The Cost of Following Christ - Matthew 8:18-22
Whenever I go to Chick-Fil-A I get the same thing every time. I always get the Spicy Chicken Sandwich meal. The #2 regular meal - not the deluxe meal. You’re only allowed to get the deluxe on special occasions.
I enjoy the familiar. The Spicy Chicken sandwich meal hasn’t let me down. I like not having to spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ll get.
Every now and again, I try to be mature and get a salad from Chick-Fil-A and the whole time I’m eating it - I’m thinking… I should have gotten the Spicy Chicken Sandwich meal. I don’t like getting outside of my Chick-Fil-A comfort zone.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t like getting out of my comfort zone.
We like doing the same things, being in the same places, because we enjoy the familiar. We enjoy easy. We like minimizing risk.
But following Christ is risky. Following Christ could cost you everything. It hurts. It’s often uncomfortable.
Are you willing to following Christ in spite of the risks? In spite of the hurt it could cause you or your relationships?
Following Christ forces you to give up selfish ambition and calls you to action.
In our passage this morning we have two men who both appear genuine on the surface. One who says he’ll follow Christ anywhere and the other who says he needs to first bury his father.
Two seemingly legitimate statements. But as we explore this passage we’ll see that there is more here than initially meets the eye, as is often the case with Scripture.
The question that should be on the forefront of our minds as we examine this passage is simply this: What are you willing to lose for Jesus Christ?
Following Christ Forces You to Give Up Selfish Ambition (vv. 18-20)
Our passage begins in verse 18 with Jesus trying to escape the crowd. He wants to get away from them. Remember in the previous passage he had healed several folks. Naturally, it seems that this crowd wants to follow Jesus in order to get healed.
And then you read verse 19. “And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.””
The scribe’s words sound genuine. They sound sincere. “I will follow you wherever you go.” If someone in church told you they’d follow Jesus wherever he took them you’d probably look at them and say “Amen!”
It sounds very religious. It sounds very churchy.
This was a scribe, a Jewish lawyer. He could have added some prestige to Jesus’s ragtag group of disciples. He would have been an educated man, among these uneducated men.
You’d expect Jesus to say something like, “Fantastic, hop into the boat!” But that’s not how Jesus responds. He says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus responds by telling the scribe he has nowhere to sleep. He didn’t have a house. Jesus didn’t even have a modest cottage that he could retreat to in order to recharge his batteries. He wasn’t galloping from town to town on horseback. He walked everywhere. There was nothing fancy about Jesus’s ministry.
He didn’t have a stable home. Even foxes and birds have a home. Even animals retire to the same place each night. But Jesus didn’t. In essence, Jesus tells the scribe, “I’m homeless. I live in poverty.” His earthly ministry was self-sacrificial. He had nothing.
But look at this: As he’s telling this scribe about his poverty, he refers to himself as the Son of Man. The title, “Son of Man” was a nod to Daniel chapter 7 where Daniel has a heavenly vision and describes “a Son of Man” being given dominion over all things by God the Father.
In other words, the title Son of Man was a subtle nod to his divine nature. Here we have Jesus acknowledging his divinity and his humility. He’s fully God and yet he has nowhere sleep at night. God incarnate was a homeless man. Isn’t Jesus’ response to this man interesting?
Let me summarize what we’ve just read: This man says, “Jesus, I’ll follow anywhere!” And Jesus responds by telling him that he’s homeless.
Doesn’t Jesus’ response seem a bit odd?
Here’s what’s going on: Jesus could look straight through the words of this man and see directly into his heart. That’s the divinity of Christ. Man looks at the outside but God looks at the heart.
This man wanted to follow Jesus not because he loved him and trusted him. He wanted to follow Christ because he saw him as his cash cow. He probably watched the miracles of Christ, heard his teaching, and saw a great business opportunity. Why else would Jesus respond to this man by telling him how poor he is?
Jesus looked at him and said “I’m homeless. Are you willing to be poor for me? Are you willing to lose every dollar for me?” We never hear of this scribe again. Jesus ran him off.
How relevant is this message? How badly does our modern evangelical church need to hear these words?
Not too long ago, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 called Big Shot. The documentary tells the story of how a wealthy man named John Spano tried to buy the NHL’s New York Islanders. If you haven’t seen or heard about this, I’m about to spoil all of it.
He was wealthy, but not wealthy enough to buy the New York Islanders. But he had come up with a scheme to fake this wealth in order to purchase the franchise.
The crazy thing was his scam was sophisticated enough that he almost pulled it off. If he had purchased the Islanders he would have been instantly rich. He saw this struggling organization as an opportunity for instant wealth. But he was an imposter. He was a fraud. He was a fake.
People can seem sincere. They can sound genuine. They can look believable. John Spano looked the part. He looked like a businessman who was successful enough to buy a NHL franchise.
The same is true for the scribe. He looked like someone who should follow Christ. He knew the Old Testament Scriptures and he sounded genuine. But obviously, he wasn’t.
It calls to mind Matthew 15. Jesus says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” The Scribe knew the Sunday School answers. He was sitting on the front pew taking notes.
Here’s what should send a shiver down each one of our spines: He knew how to sound spiritual.
What is more spiritual than looking Jesus in the face and saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go”?
But the scribe clearly had some sort of ulterior motive for wanting to follow Jesus. When he looked at Jesus he didn’t see God incarnate. He didn’t see the Savior of sinners.
When he looked at Jesus he saw dollar signs. Obviously, the scribe desired wealth and saw Jesus as the access point to wealth. A quick word from Jesus exposed the idol of the scribe’s heart.
You may not see Jesus as an opportunity to enrich yourself, but too often we do import our desires on Jesus.
We want Jesus to make our family perfect. We want Jesus to fix our marriage. It can be anything. Let me be clear. Jesus can redeem your family, Jesus can heal your marriage. But here’s the problem: Too often we want the benefits of Jesus Christ more than Jesus Christ himself.
The scribe thought Jesus could make him money. Jesus himself wasn’t enough. If being with Jesus meant being poor... forget about it! Not worth it!
The question you and I must answer is this: Are you willing to follow him even if he doesn’t take you where you want to go?
If your family continues to be dysfunctional, will you still trust Jesus? If your marriage falls apart, will you still trust Jesus? If there are no benefits to following Christ, will you still do it? Maybe it’s just me, but are there are some passages you always come back to no matter what you’re talking about? Psalm 23 is that way for me.
I think about what David says in Psalm 23:4:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Psalm 23 uses a shepherd/sheep metaphor, and in verse 4 we learn that the Lord will guide us into the valley of the shadow of death. Are you willing to follow Christ into the valley of the shadow of death? Do you trust him enough to go with him there?
The Scribe wasn’t willing to follow Jesus if he didn’t go where he wanted. Are you? Are you willing to lay down your desires, your hopes and dreams, your ambition at the feet of Jesus Christ? True disciples don’t have hidden agendas.
Following Christ Forces You to Act (vv. 21-22)
And true disciples don’t delay in following Christ. There’s a sort of nails on chalkboard effect after reading verses 21 and 22. Don’t they sort of make you cringe? In these verses, Jesus seems harsh and insensitive. Where’s the love and tenderness from the previous passage?
In verse 21, a disciple, someone who had been following Jesus, says to him something that appears innocent and genuine. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” It really does sound like a reasonable request.
The death of a loved one isn’t a lame excuse. This isn’t the dog ate my homework or something like it. Losing a loved one is hard. It’s awful.
It really sounds like this man is trying to do the right thing. He wants to be obedient to the fifth commandment - he wants to honor his father by giving him a proper burial. That’s biblical! But what does Jesus say?
“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Jesus takes the kid gloves off. It sounds insensitive… What if this man’s father had just recently passed away?
I often struggle to find the right words to say right after someone has lost a loved one. It’s hard! Nothing you can say will change anything. Sometimes just being there for them and grieving with them is the best thing you can do. Can you imagine saying what Jesus says here to someone who just recently lost a loved one?
Jesus tells him not to bury his own father. In fact, he tells him to let the dead bury the dead. In other words, he’s saying the burial will take care of itself. It’s jarring. In Jewish communities, the burial of one’s father or mother was how they displayed obedience to the fifth commandment.
But Jesus looks at this man and says, “Follow me.” This disciple was dragging his feet. The truth is we’ll always have something more important going on following Jesus Christ. And frankly, your family is one of the best and most widely accepted excuses.
As a father, albeit, a very new one with a lot to learn, I don’t ever foresee a day where my son and wife aren’t going to be a major priority in my life. But is there a point where we can idolize our family?
You see, following God will always be more important than your own family. This man thought that his father was the most important person in his life. Will you allow good things, like your family, to crowd Christ out of your life?
We all have those things that we “plan” to get around to but just can’t even seem to get there.
You want to exercise more, but you just can’t make it to the gym. You want to learn how to play the guitar, you just need to buy lessons.
We all have these things that are so distant that we “want” to do but just can’t seem to do.
And the longer you put it off, the easier it is to excuse it and avoid it. This man “wanted” to follow Christ, he just wanted to bury his father first. The truth is, there will always be someone to bury.
We’ll always have a reason to kick the can down the road. I don’t need Jesus right now, but if things get worse maybe I’ll... Maybe I’ll really examine the Christian faith when… We’ll always have a reason not to follow Christ.
That’s what makes this passage so difficult. Jesus challenges what we consider to be the most legitimate objections to following him. What could possibly be a more legitimate objection to following Jesus than burying your father?
Yet Jesus looks at him and says, “Follow me.” Jesus goes so far as to instruct this man to violate the fifth commandment? Why would Jesus instruct anyone to violate a biblical command?
Because the author of the fifth commandment is right in front of him. God incarnate was there in front of him, looking into his eyes, saying, “Follow me.”
The same eyes that would turn heavenward from the cross and say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The trouble with this disciple wasn’t that he wanted to bury his father. The trouble with this disciple is that he thought burying his father was more important than following Jesus Christ.
In the book of Luke, Jesus goes even farther. He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Being a Christian requires more than simply going to church on Sunday. It’s more than a happy face and a friendly personality. It’s more than well-behaved kids.
Those are all great things, but the bottom line is nothing should take precedence in your life over Jesus Christ. Nothing.
Is there something that your holding on to that’s more dear to you than Christ? For this disciple, it was his father. Is your family more important to you than Jesus Christ? If you lost your family, would you still follow him?
Are your plans for your life more important than Jesus Christ?
That’s what makes the Christian life so hard. It’s not a call to life, rather it’s a call to come and die.
You see, Christians are supposed to lay everything at the feet of Jesus Christ. Your job. Your family. Your health, success, finances - EVERYTHING! Jesus doesn’t ask you for a little slice of your life and let you keep the rest. He demands everything from you! What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?
Following Christ isn’t simply assenting to him. The Christian life is more than just acknowledging that Jesus is the Savior of sinners. Even the demons acknowledge that! Despite what any pastor has ever said, there are no magic words that will make you a Christian.
The sinner’s prayer can’t save you. What makes you a Christian is a life of repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, and an active obedience to Him. You see, Jesus isn’t checking the combination of your words in order to decide your fate. He doesn’t ask you to say a few words and continue to live however you want.
No… He demands everything! He demands every facet of your life and He wants you to commit it to Him right now!
The Christian life is hard because he requires that you and I pick up our cross and follow him daily. Life in Christ is costly... but He’s worth it! It’s what Paul talks about in Philippians 3:7-8. He says,
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
How desperate are you to gain Christ? A life in Christ that possesses nothing will always be richer than a life that has everything except Christ.
May you and I see that the riches of Christ will always exceed the treasures this world. Amen.