The Cost

What have we seen so far in Matthew 8? In verses 1-4, leprosy submits to the authority of Jesus. Verse 3: 'Jesus reached out his hand and touched the [leper] … Immediately he was cured. In verses 5-17, evil and sickness submit to the authority of Jesus. Verse 16: 'When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.' Next week, in verses 23-27, we'll see the forces of nature submit. Caught in a storm at sea with his disciples panicking, v26, '[Jesus] replied 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, 'Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!' But in Matthew 8, there's one thing which looks as if it might not obey him. One thing which might not submit. And it's there in verses 18-22. Sickness, evil, nature all submit. The question in verses 18-22 is this: will the human will submit to Jesus as Lord? And that's the question to us this morning. Along with the winds and the waves, will you and I recognise Jesus as God and submit to him? Verse 18:

When Jesus saw the crowd around him…

How would you have expected that sentence to end? Maybe: 'When Jesus saw the crowd around him… he decided to stay longer because there was so much interest.' Or, 'When Jesus saw the crowd around him… he did a survey to see if numbers were up on last time.' What actually happened? Verse 18:

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.

Which is the first of three surprises in these verses. When Jesus saw crowds of people, apparently interested in him - he gave orders to leave. And the question to keep asking when we're reading the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John is this one: 'What does this tell me about Jesus?' Verse 18 tells us that Jesus is not interested in numbers. Jesus was and is the Son of God, and God doesn't need followers to boost his ego. Nor is Jesus interested in people who are just interested but nothing more. He's not after my interest, or a little bit of my time or energy or money. He's after all of me, all of you. He made us and he has the right to be Lord in our lives. As C.S. Lewis put it: 'We must decide who this person is. Jesus Christ is either all-important, or he's not important at all. The one thing he cannot be is: moderately important.' And Jesus forces that decision on people. By doing hard things like (verse 18) leaving them behind, forcing them to act if they want to know more. He forces that decision by saying hard things like these things in verses 19-22. And it's the same today. People join the crowd in churches like this. And all the time, Jesus is filtering people out as they decide about him. Some people come on Sundays for a while, and then leave. Some join a Just Looking group, but all they do is look. Some say they're leaving for a church they find 'more comfortable'. If they're talking about the pews, I sympathise. But what they generally mean is: one that doesn't confront them with the truth of Jesus. All the time, Jesus is filtering people. They arrive, they leave. And some recognise Jesus and submit to him as their Lord and God. As I know three people have done here in the last three weeks, which is great. And in verses 19-22, Jesus confronts two would-be followers. He spells out for them what it will mean to submit their lives to him as Lord. We're not told what happened in either case. I guess because it doesn't matter whether we know how they responded. What matters is how we respond as Jesus calls us, too, to submit to him as Lord. Lord above all other plans for our lives. And Lord above all other people in our lives. And those are our two headings. First, verses 18-20: Lord above all other plans Jesus calls us to submit to him as Lord above all other plans we may have for our lives. Verse 18:

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him [maybe as he was getting into the boat] and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.'

Well, again, how would you have expected Jesus to respond? Here's someone saying: 'Jesus, I'll go wherever you want me to go; be whatever you want me to be; do whatever you want me to do.' So you'd expect verse 20 to read: 'Jesus replied, 'Great! Jump in!' But here's the second surprise in this passage. Verse 20:

Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man [which was Jesus' name for himself] has nowhere to lay his head.'

In other words, 'Even foxes and birds have somewhere in this world they can call 'home', some security, some comfort. But I don't. I'm just passing through. And I'm not promising security or comfort in this world. So before you say, 'I'll follow you wherever you go,' make sure you know where I'm going.' That's the second surprise. He says something deliberately off-putting. Imagine a neighbour of mine said one day, 'You know Ian, I thought I'd come along and give that church you work for a try.' And I reply, 'Well, the building's pretty gloomy and the pews are rock-hard and the heating might not be on yet. But, yes, do come along.' You just don't say the off-putting thing - even if you think it -because you want people to come. So what does it tell us about Jesus, that he does say the off-putting thing? It tells us that he only calls people to come after him as Lord - with no 'if's' or 'but's'. I cannot say to him, 'I'll follow you if it fits in with my plans.' Or, 'I'll follow you but I want a reasonable degree of security, or comfort, or time or money to myself.' To have Jesus as Lord is to say (verse19), 'I will follow you wherever you go,' and to know what we're saying, and mean it. 'I will follow you wherever you go,' says this man. And it's as if in verse 20 Jesus says, 'Well then, you better know where I'm going, before you commit yourself. Verse 20 is like the platform announcement that lets you know where the train's going, before you jump on. So, where is Jesus going, according to Matthew's Gospel? If you read to chapter 27, you find that Jesus is going, first of all, to his death on the cross. To take the punishment for our sins so we could be forgiven. If at the moment you're on the outside of Christian things, looking in, you need to know that that's the very heart of the Christian message. God's own Son died in your place, for your sins - so you could be fully forgiven, and start life over again with God in his rightful place - rather than carrying on without him. So, in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is going first to suffering, rejection and the cross. No comfort. No settling down. 'My kingdom is not of this world,' said Jesus to Pontius Pilate - the man who gave permission to crucify him (John 18.36). But then, read on to Matthew 28, and you find he rose from the dead. So Jesus is going, secondly, back to heaven. 'I am going there to prepare a place for you,' he said to his disciples in John's Gospel. 'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.' (John 14.2-3) And according to Matthew, the last thing he said before going back to heaven was this:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28.18-19)

So Jesus is going, thirdly, to the nations - through us, his witnesses left on earth - to get his message out to everyone, everywhere. The message that he is our rightful Lord. That we need to change and submit to him as our Lord. And that he'll forgive us and have us back, because he died for us. So, where is Jesus going? To the cross, then back to heaven, and then to call everyone everywhere to submit to him as Lord. That's what this man in verse 19 needed to know. That's what we need to know. If we say to Jesus, 'I'll follow you wherever you go,' how will that change our plans? It means we'll treat this world as somewhere we're just passing through. It means we'll treat heaven as our real home. And meanwhile we'll make it our life's priority to tell others that Jesus is their rightful Lord, too. The world's plans are very different. The world tells us to get a well-paid job. So we can be comfortable. So we can settle down, find a 'partner', have a family. So we can build our own homes, carve out our own leisure, live out our own dreams. And Jesus calls us to submit to him as Lord above all other plans. Perhaps we're saying, 'Jesus, I'll follow you wherever you go, but I want this particular job, or this particular standard of living.' And Jesus says, 'If I am Lord, there are no 'buts'.' Maybe he wants you in full-time Christian work, instead of the career you'd have stayed in if he'd never called you to himself. So your plans for medicine or engineering or whatever have to go. Maybe he wants you to be a teacher and not an accountant so you can witness to young people about him in a difficult school. Maybe he wants you to be a nurse or dentist in the third world, turning your back on the professional ladder. Maybe he wants you as a married couple to live on just one income, or to retire early, because he has work for the gospel for you to do. Perhaps we're saying, 'Jesus, I'll follow you wherever you go, if you provide me with a husband or wife.' Well, he may. He may not. Later in Matthew Jesus says, '… some have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.' (Matthew 19.12) Earlier in Matthew (6.33) he said, 'Seek first his [God's] kingdom…' That is, seek first God's plans and priorities in your life - and trust him to provide whatever else you need. And if he does provide marriage, or money or possessions, listen to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.29-31 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none… those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep, those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. We're not to become engrossed in our marriages, our families, our houses; in gardening and DIY and money-making and money-managing, money-saving and money-spending. There are bigger plans in this world than the new patio. There's a plan of salvation. There's a message to be got out. There are fellow-believers to look after. There are Christian workers to be financed. Jesus calls us to submit to him as Lord above all other plans. Is there a cost to becoming a Christian? From one angle, no. Our lives here are in far better hands if Jesus is Lord of them, rather than trying to run them ourselves by trial and error. Life with God is far better than life without God. And beyond death, eternal life with God is infinitely better than the alternative of eternal separation from God. But from another angle, there is a cost. To accept Jesus as my Lord is to lose my independence. It's to put all my plans -for what they were worth - into his melting-pot. It's to submit every area of my life - money, sex, work, ambitions, choices, the lot, to him. It's to become a witness to him in the non-Christian world, with all the joys and discomfort and difficulties that brings. So, yes from one angle there is a cost. And if you're still on the outside of Christian things, looking in, you need to weigh the cost. But you also need to weigh the cost the other way. Because even if we walk away from Jesus, he doesn't stop being there. It doesn't stop being true. The realities of death, judgement, heaven and hell don't stop being real just because you decide not to believe in them. And those of us who are Christians need to continue to accept the cost, as it comes. Because I guess we can never really count it at the beginning. We none of us knew fully what following the Lord would lead us into. (Did you know from the outset that the Lord would lead you in life to where you now are?) The cost unfolds as he leads us on. But it's easy to feel sorry for ourselves, when the cost bites. Which is when we need to remember: he didn't promise us heaven on earth. But he did promise us heaven. He does promise his followers heaven. 'I am going there to prepare a place for you,' he said (John 14.2-3) So this first man is called to submit to Jesus above all other plans. And the second one is called to submit to Jesus above all other people. So, Secondly, verses 21-22: Lord above all other people Verse 21:

Another disciple said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'

Does that not sound perfectly reasonable? It may be that this man's father had literally just died, and there was a funeral to organise. But 'let me bury my father' could also mean, 'let me look after my aged father until he dies'. Either way, it sounds perfectly reasonable. After all, there are family expectations, family loyalties. In fact later on in Matthew 15, Jesus says, 'Honour your father and mother,' and he criticises those who fail to respect and care for their parents (15.3-6). So, again, how would you expect Jesus to have replied in verse 22? May be: 'Jesus told him, 'OK. Go home. Of course you must put your family first. Catch up with me later.'' But here's the third surprise in these verses - in fact, more a shock. Verse 22:

But Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'

In other words, Jesus said, 'Follow me, and let the spiritually dead bury their own dead. I take priority over even family loyalties.' To say something like that, you have to be a megalomaniac - or God. Jesus did say 'Honour your father and mother.' He did take people to task for failing to respect and care for their parents. But the issue is different, here. The issue here was whether family loyalties would stop this man from following Jesus. We only have the barest detail, which makes it all the more shocking to us. But the issue was: would he put Jesus first, or would his family claim his first allegiance? In Matthew 10.37 Jesus says:

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And the question comes to us: who has our first allegiance? Jesus, or family? Jesus, or someone we're close to, who's not a Christian? A parent, or parents. Brothers or sisters. Or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Who has our first allegiance? Whose disapproval or expectation is perhaps holding you back from coming to Christ? Or holding you back from following Christ more fully? A few Sunday evenings ago, I used the example of an 11-year old who came to Jesus on a camp I was helping at. He told his mother about this when she came to collect him at the end of the week. And she rather frostily replied, 'That's lovely, dear. I just hope you're not going to go religious on us.' In other words, so long as you don't take it too seriously. A bit of religion, fine. But not Jesus as Lord. It may be that you live under that polite but very real pressure of disapproval in your family. (Or for you, it may be not-so-polite). I'm extremely grateful that my parents are the kind who've supported me in what I've chosen to do. But it's hard for them, as non-Christians, when their son winds up in a job like this. And the pressure is there. 'Why don't you get a job in the real world, for a while?' Dad asked me a few years ago. It may be that some of us need to learn to live with that pressure, without letting it get to us. It may be that some of us need to put the possibility of Christian work above our parents' hopes for our careers. And those of us who are Christian parents: what are your hopes for your children? And do those hopes come from the Bible, or from the world? And if in 10, 15, 20 years' time your son or daughter says, 'Mum, Dad, I think I ought to be a missionary,' how would you react? Would your heart sink? Or would it be the answer to your prayers? I guess this issue of family loyalty is hardest for our international brothers and sisters. For a number of them, submitting to Jesus as Lord means standing against a family religion - maybe Buddhism or Shintoism or Islam. I think of one Christian student who felt he couldn't attend his grandfather's funeral because he might be asked to make a sacrifice to his ancestors. Imagine what his family thought of that. With that example, we're right back in verses 21 and 22, aren't we? Our parents are to be respected and cared for. But they're not our Masters. Jesus calls us to submit to him as Lord above all other people. And that, too, can cost us. Lord above all other plans. Lord above all other people. From one angle, there is a cost to that. But when you think that his plan is to bring us to heaven - the only life really worth having; and when you think that he died to get us there, it doesn't look so much like a cost. More like a gift. For further reading on Matthew 8-10:

When Jesus Confronts The World, D.A. Carson; IVP, or in the Paternoster Biblical Classics reprint series.

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