The Cost of Discipleship

Do you ever read the Bible and think, “Yikes, that’s harsh!” but then you realize you’re actually just offended because it’s speaking straight to you? Or is it just me?

Matthew 8:21-22 is one of those passages for me. But as I looked deeper into the passage, I realized much of it may be lost in translation. Let’s take a look:

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” - Matthew 8:21-22

See what I mean? Kind of harsh, right? It’s one of those passages that, for me, asks more questions than it answers. For starters, if this guy’s dad is dead, is Jesus suggesting he should just leave the body somewhere? He says the dead can bury their own dead, but not only is that a horrifying mental image, it’s wildly implausible.

As per usual, Jesus’ response requires a little inspection. This is where it gets fascinatingly convicting.

According to John MacArthur, the statement, “Let me first go and bury my father,” meant something entirely different in Biblical times. This was a common phrase that meant, “As soon as my father dies and I get my inheritance.” So the man’s father was likely not even dead yet.

The plot thickens.

To translate this to modern times with this new knowledge, it reads a lot more like, “Jesus, I’ll follow you as soon as I’ve made sure I’m fully prepared. So you wait, I’ll be here sometime in the next ten or fifteen years.”

Knowing what we know now, Jesus’ response is actually kind of funny. I mean, really. We don’t often talk about the fact that Jesus probably had a sense of humor. We always picture Him as this solemn sage who only speaks in riddles and prophecy. But while He was 100% God in the flesh, He was also a man. His response here is dripping with sarcasm.

In short, He essentially says, “Stop making excuses.”

Did you know our excuses don’t hold any water with God? We try though. Oh we try so hard. It’s like we think, “If God just knew my side of the story, He’d understand why I’m not doing this or that.” As if the omniscient God of the universe doesn’t know what we deal with on a daily basis. He does. And He cares. And He wants the best for us. But, the best for us is obedience.

So what’s the practical application here? What do we do with this?

We make ourselves ready. Now, not later.

I think it’s sometimes easy to sit back and wait for God to plant this seed of purpose in our hearts, and then we ready ourselves for that purpose. There is some truth to that—in that God will prepare us for our purposes when the time comes. But while we’re waiting for that specific purpose to be revealed, we can do some preparation on our own so that we’re ready. And I would argue that some of these things need to be in place before God will call us to a specific purpose.

Here is a non-exhaustive, non-exclusive list of ideas for what we can do to prepare ourselves to follow God whenever, wherever, and however He asks us to.

  • We must be in the Word. There is simply no substitute for intentional and significant time spent each day reading and internalizing the Word. For the disciple, it isn’t optional. How can we hear the voice of God unless we learn to listen to His voice?

  • We must spend intentional time in prayer. Not only our usual dinner-time and bed-time routines, but dedicated time on our knees (metaphorically, and in some cases, literally) seeking the heart of God. And learning to listen as a part of our prayer life.

  • We should take care of our bodies. We only get the one, this side of heaven, and it’s a temple to the Lord. In conjunction with that, it’s the vessel God has given us to further His Gospel. If we aren’t taking care of it the way that we should, it limits the ways God can call us to His purpose.

  • Think about the kinds of worldly obligations we tie ourselves to. Whether it’s useless contracts, secular commitments, or even large amounts of debt (which we’ll get to), some of these things can get in the way of the Lord’s plan. Not that He isn’t able to move in spite of these things, but it’s the picture Jesus paints in Luke 16:10 about whoever is faithful with little will be trusted with much. Say God wants you to be a missionary in Uganda, but you’re buried in contracts in obligations. Your response might not be all that different from the disciple’s above. “Let me settle my affairs, then I can be yours.” God just may find someone else who is ready.

  • Finally, make sure you’re being financially responsible. These last two points are closely related, so we’ll revisit that missionary call to Uganda. Will you be able to pick up and go if you have two car payments, a mortgage that makes you house-poor, plus all the credit cards (the average American has 3) and other debts?

Those are just a few ways we can think about making ourselves ready to be obedient. Jesus’ answer to the disciple from earlier can easily be summed up with something like, “Let the mundane things of this world take care of themselves. You just be obedient.”

It’s not easy. And it requires sacrifice and meditation and more than likely, cutting out something we hold dear. But walking in the Lord’s will is so much greater than anything this world has to offer. That is the heart of what Jesus was trying to get across to His disciples.

The cost of readiness is high, but the reward for obedience is so, so sweet.