Matthew 8:18-34 Part 1

It looks, upon first reading, that a series of very simple events is occurring in the life and ministry of Jesus – events around which some good illustrations and “morals” can be built for life.  A couple of good stories and maybe a sermon can be developed around the crowds, and the need to get away by yourself, away from the hustle and bustle of business and away from the demands of people, in order to be by yourself and rest, and to rejuvenate the soul.

Probably a crowd-pleasing sermon could also be written about “going across to the other side” where you can get a new perspective on things.

And let’s certainly not leave out the anthropocentric “calming of the frantic, human soul” as Jesus calms the turbulence of the sea.  And we won’t doubt that those things have some truth in them – just as we can’t doubt that Jesus can cast out the demons that inhabit human depravity, as He healed the Gadarene demoniacs on the other side of the lake.

But, as we will see this morning, those things, although carrying some threads of truth, are only the wisdom of men trying to find something in the passage to preach about, and something from Scriptures to make them feel good.  And, although some benefits derive from the passage which are good for the human condition, those things are not the focus of Jesus’ words, here; and they cannot be made so by any stretch of the imagination or super-exegetical effort!

And when they try to do that, that is, build whole sermons on superficial issues, and cannibalizing the text of Scriptures for little life/morality stories and psychological benefits, they run into real problems:  for example the rejection of the Scribe here in the text!  And they don’t know what to do with it.  After all, Jesus shouldn’t reject anybody who wants to follow Him!  And since there’s nothing else here other than man who wants to be a follower, there’s nothing else to do than just overlook the passage!

But I would suggest that there are other reasons for Matthew’s writing down of this whole passage.  There are other reasons Jesus crossing the lake than the fact that He wanted to go to the other side; or that He wanted to get away from the crowds; or that being compassionate He knew that there were some demoniacs to heal on the other side!

I would suggest to you that we could gain some benefit by examining the text in those superficial ways – but we wouldn’t know the Lord Jesus Christ when we got through; and we wouldn’t have heard His Word; and have been the beneficiaries of salvation preaching; and we would not have heard about the Kingdom at all; and we wouldn’t have heard the truth about any of the incidents here; and we still wouldn’t know what to do with the Scribe!

What do you do with a Scribe?

If a Scribe came to the Church and wanted to worship, we’d probably tell him to sit in with us – and listen to the Word preached.  Richard would invite him to dinner – give him a good tongue-lashing!

            And although we wouldn’t know what to do with a Scribe, Jesus did!  And when this Scribe shows up on the scene, Matthew knew it was a significant event.  And he included it in the text of his Gospel! 

It doesn’t seem so significant, does it?  On first reading it, it doesn’t look like it’s such a power entry in the course of things.

But we have to realize, as I’ve said before, that the whole course of history had focused on a very short period of time, and that the intensity of things had reached a very heightened state!  And every action and every word of the Son of God was packed with significance!

Now, if you just read verse eighteen by itself, you wouldn’t think much of it.  Would you?  “Now, having seen the crowd around Him, He gave direction (or gave course) to go to the other side….”  But, reading the whole passage having to do with the lake provides it with its meaning and context – which we’ll get to in a minute.

The first thing that needs to be done with this passage – so that we can see the fearful and awesome plan and power of Almighty God, is to gain some understanding – however hard that may be – of the terms and references that are used here, in their own contexts!

And, first, is the very simple geographical lesson that the River Jordan separates Israel from its Gentile neighbors!  And Lake Genassaret, or the Sea of Galilee, is a larger body of water filled by the River Jordan!  It separates Israel and Syria!  So when Jesus crosses the lake, He leaves the covenant people and enters the wilderness!

When Jesus leaves the northern Kingdom (which as you remember was by this time a mixed race people) and crosses the Sea of Galilee, He enters an area described in various ways in Scripture – but one of the graphic descriptions is that everything else except where God’s blessings is only a wasteland with flesh-eating birds.  And where scavenger animals roam with abandon.

And just as Jesus announces to the disciples that He wants to go to that “other side,” the Scribe approaches Him, and says, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You may be going…”  And Jesus answers him and says, “The foxes have dens and the birds have of the heaven roosts, but the Son of man has not where He might lay His head.”

Now in order to understand this you must begin with “the Son of man.”  You can’t say something trite like Jesus was a poor man, so He was telling the Scribe that he better count the costs of following Him, because He didn’t even have a place to lay His head!  He was too poor!  Besides, doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus became poor so that we might become rich?  Can’t say something trite like that?!

Well, in the first place, Jesus becoming poor that we might become rich has to do with the fact that He emptied Himself to become man – that He covered His glory for a time, He denied Himself of His rights as God the Son, He poured Himself out, He became man rather than remaining in all the glory of the Godhead!  That’s what it means that he became poor that we might be rich – not that He was a poor man!

Besides, Jesus had a house!  He had a place to live.  He had a place to rest and sleep!  So that isn’t what it means.  And He wasn’t poor, anyway!  He had twelve men around Him most of His life – one of which was a treasurer – they had a purse, a treasury; and they gave to the poor.  Apparently there was enough money and income that they could pay the taxes and buy food and whatever other necessities.  So Jesus wasn’t destitute.  So the trite, superficial explanation of the conversation with the Scribe, here, - that Jesus was warning him that he had to count the costs of following Him – the he was going to be poor of he followed Him, that just isn’t the case.  It just doesn’t fit – “Poor.”  But it’s poor exegesis!  It doesn’t say anything!

As I said, the key here is that Jesus refers to Himself, when He’s talking to the Scribe, as “The Son of Man.”  Now, that’s a very unusual term, isn’t it?  Why?  Why does Jesus use it at all?  Why does He refer to Himself in that way?  Why didn’t He call Himself the Messiah?  And why was He talking to a Scribe when He uses the term?  And you see, the fact that none of these questions are answered is the key to why there are always trite explanations of these events!

We’ve already seen that Jesus is leaving a nation that has become darkened by its own rebellion – and demonic – and He’s about to cross over into the wilderness – the God-forsaken Gentile wilderness.  Both places are only inhabited by scavenger jackals and birds.

Now He calls Himself the Son of Man!  And he does so to this Scribe, this representative of the leadership of Israel – the representative of Israel itself.  And it is a term which must have had stunning significance to him!  The Scribe would have known immediately what Jesus was referring to!

You see, the only place in the Old Testament where the Son of Man was mentioned was in the seventh chapter of Daniel.  Listen:


 “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days; and they brought Him near before Him.  And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a Kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom which shall not be destroyed.”


You see, right in the midst of the vision of the four beasts – that is, the four nations who ruled and had dominion over all the earth before Christ came – Daniel has a vision of the Son of Man coming and receiving dominion and rule over all nations and peoples and languages!  In the midst of the dominion of beasts comes the dominion of the Son of Man.  He saves the people of the earth from the dominion of beasts, and then He, Himself, rules eternally!

And here He tells the Scribe that the beasts have their dens and roosts, but the Son of Man doesn’t yet have a place to lay His head!

The apostle John – exiled on the Isle of Patmos, and writing in about 65 A.D., says this:


 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I AM Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last; and, What you see, write in a book, and send it unto the seven Churches which are in Asia’; ... and I turned to see the voice that spake with me, And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and a girt about the paps with a golden girdle.  His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters.  And He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and His countenance was as the sun shining its strength.”


As the prophecy of Daniel promised, so it was to come to pass – as the apostle John saw – the Son of Man appears, dressed for warfare and rule and dominion!

And that’s exactly what the Lord Jesus prophecies about Himself later in our text as recorded by the apostle Matthew in chapter twenty four: 


“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, and from one end of the heaven to the other.”


And Jesus says the same thing about Himself again two chapters later (chapter twenty-six).  He calls Himself the Son of Man three times.  And on all three occasions, as Daniel said, the implications are salvation and redemption for the world – from the beasts who ruled it before – and The dominion and rule of Christ the King!  That’s the context of “the Son of Man” terminology!

And by not using the title “Messiah” Jesus denationalizes His Messiahship and Kingship, and lifts it above all Jewish conception, and separates it from the Old Covenant Nation.  The Daniel passage is a universal passage – Jesus is the Son of Man / Redeemer / King of the nations!  The Jews are being cut off from the process!

And when the Scribe/teacher shows up and sees Jesus about to cast off and go to the other side of the lake, he has no idea what is happening!  And when he says, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever You may be going,” he has no idea what he’s saying!

But Jesus let him know in no uncertain terms that he and the rest of the jackals have had dominion in Israel, and the vineyards were now ruined, and the carcass was being eaten in the streets – and now the Son of Man was casting off to leave it behind, casting off to go to the other side!  And right now there’s a carcass on this side and a wasteland on the other side full of demon-possessed vultures; and there wasn’t yet a place on either side where the Son of Man could claim dominion!

Why would Jesus bring the teacher of a dead carcass over to the wasteland of death on the other side?  It’s dead on this side; why would He want to bring death from this side over to something dead on the other side?  Jesus was crossing over to bring life to the wastelands!  He was going to bring redemption and dominion to the dead, demon-possessed Gentiles!  He was the Son of Man going to redeem mankind!  All men – in all the nations and tribes and tongues!

The old vineyard was dead – destroyed by beasts – and a new vine was to be grafted on to the stalk!  He was crossing over to bring life to the dead – to create the new heavens and the new earth.  Four great beasts had risen up among the sea of the dead, and they had been very fierce!  But, now, the Son of Man – the One with the countenance like the sun and the golden girdle and the burnished bronze feet and the two-edged Sword from His mouth – this One would now bring dominion to the nations!  And His rule wouldn’t end in two hundred years – or five hundred – or a thousand.  It is an eternal rule, and a dominion which progresses until it is complete. 

No interruption!  No defeat!  No replacements!

Verses twenty-one and twenty-two.  The example of the disciple who wanted to bury his father reiterates the same thing.  Listen:  


“Now, another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to depart and to bury my father.’  But Jesus says to him, ‘Be following Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”


As you can readily see, this isn’t a commentary on funerals and how we ought to treat unbelievers at their deaths.  Although the death and burial of pagans isn’t my favorite thing to attend (and it’s even worse to have to officiate at those events) this passage is not to be used to offhandedly dismiss the pain and loss of death, and refuse to acknowledge the events surrounding the deaths of unbelievers.  I don’t even think I would need to say that this passage has nothing whatever to say about that!

But what it does say is significant with respect to Israel, and significant with respect to what Jesus was about to do!  He just got through branding the Scribe as the representative of all that carcass eating, vineyard-destroying jackals of Israel – and that the nation, although chosen of God for two thousand years, was dead and being cut off.  And Jesus was crossing over to bring life to the Gentile nations.

And, now, a disciple, a learner – one under discipline – came to him wanting Jesus to wait – to hold off on the redemption of the wasteland Gentile millions – the mass of humanity – while a dead man who had died was buried!

Let the vultures and the jackals clean up the mess!  That’s why they’re there!  They’re scavengers!  They’re supposed to eat dead and rotting meat!  And they’re everywhere in Israel!  The whole nation is filled with demon-possessed birds and beasts – the city of Jerusalem has become Babylon of old – the stench of death is everywhere in Israel!  Let them deal with their own!

Now is the day of the Lord – now is the time of salvation – the salvation of the world!  Israel is dead – let it go!  The resurrection is unto life.  He is the Light, and the Light shined in the darkness.  And His Own knew Him not.  And, now, those who were in great darkness have seen a great Light.  (And His Own who knew Him not have been cast away into that external darkness.)

Next Lord’s Day the resurrection of Christ and redemption of the nations foreshadowed during the first day of His ministry!