Counting the Cost
Children, if you are near a street, and a car is coming that you do not see, you will hear your mom or dad command you to get out of the street. You must fully respond to that command, not only because the one commanding is your parent, but also because the situation is so perilous that if you do not respond, great harm will befall you.
But did you know there are times when you must ignore what your parents tell you and listen to another authority? For example, if your father tells you to go outside and play, you should listen. But if you are outside, and a police officer approaches you and tells you to get back into the house, you should listen to the officer. Your parents would want you to listen to that authority over their own. They understand that certain commands take priority over everything else.
Now, when you are in the military, and the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief, orders you to come to Washington immediately for a special assignment, you do not respond by saying, “I will come only if the assignment is easy.” Nor do you say to the president, “I will come, but first I need take care of my daily chores here on the base.” No, because of the situation, and because of the person commanding, you drop all other commitments and report for duty; ready to serve. That call to service takes priority over everything else.
Now, if there are times when you drop all else to serve human authority, would you not expect this to be the case when God calls you to follow him?
Well, 2000 years ago God came to earth in Jesus Christ and called people to follow him. The Lord could have appeared in great power demanding people to follow, but instead he hid his full glory. God took on the form of an ordinary man. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on an ordinary body.
Though the movies usually depict Christ as a very handsome man whose face drew people to him; that is not how God’s Word describes him. Isaiah 53:2 speaks of Jesus this way; “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” There was nothing outwardly special about Christ that drew people to him. He lived humbly on this earth and with a gentle voice commanded people to follow him.
Because Jesus hid his full glory, many did not take him seriously when he called people to follow him. The people did have proof that Jesus was more than just a man. The miracles Christ performed gave evidence of his divine authority. But because he came in such a humble manner, many did not take him as seriously as he deserved to be taken.
But we see from our text that Christ’s call to follow must be taken seriously, and to respond properly; following Christ must be your highest priority.
We see in verse 18 that when a great crowd surrounded the Lord, he decided to leave the area. Jesus was always wary of his popularity, knowing the people often gathered to him for wrong reasons. So just when the crowds grew to their largest number, Jesus decides to leave.
This is just the opposite of how leaders usually react in this situation. If a politician draws a huge crowd to his speech, he is ecstatic at the response. If a singer draws a huge crowd to his concert, he believes he is loved more than ever. But our Lord never thought this way. He knew the hearts of men; he knew the fickleness of those who claimed to follow him.
Before Jesus leaves for the other side of the lake, Matthew introduces you to two men. Both of these men pledge to follow Christ. Our Lord’s responses reveal that to follow Jesus means you must suffer with him and serve him over all else.
Both of these men hear Christ’s command for his disciples to go with him to the other side of the lake. One, a scribe, approaches Jesus and says in the sight of all; “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Now, this must have excited the twelve disciples. Here was a scribe, a Jewish teacher of the Law, and he is pledging his allegiance to their Master. If we get this man on our side we could really turn things around!
But Jesus responded, “The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The Lord wanted this scribe to understand what it meant to follow him. To follow Christ means to suffer with Christ.
In referencing the fact that the foxes and birds have homes, Jesus was not saying he was homeless, and those who follow him will end up homeless. Jesus did have a place to stay in Capernaum.
This phrase describes Jesus’ life of suffering in general. To not have a home on this earth means that he will be rejected and persecuted by the people of this earth. As a matter of fact, when Jesus does go across the lake, the people there beg him to leave; they do not want anything to do with him. Then when he returns, the Jewish leaders begin to persecute him. What happened to Jesus would happen to his followers.
Do you see then what the Lord is saying? “You say you want to follow me, but here is where I am going. If you follow me, you also will experience rejection; you will suffer.” The Lord could sense that this man wanted to follow Christ only if following Christ made life good for him. If this man understood the cost of following Christ, he would not have made his claims so readily.
Now, we must spend a moment on this mysterious name Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. Whenever Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, he uses it with people who do not believe in him. As believers we understand the term. Jesus, the humble, ordinary man who lived a life of suffering and rejection, is the divine Son of God who was resurrected to all power at God’s right hand. But for those who did not believe, the term remained a mystery.
This scribe did not really understand whom he was declaring his allegiance to. Jesus is not merely a religious teacher who will help you in life. This is the Son of God who has come to claim you as his own; he has come to make you his followers, and if it means following him through the wilderness, then you follow through the wilderness.
The second man who approached Jesus was already a disciple of Christ. He also desired to follow Jesus across the lake, but he had an important responsibility to attend to. He says to Jesus, “I will follow you, but permit me to go and bury my father.”
Now to make sense of this request, you need to understand the burial customs of the Jews. A few commentaries wrongly suggest that this man’s father was actually alive; that the man was asking that he be allowed to remain with his father until he dies. But the Jews never spoke this way about living fathers.
The Jews buried their dead in two stages. When a family member died, the family would immediately wrap up the body and place it in a tomb. Unless the family was wealthy, many different family bodies were buried in one tomb. After the initial burial, the family would wait about twelve months for the flesh to decompose. Then a family member would return and gather up the bones and place them in box in a specially dug corner of a tomb. At that point the body is finally laid to rest.
According to Jewish law, the son was to pay his father final respects by gathering his bones and placing them in a box, once for all burying his father. Now you can understand what the man is asking. He is asking if he can go perform his final respects to his father by burying his bones, even if it took another year.
That is what makes Jesus’ response so shocking. This man is seeking to obey the fifth commandment, which is to honor his father. We might expect Jesus to praise this man.
If Jesus were just another religious teacher, he would have praised this man for honoring his father. He certainly would have allowed the man to go bury his father’s bones. But Jesus is no mere man; he is the Son of God. Thus following Christ must take priority over family obligations.
So the Lord responds, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” The dead Jesus is referring to would be the other dead bones in the tomb. Let the bones take care of themselves, but you, follow me. Jesus Christ takes priority over family commitments and relationships. When God calls you to follow, you must follow him over all other commitments.
Now, in both these situations Matthew does not record for us the responses of these two men. After they learn of the cost of following Christ, would they follow or turn away? Maybe Matthew leaves their responses open because he wants you to answer the question for yourself.
This passage is teaching you that to follow Christ means you put him first in your life. It first means you humbly accept his offer of free salvation; you repent of your sinfulness and accept the forgiveness of sins offered in the gospel. Following Christ means you serve the Lord the rest of your days as the one who has rescued you from eternal judgment. You serve him even though serving him will bring many hardships to your life.
What makes our God so glorious is that he does not command you to follow anywhere that he did not first go himself. God first suffered the rejection of men before calling you to face the rejection of men. Christ experienced death before calling you to serve him to death.
But God did for you what you couldn’t do for yourself. In Christ he provided the perfect sacrifice for your sins. Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly all the way to the cross that you may be his followers; his heaven-bound children.
Until we get to heaven, following Christ means that you will suffer rejection and loss, as he did in this world. Whether you live in America or China makes no difference; to follow Christ means you suffer with him.
Now, do not make the mistake of these two men. No, God does not appear in all his glory and command you to follow. But he is commanding you to follow. These words on the page of the Bibles are the words of God. He is speaking here; his word is his word, whether heard or read.
A preacher may be an ordinary man, but he is God’s servant whom God has sent to speak in his name. God is still calling people to follow him. The point is, though Jesus was resurrected two thousand years ago, he continues to command people to follow him, and he does so through his word and his church.
The call to follow Christ is a call that must take top priority in your life. The Lord does not accept so-called “followers” who place other people or things above him. You are to serve him above all else, and you are to suffer with him.
Many of you wonder if you really do suffer for him. You think of Christians in other countries and you may think, “I don’t suffer for Christ.” But suffering according to the Bible is simply living for Jesus in a sinful world.
You suffer by sacrificing for your spouse; you suffer when you humble yourself and repent of your sin; you suffer when you apologize to others for sinning against them, you suffer financially by giving regularly to the church; you suffer by giving up your own time to serve others in the church; you suffer by rejecting relationships that are not pleasing to God; you suffer by working honestly and not using people to get ahead; you suffer as you deny yourself the carnal pleasures of life because you want to be pleasing to the Lord. All true Christians suffer for Christ every day, whether they realize it or not.
So if you are living for the Lord, hang on, keep doing good and remaining faithful, in a short time you will be greatly rewarded for your diligence. And if you are not living for the Lord, you must take God’s call to follow him seriously.
God has come in Christ and called you to believe on him for salvation and follow him as your Lord. I implore you in the name of Christ to heed that call above all else. You will not regret it if you do, and you will regret it greatly if you do not. Amen.