Things aren’t always the way they appear. We’ve all been fooled more than once by outward appearances. Maybe you bought a car, thinking it was a real peach and in cherry condition, but it turned out to be a lemon! Maybe you dated someone who had all the good looks and outward charm in the world, but turned out to be either an idiot or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or maybe you took a job thinking that it was going to be your ticket to wealth and fame, only to discover that it was a cul-de-sac job headed nowhere. Or perhaps you fell prey to the slick hair and slick talk of some TV “evangelist” or religious leader and thought he was the real deal, only to be crushed by the news that he was caught in an affair with a 25-year-old male stripper.
I’m just sayin’… Oh yea, we’ve all been tricked by appearances. But on top of that, to make things worse, we’ve all tricked other people. We all have the ability to look interested when we aren’t, to look sympathetic when we couldn’t care less, to seem friendly when in reality we don’t even like the other person and wish they would take a flying leap. No, you and I are not always what we appear either. Sometimes we are a phony as a $3 bill.
Indeed, we are good at deception. We learn it from a very early age. However, there is someone who is even better at it than we. His name is Satan. In the Bible he is called the great “deceiver,” and “the father of lies,” among other things. He has worked very hard to earn those titles. His lying career started back in the Garden of Eden when he showed up in a beautiful serpent suit to trick Adam and Eve into believing they could become like God in every way if they would just throw off their inhibitions and eat from the forbidden tree.
Since then he has shown up in many different forms but always with the same purpose—namely, to deceive and to get people off the path of righteousness. In our text for today, he apparently showed up one day in a “disciple suit.” Now the costume was good enough to trick the disciples but Jesus certainly wasn’t fooled. He knew Satan so well that He could recognize the old demon no matter how was dressed. It’s too bad that we aren’t as good at recognizing him in all his various permutations and costumes. It would make it much easier to resist him.
Verse 31: He [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed, and after three days rise again.
- This is where Jesus turned a corner with His disciples. At this point in His training of the Twelve He began to be very specific about what He had come to earth for and what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. He told them that He would be arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified, and that He would then rise from the dead on the third day.
- “…the Son of Man…” Jesus almost always used this title to describe Himself. It emphasized His humanity in the midst of His divinity, but more importantly it was the ancient OT title which referred to the suffering Messiah. The cross was a necessary aspect of the Messiah’s work.
- “…the Son of Man must suffer…must be killed…” He must suffer and die in order to fulfill the many OT prophecies concerning His death, burial, and resurrection.
- Imagine what the disciples must have thought about such talk. They were shocked and could hardly believe their ears. Up until this point they believed that He was just getting His ducks all lined up in preparation for defeating the Romans and setting up His Messianic Kingdom on earth. Now He is talking about being rejected, suffering, dying, and rising again. None of that fit in with their understanding of who He was or what they thought He was supposed to do and it left them very confused.
- “He spoke plainly about this.” Jesus never sugar-coated anything, but up until now He had spoken in a more veiled fashion and had simply never given them any details. Now He spoke openly, laying it all out on the table for them to see and He explained the fine points of exactly what would come to pass at the end of His mission.
- This is when Satan showed up in his disciple suit! Simon Peter must have asked to speak to Jesus privately, and the two moved out of earshot of the other disciples. Did Peter know that he was doing the devil’s work here? NO. I think he was honestly trying to snap Jesus back into reality as Peter saw it, and get Him to stop talking this “crazy talk.
- “…and began to rebuke Him.” A guy has to have a lot of nerve to try and rebuke Jesus. After all, He was God in the flesh. He was the God-Man in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. And isn’t it amazing how quickly Peter could turn from being a tool in God’s hand to being a grenade in the devil’s hand. Only a few verses back, in verse 29 we read, “And Jesus continued by questioning them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Thou art the Christ!’” How could Peter flip-flop so quickly?
- Yet how different is this than what we do when we question God and accuse Him of not loving us, not treating us right, not doing right by us and our loved ones. Isn’t that taking God to task, much like what Peter did with Jesus? Peter rebuked Jesus. Sometimes we rebuke God too.
- Jesus listened to Peter, then turned and looked at the rest of His disciples. Then He responded. He rebuked Peter [same word]. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. Was Jesus saying that Peter had become demon-possessed? That Satan had actually climbed into him? NO, because had that been true Jesus would have had to exorcize the demon, and that didn’t happen. So what was He saying about Peter? He was saying that the thoughts that motivated Peter’s words were not from God but from Satan. By trying to dissuade Jesus from completing His task at Calvary, Peter was working in line with the enemy rather than doing God’s work.
- “Get behind Me, Satan!” Jesus was saying, “Get out of My way, Peter! I’ve just told you that I must go to the cross to die in order for you to be saved. Get out of the road and let Me do what I came here to do.” From eternity past Satan has been opposed to the plans and purposes of God, including God’s plan to redeem fallen mankind. And over the years he has tried all kinds of tricks to cut off Messiah’s line to make sure that there would never be a Savior. Now Jesus saw in Peter the same impediment to Him completing His mission, though Peter himself did not realize that he was serving as the devil’s pawn.
- In fact, Jesus used almost the same words against Peter that He had used to rebuke Satan back in Matthew 4:10 during the Temptation in the Wilderness. “Begone, Satan!” (NASV) “Get thee hence, Satan” (KJV)
- He called everyone to gather around Him, disciples and non-disciples alike, and began to teach them.
- What He said to them publicly followed logically on what He had just said to the Twelve privately about the path of suffering that He must walk.
- Up until this point in His ministry Jesus has called people to repentance and to belief in Him as their Sin-Bearer. Now He changes the appeal somewhat and begins to call people out not only to believe in Him but to follow Him as disciples. Until now His emphasis has been on proving that He was the promised Messiah, the One who was to come as the perfect Sacrifice. He called people to salvation through faith in Him. But salvation is just the first step in the Christ-follower’s life. Discipleship is the life-long commitment to obey and to serve Him.
- So here Christ gave a call to discipleship, and it has four components:
- “If anyone would come after Me…” Literally He said, “If anyone wishes, desires to come after Me.” First there must be the desire to become a true disciple. The Lord does not drag anyone into His service against his will, kicking and screaming. This is an all-volunteer army.
- “…he must deny himself…” This is very difficult. By nature we are wired up to serve ourselves and look out for our own selfish best interests. Christ is calling His followers to humble ourselves and put God and His kingdom purposes as first priority in our life. Self-denial speaks of readiness to suffer for someone else. Christ is the pattern in this. He calls us to follow in His footsteps.
- “…take up his cross…” What cross is this? Does it mean that we have to die on a cross just like Jesus did to be His follower? For many Christians in the first century that was exactly their fate. However, the cross is a symbol of suffering. Jesus told His followers on several occasions that to follow Him would mean suffering for sure, and that has proven out in history countless times. Jesus was telling His followers that suffering was part of the package. Whoever would come after Christ must walk the path that He walked, the path of self-denial and cross-bearing.
- “…and follow Me.” The form of the verb indicates continual following with no stopping or turning back. The disciple is to keep following Jesus (Greek present imperative).
- Wait a minute! Now He’s talking crazy stuff! If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you want to lose your life, you’ll save it. Is that what He said? That can’t be right, can it? That just sounds too weird! Let’s back up the truck and unload this cargo box by box.
- This verse is the one that led Jim Elliot, one of the five MAF missionaries killed in 1956 in Ecuador by the Auca Indians, to write these words in his journal: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” The Bible says in James 4:14 that our life is but a vapor, a little bit of fluffy cloud. The more we try to grasp on to it the more it slips through our fingers.
- Paul gives another insight from his personal perspective in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
- In high school many of you were forced to study Goethe’s “Faust.” Though you’ve probably tried hard to forget, the story concerns the fate of Dr. Faust in his search for the true essence of life. Frustrated with learning and the limits to his knowledge and power, he attracts the attention of the devil, represented by Mephistopheles, who agrees to serve Faust until the moment he attains the pinnacle of human happiness, at which point Mephistopheles may take his eternal soul to hell. Faust is pleased with the deal, because he believes the moment will never come. But to his surprise, the devil follows through on his promises and Faust finally has to face up to the deal he made with the devil. Now this is a fictional story but it illustrates what many people do. In order to gain the shiny objects this world offers they put their souls in hock to Satan—not in a direct, “let’s make a deal” kind of way, but by going after the things the devil offers us, the way a fish goes after a shiny lure.
- In Luke 12:16ff Jesus taught a lesson about this. Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And He told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
- God is not against us having money and shiny objects as long as they don’t come between us and Him, which they so often do.
- Jesus asks the question, “What is so valuable that a man would be willing to trade his soul for it?” They expected answer is “NOTHING,” but against all logic people do it all the time anyway. Oh, they don’t do it consciously. I mean, they don’t realize they are making a pact with the devil, but that is what it amounts to.
- “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words…” Who is He talking about? The word “anyone” takes in all people from all time. However, I believe that He was speaking particularly of those who claimed to be His followers but did not pass the four-fold “Disciple Test” of verse 34.
- Truly desiring to obey and follow Christ
- Deny self and selfish ambitions in favor of God’s kingdom
- Take up Christ’s cross daily
- Follow the Master without turning back
- “…in this adulterous and sinful generation…” By this He is not speaking only about the generation that was living in that day. They were no more sinful than the generations before them, nor than those who followed. But they are representative of mankind in all generations. Man in general is infected with the same disease. We are all dying of it and we are all carriers of the virus. It is called “SIN.” We are all sinners by nature and by choice.
- “…when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Here Jesus pulls back the curtain of time for just a second to give His disciples (and us) a peek at what it will look like when He returns someday in power and glory to claim what is rightfully His. On that day the Lamb of God will be seen as the Lion of Judah, and the Savior will be seen by all to be the Righteous Judge.
Christ’s four-fold call to radical discipleship is still a challenge to us today. It messes with our heads. Oh, we want His salvation. We want Heaven. We want forgiveness of sins and a nice life here and now. But we don’t want unqualified obedience, suffering, self-denial, daily cross-bearing, or continual followership. Yet those are what Christ calls us to, today.
Scott Wesley Brown, a gifted contemporary Christian song-writer penned the words to this song after reading Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Shadow of the Almighty. But I'm certain he was also thinking of Jim Elliot’s journal entry when he wrote this song in which he challenges all of us to a deeper level of devotion to our God.
HE IS NO FOOL (Words and music by Scott Wesley Brown)
I’ve lost track of all the Sundays the offering plate’s gone by
And as I gave my hard-earned dollars I felt free to keep my life.
I talk about commitment, and the need to count the cost,
But the words of a martyr show me I don’t really know His cross.
For he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Yes, he is no fool who lays his own life down. I must make this the path I choose.
Obedience and servanthood are traits I’ve rarely shown,
And the fellowship of His sufferings is a joy I’ve barely known.
There are riches in surrendering that can’t be gained for free,
God will share all Heaven’s wonders but the price He asks is me.
There is an old chorus that most of you know that sums up this text. It goes like this…
I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus? – No turning back, no turning back.