Theme: The Cost of Discipleship – Sacrifice
It didn’t take long for the Christmas excitement of the shepherds, angels, and Simeon and Anna to die down. It wasn’t long before Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were on the run – having to leave their home in Nazareth and flee to Egypt because of Herod’s senseless wrath. It had to be difficult to do this. There had to be questions in Joseph’s and Mary’s mind. How could this be happening if this Child was God’s Son? Why so much difficulty?
It wouldn’t stop after Herod’s death, either. Jesus’ entire life and ministry was difficult. Even in His moments of popularity, crowds and multitudes pressed around Him, not to shower Him with praise but to see, hear, and receive more. It must have been exhausting. One of the aspects of Jesus’ ministry was preparing believers to recognize the same lesson for their lives. Once a person believes in Jesus and follows Him, obeying His Word, things will get tough. The nature of the Christian life is that discipleship comes at a cost. We plan to take up that theme this weekend and next, by looking at two different aspects of that cost. The first, for today, is that the Cost of Discipleship involves Sacrifice. We read from Matthew 8:19-22:
Then a certain scribe came 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 Then another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
One may think of this text as digging into the next layer of Discipleship. Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry, He had expounded upon some simple teachings about the Word of God. Certainly, no teaching of God is ever “simplistic” in the sense of being wisdom, but Jesus taught in a simple way – introducing basic concepts to the people. The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-7 are an example of this. When one digs into this sermon, it is extremely complex and multi-layered. But it is also simple enough for a child to understand the basic points.
Jesus had also performed a few miracles up to this point, but there were bigger ones to come. Here, in this text, He transitions from a simple form of discipleship to one more complex. He is dealing here with two men who are willing to follow Him. This makes sense. What Jesus had presented in His ministry up to this point was not entirely hard to accept. The first man was even a scribe. The Scribes were the colleagues of the Pharisees. The Scribes were in charge of copying the texts of Scripture as well as teaching in the synagogues.
For this man to connect Jesus’ ministry to the Old Testament Scriptures is not out of the question. This is a good thing and something that many back then didn’t do. But, what we see is that even if this was the case, this fledging disciple still had much to learn. One thing he hadn’t yet considered enough was the cost of following Jesus and the sacrifice involved in it.
One might expect Jesus to commend the Scribe’s confession – that he would follow Jesus wherever He went. But, instead of a blessing, Jesus offered this: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." What a strange reply to human ears. At the sound of such a faithful note of being willing to follow Jesus no matter what, the human heart expects to be praised. It’s not of us to say what this Scribe expected Jesus to say, but we must imagine he didn’t foresee his Lord’s response. But, doesn’t this example perfectly describe the truth about being a disciple of Christ – what you expect is not what happens? We may expect life with our Savior to be free of all hardship and pain – to be above all the ills of the world. But, Jesus says that His disciples will actually come closer to those things. He used Himself as an example. His life was one of giving. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head in the evening – often sleeping out in this fields.
His message to the Scribe was not, “What will you do for Me?” Rather, it was a question of if this man was ready to share in the cost of following Jesus? Would he be ready to travel around constantly without a home? Would he be willing to sacrifice the comforts of his life to bring His Lord glory? Those are the questions a disciple asks.
The same could be said of the second disciple. We don’t know his vocation but he also was willing to follow Jesus. He fully intended to – just as soon as he could see to his father’s funeral. There are few moments of life as important as the death of a loved one, especially a parent. That is part of our culture today just as it was back then. However, it was even more important in Jewish culture to bury the dead as quickly as possible. Death was an unclean thing, the sooner the burial took place the sooner the uncleanness could be dealt with. There is both ceremonial and familial distinction here in Jesus’ words. Neither traditions nor family matters should come before Jesus.
The lesson is that the cost of discipleship sometimes involves the most important parts of our lives - traditions, ceremonies, and even family. How many things in life can we think of that would be more important than our parents’ funeral ceremonies? What would you be willing to do instead? Not much, if anything. And yet Jesus instructs this man to leave it behind and follow Him now. That’s the pressing importance of faith. It’s not something we should wait on.
We don’t know the Scribe’s or the other disciple’s responses. Maybe they were ready and hastening to their Savior’s call. Their responses are not all that important, because the Holy Spirit leaves the thoughts open for us to consider. Both examples end with Jesus’ own words – tough words to consider. Would we follow Jesus above all? Do we? Do the comforts of life, which are much more abundantly available to us, get in the way? Have we considered sacrifice as necessary to being a disciple, or is it something we try to avoid?
It is at this point in our text that it is important to transition now between looking at these two men and looking at Jesus. Obviously, Jesus is part of this text, as the main speaker. But, He also drops a title that is important as well – the Son of Man. We’re familiar with the term, Son of Man. However, it’s rich meaning and it’s import to the issues of this text should not go unnoticed.
First of all, some interesting things about the title “Son of Man”:
The use of “Man” is singular, not plural and both “son” and “man” are definite in the Greek. Essentially, what these two things mean is that Jesus is being very deliberate, very pointed, when He uses this title. Literally, in the Greek, this title is “the son of the man.” It is anything but generic, even though we often understand it as a generic title relating to Jesus’ humanity. Now, while “Son of Man” absolutely points to Jesus’ humanity, what we must also recognize is that it equally points to His divinity. It is the perfect melding of the two.
Jesus is not a son of men as we are. If this title meant that it indeed would be a pointing to His humanity alone. Rather, Jesus sis THE Son of THE man. He is specific. He is unique. Jesus is the only Son of the Father to be born as a man. And in this way He is the perfect blending of divine and human. To think of it another way, the title “Son of Man” is parallel to “the Word made flesh” of John 1. Jesus is God – Son and Word, but He is also Man and Flesh. Rather than just a marker of His humanity, the title Son of Man is a marker of His complete nature – True Man and True God – begotten of the Father.
In addition to this, the title “Son of Man” came first in the Old Testament. Daniel prophesied of a person to come called the Son of Man who would institute a universal kingdom for all people. Jesus used this title specifically to allude to the fact that He was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. His reign includes all people by faith and therefore, the term “Son of Man” is a gospel title referring to the justification of the entire world. It was wrong for the Jews to claim it only for themselves and when Jesus took this title He was also speaking against the hardened nationalism of the Jews.
There’s obviously a lot in play anytime we hear Jesus use the title, “Son of Man.” But let’s think about what it means within the context of our section. Jesus is telling the Scribe, if the perfect blending of God and Man has nowhere to lay His head, you’ll be okay if you have to give up the same in His name. This is the point that prods the Scribe’s conscience but there’s also an element of comfort too. A disciple of Jesus follows and trusts in the eternal, divine Creator, Almighty God – but also the only begotten Son born fully human. This incarnate Savior knows the extent of human suffering. His sole mission in this world to experience and complete that suffering. He has the power and the willingness to help you. Our Savior is not a distant God, but one of us. His love is not foreign, but in our language – in our very being. This is the comfort that the incarnation of Jesus gives us and the ultimate motivation of our desire to sacrifice for His glory.
The second man had his confrontation with an aspect of who Jesus was as well. This one may be more indirect than the title of “Son of Man” but it is just as forceful. At the prospect of going first to bury his father, Jesus said, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead." If Jesus said the same to many today, it would be considered offensive. But that’s part of the cost of discipleship. The truth is offensive to a sinner. As Jesus would say in a few chapters, “Blessed is the one who is not offended because of Me (Matthew 11:6).”
What Jesus meant by saying, “let the dead bury their own dead” was a message of priority. He was indicating that all people are sinners and in danger of spiritual and eternal death of unbelief. Even if you are the surviving member of a relationship who buries the dead, you too are dead in your heart and subject to the same fate at any moment. Therefore, make time for Jesus. Follow Him.
But, just like the Scribe, this is not just a warning. It is also a message of comfort. By relating His work to death, the undeniable fate of all sinners and the greatest consequence of sin, Jesus was speaking life into the picture. The very fact that priority, even over a parents’ funeral, rested with Jesus shows that He can offer something greater than death – both spiritual and physical. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus had brought the “more abundant life” of faith and eternity in heaven. That is the real import behind the command, “Follow Me.” Jesus freely offers life.
Go back to the Scribe. He was before the Son of Man. There is no greater contrast between the divine and the human than the difference between life and death. Neither man needed be concerned, whether of the matters of this life or of the honor due their parents. They were with Jesus, Son of Man, Victor over death.
Today we ask ourselves, does the Son of Man have a place to lay His head in our hearts? Do you have time for Him above all other things, even the most sacred moments of life? This is the cost of discipleship. It involves sacrifice. But, Jesus’ message today, to you, is that it is a matter of His sacrifice. The true cost, the payment of your discipleship, was offered up in the stricken, forsaken, and entombed body of the Son of Man – the perfect melding of God and Human. Jesus sacrificed the precious treasure of His life for you.
The true cost, the payment of your discipleship, was completed in Christ’s resurrection. It was then that He sealed His promises to you with 100 percent certainty. That was the receipt of trust that verifies your faith. When Satan tempts you. When the world threatens with doubts. When you backslide in unrighteousness, you can stand secure with the guarantee that you are redeemed. Though all outward evidence points to the contrary, the One who crushed death and hell stands in for you and declares in His Word, the sweet and simple declaration of forgiven.
Our sacrifices of discipleship are mere ripples of our Savior’s love. The true cost was far beyond what we could offer, but also blessedly within our daily reach by grace. In our dear Savior’s name, let us abide with Him. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.