Is.55:6 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near."
And the People Flocked to Jesus
When we lived in France we always knew when the weekly magazines were worried about their circulation figures – the front cover would contain a story linked in some way to Jesus! The publishing industry knows only too well that Jesus is a draw and they can use his name to sell more copy.
Jesus has always excited interest. He did so early on in his ministry on earth and he still does today some 2000 years later. This alone should alert us to the fact that Jesus is a special individual. Today we're going to look at some of the different folk who crowded around him and what they came for.
We won't be content with an historical review however and we will conclude by thinking about how we too might come to Jesus.
A Long Night becomes a Busy Day
Jesus had been up on the mountainside all through the night and he had been praying. Then, when the morning came, he had called his disciples to come to him and from their number selected just 12 whom he called his apostles. They formed a special group of men. They were not special because of any particular inherent qualities they might possess but they became special when Jesus chose them.
It seems as though these 12 had stayed a bit longer with Jesus on the mountain with Jesus while the rest of his followers made their way back down again. Doubtless Jesus had some more things to say to them privately before they would descend together.
Finally Jesus did come down accompanied by the 12 – having just been so signally blessed these men were evidently in no hurry to leave their Master. We can readily understand that can't we? Jesus had bestowed on them the amazing honour of being his apostles: they were to have privileged access to him and subsequently they would be sent out as his representatives. They would have the task of passing on his teaching and they would also be enabled to act with his authority in healing the sick and in casting out unclean spirits.
For the rest of Jesus' ministry on earth these apostles are nearly always to be found either with Jesus or acting on his behalf. If they weren't with him they were doing his bidding – there is one exception that stands out however: Judas when he went to the Jewish leaders in order to negotiate the terms according to which he would betray Jesus.
There is a lesson we might want to learn from this and this is what it is: the Christian believer is safe, spiritually safe, when he is with Jesus and he is similarly safe when he is about Jesus' business.
When Jesus and his apostles descended from the mountain they rejoined the greater crowd of his followers. And now we need to think a little more about this larger group of disciples as they are called here.
These disciples included quite a wide range of people united in their sympathetic attitude towards Jesus. It would have included people like Joseph Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias the two candidates who were later proposed to take the place of Judas Iscariot in the group of 12. They hadn't been chosen to be numbered amongst Jesus' special group of men but, and it's a big but, they hadn't taken the huff and left the scene. I wonder how they might have felt as they listened to Jesus calling out the names of the 12 men he had specially chosen. It's not always easy to take being passed over is it? They might have been tempted to say it wasn't fair; to say they were just as good if not better than the men chosen. But they were there waiting for Jesus to come down – they weren't giving up on Jesus!
How do you cope with disappointment and discouragement I wonder? How do you react when you think that someone else is getting the attention that you'd like to have? You may well have to face that on your spiritual journey you know. You may find that you're let down by Christians and you may be tempted to withdraw from them and from Jesus at the same time. Don't do it! These men stayed on, eager for the presence of Jesus – you must do the same.
But it would also have included some folk whose sympathy towards Jesus would prove only to be of a temporary nature; those fair-weather disciples who were happy to follow the "Jesus band-wagon" until they found they didn't really like his teaching nor did they want to be associated with a man against whom hostility was growing dangerously. The time was coming when many of these "disciples" would baulk at Jesus and be thrown by what he said – any sympathy they had for him now would dissipate then. But for the time being that moment had not yet come.
So we have the 12 apostles with Jesus; we have a large crowd of followers with differing degrees of commitment but there are yet more who are present that day. Luke tells us that multitudes of ordinary folk had come too and they had come from all over. The fact that they're not described as disicples seems to suggest that they were as yet undecided as to what to make of Jesus. Oh yes, they've heard of him and they're intrigued by him but they've yet to take a decisive step in putting their trust in him. Perhaps we should call them the curious, the enquirers, those who just want to take a closer look. Luke tells us that they've come from all over Israel and even from just the other side of some of Israel's borders.
What a gathering it was that day at the foot of the mountain. Jesus was there and all these other folk. If you were to place yourself in this story in which group do you think you would fit best? A committed follower rejoicing in your privileges? Or are you more of a sympathiser or an adherent than anything else? Or perhaps you're not really sure and so you'd have to see yourself as someone still trying to weigh up the evidence?
Why Did the Crowds Flock to Jesus?
According to Luke many in the great crowds that swarmed around Jesus that day had come to him with a very real sense of personal need.
Why had they come? Luke tells us that they came:
v.18 "to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured."
Men and women came because they had both physical and spiritual problems that needed to be resolved; they had needs that had to be met. And they thought that Jesus might well be the One who would be able to resolve their problems and meet their needs. They weren't wrong.
They came wanting to hear him ie. they wanted to hear what he had to say, they wanted to learn from his teaching. They knew that man does not live by bread alone and they were hungry for spiritually satisfying fare that would nourish their souls. And in their need they came to Jesus. Some of them came all the way from Jerusalem which meant a journey by foot of around 60 miles one-way. But they considered it worth the effort. And they were right – after all a man and a woman have everlasting, never-dying souls to think of and this man might be able to help them!
What is the more amazing is that those who travelled from Jerusalem had travelled from the capital city where the most important rabbis of the day were to be found but they had not found those men able to satisfy the longings of their souls for noursihing spiritual food – and so they made their way to come to listen to Jesus. They didn't think it too much effort.
How sad today that so many remain unconcerned about spiritual food for their soul and never give any serious thought to listening to what the Saviour has to say, of listening to what he has to offer them.
Jesus was widely referred to as being a Teacher – the crowds that day were ready to listen to him. Are you?
The crowds wouldn't be disappointed on the teaching front that day – Jesus was about to preach them a great sermon.
The second type of need which brought the crowds to Jesus was their need of physical health. Word had got about of a new teaching that was associated with power. Jesus was spoken of as a miracle-worker and the crowds flocked to him in their need. They were soon to find that day that Jesus lived up to his reputation and he was full of compassion as well.
The crowd we're told was a large one, a great multitude in fact and their coming to Jesus was in earnest – to whom else could they turn in their need? And so they were determined not to miss their opportunity:
v.19 "And all the crowd sought to touch him"
You see it wasn't a matter of form for them. They weren't interested in merely attending a meeting, of going to church, they were intent on connecting with Jesus. They weren't about to be satisfied with being mere spectators, no, they wanted to close with him, they wanted to have personal dealings with him and in their eagerness they stretched out their hands to try to touch him!
This time it wasn't just a few – a paralytic here, a man with a withered hand there – no it was "all" the crowd and what did the crowd find? They found Jesus to be an accessible, willing, compassionate and powerful friend.
v.19 "for power came out from him and healed them all."
As those needy crowds kept on coming to him to touch him so power kept on and on flowing from him until all those who came were healed!
Now I can't promise you that in coming to Jesus you will be healed from all your ailments and all your sicknesses as that is not what the gospel message is all about. Jesus performed his miracles of compassion out of genuine compassion but also as signs which confirmed his authority and his trustworthiness. Jesus is still able to heal and may do so in miraculous ways today if such is his intent but we must not get hung up on trying to secure the blessings which rightly belong to the age to come. But I call upon you to put your trust in this man who is able to save your soul and that for all eternity. When a person becomes a Christian by doing just that he is made a new creation and everything becomes new – there are often beneficial side effects on a person's physical health but the real change is in his relationship with God.
But there is something very important for us to learn from this brief little report – Jesus is compassionate and Jesus is able to meet needs. The way to approach him is with the same earnestness and single-mindedness as this crowd. They were serious about connecting with Jesus – and so must you be too!
Jer.29:11-14 "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the LORD,"
What are we to make of it all?
That day was truly a remarkable occasion as everyone benefitted from being in contact with Jesus. Was there ever another day quite like it when so many miracles were performed bring ing blessing to so many? The account of it is so very short that we can easily skip over it and fail to take its message to heart.
But what exactly is the message?
After all we can't go and hear Jesus speak and neither can we reach out and physically touch him can we? So what is expected of us? What is there for us here?
Well the first thing for us to to take note of Jesus himself. Totally in control: he prayerfully chooses his apostles, he compassionately and powerfully meets the needs of all those who are prepared to reach out to him. His authority spreads over so many domains: he rules over the spirit world curing all who were troubled by unclean spirits; he rules over the physical world healing sickness and diseases. He teaches what he knows, what his Father has given him. Don't you realise that his miracles have been designed to establish his claims and serve to underline his authority. You have every reason to have confidence in this man.
The second thing is to realise that if we can't listen to Jesus physical voice we can still listen to what he has to say and to understand why he came – we have the Bible and it has been read to you again today, you can read the Bible for yourself at home, you can talk it over with others and you can read books about it, you can listen to the Bible being read on tapes CDs etc. We also have preaching and you are hearing preaching again today.
But what are you doing with these possibilities? Is there any evidence of seriousness or earnestness in your life?
No, you can't literally stretch out your hand to touch this man Jesus but you can reach out to him in faith. You can call upon him, you can ask him to forgive you your sins, you can ask him to be merciful to you to be gracious to you. The men and women were anxious to connect with Jesus that day – are you concerned to connect with Jesus today?
Just as Jesus had power and blessings sufficient to satisfy the needs of everyone gathered that day so he has all that is necessary to meet your spiritual needs and the spiritual needs of everyone else gathered here today. Will you be the only one who goes away without having reached out in faith to him todays?
I call upon you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God's Son. He came into the world in order to save sinners who simply can't save themselves. He came not to judge or condemn but to save. He is a wonderful Saviour. Will you not bow the knee to him today and plead with him to become your Lord and Saviour too?
May God have mercy upon us all enabling us to hear the voice of the Saviour and to reach out to him in faith.