The Multitude and the Disciples

JesusMatthew 5:1 says, “And seeing the multitude, He went up into a mountain. And when He had set down, His disciples came to Him.”  Now you might say, “There’s no lesson in that verse, is there?” Well, there can be. Why did Jesus leave the multitude when He had all those people there to talk to? Did all those folks follow Him up the mountain to hear the most famous sermon in the world? Why doesn’t it say the multitude came to Him? Is there any significance in that it says the ones who followed Jesus up the mountain were His disciples?

With a brief, superficial reading of that verse, there would seem to be nothing there to learn. But a deeper look reveals a significant message. There have been multitudes who’ve taken a light interest in Jesus, but few who’ve grasped and accepted Him and followed Him up the mountain. It was not just here in Matthew 5, at the beginning of “The Sermon on the Mount”, that there arose a difference between the various concentric circles of the followers of Jesus. Here, only His disciples followed Him up the mountain.

multitudesIn John chapter 6, Jesus fed the multitude miraculously. We are told “5000 men” were there, so we can assume it was even a lot more people than that. After dividing up 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed all those people, it says Jesus understood that there were those among the multitude right then who would “take Him by force to make Him a king.” (John 6:15) And the next day a good number of those same folks followed Him to where He’d traveled to overnight.

It doesn’t seem like Jesus was into having vast multitudes of thrill seekers tagging along after Him. He ended up telling those folks who’d come to see Him the next day “Except you eat my flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) He actually said that. And when it was clear that it was way more than a lot of them could grasp, He kept saying it.

So the Bible says, “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:66) It seems like He lost close to His entire following at that time, all except His closest 12 disciples and perhaps a few more. And some might say,

“What’s the point? I thought Jesus was a really nice guy that just went everywhere doing nice things and showing love to everyone? Wasn’t He wanting everyone to believe in Him and follow Him?”

Maybe that’s the point. It turns out there can be a real big difference between believing in Jesus and following Him. There seemed to be quite a lot of folks at that time who found Jesus interesting and maybe they even believed in Him to some degree. But to truly follow Him was something very few people ended up doing. After all He did, all He healed and all the miracles His countrymen saw in His 3½ year of ministry, it says there were only 120 disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when God poured out the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:15)

Fishers-of-menSo, multitudes or disciples. And isn’t it the same today? Thank God that anyone has any faith left at all in this hellish, demonic world we live in now. But, of all the folks who say they believe in God, or who call themselves Christians, how many of those are pretty much like “the multitude” of Jesus’ day and how many are really what can be recognized as “disciples”.

It says in Acts 10 that “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”  (Acts 11:26) At the beginning of Christianity, a Christian was a disciple. That means a follower of the teaching. They were followers, not just casual believers. Like Peter in Acts chapter 10, they were obeyers of the leading of God, no matter how almost crazy it sometimes seemed. If there was ever an example of following the Holy Spirit and it resulting in historic change for all the earth, Acts chapter 10 has it.

But the Lord loves the multitude. Many people “follow a far off” (Matthew 26:58), like even Peter did at one point. But I’m sure He wants as many as will and can to follow Him up the mountain, to hear His priceless words, and to leave the valley of our mundane routine. Jesus said “the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37). And it’s certainly the same today. The “believers” of the multitude are plenteous, but the “disciples”, the true followers and obeyers seem at times to be few.

Truth

truth picture-flattenedI was an atheist from the time I was 12 till I was nearly 21. An atheist who “shared my faith”. If I found any Christian (usually Protestant) friends during that time who had any conviction to stand up for their faith, I just loved to tie into them with all the good reasons why there is no God and that religion is baloney. They’d almost always start backing off on any stand of faith they might have timidly taken. The only kids I found with any faith that couldn’t be easily mocked were the Catholic kids. Anyway, that was a long time ago and I don’t mean to demean any denominations here. Things have changed in some ways since back then.

But I really wasn’t looking for God since He wasn’t there. “God, Jesus, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it’s all the same group!”, that’s what I always said. I was really a case. And it’s always sort of astounded me that I ended up being a believer and even giving my life to serve God.

But I’ve always thought, if I had anything going for me at all, it was that I just somehow believed there is the Truth somewhere. Growing up in central Texas, I looked for truth in some unusual places. I actually even tried reading Karl Marx, just to see if there was any truth there. It was too dense for me or I just wasn’t really at that level yet to even understand what it was about. I read about every book my folks had and they had a lot, they were authors and jornalists.

About the closest I could get to finding truth was in the music that began to change around the time I was 14 or 15. This thing about everything being “relative” and that “there really isn’t such thing as truth” never floated my boat. I just knew there was truth and as I got older, I looked for it more and more.

In the 1960’s people started looking for and talking about love. I told my girlfriend one time that I didn’t even know what love was. I really meant it but it also shocked me when I said that. I knew that wasn’t really a good thing and it gave me a brief glimpse of how bad off I was getting.

I guess, all the while, the Lord in heaven was watching me and leading my life or allowing it to go the direction it did. It got more messed up when I went to the University of Texas at Austin in the late 60’s.SDS demonstration I was on the ground floor of the massive social changes that went on there at that time, both the counter culture as well as the political movement. But all the while, my soul shriveled and my mind got more mixed up and into the darker side of life and even the spiritual world.

When I finally came to a knowledge of God and, a few months later, a relationship with Jesus, perhaps the greatest feeling was that I’d found the truth. When I read for the first time where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), it spoke to me so much. Jesus said that He Himself was and is The Truth. Later in the same book of John, Jesus said in prayer to His Father, “Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17) I had and still have such joy and fulfillment in the truth-filled writings of the Bible. It was pure, it was light, it was health to my soul and mind. I had to grow in love. I really almost had to learn what love was, I was so bad off. But the truth was there, just like wandering across a desert to find a clear lake of refreshing water.

Some places in the Bible there are words of endearment. We find people saying, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6)  or “the Lord or Hosts” or actually many different words that are used at special times to make Him seem nearer by calling Him some name that’s very special to the individual.

I’ll let you in on one of mine. When I am praying in a personal way to the Lord, sometimes I call Him Truth. If I’m praying to Truth, I’m praying to Jesus and God because They are Truth. And that makes it more special and intimate to me.

Maybe you have some special word or name with which you address God or Jesus at some special moment? You might think, “Oh I can’t do that, I have to say Father God or Lord Jesus.” That’s surely the place to start and there‘s nothing wrong with that.

But if you’ve come further along in your relationship with the Lord and you sometimes have some special word or name you use, just like you might do with your parents, or kids or mate, I’m pretty sure that it’s fine. He wants to be near and dear to us all. For me, sometimes I  just call Him Truth.

Asia Tsunami Video

This video I am posting here is very personal and significant for me. It was filmed during what was the most intense, indescribable 11 days I ever experienced in the 36 years I lived outside North America. Eight days after one of the worst natural disasters to hit our world in the last 100 years, the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, I landed with 3 friends in the city worst hit by the tsunami, Banda Aceh, on the westernmost tip of Indonesia. Scientists called it a “once in 700 years” event.

Aceh Tsunami

In 15 seconds, a dry downtown street in Banda Aceh became a 13 foot high raging river of death as a result of the tsunami that hit the city.

My friends and I lived in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, a 3 hour flight from the capital of Aceh province, Banda Aceh. An earthquake of 9.3 magnitude had hit in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Indonesia, generating a series of waves that not only hit Indonesia but also the beaches of Thailand and reached as far as Sri Lanka and even Africa, 1000’s of miles away.

One of the things that I remember the most was just how I would be at a loss for words to describe what I was seeing and experiencing. The birds chirped, the wind blew, the clouds rolled by as they always had. But all around was devastation and loss on a scale that really could only be compared to a large atomic explosion, without radiation.

My friends and I went there to do what we could, whatever that might be. We found that actually there was a lot we could do. But with this post I am not really going to be describing so much. Instead I want to make available some film footage I was able take while I was there.

We had received backing from people in Jakarta as well as in the States to help us do what we were doing. The filming was to help those folks know what we were able to do and where their support had gone. I personally ended up being very involved in doing recognizance at the innumerable refugee sites that sprang up throughout that area.

We’d go to one after the other, get info on what conditions were and what they needed, and then get in contact with much larger international organizations. They had quickly filled warehouses with food and resources with physical and medical supplies but they didn’t have the workers on the ground to know the individual local needs. That was the part I was able to play.

My other friends all spoke Indonesian and English so much of their work was in translating for foreign doctors in the camps, doing trauma counseling and just being available and ready to help with whatever the need was.

But if a picture is worth a 1000 words, as they say, then perhaps this film footage will give you an idea of what it is like to be in a place where an almost indescribable destruction and loss of life has occurred. And hopefully how a handful of individuals can try to do what they can.

Certainty

Certainty-flattenedIn our world, one of the most certain things seems to be uncertainty. Everything can seem elusive, a shadow or mirage that vanishes when we try to approach it. That’s why for me, the certainty that I have found in the life God has given me is one of the things I’m most thankful for.

Here are some incredible words of truth. If you’re a skeptic or atheist, this may be incomprehensible to you. But for those with a personal knowledge of the God of Abraham, they are glistening truths. It’s from King Solomon, from around 900 BC. He said,

Have not I written to you excellent things in councils and knowledge? That I might make you know the certainty of the words of truth, that you might answer the words of truth to them that send to you?” (Proverbs 22.20 & 21)

Like so many passages from the Word of God, this is like a cluster of jewels, set in an ornament. But the word that stands out to me is “certainty”. What a priceless thing that is.

Most people have heard of “believing in God”. You’re supposed to do that, right? But what about that? Have you ever met someone and they said they “believe” in God? But you just had the gut feeling that they were pretty weak in whatever they meant by “believe”. Actually, “believe” in our times can sometimes mean not much more than “think”. People can say “I believe so” when you asked them a question.

Well, sometimes people have that kind of faith. Jesus asked one man if he believed that Jesus could do the miracle he’d asked Him to do. The man said, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) And the Lord did, He healed the man’s son. Maybe that’s why it says of Jesus, “A bruised reed He shall not break or smoking flax He will not quench.” (Matthew 12:20) Jesus didn’t condemn and cast out that man because of his admitted wavering between faith and doubt.

But that’s not the condition the Lord wants us to remain in. More often the word “believe” is used in the Bible. But sometimes another word is used, “know”. In English this is a much stronger word and it’s what the Lord wants us to have. In I John 5:13 it says, “These things have I written to you that believe on the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe in the Son of God.”

At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, when he was explaining why he was writing it, he said, “It seemed good to me… to write to you… so that you might know the certainty of the things in which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:3 & 4) Not just “believe” but “know”. That’s the kind of certainty He wants us to have and that we can come to have in Him.

temptations picture-flattenedWhat’s the difference between the belief of “believe” and the certainty of “know”? If you “know”, you’re no longer wavering. You might get tempted to doubt. The temptations of doubt might fly over your head like dark evil birds. But you shoo them away; they never make a nest in your hair. You don’t give place to the devil to entertain alternatives to the truth you’ve been given from God.

It doesn’t make you strident and dogmatic because you also have the fruits of the Spirit which are full of love, humility and kindness. But it’s like Peter said, you’ve been “stablished, strengthened, and settled”. ( I Peter 5:10) Like a marriage, you aren’t looking for anyone else. You’ve found what you were looking for and you’re “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10) because you are complete in His truth.

And it’s a wonderful thing. In a sense, you really aren’t searching anymore. At least you aren’t searching for the truth because you know you have found it and it’s found you. Maybe that’s why it says that we have “peace that passes understanding”.(Philippians 4:7)

Some things are just over. Paul said “I know whom I believe and am convinced that He is able to keep me against that day”, ( II Timothy 1:12) a day of temptation or confusion or seeming despair. But he didn’t say he believed in that verse; he said he knew.

In this world of confusion, a world without absolutes, a world where atrocities grow grosser and more prevalent every day, it’s wonderful that the certainty we have in the Lord is like that rock that Jesus said we could build our houses on. Not on the shifting sand of this world and its knowledge and values. But on the eternal truths of God and the certainty that we have in Him. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My Words shall never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)

Certainty. Absolutes. Steadfast eternal pillars and beacons that we have from God to guide us through the shadows of this life and into the boundless beauties of the eternal world to come.

Keep your heart

Keep your heart art-flattenedKing Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) A more modern English version says “guard your heart”, rather than “keep”.

So I’m thinking, “What if someone told me that Bible verse back when I was 18 years old?” I was an atheist so I would have laughed and smirked. But even if I had listened, I think the problem was mostly just with the word “heart”. Because honestly, I really didn’t know what a heart was.

I probably would have made some sarcastic quip and asked what a “heart” is. I was that bad off. I knew I had a physical heart that pumped blood. But this other idea was pretty nebulous to me. And even if I believed in such a thing, I sure didn’t understand it very much.

And why should I? I got virtually all my information from school, television, newspapers and modern books. Are any of those going to tell me I have a heart? No way. What was really important was my mind. I needed to really work on my mind because that’s where it really was all happening. If I had a great mind, that was all that mattered. If I ever heard about the heart at all, it was through music. Those folks talked about that so I got some ideas through that.

FerrariBut all the while, sure ‘nuf, I did have a heart. And a spirit and soul as well. And they were not doing very good. At all. I filled my heart with images of sports cars, beautiful women and cool clothes. I had a picture of a really cool foreign sports car on my wall from the time I was about 14. Functionally it was an idol I virtually worshiped. It was my goal in life and I finally got it when I was 20. Like it says in Psalms 106:15 “He gave them the desires of their heart, but sent leanness to their soul.” I got what I wanted, but it was utterly unfulfilling. My heart was full of the wrong things and I didn’t even have the most important thing in my heart, Jesus Christ.

In my case, the sins, foolishness and ignorance of my heart brought me face to face with Death and Satan. It took that and more to bring me to realize that there’s a spiritual world that I’d mocked and denied for so long. But from that experience of hell and its eternal terrors, I came to a knowledge of the God of Abraham and a few months later, of His Son Jesus.

I shockingly found out that I had a soul, a heart and a spirit. These were infinitely more important than my mind and its education. Maybe I couldn’t have learned this any other way. I wouldn’t really listen to anybody so I had to learn the hard way. But I did learn. I knew from experience, not church, that it all comes down to my heart. God had brought me to something I never dreamed or even wanted to happen to me. I’d had a “born again” (John 3:3) experience. I’d gone through a death of my old life and now I was a “new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17), truly and fully.

Path of Life-flattenedBut what was I going to do with it? In Psalm 16:11 King David prayed to the Lord and said “You will show me the path of life”. Would I follow the path of life that He would show me?  He wasn’t going to force me. It was my choice. It was up to me. It was my choice that mattered.

Jesus talked about a farmer who went to plant seeds by casting them in his field. Jesus said that some of the seeds fell on stony ground, some on ground with weeds and thorns and some fell on good ground. It was all about our hearts, our relationship to God and His Word. Jesus said that the seed that fell on good ground represented those who, “in an honest and good heart, having heard God’s Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) An honest and good heart. Not a hardened heart full of stones. Not a worldly heart full of the weeds, cares and values of this evil world. A good heart, a heart that has been kept, guarded and preserved for the goodness of God that can spring up there.

There was a song by a famous American singer, Johnny Cash. It was a song I suppose for his girl friend or wife. But it really had some good words to it. He sang, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” That could just as easily be a song we could sing or say to the Lord. That’s what it takes. To choose “the path of life”, you have to “keep your heart with all diligence”.