The Cost of Discipleship


MATTHEW 8:18-22

let the dead bury the dead

                I like to think of myself as an observer of cultural differences. Whenever you move six hundred miles to live in a new place there is bound to be some culture shock. First, and most importantly I learned that folks out here are not called Indianians they are called Hoosiers. Then I learned about the joys of the tenderloin. Then I was horrified to learn that Hoosiers cut off the ears of elephants. Of course, I am joking. I do enjoy a good elephant ear. This isn’t really a cultural difference, it’s more a geographic one, but I have always appreciated the sunsets in Indiana. You probably haven’t thought about how lucky you are to have the sunsets you do since you have had them all your lives. But back in Virginia, because of the mountains, you simply cannot see as far into the distance. You get to see more of the horizon out here in the Hoosier state and that is something you should be thankful for.

One thing that has particularly struck me since I have moved out here is that many older folks have great grandchildren and pretty large families that are pretty well connected. Now I don’t have any data to back it up but back on the East Coast I knew very few people who knew their great grandchildren and fewer still that had well connected families.  Folks around here take care of their own. They honor their Elders.  The ways that many of you have sacrificed for your families has moved me deeply.

Because in our culture, we place value on youth and what we do, thus the elderly often get forgotten.  Our culture generally doesn’t care for the fifth commandment, to honor our mother and father.  Once we are old enough to be out the door many in my generation could care less about honoring our mother and our father. We want to go our own way, we want to discover ourselves, we want to be successful. Certainly, our parents want that for us as well. But when I am making decisions, if I am honest, whether I am honoring my mother and father doesn’t really come into the equation.

The view of family in this church, the general view of family here in the midwest, I think is closer to the view of family in the Middle East in Jesus’ day than perhaps East Coast culture is. You see where I am from you are defined by what you do, what you accomplish. What family you are a part of isn’t as important. Here in these parts what you do still matters a lot, but what family you are part of is way more important than I thought it would be. And that is how it was in the Middle East. For the most part, no one cared what your occupation was. If you were a man you did what your Father did. That’s why many folks believe Jesus was a carpenter, because his adopted Father Joseph was. When you met someone in that day the first question you ask them wouldn’t be “what do you do?” it would be “what family do you belong to?”

So perhaps you can understand how shocked this second man in this passage would have been. He basically says to Jesus, “Lord I am ready to go let me first bury my dad.” And Jesus’ response was, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”  Now scholars have presented two interpretations of the man’s request. First, the man’s Father is already dead and the man is asking Jesus for a couple of days so he could go bury his Father and then he would be good to go. The second interpretation, is that the man’s father is still alive and he is asking Jesus to give him time till his Father dies to follow him. This could be a much longer time depending upon how old the Father was. I think the second interpretation, that the father is still alive, is more likely. The first reason I believe this is common sense. If this man’s father had just died he wouldn’t be hanging around watching Jesus heal people, which is what had just happened before this. Instead,  he would be burying his Father. The second reason, is that under Jewish culture and tradition a man was under his Father’s authority until his Father’s death, even if he got married and had a family of his own.  That’s why it is so shocking in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that the younger son asks for his inheritance. He is basically saying to his Father, “you are dead to me.” A son was expected to bury his Father. Even Levitical Priests, who were usually not allowed to touch dead bodies, were allowed to bury their fathers. And people didn’t have cars, airplanes, cell phones, and skype back in Jesus day. If this man followed Jesus he probably wouldn’t be able to return to bury his Father when he died. He probably wouldn’t even know when his father died. He would not be able to fulfill the Fifth Commandment. He would not be able to give his father the basic dignity he deserved.

Some may say, well maybe he just isn’t committed enough. If he really loved Jesus he would do what he said. I don’t think we should doubt this man’s intentions or commitment. Compare him, to the first man that comes to Jesus. We are told that he is a Scribe. Now the Scribes and the Pharisees are generally against Jesus in the Gospels. But this one seems genuinely interested in Jesus. A Scribe was sort an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures. He was responsible for copying God’s Word. He was responsible for preserving God’s Word for the next generation. So he was well educated, well respected, and well taken care of. While the Pharisees were more street preachers, more popular personalities, the scribes were the professional theologians, the college professor, the legal scholar. They knew their theology. They had all the book smarts. They had gone to seminary. But I have learned there is a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Studying, while important, is not all that it takes to follow Jesus. And Jesus let’s the man know that. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  Jesus was homeless. Not by circumstances. We are told that the disciples had some funds, they had a common purse. Jesus was homeless by choice. Because he had a message to preach, a Kingdom to establish. He would stay with people for a time but he was ready to go wherever His Heavenly Father would lead him.  He tells this ivory tower theologian basically that you say you want to follow me but you don’t know what you are talking about. The Greek word for Disciple basically means learner. He is saying to this man that your schooling may have cost you time and money but being a learning from me will cost you something more, it will cost you your life. And you are not ready for that.  He knows the man is not ready because he addresses him as Teacher or Rabbi. In Matthew, Rabbi, while a term of respect, is rarely used by Jesus true disciples.  You can learn things from a teacher it is true. And teachers then and now have a hard job. But a teacher doesn’t own your life.

Notice that the second man calls Jesus Lord. This is a level above teacher. It shows that the second man isn’t just coming to Jesus to get ten principles for his best life now he is coming to lay his life down, to give his heart and soul to obey Jesus. He just wants to fulfill his duty before he does. He may not have been a legal scholar like the Scribe, he may not have even been able to read, but he knew the Ten Commandments. Even Paul, in Ephesians 6, affirms that we should honor our Father and Mother. He is saying, “I want to follow you but I have to wait till my father dies. I have to obey God’s Law.” And to be honest that is a really good reason .Still Jesus says let the dead bury the dead. That’s harsh. That’s a steep price. This guy isn’t the rich young ruler, a lover of money, something that is ungodly, he is trying to honor his family and the Law of God, and Jesus is saying no you can’t do that. There is a cost to discipleship. Even obeying the Law of God can hold us back from following Jesus.

Jesus is not advocating that we break the Ten Commandments. He is telling us that just because we know the Bible doesn’t mean we know Him. Just because we know the scriptures doesn’t mean we know Jesus. Take for example, the debates Jesus had with the Pharisees about the Sabbath. Yes, the Bible says we should rest on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees took that to the extreme and got upset when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath.  It is right to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was meant to heal man’s soul so why wouldn’t God approve of healing someone’s body? But at the same time we might say oh I need to work on the Sabbath but it is okay because I am doing it for a good cause, it is important. Well Jesus healed crippled people. Is what you need to do as important as that? Or are you just a workaholic. I can’t tell you. But God’s Spirit can convict you whether or not you are deceiving yourself. The issue here is about identity and priorities. Jesus knew this man. He knew his heart. Not all of us will be called to leave our families. But Jesus knows our hearts. And he convicts us when we say, “I will follow you Jesus but”. Jesus knows what our buts are, what our conditions are, and he will challenge them. May it be money, family, friends, power, prestige, Jesus knows what we make a God and he demands that he is above all other gods. This man’s priorities would be right under God’s Law. The problem is he doesn’t know who Jesus called him to be, that call apparently will require him to leave his family. No one can tell you what the cost of discipleship is for you. But I think you know. If you know Jesus his Spirit lives within you. He speaks to you. Somewhere deep down we all know the cost of not just reading about Jesus but learning from Jesus. We know the cost. We just don’t want to pay it.

I can not speak about the cost of your discipleship I can only speak about the cost of my own. Of course I have left my family and friends and that is a part of my call. But I am finding the responsibility of preaching the Word is the greater cost of my discipleship. You see this week I attended a church growth seminar in South Bend. It was called, “Guidelines for Fruitful Ministry.” The speaker made an argument that the Bible calls us to be fruitful in our churches and that means not just growing spiritually but growing numerically. And much of the day long seminar was about research based ways to grow a church. One of the suggestions is that you have to be as non threatening and accessible as possible. Preach about stuff that everyone understands. Like how to be happy, how to work on your finances, how to have a better marriage, every day stuff that applies to your life. This is especially important on Holidays like Easter and Christmas where unchurched people might be more willing to come to church.

I agree that the Bible calls the church to grow. But I don’t agree that preaching should not be confrontational, or that when the Word of God is preached a church will automatically grow. I believe you should preach what the scripture says and what the Lord puts on your heart.  Some times the balance is more towards the scriptures, research, and exegesis, and sometimes more towards the heart. Being relatable is wise of course. I try to be relatable and entertaining in my preaching. But I know my primary goal is to preach the Truth in Love as best as I understand it whether folks like the message or not.

I was reminded of this during our most recent Christmas Eve service .  Now if Easter is like the Super Bowl in terms of importance and attendance than Christmas Eve is like the Chick Fil A bowl. Not because the Chick Fil A bowl is the second biggest sporting event in the year, but just because I really like Chick Fil A and am not into sports. I realize now It wasn’t the best sermon I have ever preached it was probably one of the worst. And I was really embarrassed afterwards because I felt I sort of made a fool of myself. I felt like I missed the field goal. In fact I felt like the ball had bounced off an invisible force field and hit me right in the face. I know you all don’t expect me to be on my game every Sunday. But let’s be honest it was Christmas Eve and it was important and I did a poor job. There were a couple of times that I thought I should preach on something different. But I felt the Lord tell me I should preach that message even though I had doubts about it, even though I knew it would be a risk. Afterwards, I thought I was wrong. That I had preached from the Flesh and had not heard the Lord.

But a couple of months ago I was talking with Pam Harner in Sunday School. And she told me that sermon meant so much to her daughter Jackie and Jackie will always remember that sermon. I basically preached on the theme of Homesickness. And Jackie isn’t from these parts and she is far away from home and she knew what I was talking about. She heard the good news and she was a little closer to Jesus because of it. And when I heard that I thought, “ the Lord had me embarrass myself in front of 80 people to reach just one girl?” Yes, I believe he did. For that is the cost of my discipleship. And I have paid it. It never gets any easier but it is worth the price. I pray that today the Lord would reveal to you the cost of your discipleship and he would give you the courage to pay it.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: