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When Jesus told the disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem to be crucified and subsequently raised from the dead, Peter took Him aside and said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Matthew tells us that it was done as a rebuke.

We probably all know Jesus’ response: “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.” However, we may not be as familiar with what Jesus said next: “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?”

We sometimes joke about Peter because we think that he, more than any of the other disciples, put his foot in his mouth. But let’s be honest. We’re just like him, especially in this encounter with Jesus that concerned life and death.

Jesus told Peter that because He opposed Him going to Jerusalem to die, he wasn’t setting his mind on the things of God but on the things of man. Peter didn’t—and we don’t—think like God concerning the giving of our lives for the Lord. Let’s be truthful: From our point of view, dying doesn’t advance anything. Advancing the kingdom of God or one’s ministry by dying doesn’t make any sense. Please, for a moment, resist jumping into the mindset that parrots, “Yes, I know. We must die daily. I try to do that, by God’s grace.” Nothing wrong with dying daily, absolutely nothing. But let’s look at the context of this passage. Jesus wasn’t talking here about dying to some aspect of His life that was troubling Him. He was talking about, as a leader and disciple-maker, literally going to die.

So, to bring this closer to home and to help us understand where Peter was coming from, let me ask: How many of our church leaders put their lives at risk in order to advance the gospel? Not many, I fear, because it doesn’t make any sense. How could their dying advance anything? Who would take their place of leadership and keep the successful ministry ship running? Now perhaps we can understand why Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Jesus’ death made no sense to him at all.

Sacrifice is an act that is honored in the Western culture. Those who don’t believe in Jesus honor it. We honor soldiers, fire fighters and police officers who put their lives on the line. The Church honors it. However, the Church doesn’t do much of it. No, what our culture sees instead are people who lead, preach and do well. Nothing wrong with preaching and doing well. But we have almost totally missed the counter-intuitive thinking about which Jesus schooled Peter in this passage. Because we have made our leaders and preachers the head men and leading personalities of our churches, the natural thinking is that they must, therefore, stay, keep preaching and run things. Thus, our contemporary church structure militates against one of the strongest truths leaders can live by: the literal sacrifice of their lives.

Jesus told us in this passage that whoever saves his life will lose it. Our leaders should be people who are leading by the example of losing their lives to gain them. They should be teaching us, by example, to set our minds on the things of God instead of the things of man. Many of our leaders don’t do that. How do I know this to be true? If they did, they would no longer have the prominence they now have. They wouldn’t even be here.

Jesus also told His disciples that after He had been crucified, He would be raised from the dead. Dying brings life. This is God’s perspective. We don’t think the way He does. Dying is loss for us. It is loss if it is done outside of a life that is given to Jesus Christ. However, in Him, it is gain, as Paul taught. It advances the gospel and His kingdom. It’s just seems to be a price that we, in the Church in the West, seem very unwilling to pay—because have set our minds on the things of man, not on the things of God. Should I uncomfortably add that Jesus rebuked Peter for setting his mind on the things of man and called him His adversary—Satan. This should give us terrifying pause. Is it possible that we, because we live and breathe within a church structure that works against the literal giving our lives, have actually become God’s adversary?

I invite you to pray with me that we in the West will love God and others more than we love our own lives and our ministries and be willing to die for Him.

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