We started the day at the top of Mt. Arbel. The Master had taken us up the night before. At daybreak, we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Sea! Mt. Arbel is His favorite “get away from it all” spot. You can get a view of the whole lake from there.
We had spent much of the past few weeks all around this northern part of the Galilee. He had chosen 12 of us to be His closest followers, His talmudim. Many of us grew up around here, working the sea for fish and the land for grain.
As we journeyed down towards the shore, He warned us about the expected crowds today. There was something in His heart that He needed to tell the people… If people were going to receive any kind of physical healing from Him, they were going to hear why He healed first. He told us of the story when He taught in the synagogue in Nazareth… when the reading from the Prophets for that day was from Isaiah. He affirmed the reason He had come… to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind… to set the oppressed free.
And now today, today would be the day when the Teacher revealed His yoke, His perspective, His views on the Law. And today, he would set the whole tone for the next year and a half of ministry…
As He began to teach, He did so just like He was in a synagogue. He sat down on a rock. And He preached with such authority.
“Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” He began.
“Blessed, happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“Blessed, happy are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 6:3-5).
With each blessing, more and more people made their way to the field below Him. He continued…
“Blessed, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed, happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed, happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 6:6-8).
His voice echoed off the hillside and fisherman pulled their boats onto the shore to hear more.
“Blessed, happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed, happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 6:9-12).
The Master spoke for quite some time… I looked around as the crowd continued to increase. People elbowed each other to see His face. They wiped their brows as the warmth of the day increased. “Who was this?” I heard them murmur to each other.
He watched as fishermen on the shore began to pack their catch in salt to preserve it. “You are the salt of the earth,” He assured us. “But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be salty again?” (Matthew 6:13).
He looked east toward Hippos across the sea and proclaimed, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:14-16).
He then began to illustrate His views on Torah, His yoke, by noting what other teachers of the Law have to say… He would start by saying, “You have heard it said… “ and then He would add, “but I say to you…” It was His way of bringing grace and life to the Laws of Moses. For example, He said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:43-45).
Some in the growing crowd were mesmerized by these teachings. Others were puzzled as this man appeared to be a learned rabbi, but was questioning much of everything we all knew of the Law.
He taught on murder, adultery, divorce, prayer and fasting. He summed up the Law and the Prophets with this straightforward statement: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12).
The topic that spoke most to my heart? Anxiety. I will admit, I’m a worrier. And yet, as He looked at the flowers in bloom on this very hillside, and saw the birds flying through the treetops, the Master urged us:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).
As He concluded this powerful, yet simple message, the crowd was amazed. I looked at the others with a smile, humbled that He had chosen us to be His disciples… and wondering what else we might learn in the days and weeks to come as we followed our rabbi.
Some of the thoughts, perhaps, of one of the 12, as he remembered that day where Yeshua first spoke those words.
There are so many amazing teachings in this, the first of Jesus’ public teachings. As we see often, Jesus flips many of the norms and teachings of old on their heads. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It’s okay to mourn. Be hungry for righteousness not the Law. Be a peacemaker. Don’t worry when you are persecuted, or when you are hungry or naked. Seek first the Kingdom. Be salt. Be light. Treat others as you want to be treated. This is how you are to pray.
He was going “on the record” … establishing His yoke, His ways, His views on Torah. And ultimately, Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
So, say “Yes!” to the Law. But, more importantly, say “Yes!” to Grace. Say “Yes!” to the way of Yeshua. He spoke with the bold and loving authority of God. This message is for everyone. Jew and Gentile alike. Believer and unbeliever. For those who heard it first-hand on a hillside along the banks of the Sea of Galilee as He spoke it – Matthew says in 7:28 that the crowds were amazed!”
AND the timeless message is for us today. Can we be amazed again? I hope so!
 Friedrich Hauck, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as cited in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth E. Bailey, © 2008, p. 68.
(c) 2019 Rich Ronald.
One thought on “Blessed, happy…”
I remember first reading about this explanation of “yoke” in one of the Thoene “A.D. Chronicles” books. It was very freeing to learn that was the cultural definition of yoke as it was used in Matt 11:30. Every other pastor would explain that verse with the example of an oxen yoke. You are the first pastor to get it right!