Reading Time: 8 Minutes
The next episode in Jesus’ life finds him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A crowd has been following Jesus and he desires to separate from the crowd.
Matthew tells us what happened: “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up 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 “Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
22 “And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.'” (Matthew 8.18-22).
As we think about these encounters with Jesus, let’s remember that our goal in studying the Gospel of Matthew is to align our lives with who Jesus is and what he does. How are we possibly like the two would-be followers? How can we be more like what Jesus wants from his followers?
Learning From A Would-Be Follower
The first man who wanted to follow Jesus was a scribe (verse 19). For most of Jesus’ ministry, scribes were opposed to his message and his ministry. When the scribe expressed an interest to follow him, Jesus told him that following him was not easy. He could expect poverty and homelessness if he traveled with Jesus.
Jesus’ customary way of referring to himself was as the “Son of Man” (verse 20). The Book of Daniel presents an awesome picture of the Son of Man.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a SON OF MAN,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And 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 one
that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13-14 emphasis added)
Jesus’ rightful place is dominion, glory and the service of peoples, nations and languages. However, Jesus as the Son of Man in his earthly ministry did not have a place to lay his head. He spent many nights sleeping on the ground or in borrowed lodgings.
The Book of Hebrews describes the experience of some of Jesus’ followers. It says, “Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11.35-38).
One man was heard saying, “If this is the way that God treats his friends, no wonder he doesn’t have too many friends.” Indeed, we would despair if it were not for the next two verses from Hebrews.
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11.39-40).
There are two thoughts that can not be missed in these last two verses. (1) God has something better than life on earth for his followers; and (2) the heroes of the faith have handed the “torch” of ministry to us.
When the author of Hebrews says, “that apart from us they should not be made perfect,” we are brought into the picture. We, who have come to Jesus, are called to further his ministry to the world, sometimes at great cost to ourselves.
We used to sing a song from the Hillsong ministry with the chorus:
“Jesus, I believe in you
And I would go
To the ends of the earth
To the ends of the earth
For you alone are the son of God . . .”
My wife, Toni, used to staff the worship nursery with volunteers. One Sunday, she came into the auditorium looking for help in the nursery. Hands were raised adoration of the Lord and she was struck by the thought, “People sing that they would go to the ends of the earth, but they won’t walk down the hall and volunteer to minister to children for one hour on a six week rotation of service.”
As we read Matthew to align our lives with Jesus, let’s examine ourselves and evaluate our willingness to follow Jesus.
Would-Be Follower #2
The second would-be follower wanted to bury his father before traveling with Jesus. Let’s notice a couple of things about this person. First, he is called a disciple. He has gone beyond the limited commitment of a member of the crowd and is following Jesus to some degree.
Second, we can be certain that his father had not just died. He wouldn’t be on the road with Jesus if he were grieving over the death of his father and making plans for his funeral.
Jesus’ response, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (verse 22), is difficult to understand. Part of Jesus’ statement is easy to understand. We are to follow him. We can only guess what Jesus meant by the rest of his reply to the man.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for us, when reading the Bible. Obey the simple directions of Jesus. Don’t let a lack of understanding some of his teaching keep you from doing what you know you should be doing.
We can spend our time trying to figure out what “leave the dead to bury their own dead” means, and at the same time fail to simply follow Jesus. One man said, “I’m not worried about what I don’t understand in the Bible. What bothers me is what I know to do and I am still not doing.”
Begin Where You Are
As we seek to adjust our lives to who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world, let’s begin where we are.
— If God has already shown you something he wants you to do, that is a great place to begin. Adjust your life and begin following Jesus in this area.
— Following Jesus may look like simple service. You can help clean the AA hall, help with setting up chairs for the Saturday night church service, or volunteer in the nursery when we return to “normal” church life.
— Adding more time to prayer and Bible reading is an excellent way to follow Jesus. God will most certainly use that time to further deepen your ability to follow Jesus.
— You may be ready to sponsor someone in recovery. Digging into the Big Book with another alcoholic or addict may be Jesus’ way for you to begin following him.
— As a general rule, Jesus’ direction to “. . . Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow him” will serve you well. Jesus added this direction and gave us a promise. He says, “For whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8.33-34).
This event in the life of Jesus was reported by Matthew with the desire that we become more like Jesus. The best life possible is found in following Jesus, even though it may entail hardships and the giving up of our own self-centered interests. Today, we pray that all of us will move closer to the life Jesus has for us.
Dear Jesus, you are our example of the best life possible. Your life was not easy, but it was the richest and most vibrant life of all. Please help us follow you in every way. We know that people around us will be benefited by our willingness to follow you. We also know that it is the best way to live for us, too.