Matthew 16b

Matthew 16 B:  Life is Difficult

“ If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself  and take up his cross and follow me.” ( Matthew 16; 24)

“ Life is difficult.”  This is the opening statement of M. Scott Peck’s classic: “ The Road Less Traveled.”   And as Christians we begin to understand the ‘ road less traveled’ is the narrow way that is entered by the strait gate – the Lord Himself being the gate, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  The road less traveled is also the road of self- denial.  Deny self- said Jesus. The hardest person to deny is self.

By now most of us at this stage in our life have discovered life is a series of problems. Peter who in this passage is trying to advise the Lord how to avoid this problem would learn by experience -life is difficult. He would later say- you should not consider it strange when you find yourself in fiery trials. James said he rejoiced in difficulties, for in solving them he knew his faith grew stronger through the exercise of discipline.

Therefore learning to solve problems is a part of life. Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve problems.  Guess what?  Complaining about problems is not one of the tools for solving problems.  Worry does nothing but make them worse also. Without the tools of discipline we cannot solve them. Let’s explore the four disciplines, Dr. Peck defined in his book and see if they are Scriptural.

Here are the four disciplines as defined by Dr. Peck:

  1. Delayed gratification.
  2. Acceptance of responsibility
  3. Dedication to truth.
  4. Balancing

Benjamin Franklin said: “ Those things that hurt –instruct.” C.S. Lewis says God gets our attention through the megaphone of pain.  Beverly Sills, the famous opera diva said: “ There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Delayed gratification is the process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. Whatever are the tasks you dread the most- do them first. No pain- no gain- the mantra of those who exercise- also applies to decision making, problem solving and life.

Accept responsibility- David did for his horrendous sin and affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband; the prodigal son did- and went home and faced the music.  The longer you put if off- usually the worst it gets. And you can be pretty sure it will not go away, simply because you ignore it.

We must also be dedicated to truth. Half-truths are not half –truths- they are lies, untruths. Jesus said if you know the truth- the truth will set you free. And then there is balancing – a discipline that gives us flexibility. The Bible tells us the Lord remembers we are dust- we are frail. He will never place more on us that we can bear. And has graciously offered to help us with our burdens: ‘ Come unto me all you who are burden and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  Balance means we must take time to enjoy life- to smell the proverbial roses, as well as do what needs to be done.  Going to the beach for vacation is enjoyable- going to the beach every day of your life is boring.

After Peter has acknowledged the truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus knows the disciples are now ready for the next revelation as to his manner of death and suffering and resurrection.  The timeline in his ministry of over 3 years with this small band of men- is now down to six months before his death.

Jesus is specific in his revelation of his death, as he reveals the place: Jerusalem, the Holy City.  The people: the elders, the chief priests and teachers who are the Lord’s enemies, the very ones who should have embraced him for who he was- are his most bitter enemies.  He tells his disciples he must suffer many things at their hands, a brutal scourging, a public and painful spectacle of crucifixion followed three days later by his resurrection.  We are told in Hebrews 12: “ … who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Delayed gratification.  When you face life’s difficulties, you do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted ( tested) in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. ( Hebrews 4)

Peter, like us does not want someone he loves to have to suffer. But guess what- God knows what to do and does not need our advice.   Delayed gratification looks beyond the present suffering as Paul did when he wrote: “  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” ( 2 Cor. 4)

Jesus is blunt with Peter, for he knew Peter and knew bluntness was necessary sometimes with this big, hard-headed fisherman.  He tells Peter:  “ Get behind me, Satan. You are stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’

Peter just wanted the Lord to spare himself this suffering. But it was for this reason the Lord Jesus came into the world, not to spare himself pain, but to suffer for our sins-pay for them that we might obtain salvation.

Jesus is not asking us to do anything, he has not already done. This is always the  trait of a successful leader. Jesus is asking us to follow him and he tells us the unvarnished truth. He is not a politician making promises of an easy life without problems. He tells us life will be difficult- in this life we will have trouble. But take heart- for he has provided the way to endure it.

Do you know why most people reject following Christ?  I believe it is very simple. They have to deny self. Jesus said whoever wants to save their lives by denying Christ will lose their life. You see sin is deceitful, the deceiver has since the Garden implied that God does not want you to live a life of enjoyment and pleasure.  Instead the devil  says God wants to deny you the pleasures that will fulfill  your life in your pursuit of happiness. When the exact opposite is the truth.

Jesus could not make it any clearer than this:  “ The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy. But I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” ( John 10:10) Can we not remember that when temptation comes slinking up besides us and tries to get us to do something we know is wrong.

And Jesus here in this passage tells us: “.. whoever loses his life will find it.” Whoever gives his/her life to Christ shall find life eternal. The abundant life is not a life without trouble- it is  a life that realizes in this life there will always be problems. It is in the process of meeting and solving problems with the disciplines and truths the Lord has provided that life has its meaning.

Self-denial is a hard lesson. Our old nature has to be reckoned dead.  We are to take up our own cross and follow Jesus. Notice it is our cross.  God has given each of us the cross we are to bear.

So there it is- simple to understand, but difficult to implement.  The process involves three steps:

  1. Deny self.
  2. Take up your cross.
  3. Follow Jesus.

First step- deny self. Who is it you think wants to run your life, be the master?  Self. Our old,nature. The enemy is us, for as Paul observed- I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing. The battle of denying self is based on the simple truth- you cannot serve two masters. Our old nature is a slave to sin- sin is it master. The heart of our old nature is deceitful above all things  and desperately wicked.  Our old nature seeks out ways to be tempted, to sin, to have its way. Denying self means to deny anything that hinders the will of God and keeps one from seeking first His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  Here is the Scriptural definition of what it means to deny self:  “ I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of Christ , who loved me and gave Himself for me.” ( Galatians 2:20) NOT I- BUT CHRIST

Second step, you noticed in the verse in Galatians 2:20- we are crucified with Christ.  We had a dual problem before we were saved- sin and sins. The Bible sometimes uses ‘sin’ as a noun. It is the principle or power that causes us to sin. This principle was and is our old nature, the flesh. The second problem we have are our sins- the acts we committed. We committed sins because we were sinners by nature. Sin was the factory – sins were the products the factory manufactured. God had to cover the sins and close, shut down the sin factory. Dual problem- dual solution.  He crucified my old nature- I was crucified with Christ. The blood covered my sins- all my sins, past, present and future. The cross nailed shut the factory that produced the sins. The cross cut down the tree that produced the fruits of sin. A new life was engrafted in me- the very life of Christ into my life.

Then as we daily take up our cross, we follow our New Master. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep.  And by studying his life in the Gospels we see how he lived and what he experienced. He knew both acceptance and rejection- so will we.  He knew  both joy and sorrow, healing and suffering, life and death.  So will we- when we follow Him.

He understands delayed gratification. He accepted the responsibility of doing his Fathers’ will and took on our sin, He who knew no sin. He was dedicated to the truth- and His words are truth. He understands our need for balance- and has promised never to place more on us than we can bear. His offer is to come to him with our burdens and concerns and he will give us rest. He offers his yoke to help us bear the burdens in life and has promised to never leave us.

We must understand what has happened.  There are two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of darkness in which we were born the first time. The other is the kingdom of light- the kingdom of heaven or God.   The only way we could get out of the old kingdom was to die, thus the cross. The cross stands as the division between the two kingdoms.  The kingdom of darkness is the what we refer to as the ‘ world’, a system where the devil is referred to as the prince of this world.( John 12:31)  And this world lies under the power of the evil one.  The other kingdom is the kingdom of the Son, as Paul tells us in Colossians 1:  “..For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In order to live in His New kingdom, we had to become new creatures.  To get out of the old kingdom we had to die- to enter the new one, we had to be born again. “ For that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God.” ( john 3:6) You cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you have been born again. ( john 3)

The cross is the way out of the old kingdom.   To take up one’s cross for the believer is take up the instrument of death and apply it to your old nature daily. One day at  time, is what they taught me in AA. I had to apply the truth sometimes moment by moment. My old nature did not ‘feel’ dead.  It did not want to stay dead- it was like some vampire that kept coming alive to try and get me to do what I did not want to do.

If my old nature is dead, why does it seem to be so alive ?  Paul was so right when he wrote in Romans 7- that every time he wanted to do good, evil in the person of his old nature was right there trying to persuade and rationalize to have its own way.

Here is the method for denying self, taking up your cross and following Jesus.

It is found in Romans 6,7 &8 in these following instructions:

  1. Knowing
  2. Reckoning
  3. Presenting ourselves to God
  4. Walking in the Spirit

Know what?  Know that I am crucified with Christ. Past tense- accomplished, done. How do I know this fact?  The Word of God tells me this is true. But my old nature does not feel dead. Our faith is in facts, not feelings. Our faith is in the Word of God.  “ Knowing this, that our old nature was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin.” ( Romans 6:6)

Reckoning is an accounting term which means to count the facts like one would count the money deposited in an account. Having counted the money twice and put the numbers down on  a deposit slip, we take them to the bank where a teller will once again double checks the numbers to make sure they are accurate. You now can reckon this amount is in your account. God has revealed to us through His Word and the Spirit what He has already done. “what must we do to work the works of God? Jesus answered: “ The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” ( John 6)  If God’s Word tells us we possess something- and the Spirit confirms it- then you can rest assured you have this in your account.

Presenting ourselves to God.   Do not present yourself to sin- for you sin is no longer your master. You have died to sin, because your old nature has been crucified with Christ.  Paul writes later in Romans 12:  “ therefore I beseech you brethren in view of God’s mercy to offer( present) your bodies as living sacrifices ,holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Now we learn to walk the walk- to walk in the Spirit.   God’s plan of salvation has provided us with all we need. The cross took care of my old nature, my  sin nature. The Lord’s blood covered all my sins.  Now as a new creature under new ownership, I need to start living out my new life. So often we try to do this in our own power.  How foolish to try and live the new life with the will power from the old nature.   In order to take hold of the new life, I must live in the Spirit and not the flesh.   This why the Lord’s teaching in John 15 is so important. He tells us we are now a branch in the vine. He is the vine, and our Heavenly Father is our Vinedresser, our constant gardener.  The branch has no life outside of what comes from the vine. Apart from the vine- it can do nothing, just as we can do nothing apart from Him. This process takes time. But at least now you know what you must do- you must believe God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do.  He has crucified my old nature. I have been set free- my chains are gone.  As many times as I had tried to quit drinking, wanted to quit drinking, I could not do it. I could not do what I wanted to do, but kept doing what I did not want to do. Sound familiar?  Like Paul I was wretched.  Starting over and over again- only to fail.  I was hopeless.

Then came that fateful day,that wonderful day- when I got saved. My old nature was crucified and the Lord Himself came into my life in the person of the Holy Spirit. Now instead of an old nature running my life and ruining my life, I had the Spirit of God to lead me, to encourage me, to teach me, to even pray for me.   I was under new management, new ownership- new rules, new ruler. I had only one thing to do—believe in the One He has sent.  Concentrate on abiding in Him. Cling to him and know He could be depended upon to never leave me.

“ There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.: ( Romans 8:1)

This spiritual law is a real as the law of aerodynamics that overcomes the law of gravity every time a huge aircraft weighing tons filled with people and fuel utilizes the power of aerodynamics to overcome the law and power of gravity.   We have been set free to soar above our old nature’s power, the law of sin and death. But I cannot do that in mine own power, just like I cannot overcome the power of gravity in my own strength.

For those of us who are in Christ Jesus we have been set free from: condemnation; defeat, discouragement and fear. Do you believe this?

It is only by knowing these truths, reckoning them to be true, presenting yourself to God and walking in the Spirit that you and I  can:

*Deny self * Take up our Cross *Follow Him

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14