Understanding Discipleship

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros Zodhiates(Editor's note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his exegetical study of the Gospel of Matthew.) 

[18, 19] Following so many healings, multitudes crowded around Jesus, so He decided to "depart unto the other side." Before He did, however, a scribe (grammates [1122]), obviously overwhelmed with Jesus' healing power, offered a sincere but impulsive promise: "Master [from didskalos {1320}, teacher, a title much lower than krie {2962}, Lord, see 8:2, 6, 8], I will follow you wherever you go" (a.t.).

According to verse 21 (cf. Luke 9:59), subsequent to this conversation Jesus addressed "another disciple," implying that this scribe was a disciple. While a disciple (mathetes [3101]) generally is a learner, we should remember that Judas was also called a disciple (John 12:4). Also, in response to Jesus' teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). Not all disciples were true believers in Christ, and, according to John, many apostatized. This "disciple" may have been an unbelieving disciple like Judas.

[20] However sincere the scribe was, the Lord's omniscient wisdom detected a hidden but heavy concern with worldly security, so He cautioned him: "The foxes have holes [from pholes {5454}, a burrow, hole], and the birds of the air have nests [from kataskenosis {2682}, encampment, shelter]; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head."

Worldly security has no proper place in the Kingdom of God. The scribe sounded sincere, but he had not considered the full implications of his impulsive words. Jesus told him that following meant the risk of parting with many common comforts of life-like a roof and a bed. To follow Christ anywhere could mean to the cross. He offered no guarantee of worldly ease and comfort.

[21] Another man approached Jesus. "And another [héteros {2087}, another of a different type] of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer [eptrepson, the aorist imperative of epitrépo {2010}, to allow] me first to go and bury my father."

The Lord had just judged worldly security as an invalid excuse for not following. This prompted another kind of excuse.

[22] This, too, was judged unfavorably. "But Jesus said unto him, Follow [akolothei, the present imperative of akolouthéo {190}, to follow] me; and let the dead bury their dead." The present imperative means to continually follow uninterruptedly. (The aorist tense of epitrépo in the previous verse means that the disciple requested only a one-time interruption.)

The imperative that follows was harsh only if the man insisted that burying his father prevented him from preaching the gospel. Jesus was not telling him not to attend his father's wake or funeral. Remember the context: The man presented burial as an excuse for not following Jesus. Actually, he could do both by preaching the gospel to his unsaved relatives at the funeral. This is essentially what Jesus said in the parallel text of Luke 9:60: "Let the dead bury their dead: but [you] go and preach the kingdom of God" (a.t.). In other words, if you refuse to do both, if you insist on the either/or of burying or preaching, then let others bury your father to free you to preach the Kingdom. But you can do both because "[you] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [you]" (Phil. 4:13). In either case, do not use the burial of your father as an excuse not to preach the gospel.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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