Shocking and impossible! This was Peter’s response to the news that Jesus, the Son of God, would suffer and die. Imagine how he felt when he learned that everyone who wanted to follow Christ must walk that same path. A life of true self-sacrifice and denial was as alien to Peter as it is to us today. Today’s messiahs tell us to “save our lives” through self-affirmation, self-acceptance, and self-improvement.
This upside-down life of discipleship – of gaining our life by losing it – is a prominent theme in this section of Matthew. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. Even as opposition to his ministry grows, he invests more time shepherding his disciples. There is less emphasis on public healing and more on teaching. He wants them to understand who he is, why he came, and what this means for them. He wants them to trust that their identity is grounded in his identity.
Above all, the church is founded on the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. As ‘God with us’, Jesus suffers and dies, and only then is raised in glory. The order if critical. Suffering then glory. As Jesus builds us into his church, we learn that the first will be last, that the great will be those who serve, that it is only by losing our lives for Christ’s sake can we save them. The glory is heavy; the suffering we must deliberately choose, is light.