Matthew, chapter 5. This is where Jesus begins his well-known Sermon on the Mount—what is also called the Beatitudes. The first two lines of this chapter read as follows: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” [Matthew 5:1-2]
What do you read there? Does it say that Jesus started teaching the crowds, or his disciples?
Grammatically speaking, this sentence: His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, says that Jesus taught his disciples. The word them refers to the disciples, not the crowds. Of course, we have no idea how many people this refers to, but we can do the math and surmise that it was a much smaller number than the hordes of people surrounding them.
Here are two important thoughts to consider…
**First, it is my observation that Jesus was going up onto the mountainside to get away from the crowds—to escape the mess of people and noise and disruption. And I believe he was also going up and away from them to prove a point. If Jesus spoke to the crowds, one would be led to think that the text would say that. It would tell us that he went into the crowds, that he called to the crowds, or that he addressed the crowds directly. However, this is not what the text truly says. Can you have a good conversation with someone on a crowded subway car or bus, with people all around and no privacy or quiet? No way, and neither could Jesus. So, he took a walk up to a clear or grassy area, or maybe he sat on a big rocky outcropping, away from the hundreds who had gathered to try to get healed. Only his disciples came to him. (This is important so keep it in mind for later.)
**Second, Jesus sat down. If you were facing hundreds of people scattered across a large valley filled with trees and obstacles, all talking at once and behaving in the way crowds of people do, and you were going to address them, would you go up on a hillside and sit down? That doesn’t make sense. All by itself, this proves to me that Jesus didn’t intend to speak to the crowd. His message was for the few.
Perhaps a great many of the people in the crowds were only there to say they had been there. Like that annoying guy at work who went to see the president even though he hates him, because “you can’t be the only one who didn’t go.” These are the kinds of people who view these moments in time as important only for the thing it represents and not the thing that it truly is.
The truth is, very few people in the crowds knew who Jesus was. They knew OF him, but they did not RECOGNIZE him. He was a name, an attraction. Everywhere he went, Jesus told people to keep quiet about him being there. But those who were healed or had been given a rebirth of spirit could not help but to talk about him, to share their experiences with others, and to be overjoyed at the fact that something so significant had happened to them from this one very special man. His reputation preceded him in many places and for Jesus and his followers, this was very dangerous.
Did you ever go to a concert in an arena and suddenly the crowd starts screaming but no one is on the stage? What happened? Did you start to scream with excitement even though you didn’t see anyone? Yeah, so did I. Don’t be embarrassed. We are human beings and we will naturally follow the crowds sometimes. It makes no sense, but it happens all the time. Now… can you imagine the crowds of hundreds waiting in that valley in front of Jesus suddenly erupting into chaos at the idea of him being there to heal them, even though they have no idea what he looks like? Do you think that could have or would have happened and they left it out of the story? Do you think Jesus would have wanted to avoid that situation, given the fact that he’d been trying to stay under the radar of the Romans and the Sanhedrin? Anonymity should have been easy. The only way anyone would know Jesus would be to get an introduction from someone who did. There was no People Magazine or television or newspapers to tell the world what Jesus looked like (to our chagrin). We know from the scriptures that Jesus did not have a habit of introducing himself to people. Just look to the story of the Samaritan woman and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. [John 4:7]
And about that important thing I told you to remember for later: I believe the reason for Matthew pointing out that only the disciples came to Jesus when he sat down on the mountainside is that the people who followed Jesus were not there for the same selfish purposes as those among the crowds in that valley. They knew what Jesus looked like; he was not a stranger to them. They were his followers and they were not afraid to be seen with him. They weren’t drawn to him for what he could do for them in the moment or just to say they saw or touched this famous person. They were with him regardless of the outcome. They didn’t need to follow the crowd to some random person they didn’t know. The selfish crowds didn’t even know Jesus was the one who could heal them when he was right in front of them. He blended in and was lost in a sea of faces.
Herein lies the deeper message to this significant story. Knowing Jesus—really knowing him—is demonstrated in these two sentences in Matthew’s gospel, and it’s beautifully done. Would you recognize the face of Jesus if he stood before you and asked you for water? Or would you need someone to tell you who he is? Would it matter?
When you watch movies where Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is portrayed, watch for this scene to be acted out. Is Jesus surrounded by his followers in a small group? Or does he have an audience of thousands? I’m pretty sure that all those films depicting Jesus speaking to a thousand people are wrong, and all because translators of the bible didn’t study their grammar.
Image source: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/797653