The Matthew Series 4. The Cost of Discipleship
Matthew 8:18-22 New International Version (NIV)
The Cost of Following Jesus
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Why does Jesus make himself so hard to follow and find? I mean, let’s ask this as an honest question! Why doesn’t God just show Himself to us and settle the matter? Why doesn’t he make something obvious in creation to show himself if we looked? In an interview with Richard Dawkins a famous atheist, he was asked what he would say to God if he met him when he died, and he responded, “Well, which god are you… and then, why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself.”
This is a good question; and it is reflected here in this passage; why does Jesus chase people away who want to follow him, it seems that God makes it hard to follow and hard to find him, why?!
The reason God makes himself hidden and the reason Jesus turns people away is the same reason. Jesus doesn’t exist for us, we exist for him. And because of sin God hides himself and Jesus chases people away because if he would simply be found by reason, or morality, we would boast and make it about us. Just imagine if God would leave a sign of himself on every cell, scientists would say; look at how cleaver we are we found God. And they would exclude others because you know they aren’t smart enough, the same would be true if God was to be found by morality or any other method.
Church, Jesus will not be used as a means to our ends. If we think we can come to Jesus to make us happy, and to give us stuff, He won’t be used like that, because He doesn’t exist for you, you exist for him.
16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
Jesus has to be sought as an end in himself, because He is the focus and point of all creations, and when we come to him as a means to our ends he will not be found; and this is what we see in this passage tonight; we see two people who come to Jesus as a supplement, and add on to their dreams and so Jesus does not entertain them.
The first person we see in this passage is a teacher of the Law, a professional Bible teacher and explainer, he comes up to Jesus and says “I will follow you wherever you go!” I mean this is huge, a professional biblical teacher coming up to Jesus and saying I’m all in I am willing to go where you go.
Jesus looks at Him, and as He does with all of us, He looks deep into that man’s hearts and sees His true gods (little g). This man’s issue wasn’t the hard work of following after Jesus, it was the prestige of having comfort and the nice things of this life. We see in this interchange, that;
1. No comfort comes close to Jesus
Jesus contrasts the idea of the Son of Man, this idea of Messianic prophecy with abject poverty. Jesus says he is the coming ruler and he hasn’t even a home to lay his head.
Now to understand what is going on here we must get our mental pictures right. Jesus was now starting to draw a crowd, he was becoming popular. This Jewish teacher of the Law was enamoured by the movement of Jesus. He saw the popularity of Jesus and wanted to be a part of the movement.
Jesus looked into his heart and questioned his motives, “do you want me, am I your end, or is popularity and comfort your end?”
Now, to bring it back to our reality, many of us come to Christ to fix our problems, to help us out with our stuff, to make our life more bearable.
We want him to be our personal servant, rather than us serve him. Now, I am not trying to undermine your feelings or your needs, or your comforts, and I am not even trying to say that these things are bad.
Comfort is great, success is great. God made a good world, the problem isn’t in the stuff it is in how we see and want all these things. You see because of sin, because of our brokenness we don’t see comfort as a blessing we see it as our meaning.
We are less that human, our lives have no meaning unless we have all the creature comforts, a big house, all the gadgets, all the stuff. We live for stuff, we live for comfort and that is what kills us. We were not made for it, it was made for us and that is why when we make it the meaning of our being it wipes us out!
For example, a cell phone is a tool, an instrument to connect to people and stay connected, but we as a society have become absolutely addicted to them! There has been a study released how teenagers specifically have what has been likened to small panic attacks if their phone is made unavailable to them or it is deactivated. A tool has become your master, it is your god!
And Jesus wont share Himself, He is too glorious to do so, and if he did it would cheapen Him and destroy you!
Jesus is the centre of all the longings we have church: Your desire for security and comfort, these are found only in Him!
Everything in this world is lose-able, but Christ made this world, and so in Him and Him alone is real peace and comfort that you are seeking in everything else.
The next person that comes to Jesus is a disciple who says,
“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Sound like a noble request, why does Jesus respond, let the spiritually dead bury their dead?
Well, Jesus is looking again at his heart and identifying that,
2. No reward comes close to Jesus
I’ll explain, the idea of burying my father, was not saying that his father had recently died, and he had to go and do the funeral, in Jewish culture in the first century if that had happened there would be no way that that disciple would be with Christ, for in the Jewish culture, death and burial must happen as soon as possible.
What this disciple is saying is; let me care for my father and his property until he passes, then I can cash in my inheritance and with that I will come and follow you. You see in this age, the eldest son had a duty to bury the father, because he was the heir of the property. Therefore, he could not simply forsake the duties of the eldest and expect to receive the inheritance. So, he came to Jesus, but before he wanted to really follow Christ he wanted to sort his life out. Sort out his inheritance and make sure he had some cash in the bank.
Who here wants to turn down the reward of looking after your parents and receiving an inheritance. Christ responds in the most harsh of ways, let the spiritually dead bury their dead.
Essentially Christ is saying if your reward is set on an earthy inheritance you are dead, you have not understood me, you have not understood the kingdom and you have not come alive: You are missing it! Your focus is on the completely wrong thing; the ultimate reward of your life, the one who made you, who you were made for has come to you and you are worried about some money in the bank.
As C.S. Lewis puts it in his book “The Weight of Glory”
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Offered before this young man was the glory of all creation, perfect joy and he busied himself with earthly concerns. Church, we today are exactly the same. We busy ourselves with all these things around us, almost knowing that they won’t fulfil us.
I mean let’s be honest, say you spend your life, working as hard as you can to be successful, well in your late 40 maybe in your 50 if you are lucky you are going to peak. You are going to get to the max of your potential, and when you reach there what then? Ever heard of a mid-life-crisis. That is it. You spend your life trying to be the best at whatever you committed yourself to 20-30 years ago, and you peak and realise this is the top and it’s empty.
I want to warn you, even if you are the less than 1% of people who actually make it to the top of the top, you will get there with all the same demons you have now, and you will look around in terror as you realise this is not what life is about.
We are not made for the things of this world church, they are too temporary, too fragile, our hopes are eternal, strong and permanent; and nothing in this life comes close to being that.
Jesus didn’t turn these men away because he is some kind of megalomaniac, “It’s me or nothing” kind of reality, He sent them away because their hearts weren’t in it and slapping Jesus on the side of your desires deludes you and inevitably destroys you.
You see church, Jesus over and over makes the demands of discipleship all or nothing, He either has all of you or he has none of you. Why? Because our hearts cannot be shared, and our hearts are made for Him alone. So, when we fill them with the desires they are not made for we become beasts.
All the deep longings of your heart, all those things that you think are so important and so real are dim reflections of the reality that you can find in Christ. You want to get married so that you can share your life with someone and find real intimacy? Good, that is a good desire, but when it is your meaning you will discover that no-one can give you the intimacy and joy that your heart wants of them, well no-one in this world.
Even if you have the best marriage; you will discover that this too will end, because death will separate you! But our hearts long for eternal love! Yes! That’s the point the only eternal love to be found is the one that is found in your maker!
This same reasoning can be applied to the best of things in this world, the best adventures, the greatest of successes, the most truest of friends, the most transcendent of experiences, will all leave you saying what is next? Is that it? Because church you were not made for them, they were made for Him, and so were you. so until you find your everything in Him you will lose yourself in everything in this world.
Go to Christ and be willing to give up all, and you will discover more than you could ever hope to find.