Matthew 16:21–23 ESV
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
I want you to keep a finger on that page in Matthew, and turn with me to Philippians 1:21 . I want to begin here by reading these famous words by Paul the apostle.
Philippians 1:21 ESV
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
- Do you know just how strange those words are to the world we live in? How absurd the idea is, that death is more gain than life.
Everything in our biology, our innate reflexes, strives to preserve life from death as much as possible. Yet again is what Paul calls our greatest peril.
Death takes everything from us. Our possessions, our dreams, our careers, our passions, and even our loved ones. Death has nothing to offer in the way of gain as far as our human minds can tell. And therefore, this text is to be observed through the mind of Christ. I do not believe, as far as I know, that there is any other text in the Bible that I have wrestled more with than this one. Theologically, I understand why death is gain. The next verses, Philippians 1:21-23Philippians 1:21–23 ESV
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.“Being with Jesus” is the gain of death. There is only one way that we can say these same words as Paul did if we are familiar with the presence of Christ. Knowing him more intimately is what carries us closer to such bold confessions.
- In that sense, Paul is saying that to live is Christ and die is Christ. But with death, you get the fuller experience of Christ without the stain of sin or the veil of the sinful mind.
Life was fruitful labour. It is working for the glory of God. But death is gain for it is the fullest reign of that glory.
- But let us have no fantasy about death, and realise its horrors. The question is, how does all this, that death is gain, add up with Romans 3:23
Romans 3:23 ESV
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,AndRomans 6:23 ESV
23 For the wages of sin is death,
Well, because verse 23 has the conjunction ‘but’ immediately following it,
Romans 6:23 ESV
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Death is the penalty of sin and there is no beauty in it, only loss. It is the judgment of God upon sinners. But, in Christ, what was our loss is now our gain.
And that is what I want to labour to show in this short sermon, as best as I can.
Paul, the man was hard pressed between the two, life and death, but Jesus, the Godman was not. And I want to do a comparison between Paul and Jesus to show how we like Paul are able to do what we do because of what Jesus accomplished.
- It cannot be said more true of any man apart from Jesus, that he was born to die. And this is especially strange because Jesus never sinned. If death is the wage of sin, then Jesus never sinned.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.Death was not some distant eventuality for him, as it was for us sinners, but rather a strategic, predetermined and intentional outcome, scheduled from eternity. Jesus was born to die because that was the plan.
On the cross of calvary, Jesus became the embodiment of sin, the wretchedness that God hates and pours his wrath over in divine justice. By becoming “sin” he took upon himself the full measure of death’s power. All that was “loss” to the Christian in death, Christ took upon himself.
You see beloved, death is gain and not a loss for us because that loss was borne by Christ.
- No human being gets to choose the hour of their birth or their death, except for Jesus.John 10:17–18 ESV
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”John 19:11 ESV
11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
Everything in his biology, his innate reflexes tended toward the will of His Father, which was the cross.
Hebrews 12:2 ESV
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
- This is the first of four times that Jesus predicts his arrest and crucifixion in this Gospel account.
Matthew 16:21 ESV
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
- From that time – This statement marks a shift in Jesus’ ministry. His eyes are now set on Jerusalem and the cross.
- Began to show – He was intent on demonstrating to his disciples what he was about to do. He was aware that they did not understand the proper measure of his plans. He had come to rule the lives of men by first dying and then rising.
- He must – The word here is referring to absolute necessity. He ‘must’ do this for it is his sovereign will. It is the inevitable outcome of God’s predetermined plan.
Revelation 13:8 ESV
8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
- Go to Jerusalem – Jerusalem, means the “city of peace”. But seldom has that been true for the city. For even now, as Jesus was going to it, he was going to suffer and be killed by the city of peace. The most horrible violence in human history would be committed in that city upon the holiest one to walk the face of the earth.
It was determined by God that Jerusalem would be the city that kills the Son of God.Matthew 21:33–41 ESV
33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”And that is what happened.
Matthew 21:43 ESV
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
God was pleased to take the true city of peace, the city of God, his holy kingdom away from the leaders in Jerusalem and give it to the church after a people producing its fruits. Therefore, we the church, are the new Jerusalem, the city set on a hill.
- Suffer many things – Not a few things. Not just death. Death was the end, but many other sufferings were on the road to death. And it was determined by God that these sufferings were necessary.Isaiah 53:5 ESV
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.These sufferings would be the means of our restoration.
- Be killed – Death was the penultimate act. God would not only suffer but he would suffer unto death.
Docetism was one of the earliest Christian heresies that did not believe that Jesus had a physical or human body but only appeared as a phantom. They could not see how God could be incarnate without being stained with sin.
But this is where the incarnation of Jesus is so important, the birth of Jesus so relevant. He had to be born human because he had to die.
You see, beloved, God cannot die. God is God. But Jesus, the Godman, is both human and divine, the mystery that theologians call the ‘hypostatic union’. Jesus is truly man and truly God.
R.C. Sproul once said that when Jesus died, his divine and eternal nature was perfectly alive and attached to his corpse.
- Be raised – The resurrection was the ultimate act.1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV
19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.If death devoured Jesus once and for all, then death would devour us all. But death did not defeat Jesus, but Jesus defeated death.
1 Corinthians 15:55–57 ESV
55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The curse of sin and death is broken by one who was raised.
As Christians, we are born again because we die in the death of Christ to our old selves, to sin, and we rise in the newness of life because Jesus rose from the grave.
Matthew 16:22 ESV
22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
- Took him aside and began to rebuke him – Jesus was as their Master as approachable as we see Peter here dare to do.Peter challenged Jesus’ plan.
- Far be it from you – Peter who made the confession of faith a few verses above had Jesus’ commendation that the Father in heaven had revealed it to him. But now was not speaking according to the Father’s will.
He could not imagine Jesus going to die because he could not understand that death was to be overcome. He did not understand that ‘this’ must happen.But later he did,
Acts 2:24 ESV
24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
- We do not know if this is just Peter’s usual headstrong nature or pride from Jesus’ commending him a while back.
Matthew 16:23 ESV
23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
- He turned to Peter – I wonder what the look on Jesus’ face would have been.We know that after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness,Luke 4:13 ESV
13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until opportune.
This was one opportune time. Jesus looked Peter in the eye, and beyond Peter to the enemy that continued to test him.
- Get behind me, Satan! – This statement would have undoubtedly shaken Peter, but with clarity revealed to him who was speaking on behalf of.
- Hindrance to me – This is what speaking according to worldly understanding does, and so many Christians do this. They are so quick to be the mouthpiece of Satan than they are of God.Your opinion is a great responsibility and you shouldn’t give it without thought and clarity and biblically founding.
- Setting your mind on the things of man – The things of man do not measure according to faith. We are called to be concerned with the things of God.Colossians 3:2 ESV
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
A few years later, Paul had to go to Jerusalem too. Jesus had called him to the ministry saying,
Acts 9:16 ESV
16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
But as he had determined to go, we read in Acts 21, how Christians tried to stop him.
Acts 21:4 ESV
4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:8–12 ESV
8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
- The disciples like Peter were concerned for Paul’s life, but not seeing God’s true purpose. And so Paul responds,
Acts 21:13–14 ESV
13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
- In the end, they submitted to the will of the Lord.
- But Paul went to death not like Jesus did, not to face the loss of death but the gain. Death is but one of the turns on the narrow way of Christ.
Jesus was born to die, and through him, death is gain for us.