Jesus Christ spent about three years travelling around the Middle East 2,000 years ago teaching people about God and urging them to clean up the way they were living. He began doing this around the age of 30. He spoke in synagogues (Jewish places of worship), people’s homes and in the open air. On one occasion he even taught from a boat anchored just offshore. He travelled with a hand-picked group of 12 close followers known as the disciples, but there were many others who always came along. Sometimes he spoke to individuals or households but on other occasions thousands came to hear him.
Jesus’ teachings touched all areas of human life and experience. His audiences were often uneducated, rural people so he used examples which would make sense to them. So when we read the eyewitness accounts of his life recorded in the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there are often references to farming and fishing. And Jesus often used parables or stories to illustrate the point he was making.
Jesus’ teachings touched all areas of human life and experience.
The Sermon on the Mount – a Christian manifesto
One of the most famous pieces of teaching by Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount, which is in the Bible books of Matthew and Luke. It is like a manifesto of how to live a Christian life. Jesus was speaking on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, close to where he lived in the town of Capernaum. The sermon begins with the Beatitudes, a series of statements addressed to his disciples. Each Beatitude tells ways in which people are blessed, or find a deep peace and inner joy. The Beatitudes are like a code of ethics or standards for anyone following him. They are counter-cultural – going in the opposite direction to the way the world normally thinks. One example is ‘blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth’. In other words, it is the lowly who think little of themselves who will inherit the earth, not the powerful. Two others are ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ and ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’.
The rest of the sermon is wide-ranging. Jesus teaches about avoiding anger, encouraging people to settle disputes quickly. He talks about lust, divorce and living pure lives. He encourages people not to retaliate when wronged. In one extraordinary statement, he calls on people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. He warns people about having the wrong attitude towards money; gives advice on worrying and tells them not to criticise others.
Jesus knew that religious leaders were among his audience, so some of what he said was aimed at them and their hypocrisy. He said that people should give to needy people in a discreet way, rather than making a public display of their generosity. And he told them to pray quietly and privately not loudly in public. It is here that Jesus teaches what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. He ends by encouraging people to seek God and to build their lives on solid foundations – in other words, to put his words into practice.
The parables were stories not actual events. They were a memorable way to illustrate a point. Jesus told about 40 parables. They are recorded in the Bible books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some parables appear in all three, some in just one. Some have become very famous, such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.
Sometimes Jesus told a parable when he was questioned by someone who was trying to catch him out. Those listening had to go away and consider what he was saying. Not everyone would understand it. But it would hit home with the intended audience. That’s what happened with the story of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus was quizzed by a Jewish legal expert. The Samaritan people were despised by the Jews. But Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of the story rather tha nreligious Jewish people. The point is that people should love and help their neighbours, whatever their culture or background.
The Prodigal Son... ...is an illustration of God’s love for those who abandon him and how he welcomes them back when they return.
The Prodigal Son is a story about a man who asks his father for his inheritance early and then fritters it away. Almost destitute, here turns to the family home, hoping he can at least get a job. But his father is overwhelmed with love for his son and throws a party to welcome him home. It is an illustration of God’s love for those who abandon him and how he welcomes them back when they return.
Other parables cover subjects such as Jesus’ return at the end of time; God’s values; thankfulness; service and obedience; wealth and humility.
Teaching through miracles
During his time of travelling and teaching, Jesus performed more than 30 miracles – doing things which are not humanly possible. For example, he healed a blind man; people with diseases such as leprosy; a man with paralysis and a woman with persistent bleeding. He also brought three people back to life after their deaths. On other occasions, he calmed a storm, turned water into wine and walked across the surface of a lake. Jesus often used these miraculous events as moments to teach about God.
Jesus often used these miraculous events as moments to teach about God.
Jesus’ teaching about his death and resurrection
Jesus knew his teaching was making him unpopular with some religious leaders and that, ultimately, this would lead to his death. He told his closest followers, the disciples, what was going to happen. But they didn’t always grasp it. In the Bible book of Luke, it says, ‘The Son of Man (a name Jesus used about himself) must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and teachers of the law and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life’. The book of Matthew says one of his closest disciples, Peter, was outraged and said this must not happen. At this point, even Peter did not understand the significance of what would take place.
Jesus’ teaching about the future
In his final days before crucifixion, Jesus warned his followers about the times ahead. He spoke of wars and rumours of wars; of earthquakes and other catastrophic events. For example, he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened about 40 years after he died). He told the disciples they would face persecution and some would be executed because of him.
Jesus continued to teach the disciples and others after his resurrection too. The Bible book of Acts includes his final message to them about the Holy Spirit and their future mission: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’