[All Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Christian Bible]
‘Tis the Season of wrapping up stuff. In the beginning of December, people are wrapping up eating the traditional Thanksgiving turkey by eating one last turkey sandwich and making mom’s heart-warming turkey soup, having a bowl or two, then storing the rest in the freezer for another cold winter‘s day. Students are wrapping up a whole semester’s worth of learning by taking final exams. Tax payers are wrapping up their charitable tax deductible giving to worthy and reputable non-profit organizations in order to claim the deductions on this year’s income taxes. If it’s not done yet, northerners are putting away lawn furniture and grills and wrapping up winterizing their homes. Last, but not least, many of us are wrapping up Christmas and Hanukkah presents to put under the tree or in a safe hiding place until the Special Day. Since everyone is in a “wrapping up” mood, I am going to attempt to wrap up my previous blog posts by answering the questions I put out there for you to ponder. Here goes:
What happened to cause Jesus to want to get away and go up to the mountaintop? [See Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36]
Except for early morning times with His Heavenly Father, Jesus was constantly with His disciples for a little over two years, teaching them about His Father and His kingdom. For example, in what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount” [Matthew 5-7], Jesus taught the disciples, as well as crowds who listened, “The Beatitudes” – the heart-attitudes God desires His children to live by. Jesus taught them how to be “salt” in the world which needed God to preserve them from the ravages of sin. Jesus gave them His Word which would become their light to point the way for others to find God. Jesus taught them that He was the Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and the Savior they had been waiting so long for. Jesus taught them how to deal with anger and lust, how God felt about divorce and making false promises. He preached the way of peace; they were not to retaliate for the wrongs done to them, but to love and pray for their enemies. Jesus taught them how to pray by giving them “The Lord’s Prayer” and by allowing them to listen to Him when He prayed many times a day to His Father. Jesus talked to them about fasting and “lay[ing] up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not break in and steal [6:20]. Jesus taught them how to deal with anxiety by trusting God to meet their every need, just as He does with the lilies of the fields and birds of the air. He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” [7:7]. He talked about not judging others, but also to beware of false prophets. Instead of listening to the world’s idea of happiness, Jesus urged them to listen to Him: “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” [7:24]. Matthew ends chapter 7 with this: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” [vv. 28-29].
There were times when Jesus taught the crowd in parables, such as in the “Parable of the Sower” [Matthew 13:1-15, Mark 4:1-14, Luke 8:4-10], the “Parable of the Seed Growing” [Mark 4:26-29] and the “Parable of the Mustard Seed” [Matthew 13:31-35, Mark 4:30-32, Luke13:18-19], just to name a few. Jesus taught forty-six parables to the crowds who gathered to hear Him speak, but He only explained His parables to His disciples. The Gospel of Matthew explains why: “Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And He answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” [13:10-13]. Also, Matthew 13:34-35 explains, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world;’” [Also see Psalm 78:2]. The “they” Jesus was referring to were the religious leaders of the day; the ones who should have known who Jesus was – the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
When Jesus was born, Magi from the east came to ask Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” [See Matthew 2:1-2]. Herod asked this question to the chief priests and scribes, and they answered, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel’” [See Matthew2:3-6, Micah 5:2]. Why didn’t the high priests and scribes join the Magi and rejoice with them in finding the long-awaited Messiah? Back then and throughout Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders refused to believe in Jesus and no amount of explaining would have changed their minds. They refused to give up the stranglehold they had on the people they were meant to serve. Instead of wasting His time with them, Jesus ministered to His disciples and those in the crowds who had been given the faith to believe and follow Him. Although, at times, His followers were clueless of the BIG PICTURE and slow to learn, they knew Jesus was from God.
People listened to Jesus’ teachings because, unlike the religious elite, Jesus “talked the talk” and “walked the walk” and this infuriated those were in power. Jesus’ friends were fishermen, tax collectors, “sinful” women, lepers, and all the disenfranchised groups that were thought of as “unclean” and undeserving. Jesus’ answer to why He chose “those people” to be His friends is found in Matthew 9:10-13: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when [Jesus] heard it, He said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”’ ‘For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” [Also see Mark 2:15-17, Luke 5:27-32, Hosea 6:6]. Jesus was not “stressed” to impress anyone. Jesus was not a “people pleaser” but a “God-pleaser”. His food and drink was to do His Father’s will (something to think about during this Season of Advent) [See John 4:31-34].
One would think that all of Jesus’ preaching and teaching along with all of the opposition He faced from the religious leaders would be enough cause for Jesus to want to get away and have some time alone on a mountaintop. However, Jesus did much more than preach and teach. He did much more. Jesus knew about mercy. Matthew 9:35-38 records, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to the disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” [See also Matthew 4:23-25, Mark 53-56].
Matthew 10:1 and 8 tell us, “And [Jesus] called to Him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction…Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” [See also Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6]. After teaching His first disciples by His own example, Jesus specifically gave them the authority and power to do all He sent them out to do. They were to demonstrate to everyone that God was doing something new in their midst. They were to continue to do these signs and wonders, while Jesus took Peter and James and John up to the “Mount of Transfiguration” [See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36].
Wrapping up is hard to do. [Maybe next time]
“The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…” [John 1::9-12].
My prayer is that Jesus will illumine our hearts this Christmas and always.