Matthew 8:18-27

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. [1]

I know most of us believe in healing. We have prayed for healing for members of this congregation. All of us at some point in our lives have needed and will need such prayer. I have also seen friends be miraculously healed from terrible diseases and conditions. Yet none of those healings has ever been under my control. I have never had the power and authority to make a paralyzed person walk. I could never touch someone’s eyes and make a blind person see.

Imagine if you were able to do that. Imagine that no matter what the illness or ailment, you could heal with a word, a touch, or even a glance. What would the response to that kind of power be? It would be the same as it was for Jesus. You would draw a crowd. That crowd would grow and grow. You could wind up with millions of followers on social media.

That gives you an idea of how our passage begins. After giving the greatest sermon in the history of the world, and after healing the untouchables with his words or touch (a leper, a servant, a woman with a fever), Jesus drew what Matthew calls “a crowd around him” (8:18). Jesus would have blown up on TikTok.

And yet, he was not interested in drawing a crowd. His approach was totally upside down from modern celebrity. He was not interested in having people merely follow him. He is interested in having followers. He is interested in people like the leper, the centurion, and Peter’s mother-in-law – people who will rise and serve him. In other words, he is interested in making disciples.

That is, he seeks those who recognize his authority and become increasingly willing to submit to it. This passage centers around discipleship. What does and doesn’t a true disciple of Jesus look like? Matthew gives us three negative examples. That is, Jesus is teaching us how NOT to follow him.


The first example of how not to follow Jesus is the scribe we meet in verses 19, 20: “19 And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ 20 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Jesus is getting into a boat to cross the lake and head to a distinctly gentile region where good Jews would never be seen. He is escaping the crowd with his disciples. He is exhausted. We will make sense of Jesus’ apparently disconnected reply to the scribe who wants to ride along. First, let’s look at the scribe and his statement.

A scribe was a Bible scholar and teacher, an expert in the scriptures. In Jesus’ time, it was a respectable occupation. He was the brain surgeon or rocket scientist of his society. He had to be able to read and write in several languages. It took intellect and skill. A scribe was highly esteemed by his society. This scribe in our story knows that, and as we we’ll see, relishes that respectability.

The first word out of his mouth sounds respectable. He calls Jesus “Teacher.” He is even willing to follow Jesus. But in Matthew’s Gospel (unlike Mark and Luke), the five times Jesus is called “teacher” it is always from the lips of someone who isn’t or won’t become a disciple. So immediately we have a hint, with this title, that’s something is off about this man’s faith.

What is wrong with what he actually says? What could be wrong with saying, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go”? Even today it’s hard to find people, let alone academic scholars, who are willing to state publicly their desire to follow Jesus. But Jesus sees beneath the surface to this man’s pride and blindness, both of which the Lord brings to the surface. The title Jesus gives to himself, “The Son of Man” hits at the scribe’s issue of pride. Jesus’ reference to poverty (“nowhere to lay his head”) cut to the heart of this man’s obliviousness to the cost of discipleship.

According to several commentaries, the scribe seems to be making an offer in which he brings his skills and his reputation to the table. He looks around and notices who is following Jesus (fishermen, lepers, soldiers, tax collectors, and middle-aged women). He thinks Jesus can use someone with a head on his shoulders and with some religious respectability. As far as he is concerned, this is Jesus’ lucky day! He is offering to help Jesus bring about his Kingdom using his scribal skills and reputation. It was if the scribe was saying to Jesus, “With my reputation and mad skills, you and I can bring about this kingdom you talk about.

Apparently, the unnamed scribe (we’ll call him Dr Bighead) doesn’t get the context of what Jesus is doing. He is leaving the crowds behind. What kind of leader of any movement turns his back on the crowds? That is not a successful model of leadership or marketing! We have some sense of that simply from looking at the subject of verse 19 (I) and comparing that to what the leper and the centurion said to Jesus (you). This man talks about what he will do. They came in desperation acknowledging what Jesus can do.

I don’t think our take on the scribe is too far off the mark given Jesus’ response. Essentially, Jesus says, “You don’t know who you’re talking to, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus’ rebuke conveys something like this:

Look, I am the Son of Man. You’re such a brilliant scribe, I’m sure you’re familiar with the eternal king Daniel wrote about, the one who will be given absolute dominion over heaven and earth. You should really go home and look up Daniel 7:13, 14. You don’t get who I am, and you don’t know where I’m going. I am headed to Jerusalem to die outside the walls on a cross at Calvary. Are you willing to follow me there? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me? Homelessness is really the least of your worries. You may or may not have a roof over your head if you follow me. There is far more than a house to leave behind! You need to die to your sense of self and all your accomplishments. The Son of Man seeks the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead.

Jesus placed no faith in this man’s “faith” because at the heart of the scribe’s bold declaration was self-love, not self-denial. He had a desire for power, not a willingness to be powerless, homeless, and un-esteemed. Jesus wants disciples. But these two verses show that he will not accept just anyone. He will not accept those who come without humility and recognition that trusting into him involves death.

However this scribe, full of self-esteem, reacts to Jesus is not recorded in the text. I picture him slinking away pondering just what Jesus meant by his title, the Son of Man. No doubt, his pride was hurt, and his mind was spinning. “Just what kind of teacher would reject my status and turn away my help?


But that is only the first picture of how not to be a disciple. Immediately on the heels of the self-satisfied scribe comes another man. We could name him “the hesitant son.” We can get a little more snarky and a little more to the point by calling him “Mr. Moneybags.” I’ll tell you why we can call him that in just a little bit. For now, look at verses 21, 22:

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

Wow! What happened to the meek and mild Jesus? Where is that nice blue-eyed, blonde hair, peaceful looking Jesus that hung on your nursery wall and populated the handouts in your 1st grade Sunday school class? Clearly, Matthew’s parents never took him to Sunday school because his Jesus gives a left hook, then a right, and down goes Mr. Moneybags. Just like Dr. Bighead, the scribe, Jesus blows this guy off. Has no one taught Jesus basic church marketing principles?

Now, you might be wondering why I refer to this man as Mr. Moneybags. Here’s a hint: his story has something to do with money. It seems to us in our Western way of thinking that all this poor grieving man wants is to bury his dear old father. What’s wrong with that? And what does that have to do with money? There is certainly nothing wrong with a proper Jewish burial. The Bible records many burials. Even Jesus himself mentions it as a care and a priority (John 19:38-42).

Jesus is not lashing out at Jewish or Hellenistic burial rights or the common and necessary concern one should have for one’s parents even and especially upon their death. He is not abandoning the 5th commandment to honor your father and mother. Read his scolding of the Pharisees for not properly caring for their parents in chapter 15:1-9. The key to understanding his seemingly insensitive reply is to grasp precisely what this man is asking.

If his father had just died, he wouldn’t have been following Jesus, at least not on the day of his father’s death. In Israel, the dead were required to be buried on the same day they died. The most positive and least accurate reading of verse 21 is to say that this man is asking permission to remain at home during his dying father’s last days (or years) and follow Jesus after that phase of life is over. If that is the situation, what Jesus says in verse 22 is still very shocking and difficult for us to understand. He is then cutting at the root of idolatry, effectively saying that one should love his begetter but prefer the Creator.

In other words, put God first and family second. Jesus is not at all opposed to this kind of rebuke. We will hear it from him in chapter 10. But this is not an issue of idolizing family. Notice the word “first.” “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (8:21). The love of money is at the route of this man’s request. It is the root unbelief. It can and often does choke trust (13:22). Mr. Moneybags was using an ancient Near-Eastern figure of speech, an idiomatic expression.

We use figures of speech to communicate all the time. Remember those long-ago days when we could say “It’s raining cats and dogs out there”? Have you ever promised to give someone “a piece of my mind”? One scholar explains it this way:

If the father had just died, the son could hardly be out at the roadside with Jesus; his place was to be keeping vigil and preparing for the funeral. Rather, to “bury one’s father” is standard idiom for fulfilling one’s filial responsibilities for the remainder of the father’s lifetime, with no prospect of his imminent death. This would then be a request for indefinite postponement of discipleship, likely to be for years rather than days. In that case Jesus’ reply would be less immediately shocking—the man’s proposed “discipleship” was apparently not very serious.[2]

To put it in modern terms, the man told Jesus he would like to follow him soon. But first he had an obligation to help in the family business. If he left right then with Jesus, whenever his father died, he might not get his inheritance. The man is telling Jesus he cannot afford to follow him right now, but in time he will be comfortable enough to do so. In effect, he promises that once he has all the money then Jesus will have all of him. Doctor Bighead, the scribe, was too quick to follow. Mr. Moneybags was too slow, he was waiting for his pot of inherited gold at the end of the rainbow.

Jesus wanted nothing to do with pride, not the pride of the famous scholar and not the pride of a man’s comfortable inheritance. His Kingdom will do just fine with fishermen and tax collectors. He doesn’t need kings, intellectuals, or celebrities. And he knows what is in our hearts. Yet, Jesus invites him to follow. He invites him to love God, not money. Discipleship is always a present obligation. The man needed to make a choice then and there. He could have spiritual life in Christ, or he could be one of the spiritually dead and stay behind to bury the dead.

Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Jesus doesn’t have a flattering view of the world. He doesn’t think that if we only educate everyone and give them enough share of the collective wealth, things will all work out. He sees the world populated with walking dead people. He speaks metaphorically, corpses burying corpses. The spiritually dead will take care of business. They’ll make sure all worldly matters are taken care of, but Jesus’ disciples must put his Kingdom first and his righteousness first, trusting that he will take care of us in ways that seem good to him.

Matthew does not tell us what happened to Mr. Moneybags. But we will come across the rich young ruler in chapter 19, and we will see him walk away sad. He walked away with his money firmly in his hand and heart. I suspect Mr. Moneybags did the same ending.


In verses 23-27, Jesus and his disciples begin a boat journey to the other side of the lake to leave the crowds behind. It is a scene we could title Twelve Anxious Men. We won’t examine the story and its entirety this morning. We will revisit it next week with some additional verses. Today, we just want to notice their fear and Jesus’ strong rebuke of it in verse 26.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Today we’re really focusing on these three pictures of how not to follow Jesus. Our first picture was Doctor Bighead, the scribe who proposed to follow Jesus without humility. Our second picture was Mr. Moneybags, who refused to follow Jesus without delay. In this third scene, the disciples provide another negative example. Jesus is to be followed without fear.

When you think about this situation in verses 24, 25 – thirteen men packed into a small boat out on a huge lake in the middle of a raging storm – who among us wouldn’t be afraid? Have you ever found yourself out walking, driving, or even sailing in really dangerous weather? In certain situations it would be less than human not to be a bit chicken. Weather is one of those conditions we have to admit is beyond our control.

We should note that Jesus is not addressing fear in the ordinary or necessary sense, but rather his disciples excessive fear. The kind of fear that pushes faith in God out the back door. Fear that fails to recognize who is in control. Fear that doesn’t acknowledge who is on board the boat with them. Some commentators claim the disciples should have known that if Jesus died with them in this storm, the Kingdom of God would die, which couldn’t happen.

Those are the kinds of theological ruminations that only happen in the cloistered offices of biblical academics. Seriously, who would think about such things, such theological concepts, and logical connections, when the wind is howling, and waves are crashing over your head? It’s easy for us to say from a safe distance that they should have known better, or that they should have known what the wind and the waves knew.

But it isn’t too much to claim that the disciples should have known something of Christ’s divine authority by now, enough of it to trust him even in this desperate situation. That seems to be what is behind Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” We wouldn’t expect the disciples at this stage of Jesus’ ministry to understand the big picture. But they should have seen who was sleeping on board and why he was able to sleep through such a storm.

In Mark’s account Jesus rebukes them for showing “no faith” (Mark 4:40). At least Matthew was a little less harsh on himself and his fellow disciples’ “little faith.” They certainly believed Jesus might be able to help in their dire situation. They eventually wake him up and cry out to him, “Lord! Save! We are being destroyed!” Unlike Doctor Bighead and Mr. Moneybags, Jesus takes his disciples along for the ride, weak faith, and all.

He doesn’t say, “I am not stopping this storm until I see some real faith out of you people!” He doesn’t say, “You kids better calm down right now or I’m pulling this boat over!” Jesus hears their prayer. He stops the seas. He steals the storm. Even a little faith is fate still. Jesus helps us however we come to him when we see our desperate need and cry out for him.

The point here is that Jesus is not flattered with weak faith. He constantly demands more of it from his disciples. During Peter’s moments of self-satisfaction and bravado, Jesus never stopped to pat him on the head and say, “Simon, bless your heart, I know faith is hard. That’s OK.” Yes, Jesus understands weak faith, but he never commends it. However, he is always, always working in his disciples’ lives to grow more of it.

Our takeaway from this scene is that faith is to be without fear, it is a form of bravery not born out of trust into one’s own ability to roll up their sleeves and work through a tough situation but born out of the knowledge of him who holds all things together. Faith is not simply a passive acceptance of truth, a weak resignation, or a leap into the unknown. It is courageous confidence that knows Jesus is always equal to any occasion, he is always up to the issue at hand.

Think about the leper and the centurion’s faith we saw last week. Consider their absolute confidence in Jesus. The leper’s faith was a perfect blend of confidence and humility. “Lord, you can heal me; Will you?” Consider St. Author of Hebrews and his great Portrait Gallery of Faith in Hebrews 11.

“[T]hrough faith,” we are told, some “conquered kingdoms . . . stopped the mouths of lions, quenched . . . fire, escaped the edge of the sword . . .” (vv. 33, 34); others “suffered mocking and flogging . . . chains and imprisonment” (v. 36); “they were stoned . . . sawn in two . . . killed with the sword” (v. 37a), “destitute, afflicted, mistreated” (v. 37b); “some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (v. 35).[3]

Read the book of Acts. Consider Peter, the man whose false bravado proclaimed to Jesus that he would stand with him to the end, and yet denied even knowing the Lord three times. In Acts we see Peter and John boldly declaring the gospel in the temple and being beaten for it. They rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for the Lord.

These examples of faith are not there to show you how great you can be or how courageous you can be. They point only to one thing: the transforming power of the spirit of God at work in those who are trusting into the person and work of the crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ who offers us his perfectly lived life as our righteousness and his sacrificial blood-shedding death as our payment for our sins.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [4]









[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 8:18–34.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 329.

[3] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Preaching the Word) (p. 218). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:1–10.