“Deny My Wants and Desires? Really?

Matthew 16:21-28

At this point in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus and His disciples were hanging out in Caesarea Philippi, a region made up of mostly Gentile people. They have come here to regroup and get ready for the final act. Last week we read how Jesus confirmed His identity as the Son of the living God, the Messiah. 

I suspect each of those who were part of this group felt a sense of relief as well as a sense of exaltation. 

Relief that they had not just spent their last three years in vain following this man, He really was who they thought He was. Nailed it! 

And exaltation because, Yahoo! The Messiah is here at last! We are free from Roman rule and oppression. The Jews will be finally exalted as God’s chosen people. 

Not so fast. Verse 21 reads, 

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

This had to have been a shock for His disciples to hear. I wonder if they shook their heads a little and some mouths were gaped open. The Messiah was going to “suffer many things” and “be killed.” What was Jesus saying?

In actuality Jesus was saying what had been prophesied all along. 

Somehow the Jewish teachers had missed verses 5-12 in Isaiah chapter 53. You know the part, where the He must die and He would be raised the third day?

The Messiah had to suffer and die because of two great facts:

  1. The fact that humans sin
  2. The greater fact, God loves humans regardless

Jesus’s death was the ultimate example of human’s sin against God 

and yet 

it was also the ultimate expression of God’s love to humans. 

As Jesus was explaining to the disciples what was about to transpire we can imagine that the only part they heard was the first part, where Jesus would be killed. 

As soon as they heard that their brains went into denial and they didn’t hear the second part where Jesus told them He would be raised three days later. I suspect this happened for a couple of reasons. 

First, this happens to most everyone who hears devastating news. The kind of news that rocks your world, like “I hate to tell you this but you have cancer.” The patient stops listening to what type of cancer, what the prognosis might be, what the treatment will be. All they can hear is the word “cancer.” 

The second reason I think they stopped listening was because we read in the gospel of Luke chapter 24 that an angel had to remind them of these words. 

Peter steps up to the plate again, however this time he takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. 

At least he pulled Jesus aside and tried to do so discreetly. Maybe the praise Peter had just received from Jesus when he had figured out Jesus was the Messiah gave Peter some sort of boldness to be willing to correct Jesus. Peter must have thought he knew what the Messiah was expected to do and dying wasn’t on that agenda. But it didn’t take long for Jesus to put Peter back in his place, because we read that “Peter began to rebuke,” and Jesus stepped in with, 

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;”

Whoa! Didn’t Jesus just applaud Peter for one response and now He is calling him “Satan?” 

At one point Peter was speaking as a messenger of God and moments later he speaks as a messenger of Satan? How can this be? 

I dare say Peter wasn’t aware of either influence. 

He certainly didn’t think he was speaking for Satan at this point and he was probably just as unaware that he spoke for God earlier. We shouldn’t be too harsh on Peter, unbeknownst to each of us I suspect we have done the same. 

It is much easier to be a tool of God 


of the devil 

than we realize. 

Jesus goes on to explain how this happens, 

“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, 

but merely human concerns.”

Peter didn’t make a deliberate choice to follow Satan and reject God. 

Instead, Peter allowed human things instead of the things of God to cloud his thinking, and Satan took advantage of it. 

This is a perfect example of how 

just because Peter had a sincere heart with his statement, a sincere heart coupled with human thinking can often lead to disaster. 

We experience this often. Someone says something or does something that results in pain or problems and their defense is they sincerely meant to do the right thing. For example, a nurse mistakenly gives the wrong medication to a patient and the patient dies. They sincerely meant to do the right thing but they were sincerely wrong. A mistake was made, regardless of sincerity. 

Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is also evidence of the leaven Jesus spoke of in verse 6, 

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Peter’s view of the Messiah had come from the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yet, when the very Messiah, whom Peter had just proclaimed offered a different paradigm, Peter was unable to wrap his mind around it. There was no way Peter could see the Messiah as a suffering servant, that’s not what he had always been taught. So impetuous Peter chose to rebuke Jesus. 

Jesus’ rebuttal was meant to put Peter back in his proper place, behind Jesus, not in front of Him. It’s our place to follow Jesus, in His way, not to try to lead Jesus in the way we think He should go. Here’s what Jesus said next, 

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Can things get much worse? What a rollercoaster ride!

First the disciples were confirmed in their belief of Jesus being the Messiah. Finally the King of Kings would set them free from persecution and oppression. Only to be dropped to the depths with the idea that Jesus was called to suffer and to die? 

Now, to remain a disciple of Jesus they were to deny themselves and take up the cross? 

Be aware, the word cross meant only one thing to people at the time of Christ. The cross had no other purpose but to bring unrelenting death to whomever it was ascribed. 

It wasn’t about any religious ceremony, it didn’t have a tradition of spiritual feelings behind it, 

it was a tool to execute people, period. 

Somewhere down the line Christians have done a pretty good job at sanitizing and ritualizing the cross. Whoever said “carrying your cross,” had to do with some irritation in your life didn’t get it right. 

Here’s what Jesus was really saying, 

“My disciples will be called to walk down death row daily and follow Me. This is a journey that is a one-way trip.”

We are required to carry our cross on the way to the execution, just as Jesus was required to do. 

How often do we hear this part of the story when people tell us about what it takes to be a Christian? 

We get the part where we hear the gospel, believe in Jesus, accept Him as our Savior and we are “born again,” on our way to heaven, happy ever after, end of spiel. 

It’s not appealing to continue with, 

“Oh and by the way, you will have to deny yourself.” 

Deny yourself, 

take up your cross, 

the two express the same idea. 

This isn’t about ME, or YOU, no self-promotion or self-affirmation in this decision. Think about it, the person carrying a cross knows they can’t save themselves. 

I want to make something clear, denying self is 


the same as self-denial. 

You practice self-denial when you occasionally give up something or an activity in order to do something else for a good purpose. 

You deny self when you surrender yourself to Christ and are determined to obey His will, regardless. This means living as an “others-centered” person. Now mind you, Jesus was the only one to do this perfectly but that shouldn’t stop us from putting our best foot forward and following Jesus’ example. 

I think we are clouded with so much everyday that is focused on the opposite opinion. 

Human nature tells us to indulge ourselves, 


deny self. 

In fact, our society is dependent upon this concept. Consumerism at its finest. You want something, buy it. 

If it will make you feel good, 

look good, 

don’t deny yourself of the pleasure or reward. 

You deserve it and 

our way of life will be damaged if you don’t get it. 

Death to self is always terrible. 

The word “death” is terrible. 

Jesus was being honest and wanted His disciples to understand, here in an imperfect world, we are going to experience certain death, 

our only hope 

is following Jesus in His resurrection power. 

The Kingdom of God is upside-down and the cross holds a paradox, 

you find life 

by losing it. 

This is profound and is a concept that takes meditation and time to comprehend. Please don’t just allow me to say this in front of you and then go home and go on with your life. 

That’s exactly what the disciples did. 

They listened to Jesus explain that in order for them to be saved, they would have to give up their lives for Jesus’ sake. In order to have a resurrection life, you have to die first. But it wasn’t until after Jesus had risen and Thomas had put his finger in Jesus’ side did the disciples put two and two together. We are blessed with being able to read the whole story. Take this concept home and think about it. Talk about it with your family, your friends. Live it.

Take the idea of planting a seed. You don’t lose the seed, even though it seems dead and you’ve buried it. Instead, the seed is allowed to be what it was intended to be. 

Profit is the bottom line, isn’t it? 

Jesus asks, “What does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your soul?” Jesus himself had that option, remember His encounter with Satan at the beginning of His earthly ministry? 

We have been programmed by the world to think that the more we have the happier we will be. However, that is often the reverse. Take a good look at your life. What is it that brings you security? Anxiety? Hope? Despair? Jesus was telling us that living as an others-centered person doesn’t take away from our lives, it adds to it. 

Who are we going to listen to? 

What do we really want to gain? 

Jesus speaks the truth, the world doesn’t. 

“Deny My Wants and Desires? Really? 

If we live life blind to the truth, the cost is our soul. 

Does this mean I am doomed to a life of death and crosses? Not according to Jesus’ next statement, 

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

When we walk with Jesus we are promised a life of power and glory of the kingdom of God. 

It’s up to us. Decide today whom we will follow. 

The price is high, but the rewards are higher. 

Let’s pray.