On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee there is a hill, green and gently sloped and overlooking deep, blue waters. From this hill a panorama unfolds of the early ministry of Jesus—healing in nearby Capernaum, calling His first disciples to fish for men, and simple yet profound teaching that continues to change lives to this very day.
Two thousand years ago, multitudes of people flocked to this hill in hopes of being healed by the young miracle worker (Matthew 4:23–5:1). What they found was a Teacher unlike any they had heard before. He left them “amazed” (7:28–29).
Crowds still gather at this place to listen to Jesus’s words from Matthew 5. On a recent tour of Israel, my wife and I went to this hill to hear anew the familiar expressions of “Blessed are” preached by Chuck Swindoll. But there, on the Mount of Beatitudes, it was what I saw, more than what I heard, that really demonstrated the power of Jesus’s words.
The morning light was brilliant. Sunshine shimmered on the lake below. Trees and grass, awakened from their evening slumber, stretched toward the warming sun. And as the sun crept higher, so, too, did the temperature.
We sat in a little covered amphitheater on the southern slope of the hill. When Chuck began preaching, an older woman at the back of the crowd caught my attention. She was unable to walk down the steps to sit in the shade. Instead, she sat on her walker at the top of the steps in the ever-intensifying heat of the sun. Watching her, I heard Chuck read the well-known words of Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He explained that the poor in spirit have “an absence of arrogance and pride . . . [they] aren’t impressed with themselves.” Just then, I saw a man in the crowd grab two bus signs and hold them as a makeshift shelter to shield her from the sun.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Chuck read (Matthew 5:4). While Chuck spoke of loss and pain, this dear woman began to weep. Fending off the sun with his signs, the man reached down into his backpack and pulled out a tissue and gently touched her shoulder—all without fanfare, without fuss.
By the time Chuck read “Blessed are the gentle” and “Blessed are the merciful” (5:5, 7), beads of sweat formed on the man’s forehead and ran down his cheek. I then realized—I was witnessing a living demonstration of Jesus’s words.
Chuck had told us that our time at the Mount of Beatitudes would be an unforgettable moment in our lives. How right he was. Being there, where these truths were first taught, and seeing them lived out before my eyes in such simple gestures, was, for me, the embodiment of being the Beatitudes—a challenge I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.