February 24, 2012: The Third Day of Lent

February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them. ~ Matthew 5.1, 2 ~

We have just witnessed the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He teaches and heals. People walk for days to get to Jesus. Crowds are following him, “multitudes” of people. They have come to hear his words and to receive his touch.

In this gospel, Matthew speaks to Jews who need to hear that Jesus is the Messiah, the long-awaited deliverer. One of the ways that Matthew drives this point home is by sharing stories in which we see Jesus acting in similar ways to previous deliverers of the Jewish people. For example, in Matthew 1.13-18, we read of Jesus miraculously escaping a slaughter of children. If we think back through Israel’s history, we remember Exodus 1.22-2.11. In this passage, Moses escapes a similar command of Pharaoh to kill all newborn boys. Matthew’s point would have been easily seen by the original readers: Jesus is like Moses!

Matthew uses this technique again in the Sermon on the Mount. In Exodus 20 and 24, we see Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the Jewish Law from God, YHWH himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus ascending a mountain to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven. The parallels are unmistakeable. Throughout his gospel, Matthew will continue to make the point that Jesus is God, come to Earth in human flesh. While Moses went up a mountain to speak with God, Matthew says this: Jesus is God, and went up a mountain to speak to the people; while Moses received the Law, Jesus Christ taught of the Heavenly Kingdom. Matthew’s point: Jesus is the long-awaited deliverer.

This section that we are studying together is a section of teaching; we will not be reading of any miracles during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus seemed to intentionally set apart this time for teaching, as we see in the verse above. Jesus looked and saw the crowds gathering, crowds that undoubtedly contained sick people. However, Jesus, noticing the crowds, climbs a mountainside and sits down. This action is significant; a person on the side of a mountain may be more visible, but certainly less accessible. Jesus will not spend this time mingling with the crowds. In our time, we are used to a teacher or professor standing to deliver lectures while the class sits. However, in the time of Christ, it was different: the teacher would sit, and the students would gather around and press in to hear the teaching. We see this taking place here.

We follow Christ for many reasons. We may be seeking God for healing, or to better claim and receive his promises to us as believers. However, we must remember to make time to hear his teaching for us. As Christ intentionally set aside time to teach, we need to intentionally set aside time to hear. As Peter says in John 6.68, Christ has the words of eternal life. In this time of Lent, as we examine our own broken humanity, let us remember that our relationship with Christ involves not only seeking his blessings, but also sitting at his feet and hearing his life-giving words.

Lord Christ, I confess that what I desire to get out of my faith is often self-centered. I approach you with desires and requests that benefit me; but you also desire that my heart is willing to be changed so that you sit at its center. Please give me this heart, Lord. Help me to be like Mary, who saw that the better thing is to sit at your feet and soak up your words of life. Amen. 

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