The New Testament starts with the three Gospel books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three are known as the Synoptic Gospels. Gospel means “Good News”, and Synoptic refers to the fact that all three give an account of the same general events from the same point of view. The fourth book, John, is distinctly different from the three Synoptic Gospels, and includes much information not in the other three Gospels.
The four gospel books differ in what stories they include and how the stories are told. None of the four Gospels are meant to be a complete, detailed life of Jesus. Rather, as John wrote, “Jesus truly did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that by believing you might have life through his name.” “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should all be written, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”
Together, the four Gospels comprise the vast majority of the direct information we have about the life and teachings of Jesus.
Matthew shows the early ministry of Jesus to consist of traveling through Galilee while teaching, preaching, healing every sickness and disease, and casting out demons. Consequently, large crowds from all over Israel started following him. Matthew says Jesus saw the crowds, went up on a mountainside, sat down, his disciples came to him, and he began to teach “them.” It is not entirely clear if Jesus was teaching just the disciples, or the disciples and the crowd. This episode presumes Jesus was teaching everyone gathered there.
Although Matthew does not say where Jesus gave this teaching, one tradition holds that it was near the north end of the Sea of Galilee. In fact, there is a depression on a hillside located there where a speaker could sit and be heard for more than a hundred yards while speaking in a normal voice (it has since been planted in banana trees!).
Matthew presents the Sermon on the Mount as the words of Jesus, but it is very possible Jesus had already presented some or much of this material on other occasions while he was teaching and preaching. Although the teaching seems very long, it can be spoken in a normal voice in less than fifteen minutes.
In Matthew 15:17, Jesus insists that he has not come to abolish the Old Testament teachings, but to fulfill them. Throughout this talk, he teaches the Old Testament differently than the teachings they may have heard from others. You can only imagine the bewilderment, and possible delight, of the crowd as they heard his original and authoritative teachings. This would have especially been so because he was a plain Galilean, like most of the crowd, while many other teachers were highly educated and from the big city of Jerusalem.
The elite religious teachers generally tried to make themselves look good while downplaying the righteousness of poor people. Jesus made it a point to downplay the righteousness of the rich and religious rulers. His teachings threatened the whole order of Jewish society, and the Jewish leaders would respond harshly to the threat.
Though it may not have happened this way, imagine Jesus at the top of the hill teaching his disciples. After every couple of sentences, one of the apostles turns to the crowd and repeats the teaching in a loud voice that carries down the hill. As the sound of his words die, another person repeats them to the rest of the crowd. Words and concepts that have never before been uttered, penetrating the people’s hearts over and over and over.
Luke – Troy Powell
John Mark – Wilbur Penn
Paul – Brian Shoop
Matthew – James Hansen Prince
Peter – Francis Fuselier
John the Apostle – John Ferguson
Lazarus – Ricco Fajardo
Philip the Apostle – Jordan Dragonking
Joseph of Arimathea – Gerardo Davila
Mary Magdalene – Trisha Zarate
Thomas – Brandon Potter
Most Thankful Angel – Carleen Huber