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Matthew writes, “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 he sat down…”
Jesus SAW the crowds. He didn’t ‘work the crowds,’ or ‘play the crowds,’ or ‘entertain the crowds.’ He ‘SAW’ them – like a good shepherd ‘SEES’ his sheep. Like a Father ‘SEES’ his dear children.
When the ‘world’ sees ‘CROWDS,’ it sees ‘consumer,’ ‘tax payer,’ ‘voter,’ ‘worker,’ ‘dependant, ‘statistic.’ But when Jesus saw the ‘CROWDS,’ what did He SEE?
• He SAW people who are “poor in spirit,” “who mourn” their sinful life and the sinful world in which they live.
• He SAW people who those “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “those who are meek,” “those who are pure in heart,” “those who are peacemakers,” “those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”
If you had been in those CROWDS, how much of this would Jesus have SEEN when He SAW you?
Matthew writes that these are GREAT CROWDS. Individuals with their personal names and unique personalities and problems and needs get lost in GREAT CROWDS. Sometimes GREAT CROWDS are just the place where individuals go so that they can hide and NOT BE SEEN.
But, HE SAW THEM.
“SEEING THE CROWDS, he went up on the mountain, and he sat down…” When the teacher ‘sits down’ it’s time for class to begin.
And “his disciples came to him, and He opened His mouth and taught them saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
Jesus wants to teach His disciples to see what He sees in the crowds. He wants them to see that they are ‘BLESSED.’ And why are they ‘BLESSED’?
• NOT because they have followed Him from the four corners of their world. They could follow Jesus to the end of the earth and never be BLESSED.
• And NOT even because they are “poor in spirit,’ or because they ‘mourn’ their sinful life and the sinful and fallen world in which they live, or because they “hunger and thirst for righteousness” or are “pure in heart,” or “persecuted for righteousness sake.”
No, they are BLESSED… BECAUSE HE SEES THEM.
To SEE THEM means that He, the Son of God, has not LOST SIGHT OF THEM. To SEE THEM means that He KNOWS THEM and that they are KNOWN BY GOD. And in KNOWING THEM, God has taken them into His loving and merciful heart. To be SEEN BY JESUS CHRIST and KNOWN BY GOD and be taken into His loving and merciful heart – is to be BLESSED.
It’s the same for us. We may not be a GREAT CROWD here this morning, but Jesus Christ has not lost sight of you. He SEES YOU and you are KNOWN BY GOD and He has taken you into His loving and merciful heart – and you are BLESSED.
How well the disciples of Jesus actually learned to SEE THE CROWD as Jesus sees them is hard to say. But one of the disciples whose name was John has his eyes opened by the Spirit and he SEES A GREAT CROWD. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number.”
If John recognizes any of those whom he sees, he doesn’t mention their names like we just did; Brendan, Elizabeth, Jim, George, Cordula, Danny, Herb… They’re there, that’s for sure.
And just how can we be so sure? Do we find our assurance by trying to look to the INSIDE of them, to SEE if they were “poor in spirit,” or “meek” or “pure in heart,” or even “peacemakers.” No. Because no matter how hard we try, this is the SEEING that we are not able to SEE. This is the ‘SEEING’ that only Jesus Christ can SEE.
Jesus SAW them. He SAW them, individually, one at a time in the GREAT MULTITUDE of those who were drown in holy baptism. That is where Jesus SAW THEM, and where He KNEW THEM, and where He took them into His LOVING AND MERCIFUL HEART. We find our assurance by looking OUTSIDE them to the fact that Jesus SAW them.
John sees, “a great multitude that NO ONE COULD NUMBER.” The world is always ‘numbering’ and ‘counting.’ Counting children, counting workers, counting unemployed, counting graduates, counting drop outs, counting, counting, counting. Everyone is a number and every number needs to be ‘counted.’
But in heaven, all the ‘counting’ is over. Everyone is counted and all the counting adds up to ONE. ONE Lord and Savior, and ONE body of Jesus Christ. ONE holy, Christian and apostolic Church.
Which does not mean that all sense of individual identity is melted together a vast sea of humanity. No, when John SEES the GREAT MULTITUDE, he SEES that they are ‘from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages.’ Germans are still Germans and Frenchmen are still French and Spaniards are still Spanish, and New Englanders are still Patriots fans.
It’s the ultimate Pentecost that the Pentecost in Jerusalem only pointed to. The ingathering of the harvest from the seed that was sown and that took root and grew and produced it’s crop of thirty, sixty, ninety, a hundred. A GREAT MULTITUDE.
John SEES the clothing they are wearing. Three times in these nine verses John mentions the “white robes” that everyone is wearing. They were certainly not always ‘white.’ The prophet Isaiah SAW this same multitude and described their clothes as “FILTHY RAGS.” But now they are WHITE, cleansed and purified. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
It’s a strange metaphor, isn’t it? How do you wash something in BLOOD and it comes out white? But, of course, the stain that this blood washes away is no ordinary stain.
The GREAT MULTITUDE was stained with sin, and they didn’t deny it, but confessed it. They didn’t claim to be perfect or holy or pure, or even ‘good enough.’ They claimed to be sinful and UNCLEAN. They just handed the whole, stinking mess over to Jesus and said, ‘make me clean as only you can.’ And He made them white as snow. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John SEES that everyone in this great multitude is holding something in their hands – PALM BRANCHES. The episode that we call “Palm Sunday” is recorded in all four gospels. But it’s only in John’s gospel that learn that the crowd waived palm branches as Jesus rode by. Now, the same John sees that the GREAT CROWD in heaven waiving their Palm Branches.
There, they cried out with a loud voice, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Here they cry out with an even louder voice and a deeper praise because the One who has come in the name of the Lord has won the victory. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And to this confession, the “heavenly hosts’ and the whole company of heaven” adds its AMEN. “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
That singing back and forth between ‘great multitude’ and ‘heavenly hosts’ is their ‘liturgy.’ And if it sounds a bit like what we do here, you’ve got the idea.
Just because John SEES the great multitude that Jesus SAW on the mount, doesn’t mean that John understood what he was SEEING. Like we said, when Jesus sees us, He sees all the way into our very core and HE SEES ONE FOR WHOM HE HAS DIED and RISEN and ASCENDED and for whom HE WILL COME AGAIN.
An Elder has to explain to John what he is SEEING. In typical catechism style, he asks, ‘what does this mean?’ John plays it safe. “Sir, you know.” And the Elder answers, “these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.”
And it is right here where we suddenly begin to realize that this “great multitude” is actually much “GREATER” than we may have at first thought. If the Elder had answered John, “these are the ones WHO HAVE COME OUT of the great tribulation,” we would understand him to be talking about those who had come out of this world and entered heaven up to John’s vision.
But the Elder says, “these are the ones COMING OUT of the great tribulation.” The GREAT MULTITUDE continues to grow. It includes EVEN THOSE who are still in this world with all of it’s GREAT TRIBULATION and who are still COMING OUT.
John sees not only the CHURCH TRIUMPHANT, for whom the daily battle with sin and the devil is over.
He also sees the CHURCH MILITANT for whom the daily battle is still being fought.
• He sees those who still sin daily and fail to be faithful far more often than they succeed.
• Whose praise of God and the Lamb on the throne is often lost in the shouting and cursing and swearing of ‘unclean lips.’
• Whose witness and testimony is frequently nothing more than a stammering, stuttering, whisper.
• He sees the ‘great multitude’ that week after week, come crawling OUT OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION and into the sanctuary like wounded, homeless, aliens in a hostile world, ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘mournful,’ ‘persecuted for righteousness sake.’
• They come into the Lord’s House in their ‘filthy rags,’ confessing their sins into the baptismal font where Jesus first SAW them, to washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, again and again and again.
• They come to the railing like baby birds in the nest, “hungry and thirsty for righteousness,” begging to be fed with the only food that will satisfy their hungry heart.
• They come, longing to hear the voice of their Lord say, “blessed are you,” that ‘lifts up their hearts,’ and sets them free and renews their joy and hope and strength and gives them life again.
“These are the ones COMING OUT of the great tribulation.”
What this means of course is that the difference between them and us is not as great as it seems.
“O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
BUT ALL ARE ONE IN THEE FOR ALL ARE THINE.” (LSB #677:4)
The only thing that separates us from them really is death. Theirs has already come. Yours will come too.
The tears of pain and sorrow, disappointment and regret, serve to remind us that we are still in this GREAT TRIBULATION and that the “Lamb in the midst of the throne is your shepherd, and he will guide you to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.”
In the meantime, we live by faith. We BELIEVE WHAT WE HEAR until we KNOW WHAT WE SEE.
Your destiny rests with Jesus and what He has done for you, not with what you have done for Him. He SEES you and in SEEING YOU, has taken you into His loving and merciful heart. BLESSED ARE YOU.