Sunday, November 14, 2010

Matthew 8:18-20: One Reminder about Discipleship

Having come away from Matthew 7 and Jesus teaching his disciples (and the crowds secondarily), Jesus came face to face with a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, and a large crowd who apparently were gathering around Peter's house bringing all of their sick. Matthew 4:23 is clear that at this point in Jesus' ministry, he was concentrating on three avenues: (1) Teaching in the synagogues, (2) Preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and (3) Healing many who were sick. In Matthew 8:18, Jesus issues orders for his disciples to depart and set sail across the sea of Galilee. As important as healing was, and as powerful as a means to proclaiming his right to the Davidic throne, healing was not intended to operate by itself (as 4:23 demonstrates). With that said, I believe that the primary reason for Jesus' departure was not because he needed to get back to "teaching" or "preaching" as some commentators have suggested. Instead, the first part of Matt. 4:23 reveals a greater clue for the departure: "Jesus was going throughout all Galilee." The departure dealt with the need to proclaim the message (supported with healings) throughout the entire region.

Before Jesus departs however, he encounters two people: a scribe (or, teacher of the law) and "one of the disciples." Each of these encounters shows us something critical about discipleship, something essential to the gospel, and something essential if we are going to understand how to fulfill the final commandment in Matthew's gospel (disciple-making). The scribe who approached Jesus let's out a huge declaration, one that was not discouraged by Jesus per se. He says, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go" (8:20). The three key words in this verse are: (1) the verb ἀκολουθήσω and (2) ὅπου ἐὰν. The verb is one of the key words in discipleship. In fact, this is the word that Jesus uses to invite his disciples to leave everything that they have in order to devote time and energy toward their relationship with him. You can see the same word found in Matt. 9:9 in the call of Matthew. The scribe places Jesus at the center of this relationship. And, he even stresses that there is no place that he would not go. I shared with the church today that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with making such a declaration. But, Jesus wisely uses the opportunity to draw the scribe's attention to what he is actually saying. Really, would you go anywhere? Are there really no limits to where you will follow me? Would you follow me to face a tormentuous storm where it will appear like death is immanent? Will you follow me to the other side of the sea of Galilee in order to face a crazed, demon-possessed, super mad man whom the strongest chains cannot even restrain? These two events just make up the next two days of Jesus' ministry. Even further, would you follow Jesus to the cross? His closest disciples did not even brave that one, three of them even after seeing his face shine like the sun as his glory was manifested. And, would you follow him to the nations, baptizing and teaching them all the things which he commanded? Remember, the Great Commission is following Jesus because, after all, he promised that he is with those always as they are doing that very thing.

After all the healings, after all the amazement as the people were hearing him teach with authority, the last thing Jesus wanted was an uncalculated, emotional, caught-in-the-moment decision to follow him. Instead, consider what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus responded: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere (οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ) to lay his head." Scribe: "I will follow you anywhere." Jesus: "Wherever you follow me, I can promise you that I have nothing materially to offer you on this world of any significant value. In fact, you might be sleeping in the dirt. Still want to come?"

If I have some time later, I will share with you Encounter #2.

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