DUNCAN/The essence of the kingdom
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 16:24-28. In this passage, Jesus connects His unique sufferings and death with the life that He expects His disciples to live. And not only to His disciples does He speak these words, but to you and to me in a very direct way. These words are designed to set forth the ordinary responsibilities of every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. These words are not merely for the original disciples. We will see four things from this passage. First, self-denial is at the heart of biblical Christianity. Second, those who seek first their own interests never find the satisfaction for which they seek. Third, no temporal gain can compare to the loss of the soul. And fourth, the Son will reign, and His judgment will be according to Kingdom self-denial.
I. Self-Denial Is at the Heart of Biblical Christianity
In verse 24 Jesus calls the disciples to self-denial and explains what He means by self-denial. Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” In that verse we learn the first great truth that self-denial is at the heart of biblical Christianity. Notice what is happening. The disciples are having a hard time accepting Jesus’ words to them that He just go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. Jesus makes it clear that if you want to be saved, you must be united to Him by the Spirit by faith. In other words, if you are a believer, you are united by the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration to Christ, and faith is that bond of union with the Lord Jesus Christ. You’re united to Him, and because you’re united to Him, His work benefits you.
Let us look at each of those things that He says in this charge. First of all, He calls us to deny self. To deny yourself means to renounce your yearning to possess; to renounce your desire for power; to renounce your desire for the favor of men; to renounce the seeking of human glory for the sake of seeking first the kingdom. Next, He says that you must take up your cross. He is not speaking of us taking up the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is speaking of us bearing up under our own specific trials and temptations. He does not say, “Take up My cross.” He says, “Take up your cross.” By that He means this: We must be ready to bear affliction in this life knowing that God has prepared that affliction and knowing that God uses that affliction as fatherly discipline to conform us to the image of Christ. And then, He says that you must follow Christ. “Follow Me,” He says. What does that mean? It means to look to Jesus. It means following Him in His obedience and in His example. Jesus is not talking about meriting salvation through denying self. Jesus is talking about expressing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts by grace in a life of self-denial.
II. Those Who Seek First Their Own Interests Never Find the Satisfaction for Which They Seek
In verse 25, you will see the first of three arguments that Jesus is going to give to the disciples as to why they ought to deny themselves. He says in verse 25, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Jesus here teaches that those who seek first their own interests will never find the satisfaction that they are looking for in this life.
Jesus is saying to His disciples, that they must learn to say with Him, “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” This is exactly what He is teaching in the Lord’s Prayer when He tells us to pray, “You pray this way: Thy kingdom come.” What we really want to pray is, “My kingdom come, Lord.” “Lord, I’m waiting for my ship to come in. My kingdom come.” Jesus is saying that we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” There is something far more significant for you to pray. You pray that the Lord’s Kingdom will come. You pray that the Lord’s will be done. The disciples must learn that their own interests sought first will never ever be realized.
III. No Temporal Gain Can Compare to the Loss of the Soul
We learn in verse 26 the second argument that Jesus gives for the importance of self-denial. We learn that no temporal gain can make up for the loss of a soul. He says in verse 26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus teaches us that self-denial is at the heart of biblical Christianity in this passage. He teaches that those who seek their own interests first never find them. He teaches that no temporal gain can compare to the loss of your soul. What does it matter to have ease, comfort, popularity, beauty, prestige, success, power, and influence if you do not have true life?
Jesus’ argument with His disciples is that those who do not deny themselves temporally, deny themselves eternally. How does it make a difference? If you really believe that the rewards that Christ promises are eternal, and if you really believe that those rewards are only experienced in relationship with him and will in some cases have to await the future manifestation of the kingdom, it changes the whole way you approach the things and the blessings of this life.
IV. The Son Will Reign and His Judgment Will Be According to Kingdom Self-Denial
In verses 27-28 we see Jesus’ third argument. He teaches here in verses 27-28 that the Son will reign. He says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Jesus is saying though something quite striking. He is saying salvation is by grace. He is saying that judgment of every man will be by obedience. That is an amazing thing. Though salvation is wholly by grace through faith, Jesus says, “I will judge every man according to his deeds.” He is saying to His disciples that as He has promised them as they have trusted in Him and as they have walked in the way of self-denying obedience, He will reward them when He comes. And so, we deny ourselves for Christ in order to delight ourselves in Christ.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.