I remember teaching a Sunday School class a while back, in a cozy room of our church (it even has a fireplace and a library). The chairs were usually set up classroom style, and I typically taught from the podium (which is good, since I used a number of references, so I appreciated the space to spread them out). However, one morning, the chairs were set up in a circle! When asked whether I wanted them to be moved, I was happy to leave them as they were. I admit that my old feet and back appreciated the chance to teach sitting down.
As a result, I was glad to find that there is Biblical precedent for sitting down while teaching:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
Matthew 5:1-2 NIV
As you may know, this text (after “He said:”) leads into a well-known portion of the Bible that we often call the Sermon on the Mount. Some would probably consider it the greatest sermon ever preached1.
While much has been taught on the Sermon on the Mount, I think that there are a few things for us to learn from these “introductory” verses.
While reading this passage, I wondered how many people could hear Jesus speak at a time. Maybe they were better listeners back then, and could stay quieter when someone else was speaking. Maybe Jesus had a really strong voice. Maybe the acoustics on this particular mountainside were particularly good, so that a lot of people could hear Him.
Here’s what I wonder, though: What if only a limited number of people close to Jesus could hear what He was teaching, but they shared His words with the rest of the crowd? What if those in the front group (who could hear Jesus directly) took turns relaying these lessons to the next “ring” of disciples, who then passed it along to others? We know that God can help preserve the quality of His message, so there would be less risk of losing the message in transmission. And, Jesus was teaching in simple illustrations, which would be easier to pass along (compared to, say, a graduate-level seminary course).
I don’t know if that was the case here, but even if it wasn’t, this happens to be an important process by which the words of Jesus get out to other people who haven’t heard: Those of us who have learned the teachings of Jesus must pass them on to others. God captured His word in the Bible, and for those of us who have read and studied this (and accepted it into our lives), we not only have access to this “primary source”, but we also have the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We are like those who heard from Jesus directly in the passage above, but that means we have a greater responsibility to share this with others who haven’t read the Bible or learned what He taught (see Acts 8:26-40).
Notice also that Jesus taught the people where they were. He didn’t tell them here that they had to go to His special synagogue (or buy His book), and He didn’t tell the crowds here that He was too busy. He saw the crowds, found a good spot, sat down, and taught.
We can all get busy, but sometimes we need to stop, set aside whatever else we were doing (even when we’re doing good things), sit down, and teach someone else the truth from the Bible. Maybe we need to invite someone with a sincere question to a quieter corner of the room, or buy them a sandwich at a place where we can talk. Regardless, there are times when “good works” must give way to teaching or just telling people the good news about Jesus Christ. (Don’t forget Jesus’ reply to Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.)
And, it’s probably a good time to pause for a minute and think about how foreign what we may have learned from the Bible (or from our time spent in the church) might sound to those who haven’t had the privilege of Bible study or Christian education – whether formal or informal, personal or collective. What is a “Sermon on the Mount” or a “Beatitude”? What do you mean by “Matthew chapter 5”?
So, as we share the good news about Jesus with those who have grown up in environments without Him, let’s be willing to pause and explain our context, and to take an extra few moments to describe these things: topics and phrases that long-time Sunday School or Bible Study participants know well, but which are initially foreign to those who didn’t have that privilege. Like Jesus’ audience, there may be some things that aren’t yet clear to those we share with (until the Holy Spirit helps them understand), but even complicated things can be used by God later.
In conclusion, let’s not just study what Jesus taught (as recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7), but for those of us who are following Jesus, let’s also consider how He taught it.
- May we remember that we are the ones who have learned from Jesus, and are called upon to share that message with those who haven’t yet heard it.
- May we remember to stop and recognize when someone needs an honest answer from us, and not a deflection because we are “too busy”.
- May we remember that Jesus taught His message to people in terms that they could understand, and strive to do the same.
I hope and pray that you will have opportunities to just sit down and share the good news about Jesus – soon, and often!
Based on Sunday School Lesson prepared for January 3, 2021.
- LESSON FOR JAN. 3, 2021: BACKWARD BLESSINGS, by Mark Scott: https://christianstandard.com/2020/12/lesson-for-jan-3-2021-backward-blessings-matthew-51-16/
- DO THE OPPOSITE (JAN. 3 LESSON APPLICATION), by David Faust: https://christianstandard.com/2020/12/do-the-opposite-jan-3-lesson-application/
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p. 89-102.
- Others believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of teachings of Jesus, rather than a single sermon. That doesn’t change the fact that He taught these things, but I personally don’t see why these three chapters couldn’t have been one message, even as Jesus reiterated similar points at other times and in other places.↩