How to measure success…
Immediately after Jesus returned from being tempted in the desert, and after calling his disciples, he started his ‘public ministry,’ healing the sick, casting out demons and performing miracles. Matthew 4 says, ‘great crowds followed him.’ (v25)
Jesus was beginning to build great popularity. People were giving up days to travel to hear him. Everyone wanted to experience first hand this ‘new voice’ that John the Baptist had prophesied.
If I was at forefront of a prospering Christian movement, and gaining supporters and a bit of a reputation for myself, what would I do? What would friends counsel I do? I’d probably start a website, or launch a YouTube channel. I’d ensure any media account was as accessible as possible, monetised, and advertised extensively. Media savvy consultants would ensure that every click on my site would earn me (and therefore them) a few pence…which within a few months would generate a good income.
Well-meaning Christians would probably affirm all this excellent publicity, because, after all, “the more people that get to hear excellent teaching, the more people can be helped and blessed and set free!”
…which makes Jesus next move all the more surprising. “Seeing the crowd, he goes up a mountain.” (Matthew 5 : 1)
I’ve climbed a few mountains. Not many, and not huge ones. I recently got to the top of Pen y Fan. Not huge, at just under 3000 feet. But tall enough to offer a good workout, and separate the men from the boys…and certainly tall enough to ensure there were no crowds of people at the top just ‘chilling out,’ ready & waiting for me to come along with stirring sermon or life-changing message.
Now I know some say, that using a hillside as a backdrop when speaking publicly, can act as natural amplification. And that may well be true for a grassy knoll, or gently undulating hillsides – but I’m not sure anyone can hear anything from the top of a mountain!
If you are trying to build a ministry, you don’t go up a mountain to preach & teach, especially as the ministry is starting to build momentum! But here Jesus turns conventional thinking on its head once again. What do his actions actually show?
Jesus is not impressed with crowds, nor is he manipulated by public popularity.
…unswayed by ‘large crowds’ Jesus is about to invest his best time and teaching in ‘just a few.’
This is the heart of discipleship and is further unpacked in the verses which follow in Matthew 5.
This is challenging for myself. I live in a world where ‘biggest is best’ and ‘the larger the better.’ More money, more likes, bigger profits, more people…’ Everything is judged by numerical size, increase and growth. However, the King measures using a very different system indeed.