given on Sunday, September 29, 2013
Scripture base: Matthew 4:23-25
Can you imagine what the side of the mountain looked like as Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount? I can only imagine what it must have been like:
- First, there was this man traveling along the road with a group. They appeared to be in a deep discussion as they walked. Apparently the walking made it difficult to finish the discussion, so the leader decided to go up on the mountain, sit down on a protruding rocks and the men gathered around him.
- Secondly, as these men are discussing, other travelers noticed them and are curious. These individuals begin collecting behind the original group, listening in.
- Then someone starts whispering that this must be that guy Jesus who keeps talking in all the temples telling people to follow one law rather than all the ancient Hebrew laws.
- Pretty soon, a younger kid jumps up and takes off to tell his parents whom he just saw and they should come listen.
- Slowly the crowd just keeps growing, but the man and his friends keep talking until Jesus, the main speaker, realizes how large the crowd has become. He shifts his talk to include all those sitting there on the side of the mountain.
What a scenario! I can only imagine what the day was like and in today’s world the closest thing I have to compare it to are the crowds that swarm to the sports fields all over the countryside or maybe to the music venues when a star comes into the area for a concert.
I can only imagine!
The Sermon on the Mount is legendary as one of the most important life events of Jesus’ ministry. Repeatedly the verses, the parables, the stories are referenced by almost anybody—preacher, parishioner, lay speakers, musicians, business speakers, writers, parents, and grandparents. I can only imagine the number of references this sermon has had over the thousands of years in virtually every setting imaginable.
Why did this particular man and his message create so much attention? I can only imagine what it must have been to sit in his presence and listen to him speak. There must have been a sense of assuredness that he provided, a sense of authority, too. His mannerisms and his body language must have invited anyone to listen.
I can only imagine these things because we have no evidence like we would today—no video records, no audio records, not even still photographs. Yet in my mind, I have very distinct images recorded and preserved simply based on my own Christian upbringing and my own reading of scriptures, lyrics and study materials. I have a pretty graphic set of images that are the base of my understanding, but it continues to be adjusted as I add more readings, more discussions, and more study.
As I began reading Matthew 5, I realized I needed to back it up a bit and read into the Sermon on the Mount. The record of this event actually starts about Matthew 4:12 which explains his reason for traveling out of Nazareth and back towards Capernaum, his official residence:
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah. . . . 17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
This may not seem to be important, but remember that John was Jesus’ cousin who had been preaching that Jesus was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. John’s arrest signals that the authorities were beginning to pay attention to the subtle or not so subtle changes in the area.
Jesus was clearly a person to watch closely. He was teaching, preaching and healing. The talk was drawing so much attention that whenever he came into a village, the commotion disrupted normal daily activities. He was calling men to drop everything they were doing and even leave their families. These community pillars were suddenly changing their entire lives simply to follow this man.
Yet, the Bible leaves the reader a picture of how low keyed the movement was while creating the most dramatic story ever told. In Matthew 4:23-25, the first phase of Jesus’ ministry is summarized:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Three verses is all it takes to explain what a tremendous following Jesus developed in a short amount of time, possibly just a few months to a year.
I can only imagine how one individual without the assistance of the 21st century audio and visual communication techniques, could totally disrupt thousands of years. The pattern of life was challenged and it was creating an entirely new life pattern.
Jesus stops along this journey on the side of a mount trying to explain to this group of handpicked leaders how to carry the message of change forward. The methods really are no different than those we use today. One leader emerges, a group gathers around him, and he begins teaching, preaching and healing: three methods to convey his message as well as prepare others to carry on without him.
I can only imagine Jesus as a teacher, a preacher, and a healer. In my Life Application Bible’s study notes the scholars write:
Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing. These were the three main aspects of his ministry. Teaching shows Jesus’ concern for understanding, preaching shows his concern for commitment; and healing shows his concern for wholeness. His miracles of healing authenticated his teaching and preaching, proving that he truly was from God. [the NIV, p.1651]
My personal view strongly aligns to Jesus the teacher simply because of my own teaching career. But I can also imagine Jesus the preacher, too. The profession is familiar to me; it is something I know. Then there is the healer role. My perception is based on experience with today’s medical profession—doctors, nurses and therapists. How can we even come close to fully understanding the power that Jesus had?
As we begin looking at the Sermon on the Mount, keep in mind the three methods Jesus used to spread the Word. I can only imagine the power he demonstrated because I see each of these methods in today’s world in a variety of settings with a wide range of individuals filling the role. Never have I witnessed one person providing all three methods successfully. The study notes unlocked the mystery of Jesus by connecting them.
First, I can imagine Jesus the teacher because I know that he was a student of the Jewish law. He studied, he asked questions, he worked with the rabbis, and he had that innate quality of being a lifelong student but also of being able to share the ideas with others in a convincing manner. He knew how to prove the message so that it was relevant to the listener of his time.
Can you imagine the best teacher you ever had, whether in school or out of school? Can you identify the skills they had that made learning easier for you? Did you notice that throughout your life, you have remembered the lessons from that teacher’s class better than any other teacher’s class?
Now, try identifying teachers today who are able to share new ideas with you in ways that you will remember them and use them. I can go back in my memory and pick out a variety of teachers who really knew how to teach to me. I picked up on their enthusiasm, I followed their demanding routines, I practiced over and over, I found places to apply the new information. And now, I turn around and teach others.
I also can review the history found in textbooks to locate other teachers of note. Sometimes they are quieter than others, but still the teachers I recognize as making a difference do have die-hard fans who pass on the knowledge to new generations of teachers.
And today there are still teachers who are making dramatic statements about how to live Christian lives (as well as how to teach). For instance, I have referenced Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor known for his multiple intelligence theory, or Robert Marzano who demonstrates how to implement rigor and relevance into the classroom. Teachers do flock to hear them teach the teachers.
Now, I can imagine Jesus as a preacher because I have listened to different preachers speak. The typical pastor/preacher demands attention simply from the authority of the pulpit. Jesus did not need a sanctuary with a pulpit, he preached from the side of a mountain because that was simply where he was. He preached so the lessons could be preserved.
In today’s world, we do have profound preachers who use the latest communication techniques available to spread the word. Auditoriums fill by the draw of their personal style. The words used are not as new as some might think, they are from the Bible; but the message inspires the crowds as they have for thousands of years.
Finally, I can imagine Jesus as healer only because I believe he is God. The healing is the proof that Jesus is God. Certainly we know that our medical personnel can aid in healing, but all too often we discover that the doctors do not know all. Humans have limits; God does not.
This week the Vatican sent an emissary to Kansas to research Father Emil Kapaun. First appointed to the Diocese of Wichita, he was a military chaplain whose stories of healing may validate his nomination into sainthood. Jesus’ healings are recorded also as proof that he is God who is concerned for the wellbeing of all.
Today, right now, we need Jesus! We need teaching, preaching, and healing in a world that ignores God. We need teachers who know how to share the message with rigor and relevance. We need preachers who bring the Word of God alive in our drained, worn out lives. We need healing: the kind only God can do. Healing of our bodies, our minds, and our souls.
I can only imagine the profound impact the Sermon on the Mount can make on us today. We do have teachers who impact learning, we have preachers who change the paradigm of religion, and we do experience healing through ministry of the medical profession. Still none of them can compare to Jesus who did all three: teach, preach, and heal.
Dear Omnipotent God,
Guide us to understanding as we strive to learn
Jesus’ lessons for living a faith-centered life.
Guide us to listen and to comprehend the sermons
through which Jesus shared his concerns.
Guide us to accept the stories of Jesus’ healing
as evidence of Your love for all Your children.
May we find new meanings, new ideas, and new hope
in the Bible’s scriptures.
May we grow in our own Christian faith
as we discuss and use the ideas each and every day.
May we share our understanding with others
so they may find the joy of living with You in their lives.
Bless each and every one present here today
as students, as followers, and leaders for You, dear God.
Bless those who cannot be present today
so they may heal whether physically, mentally or soulfully.
Bless those who have yet to meet You personally,
that they may find us serving as Your loving arms. Amen.