Who was Jesus teaching when he gave the sermon on the mount? This is an important question for the church. Is our Sunday morning gathering the same kind of crowd Jesus attracted on that day? Here is what I learned as I looked at the Scriptures about his audience.
Here is who was in the crowd and followed Jesus to the mountainside based on Matthew chapter 5.
- Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
- Chapter 4 describes these people as: ill from various diseases, suffering from severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.
- His disciples were there and sat with him.
Luke chapter 6 is more specific about the kinds of people who heard this teaching.
- His 12 disciples.
- A crowd of his disciples.
- People from all over Judea, Jerusalem and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
- This crowd of people had come to hear his teaching and be healed of their diseases.
- Some were troubled by evil spirits.
What can be learned from this crowd that Jesus is teaching? First, there are deeply committed followers of Jesus in the crowd. He comes down off the mountain after inviting the twelve disciples to join him for his mission. Second, there is a larger crowd of his disciples on the mountain that day. They are already commited to Jesus. The last group in the crowd appear to be the harassed and helpless. They are interested in the teachings of Jesus but also healing from life’s current physical and spiritual pain.
Does your church have all aspects of this crowd present in your Sunday morning gatherings? Why or why not?
The future church, that is on mission to reach people out of the culture, will always have harassed and helpless people suffering with life’s physical and spiritual wounds in their crowd gatherings. Contrary to this, churches that only have committed followers of Christ in their crowd gatherings are missing the mission of Jesus.
There is one big implication in this for us as church leaders. Be aware of the dangerous demands of the deeply committed followers of Christ. They will demand ‘deeper’ teaching, longer singing worship sets and more personal bang for their tithing buck in their crowd gatherings. Their voice will push you as a church leader to meet their needs ‘first’ at the expense of those who are extra-grace-required in the crowd. You must guard the mission of Jesus from these voices and influences.
What is at stake are those attracted to Jesus who are harassed and helpless. They need hope for a new way forward in life. They need to be ‘touched’ by Jesus and healed. Post-modern Americans, who are skeptical of church and religion, need to experience God. They don’t always need rational arguments to be convinced of truth. Longer singing of choruses about ‘the blood of a lamb’ do not heal the harassed. We must move them to truth through metaphor, through the arts, through music, through video, through lighting and through stories. It is all a part of God’s work but these are the tools he is using in the American cultural landscape to ‘touch’ and heal the hurting.
Jesus gathered his deeply committed followers of Christ and included them in his mission, in his teaching, and the process of healing those who were farthest from him. As church leaders we must continually cast the vision of being a church on mission to the least-of-these in our communities and city.
What does the crowd look like in your church or ministry right now? What voices are you listening to that guide your decision making about your crowd gatherings?