Sacrifice or Sentiment (Matthew 16:23–28)

Peter must have felt pleased with himself. Whereas many were uncertain as to Jesus’ identity (v.14), he had got it right (v.16).  Jesus had pronounced a blessing on him because of this divinely inspired insight (v.17).  But the Lord went on immediately to show his faulty understanding of the love of God. Peter’s way contrasted with the way of Jesus. 

1. The Way of Peter

Peter’s way was the way of sentiment. When Jesus began to explain that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer at the hands of the elders and to be killed (v.21), Peter couldn’t cope with it. He couldn’t bear to think that such a terrible thing would happen to his Master. “Never, Lord!” is the N.I.V. translation of his words (v.22). More literally he said, “pity you” meaning “pity yourself” or “God pity you”.

Peter could not see how something so hurtful and degrading could be consistent with the love of God. How could God allow his Son to go through such an ex­perience? Peter’s love was an alloy of genuine love and of sentiment. He couldn’t bear to see Jesus hurt and so was unable to appreciate that the hurt was necessary in order for Jesus to fulfil his obedience to God. Many Christians today suffer from this same sentimental love. Peter’s concern was to avoid pain, suffering and humiliation. His heart and mind were so full of these humanistic considerations that he could not see that the way of the cross was God’s will.

Jesus, on the other hand, showed the sternness of divine love when he said to Peter, “Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me”  (v.23). One can only imagine how hurt Peter must have been by this rebuke. Yet it was true and deserved. He was unwittingly, because of his sentimental love, doing the work of Satan in seeking to dissuade Jesus from going to the Cross.  Jesus was always perfectly loving.  Yet his loving rebuke on this occasion must have hurt Peter.

In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus teaches his disciples about church discipline. If your brother sins against you correct him gently in private.  If that fails, involve objective witnesses.  If that fails, tell the church and if that fails, treat him as out of fellowship. Christians know Jesus has given this teaching about impenitence and hypocrisy, yet, because of sentimental love, many Christians, in effect, reject this word of the Lord. They feel they couldn’t possibly follow such hurtful teaching.

Peter’s way was the way of presumption.  Jesus had explained that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (v.2.1). But, at this, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him for saying it (v.22); he was directly contradicting the word of the Lord. Again, sadly, many Christians today have not learned the lesson Peter had to learn. They know their bibles: they perhaps call themselves evangelical or bible-believing. But they have a way of ignoring the difficult challenges.  So, for example, in order not to offend people or put them off, evangelistic preaching or witnessing is, in effect, “Come to Jesus to receive peace, joy, blessing, eternal life, healing and so on”. There is little of Jesus’ message that without “hating” those nearest to us, or re­nouncing everything we have we cannot be his disciples (Luke 14:25,33).  If we are steeped in the word we will understand that God’s ways are not our ways.

2. The Way of Jesus

Jesus’ way was the way of sacrifice. Just as he was obliged to go the way of suffering arid death in order to achieve our salvation so his disciples are called to the way of suffering and death.  He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.  (v.24)

An increasing number of Christians today stress the importance of self-fulfil­ment. Conferences are held on the subject.  I firmly believe in healing (both physical and emotional) and in counselling. But there is no way that the main aim of Christians should be self-fulfilment or wholeness. They should instead be bi-products of a life of sacrificial service. Again many Christians (and some churches) are inward-looking: caring for themselves; praying for them­selves and constantly counselling one another.  If only they would look out on the fields white for harvest and reach out to others, at least some of their problems and counselling needs would disappear. The way of Jesus is to say ‘no’ to oneself and to embrace a life of self-sacrifice (v.25).

Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a popular, political and religious leader who would lead them in triumph against their Roman over-lords. When they welcomed him into Jerusalem they had such ideas in mind. He could have succumbed to the deceptiveness of popularity and given the crowds what they wanted. He could have given way to the fear of man, especially knowing the fate his enemies were preparing for him. But he didn’t. So the crowd that welcomed him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday screamed “Crucify him!” on Good Friday.

We have seen that he calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Yet one of the main hindrances today amongst Christians, and especially Christian leaders, is fear of man; fear of losing reputation; fear of being rejected. When I was first ordained I often preached on love.  Then I realised that one of my main motives was to ensure people were nice to me. I used to think that I was hesitant to rebuke an erring Christian for fear of hurting him.  Then I realized I was at least equally afraid that if I rebuked him he might hurt me.

Many ministers are afraid of obeying what they know to be God’s will for fear of upsetting or even losing church members. Yet Jesus upset and lost his “congregation” because of his hard teaching (John 6:65).  He taught his disciples that those who are persecuted because of righteousness are blessed because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them {Matthew 5:10-12), Like our other treasures, our reputation should be in heaven.

Jesus’ way was the way of eternity. He lived within the perspective of eternity. In his rebuke of Peter he said: “You do not have in mind the things of God,but the things of men”.  (v,23) That is a criticism which can justly be levelled against, many modern Christians. Their criterion for the Church and its worship is so often whether it is helpful and suitable for themselves. They don’t think in terms of how pleasing it is to God, The Church was meant to be flexible and subject to regular change and renewal. Jesus said that the wind of the Spirit blows wherever he pleases but the Church so often seeks to contain the Spirit in rigid structures and fossilized patterns (whether ancient or modern). And the sad thing is that Church leaders encourage this because of a sentimental love for those who are actually resisting the Spirit.

Jesus went on to refer to his Second Coming when he would reward each person according to what he has done (v.27),  If only Christians would have this perspective of eternity we would more readily accept the disturbance of the Holy Spirit, the demands of obedience, the pain of misunderstanding and per­secution. We would realize that to seek to love our neighbour in a way which leads to breaking the first and greatest commandment is to be deceived. It is to fall into sentimental love:  a cheap replica of divine love. We would be prepared to follow God’s word and His will including the way of sacrifice in order to win others, rather than having a comfortable life.


Father, we thank you that in Jesus the kindness and sternness of your love is fully revealed. Help us by your Spirit to renounce a sentimental love which leads to disobedience and to be filled with your love which leads to life. Help us to lay down our lives in sacrificial service in the light of eternity. Amen.

Further Daily Reading on avoiding Sentimental Love
Sun:   Jesus strongly rebuked hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13-36)
Mon:   Jesus cleanses the Temple (John 2:12-25)
Tue:    Jesus loses his congregation (John 6:53-71)
Wed:   Jesus calls for sacrificial commitment (Luke 14:25-35)
Thu:    Jesus rebukes the unbelief of the disciples (Matthew 14:25-31; Mk 4:35-40)
Fri:      Jesus rebukes the unbelief of the frightened disciples (Lk 24:25-27; Mk 16:14)
Sat:     Jesus advises leaving the hard-hearted (Matthew 10:11-15)

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction