Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 8:16–8:22
If you have your Bibles, open them to Matthew chapter 8. Last week we talked about what Matthew is trying to accomplish here. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew said that Jesus was one who taught with authority. Then Matthew shows us three examples of that authority as Jesus performs physical healings. That brings us to our passage today where the crowds have grown so large that Jesus has to get on a boat and cross the lake.
Imagine if you are in this crowd, seeing these miracles, it would be very easy to think, “Yeah, I’m on Jesus’ side!” without truly realizing what that means. So, Matthew is pausing to ask us, “Do you really know what you are saying? Do you really know what you are committing to?”
In 2012, I lived in Italy and we were helping to plant an Acts 29 church alongside Jutty and Abby Valliquette whom many of you know because they were sent out by this church. A local restaurant owner I had been discipling came to me to ask if I would be on a panel to talk about making sure those in prison get the proper care they need. He told me I was the only protestant pastor in the city center and that I might be able to share the gospel on the panel. Of course, I’m thinking, “This is great! This is a gospel softball. What can go wrong?”
Well, basically everything. I arrived and not only is there a big crowd, this thing is being nationally broadcasted on the radio and locally on the tv. I’m sitting up there on this panel next to this very delightful transgender woman and there is this huge banner behind our heads that read “Radical Party.” So, it quickly became clear that I’m not supporting an issue, I’m supporting a political party. And not just any party. As the name indicates, this is the most radically left party in Italy. I mean, they make our left wing look moderate.
Then, just as the mics were going hot and the moderator was beginning to introduce everyone, I look out and see Jutty and two other friends with their heads buried in their laps as their bodies shake uncontrollably because they are laughing so hard at what I have gotten myself into. Somehow I managed to get through the interview without laughing myself (which is what I do when I get nervous).
I had people from all over the country calling me perplexed as to why I was supporting the Radical Party. The honest answer is that I had no idea what I was getting into. Now, obviously I’m not making any comparison between Jesus’ mission and the mission of the Radical Party, but I think Matthew is communicating a similar ignorance on the part of the well meaning Jewish leaders in his presence.
There are three things that Matthew is wanting to make sure we understand when it comes to committing our lives to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. 1) The difficulty of the kingdom, 2) the grandeur of the kingdom, and 3) the grandeur of the King.
- The difficulty of the kingdom vs 19-20
There are two people in this passage who seem to be saying they will follow Jesus, but Jesus can tell they don’t understand what it is that they are committing to. The first man, a Jewish scribe, doesn’t understand that committing to Jesus and entering his kingdom will be difficult. Look again at verses 19 and 20: And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 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.” - Matthew 8:19, 20
I think it’s safe to say that Jesus would not be invited to any church growth conferences today. Here you seemingly have a man pledging his full allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom. And not just any man, this is a Jewish scribe. One of the religious elite. Someone who has influence in society. And Jesus seems to be discouraging him from following through. On the surface, it feels kind of like a Magic player or Disney
Executive wanting to worship here at Orlando Grace and me discouraging it. Why would Jesus do this?
Because Jesus knows that this Jewish scribe doesn’t fully understand what he is saying. This man has a very nearsighted view of the kingdom. He is thinking in very simple terms. He thinks that following Jesus will be all roses and puppy dogs. He might see Jesus simply as some political hero who is going to overthrow Rome and bring glory back to Israel. This man does not realize that following Jesus doesn’t bring you into harmony with this world, it brings you into direct conflict with this world. This world will oppose those who follow Jesus until Jesus comes back and all of heaven with him. He isn’t fully considering the cost of what he is saying.
You may remember the parable of the sower. Jesus equates sowing a seed to sharing the gospel and he explains why some seed bears lasting fruit and others don’t. It’s like Jesus can see that this man is the seed sown on rocky ground. Do you remember what Jesus says about seed sown on rocky ground? As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately oreceives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but p endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately q he falls away. - Matthew 13:20, 21
This Scribe is thinking that if he follows Jesus, things will work out in this life. And there will be blessings in this life, but most of Jesus’ promises are for the next life. Jesus is basically saying, “Look at me. Yes, people are being healed, the kingdom is growing, and great things are happening, but I have no home. I have no bed. There are no Holiday Inn Expresses on this journey and it will end on a cross. There are costs to my choices and you shouldn’t think your experience in this life will be any different.
I know of countries where following Jesus could literally cost you your life. In one of those countries every time they baptize someone, they ask, “Are you willing to be baptized knowing it could cost you your life?” And they answer, “I am willing. Jesus is Lord.” I know of countries where seminary training includes how to jump out of a 2 or 3 story building without breaking your legs while running from persecution. Those are people counting the cost. Jesus isn’t trying to be discouraging, He’s trying to give a true picture of the kingdom.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t have homes, cars, beds, or retirement plans, but it does mean that we should be willing to give them all up if that is what it takes to remain faithful to Jesus in this life. We don’t get to dictate what following Jesus means, only Jesus does. For some people, it will mean an easier life and for others it will require their very life.
And if these words were hard for this Jewish scribe to understand, we better believe that it will be all the more difficult for us. In the 21st century West we have created whole belief systems within Christianity to accommodate our desire for a comfortable
Christianity. We want the benefits of following Jesus without any of the challenges. When is the last time you saw a Disney movie that tells you to deny yourself for an ethic and a kingdom that is contrary to your desires? But Jesus is saying that there is no promise of a comfortable Christian life. Jesus isn’t offering an al-la-carte Christianity where we pick the benefits, but leave the challenges.
This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Many of you remember that Bonhoeffer was a pastor who lived during the rise of Hitler and he opposed Hitler and was killed by the Nazi’s for his opposition. Following Jesus did not make life easier for Bonhoeffer, but clearly there was something that made Jesus worth it.
Here is how Bonhoeffer defines cheap grace. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, forgiveness without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
Costly grace, on the other hand is like the treasure hidden in the field. The man sells all that he has to buy that field because he will then get the treasure in it. This makes no sense unless the treasure in the field is of more value than everything the man owns.
The scribe wanted cheap grace, but Jesus is offering costly grace. Following Jesus is costly, but he shows us in the second man that it is worth it.
- The grandeur of the kingdom vs 21, 22
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22
This sounds so insensitive! How can Jesus tell this man to miss his own father’s funeral? Well, most scholars don’t actually think that is what Jesus is saying at all. In that day, you had to bury the dead on the same day they died. So, if his dad had died, he wouldn’t have been with Jesus in the first place. Most likely, he is saying that his father is old and he wants to stick around home until that season has passed.
Jesus can see that this man is basically saying, “I’ll follow you when..” “I’ll follow you if…” “I want to follow you, but…” “I’m interested in following Jesus, but only under these circumstances.” The first man didn’t see how hard the kingdom would be, but the second man didn’t see how grand the kingdom would be.
When you see the grandeur of the kingdom, there are now ‘but firsts’ or ‘if onlys.’ I seen so many college students either explicitly communicate with their mouths or implicitly communicate with their lives that they’re open to following Jesus, but after they have had their fun. Or recent grads who are open to following Jesus, but after they settle down with a wife and kids.
For those of you in middle and high school, you may be thinking you have the rest of your life to really follow Jesus. Maybe when you are your parents age. But Jesus wants you to follow him now.
In these situations, when we are choosing fun, sex, marriage, or money over Jesus we are simply saying that is where we will really find meaning, that is where we really look to for hope. That is where we really seek salvation. Saying, “Not yet” to Jesus is just another way of saying “No.”
And Jesus is saying, “You just don’t realize how much better the kingdom is than all of those things. If you did, you would gladly drop them for me.” Before he was perhaps the most influential theologian and philosopher in history, Augustine was living with his mistress and heard the gospel. He was really torn about what to do so he prayed a prayer that perfectly describes the heart of this second man. He prayed, “O Lord, make me good...but not yet.”
When Jesus says, let the dead bury the dead, he’s talking about the spiritually dead waiting for others to die. When someone really sees the worth of Jesus Christ and the glory of the kingdom he is bringing, all the ‘but ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ go away. When we see that God is who we long for and the way He is working to redeem us and the world...when we see that Jesus came to fulfill all the Old Testament prophesies and laws by giving his perfect life as a substitution for our corrupt lives so that we can be conformed from the inside by his Holy Spirit into what we were created to be and live eternally with him in a new heaven and a new earth, the ‘if onlys’ begin to seem ridiculous!
And now we get to live our life on this earth to be ambassadors for the coming kingdom.
What greater purpose could we give our lives to? This is the grandeur of the kingdom. Angela and I have a friend, a single woman about our age who understood this and moved to devote her life to a people group in THE most dangerous part of the world. Police actually captured terrorists with pictures of her on their phones to target. There was a YouTube video calling for people to find her, because she was one of only three Westerners in the world who spoke their native language. And God has protected her and they have produced portions of the Bible in their native language and people are coming to faith in really crazy ways. One woman came to her and said, “I saw man in my dreams dressed in white and he said he is bringing a new kingdom and that only you could tell me about it.”
This is what we get to be a part of! But it is so hard when we live in a world full of so many distractions. The pace of our lives is busier than ever, our ability to go and be entertained is greater than ever, and the pressure to keep up with others is higher than ever. And we see this coming into the church. If we can be louder and bolder and fancier and funner, then we can get everyone’s attention. Not realizing that this is just yet another distraction from what we need most: The grandeur of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The spiritually alive will see Jesus for who he is and be willing to drop everything to follow him. But, we won’t ever see the grandeur of the kingdom if we don’t see the grandeur of the King.
III. The grandeur of the King vs 20
Something really interesting happens in verse 20. Matthew calls him the Son of Man for the very first time in his gospel. This is by far Jesus’ favorite title for himself. We see this title used 81 times in the gospels. All but two are Jesus using it to refer to himself and Matthew is choosing this passage to use it for the first time. So, what does this term mean and why is Matthew using it now?
The term Son of Man comes from Daniel chapter seven. Daniel has a vision “I saw in the night visions, and obehold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the cAncient of Days and was presented before him. 14 pAnd to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all qpeoples, nations, and languages should serve him; rhis dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. - Daniel 7:13, 14
It’s really interesting that of all the titles Jesus could have chosen from the Old
Testament, that he chooses this one. But, it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. This is a term than clearly identifies that Jesus is the Savior of the world, the long awaited Messiah to whom would be given a kingdom of everlasting glory and dominion. When Daniel says he sees someone ‘like a son of man,’ he’s saying this Savior is fully man, but something else as well. Both human and divine.
So, it’s clearly identifying Jesus as the Messiah, but it’s also vague enough to be missed by a lot of people. The term son of man in those times was often used to simply mean human. So, it could be missed by a lot of people who didn’t understand the difference between ‘a’ son of man and ‘the’ Son of Man from Daniel 7.
Last week we saw Jesus tell the leper who he had just healed to not tell anyone about what Jesus had done. We call this veiled disclosure. Jesus is disclosing who he is in a veiled way because he knew that this claim to be not only Messiah, but God himself would get him killed. Which it did, but the time for that had not yet come. So, Jesus picks a title that communicates who he is, but one that gains him more time on this earth. And a title that should not have been missed by the scribe.
Even those who were familiar with the term had some confusion. After Jesus tells them how he will die, by being lifted up on a cross, John records the crowd asking Jesus, “We have heard from the Law that gthe Christ remains forever. How can you say that hthe Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, i“The light is among you jfor a little while longer. - John 12:34
Can you hear their confusion? The law tells us that the Son of Man will last forever, but you are telling us that you will die. How can this be? And the answer is that His death and subsequent resurrection is what inaugurates the kingdom. These two men thought following Jesus as the equivalent to switching political parties, but he is so much more!
When Jesus stood before the council before his execution, the high priest asked him,
“I adjure you by cthe living God, dtell us if you are ethe Christ, fthe Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, g“You have said so. But I tell you, from now on hyou will see the Son of Man iseated at the right hand of Power and hcoming on the clouds of heaven.” - Jonn 26:64
In his answer, Jesus is saying that he is the Christ, the King, the Son of Man. He is King of the Jews and so much more. Remember God’s promise to Abraham was that through him someone would come and bless all the nations. And this is exactly what the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is coming to do. What started with Abraham is now going to the world! And Jesus is calling us to follow him into the new kingdom.
So, how do we do that? By making Jesus your King. Following Jesus means entering a new kingdom. You can travel thousands of miles using lots of energy and resources to go from Orlando to the Canadian border, but until you cross that border, you have not entered. When you were in Orlando, you were 100% outside of Canada. When you are just feet away from the border, you are still 100% outside of Canada. These two men may have had their toes on the line, but they were still 100% outside of the kingdom because they don’t understand the difficulty or appreciate the grandeur of it.
Matthew’s call is to know the kingdom we are called into and the time to make Jesus your King is now. What is the next step for you? One day this relatively brief window between the first and second comings of Jesus will close. And John tells us what the close of that window will look like. Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16
The call of this passage is to understand the kingdom Jesus is bringing and step into that kingdom. But once we step into that kingdom, we are called to stay focused on the kingdom and its King. At the end of Luke’s account of this same story, he finished with Jesus saying, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. - Luke 9:62
There is a good chance that no one here has ever plowed before. To be successful, you need to look both forward and backward or your rows won’t be straight. If you only look back, it will be a disaster. In the same way, we thrive as Christians when we look forward to the coming of King Jesus and back at his life, death, and resurrection. We don’t look back at our old lives in the old kingdom, we die to that.
God has given us communion as a way to do just this. We look back at Christ’s body broken for us and his blood shed for us and we look forward to his return as King of kings and Lord of lords.