Last year I had the wonderful experience of walking beside the Sea of Galilee for the first time. As I stood by its side, gazing upon that ancient sea and the green hills surrounding it, I could easily picture life there 2,000 years ago, when Jesus walked along those very shores.
In my mind’s eye I could see Him standing in the early-morning sun, people of all ages crowding around, trying to get as close as possible to this unusual Teacher, Healer—and possible Deliverer?—on the narrow, rocky beach.
Realizing the crowd was too large and the beach too small, Jesus led the people back to the slope of the mountain where He had spent the previous night praying for His disciples. After that all-night prayer session, Jesus called the twelve to Him, and “with words of prayer and instruction, laid His hands upon their heads in benediction, setting them apart to the gospel work.”1
Jesus knew that it was time for the disciples to become more directly involved in His work, so that after His ascension they could carry the work forward. He was aware of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, “yet they had responded to the love of Christ, and, though slow of heart to believe, Jesus saw in them those whom He could train and discipline for His great work.”2 He also knew that they, along with all of Israel, had been misled by the teaching of the rabbis about the Messiah and His mission, and He longed to open their eyes to the truth.
Now Jesus and the disciples were once again on the mountainside, this time surrounded by crowds of people who were searching, longing, for something better in their lives. They came not only from Galilee but from all over Judea, including Jerusalem. Others traveled from areas east of the Jordan, including Perea and Decapolis. People came from as far north as the Phoenician coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, and as far south as Idumea, southwest of the Dead Sea. Everyone had heard about this wonderful Teacher and Healer, and all hoped that perhaps He was their longed-for Messiah who would free them from the Romans at last!
Visions of national glory and power, riches and splendor, filled their heads as they hoped that this would be the day Jesus proclaimed Himself king. Others focused on their desires for better houses, more food, nicer clothing, and days filled with plenty and ease.
Walking partway up the mountainside, Jesus sat down on the soft green grass. The disciples, sensing that something unusual was about to happen, gathered closely around Him. The rest of the crowd, eager to hear what the Master had to say, sat down, unaware that their world was about to be turned upside down.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He told the astonished listeners. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:3, 5, 6).3
The poor, the meek, the hungry and thirsty—are these the ones whom God would bless? Not according to the scribes and Pharisees; they claimed that a curse rested upon the suffering. These leaders had taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9), causing much additional sorrow as people struggled to keep the countless rules, laws, and regulations that these false teachers had placed upon them.
Striking at the heart of the matter, Jesus upheld the immutable character of God’s law while proclaiming that keeping the letter of the law was not enough. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
I can imagine a gasp going through the crowd—if not the scribes and Pharisees, who then would be able to enter the kingdom? Jesus unpacked it more by peeling back the layers of outward behavior and exposing the inner workings of the soul. “You have heard that it was said . . . , ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (verses 27, 28). The Teacher continued the uncomfortable probing by addressing divorce, swearing, violence, true generosity, and loving one’s enemies.
Jesus was seeking to reform how His people lived their everyday lives. He longed to revive them by bringing heaven into their hearts. Our religious experience is of utmost importance and should be of the highest priority as we face the last days of earth’s history. We are counseled, “As a people we are sadly destitute of faith and love. Our efforts are altogether too feeble for the time of peril in which we live. The pride and self-indulgence, the impiety and iniquity by which we are surrounded, have an influence upon us. Few realize the importance of shunning, so far as possible, all associations unfriendly to religious life. In choosing their surround-ings, few make their spiritual prosperity the first consideration.”4
Jesus wants this closeness to us. After all, He was the one who first formed human beings with His own hands, and breathed the breath of life that made them living souls. Now He sought to re-form hearts and minds so that the people’s characters would be in His image. He hoped to revive His children by breathing upon them the blessings of heaven.
Do we have any less of a need for revival and re-formation today? Christ knows that in many ways we struggle with the same temptations that the people were confronted with back then. His sermon on the mount is just as beautiful and powerful now as it was 2,000 years ago. From the pen of inspiration we read: “Every sentence [of the Sermon on the Mount] is a jewel from the treasure house of truth. The principles enunciated in this discourse are for all ages and for all classes. . . . With divine energy, Christ expressed His faith and hope as He pointed out class after class as blessed because of having formed righteous characters. Living the life of the Life-giver, through faith in Him, everyone can reach the standard held up in His words.”5
Our Savior longs to fill our hearts, homes, and churches with the peace and joy that is found in heaven. As we carefully study His sermon as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7, we find the blueprint for “Revival and the Christian Life.” It is here that He reveals most clearly and directly what it means to be like Him. It is in this discourse that Jesus instructs us in the values that form the foundation of His law, His character—values that will last forever: honesty, purity, kindness, unselfish love, generosity, and faithfulness.
He wants to set our sights higher, much higher than this temporary, fallen world. Instead of longing for earthly riches, where “moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19), the Savior invites us to store up “treasures in heaven” (verse 20) that will last forever. Rather than pursuing power in this world, Jesus urges us to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Addressing fears for temporal needs, Jesus urges us not to worry, “saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).
How simple and yet how profound. How straightforward and yet how challenging. How can we have a vibrant Christian life? By making God’s kingdom and character our top priority. By nourishing our souls daily on His Word of life (see John 6:53-58), and taking the time to converse with Him in honest, private prayer every day.
As we get to know God through His Word and prayer, we will develop an abiding trust in Him, believing that He knows the best way for our lives, and we will want to follow wherever He leads. We will want to serve others as Jesus did, bringing hope and healing wherever we can. We will realize the true insignificance of the things the world values and will want to share the marvelous story of redemption with as many as possible. Coupled with that, because we genuinely care about others and their eternal welfare, we will feel the urgency of proclaiming the special three angels’ messages found in Revelation 14 to all the world. Starting with the “everlasting gospel,” these messages point to worshipping Him “that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev. 14:6, 7, KJV).
But “how then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard” if no one shares Him with them (Rom. 10:14, KJV)? One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of living a renewed, vibrant Christian life is having the privilege of sharing Jesus with others—both through our words and our actions.
During this Week of Prayer I encourage each one of us to spend time in God’s Word, searching deeply for the messages He has for us today, and to take time to pray, asking Him for the blessings He longs to give—the blessings He spoke about long ago on a mountain by the Sea of Galilee, the blessings that come from living a life like Him today and point us to a life of eternal blessings at Christ’s soon coming.