Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 22, 2015
20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 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. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." 23 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." 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 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? 27 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. 28 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 16:20-28, ESV
I am of the opinion that in our country there are very few full gospel churches. Various congregations advertise as full gospel, meaning they think they possess certain gifts of the Holy Spirit that make them full, and implying that those of us who do not speak in tongues and perform miracles on demand are half empty, to which I take minor offense. Some of them may indeed be full gospel, as well as other churches, if they understand and apply the full meaning of the full gospel.
The gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the historical, spiritual, applicable story of how God has come to save us from sin and death. To get half the gospel, you have to accurately acknowledge who Jesus is, which Simon Peter did eloquently in the previous passage (ref. Matthew 16:13-19). Non-Christians cannot comprehend the meaning of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and many within the church seem to struggle with this as well. But even if you accept who Jesus really is, it is only half the gospel, unless you apply what He has done.
Raising a ladder half-way to the window of a burning building cannot save anyone. Having half of an open heart surgery will leave a person dead on the table. And believing in half of the gospel, no matter how wonderful you think Jesus is, will not save your eternal soul. We need a full gospel, which Jesus fully gives in this text.
A Secret to Reveal
Verse 20 is a bridge between the two halves of the gospel. In verses 13-19, Simon Peter is set up to say who Jesus is. In verses 21-28, Jesus proclaims His righteous work and the right response. But in verse 20, Jesus tells Simon Peter and the others to shut up.
This is the Gospels’ “Messianic Secret,” which occurs in passages, especially this one, where Jesus told His followers to keep quiet about Him. Reading them on this side of the resurrection seems odd, especially when thinking of the latter New Testament commands to go into all the world and preach the gospel. But we must remember that the Great Commission was not given until Christ’s work was consummated by the cross and the empty tomb.
At this point in the life of Jesus and His disciples, the gospel was not yet full. And Jesus’ point in this verse, which Peter will shortly prove, is that He does not want people telling only half of the gospel. Obviously, a person who does not know who Christ is cannot be a witness for Christ. But to be a proper witness of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, one has to know Who He is and what He has done, and what He has done is gotten Himself killed.
A Mission to Accomplish
The Apostle Paul would later write a beautiful summary of the full gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Peter did not yet know what Paul later learned, but Jesus was about to explain it to him and them. “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” (ref. vs. 21).
The messianic mission to suffer and die was largely lost in first century Judaism. Although it was prefigured by the Old Covenant sacrificial system and predicted by the Old Testament prophets, this first truth had become overshadowed by the second truth of the glorious return and reign of the Messiah. To see the crown without the cross is only half the gospel, and Jesus’ mission was to get the gospel full.
Christ’s mission was to fulfill Scripture. Accepting a half gospel results in half-hearted approach to the Bible. In the words of a famous folk song, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. This explains the legions of half Christians who adhere to less than half of the vital Christian disciplines (hence the word “disciple”) and will one day get half way to Heaven. Jesus was determined to follow in full the Father’s plan for His life so that He could give us a full plan for our lives. You must accept the Son of God and the word of God to have a full gospel.
Christ’s mission was to suffer. Failing to understand this key part of Jesus’ mission led to people missing the gospel entirely in Jesus’ day. In our day, it has led to a plethora of false doctrines, not the least of which is the “health and wealth” movement and the notion that the church will disappear into thin air before any serious suffering or persecution can take place. Suffering and death are the result of our rebellion against God. So to remedy the rebellion, God embraced suffering and death, including His own.
Christ’s mission, according to the Scriptures, was to suffer and die to redeem suffering and death. It does not take them away, but it turns them on their head. Jesus has to suffer and die, not merely at the hands of men, but at the hands of a holy God who is bound by His perfect justice to punish sin. The love of God is only half the gospel. The holiness of God makes it full. And the intersection of the love of God and the holiness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ.
Admitting you are a sinner and an enemy of God is to suffer a severe blow to your pride. Committing your life to Christ will cause the death of some worldly pleasures and pursuits and replace them with certain persecutions and sacrifices. Are you ready for the full gospel? Apparently Simon Peter was not, for the rock became a stumbling block.
The Half Gospel
Jesus preached the gospel and Peter said, “No.” This, by the way, is by far the most common response to the full gospel. This is not to say that Simon Peter was damned at this point, for we must remember that he and the other fledgling followers of the Lord Jesus Christ were walking through that mysterious mid-point between the Old and New Covenants. Salvation has, is, and always will be by grace alone through faith alone in God alone, as God has revealed Himself to man. Peter’s confession to the first half of the gospel, the person of Christ, was great; but, now he had to deal with the second half, and a full struggle ensued.
To reuse the simplistic analogy, Simon Peter wanted the crown without the cross. He wanted it for Jesus, for the Lord to rule and reign over sinners without paying the price for man’s sin. He wanted, as His follower, the blessings of salvation without being buffeted by the cost of discipleship. He wanted a pain-free, power-grabbing life now, on earth, and he wasn’t going to let even Jesus stand in the way.
So, Jesus called Peter the devil. The devil always gets in the way of the gospel. Actually, Christ called him “Satan,” which could be spelled here with a little “s,” simply meaning adversary or enemy. An embrace of half the gospel, of a gospel of prosperity and material blessing, is an enemy of the cross and the full gospel.
Again, I’m not saying Peter was not a saved person, for I really think he was. And I’m not saying you're not saved if you have some wealth, good health, or if no one is trying to cut your head off for being a Christian (which is sadly and shockingly taking place in the Middle East today). I’m just suggesting you not settle for a half gospel. Take it in full.
The Full Gospel
To be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is to accept who He is, what He has done, and prove it with a life that is remarkably like Christ’s. You do not earn salvation, but you can prove it, if you embrace the full gospel.
Jesus denied Himself the glories of Heaven to come and suffer such indignities on earth (ref. Philippians 2:5ff). He denied Himself the privilege of doing what He wanted to do in order to do what the Father commanded Him to do (visit the Garden of Gethsemane). Are you willing to deny yourself of your primary goals and wishes on earth in order to surrender to God’s?
Jesus took up His cross, in the most direct and dramatic way possible. It is there He died and His death changes everything. There is a cross in every acceptance of the full gospel. It may be planted in a church building, a quiet room in your home, perhaps outdoors somewhere. But the cross is that crossroad in a life that accepts the full gospel, no matter the cost, and begins the always disciplined and often difficult Christian life.
Jesus gave His life and took it up again the third day. Christians give this present life to Christ in exchange for a more abundant life now and an eternal life which will never end. It is a leap of faith. It can be dark, difficult, scary. We can read and believe in Christ’s resurrection. We have to trust that our own will come if we follow Him.
Jesus preached and proved that the soul is worth more than the life. If living it up now is what you want, and the full gospel is too confining, then you can enjoy your life at the cost of your soul. If the full gospel of the soul is what you want, then it is going to cost you your life, in expenditures of small change or maybe in one lump sum. But the reward is worth it, if you fully believe in the full gospel.
Half gospels and cheap grace have damned generations of church members in our country. The American church is characterized now by inactive church members and undisciplined disciples. They are half way out on the ladder, half way through a soul-saving operation, half way to Heaven and hung out to dry. We must begin again to get the gospel right and demand total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let us listen to the words of Christ and say yes, yes to His death and resurrection and yes to our own, yes to the delayed gratification of discipleship and yes to the great reward, yes to the full gospel of Jesus Christ.