Jesus Sets the Highest Standards for His Students

The Gospel of Matthew  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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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 Students

The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 16:20-25

Sermon by Rick Crandall

(Prepared September 7, 2022)


*In Matthew chapters 14-16, Jesus Christ continued to prove that He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. With both His works and His words, Jesus proved that He was the Son of God, sent to be the Savior of the world.

*In Matthew 14 Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus thousands more women and children. Then He walked on water 3 or 4 miles out to His disciples on the Sea of Galilee. After that, Jesus healed a great multitude of people. In Matthew 15 Jesus healed a demon-possessed girl and miraculously fed 4,000 more people. In Matthew 16 Jesus warned against having wicked, unbelieving hearts. He also warned against following any teachings that deny Him as the Christ.

*Then in Matthew 16:13-16 Jesus got to the heart of the matter:

13. When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?''

14. So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.''

15. He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?''

16. And Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.''

*Jesus is the crucified and risen "Christ, -- the Son of the living God.'' And in Acts 1:8 our Risen Savior tells His followers to be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.''

*If Jesus were speaking here today, He would say, "Be my witnesses from West Monroe to the ends of the earth." But here in Matthew 16:20 Jesus said just the opposite: "Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ."

*That sounds pretty confusing to us. But J. Vernon McGee estimated that the Lord was only six months away from the cross. And William MacDonald explained that "because of Israel's unbelief, no good could come from proclaiming the news, and great harm might come from a popular movement to crown Jesus as King, since that move would be horribly crushed by Roman soldiers. (1)

*Verse 21 says, "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day."

*As Jesus focused on the cross here, He was speaking to His 12 disciples, and Jesus set the highest standards for His disciples. But we must understand that the word "disciple" means "student," "learner," "follower," imitator." And in the bigger sense, every Christian, every true believer in Jesus Christ, is also called to be a disciple of the Lord.

*Yes, 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." (2)

*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 disciples, 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 that only cares about me, and has to get its own way. It's the part 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.

*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 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 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. (3)

*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 that day, 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 the banks of the river quickly crowded with people watching, while helicopters tried 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! (4)

*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! Now Christians, we should be more than willing to take a strong stand for Him!


*Jesus took up the cross as a dying sacrifice. We 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 dying to self every day, so take up your cross. A. W. Tozer once spoke these piercing words: "Among the plastic saints of our times Jesus has to do all the dying. And all we want is to hear another sermon about His dying." But Church: We have to die with Him if we are truly going to follow Him. (5)

*Nobody ever knew this better than the Apostle Paul. That's why in Galatians 6:14 Paul said, "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."

*Jesus tells every believer, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."


*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 when I follow Him, He cheers me up, and I have real joy in my heart. Christians: The happiest we will ever be is when we are closely following Jesus.

*As Dr. Michael MacIntosh wrote, "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. In John 8, joy was there when a woman caught in the very act of adultery was forgiven and released from her sin.

*Joy was there when the deaf heard, the blind saw, and the lame walked. Joy was there on the mountainside as the multitudes listened to the profound teachings of Jesus. 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 when Jesus stood up in the boat and stopped the storm. 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! (6)

*When I follow Jesus, He cheers me up, and He changes me. When you follow Jesus, He can 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 get to Jesus Christ, the more we will see big changes in our lives.

*Jonah Jones had a terrible childhood. Jonah's parents were drug traffickers who introduced him to cocaine when he was 8 years old. That's unbelievable, but true. Worse than that, Jonah's stepfather abused him physically in the worst possible way. His mother also abused him both emotionally and physically. When the couple had parties for customers, Jonah said, "People could (do whatever they wanted to me). I was the party favor"

*From grade school through young adulthood, he worked in the family business, which each month brought tons of cocaine into the US. But one day, Jonah's car broke down near a church. He stepped in to use the phone, but was ushered into the sanctuary.

*He sat through the music. Then, the pastor began to speak. Jonah later wrote, "As the preacher talked, it was like he knew who I was. I started perspiring. By the time I got up to the front to pray, I knew God was real. I had found a Savior who was just. I knew that if I would pray, He would take away my sin. He would make me new!"

*After getting saved, Jonah broke with his family and began to run. He stopped in a rescue mission in Shreveport. There, he found help with his drug habit and emotional wounds. Jonah and another recovering addict began to write songs about the hope they found in Jesus Christ. Jonah also decided to pursue a degree in counseling. He joined a Baptist church, where he met his wife.

*And Jonah said, "It doesn't matter how bad you think you are. There is help and there is hope. God is full of mercy and grace." (7)


*How foolish we would be not to follow Him! Thank God it's not too late for us! As we go back to God in prayer, 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 commitments to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. May God help us all to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

(1) Adapted from:

-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

-BELIEVER'S BIBLE COMMENTARY by William MacDonald - Edited by Arthur Farstad - Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Copyright 1995 - Matthew 16:13-20 - Downloaded to e-Sword by Rick Meyers - Copyright 2021

(2) - Topic: Bible, power of

(3) "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

(4) 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

-Edited 091422 to correct that Priscilla Tirado was a passenger.

(5) Source: SermonCentral sermon "Doers of the Word" by Rodney Buchanan - James 1:19-25 - 09032006

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

(7) Article from "Bridges" a 1997 Evangelism Magazine published by the Louisiana Baptist Convention

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