“The Priorities of True Discipleship”

As soon as we talk about good in every situation or personal sacrifice in a specific situation, we tend to relax, assuming that we are off the hook and that the disturbing radical nature of true Christian discipleship does not affect us – this is a false conclusion. It is true that Jesus may never ask us to break with our families for His sake or sell all we have and give to the poor in order to follow Him. Indeed, in the great majority of cases, this is not required at all. But we must be willing to obey in these or any other areas if Jesus asks it, and we must actually do it, if He does. This is to say, we must get our priorities straight. Following Jesus must be the most important thing in our lives – even more important than our lives. We must not do anything to subtract from that high commitment. We must do everything to strengthen it.

What happens to the follower of Christ is unimportant; for in the words of George Ladd, “the fate of the Kingdom is all important. … In the place of selfish attainment, however altruistic and noble, one is to desire alone the rule of God.”

Some will look at Jesus’ words here in Matthew 8 and think of the cost of discipleship as a burden – but those who follow Jesus find it a liberating force. Indecision is inhibiting. The one who knows what he is committed to can move forward.

Bishop John Ryle wrote wisely: “It is not open sin, or open unbelief, which robs Christ of His professing servants, so much as the love of the world, the fear of the world, the cares of the world, the business of the world, the money of the world, the pleasures of the world, and the desire to keep in touch with the world. This is the great rock on which thousands of young people are continually making shipwreck. They do not object to any article of the Christian faith. They do not deliberately choose evil and openly rebel against God. They hope somehow to get to heaven at last, and they think it proper to have some religion. But they cannot give up their idol: they must have the world. And so, after running well and bidding fair for heaven while boys and girls, they turn aside when they become men and women and go down the broad way which leads to destruction. They begin with Abraham and Moses and end with Demas and Lot’s wife.”

How can a person resist the world’s temptations if they can come to us even through the proper affection and loyalty we feel for our families? The best way is by being bold in confessing Jesus Christ.

There is one more thing we need to notice: the title “Son of Man,” used in v.20 for the first time in the Gospel. What does the title “Son of Man” mean? On the surface the words only mean “a man,” – there is more to the title than this, since Jesus did not refer to Himself merely as “a son of man,” which would have highlighted His humanity only. He referred to Himself as “the Son of Man,” and this specific “Son of Man” must be the individual referred to in the seventh chapter of Daniel. In that chapter Daniel records a vision in which he saw “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” This individual is “like a son of man,” but He is also invested with the authority, glory, and sovereign power of almighty God. Jesus unveiled this meaning of the title when He told the high priest who was presiding at His trial, “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt.26.64).

Why did Jesus call himself “Son of Man” and not a more obvious messianic title? Presumably because it was the most ambiguous of the messianic titles, and by it He could avoid many misunderstandings of His mission while pouring into these words all the meanings He desired them to have. In Matthew alone he uses “Son of Man” to affirm His full deity (16.13–17), to teach that He has authority on earth to forgive sin (9.6), that He would ransom His people from their sins (20.28), that He would die on the cross and rise from the dead on the third day (17.22–23; 20.18–19), and that He will return one day in judgment (24.27–31). That combination of ideas was puzzling to His Jewish contemporaries. They asked, “Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” (Jn.12.34). But the answer to that question is the very essence of Christian theology: the person of Christ and the Gospel.

One day every knee will bow before Jesus Christ. It is what Daniel 7.14 says. You will bow, either in grateful adoration or in bitter defeat and crushed capitulation. If you are to bow in adoration and not in defeat, the time for it is now. Do not let the demand for absolute loyalty or the difficulties of following Jesus keep you back, as they seem to have done in the case of the would-be disciples here in Matthew eight. Run to Jesus, cast yourself before Him, worship Him as God and Savior, and get on with the task of living for Him in every moment of your life.