Last time we talked about how Jesus’ ministry began and who he called to be disciples. Now we’ll continue exploring the gospels to learn what he taught and why it was controversial. Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why didn’t he write part of the Bible or travel the world? What was he like as a person? I have TWO printables for you in this part!
- Part 1 | CHILDHOOD: Who is Jesus?
- Part 2 | MINISTRY: Who were Jesus’ disciples?
- Part 3 | MINISTRY: What did Jesus teach?
- Part 4 | MINISTRY: Why did Jesus perform miracles?
- Part 5 | ARREST: What happened in the last days of Jesus’ life?
- Part 6 | DEATH: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
- Part 7 | RETURN: What happened after Jesus died and when is he coming back?
- Part 8 | I saw Jesus in a dream
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What did Jesus teach?
Disclaimer: I am unworthy to attempt to sum up Jesus’ teachings. I will try my best with prayer and humility, but you really need to read the gospels and let him speak to you himself. And if reading is challenging to you, listen to them. Check out the YouVersion app and you can hear the gospels read to you as you walk or clean or drive.
Ok, here’s when things get sticky. Everyone wants a hero who rights wrongs, heals the sick, defends the weak and stands up to against corrupt authority. But some cannot accept this hero who says he is the only way to God. He did not say “all religions are stepping stones” or “find your own truth inside yourself.” He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
He claimed that he is God’s own son, who has given him authority over Heaven and Earth. He even said the Father and him are one (John 10:38). This is when he started making waves. The religious leaders declared blasphemy and began plotting his death. How dare he call himself God’s own son? Many lay people rejected this claim as well. Many times he had to escape a crowd to avoid stoning, even in his hometown.
He preached he was the messiah prophesied by the Old Testament who could save his people from their oppressors and even their sin. The political climate in Israel was intense after suffering centuries of occupation — the latest being the Roman Empire, known for their brutality. The Hebrew people waited for their messiah in great anticipation, however his rescue would not be the government overturn they demanded. It would be an overturn in the spiritual world instead.
Jesus reminded us we cannot uphold the law God gave the Israelites; therefore, we are in need of a Savior, an escape from our debt of sin. Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.
Jesus instructed that we cannot earn our salvation through good works, but it is by faith alone in him that we can make amends with the Father. Good works do and should follow this eternal decision, naturally, as we grow in the Spirit, but they do not pave a way to Heaven. For we have all fallen short no matter how much good we attempt.
Jesus taught us the two most important things are to love God and love people. The Pharisees, or religious leaders, tested him in Matthew 22 by asking:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
It has been said, in fact, that loving God sums up the first five commandments and loving people sums up the last five.
Jesus spoke out openly against the Pharisees and Sadducees for their legalistic and hypocritical ways.
Sermon on the Mount
In his longest recorded sermon in Matthew 5,6 and 7, called the Sermon on the Mount, he preaches to thousands from the mountain about character, influence and righteousness. I did not come up with that on my own! I learned so much from Jen Wilkin’s Sermon on the Mount audio sessons.
(Side note: I’ve always wondered how everyone could possibly hear him. Turns out you can still visit what is thought to be the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the sermon and it’s basically an amphitheater created by nature! I read tourists’ accounts of still being able to hear a voice from top of the rocky, con-caved mountainside beside the Sea of Galilee with excellent acoustics.)
In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus gives the beatitudes, which means “supreme blessing,” to an unlikely group of people. The people he was talking to were poor, hurting, some ill, and not considered important by society.
Jesus modeled his sermon after other Jewish blessings and proverbs, but with a radical twist. Jewish society had come to think that God was with you if you were wealthy and of high status. They added their own proverbs onto scripture — sayings something like “blessed are those of high status and much wealth.” Instead, Jesus turned these common sayings on their head and told these hurting people that in fact the poor in spirit and the meek would inherit the earth!
Can you imagine how the crowd must have received this revolutionary word?!
Here is the message that our savior had for the broken then and the broken now:
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I learned from Jen’s study that the “poor in spirit” refers to the humble. Those who “mourn” are grieving loss, but also mourning their sin. The meek are those who choose God’s will over their own.
For some, this would have been comforting. For others, possibly even some disciples (ahem, Judas?), this would have been difficult to hear. Most oppressed Jews wanted justice, not mercy. They wanted overturned rulers, not enduring patience. This was not the king most revolutionaries had in mind.
He’s even warning them that they will be persecuted on his account! Usually people trying to gain a following or start a movement offer promises of a better way, a better life — not persecution!
Jesus told his followers to be the salt and the light of the earth. As salt prevents the decay of meat, we are to prevent the moral decay of the earth. As lights, we are to shine the light of Jesus to those around us and give glory to the Father.
He showed us it’s not about behavior modification or being legalistic, it’s about motive of our hearts. As Jen explains, he tells us to stop running up to the line of sin to see how close we can get without crossing, but instead run as fast as we can away from it!
He told people to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Love God, love people, even your enemies.
Give to the needy. If you have two coats, give one to the poor, he says. But don’t do it to attract attention or praise by men. Do it in secret, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so your Father may reward you (Matt 6:4). “Money is the root of all kinds of evil,” Jesus said. Not that money itself is bad, but the love of it is.
Let’s read Matthew 5:38-48 from the same sermon:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I learned a three fascinating things about this passage. One, a slap on the cheek meant someone had insulted you, not wounded you. The second, is that in the court of law in those days you could take someone’s tunic until they had paid you back their debt. So Jesus is saying do more than just pay back your debt, do more than just the bare minimum. And finally, it was Roman law that any citizen had to carry a Roman soldiers gear for a mile if he asked them. So again Jesus is saying do above what is expected for your fellow human!
Oh, I could go on and on. We’ll end this question here, though I know this is grossly incomplete. We’ll have to do another series on how he taught the Lord’s Prayer and the genius of the Sermon on the Mount’s structure. And how many times he said “fear not” to his “little flock.”
He’s radical, yet kind. He’s not who they expected, but he’s everything they needed.
Why did Jesus speak in parables?
Jesus often spoke in parables or stories to illustrate his teachings. These aid in remembering the lessons, but they are also a clever way to deter those who rejected him. Our response to them demonstrates our heart posture toward God.
Personally, I always wonder if I would have understood the parables if I could have been present as he preached them for the first time. But I’ve heard it said that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. Meaning, the original ancient Israeli audience would have understood the scenarios and analogies pertaining to things such as grapes and their vines, harvesting wheat, wineskins and Jewish law.
The disciples themselves didn’t always understand Jesus’ parables in the moment and frequently asked him what they meant, but there are many mentions in the gospels about how they recalled his teachings later when Jesus was gone.
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The Purpose of the Parables
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
There are dozens of parables in the first three gospels. John, however, does not mention parables or exorcisms. If you look over the meaning of the parables in this chart I have made, you can see how much he spoke about the coming Kingdom of Heaven, leading a humble life and offering mercy and compassion to others.
Andy Stanley puts parables into perspective: “What you have and have been entrusted with is less important than what you do with what you have. One day we have to give an account to God about what we did in our circumstance.”
Let’s read one more parable. I chose the money lender because I believe our greatest crisis today is our unwillingness to recognize our need for a rescuer, our blatant disregard for sin and our arrogant self-worship.
Let me offer an example. Ask an average person on the street if they are a good person. I imagine most would respond “yes.” However the Bible tells us that we have “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). To show you how, let’s look at the ten commandments: Have you worshipped anything other than God? Have you taken his name in vain? Have you ever dishonored your parents? Have you ever murdered someone in your heart? Or looked at someone with lustful intent other than your spouse? Have you ever stolen something? Or lied? Or coveted?
There is a penalty for these sins and it is separation from a just and perfect God (John 1:8-10).
The moment it dawns on you that you are a sinner and cannot stop sinning no matter how hard you try is deeply disconcerting. The moment you learn this is punishable by death and eternal life away from God and all that is good is absolutely panic-worthy. But the moment that you realize that God still loves you and has provided a way out through his very own son so that He can spend forever with undeserving YOU is cause for a great celebration!
A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 One of the Pharisees asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This is why he came for the poor, the outcast and the suffering. They would be the ones who knew they needed a savior. They would be the ones who would receive this wonderful news!
Along with parables, Jesus also spoke in hyperbole. The dictionary defines hyperbole as “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.” I bet you weren’t expecting an English lesson today!
Matthew 5: 29-30 from the Sermon on the Mount:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Of course he doesn’t mean you should literally cut off a body part. That would not actually prevent you from sinning. He is telling you to stay far away from sin. Don’t treat it casually, it’s serious and needs to be cut off from your life.
And finally, he often answered questions with questions — especially with his accusers. (In fact, the first biblical quote we have from is him is a question to his parents!) This clever tactic switches the focus off of him and back to the seeker.
Why didn’t Jesus travel the world?
The Bible gives us no indication that Jesus left Israel aside from fleeing to Egypt as a child. Luke 4 tells us Jesus was “brought up” in Nazareth and also calls it his “hometown.” Nazareth was a small town located in the northern province of Galilee, where he spent most of his ministry. Galilee even means “wheel” or “revolution.”1
Jesus was the long-prophesied Jewish messiah, the descendant of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David — all men God made covenants with to establish a partnership between God and man. Jesus came to fulfill those promises!
It makes sense he would start with the Israelites to share the good news of his arrival, to spend the only three years of his ministry to call God’s chosen nation out of the old law and into the new law. Christ came to make a new covenant, the final covenant, that God will forgive the sins and restore fellowship with those who seek him.
But he was just getting started. Yes, he came for the Jew, but he also came for the gentile. As he worked to call Israel back to God, to expose religious corruption and declare himself as the savior, he was also investing his time — most of his time, in fact — to his 12 disciples who would one day bring his message to the entire world.
In fact, today there are about 2.3 billion people across the world today who claim Jesus as their Savior!
Why didn’t Jesus write any part of the Bible?
Most prophets of other world religions wrote their bibles or doctrine. Praise God we have many of the precious words he said recorded by the disciples, but we have no written works from Jesus himself. We don’t know what he looked like. There is nothing of his possessions that have been preserved — even his clothing was gambled away. This could be because we would place emphasis on the wrong things, that we might even worship the items, scrolls or words themselves — even ignore other scripture altogether.
It also seems to me that he is using the same method as his Father to share the gospel — people. Throughout history God has reached people through people. And the same is true today. Jesus told us “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
But Jesus has more for us than written words on a page. He is the Word. As John 1:1-2 says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
“The Word makes the father known to us,” an article by Simon Turpin puts it.
When he died and covered our sins, it allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell in man for the first time. We can receive word and guidance from the Lord himself because of Jesus’ sacrifice!
What was Jesus like as a person?
What do we know about this man who was both fully God and fully human? There are many sides to Jesus, as we have seen. He is kind and tenderhearted to those who call to him. He has compassion on people and walks through their pain with them. He has humor, inside jokes and close friends. But he is also just and will not stand for corruption or pride.
Slow to anger
We see Jesus angered only a couple times in scripture — and it wasn’t when his will was obstructed, it was when his father’s will was obstructed (Jen Wilkin’s, Sermon on the Mount). Two occasions were when 1) people had turned the temple into a marketplace instead of a place of worship and he overturned their tables and even made a whip to drive them out (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22)! And then 2) in the Capernaum synagogue when the Pharisees said he could not heal a man on the sabbath and refused to answer his questions (Mark 3:1-6).
So we can see that he is slow to anger, but when he is, it is righteous and selfless.
Gentle and lowly
Dan Ortlund says, “In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — eighty-nine chapters of biblical test — there’s only one place Jesus tells us about his own heart.”
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
He describes himself as gentle and lowly. This king of the universe describes himself as gentle. And lowly. Dan continues: “The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.”
Desires us to come to him
Jesus spent much time in prayer and often went to be alone in the morning with God (Mark 1:35). And in the most beautiful prayer ever prayed in John 17, Jesus tells God that his desire is for us to be with him in Heaven.
24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
The servant king is offering invitation to follow him. He is always a gentleman, knocking at the door, not bursting his way in. This is a mutual covenant you enter with him — one that makes you family and friends. He loves you deeply. If you knew how much, your heart wouldn’t be able to contain it.
Part 4: Miracles
Next time we’re going to talk all about miracles. Why did Jesus perform miracles? Do miracles still happen today? Does faith guarantee healing? There’s a lot of misconceptions today, let’s walk through what the Bible has to say.