"SEEING THE crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying…” Matthew 5: 1 – 2. (The Amplified Bible)
This is how the Sermon on the Mount passage begins. One might think there is nothing to be taught in verses that set up the scene. I think we can learn a great deal if we simply read through each passage prayerfully and carefully, both “listening” for God to speak to us and as we “hear” Him to act in obedience. I was taught that to “hear” God is to obey God.
The first phrase---SEEING the crowds---taught me something as I read through it this morning. Everywhere Jesus went, masses of people followed Him. They were seeking something from Him and pressed upon Him. The scripture records elsewhere that He saw the “multitudes,” that He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd,” and that we were go out into the harvest field. So, He SAW the multitudes---but here the word SEE takes preeminence.
Reading that this morning, I sensed not simply viewing the mass of people before Him, but I also visualized my Lord looking into my very being and truly seeing me for who I am; where I hurt; how I live my life; what I truly need to find fulfillment in life. These people that had come to Jesus had come with their own needs/agendas/desires, and Jesus SAW them (their hearts), He began to teach them. He spoke, and to find what they (we) really needed, they needed to HEAR Him and act in obedience.
In the mass of people that would “follow” Jesus, there were Scribes and Pharisees seeking to catch Him in something that would reduce His impact on their “turf.” There were those in need of healing, and the sick would often cry out loudly for healing. There were some who wanted to see Him destroy the Romans – they had a political agenda that did not align with the purpose of Jesus’ coming to this earth. Some people were just plain curious. When we read the scripture, we see often that people would jostle (push, shove) one another to get a closer look to Jesus. We see this also in the account of the healing of the woman who pressed in to simply touch the hem of His garment.
As the news spread about Jesus, it seemed as if the crowds would drop all they were doing and rush to be in His presence. They came for whatever reason, but they needed to HEAR Jesus and follow Him! In this account, Jesus SAW the crowd of people and He began to teach what we reefer to as the Beatitudes – what we need to understand to experience the blessings of God.
I don’t know how I really see the setting of the Sermon on the Mount. I see a crowd pushing and shoving, seeking their own agenda. This would mean there would be a noisy buzz in the crowd. Yet, I see a serene setting of Jesus sitting on the mountain, lovingly (and quietly) speaking these words to the mass of people. However, I noticed something as I read these verses that taught me something “new.”
Note: Jesus SAW the crowd, but His disciples came to Him and He began to teach “them.” Isn’t this saying that as the crowds closed in around the disciples, all became quiet. At that point, Jesus delivers what we have named the "Sermon on the Mount." But it appears Jesus was actually teaching his twelve disciples these truths. Those in the crowd closest to them were also treated to the most profound teaching ever heard.
This same Jesus is our Teacher. He has wisdom to share with us that will amaze us, just as it did to those who heard Him with their own ears that day. We do not have to be sitting in a quiet sanctuary or a Sunday School class for Jesus to teach us. As we read His Word daily and LISTEN to Him, we can learn from Him. He can teach us something no matter where you are, even in a noisy crowd. His sheep KNOW His voice and FOLLOW Him! We need to pay close attention when Jesus speaks to us (through His Word, the teaching/preaching/proclamation of others, etc.) so we don't miss the word He has for us!
Like the crowds of that day, we come with a lot of hurts, personal needs, private agendas, and a lot of baggage. We may even come thinking we “know” the answer. The answer my friends, is NOT found “blowing in the wind.” The ANSWER is found in Christ Jesus so we need to LISTEN UP for and to His voice, HEAR what He is saying to us, and act in OBEDIENCE. It is my prayer we will HEAR Him today, and experience the abundant blessings He offers to all who follow Him.
The LORD came, stood there, and called as before, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel responded, "Speak, for Your servant is listening." 1 Samuel 3:10, HCSB
Sometimes as a husband I am accused of "seeming to pay attention" as my wife speaks to me but, not really listening to anything being said. Though I do not concur with that assessment (LOL), there is a lesson learned from that illustration we need to learn.
In order to really listen, the husband who is guilty of such action, must focus his attention on what his wife is saying. Sometimes, this simple act requires a great deal of effort to accomplish.
In the scripture above, Samuel could not remotely imagine that one night God was calling him. Samuel thought it was Eli the priest who called his name since the voice was so personal. Eli helped young Samuel understand God was speaking. We need to understand that God IS speaking to us these days as well! Just as intimately as the personal call on young Samuel. I pray we will hear Him!
Samuel took Eli’s advice and promptly answered God correctly. There is a LOT in that statement. Samuel LISTENED to the sagely advice being afforded him. We need to be open to the counsel of God's people (and even those that might not be walking as they should currently) as they remind us that God IS talking and we should listen to Him/for Him.
Some of us may have never heard the voice of God in such a personal manner. Although we may never hear Him audibly, we must develop an attitude of careful listening if we are to hear God calling our name speaking to us. We must learn to focus all of our attention on God. Then, in the stillness of our souls, we will recognize His voice. At times, we must be willing to seek guidance from our spiritual leaders in order for this personal encounter to take place.
My prayer this day (as I prepare to head out for worship with my church family) is this -- Father, focus my attention so I can listen to You. Perhaps I will add---Father, touch my heart so I WILL listen to You!
Then a voice came from the cloud, saying "This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him!” Luke 9:35, HCSB
Peter had been taught well! His Jewish upbringing comes to the forefront and his heart is divided as a result. He wants to keep Moses, representing the Law; Elijah, representing the Prophets; and Jesus, representing the new revelation, all on the same level. His response was, "Let us make three tabernacles"
It is of great significance that IMMEDIATELY following Peter’s statement, a cloud descended and "they became afraid as they entered the cloud." This was far more serious than we might realize not being a part of this culture. The entire future was bound up with the question of whether Jesus was final and whether supreme allegiance should be given to Him. Who is the “final authority” and “who deserves our complete allegiance?” We all have to answer these in the affirmative for Christ Jesus in order to become completely sold out to His LORDSHIP in every aspect of our lives!
Where there is division, there will always be clouds. We have to admit, there are clouds over our churches. We fear as we enter those clouds. Why are we afraid? The answer is simple - division. Ephesians 4 encourages each of us, as members of the church to do all we can to preserve the unity of the body. John 15 vividly details the importance and the imperativeness of our ABIDING in Christ!
In the midst of this cloud – and I contend countless others - comes a Voice. God speaks! The Voice is one of evaluation and invitation. God said, "This is my Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35). The clouds will never lift and the fears will never depart until we LISTEN to Christ. John 17 details what He is saying, "May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You" (John 17:21). Christ must be first, and the unity of His Body must take priority over any other allegiances we might have.
It is my prayer that it will not be long before we who share Christ's Name truly become one. For the church to more effectively achieve its purpose, we must abide in Him and become one as Christ prayed for us to become,
“He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people and finally arrived in Greece” Acts 20: 2
Acts 19 reflects a near riot situation in Ephesus. There was much confusion. Acts 20: 1 records that after “the uproar had ceased” (NASB), Paul called for the believers in Ephesus and “exhorted them.” It is recorded that he went throughout the area, for a period of 3 months at least, and encouraged those in the faith. Truth is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is the “gift” of encouragement. Whether our role is a friend, coach, mentor, parent, or some other position with another, we can give others encouragement.
That is exactly what Paul did as he traveled throughout the area on his way to Macedonia. The impression I have from reading this account is that Paul was completely unhurried, taking as much time as was needed -- never rushing. Luke, the author of Acts, expresses it this way: "and finally [Paul] arrived in Greece.” He writes this almost as if he was wondering if Paul would ever arrive at his destination. There is the picture for me that Paul, the servant of the Lord, took TIME to meet the needs of others in the ministry of encouragement.
Look around you today! You will encounter persons in your life and their greatest need for today may simply be a word of encouragement. That simple act of taking the time to exhort them could make a world of difference!
In recent days, my path has been “interrupted” with people experiencing life. The illness of loved ones (sometimes more serious than others); the death of a mother; perplexities about “next steps” in ministry decisions; anxiety about problems, pressures, and situations in their lives; whether they should speak out or remain silent on issues within their church, etc. etc. I could have taken the lead and given my counsel – and there were situations when/where I did, or I could LISTEN, encourage them to remain faithful/trust the Lord, and pray with them. Taking the time—being there for them—LISTENING to them—and praying with them seemed to be what they needed most. The ministry of encouragement goes a long way in helping people go forward in obedience to God.
In addition, I have discovered (been reminded) of a couple of other things while doing this “ministry of encouragement.” First, there is a real blessing to the encourager by being faithful in this ministry. When we STOP and listen, it not only encourages the one seeking our counsel, it helps us to realize how God can use us in His ministry. In other words, it serves as an encouragement to ourselves as we experience the faithfulness of God in our sharing.
A second discovery – a real significant reminder - in order to REALLY encourage someone (not superficially); it's critically important to focus and clear out all distractions. My life is FILLED with distractions – smart phone reminders of upcoming appointments; telephone calls and emails that need to be answered/addressed; pressing decisions that need to be made and programs/trainings/sermons that need to be prepared, BUT what is needed most is that I “drop everything” and minister to the need of this one person that is in need of the Lord’s touch at this moment through me. In this passage, I see Paul taking the time to encourage---there were pressing needs in Macedonia, but there was the pressing need of encouragement to burdened souls as he went. As we go, there are people who need us to give them words of encouragement – the precious gift of our time!
How do you handle your opportunities to encourage others? Are there people you know right now who could use some time and attention? Will you pick up the phone? Will you clear from your life the distractions that keep you from being a blessing to others? Will you allow God to use you today in the ministry of encouragement?
Associational Missions Strategist at Tar River Baptist Association since November, 2000. Called of God to work with member churches to strengthen the local church in its efforts to impact lostness in THIS generation! I will ATTEMPT to add to this blog almost daily. People are free to use the ideas shared in any way they wish. The purpose of the posts are merely to help us in our search to BE the people God is calling us to BE in Him!