Allen Jackson - Step Out of the Crowd - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. Our theme is "Step Out of the Crowd". You know, Jesus's ministry was defined by enormous crowds of people, and the Spirit of God is still gathering crowds of people and directing their attention towards Jesus, but the ones who received the most were the ones who stepped out of the crowd. They stepped out of the boat, and they walked towards Jesus. They stepped away from the crowd and said, "Son of David, have mercy on us". And they received their sight again. Well, I believe the Spirit of God is still looking for people who will step out of the crowd, raise their hand and say, "I wanna honor the Lord with my life". I wanna be one of those people and I believe you do too. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
I want to begin a new study with you under the title of "Step Out of the Crowd". I have crisscrossed the country for the last 18 months or so from coast to coast, and in between it seems like, encouraging the people of God to lead with their faith, to not simply be passive, but to open their Bibles and open their hearts and to lead with their faith. And I began to hear coming out of me this invitation to step out of the crowd. And so I began to study it. Sometimes I just kind of chase what I hear the Lord saying, and I've had a really good time with this and so I wanna share it with you for a bit. The question I've told you over and over that I'm asked more than any is, what can we do? What can we do? How do we do?
I feel so powerless, or my voice is small, or some variation on that. And the best solution I have at this point is to lead with your faith. You're incredible leaders in so many arenas, but when it comes to your faith, we're often timid or reluctant or we feel inadequate. It's not that complicated. Stand up, be identified, use your voice. Understand what the risks are of being identified as a publicly, as a Christ follower and the values that go with that and asserting those in the public square, and take the risk anyway. Make the sacrifices that are involved, pray, give, serve, engage, repent, lead. You know the list. It isn't beyond us.
What I have discovered is that the application of our faith is what has faltered. We've been gathering, learning and studying and reading, some of us for lengthy periods of time, but our application has been a struggling point. So this idea of how we step out of the crowd and begin to be identified as Jesus people more fully and more completely and more clearly, I think is worth some consideration. And I want to begin just with Jesus and the crowds that he attracted. It's a fascinating study. Matthew chapter 4, in verse 23. "Jesus went throughout Galilee". It might not be apparent, Galilee is just a region of Israel. It's the northern part of the country. And in the New Testament period of time, it was a very much an international place.
In fact, it's referred to as Galilee of the Gentiles, which means it wasn't Galilee of the Jews. The Jewish people lived there, but they lived there in close proximity to the non-Jewish, the gentile population, largely because of Roman roads and the fresh water source of the Sea of Galilee. We call it a sea, but it's a big lake. And it's the major fresh water source in that part of the world. There is no Nile River or Tigris or Euphrates. My Israeli friends say the Jordan is a creek with a good PR agent. It's somewhat disappointing if you're thinking of the Mississippi, but the Sea of Galilee was a fresh water source.
So Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee. He moved to Capernaum, a little Jewish fishing village on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, "Teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people". He wasn't just talking theology. There was a physical demonstration of an almighty God. "And news about him spread all over Syria," a country to the north, "And people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering with severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them". Verse 25, "Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis".
Decapolis means ten cities, the majority of which are in modern day Jordan. I want you to get a little bit of the sense of the scope with which people were traveling. And if you don't know, if you're not familiar with the train and the bus routes from first-century Israel, they were very meager. They walked or rode an animal. "From Jerusalem, from Judea, and the region across the Jordan, they followed him". Large crowds of people very quickly became a part of Jesus's public life. He ministered to them, he fed them. From time to time, he meant to extraordinary efforts to avoid them. He would take them on difficult journeys intentionally. He would take a several-day hike up into the mountains and the crowds would follow him. So he would require them to walk days into the hills away from any public support. And then he would say to the disciples, "Feed them".
But enormous crowds very quickly became a part of Jesus's public life. For people that say Christianity, you know, started as something that was private and you know, in the living room of someone's home, not really. Jesus's ministry didn't start in a small space. Jesus's ministry very quickly, within days or weeks of his public ministry, began to include enormous crowds of people that gathered from a great distance, which means many on the local scene ignored him. Not everybody was interested. If everybody was interested, they wouldn't have identified all the places from which they would came, they would simply have said everybody that was in walking distance would've been there.
So there were some next door to Peter's mother-in-law, Capernaum, that could have cared less. But there were people in modern day Jordan and modern day Lebanon that were interested enough that they traveled to hear what Jesus had to say. It's not that much different today? You see, we've distilled Christianity down to this convenience thing. It needs to be easy, it needs to be simple. And it's the job of whoever's in charge to make it easy and simple. And if it's easy to be easy and simple, it can't be God. We're gonna go find something that's easy and simple. Well, I just in passing point out to you that Jesus really wasn't making the attempts to make it either easy or simple.
I'm not opposed to comfort and convenience. In fact, I prefer them when I can choose, but I will not trade my opportunities for the kingdom of God to worship at the altars of comfort and convenience. Then Matthew 21, we get a little window of the influence the crowds have on the leaders in the Jewish community, the political leaders. "When the chief priest and the Pharisees heard Jesus's parables, they knew he was talking about them. And they looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet". There were times when the crowd provided protection for Jesus. Not all the time, but sometimes, that it's worth noting the crowd is nameless, faceless, and for the most part unaccountable.
In John chapter 6, Jesus challenges the crowd. He raises the ante on them a good bit. He went around the sea of Galilee by boat. He didn't tell anybody where he was going, and the crowd simply began to walk around the lake, 12 miles long, pretty good hike. They had to walk around the lake trying to find Jesus. They found him on the other side and he began to speak to them in some very plain language. "On hearing it, many of the disciples said, 'This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?' Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 'Does this offend you?'" He's not just talking to the apostles. He's not just talking to the 12. There's this large group of people that are willing to identify as disciples of this itinerant rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth, by the hundreds. After all, there's free food, there's miracles. It's a great show.
And Jesus turns on them in this larger context. "I didn't give it all to you". And he says some hard things, "You'll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood". And they begin to get a little stressed. "'What if you see the Son of God ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who don't believe.' For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them didn't believe and who would betray him. Then he went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.' And from this time, many of his disciples turned back and they no longer followed him. 'You don't want to leave too, do you?' He asked the Twelve. And Peter said, 'Lord, to whom shall we go?'"
If you'll allow me just briefly, 'cause I don't wanna dwell here, but with just a casual read, the message Jesus is delivering in this particular instance purposefully is difficult. It's difficult for his audience. He is knowingly offending his listeners. Well, what about the 11th commandment? Thou shall be kind. He is aware that many will choose not to agree with him, not to believe what he's saying. He's drawing a line and many are stepping away. Many turned back and he's pushing the envelope. He's pushing the issue. He turns to Peter and the rest of the 12 that he's recruited carefully. And says, "Are you leaving too"? I mean, there's an edge in it. Jesus challenges the crowd. So he gathered crowds. There were times that crowds were helpful for him, but he also spoke very truthfully to them. He just didn't do miracles and feed them. He said things that he knew would be uncomfortable for them, challenging to them. He knew that if he said it, many of them would leave. Remember the topic. How do we step out of the crowd?
Well, I wanna look at some passages and I don't know how many of these we'll get to. It's unlikely we're gonna finish those you have. But tomorrow I have hope. In Luke chapter 5, it's a pretty familiar narrative. I tried to choose some that I think were familiar that we can do them more quickly. But Jesus is just beginning his public ministry and just beginning to recruit some of those original disciples that are gonna follow him. And the crowds have already begun to grow and he needs a platform. He's on the edge of the Lake of Galilee. And so he borrows a boat so they can push out into the water a bit, just to get little space, so he can speak to the people. And when he's finished with the sermon, he says to the boat keeper, the boat he borrowed.
"If you'll push out into the water a bit and let down your net, you'll get to a catch a fish". Well, the water in Galilee, even 'till today is unusually clear, and they fish predominantly at night. And the fishermen have fished all night, and this particular night they didn't have any luck. If you're a fisherman, you've been there. Such a wonderful feeling. And now there's a carpenter that has borrowed their boat. In the middle of the morning when he's finished with his message, he says to the fishermen, "If you'll go fishing, you'll catch something". What do you think the chances are the fishermen might be offended by a carpenter that thinks he knows their business? And they said to him, what you would expect, "Lord, we labored all night long and we didn't catch anything and we've cleaned our nets but because you say so". And that's what you have. "Simon answered, 'Master, we've worked hard all night and we haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I'll let down the nets.'"
Can you see the eye rolls from the other guys with him? "You want us to do what"? Have you ever give an instruction to somebody that didn't want your instructions? They thought you were caving into somebody. Right? Do you get the tone of the guy? Do you think they're enthusiastically rowing out a little bit? I think there's a lot of trash-talking while they're dropping the nets. "When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. And they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and they filled both boats so full that they began to sink".
Now that makes you smile. So what do you think Jesus is doing on shore. "I told you". No, I don't know. "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus's knees and he said, 'Go away from me, Lord, I'm a sinful man.' For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Jesus said to Simon, 'Don't be afraid; from now on you'll catch men.' So they pulled their boats up on shore and left everything and followed him".
It's a familiar story and the images in it, I think are pretty available to our imagination. So I think it's helpful, very helpful on this particular point. Peter is not the only person in this little window that we've just looked through who witnesses or was aware of this miracle. Luke very carefully tells us that James and John were there. They're partners with Peter, they all understand the dynamics of what's happening. They've all witnessed the same thing. They've heard the message, they've heard Jesus's instructions to Peter. They could feel Peter's reluctance, they felt it themselves. I'm sure they were a little astonished that he pushed back harder. I mean, Peter has something of a reputation. And he said, "Oh, if you say so," I'm sure there was a sigh of relief on some of their parts.
Lemme give you another example. Matthew 14, it's Peter again. I thought we'd stay there. You know this story very well. You learned it in Sunday school if you had the privilege. It said "During the fourth watch of the night," last watch of the night. "Jesus went out to them walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and they cried out in fear. But Jesus said to them; 'Take courage! It's just me.'" I mean in Southern English, "Y'all chill, it's me". "Peter replied, 'Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you in the water.' Jesus said, 'Come on.' Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink". And the other 11 began to smile. "And he cried out, 'Lord, save me.' And immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'"
Peter is an enthusiastic follower. Whatever you wanna say about him. And he will become, not yet, but he will become a part of Jesus's inner circle. Jesus didn't treat everyone the same. I hope you've understood that as you've read through the scripture. He recruited 12 to be a part of his closest followers. He gave them unique opportunities and unique instructions and unique assignments. But out of the 12, there were 3 that he took and gave them opportunities he didn't give to the others in that group of 12. Well, I don't think that's fair. Okay, duly noted. But I would point out to you, God did. Because he is just and righteous in all of he does. So the adjustment we need to make isn't to express our opinion based on our worldview and our life experience, but to yield ourselves to the authority of scripture says, what would it mean for me to live in such a way that God would trust me with opportunities?
You see, I think stepping away from the crowd doesn't have to mean you damage relationships, burn bridges, or accuse others. He didn't turn and look at the rest of them and say, "What are you doing"? He just climbed out of the boat. He climbed out of a safe place in order to more closely follow Jesus. How do you step away from the crowd? You step away from some things that you think bring you your security and you say, "Jesus, I'll follow you wherever, however, whenever". We've been reluctant, we've been quiet, we've been timid because we thought we had to protect the things that made us safe. If you haven't recognized it yet, every expression of security that we imagined four or five years ago is being deconstructed before our very eyes. And the ones that haven't been very soon will be. It's much better to begin to demonstrate your faith in Jesus and to let those muscles gain some strength and some familiarity before you need to depend upon them.
Step out of the crowd. Matthew 20, I love this story. They're in Jericho. Jericho is right on the northern end of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on planet Earth, right at the bottom of the Jordan Valley. It's just a miserably hot place, but it's one of the oldest inhabited places on planet Earth because there's an oasis there. There's fresh water in a place where there is no fresh water. And although Jerusalem is only 20 miles away, there's about a 2,500 feet difference in elevation. So when it's cold in Jerusalem, you can make a half a day walk downhill and be warm in Jericho. Well, Jesus is coming through Jericho en route to Jerusalem, "And he and his disciples are leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed them". There's a crowd again. "And two blind men were sitting by the roadside".
Imagine a crowd following you. Not just showing up because word got passed, but there's a group of people so intense, so interested that large numbers of people, it's like a soccer game with six-year-olds. It's not anybody occupying a space on the field. It's a little mob that just moves about in unison. Well, imagine a large crowd, just wherever they knew Jesus was going. So there was no private time, there wasn't alone time. This large crowd is following through Jericho.
"And there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!' And the crowd rebuked them and they told 'em to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!' Jesus stopped and called them, 'What do you want me to do?' 'And Lord,' they answered, 'We want our sight.' And Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. And immediately they received their sight and followed him".
I think that might be a little understated. Immediately they received their sight and they joined the Bible study. I think they might've been a little bit enthusiastic. It's a fascinating presentation to me because there's these two men blind. The inference because of Bartimaeus in another narrative is a beggar, but they're not designated to us. Matthew doesn't identify them as beggars. We don't know anything about their station or their circumstance, they're simply along the road. There is other people that waited along the road to see Jesus. Zacchaeus did, and he was the wealthiest man in town.
So they may have been... their status in life isn't a part of the narrative to Matthew, simply that they were blind, there's two of them. And Jesus is coming through town, there's a large crowd, there's a lot of commotion, there's excitement and antagonism. I'm sure both are in place. And as Jesus comes through town, they begin to scream loudly. "Son of David have mercy on us". And the crown tries to shut them down. "Shut up, hush. What's wrong with you? That's not the way we're supposed to behave. Stop"! And the more they try to make him be quiet, the more loudly they call until they get Jesus's attention and he stops. "What would you like me to do"?
Now, you know, you and I are reading this going, "Yes, this is it". But I would submit to you there is 100 things on that list before they ask for their sight. They don't know anybody that's ever been blind and then could see. It's not like there's thousands of those people they hang out with. We don't know if they've ever been in one of Jesus's meetings. We don't know if they knew somebody that had a healing story. We don't know what they know.
Matthew doesn't give us the backstory, but we read that as if it's perfectly normal that they would say, "We would like to see". It's about as normal saying, "We'd like to fly, we'd like to walk on water". We heard Peter did that. We'd like to learn how to multiply a happy meal into where we could feed thousands. Think of the revenue opportunities. It fascinates me that they swung for the fences. Go big or go home, "Lord, we want to see". And Jesus didn't say, "Well, you know, I was thinking more like about buying you a meal".
I want to pray that you'll have the courage to step out of the crowd and give the Lord your very best.
Heavenly Father, give us a spirit of boldness. Help us overcome our reluctance, our fear, even our cowardice to give you our very best in Jesus's name, amen.