be crucified in Matthew 26 verse 2. So, Jesus begins a programmatic explanation of this fact that He is going to be crucified. And though He mentions here in Matthew 16 verse 21, the promise of the resurrection, we may glean from Peter's response that it was entirely missed. That the disciples did not grasp what He had said about His resurrection. We may also glean it, of course, from the way that they acted after He was crucified. The hope of the resurrection seems all but lost in their hearts in those bitter hours after His death.
Now, why did Jesus tell the disciples this, at this time, at this glorious time when they'd made this public announcement about the fact that they had come to believe Him fully, surely they've owned and embraced Him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Why at that moment would Jesus begin to teach them about His death? Well, they're many answers to that question and I can't possibly give you them all, but we can look at a few of them this morning.
First of all, it was absolutely important for Jesus to teach His disciples about His death, because His sufferings and His cross were not an accident. They were the product of the eternal covenant of redemption. It was vital for His disciples to know that what was going to happen to him in the months to come was not something that He was unprepared for, it was not something that He had not planned for, in fact, it was what He was born for. And it was vital for them to know it was at the very heart of the plan of God for the Messiah to suffer. It was absolutely essential to know that this is God's plan unfolding for the Messiah to suffer. Otherwise, they would have been able to make no sense out of what Jesus was doing. It's so important for us, my friends, to understand that the death of the Messiah was not plan b. God had not sent Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom and then, oops, the Jews rejected Him, and so He had to die. That was not what happened. God sent His Son to die on our behalf. In fact, the very rebuke that Jesus issues to Peter is because Peter had not grasped that point, and He did not realize that if it did not happen, that he was eternally lost.
Jesus also said this word to the disciples to correct their understanding of the Messiah and of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were still thinking of the kingdom of heaven in earthly terms. They were still expecting an earthly rule of Christ. They were still expecting Christ to banish the wicked rulers of the land, and to be set up with Him as the rulers of Israel in establishing justice and righteousness. And it was important for them to understand that the way that the Messiah was going to establish His heavenly rule, is that He was going to die. That's how His heavenly rule was going to be established. Not by kicking out the Romans and setting up righteousness, but by dying. That's how the kingdom of heaven would be established.
It was also absolutely essential for Jesus to teach the disciples this to prepare them for the sorrow and pain and turmoil that they would go through in the hours of His crucifixion and the aftermath of His death. They would almost lose all hope and it was absolutely essential that they know that they sufferings of the Messiah were at the heart of the plan of God. By the way, there's a great comfort in that for us, my friends. If we are in Christ, then there are no meaningless sufferings in our experience. It's so important for the disciples to know that the pain that they would experience was not meaningless, was not wasted, was not the product of vicious fate controlling the universe, it was the heart of the plan of a loving God. And we must learn that lesson as well.
And, of course, Jesus had to teach the disciples the truth of His death, because it would be their job in due time, after His death, after His resurrection, after His ascension, after the Pentecost, to be the prime force in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of heaven to the world. And at the center of that gospel are two great pillars: Christ and Him crucified. The Apostle Paul made that clear in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 2. But Jesus said that long before Paul said that. He said it right here to the disciples, ‘Christ and me, crucified. That's going to be the center of your teaching.’ It was absolutely essential that the disciples understand that and that they began to be trained in that now. Even though they would not grasp it to the full until the Spirit came upon them and their eyes became clear about the teaching of that truth. The truth which Christ is now impressing upon their memories will be called to mind by the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ, by the way, promises that to them in John 14 and in John 16. And this, by the way, is another commendation to us of the Catechism. We may not understand the Catechism when we first memorize it, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the truths of Scripture set forth in that glorious Catechism can be brought to mind and used as a tool in the Spirit's hand, not only to clarify our own understanding of the truth, but to help us communicate it to others. And this is what Jesus is doing with the disciples. He's explaining to them a truth that they will not grasp in the full until the day ofPentecost is come.
This one event of the cross of Christ is the final revelation of the consequence and character of sin, and the wonder and sacrifice of divine love. Martin Luther says, “There is not a word in the Bible that can be understood apart from the cross.” And Jesus is saying right here that His cross is at the center of the proclamation which His disciples must proclaim, because the cross is at the center of God's strategy of redemption, His plan of redemption. And so He begins to teach the disciples about it here.
II. We must submit our thinking to the authority of the word if we are to be Christ's disciples.
Well, what's Peter's response to this? You see it in verse 22. Peter is absolutely agog. He can't believe that the Lord is saying this. He thinks the Lord has temporarily lost His marbles. And so He challenges the Lord. He takes Him aside, and he begins to rebuke, to admonish the Lord Jesus. And we learn in verse 22 that we must submit our thinking to Christ if we're going to be His disciples. For a moment, Peter, who had just made this great confession, begins to think in the flesh. His thinking is worldly. His thinking is fleshly. His thinking is not spiritual. A moment before, he had spoken a word which was inaugurated by divine revelation. Now, he is speaking the thoughts and the imaginations of his own heart. His reaction is, of course, utterly understandable. I have profound sympathy with Peter. I have no doubt that if my master had just announced to me that He was going to die on that side of the cross I have no doubt that my first reaction would have said, “O Master, I don't want You to die.” No one would wish that on someone they loved. No one would wish their master to die, to suffer many things. And certainly not if their Master is the Messiah of God. But Peter was not thinking spiritually here. In fact, Jesus Himself says, ‘Peter you are thinking according to man's interests, not God's interests.’ And Peter has no idea that by saying to Jesus as he did, “God forbid it, Lord. This must not, this shall not, this will not happen,” that Peter was asking for his own eternal damnation. Because if Christ does not go to that cross, we are all damned. No wonder Jesus meets that rebuke with such a severe response. No, Peter doesn't understand the essence of the shameful death of Christ for the purposes of God. And Calvin tells us that “What was especially necessary here was for Christ to show His disciples that His kingdom would not be ushered in in pomp and in riches and with the joyful applause of the world, but with the shameful death of the cross.” That was going to be the way that God would purchase our salvation. You see, Peter's response was motivated by a misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom. And by a misunderstanding of the nature of the Messiah.
And we must understand very clearly what Jesus is saying here. Do we understand that that cross is absolutely essential to His kingdom? Do we understand that that cross is absolutely essential to our salvation? And do we understand that the way of humiliation is God's way of exaltation? It's opposite from the way the world thinks. And Jesus is beginning to teach His disciple in the true way of thinking.
III. We must realize that the way to glory is the way of the cross, and beware any other suggestion.
Now one last thing here, we see in verse 23. Jesus' rebuke to Peter. And we learn here again that the way of the cross is the way to glory, and any other suggestion, any suggestion that says there is a way into fellowship with God around the cross. There's a way into fellowship with God apart from the cross, there's a way into fellowship with God by my own good works. There's a way into fellowship with God in any religion, because all roads lead up the mountain. Any teaching that says there is a way into fellowship of God apart from the cross is a lie from the pit of hell. And Jesus makes that clear here, because He says to Peter, the one that He had just pronounced blessed, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter had pulled Him aside. Peter didn't want to rebuke His master in front of all the other disciples, he pulls Him aside. He says, ‘Master, well, you've got to be kidding! God forbid this. This just can't happen. This must not happen. I'll pray against this happening.’ And Jesus turns around to Peter and in front of the whole crew, He says, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Why in the world would He say that to His disciple? Because Jesus heard a satanic trap being laid in Peter's words. In fact, Peter was speaking words not dissimilar to the words Satan had spoken to Jesus in Matthew chapter 4 verses 8 and 9, when He said, ‘O Jesus, I can give you the kingdom without the cross.’ That's exactly what Peter was saying. ‘Lord, no! Your kingdom's going to be built up! None of this suffering!’
So Jesus' response is swift and brutal. Why? Because Peter's rebuke was based on the wisdom of the flesh. And that wisdom of the flesh had to be exterminated in Peter if He was to be saved spiritually. Peter's words represented the most sinister and subtle of Satan's temptations against the Lord and against His church. And the Lord Jesus was not going to trifle with that sin. And Peter's challenge to Jesus' truth was at the very heart of the gospel. To deny the cross is to lose the gospel. And to lose the gospel is to lose salvation. No cross – no gospel – no salvation. And so Jesus' response is decisive.
Hendriksen again says, “There was not a moment in which Jesus entertained the devil's suggestion.” He knew that He was going to be confronted by the same tempter who at the previous occasion tried to inveigle Him with a false promise. And so with finality He rejects the implied inducement to sin and by doing so, He himself is carrying out the advice that He gave to others, namely, not to dilly-dally with sin, but to take drastic action against it. Jesus, by the way, is showing you how to deal with sin. You don't slowly run away from temptation hoping that it will catch up with you. You cut it off at the root. And Jesus goes right for the root of this temptation.
Jesus here is teaching the absolute necessity of the cross. And He opposes anything that qualifies the absoluteness of the necessity of His saving death. Because that is at the heart of the gospel. Have you embraced the absolute necessity of the cross for your salvation? If you have, you have trusted on Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, because you know that any other way is the way of death. May God help us all to practically acknowledge the truth of the centrality of the cross in the gospel. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, there is hardly a word more important for us to learn than this one. So by the Spirit, be our teacher. For Christ's sake. Amen