“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”
– Matthew 16:24
Again, the religious leaders come to Jesus and ask for a sign from heaven. They probably wanted some sort of miraculous sign such as fire coming down from heaven. Jesus shows them their foolishness. These religious leaders know how to interpret the signs of the weather, but they cannot interpret the signs of the times – they do not see the signs already presented that point to Jesus as the Messiah. It would be like telling a pastor that they are incapable of understanding the most basic parts of Scripture. He again tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that it will only be the sign of Jonah that they will receive. The sign of Jonah is that Jesus will be buried for three days and would rise again. This would be the only sign they would need in order to believe.
Jesus warns his disciples that they are to beware the leaven of the religious leaders. His disciples, as we have seen many other times, were not perceptive of what Jesus was trying to say and they thought he was saying something about them not having enough bread. Jesus knows they do not understand and rebukes them. He brings up the two times he has multiplied bread to feed the multitudes – would he not also provide for his disciples? He tells them again to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees and they finally understood it. The disciples were to beware the teaching of these religious leaders because, like leaven (or yeast), their teachings can spread rapidly.
With his disciples, Jesus asks them what the general consensus is from the public’s perspective about who he is. The public believed he could be a number of people such as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet. Jesus, however, then asked who they thought he was. Jesus wanted to see if they had finally understood his Messiahship. Simon Peter was the first to respond by saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. By this statement, Simon Peter was declaring something with extreme implications – this man, this Jesus, was the Messiah – the promised one of God. Jesus makes a statement of blessing upon Peter and says that Peter will be a leader in the development of the Church. However, in true Jesus fashion, he tells his disciples to tell no one about his Messiahship. Again, Jesus’ time had not yet come.
In , Jesus began to prepare his disciples for what would happen when they go to Jerusalem. Peter, probably in good heart, took Jesus aside and told him that this would never happen. Peter could never understand how Jesus, the one he had just said was the Messiah, could ever die. Remember, Jesus was not the type of Messiah they were expecting. Jesus rebukes Peter and calls him an adversary. The disciple that just confirmed his Messiahship was now being called Satan! The truth is that Peter’s mind was not focused on the plan of God but on the plans of men. Peter was a hindrance because his mind was not set on God’s plan.
Jesus again explains to the disciples the cost of following him. Jesus tells them that anyone who wishes to be his disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. First, disciples must deny themselves. They must be willing to give up all that they have in order to follow him. Like many of Jesus’ disciples, we must be willing to give up our former lives, our comfortability, and our entitlement in order to follow him. Second, disciples must take up their cross. The cross was a symbol of death. It reminds us that we must die to ourselves when following Jesus. It is no longer about our life, our plans, or our purposes – it is now about his life, his plan, and his purpose. We die to ourselves so that we may live for him. Third, disciples must follow Christ. We must follow his teaching and his example as we live obedient lives in him. As says, those who die to themselves find new life in Christ. In , Jesus tells his disciples that salvation is not something that can be bought, but it is worth more than anything in this world. What Christ demands now is for us to sacrifice our lives to him, but he will reward us with eternal life and eternal rewards when we join him in paradise. That is worth more than anything this world could offer.