In the famous words of the late American news commentator Paul Harvey, Matthew 16:21-28 is "the rest of the story". It is a continuation from Matthew 16:13-20, in which Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God. Now Jesus is telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to complete his God-given mission to save the world by dying on the cross.
Naturally this comes as a shock to the disciples. After all, why would God send someone to do something as ungodlike as dying? And if dying was necessary, why couldn't it be done on the battlefield instead of on a cross. It's no wonder Peter rebukes Jesus. After all, here he was-a fisherman who believed Jesus, but who could not understand the true purpose of Jesus' mission. He, like many of the Jews, thought that the Messiah would be a military ruler who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David.
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to lead them into battle-and they should not expect to come away unscathed. In fact, they should not be surprised if they died on the battlefield. They would be facing the forces of evil, and those forces were strong enough to wreak havoc. God would win the ultimate battle against evil, but in the meantime his disciples could expect the fight of their lives. It is a fight we are still involved in today.
Peter rebuked Jesus because he took seriously his new role as the rock on which the church was built. He took his role so seriously that he thought he had a responsibility to make sure that Jesus' ministry would be successful. He thought it was his duty to rebuke Jesus, but Jesus put him in his place. His place was behind Jesus as a follower-a role we also have to play.
Peter, like Satan, tried to deflect Jesus from the way of God, and Satan tries to deflect us from God's way today. Satan has lots of traps to put in our path, and because he is smart, he knows that the best time to trap us often comes after some great victory. In Peter's case, it was just after Jesus told him that he was going to be the rock that the church would be built on. Peter wanted Jesus to follow the wide, smooth road of a worldly life that leads to death and sin. Jesus knew he had to travel on the narrow, rough road of life with God, and it is the same road we as Christians have to travel today.
Jesus wasted no time in dealing with Satan, and neither should we. Peter had fallen for the enemy's temptations of allowing his thoughts to turn inward to himself and his desires for the nation of Israel. So Jesus moved quickly to put an end to Peter's wrong way of thinking. We must never allow the thoughts of pride or sin to linger. We must keep our focus set on God, and ask Him to reveal His perfect will to us. He knows the plan and outcome of our lives. We can trust him fully because He knows exactly what the future holds for us.
Jesus knew the road he would have to travel would lead to self-denial and the cross, and he urges his followers to be prepared to pay the price and suffer the consequences if they want to follow the same road of life. We as his followers have to sacrifice our own interests in favour of serving Christ. Our personal goals and interests have to take on a secondary importance if we want to receive eternal life. When we do, we will fulfill God's purpose of giving life. Jesus often motivated his disciples to love and good works by reminding them that He would return one day in great glory to reward all His faithful servants for whatever they had accomplished in His name.
This concept isn't east to understand. Spiritual growth takes place slowly. It takes a lifetime, and even as we reach the end of that journey, our understanding is far from perfect. For example, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples about the suffering that awaited him in Jerusalem, but they did not understand until after the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit had not yet come, and their eyes and minds were blinded to the eternal things of the Lord. However, after they saw the resurrected Christ, they knew He was the Saviour. God's Word always bears fruit at the right time.
We take up the cross of Jesus any time we suffer in some way for identifying with Him and His cause. "Cross bearing" does not always include affliction our persecution in general. It may mean denying what we deeply desire in order to do the will of God. When we obey Him, we position ourselves for great blessing. We can take up our crosses and know that the Lord will bear them with us.
When Jesus said that those who want to save their lives will lose them and vice versa, he was right. Our world is full of examples of people who have sold their souls by using sex, drugs, money, careers, possessions or alcohol to find happiness in life, only to be disappointed. Whatever a person is or becomes in his outward life, the particular quality of his or her soul will be the deciding factor in how he or she lives and how others experience him or her. The recent death of singer Amy Winehouse is a good example. She had everything the world could offer-a good career, money and fame-but her drunken binges and tragic death showed the true emptiness of her life. With God, though, there is another way. Through his life, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus saves us by showing us the way to a life of God's forgiveness, love and grace-given with no conditions and no strings attached. God provides for us the chance to live a life with a full range of the possibilities potentially present everywhere.