Newtown Bible Church

Jesus and the Cost of Repentance (Matthew 8:18-22)

 Intro/Opening: To be confronted with the Person of Jesus Christ is to be brought to a point of decision, of needing to make a choice. At the level of basic heart commitment, you either follow Him (or walk in self-will), bow the knee before Him (or stand in your own authority), love Him (or love the world & self), but one thing is clear: you must make a decision. 

  •  He has shown Himself to be Lord, overwhelming wisdom and authority; absolute claims of deity, supernatural displays of power, and He says: “Come! Follow Me!”
  • Jesus confronts would-be disciples with the true demands of discipleship, and shows the call to repentance is high, but a necessary expression of genuine faith. In our passage this morning I want you to notice 2 demands of repentance designed to expose false professions, and lead you to genuine discipleship. (1) Jesus Rejects Self-Centered Commitment and Commands Self-Denial; (2) Jesus Rejects Half-hearted Commitment and Commands Full Devotion


READ: Matthew 8:18-22

  • (18)“And when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to go to the other side” 
  • In response to the healing ministry, the casting out of demons, the authoritative teaching the popularity of Jesus continues to grow and the demands of His time and that of the disciples becomes increasingly difficult. 
    • So, Jesus displays His compassionate leadership in knowing the limitations of those serving Him and so He is watchful for their care (Mk. 6:31)
    • He sends them “to the other side;” the NASB supplies: of the Sea,” which is simply reminding the reader of their location near the side of the Sea of Galilee. 
  • But the Holy Spirit did not have Matthew put this here just to show His concern about rest, but His concern about genuine repentant faith. 
    • With all the miracles its was too easy to get caught up in Jesus for the wrong reasons and to miss the whole point of them pointing ultimately to the cross. 
    • So, the issue of discipleship needs to be addressed; and it will be in through Jesus’ encounter with two men.  

I. Jesus Rejects Self-Centered Commitment and Commands Self-Denial

(A) Jesus Rejects Self-Centered Commitment

  •  (19) “a certain Scribe came to Him” - Who was this man that approached the Lord? 
  • Scribes often in high positions of responsibility within Judaism (2 Sam. 20:25; Jer. 36:12; 2 K 22:10). However, it was really after After the period of the exile the role of Scribe became more pronounced. 
    • The people are under God’s judgement because of their failure to know and obey God’s Law, so the question of how to obey the Law in a foreign context became paramount and it was the Scribe that was looked to for guidance in this area.
    • The chief example of this in the OT would be Ezra (Ezra 7:6 - priest and Scribe); under his leadership and instruction that the people returning to the land after 70 years of captivity, were again established in the Law and instructed from the word of God: Ezra 7:10 “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (cf. 8:1-13). Really, from this point the scribes role in the study, transmission, and interpretation of the Law made them highly esteemed and central figures within Judaism.
    • The scribe “will serve among great men and appear before rulers;” and “He will reveal instruction in his teaching, and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant;” and “His memory will not disappear, and his name will live through all generations.” They were considered to be the immediate heirs of the prophets. One source even noted: “were to be accorded more esteem than even one’s parents.”
  • Coming into the NT the Scribes are an essential component of Judaism, revered as wise scholar teachers, and respected within culture; were a major presence on the 71 member Sanhedrin  (ruling body), and are associated with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees: elite scholars. They had become so enamored with their own wisdom and traditions they actually hid the Law from the people.  
    • They considered themselves as the resident experts of the Law, yet Jesus tells them they are “experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep our tradition” (Mk. 7:9). Told them they were outside the kingdom of God (5:20). Jesus came and systematically dismantled their false interpretations (Matt. 5:21-45; Matt. 15:3)  exposed their hypocrisy and pride (Matt. 23:1f). Therefore, it is no surprise that they generally hated Christ (Lk. 11:53-54; Mk. 11:18 [“were afraid of Him”]) and, with the Pharisees, are ultimately responsible for calculating His crucifixion and murder  (Mk. 14:43 “Judas … came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and elders”; 14:53 “they led Jesus away to the high priest; and al the chief priests and the elders and the scribes gathered together”; Matt. 27:41 “the chief priests … along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; letHim now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him”)
  • So, here is this man from this group of scribes, and he addresses Him as “Teacher.” This is significant because it is the Scribe “who love to be called teacher” is here confessing Jesus as his teacher; Jesus was often addressed this way, even by His enemies, though hypocritically (12:38; 22:16, 24, 36), but this man comes with a level of humility and recognizes that he is instead a pupil before the a superior teacher. 
    • He appears to be one who has believed enough about Christ to have broken with the ranks of his peers. Seems to be a man of some integrity in his profession and willingly to step out and make some motion of commitment. 
  •  “I will follow You wherever You go” - (can’t help but be reminded of Ruth to Naomi)Probably one who had been following from a distance, observing the powerful works and the wisdom of Christ, and is now saying that he wants to enter into a relationship of personal discipleship. 
    • Now, it was common practice for a student of the Law to put themselves under the tutelage of a more learned teacher, even living with them during the early years study. There may be some element of that in behind the Scribes address. 
  • In either case, this was a significant step for this man; to follow Jesus would have been a clear break with many of his peers; it would have been a rejection of the prevailing perception of Jesus. It would have brought rejection, ridicule, shame, sacrifice of the prestige, comfort, and honor. (This is parallel to many today in academia who, reject evolution, and believe the Bible.) 
  • So, it is with this Scribe. This is a monumental confession, yet, the Lord does not simply take Him at face value (not looking for celebrities), and He who knows the hearts of all men digs deeper to plow the ground of his heart and see what stones are still there that need to be removed.
    • We cannot know the full intention of the man’s heart, but based on the Lord’s response it is fair implication that there was a measure of self-seeking in his request; a sense of coming under the teaching of Jesus for his own advancement in Judaism, or security under such a powerful and wise teacher. But not the broken thoughts of one under conviction of the law; who desires from the depth of his soul eternal life. 
    • Remember, entrance into the kingdom is not simply acknowledging the superior power and knowledge of Christ, but being struck with ones sinfulness; and moved by the reality of Christ mission of grace (5:3-10). He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. It is a call to repentance (4:17) and it is at that point He is going to lay before this Scribe. 


(B) Jesus Commands Self-Denial  

  •  “the foxes have holes and the birds of the heavens have nest, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” - An unexpected, even unusual statement by the Lord. 
  • Simple observation from nature. “foxes … birds” know where they will sleep at night. They leave their holes and nest and then return to them. There is a sense of security, reliability in there homes. 
    • This is the same type of example from nature that the Lord used to encourage against anxiety in 6:25-34. Here He uses another illustration but for just the opposite purpose. The first is pointing to God’s provision, the second to the price of discipleship. 
    • He knows the hearts of all men. He knows what the real issue is in this man’s heart, so He challenges him there, at the weak, superficial part of his profession. 
  • (1) Divine example of Self Denial: “Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” - This is a phenomenal statement, too easily read over. “Son of Man” Used over 30x in the gospel of Matthew alone, it is a title that brings together both His Deity and His humanity (ties in with Dan. 7:13).  
    • Uses it in reference to His Divine authority to forgive sin (9:6); over the Sabbath(12:8); His Divinity (16:13f); His Kingdom (16:28); will be attended with angels and come in glory to judge the nations (25:31); Mk. 8:31 “Son of Man must suffer” (1. Earthly 2. Suffering 3. Apocalyptic). 
    • It also speaks of His humanity, His identification with His people: Son of God taking on flesh and blood, so also the Son of Man “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 2 Cor. 8 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was reich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that your through His poverty might become rich”
  • The One, then, who has nowhere to lay His head is the One for whom all things will be put into subjection under His feet (Eph. 1). The One who demands full submission and trust from His people, is the One who will go to the dreaded cross in full submission to the Father to bear the wrath of God against sin for His people. 
    • Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man Himself modeling the self-denial completely as an act of love for the Father and those given to Him. How much more should those He came to purchase be willing to do the same? 
  •  “nowhere to lay His head” - It is not that Jesus never actually had a place to lay His head - as if He only stood up, or was never in a home! It is that there was no guarantee where it would be. In other words, He had no place that was secure, consistent, guaranteed. 
    • He was constantly on the move. Just prior to this He was thrown out of a synagogue and driven to the edge of a cliff; in 8:34 He is going to be asked to leave the area of Gadarenes. Eventually they would crucify Him; so it was. He was constantly on the move, constantly submitted to the will of the Father. He completely placed Himself under the care of the Father. 
    • So it is, when a person turns to Christ to follow Him, then it is not a set of facts we follow, but a Person; the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Discipleship must be understood in the context of relationship. When a person turns to the Lord, it is saying, “I am willing to give it up and place myself completely in Your care.” 
  • Therefore, the call to follow Jesus is to abandon all for Christ. Lay it aside, all your supposed privileges, comforts, prestige, reputation, ambitions; you must be willing to lay it all aside; to count it as nothing to gain Christ. 
    • If your money, houses, cars, reputation, comfort, are too much to give up, then you cannot have Christ; you cannot have forgiveness of sin; you cannot be reconciled to God. You can have all those things and die in your sin.Lk. 9:23 “Deny yourself take up your cross and follow Me daily … What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul.” If Christ is that valuable, then the decision really isn’t hard; you will gladly give it all up to gain Him (cf. Matt. 13:44-45)


II. Jesus Rejects Half-hearted Commitment and Commands Full Devotion

(Or, commitment with divided interest; the heart that tries to hold onto this world and Christ at the same time.)

(A)  Rejects Half-hearted commitments

  • This second person from this crowd is identified as … “the disciples” (or “His disciples”) - “another one” - that is from among the crowds. The term as the basic meaning of “learner,” and is applied to many who followed Him during His earthly ministry, but ultimately rejected Him. 
  •  Lord” - common address to a superior, here used with a clear sense of recognition of Jesus’ Divine Lordship, since the matter at hand is following Him in response, it seems, to the displays of His miraculous power. This is the appropriate response of a disciple to his master. 
    • Matthew’s calling him a “disciple” & his profession of Jesus as “Lord” shows that he had already demonstrated some level of commitment to Jesus. There was a level of faith & submission, acknowledgement of His authority, a desire to learn. Yet something is still lacking and nagging at His affections.  
  •  “Permit me first to go and bury my father” - (1)  go back and wait for my father to die so that I can collect the inheritance, or (2) it could be that his father was already dead and he wanted to go and participate in funeral ceremonies. I’m inclined toward the first: “Before I leave for full-time commitment let me wait until I have all my other ducks in a row. It would be unwise to risk my inheritance.” Either way, the issue is whether he is willing to forsake it all to follow Christ.
    • He was committed at a certain level, but had not yet broken with this world and its interest; it was not yet a full commitment to Christ. He was yet a slave to other affections in his heart. 


  1. Jesus Command Full Devotion

(1) There needs to be full devotion to Jesus as Lord. 

  •  “Follow Me”- A command. the disciple said before He could follow (“first”) he had family business to take care of (cf. 6:33). Jesus confronts his priorities with the clear command that the first decision to be made is the one of commitment to Him.  
    • Jesus Christ is Lord and He does not call a person to come to shared leadership, but to total abandonment of self to Christ as sovereign Lord. Confessing Him as Lord is basic to becoming a Christian, to salvation (Rom. 10:9).  
    • The man called Him, “Lord,” but he didn’t really believe it - like those in 7:21. Calling Jesus Lord is not a matter of just saying the words, it actually involves submitting the will  to Christ as Lord - that was the problem “You did not do the will of the Father.” We come as slaves, yielding completely to Christ as Lord, who bought us with His blood. We come to Christ on His terms, not ours.
  • It is to come as a slave, but not to a tyrant, but to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (8:17 “He took our infirmities and carried our diseases” and went to the cross). Therefore, the One who says you must abandon it all and be willing to die; is also the One who said, “Come unto Me all who weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matt. 11:28f). Sovereign Lord, gentle Savior. He is both. 


(2) Must be devoted above other relationships. 

  • “Let the dead to bury their own dead” - this is an odd statement at first glance, but overwhelmingly powerful. How can a dead person bury a dead person? They cannot. He is making a play on words. What He means is: “Let the spiritually dead bury those among them that physically die.” 
    • This might at first glance seem harsh, but rather it simply brings out the seriousness of the divide and of the need for absolute repentance toward Christ. Spirit produced faith brings an irresistible impulse to follow Christ; to in the end chose Christ over the world and self - even family relationships. 
    • This does not mean that believers are insensitive, or indifferent to family - that would be sin. We are commanded to honor our mother and father (Ex. 20; Matt. 15); to care for the members of our household (1 Tim. 5); to love and do good to all men (1 Thess. 5). What it does mean is that our allegiance to and affections for Christ are to be supreme. 
      • The earthly family may very well become your enemies, or disown you (10:32-36); you must be willing for that to happen.
    • Luke 9:61-62 mentions a third man who is struggling along these same lines; finding it hard to let go of the greater attachment of family. Jesus reminds him also that when the commitment to Christ is made, it must be decisive. 

(3) More devoted to Christ than to the world. 

  • “Let the dead bury their own dead” - Let the world worry about the things of the world. Those who come to Christ must renounce the things of this world. If money, worldly goods are more important to you than obedience to Christ, then it may be that there is no life in you (James 4:4 [filia]; 1 John 2:15 [agapew]).
    • But the those who know Christ know to some degree Paul’s statement: “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  
    • The call here is for undivided allegiance; Jesus Commands full Devotion; He must be the greatest affection in our hearts. The luster of the world & relationships are to be dim, even dark, when held to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
  • Final Note: Jesus’ approach flies in the face of much of modern evangelism, which not only accepts, but promotes superficial commitments to Christ. 
    • Jesus, as He often does, does not immediately accept these professors at face value, but says, “Really. Well, let’s talk about that for a moment.” Jesus does not want vain, superficial, or ignorant followers but intelligent commitments to discipleship; genuine expressions of faith. 
  • Some will say, “But you will drive them away.” And the response is: “Yes, if their faith is superficial. In that case it would fall away anyway and this simply saves the deception, protects the Name of Christ. You want to drive these away, to keep them from a false profession and leaven them with a true understanding of the gospel.” 
  • However, if their Spirit is genuinely drawing someone then the call repentance will not deter them, but be the natural and compelling response of their heart to the glorious gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  
    • Think about your own salvation (if you profess faith in Christ), would anything have kept you from Christ when the gospel of Christ came alive in your heart; when you were first awakened to the truths of God, yourself, your sin, and the Son of God on the cross and then out of the grave? Did you not long for Him and His salvation, His fellowship, His forgiveness and grace more than anything? Would you not have, and would you not now gladly give up all to gain Christ? Is following Christ, no matter what it may cost, not the greater compelling reality of your heart? 
    • If not, then you are likely not a regenerate Christian, whether you are in name or not. But for those who are truly “In Christ,” the answer of your heart right now is, “Yes. Christ is that precious to me and the value and glory of Christ outshines it all.” (Scougal). Why? Because it is produced by the Spirit of God - Acts. 11:18
  • Failure to make the gospel clear and the gospel call clear has lead many to rest in false assurance. J.C. Ryle, writing many years ago noted: 

“It may well be feared, that the lesson they contain is too often overlooked by the ministers of the Gospel, and that thousands are admitted to full communion, who are never warned to ‘count the cost.’ Nothing, in fact, has done more harm to Christianity that the practice of filling the ranks of Christ’s army with every volunteer who is willing to make a little profession, and talk fluently of his experience. IT has been painfully forgotten that numbers alone do not make strength, and that there may be a great quantity of mere outward religion, while there is very little real grace.”

    • The Scribe said, “I will follow;” you may say, “Jesus, I will follow You.” Jesus says, “Will you? What if it takes you out of your comfort zone? What if it puts you in situations where you have no security for the future, but must totally trust in the Father’s care? What if it takes you to the cross? What if it causes men to cast insults at you and say all manner of evil against you? Will you follow Me then? What if it cost you your wealth?” If the faith is real then your heart will say, “I will follow You wherever You go. I can do no other. You are life and have the words of life, my soul is forever bound to You.” 
  • May God grant us grace to know our own hearts and to bow our knee to Him, to love Him because of the cross, and to follow Him with all our hearts. 
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