Following the King

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Matthew
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Matthew 8:18-27, “Following the King”

Although it’s become a bit passé, it seemed to be rather trendy for a while to call oneself a “follower of Christ,” instead of a “Christian.”  The sad part was that those who typically desired to be seen as Jesus’ “followers” tended to downplay the idea of total discipleship.  Everything centered around feelings, rather than simple obedience.  Obviously Jesus does not downplay the feelings we have in our relationship with Him, but being a follower of Christ comes at a cost.  It wasn’t for zero reason that the Lutheran theologian & WWII martyr Deitrich Bonhoeffer entitled his famous work, “The Cost of Discipleship.”  Many people want to be associated with Christ; they simply don’t want to count the cost of what it means to actually follow & obey Him.

Jesus has demonstrated (and will continue to demonstrate) that He has the authority to teach us of the things of God because He is God.  The question posed here is of our response: will we follow Him?

Matthew 8:18–27 (NKJV)
18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.

  • Again, there were “great multitudes” around Jesus.  Whatever the chronology, many of them had been present for Jesus’ teachings (perhaps during the Sermon on the Mount) – many had likely begun to follow Jesus as a result of the healing miracles He performed.  Mark tells us that after Jesus had healed the leper, the news spread so fast that Jesus could no longer minister openly in the city, but had to go to the deserted places – there were just too many people there. (Mk 1:45)
  • This is all about to change – Jesus is going to start whittling down the numbers very quickly!
  • Again, it’s a good reminder that not everyone who hangs out in a religious crowd actually knows Christ Jesus as Lord.  Jesus taught that there would be many who would seem to grow in the Word of God for a time, but would eventually fall away – that’s one of the major points of the parable of the sower. (Mt 13)  Some seed falls among thorns, and though it grows, the cares of the world choke it out.  Some seed falls on hard ground & the trials & tribulations of the world cause it to be scorched, because of a lack of root.  No doubt among the multitudes who originally followed Jesus there were thorny-ground people & stony-ground people.  (And this was JESUS’ ministry!  Surely if it happened to Him, we ought to expect the same thing in local churches today.)
  • The big question is: how do we know if we’re a pseudo-disciple, or a true disciple of Jesus?  That’s a lot of what Matthew is illustrating here in Chapter 8, and it comes down to a simple singular issue: the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Is Jesus your Lord?  Is He your Master, Savior, and King?  To those for whom Jesus is Lord, it’s no question following Him in whatever He leads us to do – obedience is simply a fact of life.  Granted, we may have times of struggle, but we’ll always eventually default back to obedience, simply because that’s what a disciple does.  A disciple follows the instruction of his/her teacher.  A servant obeys the commands of his/her Lord.  A child hears the voice of his/her parents.  That’s the default mode – and that’s what a true disciple does.  A pseudo-disciple (on the other hand) looks for every excuse possible NOT to follow the teachings of the Master…and that’s what Matthew shows in the next examples.

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.”

  • Interestingly enough, in each of these examples we get a willingness to follow Jesus, Jesus’ response to the person, but no follow-up on what happened afterwards.  Technically, we don’t know if these people actually overcame their excuses or not when it came to following Christ.  Yet we DO know that deep-down in their hearts they had resistance to following Christ because Jesus points out their excuses even though they themselves had never actually voiced it.
    • Remember that God is omniscient.  There’s not a thing that God does not know.  There’s no excuse we can give God that He won’t immediately see through – He even knows the excuse we’re going to offer before we even offer it.  It’s no use lying to God.  People sometimes think they’re lying to God when in reality they’re lying to themselves.  God always knows the truth.
  • Follower #1: “a certain scribe.”  The scribes were the teachers.  The Sadducees were generally the priests – the Pharisees were the governors of the law & consumed with holiness (the moral police) – the scribes were the teachers of Scripture.  Their normal duty was to serve as human Xerox machines, meticulously copying the Scripture letter-by-letter ensuring that every word was exactly transmitted as it had been received.  They lived & breathed the Scriptures.  Yet something about Jesus caught the attention of this scribe, and he was willing to go with Jesus & learn from him.
    • Intrigue does not equal faith.  There are many people who are fascinated with Jesus but have no actual desire to serve Jesus…and that’s the case with this scribe.
  • Offer #1: “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  It all sounds good at first, until we start digging into it a bit further. 
    • First, notice how the scribe addressed Jesus: “Teacher.”  There was no pretension that the scribe thought Jesus to be the Lord with all authority – the Son of God clothed in the flesh.  To the scribe, Jesus was simply a teacher…one of many.  KJV has “Master,” but the word is no doubt “Teacher.”  διδάσκαλος (~ “didactic”).  A teacher might have some authority in a student’s life, but they certainly don’t have to be a person’s “master” in every respect.  Teachers can be ignored.  Teachers can have competition.  The scribe was himself a teacher – he simply found another teacher he could learn from.
      • In Luke’s gospel, there is a parallel occasion that is virtually identical.  Only that person does not address Jesus as a teacher, but as “Lord.” (Lk 9:57)  The word “Lord” did not have to refer to God – it was also a designation like “Sir.”  Matthew’s account brings out the secular emphasis of the scribe.  Jesus may have been a person the scribe respected, but not necessarily a person that the scribe needed to obey.
    • Second, notice the proclamation rather than a question.  Perhaps the scribe had all sorts of honestly good intentions to follow Jesus, but we know what happens with good intentions!  Instead of simply submitting himself to Christ, the scribe proclaims what HE will do under HIS power.  The scribe had a man-centered relationship with Christ, which isn’t a right relationship at all.
  • Jesus’ response: The Son of Man doesn’t have a bedroom.  The scribes were part of the educated class in Judea – they were the elite teachers of the people.  They would have been accustomed to the seats of honor at banquet feasts & guest rooms galore for the asking.  The scribe had thought that he found a teacher that would guarantee him a place of glory at the table & in the hearts of all who watched.  Jesus goes straight to the heart of the scribe’s problem by pointing out that to follow Jesus means times of discomfort & times of tribulation.  Discipleship was not a life of ease; on the contrary – suffering was pretty much guaranteed!  Yet discipleship is a life worth the cost, simply because of the end result.  Disciples of Christ sacrifice everything in their life to Christ, but we reap the reward of abundant & eternal life & relationship with God!
    • Son of Man” is a distinctly Messianic title.  Daniel 7:13–14, "(13) “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." [] The scribe may only have wanted to recognize Jesus as a teacher, and Jesus in essence tells him, “You’re missing the point…you have no idea to whom you’re speaking.”  The scribe wanted the glory of the 2nd coming without submitting to Jesus as the Christ in His 1st coming; Jesus tells him it doesn’t come any other way.  The Son of Man will come to rule & to reign, but first He came to suffer & die.  Our Lord sacrifices, and those who desire to follow Him must be willing to do the same.
    • BTW – this ought to do away with all of the false teaching that tries to proclaim that God wants all of His children to be rich & materially prosperous.  If the Lord Jesus Christ didn’t have a place to lay His head during His earthly ministry, what on earth makes us think we’re somehow “guaranteed” to have something so much more?

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.”

  • Follower #2: “another of His disciples.”  Keep in mind that the word “disciple” can have a lot broader meaning than just the 12 disciples we normally think of.  At this point in Matthew’s chronology, the 12 haven’t yet been completely chosen.  Any one of the multitude who followed Jesus from place to place technically could have been called a “disciple.”  John tells us that after some of Jesus’ harder teachings, “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (Jn 6:66)  Someone can hang around the things of Christ & ideas about Jesus without actually being a true committed follower of Christ.
  • Offer #2: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  This looks to be a lot better than the first offer on a couple of levels. (1) The disciple addresses Jesus as “Lord,” as opposed to “Teacher.”  In name (at least), the disciple recognized Jesus to be worthy of respect & obedience.  (2) The disciple appears to submit to Jesus.  Instead of boldly proclaiming his intent, he seems to ask permission of Jesus to attend to his family.  (3) What the disciple asks for seems to be a really good thing – after all, who wouldn’t want to help their parents in their final hours?  Truly the compassionate thing to do would be to help one’s parents if they were on their death-bed.  This disciple seems to want to honor the 5th Commandment: Honor your father & your mother.
    • So what’s the problem?  Culturally speaking, to talk of burying someone’s parents wasn’t limited to their day of death.  If the disciple’s father was truly on his death-bed, there’s little doubt that the disciple would have been there right at his side, instead of hanging around a travelling itinerate minister.  Or even yet, with all of the healing miracles that Jesus had done, the disciple would have been asking Jesus to heal his father!  On the contrary, it seems that this supposed-disciple didn’t have a dying father (or even a sick father), but he wanted to hang out at home and go about life-as-usual before truly following Christ.  Instead of dropping everything to follow Jesus, this disciple wanted to follow Jesus on his terms, when he was ready.
    • So many people in the church do this same thing today!  They know how to talk the talk – they know all the right answers to the baptismal questions – but when it comes time to actually following the Lord Jesus, they want to do it on their terms & their timetable.  It doesn’t work that way.  Either Jesus is our Lord, or He isn’t.  But we dare not use the term if we do not truly mean the words.
  • Jesus’ response is two-fold.  (1) He gives the invitation to follow Him, and (2) He tells the man to “let the dead bury their own dead.”  Is Jesus being cold & uncaring?  Of course not – we’re repeatedly told how Jesus had compassion upon people.  We just witnessed how Jesus had compassion upon the leper & there are multitudes of other examples for us in the Scripture.  We need look no further than the cross to witness the compassion of Christ! Nor is Jesus telling the person to break the 5th Commandment.  The Sermon on the Mount made it clear that Jesus valued the heart of God’s law to a far greater extent than any Jewish theologian worked his way around the letter of the law.  Jesus certainly would not have given this man an excuse to dishonor his parents in their time of need.  On the contrary, Jesus simply sees through the man’s excuse.  Claiming concern for the dead is of little relevance when no one has actually died. 
    • The issue here is one of priority.  When Jesus is truly Lord, His will is going to have 1st place in our lives.  2nd place isn’t Lordship; it’s subservient.  No one can serve 2 masters.  Seek 1st the kingdom.  To serve the Lord God & be known by Christ as one of His own is the highest and most essential priority of life.  No question is more important!  Family relationships are essential – responsibilities ought not to be ignored – but they pale in comparison with the question of salvation.  Are you Christ’s & is He your Lord?  Take care of that issue first, and allow God to lead you through the other things as His child.
  • Don’t miss the 1st response of Jesus…He invites the man to follow Him!  Jesus never tells the man to go home – He never says, “How dare you approach Me like that?!” – Jesus gives a true & sincere invitation to the man to follow Him as a disciple.  He basically says, “You think you’re already a disciple of Mine – here’s your opportunity to find out.  Follow Me.” Did this man do it?  We’re told the response of other disciples when they were called to follow, but we’re not told anything about this person.  Hopefully the silence is simply silence…what an awful thing it would be to refuse the invitation of Christ.
    • The same invitation is given to every single person in the world!  What an amazing thing it is to be called to follow Christ!  What privilege & grace!  Do not refuse His invitation!  Do not deny His grace.  You have the opportunity today – if you hear His voice, follow Him.  Hold nothing back & surrender everything to Christ!

23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.

  • Before we go any further, notice that Jesus’ disciples actually followed Jesus.  Others had talked about it or found excuses to get out of it, but the disciples actually did it.  No excuses, no escape-clauses – they just followed Him, wherever Jesus went.  The disciples may get a lot of flack at other times, but we need to give credit where credit is due.  Where many of us would have faltered, they went ahead with Jesus.
  • The first step to following Christ is actually following Him.  Many people say they want to follow Christ, or claim to follow Christ, but when the rubber meets the road, they don’t want to go where Jesus clearly leads them.  It’s easier to look for a way out of the marriage than to look for Jesus’ path through the difficult times.  It’s easier to follow the wide road of our lusts than to follow Jesus in fleeing temptation.  If He’s your Lord, then follow your Master…it’s as simple as that.

24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.

  • The Sea of Galilee is well-known for these types of sudden storms.  It lies in a basin at the bottom of Mt. Hermon, and the lake is actually 600 feet below sea level.  The mixture of warm & cold air currents colliding over the mountain ranges can cause violent storms to arise in literally seconds, generating waves of 25 feet or more.  Sailors were always fearful of them, and apparently one popped up on Jesus and His disciples as they were sailing.  How bad was the storm?  The word that’s used can either refer to a storm or an earthquake (σεισμὸς), depending on the context.  This was violent!
    • It’s been said before, and it’s worth saying again: just because we’re a disciple of Jesus Christ does not mean that we will be exempt from times of trial and tribulation.  It’s safe to say that although all those who climbed into the boat with Jesus willingly to follow Him, there were probably a few thinking: “What have I gotten myself into?!”  They would have been safe back upon the shore; it was only when they followed Jesus that their lives were suddenly thrown into upheaval.
    • Never let anyone tell you that the Christian life guarantees an easy life.  Quite often, it’s the opposite!  Jesus specifically promised us that we will experience trials and tribulation (Jn 16:33) – if we’re not currently expecting trials, we ought to be!  The good news (and what the disciple seemingly forgot) is that as a believer in Jesus Christ, we’re never alone in our trials.  Our Lord will be there to sustain us!
    • Some have said that the disciples shouldn’t have been afraid that the boat would sink because Jesus was right there with them.  And the principle is absolutely true that their faith should have been solid in Christ Jesus, knowing that He would get them through anything.  He was the one who commanded that they get into the boat (Lk 8:22), so He was certainly going to see them through.  Yet the boat still could have sank.  All of them could have ended up at the bottom of the lake.  The worst possible outcome still could have occurred…and they could have still have trusted Jesus to get them through it.  If their boat had been destroyed, Jesus could have had them all walk on water – if they had sunk to the bottom, the Lord could have raised them from the dead.  There’s no limit to what Jesus could have done in the scenario.
      • God may not only allow trials & tribulations, but He might just allow the worst possible scenario to come into your life.  He’s still just as capable of taking you through THAT storm, as any lesser trial that you face.  Trust Him!
  • The unusual thing here was not the storm (that was to be expected); the unusual thing was Jesus’ reaction to it…He was sound asleep!  This ought to stand out to us on a couple of levels.
    • Jesus shows His humanity – He needed to sleep.  (And if He could sleep during a tempestuous storm, Jesus REALLY needed to sleep!)  He worked Himself to exhaustion during His earthly ministry, and the Almighty Son of God who never slept or slumbered a moment during His heavenly glory actually had to take a nap because He was so physically tired.  Matthew continues to show us that Jesus is 100% God & 100% Man.
    • Jesus shows His faith.  It seems a bit strange to use the word “faith” to describe Jesus’ relationship with God the Father – but since our language is lacking, we’ll use it. 🙂  Jesus had supreme confidence in the will of God the Father.  There was no worry of being drowned.  After all, God had sent Jesus to minister upon the earth, die upon the cross, & rise from the grave…there was no way God wasn’t going to bring it all to completion.  Of course Jesus could relax & rest.  He may have gotten wet, but that was all that was going to happen to Him.
  • Interesting contrast here with another Biblical person who was in a boat asleep during a storm: Jonah. [Context Jonah 1] The interesting thing is that we know that Jonah was rightly chastised for sleeping, but Jesus ought not to have been chastised at all.  What’s the difference?
    • Jonah was rebelling against God; Jesus was in the middle of the will of God.
    • Jonah’s storm was sent by God to get Jonah’s attention; Jesus’ storm was a natural event that would get the disciples’ attention.
    • Jonah slept because of rebellious callousness; Jesus slept because of obedient ministry & faith.

25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

  • The disciples may have been presumptuous, but every one of us in our humanity can understand their reaction.  They panicked & reached out to Jesus to do something (anything!) that would help save them.
  • The sad part here is the implication.  (1) As if Jesus didn’t understand the danger.  (2) As if Jesus didn’t care about their lives.  How sad is it when we get to the place that we think (and believe, deep down) that God doesn’t care?  God DOES care.  When we fall into that trap of thinking, we can be assured we’re not thinking about what the Lord cares about, we’re just thinking about ourselves.  It’s a sure indication of our selfishness (just as it was for the disciples).  The solution?  When we begin to feel prideful & indignant towards God, repent in humility. 1 Peter 5:6–7, "(6) Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, (7) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." []  He truly DOES care.  Trust Him for it!
  • The one good thing in all of this?  The disciples knew to call upon Jesus.  They may not have known what He could do – but they knew it would be more than simply bailing water out of the boat & hanging on for dear life.  They called out, “Lord, save us!”  They needed salvation, and the Lord Jesus was the only One who could provide it.
  • As much as the disciples had to learn in all of this – their simple prayer is the essence of what it means to call upon Jesus for eternal salvation.  In modern evangelicalism, we often teach people what’s known as the “sinner’s prayer,” to help them respond to the gospel.  What the disciples cried out to Jesus in their panic is the essence of the true sinners’ prayer!  “Lord, save me!  I’m perishing!”  “I’ve understood that because of my sin I am utterly doomed to face the wrath and judgment of God, and I desperately need help!  I’m perishing, apart from Your grace.  Save me, Lord!  You are the Lord, the God of all flesh – You are the only one who can save, so please save me!”
    • Sometimes people tend to forget what their spiritual reality is when they are in their sin without Jesus Christ.  It’s not “Life is fine, but perhaps Jesus can make it a little better.  Why not be born-again, and give Him a try?”  Absolutely not!  The reality is that life is NOT fine.  Outside of Christ, our spiritual reality is that we are dead men & dead women in the midst of a wild & stormy sea, and we are merely one breath away from eternal damnation in hell.  We are already dead in our transgression, and we are headed squarely for the righteous wrath of God because of our sin.  THAT’s the reality!  But the good news is that Christ Jesus is available to save!  He loves you – He died upon the cross for you – and He is there, ready to save all who call upon Him in true sincere faith!

26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

  • Can you imagine the scene?  From massive wind & waves, driving rain & water flooding the boat, Jesus stands and speaks & instantly the weather is clear & calm…a sea of glass in comparison to what they had just endured.  What made the difference?  The mere word of God.
    • The word of God has authority!
  • Question: did the disciples have a reason to fear?  From a human perspective, absolutely!  After all, these weren’t land-lubbers we’re talking about – most of the disciples were hardy, seasoned fishermen.  They had all experienced stormy weather at sea before, and they wouldn’t have frightened easily.  Yet for them to panic the way they did, this must have been an immense storm!  Any one of us would have been fearful in the same situation.
  • Yet from a heavenly perspective, no…they had no reason to fear whatsoever.  After all, they were in the boat with Almighty God! What did their abundance of fear demonstrate?  A lack of faith.  When Christians walk in fear, it means that Christians are not walking in faith.   God does not give a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7)
  • What an amazing contrast with the centurion of vss. 8-13!  Jesus marveled at his faith, and he was but a Gentile Roman soldier who barely knew Jesus at all.  Yet the disciples who lived with Christ day-in and day-out, and knew the Scriptures & the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – these disciples did not even have a fraction of the faith of the Gentile!

27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

  • Earlier, Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion – now it’s the disciples’ turn.  They marveled at Jesus.
  • Their question is revealing.  They thought they knew who Jesus was – after all, they had been around His teaching, they hadn’t flinched when He referred to Himself as “the Son of Man,” and they had even called Him “Lord.”  They followed Him when Jesus called them to follow Him – some of them had made a profession of faith much earlier that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Jn 1:41,49).  Yet even with all their earlier confessions & expressions of faith, they are still taken aback enough to wonder, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  Do we truly understand who Jesus is?  Have we seen Him as He truly is?  Do we understand that Jesus is no mere man, but the God-Man – the everlasting Lord of heaven and earth?  Take a moment to consider Whom it is you call “Lord.”  The very immensity of the holiness of Almighty God ought to cause us to tremble in reverent fear.  Our artwork has a tendency to take away some of the awesome power and holiness of God.  Not that it’s bad – but there’s no getting around it when people attempt to use finite pictures to depict the infinite.  So many people are left with images of Jesus as a baby, or a dying Jesus upon the cross, or maybe even a risen Jesus but just a man standing there.  He is indeed a man, but He is GOD.  Even the demons in rebellion against Him cannot not help trembling at His name.  Who can this be, that even creation bends its knee?  This is Christ, the everlasting Lord – this is our Savior & King.
    • (Guzik) “In the span of a few moments, the disciples saw both the complete humanity of Jesus (in His tired sleep) and the fullness of His deity. They saw Jesus for who He is: truly man and truly God.”

Is this how you see Him?  Is He God that’s worthy to be followed, no matter what the cost – or is He just another man who offers something nice?  Three examples of those who offered to follow Christ.

  • The person who balked at sacrifice.  The scribe wanted a nice teacher, perhaps a plaque to put on the wall that said, “I hung out with Jesus,” but he didn’t want Jesus to actually be Lord, nor did he conceive of sacrifice and suffering.  The scribe didn’t count the cost of following Christ.  It’s not merely association; it’s surrender.
  • The person who balked at urgency.  The pseudo-disciple seemed to demonstrate faith, but in reality he wanted God to bow to his own personal timing.  He wanted to follow Jesus whenever he was ready & thus demonstrated that he didn’t have clue as to the priority of the kingdom of heaven.
  • The people who actually followed Jesus.  For all of the disciples’ lack of faith that they demonstrated once they were in the boat, at least they had enough faith to actually get INTO the boat with Jesus!

Into which category do you fall?  Are you willing to follow Christ, or are you still making excuses for yourself?  Keep in mind that (had the term existed at the time), each of these people would have likely considered themselves to be Christian.  After all, they were all following Jesus around listening to His teaching.  They were hanging around with other people who did the same.  In essence, they were in church 7 days a week – they could have pointed to a lot of things that made it look like they had faith.  Yet when the rubber hit the road, it became obvious who did & who didn’t. 

Some Christians try to do all of this half-way…as if Jesus can be a part-time Lord & Savior.  They’ll follow Christ in certain areas of their lives – they’ll lift their hands in worship & spend time with other Christians in church – but when it comes time to actually follow Jesus during difficulty, they’ll stomp on the brakes & not go where Jesus tells them to go, doing what the Bible clearly proclaims.  That’s not really an option left to us.  When Jesus calls us to follow Him, we follow Him – even into areas of sacrifice, making His will our highest priority to the point of enduring turbulent trials for His sake.  That’s discipleship…and that’s what Jesus has called us to.

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