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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 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.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:21-28
For a period of time my uncle was involved in tractor pull contests. In the early days of the competition, tractors would pull a sled along a course which was lined with men on either side. As the sled would come by them, each one would step on the sled. That would make it heavier and result in greater drag. Eventually even the most powerful of tractors would be unable to continue. Today the sled is more sophisticated, and much more controlled. I’ve seen signs on these sleds that say, “We’re coming after you.” The message is obvious: “Coming after” meant pursuit in order to conquer. It will stop the tractor it was coming after.
Jesus speaks of people coming after him in quite a different manner. We may pursue him. That is a high calling. But we’re not coming after him in order to put a stop to him. We pursue Jesus in order to be close to him. We come after him in order to be where he is.
Make no mistake here: coming after Jesus is not for the faint of heart. He is marking himself as radically different from the pagan gods of Caesarea Philippi. Those gods required their followers to appease them by sacrificing to them. Gaining the pagan gods’ favor was a process of manipulating them and appeasing them.
Jesus’ call to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him sounds like a call to sacrifice. And it is. But this sacrifice is not in order to appease him. We are not seeking to manipulate him. We are seeking to be close to him. At least part of this call, however, is to make the point that following Jesus is serious business.
Perhaps Jesus had in mind the casual disciple – like those who would leave when Jesus’ teachings took on a sharper edge (cf. John 6:66-69). Maybe he wanted to discourage casual discipleship (cheap grace). It could be he was making certain his followers were truly all in: gaining a fuller commitment from them before they ultimately sign on the dotted line.
One thing for sure: Jesus’ path will take him to the cross, to horrific suffering, unjust treatment, and moments of deep angst. He will go there for us and for our salvation. Coming after him will take us to those places of challenge and even pain. But it will lead us ultimately to glorious salvation and eternal splendor. This is our ultimate destiny if we come after Jesus.