Will You Follow Jesus? – Matthew 8:18-22

Pastor Scott L. Harris
February 14, 1993

Will You Follow Jesus?
Matthew 8:18-22


The beginning of 1861 was full of patriotism and excitement. Southern states had seceded from the Union in anticipation of President Lincoln’s inauguration. The cry in both the North and South was to arms. In the North, it was to “Preserve the Union.” In the South, it was to “defend the homeland.” In both areas, the coming war was seen as something grand and glorious. The armies raised were all volunteers. They were men eager to be part of the noble adventure to come. The soldiers on parade were magnificent in their uniforms and the weapons they carried glittered in the sun. What young man would not want to be part of this noble affair? There was little thought to what war was really like. Both sides thought the war would only last a few months.

By the end of the year, both sides understood the true nature of war. There was grandeur and there was glory, and both side felt theirs was a noble cause. But it was not the Sunday picnic envisioned of a congenial shooting match or a day of relaxed hunting with friends. Camp life was uncomfortable, the marches exhausting, the battles bloody, and as many watched their friends being laid in the grave, they knew they could meet the same fate in the next battle.

So it is with the cause of Jesus Christ as well. As we looked at Matthew 8:1-17 last week, things seemed so grand and glorious. Jesus had healed a man full of leprosy. Jesus healed the servant of the Gentile Centurion without even seeing the boy. Jesus commanded it, and it was done. Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. Matthew 8:16 tells us that “when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.” It was exciting to be around Jesus and witness all that was taking place. A prophet was back in the land and miracles abounded! The crowds came from all over according to Matthew 4:24, 25.  (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Disease).

In Matthew 8:18 we find that once again there was a crowd around Jesus. Let me remind you once again that Matthew does not follow a strict chronology, but selects his material to demonstrate his point. The actual events that take place here do not occur on the same evening after Sabbath that Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, but at another time later in Jesus’ ministry. Matthew introduces the story here to demonstrate the reaction to Jesus’ ministry.

Keep in mind that Matthew wrote this account of Jesus’ life to Jewish people in order to document Him as the Christ, the Messiah. In the Sermon on the Mount, we found that Jesus spoke with authority  (See: The Amazing Teaching of Jesus). But just because someone speaks with the air of authority does not mean that they actually have that authority. In Matthew 8 & 9 we find Matthew demonstrating Jesus’ authority over disease, nature, the supernatural, sin, and even death itself. Each of these are things only God has authority over, and so each backs up Jesus’ claim to be God in human flesh, and if Jesus is God, then He has authority. When He says something, it should be obeyed. Such is the case in Matthew 8:18. “When Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side.” It was a command to be obeyed by His followers.

In Matthew 8:23 we find that the disciples of Jesus did obey the order, for they followed Him into the boat and put out for the other side of the lake. In the parallel passage in Mark 4, we find that other people also put out in boats to follow Jesus. But in the verses that we are going to be looking at today, we find that many that were attracted to Jesus were not ready to follow Him.

As I said earlier, when the soldiers are marching by with their uniforms and equipment looking grand and glorious, it is easy to attract a crowd of people who want to follow. Jesus had done many miracles including healing people of every kind of disease, casting out demons, and teaching in a way that they had never heard before. His words were strong, yet full of grace. Jesus was a leader that knew where He was going. He was not afraid. He invoked in the people a sense that they could be part of something much bigger and more important than themselves. And so it was that the crowds came and some said they wanted to become His disciples – His followers and students. They wanted to learn from Him and be part of all that was going on. They saw the glory of the miracles and the grandeur of the crowds and the nobility of Jesus Himself, but they did not yet understand what it would mean. They had not yet counted the cost of following Jesus. Matthew gives an account of two men who were in this position. They were attracted to Jesus, but not yet aware of what it would mean to follow Jesus.

The Boastful Scribe

We meet the first man in Matthew 8:19. “And a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” What a marvelous thing! This is not just any man, but a certain scribe. Now remember that the scribes were generally antagonistic to Jesus, especially after the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus has exposed their hypocritical self-righteousness. We find in John 5:18 that they and the Pharisees, with whom they were closely aligned, were already seeking to kill Him if possible. Yet here is a scribe coming to Jesus.

Even more striking is that this scribe calls Jesus, “teacher,” and he means it. Now keep in mind that the scribes were called “teacher” or “rabbi.” They were well schooled and trained in the law. They took the title seriously and used it only of those that had earned the right to that title which was primarily themselves. Yet we find here that this scribe has the humility to address Jesus, who had no formal education, as “teacher.” It would be the equivalent of a University professor who had earned his PhD going out in the boondocks to a farmer who has had no formal education and addressing him as “Doctor.”

It was remarkable that the scribe came to Jesus. it was remarkable that the scribe addressed Jesus as “teacher.” But it was astounding that this scribe told Jesus of his unconditional allegiance to Him saying, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” There is no indication in this text, or in the parallel passages, of any sort of condition or limitation on his statement. There is nothing to indicate that this scribe was anything but serious and sincere in making this statement. This is the genuine expression of this man’s belief and desire.

I do not doubt that there are many people today who come to Christ in this same manner. They have heard about Him, His life, His miracles, His grace, and His glory and they find Him very attractive. They have met true followers of Christ and have been impressed by the lives they lead. They are attracted to Christ by all the wonderful things about Him and what they have seen Him do in the lives of others. They want the peace and joy that He offers. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They respond to the love they have heard about and seen and they profess love for Jesus as well saying, “I will follow You wherever You lead me.”

However, the sad truth is that neither the scribe nor the many people today have ever thought through what it might mean to follow Jesus Christ. The positive things they have seen are so wonderful and they are strongly attracted to them. But following Jesus Christ is not always positive from the human perspective. It often leads to unpleasant circumstances.

Jesus responds to the scribe in Matthew 8:20. Jesus does not speak either positively or negatively to the scribe. He simply tells him what His own life is like with the inference that if the scribe will really follow Him, then Jesus can offer no more than what He Himself has. “And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” In short, “if you are going to follow me, I cannot promise you anything but an itinerant life. Foxes have holes in the ground they call home. Birds of the air build a nest that they call home. But I will be going from place to place and none of them will be home.”

Let me add as a footnote here a comment about Jesus addressing Himself here as “the Son of Man.” Note first of all that He is “the Son of Man,” not “a son of man.” Jesus is fully human, but He stands apart from all other humans. The phrase, as used of Jesus, is a reference to His being the Messiah, as seen most clearly in comparing Daniel 7:13 with Matthew 26:64, wherein both passages “the son of man” is next to God the Father in the clouds of heaven. Jesus often used veiled references of Himself as the Messiah for two reasons. First, to conceal His identity until the proper time (as throughout John – His time has not yet come). Second, the term “Messiah” had developed many connotations that were not true of His role as the “savior of the world.” Many Jews were looking for the Nationalistic Messiah who would through off the yoke of Rome, but in His first coming, Jesus came as the suffering servant that would take upon Himself the sins of the world. The Son of Man is the Messiah.

We know that the phrase, “no place to lay His head” does not mean that He will not have a place to sleep because Jesus is often in the homes of friends (Peter in Capernaum, Martha, Mary & Lazarus in Bethany, etc.). Jesus was also no pauper because the band of disciples He led had a purse which had enough money to give to the poor at times, and enough for Judas to steal from. The phrase was a reference to the fact that this world was not His home. Jesus did not come to gain worldly comfort. Before Jesus was born, He was turned out because there was no room for Him in the inn. In addition, as we go through the Scriptures we find that Judea rejected Him (John 5:18), Galilee casts Him out (John 6:66), Gadara begs him to leave its district (Matthew 8:34), Samaria refuses Him lodging (Luke 9:53), He came to His own and they would not receive Him (John 1:11), even heaven forsakes Him when He bears the sins of mankind (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus did not go into detail of all the hardships that would come to those that would follow Him. He did not even remind the scribe that those that would follow Him would be persecuted on account of Him. He simply stated that if the scribe would follow Him, then He should realize that it would mean following a man that had no permanent home.

The Scriptures are silent about the response of the scribe. Neither in this passage nor in the parallel passages do we ever find mention of this man again. It is an argument from silence, but the silence here is strong evidence that this scribe was unwilling to follow Jesus if the cost would be that high. The man said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go,” but his actions demonstrated that he would not even follow across the lake. The cost was too high.

There are many today that are like that. They say they will follow Jesus. Go wherever He wants them to go. Do whatever He wants them to do. They profess their love for Him, but once they find out what it means to follow, to truly love Him by being obedient to Him, they depart. These are the people that have entered the broad gate  (See: Which Way to Heaven?). People who have been mislead by false prophets proclaiming a false gospel. These are people who have built their house on shifting sand  (See: What is Your Foundation Built Upon?). It is a sad fate they will have in the end.

Too often the gospel has been presented as a punctilious transaction – a business deal that takes place at a point in time. This emphasis has led to people believing that salvation is a piece of paper that has a fire insurance policy on one side with a ticket to heaven printed on the back. They forget that salvation is from one nature to another nature, from one master to another master. The change in final destination is a result of those changes. It is salvation from sin & death unto righteousness & life (Romans 6, Ephesians 2). It is salvation from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13). If we are going to say we are going to follow Jesus, we had better remember that means a change in citizenship (Philippians 4:20) and we become aliens and strangers to this world (1 Peter 2:11) and are now here as ambassadors of God (2 Corinthians 5:20). This world is no longer our home, we are just passing through. If we love the world more than Jesus, then we have yet to come to grips with what it means to be a Christian. We are like the scribe who professes allegiance, but will not even go across the lake. We are like Demas, of whom Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone . . .”. If we truly love Jesus we will obey Him (John 14:23, 24) and we will strive to be like Him (1 John 2:6).

What keeps men and women from Christ – both to receive forgiveness and in living for Him whole heartedly? They love the comforts of this world more.

The Conditional Disciple

In Matthew 8:21 another man comes to Jesus. The inference from the context is that this man also wants to follow Jesus, but he does have one problem. If that problem can be resolved, then he knows he would be free to do all that Jesus would want. “And another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”

This man was another of Jesus’ disciples in the general sense of the word. This is not one of the twelve which Jesus chose as His disciples, but one of the many that were following Jesus around at the time. They were disciples in the sense that they were seeking to learn from Jesus, but the strength of their commitment to Him was yet to be tested. This particular disciple is tested at this point.

Jesus is about to go to the other side of Sea of Galilee. This man wants to go, but he does not feel he can follow Jesus to that extent until he is able to bury his father. He approaches Jesus seeking His approval for this exemption. Would Jesus give him permission to join the band of disciples at some later time after he had buried his father? It seems a reasonable request and his approach to Jesus is good. He is not giving a conditional statement, i.e. “If you let me go bury my father, I will follow you later.” Instead, it is a request, “I want to follow you, will you allow me to bury my father first?”

There is some question as to the current actual condition of this man’s father. Jewish custom directed burial to take place soon after death (John 11:1, 14, 17; Acts 5:5, 6, 10). In addition, it was considered both a duty and a kindness (Micah 6:8) that ranked higher than other services requiring attention. Sons were generally obliged to arrange burial as a final act of devotion (Genesis 25:9, etc.). It is, therefore, very possible that this man had heard about his father’s death only shortly before going to Jesus, and so he would be asking Jesus permission to return and bury his father before following Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

It is also true that the phrase, “bury my father” did not mean that the father had just died, but instead referred to a son’s duty to help his dad in the family business until after the father died and the inheritance was distributed. Macarthur reports a story concerning a missionary in Turkey that asked a rich young Turkish man to go with him on a trip to Europe, during which time the missionary hoped to disciple the young man. The man replied that he must first bury his father. The missionary offered his sympathy and expressed surprise that his father had just died. The young man then explained that his father was alive and healthy, and that the expression “bury my father” simply meant staying at home and fulfilling his family responsibilities until his father died and he received his share of the inheritance. Therefore, it is also possible that this was the case with this disciple. He was not asking Jesus to let him go back and actually bury his father, but to go back and remain at home until his father died and he received his part of the inheritance.

Which is true? The scriptures do not say. But we do know that Jesus’ reply was specifically to this man, as much as Jesus’ reply to the rich young ruler to go and sell all he had and follow Him was specifically to the rich young ruler. Jesus knew the heart of the man and he replied specifically to what was there that would block him from following. In Matthew 8:22 Jesus said to him, “Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

Regardless of what this man’s actual motives, Jesus cut to the core of the issue when it comes to following Him. When He commands us to follow, it is time to go and nothing else is more important. Again, let me stress that Jesus is not saying that we should not participate in funerals and take care of those arrangements for our loved ones. What He said here is specifically to this man, because He knew what was in his heart. Either he was greedy and wanted his inheritance before following Christ, or this man was so tied into his family that he valued them more than Christ. In either case the issue is following Christ.

I think we all understand clearly that being devoted to Jesus is more important than gaining the things of the world. Yet so many do forfeit their souls in order to gain the things of the world for the few short years of their lives. It is told that there was a certain tribe in Africa that elected a new king every seven years. The king would reign for seven years enjoying high honor and every luxury known to the tribe. During those years, that king’s authority is absolute even to the power of life and death over the members of the tribe. The only catch was at the end of the seven years when a new king would be chosen, the old king was killed. Every member of the tribe was aware of this provision because the custom had long been practiced, yet there was never a shortage of men wanting the job. They were willing to forfeit their lives in order to enjoy seven years of luxury and power. Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:26 is serious, “What will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Yet many do sell their souls for the world’s goods. It is possible that this disciple did the same, for nothing is ever indicated about him again.

Applying the Lessons

We also need to understand that following Jesus does mean placing Him above all other relationships including family. Jesus says in Matthew 10:37, “He who loved father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” We find that when we come to Jesus for salvation, we not only exchange sin and death for righteousness and life, but we also change families. We become part of the family of God and our primary allegiance is now to God the Father, not to our earthly dad. We may love our families very much and be very close to them, but the greater love has to be to God. It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament that neither the High Priest (Leviticus 21:11) or a person under a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6, 7) were allowed to become unclean, as they would at a funeral, even for father or mother. Their lives were to be completely consecrated.

What keeps people from Christ? For many it is the allurement of the things of the world. They sacrifice the eternal for that which is only for the moment. For others, it is relationships with others. How many have not come to Christ because a fear of what others would think or because they would be rejected by their family. I have known many Jewish believers in Southern California. One particular lady was completely rejected by her family when she came to Christ. She said they considered her dead and would have nothing to do with her. She would call them and they would say, “You cannot be our daughter, for she has died.” But she loved Jesus more and she would not let her family take her to hell with them. God gave her a new family of many brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I know that some here today are still in the process of considering the claims of Christ. Do not let pleasures, the things of this world, or family pressures keep you away. His claims are true. He is God in human flesh who has the power and authority to change your life. Confess your sin to Him, ask Him for forgiveness and He will forgive you and start you on a whole new life. His claims are true.

Some you here today are like the scribe or that disciple. You profess to love Jesus. You would like to follow him, but you are hesitant about all the sacrifices that following Him might mean in your lifestyle. You want to follow, but first you need to take care of business, or you do not want to risk your relationships with your family and friends. It is time to get off the fence. You know that Jesus wants more of your life, more devotion and commitment from you including time in prayer, Bible study, and boldness in telling others about Jesus’ death on the cross for man’s sin. You know there are tangible ways God wants you to use your gifts within the body including calling each other up and finding out what you can do to serve one another, encouraging one another. That might require part of your time and energy and even your finances, but you need to make a choice today. Are you going to follow Jesus? Or are you going to find an excuse to wait for some other day when it is more convenient. Jesus has given order to depart, don’t miss the boat.

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Grace Bible Church Home Page |  Sermon Archives

For comments, please e-mail  Church office