Jesus Sets the Highest Standards for His Disciples

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New version with information about Christians being in Christ. 1. We must say "no" to our selfishness. 2. We must carry our cross. 3. We must follow His footsteps.

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Jesus Sets the Highest Standards for His Disciples

The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 16:20-25

Sermon by Rick Crandall

(Prepared September 26, 2022)

(New version with information about Christians being in Christ.)


*Today's message is about the high standards Jesus sets for His disciples, so please open your Bibles to Matthew 16. This chapter begins with Christ-rejecting Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trap Jesus by asking Him for a sign from heaven.

*Up to this point Matthew had mentioned the Pharisees 11 times, but he had only mentioned the Sadducees once. That was in Matthew 3:7 where John the Baptist "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism." And he rightly called them out by saying, "Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

*For the most part, both groups were a horrible brood of snakes. And it's important for us to understand how evil these Pharisees and Sadducees were. The Lord had already given them countless miraculous signs that proved He was the promised Messiah. But no sign would have been enough for those ungodly religious elites.

*For over a hundred years, the Pharisees had basically been in charge of telling all the other Jews what was right or wrong. But they had added thousands of petty rules to God's Law, and turned it into a terrible burden on God's people. Then Jesus came along and rejected their rules, like their ungodly law against healing on the Sabbath Day. (1)

*The Sadducees were wealthy aristocrats, who were happy to cooperate with their Roman conquerors. They were normally bitter enemies of the Pharisees, because they rejected their religious rules. But the Sadducees were worse in a different way, because they also rejected essential truth in God's Word.

*The Sadducees denied the existence of angels and demons. They denied God’s involvement in everyday life. They denied the resurrection of the dead. They also denied the afterlife, believing that souls perished at death. So, no Heaven or Hell.

*And it's shocking to hear, but the Sadducees were the chief priests in that day. They also held the majority of seats on their Supreme Court that would condemn the Lord. No wonder that in vs. 4, Jesus left these wicked Pharisees and Sadducees alone. (2)

*By this time, the Lord was in the 3rd year of His ministry. J. Vernon McGee estimated that Jesus was only 6 months away from the cross. Those evil leaders, who hated each other, had come together in their common hatred of the Lord. They were obsessed with His destruction, and had been plotting His death for months. (3)

*William Barclay explained that "Jesus needed some time alone with his disciples, so He withdrew to the region of Caesarea Philippi. It was 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The people there were mainly non-Jewish, like the soldiers of the Roman Empire. Locals worshiped in temples dedicated to the demonic gods of the Syrians and Greeks. Caesarea Philippi also had a giant, white marble temple that was built to worship the Roman Emperor as God. (4)

*John Phillips said that there on the edge of the Gentile world, Jesus stayed with His disciples for about a week. There Jesus began to speak plainly about His cross, and for the first time, He spoke about His Church. That's why John Phillips called Matthew 16 "the great divide" of Matthew’s Gospel. (5)

*As Jesus focused on His Church and His cross here, He was speaking to His 12 disciples. But we must understand that the word "disciple" simply means "student," "learner," "follower," or "imitator." And in that sense, Christians, we are also called to be the Lord's disciples.

*Thank God, we are citizens of Heaven, children of God, friends of God, and much, much more. But we are also called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And the same standards that Jesus gave to the twelve, apply to all of us today. Please think about this truth as we read Matthew 16:20-25.


*I read about a little boy who was trying to memorize some Scripture, and he accidentally got two verses jumbled together. It came out this way: "A lie is an abomination unto the Lord. . . -- And a very present help in trouble." (6)

*Some people live like that's a real verse from the Bible. But Jesus always tells the truth. And in this Scripture where the Lord calls us to be His followers, He doesn't sugar-coat it. Jesus wants us to know the truth about being one of His disciples. He wants all of us to count the cost, so in vs. 24 the Lord tells us three things we must do as His disciples.


*In vs. 24, Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself." Why does the Lord ask us to deny ourselves? One of the main reasons why is because we have a self to deny. It's the part of us that gets grumpy, grouchy, gripey and whiny.

*It's the part of me that only cares about me, and has to get its own way. It's the part of us that has to get the last word, and is so quick to criticize others. Worst of all, it's the part of us that pulls away from the things of God, and gets in the way of what the Lord is trying to do. Paul was talking about this selfish, sinful nature in Romans 7:18 when he said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing."

*We all have a self to deny. And self was part of the reason why Peter began to argue with the Lord in vs. 22: "Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!'''

*Of course, Peter cared about Jesus, and did not want the Lord to suffer. But Peter didn't want Peter to suffer either! These disciples wanted to throw the Romans out and rule Israel with Jesus. But Peter needed to deny himself. And He did not realize that he was actually opposing God's plan for His Kingdom.

*That's why Jesus gave Peter such a strong rebuke in vs. 23: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

*"Satan." -- Not what we want to hear the Lord calling us, Amen? That's why every one of us who believes in Jesus needs to deny our self. We must say "no" to our selfishness.

*Nell Mohney found this out years ago on an airplane flight to Jackson. Nell was flying to Jackson, Tennessee, to give a lecture at Lambuth College. She thought it was odd that no one was at the airport to meet her.

*Nell then went to a phone booth to call the college and found that there was no Lambuth College in the book. When she called the operator to ask for the college, the operator asked, "Where do you think you are?"

*"Jackson, Tennessee," she replied, and the operator answered, "No! -- You are in Jackson, Mississippi."

*The airline had made the mistake, and five others were in the same situation. Delta provided a small plane and flew them to Jackson, Tennessee. It was a terribly hot day. The plane was bumpy. Sweat was pouring down everybody's face. We can imagine how aggravated those five people were. But Nell couldn't help but notice that the young woman sitting next to her was crying. She looked like she had a terrible problem.

*Nell was a good counselor, but at that moment, she was tired, sick-at-her-stomach, and frustrated. She turned to the window and whispered a prayer: "No, Lord, I'm sick. I just can't get involved." But Nell couldn't get any peace about it, so she whispered again: "Okay, Lord, I'll talk to her."

*She turned and asked the young woman, "Is there something wrong? Can I help?" The young woman then poured out a pathetic story. Everything was wrong. She ended her story by saying, "There is no hope."

*"That's where you are all wrong," Nell replied. "God loves you, Christ loves you, and I love you. There is hope! God can straighten anything out, if you let Him."

*Then Nell asked, "Can you turn yourself, your life, your problems over to Him now?" By the grace of God, she did! And everyone on that plane could tell that something good had happened to her.

*As they approached the right airport, Nell followed up by giving the woman the address and phone number of someone in town who could encourage and help her. Then, as they were getting ready to leave the plane, the young woman turned to Nell and said, "I want to show you something."

*She opened her purse and showed Nell a gun and a suicide note. (This was back in the 1970s, long before airports had security like they do today.) And the woman said, "I was going to a motel and kill myself. Jackson was the only place where they would know what to do with my body." Her life was totally turned around, because Nell was willing to deny herself and strike up a conversation. (7)

*Would we have been willing to talk to that young woman? Or would we have stayed zeroed-in on our discomfort and inconvenience? Jesus says this to every Christian: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself."


*Again in vs. 24, Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross." But what does it mean to take up our cross?


*When we take up our cross, we are strongly identifying ourselves with our crucified Savior, and we are willing to take a stand for Him. We are willing to take a bold stand for Jesus, in spite of the rejection, ridicule, and even persecution that will sometimes come our way.

*In Galatians 5:11, Paul called this "the offense of the cross," and the original word for "offense" there is "skandalon." That's where we get our word "scandal," and the cross of Christ is getting more scandalous every day. It's getting more and more like it was in Paul's day. But in Romans 1:16 Paul boldly proclaimed, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

*That's the heart we need right now. And we should take up our cross for Jesus, because He took up His cross for us! Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus had the power to lay down His life. And the Lord did lay His life down for us! Jesus laid His perfect life down to take the death penalty for our sins. He sacrificed His life on the cross so that we could live forever in Heaven with Him.

*There are many pictures of the kind of love that led Jesus to lay down His life for us. Two of them were on January 13, 1982. On that day, there was a terrible plane crash in Washington, D.C. Some of you might remember that crash.

*Air Florida Flight 90 was at the downtown National airport with 79 onboard including 5 crew members. They were headed to Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale, but there was a heavy snowstorm that afternoon.

*Flight 90 had been de-iced at National Airport, but their take-off was delayed for 45 minutes. During that time, ice re-formed on the wings. And 20 seconds after take-off, Flight 90 crashed into the 14th St. Bridge and plunged into the icy Potomac River. Seventy-eight people died from that crash, including 74 on the plane, and 4 people hit by the crashing plane. Only 4 passengers and one flight attendant were rescued from the crash and survived.

*I remember watching the news on TV, and there were two heroes in the water that day. It was rush-hour, and riverbanks quickly crowded with people watching helicopters trying to pull survivors from the freezing water. That’s when Lenny Skutnik showed up. He was on his way home from his job as a postal clerk. But when Lenny saw all of the commotion, he jumped out of his car, ran up on the bank, and saw the terrible crash.

*Lenny got there just in time to see a helicopter trying to pull a young lady out of the water, a passenger named Priscilla Tirado. The helicopter dropped a line, and Priscilla grabbed it so they could drag her to shore. But she was so cold and weak that she couldn't hold on. She dropped back into the icy river and screamed for help.

*In that moment, there were hundreds of people on the bank, but one man jumped in. It was Lenny. He plunged into the icy water, and somehow he managed to bring her to safety.

*The other hero was one of the passengers. His name was Arland Williams, and he is the man I remember seeing on TV. The reason I remember him so well is because a U.S. Park Department helicopter had arrived on the scene. It lowered a life-ring to Arland, but he refused the rope and passed it on to the flight attendant and other injured passengers. Four times Arland passed the life-ring on to others, and the rescue team saved them. Then they returned to Mr. Williams, but he had slipped beneath the icy water. What a sacrifice! (8)

*Lenny Skutnik risked his life, and Arland Williams gave his life for those desperate people to live for a while in this world. But our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave His life so that people could live forever in Heaven with Him! Now Christians, we should be more than willing to take a strong stand for Jesus!


*Jesus took up the cross as a dying sacrifice. We are to take up the cross daily as a living sacrifice. Yes, willing to die for the Lord, if necessary, but also willing to live for the Lord. You see, it is a daily sacrifice. Jesus made this clear in Luke 9:23, because there the Lord said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."

*How can I take up my cross? Start with the commitment to take up your cross. Then ask God, "How can I take up my cross for You today, Lord?" God will answer that question for us, because taking up our cross will mean something different for each of us every day.

*How can a 71-year-old retired pastor take up his cross? How can a young mom or dad take up their cross? How can a 6th-grade Christian take up his cross? The answer will change from day to day.

*What we know right now is that God will surely show us. We also know that taking up our cross will involve some sacrifice on our part. Not necessarily dying physically, but dying some way every day. For in vs. 25 Jesus said, "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

*Are you dying to live? The secret to Christian living is taking up our crosses every day for Jesus Christ. And it is most helpful to understand that if we have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we have already spiritually died with Him, because we are literally and spiritually in Him. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are merged with God in two different ways.


*This is the work of the Holy Spirit that began after Jesus returned home to Heaven. Jesus explained this very well on the night before the cross in John 14. And here is part of what the Lord said.

*In John 14:15-18 Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."

*Then in John 14:23 Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." So, Christians, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are literally in us through the Holy Spirit of God.


*That's because when we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit puts us into the spiritual Body of Christ, which is His Church. Paul explained this to us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, where he said, "For as the body (our physical body) is one and has many members (or parts), but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."

*This is not just symbolic language. This is a mysterious, literal, spiritual truth. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become a part of the Body of Christ. We are baptized into the spiritual body of our Lord.

*This means we have been totally submerged into the spiritual body of Jesus Christ. And the water baptism we go through is symbolic of this spiritual baptism that God performs on every believer. Verse 13 there tells us that the Holy Spirit of God does this work of putting us into the spiritual body of Jesus Christ. And from the moment we believe, we are literally in Christ.

*The phrases "in Christ," "in Christ Jesus" or "in the Lord" are used almost 100 times in the New Testament, so this is extremely important. Listen to a few of the verses that talk about believers being "in Christ."

-Romans 8:1 says: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

-Then in Romans 16:7, Paul said: "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

-2 Corinthians 5:17 says: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

-Ephesians 2:13 says: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ."

-And Ephesians 2:6 tells us that God "raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

*Christians: In a spiritual way, we are already in Heaven right now, because we are in the spiritual Body of Christ! That is an amazing, miraculous place to be, and it should give us strong assurance of our salvation.

*Nobody ever knew this better than the Apostle Paul. That's why in Galatians 6:14 Paul could say, "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

*Here in Matthew 16:24, Jesus tells every Christian: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross." Christians: We can do it, because if we have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the world has already been crucified to us, and we to the world.


*Again in vs. 24, Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

*There are many great things about following Jesus, and one of the best things is that we get to be close to Jesus! We know this because in Jeremiah 29:13 the LORD said, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." And James 4:8 assures us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us!

*Another great thing about following Jesus is that He cheers me up. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more joy we will have in our hearts. We will have more of the joy of the Lord. And this is very important, because Nehemiah 8:10 says, "the joy of the Lord is your strength.''

*Michael MacIntosh noted that, "In John 11, the joy of the Lord was at the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus brought His friend back from the dead. In Luke 17, joy was there when the leper returned to thank Jesus.

*Joy was there when the deaf heard, the blind saw, and the lame walked. Joy was there when the little children flocked to Jesus! Joy was there when the boy gave Jesus his lunch so that He could work a miracle and feed the thousands. Joy was there on that first Easter morning when the women knew that Jesus was raised again from the dead!" And the more closely I follow Jesus, the more He will give me joy! (9)

*When I follow Jesus, He cheers me up, and He changes me. When you follow Jesus, He will transform your life. That's why in Matthew 4:19 Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." The closer we follow Jesus Christ, the more changes we will see in our lives, and that's because we will become more and more like Him.

*I love the story Pastor Sarah Sarchet told about a 10-year-old boy named Cameron. One day, he walked into Sarah's office and said he needed to talk. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, Cameron had a request.

*"I'd like to be baptized," he said. "We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too."

*Pastor Sarah asked, "Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?" He looked up and replied, "No. -- I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God." -- Great answer!

*The pastor was touched and said, "How about this Sunday?" Cameron's smile turned to concern, and he asked, "Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?"

*"Where'd you come up with that idea?" the pastor asked. Cameron replied, "Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?" Caught off guard, Pastor Sarah said, "You have a point. But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?"

*Good question: How would the church recognize it? Cameron thought about it as the pastor got on a footstool to reach high for a book. Then Cameron wisely answered: "I guess by my new way of living." When Sarah heard that profound answer, she almost fell off the stool! (10)


*Cameron got it just right. Everybody ought to be able to tell that we belong to Jesus by the new way we live! And God's greatest goal is for us to be like Jesus. How foolish we would be not to follow Him!

*Thank God it's not too late for us, so start following Jesus right now! Call on our crucified and risen Savior to save you. Receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

*And Christians, let's renew our commitment to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. May God help us all to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. We can get started right now, as we go back to God in prayer

(1) Sources:

- - "Who Were the Pharisees?" -

(2) Adapted from - "Who were the Sadducees?" -

(3) THROUGH THE BIBLE WITH J. VERNON MCGEE by J. Vernon McGee - Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville - Copyright 1981 - "Jesus Announces His Death and Resurrection" - Matthew 16:21-28 - Downloaded to e-Sword by Rick Meyers - Copyright 2021

(4) Adapted from BARCLAY'S DAILY BIBLE STUDY SERIES - NEW TESTAMENT by William Barclay - Revised Edition - Copyright 1975 - First published by the Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland - The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - "The Scene of the Great Discovery" - Matthew 16:13-16 -

(5) EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW by John Phillips, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids - "Peter and the Christ" - Matthew 16:13-20 - Downloaded to "Bible Study 6" from Olive Tree Bible Software, Inc.

(6) - Topic: Bible, power of

(7) "My Burden Is Light", Robert G. Tuttle, CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1980, 0-89536-459-X - Source: sermon "Amazing Grace" by Robert Tuttle - Romans 3:21-28

(8) Sources:

-Remarks on Awarding the United States Coast Guard’ Gold Lifesaving Medal to Arland Williams, June 6, 1983. - Source: SermonCentral illustration contributed by Dr. Bruce Emmert

-"Rescue from Crash" by Kelly Moore as told to Joy Beverly - This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb, [1999?] issue of TODAY’S CHRISTIAN WOMAN.

-Air Florida Flight 90 - Wikipedia 05302018

-Arland D. Williams Jr. - Wikipedia 05302018

(9) Adapted from: Dr. Michael MacIntosh in "The Tender Touch of God" - Source: SermonCentral sermon "The Joyful Jesus" by Randall Deal - John 15:11 - 09012002

(10) From a sermon by Sarah Jo Sarchet at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago - Source: email - 01122003

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