Let the Dead Bury the Dead


There are times when Jesus’ teachings appeared heartless and uncompassionate, yet were filled with love and profound insight. This was the case when He responded to a man who asked for permission to go bury his father. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22). What did our Lord imply in that statement? 

Obviously, Jesus neither forbade funerals nor did He consider it a loss of faith to mourn the passing of a loved one. One of the most popular verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), which occurred when His friend Lazarus died. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, was having an especially hard time, which “when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (v. 33). The Son of Man was (and still is) moved with compassion by the suffering and emptiness that death brings us.

The point Jesus was making regarding burying the dead was that nothing is to come before following Him, not even human relationships. It is likely the man’s father had not yet died, but would eventually and the man was putting off following Jesus until that occurred. If so, it shows how people will let the slightest excuse keep them from obeying Jesus. There is always one more thing to do before giving their lives to the Lord; always one more matter to take care of before becoming a faithful Christian. “I’ll go back to church when I don’t have to care for my family.” “I’ll put the Lord first when I am older.” “I’ll obey the gospel after I quit this job.” “I’ll start studying the Bible again after ball season.” On and on the excuses flow, but that “day” of obedience never comes. There is always something more important coming up. Furthermore, they have convinced themselves that intending to serve God is just as good as actually serving Him, which is a lie. The prophet Samuel made that clear when he told a disobedient king (who thought he could disobey God as long as he made up for it in valuable offerings), “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

The sad reality is most people are dead spiritually and will remain that way forever, which is why Jesus said to let the dead bury the dead. They are “dead” while they live because of their devotion to sinful pleasure (1 Timothy 5:6). Consequently, everything they do in life, even as profound as burying a loved one, is of little significance and value. All of those “important” matters that had to be done will evaporate into oblivion when compared to eternity. Or as Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Unfortunately, most people will not realize that truth until they depart from this life – when it is too late to change (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Dear friend, be wise and find spiritual life today while you still “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9). The day is coming when your time to repent will be taken from you. If you have not obeyed the gospel, you are still in sin and separated from Him (Acts 2:36-41). If you are a Christian in rebellion, you are bound by iniquity until you repent, pray and confess to God (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). Today is the day He has given you to walk by faith in Him. What in the world could be more important than finding eternal life? If Jesus would not let a man use the excuse of a funeral to keep him from obeying God, what could possibly be so important in your life to justify your disobedience?