A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 28, 2018.
Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ 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.’ 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.’
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ 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. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’
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. 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?’ Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, ‘If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.’ 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. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region (Matt. 8:18–34).
At the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the listeners were astonished at His teaching authority. Confirming His authority not only over the spoken word but as the living Word of God, Jesus reveals His healing authority in healing a leper, the servant of a humble leader, and a helpful loved one. As the needy crowded around Him, Jesus revealed that He has authority to heal the physically sick and the spiritually oppressed. Such healing authority reveals His lordship over all, whether word or deed.
As the Lord, therefore, He has the authority to make demands. Upon those who wish to follow Him, He demands supreme allegiance transcending our understanding of this worldly kingdom. Upon His creation, spoken into existence ex nihilo and sustained by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), He demands submission. Upon the demonic, He finds no equal, but merely pawns in God’s sovereign plan of redemption, demanding deliverance.
In our three passages today, the disciples sum up the fundamental question to be asked in witness of the teaching, healing, and demanding authority of Jesus: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matt. 8:27). What sort of man is this? He is the Lord Jesus Christ, demanding discipleship, demanding dependence, demanding deliverance.
From a secular perspective some consider Jesus to be a great teacher, with words to be considered, an example to follow. Such was the case with one scribe, a teacher of the law who wanted to be a student of Jesus. His sincerity is unquestionable: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” (Matt. 8:19). Jesus’ teaching had captivated this scribe who was willing to follow Jesus, as a student follows his teacher. What Jesus teaches this zealous student is profound: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). This simple reply is full of meaning, worthy of the student’s study. Let us consider this reply carefully.
First, Jesus has been addressed as “Teacher,” but how does He address Himself in reply? Jesus refers to Himself as “the Son of Man.” At first, this may seem like a first-person reference to His humanity, but in biblical context there is a deeper meaning. A teacher of the Law, such as this scribe, would know this reference immediately. The “Son of Man” (appropriately capitalized in this ESV translation) is a title quoted from the book of Daniel. In a night vision, the prophet saw this: “with clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away” (Dan. 7:13-14). Can you imagine the look on the scribe’s face when Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man”? The scribe seeking to follow a great teacher is instead confronted by a man who reveals Himself to be the Son of Man; a man who not only taught well and did good but who claimed He would have total dominion, glory, and a kingdom, a Man who would be served by “all peoples, nations, and languages” forever. What the scribe learned that day as a student of Jesus is that Jesus will not allow Himself to be followed as merely a good teacher or mercy minister. To follow Jesus is to follow Him exclusively as Lord, nothing less.
The second point for us to consider in Jesus’ reply is what it is like to live as the King of heaven in this temporal kingdom. While creatures in the field and sky have homes, Jesus has “nowhere to lay his head.” While we know that Jesus literally had places to sleep, such as a boat upon a stormy sea, He is teaching the scribe a distinction between kingdoms. Life is different for the King of heaven on earth. Likewise, the demand of discipleship is of the kingdom of heaven. In this worldly kingdom, we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) living for God’s glory in a lost and dying world, as disciples of the Son of Man.
Similarly, our third consideration of Jesus’ reply reveals that our allegiance to Christ supersedes everything else, even the strongest of worldly relationships. The fifth commandment directs us, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12). A proper burial is certainly a form of honor. Honorably did Jesus’ would-be disciple plead, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matt. 8:21). But such honor cannot disobey the greatest commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Jesus’ direction, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22), sounds almost as harsh as His clarification, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). The demands of discipleship are comprehensive. Jesus is not a great teacher to be followed He is the Lord to be worshiped. As such, He demands our complete allegiance as His disciples. He also demands our dependence.
Few things present a sense of helplessness like the force of nature. If you have ever been through a tornado or hurricane, a flood or a fire, you know that sense of helplessness. Others of us have gone through storms of life, whether illness or heartache, and felt a sense of helplessness. Jesus and His disciples were in a boat in the midst of a storm on the sea.
What do you do in a storm if you are the Creator Incarnate? You sleep. In contrast, His disciples wake Him crying out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matt. 8:25). Listen carefully to Jesus’ response: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). Jesus first questions His disciples’ fear and then confronts their lack of faith. Fear, in Jesus’ disciples as in us, reveals a lack of dependence upon the Lord. Because “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7), we should “not fear those who [or things that] kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). In this sense, we fight fear with dependence. We are sovereign over neither body nor soul, but our Lord is. So fight fear with fear of the Lord!
This dependence, in Jesus’ disciples as in us, is also a matter of faith. The disciples, like many of us, do not go to Jesus until there is no other option. Yet, our Lord is most glorified in us when we are most dependent upon Him. What are your fears? O you of little faith, take them to Jesus! Though the storms of life rage around us, we serve the Son of Man. We worship the King who has everlasting dominion. We are dependent upon the One who rebukes the winds and the sea, and in Him there is great calm. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, demanding discipleship, demanding dependence, and demanding deliverance.
Through the storm into the calm Jesus and His Jewish disciples arrive on a Gentile shore, the country of the Gadarenes. They are welcomed by two graveyard-dwelling, violent, demon-possessed men. While the Gadarenes do not know Jesus, the demons do, revealingly asking, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). This of course is no statement of faith: “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). For the fallen angels are kept “in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Judgment day had not come for the demons but deliverance had come to two men. In fact, Jesus demands the deliverance of these men, sending the evil spirits into a herd of pigs, the unclean into the unclean, so to speak. So vile is this legion that the pigs are drowned, but the men are freed.
Now consider the deliverance of two freed souls with the other two passages. The scribe sought a great teacher and was confronted with the Son of Man. Another disciple sought to honor family over following Christ and was left at the graveyard. The fearful and faithless disciples asked, “What sort of man is this?” In the two demon-possessed men, we see what sort of man this is. He is the Deliverer of those in spiritual bondage. Just as these two men were set free from demonic bondage, we have been set free from the bondage of sin and the penalty of death. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Of course, not everyone will rejoice in your freedom nor worship your Deliverer. Just as “all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region” (Matt. 8:24), there are some who disdain the presence and witness of your Deliverer. Others may accept Him as a great teacher but never the Son of Man. They may even appreciate the cultural benefits of His presence, like the blessing of family, but have no desire to follow Him in faith. But for those who have been delivered by sola gratia through sola fide according to sola scriptura and for soli Deo Gloria, we rejoice in His demanding authority.
Jesus, we own Thy saving pow’r,
And Thy victorious hand;
Hell’s legions tremble at Thy feet,
And fly at Thy command.
No more they rend their clothing off;
No more their wounds repeat;
But gentle and compos’d they wait
Attentive at Thy feet.
O’er thousands more, where Satan rules,
May we such triumphs see;
And be their rescu’d souls and ours
Devoted, Lord, to Thee.
 Philip Doddrige, The Recovered Demoniac an Emblem of a Converted Sinner (Verses 1, 3, 4).