As Jesus began His public ministry, He moved throughout the rural areas of Galilee, near his hometown of Nazareth. The people of the region began bringing Him all who were ill or afflicted with demons and Jesus healed them. First hundreds, then thousands of people flocked to experience the power of God come in human form. Jesus was preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The message electrified all who would hear. News of signs and wonders spread, rippling out into the surrounding regions. Capernaum, by Galilee, was the epicenter of the message that would shake human history.
“And the news about Him went out into all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them,” (Matthew 4:24).
In Matthew 4:25, the Scripture says that great multitudes came from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan. Wherever the news of Jesus spread, time stopped. People dropped their daily tasks and traveled days to hear the man who spoke with the authority to command diseases and demons. Thousands converged on the region of Galilee, and they were not disappointed.
The Galilean Hillside
In 2009, my wife and I stood on a hill by the Galilean Sea just south of Capernaum. Wild wheat surrounded us, bending in the breeze coming up off the water. It was on this hillside, or one very much like it, where Jesus delivered a sermon so famous, so powerful, that much of the world knows it by name two thousand years later. In Matthew 5, we read,
“And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them,” (Matthew 5:1-2).
On that remarkable day, Jesus gathers all who are willing to hear. He speaks with clarity and simplicity. He teaches that God blesses the gentle, the peaceful and the sincere. He says that He hasn’t come to abolish God’s Law; He has come to fulfill it. However, rather than adding weight on top of the Law, Jesus brings illumination even a child can understand. He commands us to pray with simplicity; give with humility; live with integrity, and above all, relax and trust in a loving Heavenly Father. Jesus explains that outward displays of religion do not make a heavenly impression. God sees our hearts and understands our motives. In fact, it all comes down to this,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Can we assume that the “impure in heart” will not see God? God help us all! The words “pure in heart” sound like an impossible standard, bringing to mind faultless motivation and perfect living. We know though everyone makes mistakes, through Jesus, we can receive forgiveness and become “pure in heart.” By setting the standard of “pure in heart”, however, Jesus is saying God wants no faking it, no self-righteousness, and no “phoning it in.” At each moment, we focus our thoughts on our Creator. If we want to see God, we cast off past disappointments; we entrust our cares to Him, and we live entirely mindful of His presence. That’s purity.
Why do I use the word “mindful?” On that beautiful day in Galilee, Jesus speaks to the poor and disenfranchised. Romans rule them; the religious elites tie up heavy burdens for them. The individuals that come to hear Jesus are the never-ending victims of disease, oppression, and poverty. They have no reason to hope for tomorrow. Weariness off the past and fears of the future consume every moment; they think of little else. In Matthew the sixth chapter, Jesus continues His gentle reasoning.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:30-34 NASB).
Walking with Jesus requires us to be mindful of His presence today. Yesterday’s fellowship with God gives us cause for thanksgiving. Tomorrow’s promises stir our faith. But now is the only moment in which we interact with God. Real-time. Real-fellowship.
“This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 NASB).