Will You Follow Him?
Gandhi was once asked by a close friend, “If you admire Christ so much, why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi reportedly replied, “When I meet a Christian who is a follower of Christ, I may consider it.”
Gandhi was acutely aware of the reality that many who profess Christ as Saviour are unwilling to follow Christ as Lord.
Joe Stowell, in his book, Following Christ, writes, “We have become quite happy to call ourselves Christians with little or no thought of following . . . It is not that we have denied Christ or even that we have done horrible things. In fact, most of us have mastered the codes of conduct and rituals of our religion. The problem is, we have masqueraded Christ with our own ways.”(Stowell, Following Christ, 9).
The problem of professing Christians neglecting to follow Christ as they should is not a new problem. Our Lord Jesus frequently encountered would-be followers who had yet to comprehend the level of commitment that He required. We encounter two of these would-be followers here in Matthew, chapter 8, verses 18 through 22.
As is the case any time one attempts to preach on so few verses, the context here is extremely important. We finished, last Sunday, in chapter 7 with this commentary, “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority”(7:28,29).
Subsequent to the commentary of Jesus teaching with authority, we immediately learn of Jesus’ authority over diseases, and His authority over the spiritual world. Chapter 8 begins with Matthew recounting how Jesus healed a man suffering from leprosy; how He healed the Centurion’s servant of some type of paralysis; and how He healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a life-threatening fever (8:1-15).
Matthew then closes the section explaining that “they brought to (Jesus) many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill”(8:16).
What does all of this have to do with being a follower of Jesus Christ? Surely, what Matthew is doing is he is building a compelling case; he is providing us with our motivation to become followers of Jesus. The One who teaches with authority; the One who has authority over disease; the One who has authority over the spiritual world, is also the One who has authority over the lives of His disciples.
There is a word for this. There is a word for One who has unlimited authority; it is the word ‘Lord’. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is no ordinary man; He is not simply a moral teacher; He is more than a prophet; this is One who causes demons to shudder; this is One who causes the wind and sea to obey Him.
This is the basis for discipleship. The reason we must follow Christ at all cost is because we belong to Him; and belonging to Him, we are subject to His authority. Only when we have come to understand this truth, can we begin to appreciate the compulsory nature of following Jesus. As Joe Stowell observes, “We would like to negotiate a deal and evaluate the small print before we sign on to follow. But followers don’t cut deals with Christ. They just follow.” (Stowell, Following Christ, 61).
Matthew indicates that the healings attracted large crowds, prompting a couple of would-be followers to approach Jesus. We are told that “a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’”(8:19,20).
Surely there is something promising about this first candidate for discipleship. First of all, the scribe was respectful. He comes to Jesus with a reverent tone, addressing Him as ‘Teacher’.
Notice also, that the scribe was very ready. Jesus was about to depart for another region, but this did not deter our would-be disciple—he was ready to go immediately; no hesitation.
Thirdly, this candidate was very resolute. There are no ‘ifs’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’ in his promise. There are no signs of hesitation or vacillation with this man. You can hear his determination, “I will follow You wherever You go.”
And finally, we must not miss the fact that this scribe was very right. “I will follow You wherever You go” is precisely what Jesus requires of every person. From every outward appearance, the scribe spoke to Jesus what was best.
Respectful, ready, resolute, and right . . . Oh, but I have forgot one thing: rebuked. Evidently, Jesus knew something about this candidate that needed testing. Jesus’ rebuke reveals His conviction that the scribe was too quick to promise allegiance, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’
Some commentators suggest that the scribe’s hasty promise was probably the result of all the excitement from the healings—what an evening it was, “a hospital in the street, a great Physician instantly healing all kinds of disease, shouts of joy on all sides, lame men leaping like deer, and the tongues of the dumb singing (aloud)”(Spurgeon).
Wanting to ensure that the scribe understood the rigorous demands of discipleship, Jesus challenged the man to count the cost of following Him.
The challenging response Jesus gave to the scribe, prompted C.H. Spurgeon to conclude, “Do not dare to be added to the Church of God, unless heart, soul, and spirit, (unless) your whole nature goes with your profession, and you become truly and really a follower of Christ.”
If the first would-be disciple was too quick to promise, the second prospective disciple was too slow to perform.
Matthew records, “And another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me; and let the dead bury their own dead.’”(8:21,22).
As I read texts such as this, it is beyond me how we end up with a hymn like ‘Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.’ Jesus is tender and compassionate, to be sure, but in light of these words one could hardly characterize His calling of us as ‘soft and tender’!
Yet, at the same time, it would be a mistake to characterize Jesus’ words as unduly harsh. It is a mistake to conclude that this man’s father has just died and that Jesus is denying permission to bury him.
Bear in mind that, in Israel, the dead were required to be buried on the same day that they died. If the man’s father had died, he wouldn’t have been in the crowd; he would have been at home. In asking to bury his father, what he probably means is that he wants to remain at home during his father’s last years and follow Jesus after his father has died (Boice, Matthew, 132).
George Whitefield interpreted the request as ‘Lord, permit me first to look after my secular affairs.’ The problem here is one of priority. Jesus challenges the notion of prioritizing family affairs over following Him. His response indicates that discipleship is a present obligation and should never be put off.
This rebuke, to the second would-be follower, is yet another statement about the extent of Jesus’ authority over our lives. We know that honouring family members is of great importance to God. The fifth commandment requires that we “Honour (our) father and (our) mother” (Ex.20:12).
What, then, is intended by Jesus’ statement, “Follow Me; and let the dead bury their own dead”? Surely, the point Jesus is making is that no earthly responsibility can compare in importance to the call of following Jesus. In short, I hear Jesus saying that there is no excuse good enough to gain exemption from being His follower.
Now, I confess that a great deal has been said about Christ’s authority over our lives, but I would not want you to conclude that our Lord is some hard-nosed taskmaster. Though He has every right to assert Himself as Lord in our life, it is not as if He forces us into obedience. He challenges us with the call, “Follow Me”, and He warns that the road is difficult (Mt.7:14), but He promises strength for the journey (Mt.11:28-30), and He promises that this is the road to abundant life (John 10:9,10).
If it be granted that Christ has every right to call us to follow, a question still remains: Is Jesus worth following? Are the spiritual and heavenly rewards of following Christ sufficient compensation for all that we are called to forsake?
I am once again inclined to let the protagonist of Pilgrim’s Progress answer that question for us: “all that I shall forsake is not worthy to be compared with a little of that I am seeking to enjoy.”
Friends, following Jesus is not simply the correct thing to do, it is the best thing for us. And as I labour to impart this biblical truth to you, I am mindful of the fact that the only way to verify what I am saying is to do what I am suggesting. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps.34:8), implores the psalmist.
As a young child I remember refusing to have steak for dinner. I could not believe that anything on this planet tasted better than a hamburger. So BBQ after BBQ, I ate hamburger while the rest of my family ate steak. What was my problem? I had never tried steak before. Once I did, there was no turning back.
The reason why so many of us are consumed by a love for the world is because we have not tasted for ourselves how good the Lord is. And for some who have tasted, it has been so long that we have forgotten how sweet it is to walk daily with the Lord.
I am certain that those who heed the call to follow will find that Christ is indeed good and satisfying for the soul. Christ is all we need. Won’t you heed the call and follow Him?