To Save One’s Life
This morning, before we look at today’s passage, I want to briefly talk about a subject in which there is some debate amongst believers, and that is the subject of infant salvation. Concerning babies, infants, toddlers, how does the Lord treat them if they pass from this world before choosing to accept Jesus’s forgiveness and before choosing to follow Him? There are really only three possibilities, the first being that these little ones that pass away in this life will be separated from God in eternity because of their inherent sin that is unatoned for. Some groups who believe this have thus adopted practices such as baptizing or sprinkling infants, thinking that somehow the mere ritual will save the little one who has yet to make a decision for Jesus. The second possibility is that God, foreseeing the future, knows which ones would have made a decision for Him had their life not been cut short, and thus saves only the little ones who He has predestined for salvation. The third possibility and the one that I would like to make a case for is that God saves all the little ones who do not yet grasp the concept of right and wrong, whose minds have yet to develop to the point in which they truly know right from wrong. I believe that there is much Biblical evidence that points us to the conclusion that infants are saved and will be with the Lord in Heaven. While all humans are born into sin, they can only be held accountable for the sin they consciously commit when they are of an age in which they truly know right from wrong.
For example, when the Israelites were about to enter into the promised land, but chose not to trust the Lord, He turned them around and said that they would not enter into it because of their sin. However, there in that moment, as recorded in Deuteronomy 1:39, God declared that the Israelite children, who at that time had no knowledge of good or evil, would be allowed to enter into the land. Another Biblical passage that appears to speak of an “age of accountability” is Isaiah 7:15-16. In both verses the Lord speaks of a time in a child’s life in which He will “know enough to refuse evil and choose good.”
In addition to the concept of an age of accountability, the Bible presents a case for children being special objects of God’s grace. In Matthew 18:3-5, Jesus says that we must become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, in Matthew 19:14, Jesus says “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The Bible also shows us that King David believed that his infant son who passed would be with Lord. In 2 Samuel 12:23 David told his servants that he would one day go on to be with his deceased son.
It seems that the Bible makes a strong case that infants who pass from this earth will receive atonement through Jesus. His grace covers their inherited sin nature, and they will not be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors, nor for sin that they did not consciously commit. You and I however, are a different story. The passage that we are reading today will show us what you and I must do in order to gain eternal life.
To Save One’s Life Matthew 16:21-28
It was such a powerful conversation between Jesus and Peter that we looked at last week. Peter declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the Christ. (Christ meaning the Messiah) And then Jesus made a powerful declaration Himself, saying that He would build His church, and the gates of Hades would not overpower it. They had this conversation in the sinful city of Caesarea Philippi, the city considered by the locals to be the home of the Greek god Pan, and the city containing the gates of entry into Hades. And right there, perhaps even overlooking the cave that was thought to be the entry point into the underworld, Jesus declared to His disciples that the gates of Hell would not overcome His church, and that they would possess the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. But the time was not yet right to declare to the rest of the world that Jesus was the Messiah. The disciples still had more to learn about how Jesus the Messiah was going to be opening access to His Heavenly Kingdom. And in the passage that we are looking at today, we see that after this conversation with Peter, Jesus went on to declare to His disciples more details concerning the road ahead of the Messiah. Let’s look at it together, Matthew 16:21-23
Now Jesus had already previously hinted at what was going to happen to him, He had earlier said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) He had also said He would give that generation the “sign of Jonah.” (Matt. 16:4) Both of these verses foretold that Jesus would die and three days later be raised back to life. At the time though, the disciples didn’t understand what He was referring to. But here, after Peter’s declaration of Jesus the Messiah, it looks like Jesus attempted to spell out very clearly and plainly the future events that would take place shortly, in the order that they would occur. Jesus would be going to Jerusalem, and there He would suffer in the hands of the religious leaders, then be killed, and then be raised up on the third day. No more hints, no more beating around the bush, Jesus tells them straight up what was going to happen. This conversation took place within the last year of Jesus’s life. Jesus had now been with His disciples for 2 years, teaching and performing miracles, and He was now on the last leg of His journey. It was time for Him to prepare His disciples and equip them with what they needed to know.
And what Jesus shared with them blew their minds. By Peter’s response it appears that he, and probably the other disciples, were completely focused on the first parts of Jesus’s prediction- the suffering and killing part, and not on the “being raised up” last part. They totally didn’t comprehend the resurrection element. And this type of talk didn’t make any sense following them just having hailed Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus accepting that title. It would be like someone being voted in as the President of the United States and then saying “Great, glad to be elected! Now I’m going to take off and go live in the middle of the Amazon Jungle.” It would be like saying “Yes” to a marriage proposal, and then saying you’re going on to the TV show “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” It didn’t make any sense. The Messiah King that all of Israel had been waiting for, for hundreds of years, had finally arrived, had been recognized, had accepted the title of Messiah, aka Savior of the World- Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, that guy- was now saying that soon he’d go to Jerusalem and be snuffed out.
Peter and the other disciples knew Jesus to be the Messiah, but they did not understand what kind of treatment such a Messiah would expect from the world in accomplishing God’s salvation. They were yet to learn that the man of God’s anointing, miracles, and righteousness would also be a man of sorrow. For the Messiah to be so glorious and yet so humiliated was beyond their understanding.
Jesus had just said that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and whatever was loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven, so maybe in verse 22 Peter was attempting to exercise the power of prohibiting and permitting that Jesus had just blessed him with. Peter didn’t just object, or question, but directly declared “This shall never happen to You Jesus!” But obviously the power entrusted to Peter and the other disciples didn’t extend anywhere close to the region of Jesus’s mission and the way in which He would accomplish His mission.
Jesus, seeing the spiritual forces at work, turns and says to Peter in verse 23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s.” Just a minute ago Peter spoke with inspiration from Heaven in declaring Jesus as Messiah, now it seems as if he is under inspiration from the other direction. In this specific location of Caesarea Philippi, there at Hell’s gates, there was a really intense spiritual battle taking place. Jesus had just declared that the powers of Hell would not overpower His church, and He was passing out keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in full view of the powers of darkness- and Peter’s response was really the response from the powers of darkness. Now perhaps Jesus meant “Satan” by just the meaning of that word “Satan,” which means “adversary.” Perhaps he was just merely calling out Peter’s advice as being contrary, adverse to, the will and intentions of God. But perhaps it was more than just that. Jesus used almost the same wording here as he had when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself. There in Matthew 4:10 Jesus says “Go Satan,” the Greek literally says “get you away Satan,” “For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Either Peter was acting the very part of Satan by unknowingly suggesting that being the Messiah King did not have to play out according to God’s plan, or Satan was actually present there speaking deception into Peter’s mind, offering an alternative course of action as he did to Eve in the Garden of Eden, or as he did to Jesus in the wilderness.
And if Jesus had listened to Peter’s advice, and had not gone to Jerusalem to be crucified, then all would have been lost. The plan of redemption would have been halted, mankind would have been held responsible for our sins, we would all die in our sins, unable to live anymore, unable to be reconciled to an all holy God. Had Jesus listened to Peter’s advice, the gates of Hell would have overpowered Jesus’s church. Peter unknowingly was suggesting and pronouncing a death sentence, to which the gates of Hell were very happy to hear him declare. Jesus knew this, and immediately put both Peter and the forces of darkness in their place.
We too, can make the mistake of thinking we have a better plan than God. We can very easily assume that we have the best scenario path figured out. May we be very careful, remembering that in Isaiah it says: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) And Jesus, knowing that the disciples needed to learn the lesson of submitting to God’s will and purposes above their own will and purposes, then said this in verse 24…
Jesus was basically saying to Peter and the others: “This is how it works guys. You just established me as the Messiah, and in order to follow the Messiah you give up your own desires and aspirations, and you do life the way the Messiah does life. You follow His example and teaching, and submit to His authority. In addition, the path of physical death leading to spiritual life is not only for the Messiah to follow, it’s for all of His disciples to follow as well.” Verse 25…
If you wish to live just for this earthly life, you will end up losing it. We will all lose our life here. If Jesus doesn’t return within our lifetime, all of us will one day die and lose our life here on this earth. Only those who lose a life that was concerned for His sake, for Jesus, will find life- not here on earth, but in Heaven. Verse 26…
You could have the best, most trouble-free life here on earth- friends, power, wealth, and health; but if in the end you lose it all and spend an eternity separated from God and His kingdom, then what value or profit did you really gain from your trouble-free life on earth with friends, power, wealth, and health? Can you exchange some friends for the salvation of your soul? Can you release some of your power and influence in exchange for keys into the Kingdom? From your prosperity are you able to buy your soul? Can you trade some earthly health for eternal health in Heaven? No, striving only after the good things in this life will not automatically lead you to inherit the good things in the life to come. The good things in the life to come are reached by the surrendering of one’s life here on earth to the authority of He who holds life and death in His hands, Jesus the Messiah. (John 5:21-24)
Verse 27… Jesus will come in the glory of God the Father, with His angels, and will judge all of mankind, according to the standard that He laid out in verse 25. He will judge those who lost their lives seeking after the things of this life only, and will reward those who lost their lives seeking after Jesus. It’s really that simple. And no matter what journey your life has taken, it is never too late to choose to live a life seeking after Jesus. There might be some of you here today that need to make that decision, even today, to say “Yes, Jesus, from this day and onward, no matter how many days you give me, I want them to be spent in relationship with you. I choose today to accept You in my life. I choose to receive Your forgiveness. I surrender my way to Your way- help me to follow You.” If that’s you today, I’m going to give an opportunity in a few minutes for you to personally voice that prayer to God and start today on the beautiful journey of learning more about Jesus and how to follow Him on a daily basis. Verse 28…
Obviously, Jesus in this verse did not mean that there would be some standing there who would be alive still when He returned to fully establish His Kingdom. No, Jesus’s followers there on that day have all passed from this life and into the next; and Jesus has yet to return, though that day seems to be approaching faster and faster. There have been a few speculations as to what Jesus was referring to in saying “see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” Some have taken it to mean what the disciples witnessed just six days later- as we’ll see in the next chapter 17- as Jesus took with Him some of the disciples and was transfigured before them into some of His heavenly glory. This could be what Jesus was referring to, however it seems a little odd for Jesus to have said “there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death,” to describe an event that was only 6 days later. As far as we know, all of the disciples survived those next 6 days, including the three that Jesus took with Him up to the mount of transfiguration.
Another possible reference could be to the day of Pentecost, described in Acts 2, just over a year later, when the believers of Jesus were gathered together shortly after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven. God’s spirit was poured out on these believers, giving them gifts of different languages, enabling the rapid spread of the gospel message. Peter stood up and preached a salvation message to all those that were there around the believers. 3000 of them that day chose to respond, taking that first step of living a life seeking after and following Jesus. In a sense, the Kingdom of God came and showed up powerfully that day.
But perhaps the most natural interpretation of this verse 28 is to consider it as referencing the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD. The time frame in which Jesus said these words and then 40 years later when Jerusalem was destroyed, seems to better fit Jesus saying “there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death.” That event happened in the lifetime of some, but not all. Also, the judgement that fell down on Jerusalem, the destruction of it and God’s temple, seems to better fit the tone of judgement that verse 27 seems to imply. It was after this event in 70 AD that the church was spread across the world and began to grow exponentially, perhaps illustrating the coming of Jesus’s Kingdom, not the full arrival and fulfillment of it.
In any of these three interpretations, the event that Jesus described has already taken place. But what I would like to say to you this morning is that I don’t want to see anyone that I know taste death before they see Jesus the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom into their life. My dad, in the weeks before his passing said: “You always think you have more time. Boy was I wrong.” If in your life, you are delaying following Jesus- thinking that one day you will surrender all to Him and follow Him- I want to tell you that you might not have the capacity to make that choice in your future days. Don’t spend any more energy consumed with just this temporary passing life- invest in the true life that Jesus wants you to experience. Choose to follow Him today.