I always heard that we were supposed to seize opportunities by grabbing the tiger by the tail, or leaping the Grand Canyon on a turbo-charged Harley, or ripping the unwanted pages from the boring textbook while climbing onto the desktops in grand ‘carpe diem’ style. Jesus saw an opportunity, He seized the opportunity, and sat down. He sat down?!? This is how Matthew chapter 5 leads us into the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Jesus saw an opportunity to teach his disciples, to gain a few more disciples and to leave the crowd amazed.
When Jesus sat down on the hillside, his disciples gathered around him [Matt.5:1], for that is what true disciples tend to do. In classical Greek and Roman society, a man was called a disciple when he bound himself to someone else in order to acquire practical, technical or theoretical knowledge. The term mathatas – was used to identify a follower who learns, & a learner who follows. In the culture at large mathatas was applied to an apprentice in a trade, a student of medicine or a member of one of the philosophical schools. One could only be a true disciple in the company of a master-teacher. This is the backdrop in John 3:2, when Nicodemus came at night and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God."
While Jesus' disciples were identified as mathatas in Matthew’s Gospel, they were in many ways different from other disciples of rabbinic circles & philosophical schools.
A) In rabbinic circles and philosophical schools, those disciples made a voluntary decision to join the "school" of their favorite master-teacher, but Jesus took the initiative and drafted his men into discipleship (Mk. 1:17 - Simon & Andrew "Come, follow me, & I will make you fishers of men." v.19-20 James, John; 2:14 Levi "Follow me," ; Lk 9:59-62 "Follow me . . .lord, first let me bury my father. . ."; Jn.1:43 Philip).
B) In rabbinic circles, disciples looked for objective teaching with the aim of themselves becoming rabbis or master-teachers, however, studying with Jesus did not and still does not mean fulfilling 'X' number of academic requirements & then graduating. Following Jesus as a disciple meant the unconditional sacrifice of your whole life; Mt 10:37-39 "take up cross // Lk 9:23; Lk 14:26 "hate family, mom, dad, wife, kids, own life" (preference); Lk 9:62 "No one who puts hand to the plow & looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God."
C) It is important for understanding discipleship to realize that the call of Jesus always includes the call to service. The disciples of Jesus are to catch people (as fishers of humans) for the coming Kingdom by proclaiming the gospel & working in the name and character of Jesus (Mk 1:17; Lk 5:10-11). He sent out the 12 & 70 in pairs to heal, bring salvation & peace, proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Mk 6; Lk 10)
D) Jesus' disciples also faced the same dangers & suffering; as his followers they can expect no better. Mt 16:24-26 "deny self, take cross . . . what good is it to gain the world & lose soul."
E) Disciples of Jesus follow & learn, learn & follow. The original disciples never found Jesus lecturing in a classroom. Instead, they would find him heading down the road to Capernaum, Nazareth, Nain or hiking up the hill to Jerusalem. The Epistle to the Hebrews declares that following Jesus is more like running a race: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us [12:1 NIV].
Yes, Jesus saw a crowd of people and seized that opportunity to sit down in order to teach some of the most amazing truth ever proclaimed. Let me encourage you this week to read again Matthew chapters 5-7, and be amazed.