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Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Will Follow, But... (Matthew 8.18-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 28, 2014
Text: Matthew 8:18-27

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)
Hymn of Praise: "10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord" (Matt Redman)
Offering of Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" (ALL THE WAY)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we continue in a series on belonging to God. We are looking at a key component of that belonging: how we respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Last week we read about Jesus settling in Capernaum, spending time there among the people and along the shore. We read about his calling out to four fishermen to “Come follow me.” And we saw that the invitation wasn’t just to follow him around, but to be a part of his mission – his own “fishing project” among the people of the world to which he was sent.

Today we are looking at another “follow-me invitation.” This one was more literal. There is a crowd around and Jesus announces he will leave to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. What comes next is three different responses to literally following him or not. Each is instructive to us as we think about what it means to follow after Jesus.

Response #1: I Will, But Don’t (vv. 19-20)
19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
The first responder is a scribe, an expert in the Law.  And the scribe says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (v. 19)  That sounds perfect, right?  Jesus says, “Do this,” and someone responds, “I will do whatever you say.”  The problem is, the person has not counted the cost.  Jesus’ response indicates some of what it will cost to follow him.  He replies, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  If you want to follow me, you’ll endure some big challenges.  We don’t find out what the scribe chose to do, but the implication is that after such an enthusiastic response, he failed to follow through.

Have you heard the invitation to follow Jesus and enthusiastically said, ‘yes,’ only to find that it was more than you bargained for?  Maybe you were part of a retreat, rally, or crusade as a young person, but the Christian life has never amounted to much more than that kind of once-long-ago decision.  It’s not a cakewalk; Christians suffer just as much as the next person.  In fact, if we are to believe Jesus, it might even be that Christians – that is, radical followers of Jesus – may face more challenges than they might otherwise.

You can’t follow Jesus without counting the cost.

Response #2: I Can’t, But Might (v. 21-22)
21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” 
A second person, this one called a “disciple” responded to Jesus’ command to cross the sea.  This one had what sounds to most of us like a very good excuse.  “Let me tend to a few private matters and I’ll catch up to you.”  Said another way, this response might be, “I can’t right now, but I might one day.”

I want to note two things here. The first is PRIORITY: there is something even more important spiritually than burying one’s own parents.  Does that sound shocking?  It should!  But that is the weight of following Jesus; it is no simple thing like choosing where to shop or what to do on a Friday night (or Sunday morning).  Jesus wants your life!

The second is the phrase, “Let the DEAD bury their own dead.”  The “dead” refers to the spiritually dead, to those who would not understand the first-order significance of Jesus’ invitation.  Some people may not understand some of what you might give up to follow Jesus, but he is worth everything.

You can’t follow Jesus without making him your first priority.

Response #3: I Do (v. 23)
23 When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.
We see a third response simply and briefly in verse 23.  When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  Their response was simply, “I do,” and it was backed up with their actions.  Their actions were not unconsidered and these disciples had already made Jesus their first priority, many or all of them having walked away from the only professions they for which they were trained, and some from family and friends as well.

A true disciple is one who not only knows about Jesus, but follows him wherever he leads.  This will sound redundant, but I’ll say it anyway: you can’t follow Jesus without following Jesus.

A Lord Worth Following (vv. 24-27)
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Now this last part is why it is so important to read in context.  We have seen three very brief examples of different responses to Jesus and his invitation to “follow me.”  We have seen the importance of counting the cost and of making Jesus first priority.  And we have seen that at the end of the day, a disciple is one who actually follows.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard or considered these responses with this scene that follows, nor have I heard or considered the calming of the sea story with these three responses.  But they are tied together – you see that, right?  In verse 18, Jesus tells his disciples they are going to cross the sea, and then in verses 23 and following they do it and that’s when the storm comes.

This makes a difference in how we understand the calming of the storm.  It wasn’t just a happenstance storm in which Jesus demonstrated his power.  This was a situation that came about because of obedience to Jesus.  And what I believe Jesus demonstrated in those terrifying moments was that he had hold of them.  I am reminded of Isaiah 41:10…
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: Be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Said another way, in obedient discipleship, in following Jesus in faith, there need not be fear because if you go where Jesus leads, then he is there with you.  And there is no better place to be.  Indeed, though the fox and bird have a home and you may not, if you have followed Jesus to get where you are, you are better off than with a soft pillow.  If following Jesus has cost you the some of the things the world deems important, but you have made Jesus your first priority, you are blessed.  And if you follow Jesus into the storm, there is no better place to be than at the side of the Lord of the wind and the waves.

Following Jesus costs something, but Jesus is a Lord worth following.

Have you counted the cost?  Is Jesus more to you than a long-ago prayer or pledge or promise?

Is following Jesus your highest priority?  What other things clamor for that priority?

Will you go where he leads?  Remember my favorite question of the past year or more?  “What is God doing in and around me, and how can I be a part of that?”  Have you asked and prayed that question earnestly?  Have you acted on it?

Finally, whether you find yourself in still waters, a stormy sea, green pastures, or death’s dark valley, hear this Good News: God is with you in Christ.  There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ.  Follow Him, for He is a Lord worth following, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Amen.

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