Matthew 8:18-22 | Study and Discussion Guide
In Matthew 8:1-17, Jesus rolled out the welcome mat to every kind of outsider in his day. In dramatic fashion, his healings showed everyone that his kingdom was open to those who were considered spiritual, ethnic and gender outsiders. In our modern western culture this is one of the most compelling things about Jesus. He brought the most inclusive welcome the world has ever seen. But immediately after these healings, we come to what might be the most difficult thing about Jesus for us today. He also brought the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. In one moment, Jesus is lowering the bar and welcoming everyone in; in the next, he’s sending people away by raising it impossibly high. What’s going on?
What Jesus Is After
In Matthew 8:18-22 Jesus’ goal and purpose is clearly revealed. Jesus saw a large crowd around him and said, “Yes! This is exactly what I’m after! Success, numbers, celebrity and popularity. I’m hitting all my goals”! No. “He gave the order to go to the other side of the sea” (v18). Jesus was not after large crowds. He was after followers (disciples). Crowds came to Jesus to have an experience, to be inspired, to learn a little and go on with their lives. Disciples came to Jesus to be trained, to be led and to give their whole lives to Jesus. Time and time again in the gospels we see that a person must come out of the crowd to truly encounter Jesus. As long as our thinking and choices are determined by the crowds, we’ll never come out of the crowd to see who Jesus is for ourselves.
How Jesus Shows Us What We Are After
Two people come out of the crowd who were interested in following after Jesus. What they discover is that Jesus was a master at showing people what they are really after when they come to him. Is it the same thing he is after? Or are they coming to him for something else? The seemingly harsh responses of Jesus are actually his loving way of uncovering for them what they were really after.
After a Teacher on my terms. A scribe came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go”. On the surface, this looks like exactly what Jesus would want to hear. But upon closer inspection there are major problems. First, no real disciple ever calls Jesus, “Teacher”. Secondly, in the gospels, it’s Jesus who initiates the discipleship relationship with people, not vice versa (see Matt. 4:18-21; 9:9-11). It’s likely this scribe was coming to Jesus thinking he was doing Jesus a favor (he didn’t have a scribe on his team yet!). He was really coming to Jesus to advance himself on his own terms. That’s not how it works with Jesus. He shows the scribe – those who come to him as merely a “teacher” are really after a god they can explain and control, a god who will owe them for their obedience, a god on their terms.
After a Lord on my timetable – A second man approaches Jesus with what sounds like a very reasonable excused absence. He needed to bury his father! How could Jesus say no to that?! To understand Jesus’ response, we need to first see that it is highly unlikely this man’s father had just died (he would have been at home with family). It is more likely he’s using a Hebrew idiom that meant, “First let me tend to my family obligations and my father. When he is gone and I have my inheritance, then I’ll follow you”. If this is the correct interpretation, the key word here is “first”. He calls Jesus “Lord” but gives other things priority and importance over him. He was after a lord on his timetable. Jesus shows him a “lord” on our timetable is not really a “lord”.
Why Follow After Jesus?
Jesus is after disciples; disciples who follow after him on his terms and his timetable; disciples who call him Lord and give him priority over everything in their lives. Why would anyone follow someone who is so exclusive and demanding? This is the question underneath all questions of discipleship. Who is Jesus to make such a demand? This is the question Jesus wants us to ask. Since Jesus clearly rules out “religious teacher” here, there are really only two options he leaves open to us:
1) He has complete authority over our lives and the world. He knows what is good, true and right for us. He has all the right to demand our exclusive trust and obedience. If he didn’t demand exclusive loyalty, he wouldn’t be loving. OR 2) He is a deluded crazy person and his demand for exclusive loyalty should be absolutely rejected.
How do we decide which it is? Is Jesus someone with loving authority or with maniacal and dangerous exclusivism? Jesus’ responses to these two men show us the only real option. He calls himself the “Son of Man” (v20). The Son of Man is a figure from the OT who would have complete and everlasting authority over everything (Dan. 7:11-14). Jesus says, “That’s me”. But he says something startling next, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. The one with a right to demand everything, gives up everything. Later he says, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).” This is the gospel – Jesus laid down his authority and right to demand our service, to serve us, to fulfill the demands in our place, to give his life for ours. If Jesus is who he says he is, the real cost of our discipleship is what God Himself gave up to show us how much he loves us. When he calls for us to follow him exclusively in everything – it’s the most compassion and kind thing he could do.
REFLECT – on these two statements based on Matthew 8:1-22: 1) Jesus brought the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. He crossed over every spiritual, physical, ethnic, gender wall in his time. He welcomed, touched, healed, commended and included those who were considered outsiders, outcasts and second class. 2) Jesus brought the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. He called everyone to follow him in everything, immediately. In our culture, we are drawn to the inclusivity of Jesus but are repelled by his exclusivity. How do you reconcile these two things about Jesus? How could both be functions of his love for us?
1. Why is it significant that Jesus always shunned and avoided celebrity, popularity and large crowds? What does this teach us about who he is and what he’s after?
2. In what ways is your thinking and decision-making most influenced by “the crowd” (ie by what others think and do)? How can we come to see this when we don’t realize it is happening? Why is it that we have to come out of the crowd to see who Jesus is for ourselves?
3. Which of the two people who came out of the crowd do you most identify with in the way you approach Jesus? 1) A teacher on your terms or 2) a lord on your timetable. How so? What would it look like for you to come to Jesus on his terms and timetable?
4. Where in your life are you having the most difficulty in following Jesus currently? How might it be helpful for you to return to the basic question of discipleship – Who is Jesus? How does knowing what Jesus gave up for us change our response to his demand for exclusive obedience to him?
5. Whatever the cost of following Jesus (and there will always be one), it is less than the cost of not following Him. Do you agree with this? How has this proven true in your experience?
SUMMARY: Why Follow Jesus? Because he offers the most exclusive demand the world has ever seen. His exclusivity is as much a function of his love as his inclusivity. Since He is the only authority who can lead us to life, the most loving thing he can do is to demand we follow him.