The Cost of Following Jesus

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Matthew 8:18-23 (Two would-be disciples)

INTRODUCTION: We are studying Mathew 8-9 together and our message series is called Ten Miracles of Jesus. Now we learned earlier that it’s not all just miracles in these chapters, that the ten miracles are interspersed with four dialogues Jesus has with various people. And we learned that these four dialogues all have to do with the theme of discipleship.

Remember this section on ten miracles is part of a larger section of Scripture on Jesus’ authority. Matthew 5-7 presents Jesus’ authoritative teaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 8-9 presents Jesus’ authoritative deeds as seen through his miracles and also his authority as Lord and Master through these four dialogues on discipleship.

Today we come to the first of the four dialogues, which is Jesus’ dialogue with two would-be disciples. (Read Matthew 8:18-23 and pray.)

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It’s football season, and we live in south Florida, so let’s talk about the Miami Dolphins. Let’s say you’re a big Dolphins fan and you’re talking with someone who says, “I follow the Miami Dolphins, too.” You get all excited, and so you ask them, “What did you think about last week’s game?” And they say, “Oh, I didn’t watch last week’s game.” “Okay, what did you think about the game before that?” “Oh, I didn’t watch that game either.” “Well, what do you think about the team this year?” “Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t really watched any games this year.” “Okay, well what do you think about our new quarterback?” “What? We have a new quarterback?” “I thought you said you followed the Miami Dolphins.” “Oh, I do. I’m a big Dolphins fan. I follow them all the time.”

What would you think about that? Is it enough for a person just to say they follow the Miami Dolphins? Or would you expect something more from someone who says they follow a certain sports team?

Now let’s talk about following Jesus. Is it enough for a person just to say they follow Jesus, or would you expect something more from someone who says they follow Christ?

Today’s passage is about the cost of following Jesus. Salvation is free to receive but costly to live out. In sharing the gospel with people we need to tell people both about the free gift of salvation and the high cost of following Christ. We need to tell them about both repentance and faith.

So what is the cost of following Jesus? Matthew shares three costs with us in this passage: 1) the cost of following Jesus’ commands, 2) the cost of putting Christ first, and 3) the cost of following through on your commitment. Let’s look at all three in turn.

I. The cost of following Jesus’ commands (18)
   – Matthew 28:18-20

First of all there is the cost of following Jesus’ commands. Look at verse 18 with me: “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” (Matthew 8:18)

Notice that Jesus is the type of person who gives orders. The word translated “gave orders” in this verse is a word meaning “to state with force and/or authority what others must do.” Jesus has that kind of authority. And so part of the cost of following Jesus is following Jesus’ commands. You must do what he tells you to do, and you must go where he tells you to go.

   A. Do what Jesus tells you to do

First you must do what Jesus tells you to do. That is practically the definition of being a disciple of Jesus.

One of the last things Jesus told his disciples to do was to go and make more disciples. We read these words of Jesus in Matthew 28: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20) We call these verses the Great Commission. Jesus is telling us to go and make disciples. And how do you make disciples? By teaching them to obey everything Jesus commands.

Most of us don’t like someone else telling us what to do. But Jesus has ultimate authority. He has the right to tell you what to do in your life and what not to do. Part of the cost of following Jesus is following Jesus’ commands, which means you must do what Jesus tells you to do.

   B. Go where Jesus tells you to go

It also means you must go where Jesus tells you to go. Notice the Great Commission begins with the word, “Go!” Jesus’ commands are not just moral but they apply to your life actions as well – where you live, who you marry or date, what job you take. Jesus has the authority not only to tell you what to do but where to go.

And that’s exactly what he does here in our passage in Matthew 8. The people are all on one side of the lake and Jesus gives orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Why do you think Jesus gives such an order?

Once again Jesus is not simply looking for crowds who will follow him around. He is looking for disciples who will follow his commands. The crowds are there because of Jesus’ miracles. They are more interested in what Jesus can do for them than what Jesus requires of them. They are ready to sign up without knowing about any of the difficulties ahead.

And so Jesus gives orders to cross to the other side. Jesus is always doing that. He is always calling us to the other side, to walk by his side, to take his side against the world’s side. People talk about being on the right or wrong side of history, but what you really want is to be on the right side of Jesus.

Whose side are you on this morning? It all depends on how you respond to Jesus’ commands. You must do what he tells you to do, and you must go where he tells you to go. So that’s the first cost of following Jesus we find here in Matthew 8: the cost of following Jesus’ commands.

II. The cost of putting Christ first (19-22)

The second cost is this: the cost of putting Christ first. Immediately after Jesus gives the command to cross to the other side of the lake, two would-be disciples approach Jesus expressing a desire to follow him. The first one impulsively tells Jesus he will follow him wherever he goes. The second one wants to follow Jesus but needs to take care of some personal business first. The first one is eager to follow Jesus. The second one is hesitant, reluctant. And yet they both have something in common. Each of them has an obstacle to following Jesus which Jesus will expose in his dialogue with them.

Although on the surface they have two different problems, the two problems are really one and the same. Neither of them is willing to put Christ first. And if you’re going to follow Jesus, you have to put Christ first.

Jesus’ dialogue with the first would-be disciple teaches us to put Christ before personal comfort. And Jesus’ dialogue with the second would-be disciple teaches us to put Christ before personal relationships. Let’s look at each of these now in turn.

   A. Put Christ before personal comfort (19-20)
      – Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 22:33; John 19:30

So first of all, we must put Christ before personal comfort. Look at verses 19-20 with me now: “Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” (Matthew 8:19-20)

There’s a lot to like about this first would-be disciple. He is a teacher of the law which means he spent a lot of time studying God’s word and is well-respected in the community. He approaches Jesus respectfully, calling him “Teacher.” He approaches Jesus enthusiastically, pledging “I will follow you wherever you go.” There’s a lot to like and admire in this guy.

But Jesus is more than just a fellow teacher. Jesus has absolute authority as shown by his miracles. He has authority to tell us what to do and where to go, and so we need to count the cost of following him. And that was this disciple’s mistake. He pledged to follow Jesus without first counting the cost. He is similar to Peter who told Jesus, “Even if everyone else falls away, I never will.” (Luke 22:33) Peter was overconfident, and so is this teacher of the law.

Notice this man doesn’t wait for Jesus to call him but volunteers. In fact he seems pretty pleased with himself that he is signing up. I like the way Fredrick Bruner paraphrases this man’s words: “Jesus, this is your lucky day: I have decided to be your disciple!”

The key word in this man’s offer to Jesus is the word “wherever.” “I will follow you wherever you go.” And so Jesus follows up on that. And rather than applauding this man’s desire to follow him wherever he might go, Jesus actually steps back a bit and discourages him. He gives him a dose of reality about what it means to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Because ultimately Jesus is going to the cross. Is this man really willing to follow Jesus there?

Now Jesus doesn’t even bring up the cross here. He just points to his general homelessness and wanderings and lack of personal comforts. Because let’s face it. If you’re not willing to put Christ before personal comforts, you probably aren’t ready to follow him all the way to the cross.

There is even a subtle reference to the cross here. We read about Jesus on the cross in John 19:30: “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30) The phrase translated “bowed his head” in John 19:30 is the same exact phrase translated nowhere to “lay his head” in Matthew 8. Jesus finally did find a place to lay his head when he gave up his spirit at the cross.

The teacher of the law saw Jesus’ miracles and thought, “This looks exciting! I’ll follow this man wherever he goes.” But there is a cost to following Jesus. There was no room for Jesus at the inn when he was a child, and Jesus had no place to call his home as an adult. Now that doesn’t mean Jesus never had a home to stay in, but he had no permanent lodging here. He was often on the move.

Why would Jesus discourage this man like this? Once again Jesus is not looking for a crowd to follow him around. He is looking for disciples who will follow his commands and ultimately who will follow him to the cross. Jesus is King, not a celebrity.

Notice in his reply to the teacher of the law that Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man.” “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” (Matthew 8:20) This was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself in the gospels. This is the first time we see this phrase in the New Testament. It is a phrase that on the surface can just mean a human being, which Jesus certainly was. Jesus was fully human, and that’s part of what he meant by using this title.

But the Son of Man was also a divine figure in the Old Testament. We read in Daniel 7:”Before me was one like a son of man. He was given authority… all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14) Remember we are studying a portion of Scripture that emphasizes Jesus’ authority in bringing the kingdom, and here in Daniel 7 the Son of Man is a divine figure who receives all authority, glory and sovereign power, who is worshiped by the nations, and whose kingdom will never be destroyed.

And so Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to emphasize his humanity while at the same time revealing his deity. And he does this without coming right out and saying he is God as he would have if he had constantly referred to himself as the Son of God rather than the Son of Man.

Jesus is fully human, but he is also fully God. He left his heavenly home and came to earth where he no longer had a home. Even the animals have a place to call home, but the Son of Man was homeless and had no place to lay his head. The teacher of the law said he would follow Jesus anywhere. Jesus told him first to count the cost.

Sometimes it seems we want all the rewards of Christian discipleship without making any of the sacrifices. But it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way in any area of life. Whether it’s music, athletics, education, or business, there is always a cost. There are always sacrifices to be made.

And it’s the same with following Jesus. Jesus’ reply gets right at the man’s motives. It’s almost as if Jesus is asking him, “Why do you want to follow me? Is it the miracles? The healings? Are you expecting a life of ease and comfort?”

If you are going to follow Jesus, you must put Christ first, which means putting Christ before personal comfort. Jesus put you before his comfort. Will you put him before yours?

   B. Put Christ before personal relationships (21-22)
      – Exodus 20:3; Leviticus 21:1-5; 1 Kings 19:20; Luke 9:60

And then secondly, you must put Christ before personal relationships. We see this in Jesus’ dialogue with the second would-be disciple. Look at verses 21-22 with me now: “Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” (Matthew 8:21-22)

This second would-be disciple is different from the first in several ways. First, unlike the teacher of the law, this man is actually called a disciple. Now that does not mean he was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. The word disciple was used in various ways for different people who followed Jesus. But it shows that this man at least showed initial commitment to following Christ.

There are other differences. Unlike the teacher of the law, this man addresses Jesus as Lord rather than teacher. And unlike the teacher of the law this man seems willing to leave home and family for Jesus. But, and here is the problem, he was willing to do this not now but later. If the first man was too quick to follow Jesus, this one was too slow!

This man’s problem is highlighted by the word “first.” “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Matthew 8:21) This man was putting something other than Jesus first in his life. He was putting personal relationships before Christ.

Now at first this seems a reasonable request. There was no duty more important to a Jew in Biblical times than to bury your father. This would have included the funeral arrangements, the actual burial and then additional time for mourning and to settle the father’s affairs. Taking care of these matters took precedence over reciting your daily prayers and other important religious duties. Even a priest was allowed to become ceremonially unclean in order to bury his father or another close relative (Leviticus 21:1-5)

In the Old Testament when the prophet Elisha was going to follow Elijah, Elijah let Elisha go home to say goodbye to his family first. (1 Kings 19:20) But that’s the point here. Jesus is more important than Elijah. One greater than Elijah is here. It may be okay to put your family before Elijah, but not before Jesus! God made the first of the Ten Commandments very clear, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Jesus is the Son of Man, he is divine, he is God, and so Jesus must come first.

Remember, Jesus already gave the command to leave for the other side. And now this man says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” There’s a disconnect when you say to Jesus, “Lord, first …” You don’t call Jesus “Lord” and then put your agenda before his. As followers of Jesus, we don’t have the freedom to make our own rules. If Jesus has ultimate authority, then we must follow Jesus’ commands without any qualifications or conditions. And when we fail to do that, we must confess it as sin.

Now it’s also possible that this man’s father was still living, and the man here was asking Jesus for permission to stay home and take of his father until such time as he died. But whichever the man’s situation here, Jesus’ call to discipleship was clear. Verse 22: “But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” (Matthew 8:22)

Now that’s a strange phrase, isn’t it, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” What does it mean? Jesus is saying let the world take care of their own. Let those who are spiritually dead bury the physically dead. The gospel of Luke adds an additional command that Jesus gave here: “Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:60) In other words, don’t be like the spiritually dead who hold back from following Jesus. Instead, as one who is spiritually alive, go forth and share the gospel with those who are spiritually dead that they might receive life and follow Christ who is the giver of life.

Christ comes first, even before personal or family relationships. Those who come to Christ in Islamic countries understand this well. Even today many who come to Christ out of Islam know that they are giving up their families for Christ. Oftentimes their family rejects them and considers them dead.

What is Jesus saying to these two would-be disciples? We must come to Christ on his terms, not our own. He is Lord. He is Master. We are his followers. As N.T Wright says: “What Jesus was doing was so important, so urgent, so immediate that it was the one thing that mattered. Whatever you else you were thinking of doing, this comes first.” (Matthew for Everyone, p. 87)

And so that’s the second cost of following Jesus – the cost of putting Christ first. You must put Christ before personal comfort, and you must put Christ before personal relationships.

III. The cost of following through on your commitment (23)

So what is the cost of following Jesus? Matthew tells us three of them. 1) There is the cost of following Jesus’ commands. 2) There is the cost putting Christ first. And then finally: 3) There is the cost of following through on your commitment. How many people make an initial profession of faith in Jesus but never follow through on their commitment? Look at verse 23 with me: “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” (Matthew 8:23)

   A. The moment of truth

The moment of truth arrived. Back in verse 18 Jesus gave the order to cross over to the other side. Now finally Jesus gets into the boat, and his true disciples follow him. Only his twelve disciples are in the same boat with Jesus but the gospel of Mark tells us that others followed him in other boats.

   B. Actions speak louder

How can you tell a true disciple? By their actions. After all the talk, after all the words, after all the dialogues are done, what will you actually do? Jesus got into the boat, and his disciples followed him. That means those who did not get into the boat and follow him were not really his disciples.

Part of the cost of following Jesus is following through on your commitment to Christ. When the moment of truth arrives, what will you do? Actions speak louder than words. No matter what you might say, when the boat leaves shore, you are either with Jesus or not. Which will it be for you?

CONCLUSION: Following Jesus is serious business. There are costs to following Jesus. You must be willing to follow Christ’s commands. You must be willing to put Christ first in your life. And then you must be willing to follow through on your commitment. It’s not enough just to say the words. We must count the cost and follow him.

But here’s the thing. Jesus is worth the cost. He is more than worth the cost. Yes, there is a cost to following Jesus, but there is a greater cost to not following him. Jesus is worth the cost, because Jesus is worth everything you have. If you lose Jesus, you lose everything. If you gain Jesus, you need nothing else.

The question is often raised: Did either of these two would-be disciples end up actually following Christ? Did the teacher of the law choose to follow Jesus and give up the comforts of home? Did the other disciple choose to follow Jesus instead of going back to his father and his home? We’re not told one way or the other, so we really don’t know.

But even though you don’t know the end to their stories, you can know the end to your story. Jesus calls you to follow him. Will you count the cost and answer the call?

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