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The Cost of Discipleship

Updated: May 4

Matthew 8 is a beautiful display of Jesus’ absolute Kingship over all of life. His lordship is a totalizing lordship. There, truly, is not a square inch in all of the cosmos that does not belong to Him (Ps. 2; Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus, the Messiah (mashiaḥ, the Anointed King), has a kingly authority and an unmatched power that is comprehensively aimed towards restoration (Rev. 21:5). This is unbridledly demonstrated throughout the entire chapter of Matthew 8 via the healing of the sick (v.2), the mending of the disabled (v. 5-10), the uniting of different ethnic groups under one house, the house of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v.10),  and the restoration of edenic peace brought to individuals as Jesus gradually defeated the demonic kingdom by expelling them out of troubled men and women (v. 16). Matthew continues to demonstrate this supreme thesis from all throughout the Scriptures: that Jesus is Lord over all and there is not an area which shall not be transformed by his healing touch. 

Jesus’ restorative authority bleeds into verses 18-22 as well. If Jesus is Lord over nature, over the demonic, over disease, over everything, then verses 18-22 are declaring that it is no different for those who wish to be his disciples. His Lordship cannot be limited or halfway obeyed when he commands the storms to be calm. Equally so, his command for disciples to come and give themselves whole-heartedly to Him cannot be a limited or halfway response. Christ warns of the costliness of discipleship because there is a weightiness to it:

“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 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.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:18-22)

Jesus is presenting case studies from two types of potential followers. The first case study is an individual who is too quick to respond without counting the cost of what it means to follow Jesus. The second case study is the exact opposite; a potential follower who is too slow to respond to the call of discipleship. 

Verse 18 is important as it provides greater insight into the discipleship conversation between the Messiah and the followers in the consecutive verses (v. 19-22):

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. (v. 18)

Interestingly, Jesus’ first action is to ruin any future potential job offer to be the next cool mega-church pastor. He has just healed people, he has casted out demons, the crowd has surrounded Him and wants more of that sign-stuff (1 Cor. 1:22). Oddly, Jesus responds by removing himself from the crowd, as to separate the people from the large crowd to a select few willing to get on the boat with Him in pursuit of the other side of the lake. The boat ride would take them from Capernaum to somewhere on the eastern shore, the other side of the Jordan. 

It is important to remember that the area Jesus is headed to is largely a non-Jewish area known as Decapolis. This place was outside of the control of the Herodian rulers (Matt. 8:30). Jesus is essentially asking if the potential followers will go away on a “foreign journey” with Him. The journey might take them away from everything that is known, familiar, and comfortable. 

Case Study #1: The Jump-the-Gun Disciple

Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (v. 19-20)

It is fascinating that out of all people a scribe is one who approaches Jesus. Scribes were educated individuals, scholars in a sense, who were dedicated to the study of Scripture. When considering other gospel accounts it can be seen how the scribes and Pharisees were normally the ones opposing the teachings and actions of the Messiah. In this case however, there’s a strange phenomenon occurring. The scribe is wanting to potentially begin following Jesus in his journey and even acknowledges Jesus as “Teacher”. The literal greek translation of the Scribe’s words are “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you may be going away to” .1

There’s a good chance the scribe had witnessed many of the signs and miracles that Jesus had performed, bringing him to a place of eagerness to join this new, vibrant, Messianic-figure. The normal response from a potential follower to any movement, religion, business, club, etc., is for the other party to be excited and thus, do all they can to get the person’s information, their number, and sign them up for the new club. Right? Yet, the Son of Man sees the heart, just as he saw Peter’s in the upper room when Peter said “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33) Jesus realizes likewise, that the Scribe had not thought through the commitment to be made. Instead there was a premature eagerness and Jesus perceives this from the potential follower who shows interest in the next journey, but not necessarily in a long-term commitment to Christ. 

There are those in the Church today who subscribe to a scribal-type of Christianity. Many are called followers, but few have stopped to wrestle with the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. This attitude has brought much impotency to the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Many leaders and pastors who are “seeker sensitive” spend millions of hours and dollars towards developing innovative “church-growth-strategies” or crafting “feel-good messages” that provide uplifting tones in an attempt to get more seats filled in their congregations or gain more popularity and cultural status. The church has shown great concern and effort to be hip, to be accepted in the eyes of the world which in turn causes negligence in concern to what brings acceptance in the eyes of the Lord.

Many of the Jews in that day were seeking for a quick-fix, a miracle, a healing, or a sign in the same way many “Christians” seek to subscribe to “try out Jesus” to fix their problems or endow them with a dopamine-like emotional high. This scribal-type Christianity or seeker-sensitive mentality has definitely succeeded in increasing the amount of people who wear a cross around their neck or show up to a church service, yet congregations are filled with false converts and apostates. This is not biblical discipleship.

It is time for the American church to move away from the motto, “We will do anything short of sin to reach people in this town”. What fruit has this produced, but a generation of a mile wide and an inch deep “Christians”? Is this the kind of disciple Jesus wants? No! He does not want half-hearted, half-way, half-hazard potential commitments to get the numbers up. He desires disciples who listen to all of his words and obey them (Matt. 7:24-29; Lk. 11:28), producing many fruits of righteousness (Jn. 15:4-5, 7-8).

As the church seeks to make the nations Christ’ disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), she mustn't forget the cost of accomplishing the mission. It will take sacrifice, it will not be easy, but it will be worth it. The Son of Man, who created the world, the heavens, the seas, the mountains, the holes where the foxes lay and the nests where the birds find rest, had no place to lay his head. Neither was there space for him at his birth, so the King of the universe was born in a manger of all places. If that was the case for the Son of Man then shouldn't the people of God expect the same today in some shape or fashion? There cannot be victory without sacrifice. For those who wish to follow Him must count the cost. The martyred German pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer understood the cost of the invitation to be a disciple when he said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die!”.2

Case Study #2: The More Slow than Steady Disciple

And another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (v. 21-22)

The second case study is of a disciple who is on the opposite end of the “jump-the-gun” disciple. He is too slow to respond to the Lord. Slowness to respond is just as bad as misplaced eagerness. They are two faces of the same coin. Verse 21 relates that this individual was already a so-called “disciple” of Christ and even addresses Jesus as “Lord” rather than teacher.

Some scholars seem to differ on what exactly was meant by the disciple going first to bury his father. Typically it’s taken to mean the disciple having to go back home to arrange the funeral of his recently deceased father. Burial in this culture took place within 24 hours of the death, arrangements for such an event was normally the responsibility of the first born, and Jewish custom demanded that this would take priority over all other commitments, even the most essential prayers (Lev. 21:1-3). Any Jew who was serious about his religious commitments would be expected to do exactly what this disciple was doing, and so, Jesus’ words would have been received as shocking, direct, and maybe even harsh. They are meant to be culturally insensitive. Christ as Lord is showing the radical call of this new kingdom that is being inaugurated: the kingdom of God is to take center-stage!

To make disciples and to be a disciple ought to be the primary concern for the Christian and not even the closest family members or friends must come in its way. Jesus’ words in Luke 14 are striking in this regard. After giving examples of the one who builds the house without counting the cost or the king who goes into war without counting the cost, he concludes his teaching by stating, in my own paraphrase, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:33). Do not be the person who always has something else to do first, before following Jesus! In verse 22, the Lord Jesus goes so far as to show how those who are found within the kingdom of God ought to respond in contradiction to those who are outside of the kingdom labeled as “dead”. Christ is emphatically declaring: let the spiritually dead bury the dead! 

Nothing must take greater priority in the life of the Chrstian than his or her discipleship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. To seek and obey the King and his kingdom is the priority above everything else (Matt. 6:33), which is why the kingdom of God ought to inform all matters of life and thought, and not the other way around! 

There are many today within the walls of the church who are like this potential disciple. They are slow to whole-heartedly submit to King Jesus and quick to prioritize something else. What is that something else? Thoughts and desires are taking Jesus’ rightful worship. Sins that are being put off till tomorrow to repent of. Toil that beats at the air for nothing more than personal gain rather than the work of discipline which sows the seeds of the Kingdom. In other words, disciples of Jesus Christ must be resolved to come to the Savior daily, choose obedience to him today, not tarrying in doing so, and so not being found amongst the dead, but amongst the living!

The Christian disciple is not to go on with life as if he was on a plane in auto-pilot. He must be actively engaged in kingdom-warfare through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 10:3-5), in submitting all things under the Lordship of Christ (Col. 1:15-23). The Christian is either growing closer in love and obedience for the Lord Jesus or getting further away (2 Pet. 1:8-9). There is no such thing as a neutral disciple (Matt. 12:30), as G.K. Beale pointed out in We Become What We Worship

We become what we worship, everyone is an apprentice, a disciple, it’s not whether we are, but which type of disciple or a better way of saying this is under whose discipleship are we? All of humanity then, ultimately is a disciple, and we can categorize them under two separate classes of discipleship: 1) A disciple of Jesus Christ 2) A disciple of Satan. Which camp are you under dear reader?3

To be a disciple and to make disciples is not one amongst many “neat” ideas for the church to think about implementing. Jesus gave marching orders and thus to make the nations Christ’s disciples is the distinguishing feature between those who are obedient and disobedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. The mission is in front of the church. She has been given everything she needs to accomplish the mission (Matt. 28:20; 2 Pet. 1:3), but she must awaken from her slumber and put her hands to the plow (1 Cor. 9:10-12, 15:58), onward Christian soldiers!


1R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament), (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2007).

2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (Nashville, Tn: Holman Reference, 2017), 99.

3G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, (Lisle, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008).

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