After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus introduces an unusual object into the conversation. He introduces an object that was used in the ancient world to execute violent criminals in the most excruciating way. This object was a curse to the Jews, and uncivilized for polite Roman conversation. This object was the cross. And not just his cross, but also yours and mine.
Matthew 16:21 says, “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.” Notice the urgency in his statement. Jesus doesn’t tell his men he is planning to go, or willing to go, but that he must go to Jerusalem and face the cross; and after the cross, rise again.
Of course this is scandalous coming out of the Messiah’s mouth. That’s why Peter objects and rebukes Jesus, telling him he will certainly not die, for the Messiah is supposed to live and rule. And then after blessing Peter for getting his confession so right, Jesus now calls him Satan because here he gets it so wrong. Here he is trying to stand in the way of God’s redemptive plan, a plan that had a cross as its centerpiece.
But Jesus doesn’t stop his cross talk here. But he continues it by moving from his cross to our cross. This is what he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
The cross was an instrument of death, their version of lethal injection, though much more bloody and barbaric. And for the triune God to welcome us back into fellowship, Jesus had to climb a hill with a cross upon his back; a cross where he would lose his life so that we might find ours. And in a similar way, all those who come after him, also come by way of a cross. For every disciple of Christ walks through death, gives up life, and loses all for the sake of finding true life. Indeed, we forsake the whole world in order to follow the One who created it.