Facebook God’s Direction
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 16:23b (Holman) “You are an offense to Me . . .”
In other words, “You’re in My way, Peter. This path is hard enough to walk without you adding extra obstacles.”
Peter would eventually become a stepping-stone, helping many find their way to Heaven, but for now he was a stumbling block, a stone out of place, embedded in the middle of the dark Calvary Road Jesus was having to travel.
Matthew 16:23c “. . . because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.”
Peter was reacting from a human point of view, not from God’s. The Apostle saw only present pain and perplexity in the process, not its results.
Peter was trapped in the small realm of the immediate. Living in the dust of the hour rather than in the glory of the ages, Peter’s outlook was limited.
Peter, spiritually nearsighted, saw only ramifications nearby. He could not see God’s counsels in eternity past, or God’s rewards in eternity future.
A now-focused person, living by sight, is limited, self-circumferenced. An eternity-focused person, living by faith, is amplified, God-circumferenced.
We have to learn to view life from God’s perspective, especially when it comes to the way to be saved. God’s way of dealing with sins is not our way.
Grace, blood atonement, a God-substitute: unbelievers scorn these things. Pride makes them want to earn salvation. Even Peter had to escape this mindset.
To Peter’s credit, he did overcome it. Once he embraced God’s method of salvation, Peter became one of the most effective advocates of the cross.
He gave us some of our most beloved quotes about the cross. “What God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets – that His Messiah would suffer – He has fulfilled in this way” (Acts 3:18). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24a). “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18).
Matthew 16:24a Then Jesus said to His disciples, . . .
Verse 24 provides us one of the best, most composite pictures of what Christian discipleship looks like: desire, self-denial, taking a cross, obedience. This was a serious theme to our Master. He stated it repeatedly (Matthew 10:37-39, Mark 8:34-37, Luke 9:23-27; 14:25-27; 17:33, John 12:25).
Once we become believers—these traits are also vital to that process—we are not allowed to meander at will in our Christian journey. To be born again, we must follow God’s salvation plan exactly as He determines. Discipleship also requires following God’s life plan precisely according to His dictates.
Discipleship entails following God’s prescribed path after we enter via God’s prescribed entry. We prove we are Christ’s disciples by coming into the Faith through Jesus the Door, and then following Him on the path till the end.
Matt. 16:24b “If anyone wants to come with Me,. . .”
“Wants” is the key word here. Jesus takes no unwilling sheep with Him. We have the awful freedom to say no to God. We can choose a different path.
Great Christians make a great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Warren). This great commitment is best achieved by willingly, yea joyfully, taking up the Great Challenge Jesus gave in our text.
Discipleship is to be taken on cheerfully. Jesus said the blessed ones are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Believers who crave holiness will be filled with it. Godliness rises and falls based on desire.
Matthew 16:24c “. . . he must deny himself, . . .”
Jesus warned us of trouble ahead. He refused to use “bait and switch” tactics. Christ will have us come follow Him with our eyes fully open.
We cannot be pro-Jesus in an anti-Jesus world without experiencing trouble. “When holiness meets unholiness, a violent reaction is inevitable” (MacArthur). Paul bluntly told Timothy, “All those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). No sugarcoating here.
Denying ourselves entails renouncing whatever could compete with our efforts to love Christ more. Self-denial begins by acknowledging only God can provide the strength we need to increase our love for Christ. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Jesus by His own life patterned for us this form of self-denial. He said His words and actions were not His own, but the Father’s. When Jesus came in our likeness, as a flesh-and-blood human being, He emptied Himself of His majestic prerogative. He totally yielded Himself to the Father, thereby making Himself dependent on God. We must do the same. Be praying always to know God’s will and thoughts, and to be a self-less conduit for His words and deeds.
As we do this, outward evidences of self-denial will begin to occur in our lives more frequently. First, we will find ourselves turning less often to sin. A prime evidence of self-denial is a life of Godliness. Holiness matters most.
Second, another evidence of self-denial is removing neutral distractions which take much time away from spiritual disciplines that lead us to holiness. John Piper says the best result of Facebook and Twitter is the fact they prove we won’t be able to tell God we didn’t have enough time to pray or read the Bible.
I’m a people person. I enjoy social networking. In fact I love it, but I am to keep ever in mind the fact I am called first and foremost to be a God person. I must never let a social activity keep me from networking primarily with Him.
Love for Jesus must be first in our lives, far above all else. He requires of us our highest devotion. The standard is high, unalterable, and nonnegotiable.
Many good things compete for our affections—family, friends, pleasures, plans, and pursuits. Love Him first, and ever be seeking to love Him more.
Let me expand my words about doing away with sins and limiting neutral distractions. These are essential evidences of self-denial, but not its sum total.
Self-denial entails more than our flesh avoiding sin occasionally. It also includes something bigger than giving up neutral distractions from time to time.
The largest and hardest part of self-denial is not choosing to change our lives piecemeal, but rather deciding to relinquish the will entirely, to say no to self and yes to God in every nanosecond of life, before choices have to be made about particular sins or distractions. The decision to please God has to be made prior to, and independent of, whatever temptation we may be about to face.
Only by relinquishing our will in advance do we truly prove we have denied self. If we are in the habit of picking and choosing what to do or not to do, after the temptation begins, we leave the door wide open for yielding to sin.
This often results in people denying some, but not all, tempting things. The result is what Indeed Magazine (October 24, 2007) calls an uncomfortable Lordship. “We find exceptions to almost all of His commands. “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15). But not there, we assume. “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). But not him, we suppose. “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). But surely not really everything.”
Self-denial means living with the goal, the finish line, in mind, before making decisions about the details of the race. Pleasant or dangerous matter not. We choose paths based on where they lead, not what they offer our flesh.