Focus on Christ Meditations: 36. Master, teacher, rabbi (3)
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We move back into the Synoptic Gospels now in our search for what Jesus taught and to whom, and with what effect. In Matthew’s Gospel we find that Matthew has seven blocks of Jesus’ teaching, or Discourses as they are often called, as follows:
First, there is the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) comprising teaching on spiritual principles (5:1-12), Christian testimony (5:13-16), the place of the Law (5:17-20), examples in respect of murder and anger (v.21-26), adultery and lust (v.27-30), divorce (v.31,32), oaths (v.33-37), revenge (v.38-42), loving enemies (v.43-48), and then on Charity (6:1-4), Prayer (6:5-18), right values (6:19-21), inner righteousness (6:22,23), trusting in God and not possessions (6:24-34), self-assessment (7:1-5), giving and asking (7:6-12), wise discernment (7:13-23), and obedience to Jesus (7:24-28).
Second, there are his Instructions for Taking the Kingdom (Mt 10:5-42): directions what to do to bring the kingdom (v.5-10), search for a person of peace (v.11-16), learn how to handle opposition (v.17-31), and recognise there will be divisions (v.32-42).
Third, there are the Parables of the Kingdom (Mt 13:1-52) First, four in public: The Sower (v.1-23), the Wheat and the Tares (v.24-30), the Mustard Seed (v.31,32), the Leaven in the Meal (v.33). Second, in private: first an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds (v.34-43), then the parables: the Hidden Treasure (v.44), the Pearl of Great Price (v.45,46), the Fish Net (v.47-51), the Householders treasures (v.52).
Fourth, there is the Teaching on Greatness and Forgiveness (Mt 18): on Greatness in the Kingdom (v.1-14), and on Forgiveness (v.15-35).
Fifth, there are Further Parables of the Kingdom (21:28 ,- 22:14): The Two Sons (v.28-32), the Bad Tenants (35-41), the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14) [NB. Strictly this set does not conform to the criteria of the other ‘Discourses’ because it is in fact a mixture of teaching and discussion with the opposition, but I include it here because it does contain specific teaching.]
Sixth, there is his Denunciation of the Pharisees (Mt 23): General warning to the crowds (v.1-12), the Seven Woes (v.13-32), final denunciation (v.33-39) [For similar reasons some discount this as ‘a Discourse’ but nevertheless it does contain teaching within warnings. Those who would discount these last two, thus reduce the number of Discourses to five].
Seventh, there is Teaching on the End Times (Mt 24,25): Context (v.1-3), General Characteristics of the Church Age (v.4-14), Aside: the horrors about the happen (v.15-22), Warnings against false Christs (v.23-26), the real signs of the End (v.27-31), call to be alert (v.32-44), the implied parable of the contrasting servants (v.45-50), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (v.1-13), the parable of the talents (v.15-30), the Sheep and the Goats (v.31-46).
Now many of these things are scattered through Mark and Luke but they are most clearly laid out here in Matthew. In the previous study in John’s Gospel we saw how Jesus brought specific teaching into specific contexts – with individuals or groups – but here we have seen a much wider spectrum of teaching as reported in the Synoptic Gospels much earlier on.
How may we summarise these things? Well, first may I suggest you scroll back up and read again the contents of those seven sections we have emphasised above, and note the real breadth and scope of the things Jesus covered. Nowhere else in the writings of the world will you find such things laid out. Here are just some tentative suggestions about the style or nature and content of the teaching of the Christ.
First, it was aimed at the open hearted. Yesterday we observed the way Jesus often said things in an enigmatic way that seemed designed to make the listener really think about it and it was only the openhearted who would understand. Jesus explained this between telling the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13) and his subsequent explanation. (See Mt 13:10-16). In the teaching above, some of it is very specific and very obvious but once Jesus starts telling parables, it is only the openhearted follower who will catch what he is teaching.
Second, there is an ‘upside down’ nature to some of Jesus’ teaching so we see, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of God”. That runs contrary to modern popular thinking that the people who think well of themselves will be successes. It is only when we really think it though that we see that Jesus is saying, ‘Understand that it is those who recognize they are poor in spirit who will turn to God for help and enter the kingdom of heaven.’ In his instructing his disciples how to go out, there is a sense that he wants them to feel weak and rely on God if they are to succeed. Very different from so much marketing today!
Third, there is a refocusing of spiritual understanding that comes through Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where a number of times we read, “You have heard that it was said…. but I tell you….” In other words, he was saying in each case he wanted them to go further than the Law. He wanted their hearts changed and not them simply ‘performing’ outwardly for show.
Fourth, although there is a lot about how to live as a child of the kingdom, there is also a lot about looking to the future to remember that he will be returning, and we are to be ready whenever that is. Much of Jesus’ teaching was about having a right relationship with him – for them then, for us now and for whatever is to come in the future.
In these many and various ways, I suggest that the teaching of the Messiah, backed up as we saw yesterday by miracles, was radically different from anything any other world leader or leader within a world religion has brought. It will be to the miraculous aspect of his ministry that we will turn in the next study.