The Authority of the King: Jesus and Discipleship (Exposition of Matthew 8:18-22)

The September 2005 issue of Rev magazine has an article from Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan of Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. adapted from their book Simply Strategic Growth. The article includes a number of ideas for drawing crowds to your church, including:

  • Address specific needs. Like marriages, raising families, money, fulfillment, etc.
  • Entertain people.
  • Make children a priority. Granger is well known for their incredible children’s ministry. Sponge Bob would be jealous.
  • Raise the energy level of worship. Turn up the volume.
  • Give people hope. Grace, not condemnation. People should leave challenged, but encouraged.
  • Offer multiple services regardless of how full your church is.


We live in a day when everything is being used to draw crowds to churches.  A quick internet search this week found churches using music, car shows, dramas, and even tigers to attract a crowd.

How did Jesus respond to the crowds?  What did Jesus do when a crowd gathered?

In this morning’s text, Jesus’ healing of the multitudes attracted large crowds.  What did Jesus do?  He left!  Then as He is leaving two potential converts chase him down and make professions of commitment to Him.  His responses to them seem to be attempts to scare them away.

And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.  (19)  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  (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.”  (21)  Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  (22)  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  Matthew 8:18-22

What did Jesus do when He “saw great multitudes about Him”?  He said, “Let’s get out of here!”  Apparently as Jesus made His way to a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, He was approached by two potential disciples.  Both of these men are confronted with a challenge from the King.  The first in regard to secure accommodations, the second in regard to social obligations.

I.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Secure Accommodations, vv. 19-20.
The first potential convert was a scribe who comes to Jesus and calls him, “Teacher”. He calls Jesus by a title of respect and then makes a remarkable promise. This man comes up to Jesus singing, “Where He leads me I will follow.”

What do you expect Jesus to say?  “Oh boy!  Here’s a great prospect, let me make sure not to say anything to discourage him.”  No, instead Jesus asserts His kingly authority by challenging this potential follower by rejecting this man’s basic need for secure accommodations.

This man comes calling Jesus, “Teacher.” But as Bible commentator William Barclay told of someone who was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. And so it apparently was with this man who had not yet counted the cost which Jesus will warn him of in verse 20.

This man makes a remarkable promise: “I will follow you wherever You go.”  That is a wonderful thing to say, it’s a wonderful thing to sing, but Jesus knows if it is a lie.  I wonder how many liars we have in church every Sunday singing with enthusiasm, “Where He leads me I will follow!”?

Jesus challenges this man’s enthusiasm with these words, “Foxes have hole and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  With these words Jesus provides further instruction to this one who has attended his lectures, but was not yet a student.

First, He lets him know that He is more than a mere teacher.  He is none other than the Messianic King, God in human flesh.  How does Jesus communicate this?  By use of the title “Son of Man.”  At first glance this title seems to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, not so.  Instead this title, which is Jesus’ favorite term of self-designation used over 80 times in the New Testament and 28/29 times in the Gospel of Matthew, is a strong claim to deity.  It is a reference to what Daniel prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14,

I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.  14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

In other words, when Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, He is claiming to be the mighty king seen by Daniel whose rule and reign will never end!  Jesus is more than a teacher!

C. S. Lewis’ famous quote is appropriate here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. . . .

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1960). pp. 40-41.

So after confronting this man’s understanding of who He is, Jesus then confronts this man’s need of secure accommodations.  “Foxes have holes,” He says, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In other words, if you are going to follow me wherever I go, you’re going to lose the guarantee of secure accommodations.  The call to discipleship is a call to step into insecurity from a human perspective.

The great Italian military leader, patriot and soldier, Garibaldi had an incredibly committed volunteer army. It is said that he would appeal for recruits in these terms: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!”
Similarly to be a solder in the army of the Lord, one must count the cost.  It’s not going to be easy.  Jesus places demands upon His followers!

By the way, this is not about a second level of Christianity, it’s real Christianity.

The following quote from D. A. Carson says it all:

Little has done more to harm the witness of the Christian church than the practice of filling its ranks with every volunteer who is willing to make a little profession, talk fluently of experience, but display little of perseverance.

This is what our churches and communities are full of, but they are not true disciples of Jesus Christ!

We have several attenders on Sunday morning, but how many disciples are there?  We have a lot of members on the church roll, but how many disciples are there?

II.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Social Obligations, vv. 21-22.
This man is called “another disciple” of Jesus.  But as the remainder of verse 21 makes clear, he was not yet a true disciple.  The New Testament uses the term disciple in a variety of ways.  One way is to refer to the Twelve.  Another is to refer to a group of committed followers of Jesus.  The third way is to refer to those who are merely in the crowd.  Like many of you hear today who enjoy hearing Jesus teach occasionally and you like the good stuff that He does for you, but you have not committed your life to Him.  You are what the Puritans described as “The Almost Christian,” like King Agrippa in Acts 26.
The second man who comes to Jesus has been listening in and knows better than to call Jesus, “Teacher.”  Instead, he rightly calls Him “Lord.”  He acknowledges Jesus Lordship verbally, but with a reservation: “First, let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus is either Lord of all, or not Lord at all!  He will allow no exceptions.  Jesus said elsewhere, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21).

It is this attitude that caused Jesus to ask on one occasion, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

This man calls Jesus Lord, but has not submitted to His Lordship.  What does it mean when this man attempts to make a deal with Jesus?   He says, “let me first go and bury my father.”  This could mean a variety of things.

  • To make burial arrangements for an already dead, or soon dying father.
  • To stay for a customary 7 days of mourning after a father’s death.
  • To stay for a second period of mourning that lasts for one year and culminates with the reburial of the father’s bones in a burial box.
  • To stay indefinitely and wait for a presently healthy, living father to die.

See Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC), 367.

But Jesus doesn’t play, “Let’s Make a Deal”.  He probably wouldn’t even watch it.  Instead, He says in words that seem harsh to our ears, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

To care for one’s parents in their old age and prepare for their proper burial was considered to be an important part of how one obeyed God’s command to honor one’s father and mother.  But Jesus is here asserting His Divine and Kingly right to be honored above father and mother!  The Christian’s obligations to Jesus go beyond his or her obligations to family, friends, jobs, or government.

Let me ask you a question: When circumstances cause an extra demand to be made on your time that requires you to sacrifice one area of your life to meet that need, what do you sacrifice?

  • Do you sacrifice family obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice job obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice recreation time?
  • Or, do you sacrifice Christian responsibilities?

How does this account end?  We don’t know.  We don’t know if these two men get on the boat with Jesus or go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler of Luke 18.  We just don’t know.  These men could have surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship completely by forsaking both secure accommodations and social obligations, but we’ll never know in this life.  But you can know how your own story goes.  Will you unconditionally surrender to Christ’s kingly authority today?

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