Text: Matthew 8:18-22
Title: The Demand of Jesus
Theme: Since Jesus is the center of authority, his demand from his followers is both personal and costly.
We are all horrified by the suicide bombings in Middle East. A recent suicide bomber was as young as a high school senior. We may call those individuals fanatics and irrational. However, behind them is a dedication and commitment to a cause that the world has not known until now.
We who live in the west or other developed countries, our familiar cause is our own well being. What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? Even in the context of our Christian faith, it is often fairly self centered. Under the pretense of self assertion and positive self esteem, I come first. We want to tailor make our religion, so it will bring us comfort and with the least amount of change. We don’t want a faith that will rock our boat. We want a Jesus that is like that fuzzy, warm teddy bear. Its good to have him around. We’ll come to him when we are in trouble, or else, please leave us alone.
In recent months we have been studying the book of Matthew. We want to know what it means to follow Christ. In our study of Matthew chapters 7-8, we see a Jesus different from what we are used to. In his Sermon on the Mount, we learned about the Magnum Charter of his kingdom. Its anything but tame. It requires a total change of our value system. Once we follow him, we’ll never be the same again. We cannot continue our previous way of thinking and living and try to add his onto ours.
When he comes into our lives, he expects a take over, a overhaul of our value and way of living. His listeners were astonished by his teaching. They recognized it was not mere words uttered by another of their teachers. They were words with authority.
Last week, we also learned that Jesus demonstrated his authority by transforming individuals’ lives. He healed the sick and cast out the demons. Even at the very beginning of his earthly ministry, he revealed that he was the center of authority.
Now, in today’s passage, his authority will be seen in the context of calling individuals. We’ll explore the truth that since Jesus is the center of authority, his demand from his followers is both personal and costly.
I. Following Jesus Christ is costly.
In verse 18, “Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.” He had attracted a large crowd. Instead of massaging the group, he moved away from them. Quite different from the politicians, right? They would dive right into the crowd, the more the better. Jesus simply went to the other side of the lake. He would not let the crowd set his agenda.
Verse 19, a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” I would like to make several observations about this scribe. First a scribe is a teacher of the law, a learned person. They had their own social circle. Now, he is calling Jesus: Teacher. One teacher has chosen another person as his teacher and wants to follow him. This must be quite a humbling experience. Imagine you have been teaching for 10 years at the graduate level, and now you are listening to someone who just came out of graduate school.
Secondly, he volunteered to follow Jesus. He wants to go wherever Jesus goes. He was thinking of the physical aspect of following Jesus; going to the other side of the lake. He seemed to be quite motivated and determined. “I will follow you…” What is his commitment like? In the OT was a person by the name of Ittai. He wanted to follow and be with king David. This is what he said, 2 Samuel 15:21, “But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” This is a dedicated commitment. Or is the scribe’s attitude like that of Peter? Luke 22:33, “Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”. Peter was rather impulsive for we know that several hours later, he denied Jesus 3 times. It appears the scribe was also kind of impulsive; I’ll follow you wherever you go.” And may be this is what solicited Jesus'' response.
The third observation: He is certainly a willing volunteer. He is a good candidate for any committees. However, in the gospel narratives, the master—disciple relationship is often initiated by Jesus. He issued the calling to his disciples and they responded by following him. Later he said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you…..” (John 15:16) You see, following Jesus is not a matter of volunteering. It is a response to Jesus'' calling.
What was Jesus' response to him? 20, “And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Again, some observations. First, he says nothing of the scribe’s inquiry. It was neither an invitation nor a rebuke. He is saying that simple creatures like the foxes and the birds have resting places. But not so with Jesus. His life is not a settled one. The nature of his ministry kept him on the move and therefore he is at the mercy of others’ hospitality.
Jesus never responded to the scribe saying, don’t worry, I’ll take care of your needs. I will provide you with pillows and blankets. Instead he says to follow Him means a life without security, it is not comfortable with plenty of hardships.
Secondly, here in Matthew, for the first time he called himself the “Son of Man”. The term Son of Man first appeared in Daniel 7. It is a reference to the Messiah to come. This is a suffering Messiah. Therefore to follow this son of man is to follow him to the pain and agony at the garden of Gethsemane. To follow this son of man is to follow him to Golgotha, the cross and death. Later on he said in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In other words, to follow Christ is very costly. It can cost one’s life.
What does this mean to us? We are here, not because we have chosen him or because we have found him. We are here because he first had chosen and called us. He has called us to follow him down this narrow path. In a poet’s word, it is a road less traveled. It is a path that is very costly. How so?
It can cost our lives. Throughout Christian history, we have seen how disciples of Jesus Christ, in following him, have been kicked out from city to city. The first 12 disciples, with the exception of Judah and John, were all killed because of their faith. Throughout the last 2000 years, countless Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. It has been reported that the number of believers killed in the 20th century is more than all those that were killed in the last 20 centuries.
It can cost us our jobs. There are times when you have to refuse to tell a lie, to take or give a bribery, to compromise your Christian convictions, you may have to resigned from your position. It can cost you a relationship. You have grown to be very fond of this person. Yet he/she is consistently resistant to the Christian faith. Eventually, in your obedience to Jesus Christ, you have to give up this relationship. This hurts.
It can also cost us our comfort. There are times when we have to follow him to places that we are not familiar with. It could be a country where the comfort of lives is missing. I think of a Korean couple, giving up their comfortable home in Seoul and went to Kazastan, living in a place with flies are frequent guests and the floor is slanted. Following Christ can be costly.
II. Following Christ is to take priority above all else.
Vs21, “Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” This seems a reasonable request, isn’t it? But Jesus' response is very troubling, vs22, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’” This sounds very unreasonable and uncompassionate. How can the great shepherd say such words to this man?
Let us first try to understand the Middle Eastern custom. In the Middle East, to bury one’s father is considered as the ultimate filial responsibility. The situation could be like this. When the father died, mourners would gather immediately and there would be a funeral procession to the tomb. One week later, the family would still be in mourning and no one could go out in the public. One year later, the eldest son would return to the tomb, to rebury the father by neatly arranging the bones. So this man may be talking about a one year delay in following Jesus. Others have also suggested that this man is waiting for his father to die, to wait after the burial; he will come and follow Jesus. This could be a wait of several years.
If we take such interpretations into account, then Jesus' response would seem to be reasonable. However, when we try to explain the man’s request, we are really trying to soft pedal Jesus' response. We want to make Jesus a sensible and compassionate person. But, what does he mean by “leave the dead to bury their own dead?” He is really saying; let those spiritually dead bury their physical dead. Let those who have no purpose in life, who have not come to know the son of God, those who live in spiritual darkness, who are dead spiritually to bury the physically dead.
In a very powerful way, Jesus is explaining what he meant in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” He is saying, you have to love me above everyone else. At the onset of his ministry, Jesus is telling those who follow him that allegiance to him is to be above all, including family relationships. His disciples are to come to him without any reservations. Following Christ is costly, and it also needs to take top priority, even above close family ties.
Jesus is not saying that people should not be concerned for their parents. For the Bible clearly teaches we are to honor our parents. However, if concern for parents becomes an excuse for not following Jesus, or for delay in following Jesus, then concern for parents, as important as it is, is being too highly valued.
To many of us, our family ties are very important. Some of us have delayed in following Christ because our families have threatened to disown us. A young man from a wealthy family was refused his share of the inheritance because he went into the ministry. Some of our Asian families see our following Christ, as the ultimate betrayal of family tradition. Often we delay or even turn away from Christ for we feel our loyalty to family tradition will come first. But here in Matthew, Jesus' words are very clear. He is to come first, even above our close family ties.
Having said this, I would also like to say a few words to the parents among us. I trust that you are doing your best to follow Christ and put him above all. There may come a day when God will call your sons and daughters into full time ministry. God may call some of them to be pastors or missionaries in a foreign land. As parents, sometimes it will be very hard for you to see your beloved children experience those hardships and to live a lifestyle that you have abandoned many years ago. You may remember what it was like to live without indoor plumbing, with an outhouse, or boiling hot water just to take a bath. To see your child living like that can be painful for the parents. I think it will help us a little to remember this Jesus not only is our lord, but also the lord of our children. At different times in their lives, he would call them to follow him in different ways. Don’t be an obstacle for their obedience to the Lord who is your lord as well.
In these two incidents, we clearly see that as the center of authority, Jesus' demands from us are both personal and costly. This is the reason in Luke he tells us that when we follow him, we need to count the cost. Don’t respond too hastily. This is the reason when we share the gospel message with others, don’t pressure the listeners. They need to think through and count the cost.
The ‘costs’ we have to pay for living in this country, as compared to the costs paid by many Christians in other parts of the world is small. But the principle is still the same. We have to die to our self-interests. We have to put Christ first, meaning there are times we have to give up our time and hobbies so we can help others. Very often to carry our cross, dying to our sinful nature can be a painful process.
When I was baptized in high school, my pastor gave me 12 autobiographies. Borden of Yale was one of the books. Borden of Yale abandoned his wealth and went to the Middle East as a missionary. Shortly after his arrival, he died of a disease. As he lay dying, he uttered these words, “No reserve; no retreat; no regrets.”
You see, our salvation costs us nothing. This is because Christ has paid it all for us. However, as we follow Christ, it will cost us everything. From his followers, Jesus'' demands are both personal and costly. He wants our total, unreserved and uncompromised allegiance. He wants us to put him on the very top of our priority. Some of us may say it is too difficult; it is not possible to follow Christ. This is the reason that every moment we need him to give us strength. For apart from him, we cannot even follow him. It is his grace that enables us to be his followers.