18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" 19They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." 20He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."
21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
23Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
Three themes are woven together here: Identity, Destiny, and Discipleship.
The Identity in question is posed by Jesus' asking, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter gives the correct answer, "The Messiah of God."
The Destiny in question is what Jesus must undergo in the coming days -- suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.
The Discipleship in question is the relationship between Jesus' identity and destiny and the followers' lives. More specifically, it is the question, How does Jesus' identity and destiny shape the lives of His followers?
That Jesus is the Messiah (a kingly title) implies Jesus has subjects who will give him their allegiance, devotion, and love. That Jesus is the Suffering Servant (which incorporates his suffering, rejection, and death) implies that his subjects will follow the same pattern.
On the face of it, this is depressing news. Who in the world wants to suffer voluntarily? Who wants to deny themselves? Who wants to take up daily their cross (an instrument of death)? If you're sane -- meaning you want more pleasure and less pain -- you would not sign up for this. If you're insane, then ... who knows?
Jesus is assuming we are sane. Jesus is assuming we want our happiness. Jesus is assuming we want what is best for us in the end. That is why Jesus follows up the denying yourself and taking up your cross part with the positive motivation of our saving our lives and gaining something eternal.
Listen, Jesus is saying, let me lay it out plain and simple: If you follow me in the way of suffering love, you'll have everything to gain. And nothing to lose. It's a no brainer. If you don't have a brain, then you've got bigger problems. If gaining the whole world while forfeiting your soul makes sense to you, then you're not right in the head. You don't need a Savior, you need a shrink. (OK, the last sentence is more poetic license than Jesus' actual sentiment.)
The point is clear as cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2), aka cubic zirconia, which Jocelyn and Angela know not of: That the only life worth living with everlasting joys now and forever is the life of following Jesus, suffering and all!
If you got that, you got everything important. There's a certain beauty in the logic of Jesus. He says in essence, Follow me with everything you've got, and I'll give you everything I've got. Like our friend Chong Ho said a few weeks ago, it's either a 1 or a 0 (digitally speaking). It's so logical! The logic of everlasting life.
Let's pray: Father God, grant us the clear Kingdom logic for our lives based on who we are: that we are followers of Jesus, that we follow Jesus in His suffering love, that we give our lives entirely to Him so that we can receive all that He has for us. What an amazing exchange! As Jim Elliot wrote down in his journal many years ago, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Such is our soul. Such is the gift of eternal life. We give up our lives for your sake, Jesus, and in so doing we gain more than we can ever imagine. What a glorious and generous Messiah You Are! In Jesus' Name, Amen.