Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24 – 28)
After Peter had substituted his human centered desires for kingdom thoughts in attempting to move Jesus away from the cross, the Lord felt it was a teachable moment and gave this lesson in cross-bearing. In four short sentences, Jesus clearly enumerates the cost of discipleship for His immediate circle and for all of us through the centuries.
The visual impact of these statements is clear to us so many years later, but put yourself in the sandals of the first disciples. They have not seen Calvary yet, there eyes have not played across the three crucifixes aligned there. The words they were hearing coming from the Savior’s lips held a much more personal invitation: give up your life if you are going to follow me. Your cross is your worldly death.
There certainly must have been second thoughts among the circle of twelve. Were we following Jesus just to die? Where was the anticipated reward? Especially to be crucified, this was the most humiliating death. For Peter and us, a different death is intimated on the first reading. We are to die to our will and take up God’s will.
At 20 days in this Lenten season, we are halfway to the cross. Have you fully died to self or are you following Jesus for the wrong reasons? Ask him and he will rebuke you, just like He did Peter.