Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:20c “. . .the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
The scribe sought success, but Jesus must be followed primarily for who He is, not for what He gives. We come to Jesus, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do. Only secondarily should blessings and benefits be considered.
The scribe sought security, but Jesus was dependent on the hospitality of the thankful. Any who live on people’s gratitude always face an uncertain livelihood.
Jesus was imperial, but penniless. Earth’s supreme Architect began His earthly life in a borrowed stable, lived in borrowed homes, slept in borrowed beds, and ended in a borrowed tomb. A child, hearing our text, sweetly said, “If I had been there, I would have given Him my pillow”–a precious sentiment. How about giving Him here and now a pure, undefiled, and totally yielded heart to dwell in?
Jesus’ austere lifestyle serves as a huge contrast and rebuke to ours. He was contented with little, we are discontented with much. Our Master showed us the vanity of earthly possessions. He found total fulfillment and lived the greatest life ever, totally apart from stuff. He said with His lips, and proved with His life, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (LK 12:15). We say Jesus is our example, but we must beware the inconsistency of claiming to imitate Him while at the same time clutching with all our might every possession we can, including the piddling ten percent He asks us to return to Him.
Matt. 8:21 “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first
to go and bury my father.”
A scribe was not the only one experiencing a conflict of soul as Jesus headed for a boat to depart. Another in the crowd betrayed with his own words an inner sense of God’s call to follow. This man knew he also ought to go with Jesus, but his level of commitment was diminished by a perceived family obligation.
“Let me first go bury my father” did not mean his dad was lying a corpse. In Israel, where embalming was not practiced, the warm climate required burial to be done on the day of death. This man’s words were a proverbial way of saying he felt obligated to care for his parents as long as they lived. He was saying he would follow Jesus someday, after his father dies, which may not happen for many years.
Matt. 8:22a “But Jesus said unto him, Follow me;. . .”
Jesus bluntly refused the man’s offer to come later. We can safely say Jesus would have blessed the man’s departure if the need had been legitimate, and if He was confident the man truly would come back. Jesus, who can read human hearts and the future, knew if the man did not follow now, he would never follow at all.
Faced with Jesus’ candid rejoinder, the man is forced to choose. Jesus is first in his hopes and dreams, first in his excitement and fervor, and first in his long-range plans for the future. However, he has to come to grips with whether or not he will put Christ first in everything, including in time, now, in the present.
Many of us plan to do great things for God after we retire. Others of us are going on mission once the children are grown and gone. Several of us intend to become vitally involved in ministry when our hectic schedule slows down.
It is amazing and sad how we can adeptly put Christ first in various compartments of our life and thus think we have made Him first in all of our life. The time-worn phrase remains true, Jesus is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.
God’s claims are absolute, which is another way of saying they are immediate. Respond quickly to His holy promptings. A dear brother from Kenya recently moved to our city for graduate study after two years of study in Mobile, Alabama. While there he endeared himself to a church which contacted us, commended him to us, and asked us to help him. He came to my office this past Thursday at 4 pm to visit. At 5:15 pm I called Steve and Carol Jameson, whose Sunday School class had expressed interest in him. I told them his apartment was totally empty and he had no car. At 8:45 pm they called to tell me their class, along with Stacey Newton, our Care and Share minister, had furnished his apartment and provided him a car. I passed the good news on to Mobile. The first word in their email response was, “Hallelujah!” It is a heavenly, Holy Ghost, experience to walk, yea to run, quickly through a door God opens and to see the delights awaiting us behind it.
Don’t delay. Postponement of duty often equals rejection. Later contains a potential never. Jesus knew, after this man’s father was buried, some other important duty would spring up. An unwilling heart never lacks a plausible excuse.
Procrastination of duty is a serious matter. Ultimately, the only thing we have that we can truly give to God is the present moment. The future is not ours to give Him, but rather His to give us if He so desires. We do not own or rule tomorrow, and thus have no right to pass off onto it tasks which ought to be done today.
Delay is dangerous, for it is habit-forming. Good intentions, squelched over and over again, inoculate against actual accomplishment. Intent becomes a high of its own which salves the conscience. We keep on making resolutions, producing good intentions, offering excuses, saying, as it were, we have to bury our parents, “and so we go on until our dying day, when somebody else buries us” (Maclaren).
We all fight lethargy and inertia. Moments of holy impulse often come over us to lift us to a higher level of devotion and service, yet we stay the same, not acting on them. Unseized moments are a tragic loss. We intend to help, to be kind, to say an encouraging word, but the impulse fades, never acted on. There always seem to be reasonable excuses for not doing what really needs to be done now.
We claim we would do more things if we had a vacant space on our calendar, but the truth is, we would not. Our calendar does not control us. We determine every entry that is written on it. The problem is not our calendar, but us.
Taking up a cross to follow Jesus entails, by definition, making tough, painful decisions. We have to delete some activities we want to do in order to do other activities we ought to do. For the whole person to progress, certain parts must be repressed. “There will come in every man’s life the need for a sharp decision between conflicting allegiances. Life is full of harsh alternatives” (Maclaren).
My dearest brothers and sisters, I plead with us not to miss out on the opportunities afforded us by the God-ordained and heaven-sent missions and ministry revival sweeping among us. Opportunities to follow in Jesus’ steps abound.
People in other places, hearing of God’s stirring among us, yearn for it to happen in their churches. Would we nearby be oblivious to what others faraway seek? We are aghast when we hear of people living in Washington DC who have never visited the Lincoln Memorial, or in Arizona who have never seen the Grand Canyon, or in St. Louis who have never visited the Arch. It will be equally horrifying to have lived in the midst of what is happening among us, and someday to stand before Jesus and try to explain why we never took part in what He did here.