Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart to the other side.…
To avoid the pressure of the crowd gathered by the fame of his miracles - perhaps to disperse the crowd, lest the jealous Romans might suspect sedition - Jesus gave commandment to cross the lake. Therefore a disciple - a scribe, desiring to come into more constant communion with Jesus - said, "Teacher, I will follow thee," etc. (vers. 19, 20). Another, following as a disciple (tradition says it was Philip, some say Thomas), said, "Lord, suffer me first," etc. (vers. 21-22). The whole subject unfolds the principles of Christian discipleship.
I. THE ONE CONDITION OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IS IMPLICIT SUBMISSION TO CHRIST.
1. This was confessed in words by the scribe.
(1) His words recognized the great Teacher (ver. 19).
(2) They expressed unreserved devotion to him. The genuine disciple will follow Jesus anywhere.
(3) They expressed, moreover, voluntary service. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law."
2. But he said more than he meant.
(1) His enthusiasm arose from the persuasion that in following the Miracle-worker he might secure worldly advantages. He did not discern that Jesus sought faith, not fees; that he made no material profit by his healing power. Men may propose right things from sordid motives.
(2) He too lightly estimated what it is to follow Christ. Many, like him, would follow in the sunshine, but, meeting hardships, take offence. He was too hasty in promising. "Soon ripe, soon rotten." Christ's followers in paths of publicity and enjoyment are many; in the walks of humility and suffering, few.
(3) He was too self-sufficient. A man that is not illuminated by the Spirit thinks himself capable of anything. The true man knows he can do nothing without the Spirit of Christ.
(4) All this is suggested in Christ's discouraging reply (ver. 20). Jesus does not deceive his followers. He promises them glorious rewards in the great future. He promises them present blessings also. But withal he promises hardships and privations (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11).
3. Yet not more than Christ requires.
(1) The scribe's discouragement from Christ was because his motives were not as good as his words. Christ "for our sakes became poor," and for his sake we must be "poor in spirit." The Christ-like have no abiding city here. Let the poor be comforted in their resemblance to Christ in circumstances. But let them also seek his moral likeness.
(2) The foxes have holes. Cunning men of the world "feather their nests." The birds of the air have lodging-places. Those who prey upon the simple have their convenient retreats.
4. The claims of Christ are uncompromising.
(1) This is evident in the reply of Christ to Philip. The request to be permitted first to bury his father seems in itself reasonable. Elijah permitted Elisha to bid farewell to his friends.
(2) But things otherwise lawful in themselves must not divert us from the more important duty of following Christ. Duties take precedence in the order of their importance. Many are by family ties hindered from following Jesus. Piety to God is before piety to parents (cf. Leviticus 21:11, 12; Numbers 6:6-8; Luke 14:26).
(3) It is not clear that Philip's father was dead or even dying. He may have been from age, as it were, lingering on the brink of the grave. In this case, suppose he should linger three or four years, then Philip, in waiting to bury his father, would miss his opportunity of attending upon Jesus, whose ministry closed within that period.
5. The claims of Christ are spiritual before all things.
(1) The unspiritual are dead while they live. "The philosophers esteem those dead who subject the mind to sense" (Clemens Alexandrinus). "The wicked are dead to virtue, alive to evil" (Philo). "The wicked are dead while yet alive" (Maimonides; cf. Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13; 1 Timothy 5:6; Revelation 3:1).
(2) "Let the dead" in trespasses "bury their dead." There is an affinity between spiritual and natural death. Those are styled dead who are in a fitter state for burying the dead than for preaching the gospel.
(3) Let those look after the dying for the sake of what they may inherit, who are spiritually dead. The spiritual must not turn aside from the gospel for any temporal gain. When God calls to the ministry we must leave the business of this world.
(4) "Follow me." We must surrender ourselves at once and entirely to Christ. Want of leisure is too often want of inclination.
II. THE LIFE-LESSON OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IS CHRIST.
1. Christ is the Teacher in his school.
(1) He has ushers or under-teachers - prophets, apostles, ministers. But their commission is to preach Christ. If they teach for doctrines commandments of men, they betray their trust.
(2) The Spirit of Christ is ever present in his Church. He sheds his light upon the Word that he inspired. He sheds his love abroad in the hearts of his sincere disciples.
2. Christ is also the Subject of his teaching.
(1) Styling himself "the Son of man," he claims to be Messiah (cf. Psalm 8:4 with Hebrews 2:6, 16; see also Daniel 7:13, 14).
(2) The correlative title is "Son of God." Christ constantly speaks of himself as "the Son of man" (see Matthew 26:63, 64). He uses the term to assert his humanity (see John 12:34). His miracles asserted his Divinity.
(3) With a single notable exception (see Acts 7:56), his disciples speak of him as "the Son of God."
3. Properly to know Christ we must embark with him.
(1) By embarking with Christ we do not escape storms. On the contrary, we may encounter them because he is in the ship. Does not Christ's "rebuking" the wind suggest that intelligent agency was behind it? The "prince of the powers of the air" would rejoice to sink such a freight as Christ and his Church.
(2) But with Jesus we are safe. "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" Fearfulness is a sign of little faith. Why did they not confide in his Godhead, which never sleeps? Had they been able in faith to say, "The Lord is my Strength," then would they have added, "Of whom shall I be afraid?"
(3) The sleep of Jesus in the storm showed the confidence of his humanity in his Godhead. It betokened also that inward peace which his disciples might have. amidst title storms of temptation and affliction.
(4) The recourse of the disciples to the humanity of Christ shows how necessary is that humanity to us as the way of our access to the Godhead.
(5) "And he arose, and rebuked the wind." So the calming of the storm in the soul is the result, not only of the Lord's awaking, but also of his arising, viz. from the sleep of death. He rebuked and calmed the spirits of his disciples first, and then he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. Spiritual things take precedence of material.
(6) "What manner of man is this?" The Divine Man. To still the raging of the sea is the acknowledged work of God. The God of nature is the God of grace. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.