MATTHEW 8:19a-20b
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 8:19a “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him,. . .”

Jesus’ departure was delayed by a sudden interruption. In the crowd was a scribe being lured to Jesus. The scholar had left his religious scrolls to come see religion in action. He was impressed, caught up in the moment, but suddenly, the One who had captured His imagination was heading to a boat to leave. Afraid of never seeing Jesus again, and wanting to extend the moment, he risks the rudeness of intrusion, and with an impulse he could not squelch, he rashly blurts out,. . .

Matt. 8:19b “. . .Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.”

On the surface, no better offer could ever be made to Jesus. The scribe is eager, ready to get in the boat. He’s bold, not bashful. He’s outspoken, not quiet. He’s resolute, “I will.” He holds nothing back, “wherever You go.” He even used a complimentary title, “Master.” Jesus, though, came for allegiance, not applause.
Perfect words do not necessarily paint a perfect picture. Like many in our churches today, the scribe’s words were right, but he wasn’t. Outward confession was not matched by inner dedication. High, holy words are not always proof of deeply rooted holiness. Knowing Zionese, the right religious jargon, might hold us in good esteem in the midst of a crowd, but will not carry us far when Jesus starts to depart in a boat and we are challenged to follow Him in hands-on mission.

In real nitty gritty ministry work, good words are not enough. Jesus “is not deceived by glitter, he looks for gold” (Spurgeon). He could see this man’s heart and it wasn’t the heart of a disciple. As Jesus views our hearts, what does He see?

Matt. 8:20a “And Jesus saith unto him,. . .”

Though He knew the scribe’s heart was wrong, Jesus took a moment to talk with him. At least this man was transparent, willing to open himself up, to risk rejection. “Here was a man who laid bare his heart to Jesus Christ; and to whom, therefore, Jesus could lay bare His heart” (Morgan). The result is straightforward talk, two men going toe to toe about life’s ultimate realities and deepest issues.

Matt. 8:20b “. . .The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests;
but. . .”

The scribe may not have known he was wrong. Jesus, wanting to help the man know himself, by-passed the scribe’s words and spoke instead to his heart.
Jesus would not take advantage of one who in a moment of emotional fervor made a claim he would not keep. The Christian life is a marathon, not a dash. Only long-distance runners and plow-horses need apply. Sprinters and thoroughbreds will end in disaster. Jesus sought to pre-empt a rash beginning that might lead to a crash ending. It is best not to start if the finish is going to be disastrous.
It is unkind and untrue to tell people the Christian way is easy. Jesus never hesitated to present His requirements as hard. He sifted people at the outset, separating wheat from chaff. “Perhaps the church must relearn this strategy and truth. We have made discipleship so easy that it is not worth persecuting, for it has no cutting edge” (Buttrick). For believers, the one thing worse than being yelled at is being yawned at. Christianity assailed is far better than Christianity asleep.
We need to imitate our Master, who, when presenting the claims of His kingdom, was blunt honest. He repressed rash discipleship and discouraged superficial commitment. He is not interested in followers who quickly blaze and soon fade. Enthusiasm is important, but must be an exuberance built on sobering facts.
To temper hyper-emotionalism, and to calm the precipitous, Jesus often confronted people at the point of their weakness. Cutting through the fluff, He would thrust His sword at one’s Achilles heel. Peter in haste said he would die for Jesus. Our Master exposed his tendency toward cowardice, a weakness which surfaced again later in Peter’s life (GL 2:12). To the wavering, Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (LK 9:62). He instructed the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor (MT 19:21). Jesus told doubting Thomas to put his fingers and hands on the scars.
This scribe’s weakness was evidently in the area of security, for this is the spot Jesus pressed. A scribe’s life was quiet and easy, one of honor, study, and contemplation. It’s hard to leave quiet for controversy. Ease is difficult to forsake for ardor. It’s rough to exchange honor for reproach. Study is hard to leave for sweat and dust. It’s tough to trade contemplation for weapons of spiritual war.
Jesus saw in the scribe’s heart a desire for security, not sacrifice. Enthralled by the hoopla, he was caught up in a festive atmosphere, big crowds, healings, miracles. He felt if he stayed with Jesus, all would be well. He had to be told this temporary prestige of popularity would finally fade into a discomfort of disrepute.
All who seek to draw close to Jesus must pass through His trial by fire, His painful pressing upon our weaknesses. For prechristians, this crucible of confrontation is called conviction. The Holy Spirit convinces us of our rebellion and sin.
For Christians, the challenge of drawing closer to Jesus in the boat entails passing through the trial of being willing to take up a cross heavier than what we have lifted thus far. All who wish to come nearer to Jesus must deal with the pain of releasing sins yet retained. The call to draw nigh is the call to fuller surrender.
When the Holy Spirit probes, the pain can be acute. Often our place of weakness, the aspect not yet fully yielded, has become a stronghold within us that we love dearly. The fact it remains is evidence of its hold upon our affections.
Many times, the place we are weakest is the very enclave we have built a huge protective hedge around. The very matter that has to be surgically removed for us to draw closer to God is often the very thing we decided long ago we were unwilling to deal with ourselves and, Heaven forgive us, to let God deal with.
Listen. Think. Consider the idiocy of some of our ways. Is it not obvious that something is incredibly wrong when we can be impervious when hearing of man’s inhumanity to man, yet explode when a preacher calls our anger a sin?
Something is wrong when we can hear of poor people in need and be unmoved, but leave in a rage when the pastor says we need to tithe. Something is wrong when we say we are concerned about the moral collapse of our country, yet get mad when someone preaches against our use of pornography on the internet.
The issue that makes us angry when confronted about it, that stirs our blood pressure, that causes our face to flush–right there is the problem we need to deal with. If Jesus were to appear, this is the very thing He would talk to us about.
A final thought–Jesus did not reject this man. He simply forced the scribe to face his weakness, and then left him to make his own choice. The confronting words of Jesus do not discourage true-hearted souls. To the devoted, words of rebuke about their weaknesses stoke the fires of fervor and commitment. The true blue are an open book. They want God to write right upon their wrong hearts. Straightforward, confrontational, Biblical challenges deter only the half-hearted.