In this first of three sections of discipleship teachings, Jesus teaches the cost of discipleship and introduces himself as "The Son of Man"
Good morning! We are continuing in Matthew chapter 8 this morning.
Mike brought us through roughly half of this chapter last week, all the way through verse 17, so we’ll be picking up in verse 18 today.
Mike covered a lot of ground last week! We looked at three different healings that Jesus performed, and the significance of each.
And we were reminded that God is truly compassionate, and is the ultimate healer, and a major component of Jesus’s ministry was to heal people! He healed them physically, but much more importantly, those physical healings demonstrated his spiritual authority to heal them spiritually. To, as a human with divine authority, reconcile humanity with God. That’s what he came to do! And it’s that healing that is freely offered to all who choose to follow him.
As we come to our next few verses, we’ll see Jesus speak a bit more into those two concepts:
So, keep those two things in mind as we read our passage together.
Again, I know Mike covered a lot of ground, seventeen verses last week, so I’m going to make up for that by only covering five verses this week.
Usually I’m the one Mike is giving a hard time for tackling really long sections, but this time it seems to be the other way around ;-)
Matthew 8:18–23 CSB
18 When Jesus saw a large crowd around him, he gave the order to go to the other side of the sea. 19 A scribe approached him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 “Lord,” another of his disciples said, “first let me go bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” 23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.
Jesus sees that he has attracted a large crowd, and gives an “order,” a command to his disciples to take him across to the other side of the sea.
So, they would be going from the northern shores of Capernaum to the southeastern banks of Gadara, across what sea?
The Sea of Galilee.
There are other “seas” mentioned in scripture and that the Jews would have been familiar with, but in this section when Matthew talks about them crossing back and forth across “the sea” it’s referring to the Sea of Galilee.
Has anyone ever been to the Sea of Galilee?
I haven’t, so it’s hard for me to picture how big of a sea we’re dealing with here.
It’s much smaller than the Mediterranean Sea, which is right over there to the West. The Mediterranean is massive, and it’s what connects the Middle East to Europe and Africa, to Greece and Rome.
We’re NOT talking about crossing the Mediterranean Sea!
As it turns out, “Sea of Galilee” is actually a bit of a misnomer. When I think “sea” I think “ocean” and bodies of salt water. But the “sea” of Galilee is actually a large body of fresh water! It’s what we would probably call a “lake.” In fact, it does actually go by another name, “Lake Tiberias.”
So, now I’m picturing a lake, which is helpful, but lakes come in many different sizes!
We know it’s going to be much smaller than the Mediterranean Sea, but I was wondering if there might be any lakes near us that would compare in size. We have a lot of lakes in New York!
Just for reference, the Mediterranean Sea is 965,300 mi²! That’s huge!
Mediterranean Sea: 965,300 mi²
How big do you think Lake Ontario is?
Lake Ontario: 7,300 mi²
That’s a LOT smaller than the Mediterranean of course, but still pretty big! Have you ever been to Lake Ontario? Can you see across to the other side? Nope! You might be seeing the other side of a harbor, but you can’t see across the whole lake! Every now and then, on a very clear day, you might be able to glimpse a very thin strip of Canadian shoreline, but that’s it.
Do you think the Sea of Galilee is bigger or smaller than Lake Ontario?
Sea of Galilee: 64 mi²
It’s a LOT smaller! only 64 square miles! It’s 114th the size of Lake Ontario. But I still can’t really picture what a 114th of 7,300 square miles would look like, so that’s not all that helpful.
Can anyone think of another lake around here that’s a lot smaller than Ontario but still pretty good size? What’s the next biggest lake in the area do you think?
I thought of Lake Bonaparte. Anyone ever been to Lake Bonaparte? That’s a nice little lake, MUCH smaller than Ontario, but big enough to take boats out on, and do some fishing, and it can get crowded in the summer, but there’s usually a good amount of room to spread out.
How do you think it compares to the Sea of Galilee?
Lake Bonaparte: 2 mi²
Turns out we went TOO small! The Sea of Galilee is actually 32 times larger than Bonaparte! Ok, so somewhere between Ontario and Bonaparte. Are any other lakes up here fit that bill?
Turns out there are a couple that are pretty close:
Oneida Lake: 79.8 mi²
Seneca Lake: 66.87 mi²
Seneca Lake is one of the finger lakes, so it’s long and skinny, but square mileage is actually pretty close!
Oneida Lake is a little bit bigger, and it’s not quite as skinny, so it’s really in a similar range as Galilee. I’ve been to Oneida Lake a few times, so it’s helpful for me to be able to picture that. If you’ve never seen any of these lakes, then sorry if this hasn’t been helpful at all! But maybe you should get out some more this summer :-) If you’re new to the area, find someone who knows good places to go and plan a family outing, with another family even!
Anyway, Jesus wants to cross the Sea of Galilee, and this wouldn’t be an all day trip but it’s also not a skip across a pond either. It would have taken about two hours of sailing time, so I imagine they would have had to do some preparation to get the boat ready for travel, and make sure they had everything they needed.
Jesus gives the command to cross the sea in verse 18, and they get into the boat in verse 23.
In between those verses, Jesus has two different but similar encounters with two different people.
Both of them speak to Jesus, and want to follow him, and Jesus answers them both differently, but with a common denominator he’s addressing.
These two replies from Jesus might come across as a little odd, or a little blunt. They don’t necessarily make a lot of sense on the first pass. This is one of those passages you might read and then go “wait, what?”
A scribe, a religious leader, comes up to Jesus and says “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go!”
And Jesus says “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
One of the most significant aspects of what Jesus just said is that he referred to himself as “The Son of Man.” That’s a really strange way to refer to yourself, and it would have sounded strange then, too! But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Why would Jesus bring up foxes and birds?
Jesus wants to make it very clear to this eager scribe that following him will involve sacrificing creature comforts. The comforts of having a home, which is something even foxes and birds enjoy!
Does that mean every Jesus follower today must sell their home and live a nomadic lifestyle? Of course not!
Some people God may take all over the world, moving every few years.
Some people might move around even more frequently, and others may have the same home their whole life!
In that particular moment, those people who would truly commit to following Jesus, literally following him to be close to him, physically, and to learn from him, they were committing to being constantly on the move. It’s as simple as that.
Today, we have the Holy Spirit to connect us to Jesus all the time, so we don’t have to physically go anywhere to “follow” him in that sense, though he may mobilize us to serve each other and serve him.
But the underlying principle, that following Jesus inevitably involves sacrifice, is still just as relevant. Whether it’s your home, or your car, or your money, or your pride, or your comfort, or your reputation, or your freedom, or even your life.
Jesus has a very different answer for the next guy, the disciple who says “first let me go bury my father.” But he’s applying the same principle.
Jesus says “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
This certainly can come across as sounding harsh, but there are also some cultural nuances that are important to understand.
For us, funeral and burial arrangements can sometimes be drawn out, but usually don’t take more than a week or two. For the Jews, the process was much more involved and would take a whole year to complete. There were things that would happen immediately, then there was a year-long waiting period, and the oldest son would complete the process after that year was completed.
The command to honor your father and mother was taken very seriously in this context, so the burial rituals were held as sacred.
If this guy was standing in front of Jesus, there’s no way his father had just died in the last few days. Most likely, he was somewhere in that year-long waiting period, and wanted to wait until that was over until he fully committed to following Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, the cultural rituals were very different, but what Jesus was implying was extremely profound. He was claiming to have an even greater importance, a higher claim to priority than even this man’s own parents.
Other than perhaps an immediate family, one’s parents would have the highest priority in a good Jewish man’s life, and certainly the most honor, except for God himself.
In claiming a higher priority than this man’s parents, Jesus was claiming divine authority, and asserting that he was worth abandoning even family expectations in order to follow him.
Again, it Jesus is making it clear, in that moment, that to truly follow him will involve sacrifice. That there is a cost to the commitment, and that you’re either in or your out of the boat. He’s presenting them with a decision: will they choose Jesus? Or will they choose comfort? Or family expectations?
In both cases, they must choose to sacrifice a part of their past in order to choose a future with Jesus.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus modeled a life of self-sacrificial service, to the point of sacrificing his own life for the sake of the rest of humanity.
And we must also be willing to sacrifice our past to choose a future with Jesus.
IF we are unwilling to physically leave our homes and go somewhere else, whether it’s across town or the country or the world, then perhaps our home is in fact an idol in our heart. That’s not to say we shouldn’t value our homes or be thankful when God allows us to settle and get rooted in a community; he can certainly use families who establish themselves in communities over generations! But we also should be willing to be transplanted wherever God wants to use us.
IF we are unwilling to prioritize God over being accepted by our biological family, then perhaps that earthly sense of belonging is more important to us than our adoption into God’s family. Of course, we should love and invest in our biological families and tell them about Jesus when we can, but if we’re forced to make a decision between loyalty to our earthly parents and loyalty to our heavenly Father, it’s the latter that bears eternal consequence. For some people, that is a painful sacrifice indeed.
These are just two specific situations that Jesus addressed. This concept applies to many other situations than just these, too.
I’ll bring up a couple that can be a little touchy for us as Americans, in our culture.
If the concept of “freedom” more important to us than loving God and loving others, then perhaps “freedom” is an idol in our heart. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value our freedom, and champion our freedom and the freedom of others when possible. But if that’s a higher priority than God, then our priorities are off. Jesus gave up his freedom. Paul gave up his freedom. Peter, John, Stephen, eventually they even died for unrelentingly following Jesus. It can be easy to complain about the trajectory of society or of governments, but it’s healthy to also remember all we have to be thankful for, and we certainly ought to be thankful for how much freedom we do enjoy.
On a related note, it’s one thing to have a healthy sense of pride in your country, it’s another to have an unhealthy obsession with patriotism, that really becomes nationalism, or tribalism, or elitism, even racism, all of which are mindsets that Jesus came to dismantle.
Israel certainly expected a much more nationalistic messiah, didn’t they? They expected the messiah to restore Israel to their former glory and raise them up as better and more powerful than all the other nations. Instead Jesus introduced a kingdom of inclusion for all tribes and nations.
Again, it’s nice to be able to feel some pride in your communities and your country and honor your heritage. But if you worship your country, or worship your heritage, or worship your government or your leaders, it’s an idol in your heart.
To clarify, there’s a distinction between being willing to sacrifice, or adjust your priorities, and being totally apathetic. The four things I just brought up, Home, Family, Freedom, Patriotism…those are good things! And I think in general, our culture does care about those things!
Don’t those kind of sound like classic American buzzwords? Home, Family, Freedom Patriotism...
Jesus addressed two of those explicitly in this passage: home and family. I brought up freedom and patriotism, and obviously in a different context, but those were values that would have been on the forefront of Jesus’s disciples’ minds too.
These are all wonderful things to value in the right context! It’s good to care about those things, because they affect people!
You should care about people and the things that affect them.
But those are just four of very many good concepts, good pursuits, that we need to be careful not to idolize over being part of God’s family, following Jesus, and pursuing active participation in his kingdom.
They can all go hand-in-hand, so long as we seek first the kingdom!
Sacrifice is not apathy. To the contrary, it is caring enough, having enough compassion for your fellow human that you are willing to be a part of the solution.
One more crucial distinction I’d like to make is between self-sacrifice and self-destruction. Being willing to give of yourself does NOT mean that you should not take care of yourself. Remember, to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to love yourself.
Running yourself too thin, not taking care of your health and burning out mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically? That’s not self-sacrifice, that’s self-destruction. Even if you are DOING all good things, if what you DO for God is more important than simply BEING who God made you to be, then your priorities have gotten crossed, and your work has become your idol, something that’s controlling you, rather than a product of who you are in Christ.
Alright, so becoming a Jesus follower requires sacrifice. That was the first of the two things I mentioned this passage was about.
We need to talk a little about that second thing, which is how Jesus is claiming divine authority in this passage. It all comes down to this phrase that Jesus used to refer to himself in verse 20.
He calls himself “the Son of Man.”
This term is used 28 times throughout the book of Matthew, and is frequently found throughout the rest of the gospel accounts as well, almost always where Jesus is speaking in reference to himself.
The phrase itself would not be totally foreign to his audience. It was a fairly common phrase in Hebrew and Aramaic that simply means “a human” like “son of Adam” or “A descendent of Adam.” We would just say “A human.”
The phrase “son of man” is found 93 times in Ezekiel and simply refers to the prophet’s humanity. Here’s just one example:
Ezekiel 1:28–2:3 CSB
28 The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the Lord’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking. 1 He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.” 2 As he spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and I listened to the one who was speaking to me. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebellious pagans who have rebelled against me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this day.
In this case, it’s a non-human entity saying “listen, human, I’m sending you to do something!”
Where this phrase really gets interesting, and why it’s so important that Jesus intentionally referred to himself SO often as “Son of Man” is when we hyperlink it to the book of Daniel. This section of Daniel was written in Aramaic, so it’s not the same exact Hebrew phrase as we’d see in Ezekiel, or the Greek in Matthew, but Aramaic is likely what Jesus and his contemporaries were most familiar with anyway, so hearing this phrase would be an immediate hyperlink to Daniel chapter seven.
Daniel 7:9–15 CSB
9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool. His throne was flaming fire; its wheels were blazing fire. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands upon thousands served him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was convened, and the books were opened. 11 “I watched, then, because of the sound of the arrogant words the horn was speaking. As I continued watching, the beast was killed and its body destroyed and given over to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was removed, but an extension of life was granted to them for a certain period of time. 13 I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. 14 He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. 15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was deeply distressed within me, and the visions in my mind terrified me.
WHOA! I know this is apocalyptic literature that can be a little hard to follow, but this is a profound vision, and this is just the tail end of it…we don’t have time to go through the whole thing right now, but this whole vision has left him terrified! Unsettled! Alarmed! And this last bit of chapter 7 is part of it.
I think what’s really terrifying is the beasts that are described, but what’s shocking is that these great and terrible beasts are displaced by the human who comes with the clouds of heaven, approaches Yahweh, and is given authority, glory, and a kingdom, so that every people, nation, and language should serve him. This goes way beyond just Israel.
And then we get some Davidic sounding language…” his dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.”
That sounds a lot like the promise God made to David!
All signs in this passage point to this human being the Messiah!
But this human isn’t just making Israel great again, he’s becoming king of the universe, displacing the tyrannical beasts, and setting everything in its place.
But that’s Yahweh’s role! A human can’t do that!
And yet that’s what Daniel is seeing. He’s seeing a terrifying future, but also a hope for the future. For someone to put an end to oppression forever.
And that’s who Jesus is claiming to be.
The “Son of Man.”
Again, that phrase is used many times just to refer to a “human” but only in Daniel to refer to a human in such a significant context.
In the New Testament, Jesus uses this phrase so often as to force us to go back and ask “why?” Why would he not just call himself the messiah? Or Yahweh?
There are themes we can find all in Daniel 7, but also throughout the Old Testament and other Jewish apocalyptic literature that Jesus and his disciples would have been familiar with, which specifically tie into this phrase “Son of Man.”
In particular, Jesus’s “Son of Man” sayings reflect the connection between the themes of suffering, enthronement, and authority that all show up in Daniel’s vision, and there are four ways in which Jesus uses “Son of Man” language throughout the gospels.
This last point is confirmed by Stephen, the martyr, who died for his faith in Jesus. Just before he died, he spoke about a vision:
Acts 7:56 CSB
56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” And later, we get some significant descriptions of the enthroned Jesus from John in Revelation.
The Lexham Bible Dictionary “Son of Man” in the Rest of the New Testament
In Revelation, John twice describes Jesus as “one like a son of man” (Rev 1:13; 14:14). The initial reference evokes the imagery of Dan 7: woolen hair, white raiment, and blazing fire (Dan 7:9–10; Rev 1:13–15). John uses language employed in Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days to describe Jesus. He links Jesus to the figure in Daniel as the one enthroned at the right hand of the Father—as God’s equal. His authority to harvest the grapes of the earth flows from the authority given to the figure in Daniel who shares the throne of God (Rev 14:14).
You will see Jesus continue to refer to himself as “The Son of Man,” in the third person, nonetheless, throughout the rest of the book of Matthew. Almost exclusively he uses this term to refer to himself. And I think this is completely intentional. Only a total weirdo or someone with divine authority would be choosing to talk this way, and it’s going to become more and more evident that Jesus is…perhaps a bit of a weirdo...but certainly someone with divine authority, and every time he uses that phrase, it’s keying into that claim.
So there is a profound theological claim being made by Jesus in this passage, but I want to circle back around to the practical point Jesus was making when answering these two men. It’s because of the theological truth of who Jesus is that the practical sacrifice is worth it.
I would summarize it by saying that to follow Jesus is to be willing to commit to a life of sacrifice. But I would qualify that by saying that a life of sacrifice is not a life of apathy, or of self-destruction. It is a life of passion, compassion, love, and care.
That’s the life of sacrifice that Jesus modeled, and that we are called to. And that’s the type of sacrifice Jesus was asking the scribe and the disciple to make.
The scribe was perhaps promising too much…over-committing…”I’ll go ANYWHERE you go!” he said…without fully realizing what he was getting into!
The other disciple was perhaps not committed enough…just looking for an excuse to procrastinate…put off really getting in the boat with Jesus, or afraid of what others might think of him if he did.
All of us will face a similar decision at least once in our lives, and we must choose whether we are willing to abandon our own desires or fear or pride or whatever else it is we need to lay down in order to unburden ourselves and enter that narrow gate.
Jesus is the gate, and he opened it by allowing his body to be broken for us and his blood to be spilled for us.