Why Was Jesus a Popular Rabbi?
Jesus (Yeshua) often found himself surrounded by fellow Jewish people who were begging for his attention and hanging on his every word. He drew crowds with his stories, spoke wisely, and was famous throughout the land because of his miracles. But what was it about him that riveted his hearers? Why was Yeshua so popular?
Yeshua and the Blind Men
One event that happened right outside the Israeli city of Jericho illustrates why Yeshua was so beloved by the people of Israel. Matthew 20:29–34 records the account. As Yeshua and his disciples were leaving the city, a large crowd continued to follow him. As they journeyed along the dusty road, they came across two blind men sitting by the road begging, hoping that a wealthy traveler would give them some money for food. When they heard Yeshua going by, they began calling out to him. The crowd around Yeshua tried to silence the blind men, but as the people became more annoyed, the men became louder in their cries.
Yeshua knew that the men needed more than just coins for food; they needed to see. So, how did he respond? Yeshua stopped, turning away from the crowd. He fixed his eyes on the blind men. The people, bewildered, wondered what Yeshua would do next. Yeshua had the reputation of doing mitzvahs for the poor; what would he do this time? Perhaps the wealthy among them would have proposed that Yeshua give the blind men money to fix the men’s problems. The educated people might have suggested schooling. The religious might have offered charity. Most, however, would have just ignored them. But Yeshua took personal interest in these two social outcasts. While the crowd wanted to brush them off, Yeshua welcomed them in. Crouching down and addressing them directly, he asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32).
Amazing! This popular rabbi in Israel had overruled the wishes of the crowds and taken an interest in two social misfits. Their response came simply from the heart: “Lord, let our eyes be opened” (Matthew 20:33). What a request to make! Who could actually do what they asked? Yet these men asked Yeshua to give sight to their eyes because of what they had heard about this special rabbi. Yeshua showed them compassion and touched their eyes. Immediately, they received their sight. This was no ordinary rabbi.
So many people in the crowds that followed Yeshua listened to him, learned from him, and were transformed by him. The people who followed him were diverse: men, women, old, young, rich, poor, slave, and free. Throughout his time in the land of Israel, Yeshua showed incredible compassion and supernatural power, transforming the lives of the people he encountered.
The story of the blind men is one example of how he changed the lives of two individuals. They could not see, but then they met Yeshua, and he gave them sight. After this encounter with Yeshua, the men could not help but follow him (Matthew 20:34). Many of the people who followed Yeshua had similar stories, such as a transformed tax collector (Luke 19:1–9), a woman caught in the act of adultery who was restored (John 8:1–11), or the prostitute who was commended because she saw hope in Yeshua’s message (Luke 7:36–50). Not only did they observe the way Yeshua lived, but they were touched by who he was. He was a rabbi like none other: working wonders, healing hearts, and drawing people back to true faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Yeshua’s Loving Approach, and Our Response
Yeshua’s approach was one of love: self-sacrificial, humble, life-offering love. Life emanated from him. He upheld justice and truth and pointed people back to the Torah and to God. He did not practice a dry repetition of the Torah, but he upheld the Torah through a life of love. So, it is not surprising that the crowd followed him wherever he went; they wanted the life he modeled before them, a life they had never seen anywhere else.
While we cannot walk the roads of Judea along with Yeshua today, the New Testament was written to invite us into the radical life of love that Jesus modeled for his followers. Just as Yeshua transformed the lives of the blind men, God offers a transformed life today to those who seek him with a true and sincere heart.
Perhaps you are drawn to Yeshua for similar reasons as your Jewish brothers and sisters nearly two thousand years ago. Are you curious? So were they. Are you doubting? So were some of them. Are you anxious about your needs? So were the two blind men that Yeshua healed.
People were drawn to him because of the love that emanated from him. Amazingly, every time, he brought the correct perspective on people’s relationships with each other and especially on their relationship with God.
One time, Yeshua asked some of his followers an important question. Gathering his students nearer, Rabbi Yeshua pressed to the heart of the matter, asking his most trusted followers: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). The blind men had found their answer: Yeshua was the one to follow with their whole hearts.