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The Miracles of the Kingdom, Part 2: Jesus Controls the Physical Universe

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 2, 1997

Matthew 8:18-27

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter eight.  The Lord Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew chapters 5 to 7.  The words of life are set forth there.  In Matthew chapters 8 and 9, as we have already begun our study of them, we see the Lord Jesus performing miracles, attesting signs, signs that set forth the truth of his claims and reinforce the emphasis on who he is and so by words and deeds, the Lord Jesus is shown to be the messiah, the Christ, the son of the living God.  Today, we turn our attention to Matthew 8:18-27.   It is here we see Jesus evidencing His control of the entire physical universe.  Hear God's holy word:

Matthew 8:18-27 

Father, we would be instructed by Your word of truth.  Teach us, we pray, of faith and of discipleship.  Teach us about the Lord Jesus.  Open our eyes by Thy Spirit that we might behold wonderful things from Your word and, by Your Spirit, apply this word to each of us in our own particular circumstances.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

 

I. The Lord Jesus wants us to count the cost of discipleship (18-20)
In this great passage in which the Lord Jesus stills the sea, we find three very important instructions from the Lord about discipleship, about what it means to have faith in Him, about what it means to be a follower of Him, and I'd like to direct your attention to those truths for a few moments.  The first truth that you see in verses 18 through 20.  In that passage, we learn that the Lord wants us to count the cost of discipleship.  Faith, you see, counts the cost and pays the price.  In that passage, we read that the Lord Jesus saw a crowd around him and gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea.  And then a scribe came to Hm and said to Hm, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 

We don't know exactly why the Lord Jesus determined at that point to cross to the other side of the sea and continue His ministry there, but it may well be like in other places; He wanted a break from the attention.  We know times in which the crowds pressed around Him, and the Lord Jesus would withdraw to a solitary place, sometimes to pray.  It may well be that He wanted a solitary time on that boat crossing to the other side so that the crowds couldn't be pressing in on Him.  There could have been other reasons.  It may well have been to keep the enthusiasm of these crowds who had already seen His miracles from going too high.  The Lord Jesus knew that He had certain things that He had to accomplish during His ministry, and these people had seen Him perform miracles, and no doubt their enthusiasm for His message and His work would have been spreading around Galilee by this time, and it may well be that the Lord Jesus didn't want that enthusiasm to get out of hand, and so He withdrew to another place to minister.  It could have been that He withdrew in order to test the zeal of the more faithful of those who were following and listening to Him.  We know that huge crowds gathered and listened to Jesus' ministry in Galilee, but it would have been relatively easy to walk outside of one's village and hear Him preach just outside of that village.  It would have been rather more difficult to follow Him when he had gone to the other side of Galilee, Into the land of Gad, to preach.  You would really have had to be a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ to make that hike to hear Him preach!  He may well have intended that as a test of those who were truly committed to Him, to see if they would follow.  Or, it may simply have been that it was the Lord Jesus' job to preach the gospel in all the land, and as He had preached on that side of Galilee, now he was going to Gad, on the other side, so that the word of God would have been heard at every place through out the land of Israel.  We don't know exactly why.  The text doesn't give us anything, but to tell us that when that crowd crushed in on Christ, He told the disciples to ‘get in the boats, we're going to the other side.’  And so they began to make their way. 

But before they left the shore, a scribe came to Christ.  A scribe!  You remember what a scribe is - a scribe was a scholar, a learned man.  He was learned in the law of God.  His job was to teach the law to the people of God.  This scribe approaches Christ respectfully, calling him “rabbi”  “master,” “teacher.”  This scribe acknowledged that the Lord Jesus Christ was a teacher of the law, one who was suitable to expound the word of God, and he tells the Lord Jesus that he wants to follow Him.  In fact he says, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever you go.”  This scribe is ready to follow Christ.  He is resolute in his profession of being ready to follow Christ.  He doesn't say, “Jesus, I think that I'm ready to follow You.”  He says, “I will follow you wherever you go.”   And apparently, by that phrase, he means that he is ready not just to follow Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but he is ready to follow Him in all His journeys, to become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we had been there - if we had been amongst His disciples - I'm sure we would have been excited.  “You mean a scribe is saying that he will follow our Lord?”   We know that there were many scribes, and eventually some of the Pharisees, who followed the Lord Jesus Christ, but early in His ministry that must have been exciting news to His disciples.  Scribes are coming to Him, and I am sure His disciples would have wanted the Lord Jesus to have eagerly embraced this scribe, and say ‘Oh, it's wonderful that you are going to follow Me.  Come along and come to the other side.’  But the Lord Jesus says something very surprising. 

The Lord Jesus, instead of welcoming this scribe, the Lord Jesus, instead of praising this scribe, the Lord Jesus throws an obstacle up before the scribe and He tells him, in the words of verse 20 that “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Our Lord tests this scribe's commitment to Him, and He tests it by reminding him of the poverty and the humiliation that He, our Lord, was enduring on our behalf.  The Lord Jesus is concerned that this scribe is a too-eager disciple who has not counted the cost of what it means to be a follower of the Lord.  Jesus tests this man's commitment.  He asks him to deliberate, to think, to calculate what it will cost him to follow Him.  We might expect Him to welcome this bold commitment to service, but the Lord Jesus is wiser and kinder and better than are we, and He does not allow a man simply to make a profession in the heat of the moment that he doesn't realize the significance of.  The Lord Jesus reminds this man that the very humblest creatures in God's creation have housing provided for them - fox holes, birdnests - but that the very Son of Man, sent from heaven by God, does not have a place to lay His head that He can call His own.  It is entirely possible that this scribe was used to a little bit of wealth and a little bit of ease.  Scribes were respected people in their culture and they might have done quite well, quite comfortably they might have lived.  And this scribe might not have contemplated that to follow this Teacher, to follow this Rabbi, that to follow this One, was going to cost him that world's ease.  And the Lord Jesus warns him that ‘to follow Me is to follow Me into suffering, to follow Me is to follow Me into service, to follow Me is to follow Me in sacrifice, to follow Me is to follow Me in self denial.’  The Lord Jesus makes it clear to this man that discipleship after Him requires self denial, it requires sacrifice, it requires service, it requires suffering. 

The application is obvious, isn't it? Salvation is free by the grace of God.  Salvation is free based on the work of Christ, not on our own merit.  But as Billy Graham has said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything that we have.”  The Lord Jesus makes it clear that He will have no disciples who are not ready to pay the price.  Commitment to Christ is too important to make without deliberation and without awareness of what it costs us.  Matthew Henry once said, “There are many resolutions for religion, produced by sudden pangs of conviction and taken up without due consideration.  They prove abortive and come to nothing; soon ripe, soon rotten.  They that take up a profession in a pang will throw it off again in a breath.”  Our commitment to Christ is not something to be done simply in the pang of the moment.  It is to be done with a realization of how serious it is to say, “Yes, I will walk the way of the Lord, as a disciple of the Lord.” 

The Lord Jesus, in his answer to this scribe, reminds us of the fact that He has suffered for us - Long before the cross.  Our Lord Jesus is suffering for us today.  When he came into this world, as the old Appalachian Christmas Carol reminds us, “He didn't come into this world a king with a crown and a castle, and an army.  He came into this world in poverty - in obscurity - and He did that for us.”  That was not an accident; it wasn't an accident of God's providence: that's a contradiction in terms, isn't it?  An accident of God's providence.  The Lord Jesus' poverty, His humiliation, His low estate was something planned by God, the Father, for you, for your benefit and it was something willingly taken up by the Lord Jesus for you.  When the Lord Jesus chose to be poor — and not many people choose to be poor, do they? — The Lord Jesus chose to be poor for your sakes, for by His poverty you might become rich, heirs to eternal blessings, to the riches of God. 

Interesting, isn't it, how the Lord Jesus may be, even in His answer to the scribe, protecting him from his besetting sin.  We all have prevailing, besetting sins in our lives, sins that we have a hard time getting rid of, temptations that are always around.  The scribe, we've already mentioned, may have been a person who was tempted by worldly ease and wealth and influence, prestige; and the Lord Jesus knows that to follow Him is going to cost this man everything.  Literally, its going to cost him his career.  He's not going to be able to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and still be a respected scribe amongst his friends.  And, the Lord Jesus is kind and loving enough to tell that man that before he commits himself.  ‘My son, if you follow Me, you'll lose everything in the eyes of the world, but you'll gain everything in God.  But, make sure you know what you are doing before you make that commitment to Me.’ The Lord Jesus makes it clear to us that He will accept nothing - no one - for His followers that aim at worldly advantages.  We must aim for His kingdom and for heaven. 

By the way, I might mention in passing, that this is the first appearance of the word, Son of Man  in the gospels.  It is a glorious phrase - the Son of Man.   Christ uses that title in reference to Himself more than any other title.  We read the passage today from which the title comes, and if you have your Bibles close at hand, I would ask you to turn back to Daniel,  and particularly verses 13 and 14.  We read here,  “I kept looking in the night visions and behold with the clouds of heaven, one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him, and to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” 

That passage from Daniel is the passage which the Lord Jesus quoted in reference to Himself on the night in which He was delivered up to the high priest for questioning; the night before He was crucified.  You see it quoted in Matthew chapter 26:53 .  I’d invite you to turn with me there.  Jesus is being questioned by the high priest.  The high priest is trying to pry out of Him an answer to the question, “Are you the Messiah?”  He wants Jesus to say, “Yes, I am the Messiah,”  so that he can condemn Him.  And so he says in verse 63, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.”  In verse 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself, nevertheless I tell you hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  The Lord Jesus quotes from Daniel 7:13-14, and says, ‘I am the one about whom Daniel spoke.  I am the One who will come on clouds of glory.  I am the one who sits on the right hand of God the Father, almighty, ruling heaven and earth.’  The Lord Jesus uses this glorious title, “Son of Man.”  And in the gospels, it is used both to point to Christ's humiliation (notice it’s the Son of Man, the one who sits at the right hand who has no place to lay His head), it points to His humiliation on our behalf, but it also points to His exaltation, for He is the one who will come one day to judge men and angels.  So we learn here in verses 18 and 20, that the Lord Jesus wants us to count the cost of discipleship when we commit to Him.   

II. The Lord Jesus wants us to acknowledge Him as our first priority
There's a second thing we learn from this passage, and we learn it in vv. 21 and 22, and that is that the Lord Jesus wants us to acknowledge Him as our first priority.  We are to acknowledge Him as our first priority.  Faith must not only count the cost and pay the price, but faith must recognize the priority of the Lord Jesus, the priority of His kingdom.  Another disciple came to Him, we are told in verse 21, and said, “Lord, permit me to go first and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me and allow the dead to bury the dead.”  This is a surprising, a shocking passage.  First we have a disciple who is too eager to follow Christ.  He's so eager that he hasn't stopped to think what it's going to cost him.  Now here's a disciple who is unready to follow Christ.  He's got all sorts of reasons why he needs to put off that following for right now.  He comes to the Lord, and he says, “Lord, I need to go home to help bury my father.”  His father was either almost to the point of death or had just died and it was this son's responsibility to bury his father, and he came to the Lord with surely a reasonable request, in any other circumstance, a reasonable request to say ‘Shouldn't I fulfill my responsibly as a son and go bury my father?’ 

I want you to understand that Jesus' answer is not insensitive to this man's broken heart.  Surely his heart is broken at the loss of his father.  Jesus' answer is not insensitive to our responsibilities to our families.  Jesus is not saying, ‘Forget funerals.’  That's not what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is not even alleviating his disciples of responsibilities to parents.  He upholds that responsibility elsewhere.  Jesus is emphasizing that there is nothing in this life, even the death of a father, that takes priority over Him.  Nothing!  Think of it, friends.  God in the flesh was standing before this disciple and saying, “Follow Me.”  There's no ‘but’ that can go after that phrase, “Follow Me” —- but, but— there's no ‘but’  that squares up to that.  When God in the flesh says, “Follow Me,” there's nothing but ‘Yes, I follow.’  The Lord Jesus was stressing to his disciples that He must be the priority in their lives.  Even legitimate things, even legitimate things like the care of the funeral of a beloved father, even legitimate things can come between us and our discipleship.  It can come between us in our relationship with Christ.  It can come between us and our following Him and our fellowship with Him.  Jesus says, “No, I will not be second to anything.  Let the dead bury their dead,” He says.  “Let the spiritually dead care for the physically dead.  Son, you're alive.  You come and you follow Me.  We have a message to preach.”  

Is Jesus' Lordship evident in our lives?  Have we answered the call, “Follow Me.”  “Many are hindered,” Matthew Henry says,  “Many are hindered from and in the way of serious godliness by an over concern for their families and relations.”  These lawful things can undo us all in our duty to God, be neglected or postponed under the color of discharging our debts to the world.  And so here we must be on a double guard. 

What are the evidences of Christ's Lordship in our lives?  Do we desire to read His word, to study His word, to hear His word, to feast on His word?  Do we desire to be conformed to His image?  Do we desire to be filled afresh with His spirit?  Do we desire to love His people, to serve His people?  Are His people our people?  Even though they are different promised culturally, even though they are different promised economically, even though they're different promised in so many ways?  Are His people our people?  Do they take priority in our lives?  Do we desire to serve them?  Today we have an opportunity to show His Lordship in another way.  We have an opportunity to show His Lordship with our money in the year to come.  What does our giving say about the Lordship of Christ in our lives.  Where does our giving say our priority is?  Do we look at what we have from God and say, “Lord, this is from You.  It's Yours.  You have graciously, You've generously, You've even extravagantly given to me and now I want to use what You've given to me strategically for the kingdom.  It's yours.  It will not be my master.  I will master it and I will use it for Your cause.”  Our Lord made discipleship hard and lost many prospective followers, because He called them to a pilgrimage, not to a parade.  He called them to a fight, not to a frolic.  Christ's disciples have been called to the fight.  Are you there with him as your Lord?         

III.  The Lord Jesus wants us to trust Him in all circumstances
There is a final thing that we learn in this passage, my friends.  We learn it in verses 23 through 27.  The Lord Jesus teaches us there that He wants us to trust Him in all circumstances.  The Lord Jesus wants His disciples to trust Him in all circumstances because faith not only counts the cost and pays the price, faith not only recognizes the priority of Christ and His kingdom, but faith rests on Christ, not on good circumstances. 

These men were experienced fishermen.  Surely they had faced storms on the Sea of Galilee before.  I am told - I've never been there - but I am told that these kinds of storms come rather suddenly and frequently on the Sea of Galilee because of where it is located.   The cool air comes rushing down from the mountains above and hits the warm air, and violent storms break out frequently, apparently, on the Sea of Galilee.  These fishermen surely must have been used to these, but you can imagine how violent this storm is because these men - out in their fishing boats,  and they had been on the Sea of Galilee many times - they feared for their lives.  The waves are crashing over this boat and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was not a sailor, but the son of a carpenter, is asleep in the stern.  This shows you what a clear conscious can give you even in the middle of a storm. 

And these fishermen come to the Lord Jesus Christ, and they say, “Lord, save us! We're going to die!”  The Lord Jesus Christ rebukes His disciples and then He does something astounding.   He rebukes the storm.  And something more astounding happens: the storm ceases!  We're told not only does the wind cease, but the waves cease! Things don't work that way, friends.  The winds cease and then the waves gradually die down.  That's how a storm abates.  But we're told that when the Lord Jesus Christ rebukes the wind and says, “Be still,” that the winds and the waves cease.  You see, He is sovereign.  The Lord Jesus, like the Lord God of Israel, spoken of in Psalm 89, vv. 8 and 9, who speaks and the seas are made to be still, the Lord Jesus speaks because He rules nature. 

You see, my friends, this is a testimony to the sovereign deity of Christ.  Even the forces of nature obey Christ's word.  The disciples looked at one another and said, “What kind of a man is this who commands the winds to cease?”  Precisely, that is the point.  This isn't just an ordinary man, this isn't just a godly prophet, this isn't just a wise man who knew a lot about the word of God and has walked with Him for many years.  This is the very Son of God.  He controls nature.  You follow Him.  You bow down.  You worship Him.  You trust Him.  Now we can stand back, can't we, and say, “Oh, those disciples!  Can you imagine: the Lord Jesus Himself is there with them in the boat, and what are they doing?  They're not trusting Him.  He's just called them.  He's called them to serve as His disciples, and now they're fearful that somehow His will is going to be frustrated.”   But we do it, too, don't we? In good times, our discipleship seems easy, but then the world comes crashing around our ears, and we start crying out to God, “Lord, what's happening?  Save us, we're going to perish.  Your plan's going to be foiled.  Your people are going to be undone.  Your will's being thwarted.”  But this passage is a reminder that faith in Christ means lifting our eyes above the difficult circumstances of life and trusting in Him.         

Ed Hartman, our dear friend and minister of First Presbyterian Church of Kosciusko, lost his dear wife - Amy - last year.  Ed told some of his friends once before her death, “I know that God will heal Amy, or He will do something better.”  That is faith in the midst of a storm, and that is the faith which Christ calls for all of His disciples to have in Him.  Shall we pray.

Oh, Lord, we believe.  Help our unbelief.  We ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

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