Beyond the Walls

What was going on inside Jesus’ head as He preached to the crowds?

Church on the Streets

by Alistair Matheson

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.”

Luke 5:1-2

Stop there! We all know what comes next, but please just pause with me for a moment.

Not a lot of people are aware that Jesus’ ministry was already going good guns before Peter, James and John came on the scene. Until Luke chapter 5, they weren’t even peripheral to the story. According to Luke, Jesus’ mission was underway and drawing considerable crowds before what we have come to know as ‘the inner circle’ enter the story.

Let me take a bit of licence and teleport the above Galilean drama onto a contemporary church stage-set. Imagine Jesus preaching to a packed congregation, the keenest followers of the moment squeezed into the front rows, and a real buzz in the atmosphere.

But the future leaders of the movement aren’t even in the building yet, not even up in the balcony.

The future leaders aren’t even in the building yet.

My parallel breaks down there. In today’s Westernised churches, Jesus’ future leaders would be hidden from sight by the walls of the building and the day of the week. They’d be out there in the workplace, the college or the shopping centre. But they weren’t erased from Jesus’ view back then – He maybe had half an eye on them all the time, over the heads of the crowd He was teaching.

I’ll never forget the great honour I shared a number of years ago with great mentor Samuel McKibben and Danish leader Johannes Hansen, as I was given the opportunity to preach in the almost-completed, reportedly 100,000-capacity National Temple of The Apostolic Church of Nigeria, at its annual convention in Lagos State.

As I stood in front of tens of thousands of passionate believers that day, the nearest faces like dots in the distance, I was shocked by a realisation I just couldn’t shake off, and it might amaze you. A disappointment filled me as it sunk home that there were thousands of people outside, having to listen through portable amplifiers, because they couldn’t get into the building.

Dear Lord, I realised, this place is too small! So small it is already limiting reach, shutting people out. Oh God, don’t let this concrete cathedral hinder Your purposes for these special people.

These thoughts were constantly competing for my concentration, almost distracting me as I tried to preach. To this day, while I cannot remember a word I spoke, the realisation of that moment is still a flash bulb in my Christian experience.

Oh God, don’t let our buildings restrict Your purposes.

But back to Galilee. The vast bulk of Jesus’ ministry didn’t happen in religious buildings. And none of us needs reminding of the kind of things that happened when He visited the most prominent of them!

Don’t get me wrong. Buildings do have their place. As long as they know their place. And as long as we know their place. Even back then, buildings had a role in The Plan, sometimes as a starting point, other times proving pivotal for future operations. Had Jesus Himself not, in the previous chapter, announced the launch of His ministry at a Galilean synagogue?

Were Peter and John not thrust into the public spotlight through the healing of a lame beggar in the temple courts? And did Paul not follow the same pattern as he travelled around the cities of the Mediterranean basin, by default using any synagogue that opened its door to him, and generally staying there as long as he remained welcome … even if short-lived?!

But I’m drawn to the conclusion that, as the crowds squeezed around Jesus near the shores of Galilee that day, hungry ears hanging onto His every word, His mind was already shifting beyond. Perhaps even as He taught the people, He was looking over their heads, His eye settling on a small handful of fishermen as they beavered away at their nets, in another world.

These otherwise-occupied young men were the future. They weren’t even on the edge of the crowd yet, but Jesus was about to ‘bring church’ to them, ‘put church’ into them, and ‘entrust church’ to them. He may have had a crowd already, but church hadn’t really begun yet.

He may have had a crowd already, but church hadn’t really begun yet.

Like the woman at the well, like the beggars at the side of the road, like Zacchaeus up the sycamore tree, the ‘outsiders’ Jesus reached that day in Galilee were not even on the radars of the most spiritually-minded of the moment … but Jesus, with the heart of the Father, was ready to put other demands aside and invest serious, quality time in them.

Let the entourage and the trappings take care of themselves, Jesus’ most significant and most famously recorded impartations were one-on-ones and small group encounters – relational hours of challenge, personal epiphany and heart-to-heart bonding with the unlikeliest of people who were about to fall in love with God together.

Jesus had no time to run around spinning plates, organising programmes, setting up exhibitions and events; He just brought the Father wherever He went, walked in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ‘crowds’ did the running after Him and His disciples.

Yes, Jesus ministered to the multitudes – there will always be a need and a place for that. But that day He left the crowds and stepped into the workplace of Peter, James and John. And the rest is history.

Wouldn’t it be quite wonderful if the contrast between pre-lockdown and post-lockdown church proved to be a transition from the press of ‘the meeting’ to the boats of people lives, where Jesus is met and disciples are made?

Unless I’ve read the story wrong, it’s the people Jesus met out in their boats that made the history books.

Wouldn’t it be quite wonderful if the contrast between pre-lockdown and post-lockdown church proved to be a transition from the press of ‘the meeting’ to the boats of people lives?

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Walls

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