And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. – Matthew 4.23-5.1
As Jesus’ fame spread, large numbers of people flocked to Him. And they had needs. He healed the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics. Miracles will always attract a crowd. However, the core of Jesus’ ministry is teaching and preaching. The miracles confirm Jesus’ authority as a teacher and preacher. The miracles validate His claim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
If someone were to ask Jesus: What evidence can you give us that the kingdom of heaven is at hand? Or, What does the presence of the kingdom of heaven look like? He would point to the miracles He performed. In fact, someone did ask Him that. In Matthew 11, messengers from Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizing Prophet, come to Him and ask, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Listen to how Jesus answered them:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, lepers are cleaned and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
According to Jesus, the presence of the kingdom of heaven looks like blind people being made to see, lame people gaining the ability to walk, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, and the dead being. However, Jesus saves the most important piece of evidence for the end: “and the poor have good news preached to them.” Miracles will attract a crowd, but they do not lead people to repentance. Miracles do not change hearts. You want proof? Read Exodus. Pharaoh saw plenty of miracles. He didn’t repent. Want more proof? The first generation of those delivered from slavery in Egypt saw plenty of miracles -. Yet none of them entered the Promised Land. Miracles are evidence of the kingdom of God. They confirm the truth of what is being said, but miracles do not save people from their sins.
- Only Jesus saves.
- Only the Holy Spirit changes hearts.
- Only the Holy Spirit opens hearts to hear the gospel.
- Only the Holy Spirit leads us to repent—from rebellion against God to trust/obedience in God.
How? Through the teaching and preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Miracles will attract a crowd of followers. But Jesus did not come to attract followers. Jesus came to make disciples. And the Sermon on the Mount is designed to separate followers from disciples. All disciples are followers. Not all followers are disciples. Disciples follow Jesus wherever He leads them, and wherever He sends them. Disciples do whatever Jesus tells them. Followers tend to pick and choose the times and circumstances of their loyalty.
This might explain why in Matthew 3.11, 12, John the Baptizing Prophet describes Jesus’ ministry in very frank and frightening terms: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” The winnowing fork Jesus uses to clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn is the teaching and preaching of the gospel.
Miracles will draw people to the light like moths to a flame. But only those who trust in Jesus will live, work, play, die, and be saved in, by, and through the light. Jesus came to make disciples not attract a following.
The Sermon on the Mount has two audiences. The first audience is the disciples. The second audience is the great crowd that followed Jesus wherever He went. When Jesus sat down to preach, the Holy Spirit used His words like a winnowing fork. The Sermon on Mount separates those who are drawn to Jesus by His teaching and preaching, from those who follow Him just to see Him perform another miracle. The kingdom of heaven is open to those who worship Jesus in spirit and in truth.
The big idea of the Sermon on the Mount is not, “Keep these rules and you will enter the kingdom of heaven.” On the contrary, the big idea is, “Now that the kingdom of heaven has arrived this is how disciples of Jesus must live.” Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who are poor in spirit (5.3), obedient (7.21), and surpassingly righteous (5.20).
Jesus came to make disciples not gather followers. The Sermon on the Mount separates disciples from mere followers. The Sermon on the Mount humbles us. It is meant to drive us to seek the Spirit’s help to practice what Jesus preaches. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ – the Gospel which is the good news summed up as follows: the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it’s time to repent and put our trust in Jesus.
You think about that.