Read Matthew 8
Again, Jesus had to deal with a crowd. He told his disciples that they would go to the other side of the lake. This was first-century social distancing. His time had not yet come. Jesus had other things to accomplish before he would go to the cross. This wasn’t quite the time.
Remember the beginning of the chapter when Jesus healed the man with leprosy? Jesus sent the man to the priest but told him not to tell anyone else. It wasn’t time yet for all of the attention that would cause the religious leaders to have Jesus killed.
The rejection of Jesus by those who should have known him—the religious hierarchy—and the people coming to see him, worship him, wanting to lift him up as king had to come together at just the right time. That time was yet to come.
His death was necessary. His life was offered willingly, but it wasn’t time yet. So, Jesus and his closest followers would cross the lake.
Before he left, a Teacher of the Law came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Now that sounds like commitment. Wherever you go!
Jesus wanted this man to know the terms and conditions of his commitment. Here’s Tom’s paraphrase. Every creature in God’s creation has a good idea where it will sleep tonight. I give you no such comfort with this commitment. We go where we need to go, do the things we need to do, and don’t worry about things like food, clothing, lodging, and the like.
It’s mission first with me.
If you have been paying attention, you will know this. It’s not that we are going to go without. It’s that we go without concern for the things that the world worries about.
What we don’t get here is the response of the Teacher of the Law. Did he accept the challenge? Did he love his comfort zone too much? Was he counting on racking up some Hilton Honors points?
We don’t know the response. Perhaps, what this one religious leader did or did not do is not the point here. What if the thing that we are supposed to take home with us is that a commitment to follow Jesus is an all-in commitment?
It’s not a travel itinerary that we put together. Let’s do Rome and Athens but I’m not so much for Barcelona. Maybe, Toulon would be better.
Jesus told this man that his commitment must be to him and not the itinerary, the journey, the things that would fit in his day-planner—ok, his smartphone.
Another person who had been following Jesus—Matthew noted a disciple—asked for a leave of absence to go and bury his father. It’s surely a reasonable request.
In the Marine Corps, almost every such request would be granted as emergency leave, even in forward-deployed areas.
We don’t know if this was one of the twelve or another who had followed for a while. Remember in John 6 that many who had followed Jesus left him because what Jesus was teaching was hard. It was at least hard to follow Jesus and remain conformed to the world.
But, really, c’mon Jesus, can’t you give the guy a couple days to go bury his father?
The answer is, of course, he could have given him a day or two or a week and still Jesus would have accomplished what he came to do.
But this was about a commitment to follow Jesus. Would the man seek God first? Would he seek God’s kingdom first? Would he seek righteousness even at the expense of his well-ordered world?
What are the words of Jesus?
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
That sounds a little harsh. That’s more like something you would expect from Tom, but not from Jesus. It was and is a simple dichotomy. There’s the living and there’s the dead. Those who do not know and believe in and follow Jesus are numbered among the dead.
Those who believe have passed from death to life.
Do you want to be among the living or the dead? There was nothing that this disciple could do for his father at this point. The best burial in the world would not change his relationship with God, but you are in a position to have the right relationship with God at this very moment.
Let the dead deal with the dead. You have an invitation to life. Are you ready to live?
Let’s jump to 2020. I know, some of you would rather just go to 2021, but we are still in the 42nd month of 2020. Let’s bring these words of Jesus to our present time.
I’ll phrase this in two simple dichotomies.
All in or try to squeeze in?
Life or death?
Will we commit to following Jesus with everything we are and everything we have or will we try to work him into our schedule and our comfort zone?
Will we follow the one who has the words of life or are we content with a short period of life in the flesh and then letting our flesh rot in the ground as an appropriate tribute to a life lived without God?
All in or not? Life or death?
Intellectually, we know the answers. The real question is will we accept the cost of following Jesus?
Christ died for all. Salvation is 100% from God so that no man may boast that any part of salvation came of himself, but will we live with Jesus as Lord of our lives?
When we receive the gift of life in the words, Jesus is Lord, have we truly received him as Lord?
Have we repented of the ways of the world?
Are we seeking the ways of God?
Is God first in our lives?
Do we live in the substance of things hoped for and rely on the evidence of things not seen?
When we sing, I have decided to follow Jesus, do we place terms and conditions on our discipleship? Do we consider the cost first? It’s a logical thing to do. Jesus used the example of a wise person considering the cost of building before beginning construction.
But we don’t really know the cost of following Jesus. There’s blessing and there are hardships. There is peace and there is persecution. Treasure in heaven is of greater value than treasure on earth, but eye has not seen the treasure in heaven. I can check my accounts online for everything I have stored up on earth.
The only cost that we can assess accurately is that we will live with Jesus as Lord or we won’t. We live in the blessed assurance of knowing that God has good plans, hope, and a future in store for us that we could not conceive on our own, or we are not quite ready to commit to what is often unseen.
Again, Jesus brought the substance of these encounters to faith. Do you trust me enough to go all in? Can you leave the dead for the living?
Jesus asks us, which is greater: Having Jesus as Lord or resting in our worldly comfort zone?
I pray that we hold nothing back from our discipleship.
I petition us all to trust our Lord with everything that we have.
I have faith that we can set aside our own understanding and the things of this world to which we have been conformed.
I long for the day when Christians will take themselves out of the judgment seat and simply follow Jesus.
I know that we can make God first in our lives, seeking him and his kingdom, desiring to live fully in his right standing.
We can pick up our cross and follow Jesus, not knowing what the world has in store for us, but certain of what our Lord has in store for us.
Don’t squeeze him in. Make him first.
Choose to be among the living, not the dead.