From: Su Min
Subject: Following Jesus
The Word of God comes to us today in Matt 8:18-22.
There is a parallel passage in Luke 9:57-62
As I read this passage, I see that it carries a lesson in itself, and also it forms the frame to the next teaching: To study the "frame", see how in the KJV, the contrast of "depart" is used. At the beginning, Jesus sees the great multitudes about him and gave the commandment to depart to the other side (Matt 8:18). Our Lord seeks to serve the unreached and unministered people on the other side of the lake, and it is He who issues the commandment to depart. Contrast this to Matt 8:34, the other side of the "frame". There, the peoples of Gergesenes (Gadarenes) witness to his healing of the demon possessed, are more concerned with their temporal loss of swine herd rather than the spiritual gain of saved souls. It is they who beg Jesus to depart. The contrast of these two departures shows us how wide the gap is between the shepherd who seeks the sheep and the lost sheep who do not even want to be rescued!
We will come back to the frame and the picture a few days later: today let us look at what Jesus has to say about the cost of following him.
Our passage opens as follows:
"When Jesus saw the great multitude about him, he gave a command to depart to the other side of the lake (Matt 8:18)."Jesus had been teaching around Capernaum. His central theme has been "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near". At every opportunity he is in the synagogue reading the scriptures and teaching. At every opportunity he is amongst the people, bringing them the message of redemption, as well as curing the sick and healing the demon possessed. He takes time out in places of solitude to commune with God. He must have seen the great crowd around him as an impediment to do his work. Perhaps they were more interested in seeing a spectacular miracle for the entertainment value rather than learning from the Master the way of the life eternal. So he commands, "Depart".
His disciples prepare to board a small boat with him to get to the other side of the lake, where he can reach out to people who have not yet benefited from his ministry. (This lake is also called the Sea of Galilee, Sea of Chinnereth, Lake of Gennesaret, Sea of Tiberias: It's modern Hebrew name is Yam Kinneret. It is 21 km long and 11 km wide, 200 meter below sea level: sudden storms are a noted feature).
Before they board the boat, a certain scribe, a teacher of the law, came to Jesus and said, "Master, 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."(Matt 8:19-20). A very similar incident is recorded in Luke 9:57-58, noted while Jesus and his disciples were in their way from one village to the next, after the quelling of the storm (Luke 8:22-26). It seems to me that the couplet of people, the would-be-follower who is told that Jesus has no place to rest his head, and the invited follower who would first want to "bury his father" are the same in Matt 8 & Luke 9, the Gospel writes choosing to relate the incidents in different sequence. Alternatively we can surmise that many similar events occurred during the Galilean ministry, and here the gospel writers just record two of them which are so similar.
The Scribes had been recognised as a mean lot in Jesus time. They assisted priests in the study and teaching of the Torah. Many were corrupt, and had perverted the interpretation of God's law to their own advantage. Often Jesus had spoken against the Scribes and Pharisees e.g. Matt 23:13. This certain scribe was a little different. He recognised Jesus spoke with true authority. He must have been greatly different from the other Scribes, not a grabber, not a cheat. He came to follow Jesus. Jesus' reply to him indicates that the scribe was not aware of the sacrifice required in following Jesus. The chief priests and scribes must have had wealthy lifestyles. Jesus, the chief of chief priests had not even a pillow, not to say a home, to call his own. "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.". Follow me if you will, but it is no guarantee to earthly riches (Health and Wealth Preachers, eat your hearts out). If Jesus, the Highest of High Priests is established on earth in lowly humble settings, without even a place to rest his head that he can call his own, what of us, his followers and disciples who strive to be more Christlike? So Jesus has to warn this would be follower that the path to follow Jesus is a straight and narrow one, entering through by the narrow gate. Earthly riches are not the inevitable reward. Job stability is not inevitable. Some will be called to participate in a peripatetic ministry. If we want to follow Jesus, we must know the cost before we start (Luke 14:25-34). Are we prepared to give up our security and totally depend on God? Is it possible that our human defence system is more secure that that which God provides? Will vanity and pride keep us from giving up trusting in what we have created by our own hands and start trusting in the Creator who created everything in the first place?
So the Scribe was a good man who wanted to follow Jesus, but was not aware that following Jesus did not automatically result in a life of prestige, power and position, as was the case with the corrupted scribes.
The next man is already one of his disciples although I assume that he was not within the inner circle of 12. (Matt 8:21). We are told in Luke that this discourse begins with an invitation from Jesus. Jesus says to him, "Follow me" (Luke 9:59). Even if we go no further to explore the rest of the text, this invitation is a complete lesson in itself. Jesus, the Great Teacher, turns to this man, evaluates him, sees him for all his imperfections, yet invites him, "Follow me".
And, looking from a personal point of view, I find that Jesus turns to each of us, sees us for what we are, warts, pimples and all, and still he gently invites us: "Follow me," Knowing our very weaknesses, our wicked ways, our laziness, our stinginess, our lack of prayer, our non-existent desire to spread the good news, Jesus still calls us, "come, follow me".
Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him and he with me (Rev 3:2)". Jesus stands patiently outside the door of our heart. He knocks. Will you open the door and invite him in? He longs to enter and dine with you, commune with you, feed you, provide you with the living water that you may never thirst again.
This disciple, whom Jesus has personally invited, hesitates and procrastinates.
"Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Had the father just died, and the disciples request compassionate leave to cope with the grief, come to terms with the loss and attend to the burial ritual? I think not. Surely such a request for compassionate leave would have been acceded to by Jesus. But I believe the man asked to be allowed to remain home for 20-30 years, asked not to be disturbed until half a lifetime later. This prompts the reply. Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead. (Matt 8:22)" "But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60).""Do not procrastinate. There is kingdom work to be done. Follow me. Let those who are still living in darkness attend to the other lost people. Follow me. Spread the gospel. Proclaim the kingdom. Jesus calls again to us, despite our excuses, procrastination, deviation, hesitation. Follow me.
Some will respond. Will you? God willing, you will. A hellish fate awaits those that do not. He sent forth his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come (Matt 22:3). A man came to the banquet without appropriate preparation without festive garments. He was to be thrown into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. "For many are invited but few are chosen (Matt 22:14)"
This side of the frame is completed in Luke 9:61-62 with a similar incident. A third man speak. He says, "I will follow you Lord; but let me first go back and say goodbye to my family". Again, at face value a reasonable request. But was it? Or was it an excuse, another reason to delay? Surely Jesus would have valued family values and have extended compassion to a reasonable request. Jesus says, "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)." No looking back. In farming terms, the farmer must took forwards as he ploughs, to make straight furrows. If he looks back he will lose his sense of direction and the ploughing will cause curvy lines. Not good for farming. No looking back. It seems to me that this man wanted to go home to say goodbye to his family and take 5-10 years to do so. More procrastination and delay.
Let us pray.
Abba Father, we praise you and thank you for your love for us.
Thank you for Jesus.
Thank you for the lesson today.
Thank you for personally calling each one of us to your throne of grace.
Help us see the difference we must make in our lives to be worthy to be called children of God.
Help us fully accept the invitation from Jesus when he calls us "Follow me".
In His name. Amen.
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
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