At the end of each year, I set a goal for my Bible reading for the following year. In December 2015, I decided that I would saturate myself with the life of Jesus in 2016.
The four gospels have 89 chapters. I made a plan to read three chapters a day, and as a result I would read all four gospels each month — 12 times during the year. I chose four different versions and read the story of Jesus’ life three times in each.
This has had a powerful, transforming impact on my life. As I come to the end of the year, four profound impressions have captivated my mind and heart.
First, the crowds. The writers of the gospels constantly talked about the crowds. Matthew uses the word 50 times, Mark 38 times, Luke 41 times and John 20 times. The four gospel writers use words like great crowds, considerable crowds, large crowds, whole crowds, and very large crowds. They talk about a great throng and a multitude of people. Jesus didn’t just speak with a few people. Crowds constantly surrounded him.
Mark says, “Many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:8). Luke adds, “A large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town” (Luke 8:4).
Of course we all know about the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000 men, besides women and children. On another occasion when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, “…they were not able to get near him because of the crowd” (Luke 8:19). Luke also says, “When a crowd of many thousands had gathered…they were trampling on one another” (Luke 12:1), and he also writes, “As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him” (Luke 8:42). John reports that the Pharisees said, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19).
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in his triumphal entry, “the whole city was stirred” (Matthew 21:10). Jerusalem at the time had somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 residents. In addition, large crowds of at least 100,000 more may have been there for Passover. This was no quiet country preacher speaking to a few people. This was Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, reaching out to the crowds of people in all areas of the country and at all levels of society.
The crowds also impacted Jesus personally. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36), and he said, “I have compassion on these people…because they have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2). He was deeply moved by the crowds of people and their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
We should similarly be moved with compassion and develop ministries that speak relevantly to the crowds of people around us, whether they are in our cities and towns, at sports events, the beach, festivals, or other places. Our outreach overseas should also have a dimension that touches the crowds of people who don’t know the Lord Jesus.
When Eloise and I started serving the Lord with International Teams full time 59 years ago, we first went to Kolkata, India and walked the streets selling gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to the crowds. In 90 days we sold 100,000 gospels. Every day we were among the crowds being jostled, ridiculed and threatened. With every gospel was an offer of a free Bible study. Eight thousand people responded.
At the Tokyo Olympics, 40 of us, including six from Australia, handed out a million gospels of Mark to the crowds at the train stations, and today we continue to have a very important part of our ministry focused on the crowds through Bright Hope. In Haiti we reach whole towns. In Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Bolivia, and other places around the world, we are committed to community transformation, by helping the crowds of desperately poor people.
All of us need to have a part in reaching the crowds today, both at home and around the world. We can pray for, encourage and give to those who reach out to the crowds by meeting their physical and spiritual needs. We can be like Jesus and have an active part in telling the crowds about his great love and forgiveness.
Second, the stories. Jesus taught his disciples biblical knowledge and life-changing spiritual truth, but when he spoke to the crowds he often told stories. The stories he told were about real down-to-earth life situations that everyone experienced. They were primarily in six areas of daily life:
1. Farming — His stories were about trees, vineyards, fields, barns, winds, rains, weeds, seeds, harvest, sheep, goats, donkeys, oxen, pigs, ravens and sparrows.
2. Family — He talked about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, weddings, banquets, new clothes, old clothes, hair, sewing and money.
3. Food — He mentioned salt, wine, bread, fish, eggs, yeast and fruit.
4. Home — His stories included lamps, baskets, flowers, wine containers, servants, and building foundations and houses.
5. Work — He talked about fishing and fishing nets, buildings and budgets, employers and employees, and judges and loan officers.
6. People — He told stories about thieves, widows, kings, servants, shepherds and travellers.
Jesus related to people where they lived and told stories with which they could easily identify. His stories were simple, clear and culturally relevant.
Stories are also very important in communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. Telling our own personal story of how we have been changed by Christ can be a powerful way to bring the hope of salvation to people. We can break through cultural barriers, and the Holy Spirit can open the understanding of city dwellers and rural residents around the world as we share stories from our lives and experiences to which they can relate.
Most poor people with whom we work love to hear stories that illustrate biblical truth, and the stories open their hearts to the message of salvation. Often when we tell stories about people whose lives have been radically changed by the power of the gospel, the Holy Spirit opens their hearts and minds so the seed of the gospel drops into good soil and springs up into eternal life.
Third, the miracles. Some miracles are specifically recorded, like the individual physical healings of leprosy, paralysis, high fever, deafness,
muteness, blood discharge, blindness, lameness, a withered hand, a bent back, an enlarged limb, and a cut-off ear.
However, in addition, at least 20 Bible passages say many were healed in one place or at one time. For example, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23), and “After sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed…and Jesus healed many who had various diseases” (Mark 1:32-34). Luke also says, “…the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (Luke 6:19).
In addition to healings, he also cast out demons on many occasions. There were men, women, and children all freed from demonic power. Matthew tells us, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word” (Matthew 8:16). Luke adds, “Moreover, demons came out of many people” (Luke 4:41).
On three occasions Jesus raised the dead: Lazarus, his friend, who had been dead for four days (John 11); Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter who had just died (Mark 5:41); and the widow’s son, whom she would have depended on for her support and care (Luke 7:12-15) — they were all brought back from the dead. Then at Jesus’ death, “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:52).
He did many other miracles like calming the storm, feeding the 4,000 and 5,000, walking on water, stopping the wind, turning water into wine, providing large numbers of fish, and withering a fig tree. Then at his death, the temple curtain ripped in two from top to bottom, the earth shook and the rocks split.
John sums it up, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
We cannot in any way imitate the amazingly powerful miracle-working ministry of the Lord Jesus, but we do need to have a supernatural aspect to our lives and ministries. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to be working in and through us, changing lives and bringing transformation.
In many poor communities overseas today, the ministry of praying for those who are sick, distressed, poor and oppressed, powerfully demonstrates the reality of the message of salvation and draws people to Jesus. God wants us to have the privilege and responsibility of being personally involved in the life-changing, miraculous ministry of bringing healing and hope. We have seen people miraculously transformed, both physically and spiritually, through prayer and compassionate care. Only God could bring about these powerful miracles — and we give him all the glory!
Fourth, the opposition. There were many people sympathetic to Jesus. Throughout the gospels, the crowds were ‘astonished’ and ‘amazed’ at his words and actions. These two words are mentioned over 30 times.
But in vivid contrast, there was also brutal opposition. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, High Priests, and elders were on the attack all the time. More than 60 times in the gospels it mentions that they opposed Him and were trying to find ways to get him arrested and killed. Matthew says, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matthew 12:14). And Luke adds, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus” (Luke 22:2).
All the way through his public life, they were arguing, attacking, criticizing and questioning him. Mark says, “They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words” (Mark 12:13-17). Luke adds, “The chief priests and teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him” (Luke 23:10).
The opposition from the religious leaders reached its peak in the last days of Jesus’ life. “The chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him” (Mark 15:31). The high priest questioned Jesus and one of the officials struck him in the face (John 18:22). “The chief priests and their officials shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’” (John 19:6). And the chief priests even objected to the sign Pilate put over his head on the cross (John 19:21).
We, too, will face opposition if we are doing the work of the gospel in a powerful and effective way. Satan is unrelenting in his opposition to Jesus and his followers, and he will bring all his evil forces against us. When we proclaim Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we also can expect to see opposition. Jesus said, “…a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:2), and that is true today in some parts of the world.
Through the years, we have experienced constant opposition and rejection. When you invade Satan’s territory, he will rise up against you. Many times we have seen demonic forces at work, attacking us and our ministry — but the power of the blood of Christ has always given us victory.
Reading through the gospels 12 times this year has renewed my desire to live like Jesus. He wants us to:
1. Minister to the crowds.
2. Tell stories which bring the good news of salvation to others.
3. Ask him to do miracles in the lives of those we want to impact.
4. Resist satanic opposition through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you, too, follow the example of Jesus, your life and ministry will powerfully transform many desperately needy people, and you also will be transformed by Him in the process.