Matthew 8:18-23 – Three Lessons on Discipleship

A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 11 Dec 2011


8:18 But Jesus, seeing [many] crowd[s] around Him, demanded to go away into the [area] beyond.

8:19 And one scribe came up saying to him,

                        “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you happen to be going away.”

            8:20 And Jesus says to him,

                        “The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests,

                        but the Son of Man does not. Where shall He recline His head?”

8:21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, first permit me to go and bury my father.”

            8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Keep following me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

8:23 And when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.

Except for this translation, all other English Bible quotes are from the NASB.

v.18 - Lesson 1: The Problem of Popularity

8:18 But Jesus, seeing [many] crowd[s] around Him, demanded to go away into the [area] beyond.

Mat 8:18  ᾿Ιδὼν δὲ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς [πολλοὺς-א,B,f1] ὄχλους περὶ αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσεν ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὸ πέραν.

·         The swelling of the crowd naturally drawn by the supernatural healings seems to be the reason for Jesus’ wish to “get out of Dodge.”

·         ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὸ πέραν Most English translations interpret Jesus’ command/orders as crossing to the “other side” of the Sea of Galilee, although this is interpreted more from the context of the ensuing passage rather than from the actual words which Matthew records in Greek, which seem to be more to the effect of, “let’s go yonder.” Not specifically anywhere, but just “away from here.”

·         But wouldn’t it have been better for Him to stay where the people were so that more people would hear His teaching?

·         There were many suffering, hurting people there in the city who needed the comfort and healing of Jesus’ touch! He has a special gift of healing; He should have used it to stay on and heal everyone until there were no more sick people, right?

·         Why on earth leave when things were just getting started?

·         I submit to you that Jesus had a priority, and that was to make disciples. He knew that if He stayed with the crowds, He wouldn’t be able to make the progress necessary in training His disciples to lead the church after He ascended into heaven. He wanted them to follow Him through the next lesson rather than stagnate in the glory of the last lesson in the discipleship process.

·         Now, there is a balance here:

o       There is a place for popular ministry – for connecting with a lot of people at once.

o       Jesus obviously made that part of His ministry, but He didn’t let the attraction of public acclaim pull Him out of balance in His ministry.

o       Here, when Jesus saw the crowds, He saw popularity as a threat to discipleship, so He said, “Let’s move on.”

·         How are you doing at prioritizing discipleship?

o       Have you ever wondered why God moved you from a place where you were successful into another place that was hard - where you had to learn the ropes in a new situation?

§         You know, I got pretty good in first grade at adding; why can’t I just keep on doing addition problems for the rest of my life and just keep doing what I’m good at rather than having to learn how to do subtraction and multiplication and calculus???

§         God wants us to grow as His disciples. He desires maturity, and that means we must learn new things. Let us embrace the changes that God introduces into our lives so that we can mature in faith and love.

o       But He also wants us to prioritize making disciples ourselves: Have you had to make the hard decision to quit doing something that is fun or popular in order to prioritize teaching your children or grandchildren or your disciples God’s ways?

§         When I was an international missions consultant, it was quite gratifying to help important people – thousands of them – all over the world as they made important decisions, but I wasn’t making disciples. God ripped that consulting job away from me against my will – I think it was so that I could come here and focus more on making disciples in an obscure local church.

§         Likewise, how often do we find ourselves wanting to watch a popular movie or game because everybody else is watching it, and yet our children are sitting there just waiting for us to teach them something meaningful? Popular things can be the enemy of discipleship – not always, but all too often they are. We need to exercise the self-discipline to click the off switch on the entertainment at the right time, and lead our wife, our children, or our roommates in talking about the ways of God.

·         During Jesus’ 3-year ministry, He made disciples (Mat. 27:57). Then His final words to His disciples are recorded by Matthew, “As you go into all the world, make disciples…”  (Mat. 28:19), and so what did those disciples do? They made disciples (Act. 14:21). Should we do any less?

·         How do you make a disciple? You basically find somebody who is willing to learn from you. Pray for God to bring a disciple into your life, and when you see someone who is faithful, available, and teachable, offer to take them through a Bible study. You don’t have to be a great Bible scholar, all it takes is reading a book together and keeping that disciple on a learning curve (don’t worry, you’ll be on your own learning curve!)

vs. 19-20 – Lesson 2: The Price of Following Christ

8:19 And one scribe came up saying to him, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you happen to be going away. 20 And Jesus says to him, “The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man does not. Where shall He recline His head?

8:19  Καὶ προσελθὼν εἶς γραμματεὺς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Διδάσκαλε, ἀκολουθήσω σοι ὅπου ἐὰν ἀπέρχῃ. 20  καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ ᾿Ιησοῦς· αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσι καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ κατα­σκηνώ­σεις, ὁ δὲ Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν κλίνῃ.


As Jesus is trying to get away from the popular crowds and teach His disciples, a teaching op­por­­tunity comes up which raises a second principle about discipleship. Here, in v.19, a professional scribe, who studied the Bible and made copies of it, came up to Jesus and offered go anywhere with Him.

·         Διδάσκαλε This scribe doesn’t recognize Jesus as Lord; he merely calls Him “Teacher.” The scribe hasn’t done his homework. He doesn’t really know who this man is that he is offering to follow. He doesn’t know what he’s getting into. He hasn’t counted the cost of following Jesus as Lord rather than just shadowing another interesting teacher.

·         ἀπέρχῃ The word the scribe chooses for “wherever you go” connotes that anywhere would be fine with him as long is it is “away” from where he’s currently at. “Get me out of this small town and let me see the world!” he says, in effect.

·         Jesus’ reply informs him of the Price of being His disciple: It will involve trust in Him for who He is and abandonment of everything to follow Him as Lord. Part of the way Jesus addresses this is through the title He used for Himself:

A.    Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου “The Son of Man” This is the first time it appears in Matthew’s Gospel, but it appears almost 200 times throughout the Bible:

  1. In some places it is a synonym for “human being

§         Numbers 23:19a  "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent…

§         Psalm 8:4  What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?

§         Isaiah 51:12b  "…you are afraid of man who dies And of the son of man who is made like grass”

§         Isaiah 56:2  "How blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil."

§         Jeremiah 49:18b "…no one will live there, nor will a son of man reside in it.

  1. In other places, it singles out one person as representing the whole human race:

§         The prophets were God’s representatives on earth, and about half of the instances of this phrase “Son of Man” are found in the prophecies of Ezekiel, such as 2:1  "Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!"

§         In Matthew, Jesus tended to refer to Himself as the “Son of Man” when He talked about His humiliation and crucifixion as the second Adam, the representative man who would suffer for the sins of mankind:

§         12:40  for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

§         17:9b  "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."

§         17:12b  “…the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands."

§         17:22b  “…The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men”

§         20:18  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death”

§         20:28  “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

§         26:2  “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.”

§         26:24  “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!...”

§         26:45  “…Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

  1. However, there is a third context in which the phrase “Son of Man” is used, and that is as the “Heavenly Man,” God in human form who exists in heaven and is coming down to earth to judge mankind:

§         This Heavenly “Son of Man” is introduced in the book of Daniel 7:13 “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...”

§         Matthew also records Jesus as referring to Himself in this way:

§         13:41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness…”

§         16:27  “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”

§         16:28  "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

§         19:28  And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

§         24:27  "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

§         24:30  "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

§         24:37  "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.

§         24:39  and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

§         24:44  "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.

§         25:31  "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

§         26:64  Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN."

o       With this phrase, Jesus represents Himself as 1) a true human being, 2) the representative of the human race, and 3) as coming from God in heaven.

o       Jesus could have said, “How dare you be so disrespectful to me! I am not a mere teacher, I am the Lord!” But instead, He uses this title (which any good scribe would have immediately recognized from the Old Testament scriptures) and begins to move this scribe from seeing Jesus as merely a Teacher to being the ultimate man and Lord.

o       Do you believe that this is who Jesus is? That He is God in heaven who became a human being and represented sinful man, enduring the awful judgment of God on the cross in His first coming, and then who will come as the divine judge Himself at His second coming? This is part of what it takes to be a follower of Jesus.

B.     “Foxes have φωλεοὺς holes/burrows/dens, and wild birds have κατασκηνώσεις[1] nests/ temporary resting places, but,” says Jesus, “I am left wondering, ‘Where am I going to lay my head down at night?[2]’” Apparently, stays in the Hilton were not part of Jesus’ budget, and the building of a fabulous castle was not in His game plan either.

·         This was intended to be a wake-up call to the scribe who was about to make a reckless and ill-informed commitment.

·         The fact that Jesus had no place He could call His own did not mean that His disciples would never get fed or housed or have their needs taken care of. It just meant that seeking public acclaim or adventure or wealth were the wrong reasons for following Jesus. We should follow Jesus because He is the Son of Man, not merely because He was a popular or interesting teacher.

·         At another time in His ministry: Luke 14:25-33  Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

·         Have you counted the cost of being a follower of Jesus? Are you willing to give up everything you have in order to be His disciple?

o       It may be a cherished sin that you want to continue indulging in

o       It may mean giving up the prospect of ever getting married or having children

o       It may mean giving up wealth that gives you a false sense of security and comfort

o       It may mean spending your time in different ways to do what He wants rather than what you want.

·         By the way, it’s o.k. if you started following Him for the wrong reasons as long as you shift to the right reasons. The Apostle Peter stated the right reason well when he said, “To whom else would we go? You alone have the words of life!” (John 6:68)

·         How much are the words of life worth to you? How much is eternal life worth? The price is nothing less than everything you’ve got, but it is a steal of a bargain, considering!


So far, Jesus has taught us about the problem of popularity and the price of discipleship. Next, in v.21 a third lesson emerges as yet another person approaches Jesus with a request:

vs. 21-22 – Lesson 3: The Priority of Following Christ

8:21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, first permit to go and bury my father.”

Mat 8:21  ῞Ετερος δὲ τῶν μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ-א,B] εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι πρῶτον ἀπελθεῖν καὶ θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου.

·         ἐπίτρεψόν This word “let/ permit/ suffer/ allow” literally means “turn me over” – it is a release from one jurisdiction to another, like

o       when Pharoah “turned over” the administration of Egypt to Joseph (Gen. 39:6), or

o       when Jesus “allowed” the unclean spirits to transfer from the demon-possessed man to the herd of pigs (Mark 5:13), or

o       when King Agrippa “turned over” the floor to the Apostle Paul to allow him to speak (Acts 26:1),

o       and conversely when Paul refused to “turn over” the floor to let the women speak in 1 Cor. 14:34.

·         Here one of the disciples (tradition has it to be Phillip) who has already bound himself under Jesus’ authority as an apprentice/disciple, is requesting that he be transferred back to the authority of his Dad.

·         But it’s too late. The commitment to become a disciple had already been made; the cost of following Jesus had already been evaluated and embraced. It would be wrong for him now to abandon his calling already engaged upon.

·         θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου Jesus is saying it is time to move away from Capernaum, but this disciple doesn’t want to go. Either his Dad really is dead and he is feeling torn between going on a trip with Jesus that week or staying with his family for the funeral that week, or there is the real possibility that his father is not dead and that he’s asking to be released from Jesus’ authority to go back to living with his family indefinitely until his father does happen to die.

·         But wait, doesn’t the 10 Commandments tell us to honor our father and mother? Isn’t it good to spend time together with your family? Yes.

·         πρῶτον But Matthew gives us a word by which to diagnose this disciple’s problem: it is the word “first.” What is first in priority for this disciple? He is saying that he thinks family should come first and Jesus should come second in his life. That’s his problem.

·         Luke’s parallel account in 9:61-62 explains further by mentioning Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

·         It’s not wrong to prioritize your family over other human relationships; the problem is following Jesus and then quitting because your family distracted you away from Him.

·         Is Jesus first in your life? Is there anything that He might demand of you that would make you hesitate to obey? Anything you would hesitate to give up? Anywhere you would decline to go if He said to go there?

8:22 ὁ δὲ ᾿Ιησοῦς εἶπεν[3] αὐτῷ· ἀκολούθει μοι, καὶ ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς.

8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Keep following me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

·         ἀκολούθει Present tense imperative indicates to continue following. This disciple is already a follower, and Jesus doesn’t want him to get sidelined and stop following.

o       He doesn’t want you sidelined either.

·         ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς Now, what does it mean to “let the dead bury their dead”?

o       Obviously dead people are not able to dig graves with shovels, so this has to be taken figuratively.

o       Who then do the dead people represent? One clue is that this disciple has asked permis­sion to leave Jesus and go be with his family which therefore must not be following Jesus, and Jesus responds, “No, leave (literally “let go of”) them and follow me.” The dead in this case are those who aren’t follow­ing Jesus – those who force you to make decisions of either being with them or being with Jesus.

o       But if the disciple’s dad had just died, isn’t that kinda harsh to not let a man even go to his own father’s funeral?

o       Let me ask another question: “Why is the father dead in the first place? Jesus was healing every­body else at Peter and Andrew’s house, and if the family had wanted him to live they could have just taken him over to be healed too!

·         Jesus is calling upon this disciple to make a statement to his family about priorities:

o       “One thing is needful,” Jesus would later tell Martha in Bethany. Phillip had found it, and that was to be a follower of Jesus first and foremost.

o       Not even the most precious things – such as our families – should be allowed to interfere with that priority.

o       Years later, family members would remember when Phillip left the family at a critical time to follow Jesus Christ, and that testimony alone might make the difference in helping other members of his family become followers of Jesus also.

·         In saying this, I recognize that it is possible to go overboard with a false sense of commitment to God.

o       Raymond Lull, like many devout Catholics divorced his wife in order to become a monk, but that was foolish.

o       Billy Graham, like many famous ministers, neglected to spend adequate time with his children in their younger years. There’s a reason why many “preacher’s kids” have a bad reputation. The antidote to that particular problem is lesson one about how Popular ministry can be the enemy of strategic discipleship. There’s a balance there.

o       Having Jesus as first priority doesn’t mean that a Christian cannot have family as a second priority. It is indeed God’s will for us to work, to marry, to raise children – those commands are in the Bible just like the commands to pray and preach the gospel to all the world.


8:23 And when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.

8:23  Καὶ ἐμβάντι[4] αὐτῷ εἰς [τὸ-B,C,f1,f13] πλοῖον ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

·         ἠκολούθησαν apparently the wavering disciple decided to follow Jesus after all

·         Will you follow Jesus too?

3. Will you prioritize following Jesus over everything else, even over the wishes of your family? Will you walk away from those who try to force you to decide between fellowship with them and fellowship with Jesus?

2. Have you counted the cost of following the Son of Man, and are you ready to give up everything? The funny thing is that giving things to Him doesn’t impoverish us. Jesus said later in Mat. 19:29  “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

1. Finally, will you pass by what is popular in order to be a disciple and make disciples yourself?


Heed the call of your Lord Jesus as He says, “Keep following me!”

[1] φωλεοὺςholes” is not used anywhere else in the Greek Bible; κατασκηνώσειςnests” is only used 4x in the Greek Bible: here (and parallel passage Luke 9:58); 1Chron. 28:2 (describing Solomon’s temple); and Ezek. 37:27 (describing God’s presence in heaven with mankind.)

[2] ποῦ is always used as a question in the Bible, although when combined with a verb of knowing is generally not translated into English as a question, even through it is a question in the person’s mind. “Recline/lay” is not an infinitive as all Eng. translate, but rather subjunctive. Thus I have departed from most English translations by rendering this a genuine question in the mind of Jesus. Instead of “the son of man has nowhere to lay His head” I offer “Where shall He recline His head?”

[3] Three of the oldest manuscripts have legei (Present tense) instead of eipen (Aorist tense)

[4] ἐμβάντι (en + bainw) Literally “go in” - Used of embarking in a boat in 18 out of 19 instances in the Bible. The odd one out is Nahum 3:14 where people “went into” a pit to dig clay to make bricks.