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The teachings of Jesus

JESUS’ MINISTRY his period of teaching probably lasted no more than three years, but it had an enormous impact. During this short time he preached, taught, and performed miracles in the Holy Land, especially in the villages around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was a brilliant teacher who could explain things in ways that everyone could understand. His teachings attracted many followers because they revealed a new way of looking at God’s kingdom. He said it was open to all believers who would turn away from their sins, including the poor, the sick, and social outcasts.


As this Italian mosaic shows, Andrew and Simon were fishermen. Jesus called them to be his disciples, telling them that, if they followed him, he would teach them to catch people (enlist new followers of Christ) instead of fish.



This window from St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, England, shows key episodes from the life of Jesus. It includes his baptism, the water into wine miracle, and the crucifixion. The bottom right-hand panel of the window shows Jesus as a shepherd, a symbol of the way in which he cared for the people around him.


The Gospels describe how, when Jesus was baptized (p. 58), the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and God’s voice was heard saying, “This is my own dear Son”. This momentous event, shown here in a 5th-century mosaic from Ravenna in Italy, marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.


Jesus called 12 disciples to be his special companions. They were expected to leave their families and possessions to follow and help Jesus, and carry on his work after his death. When he washed the disciples’ feet, as shown on this French manuscript, Jesus was showing them that they should be as humble as their leader.


Some members of a Jewish group called the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into criticizing the Roman authorities. They asked him whether it was right that they should pay taxes to the Romans. Jesus showed them the emperor’s portrait on the coins and said that they should give

The miracles

The Gospels describe more than 30 of Jesus’ miracles. Some of these involved feeding the needy, others were “nature miracles”, such as calming the storm or walking on the water. But the majority involved some sort of healing either curing people of physical diseases like leprosy and paralysis or “casting out demons” to rid people of mental illness. The Gospels record three occasions when Jesus even raised people from the dead.


Jesus’ first miracle, which is described in John’s Gospel, took place at a wedding that he attended at Cana in Galilee. When the wine ran out, Jesus told the servants to fill six large pots with water, and when they poured the liquid out of the pots it had turned into wine. The wine was so good that the guests thought the bridegroom had kept the best until last.


Jesus grew up in Nazareth, but moved to Capernaum, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, where he began his ministry. Jesus did much of his teaching in this region, and one of his miracles was the calming of a storm on the lake’s waters. When he wanted a quiet place to pray, Jesus travelled into the local hills, which can be seen in the background of this photograph of the Sea of Galilee’s northern shore.


This is the only miracle described in all four of the Gospels. After a long day’s preaching, Jesus and the disciples wished to rest, but they were followed by a vast crowd who wanted to hear Jesus speak. Jesus felt sorry that the crowd had no food, and produced enough for all of them from the only available foodstuffs five small loaves and two fishes.


Parables and lessons

Jesus’ favourite way of teaching was to use parables short stories that make their point by means of a simple comparison. Jesus used these parables to talk about the kingdom of God, and to illustrate how people should behave towards each other. Jesus also preached moral lectures called sermons. The most famous of these was the Sermon on the Mount, in which he explained the key features of the kingdom of God and the Christian way of life. Above all, Jesus said that you should “Do for others what you want them to do for you”.


This parable tells of a man who divided his wealth between his two sons. The younger son went off and spent his share, while his brother worked hard at home. When the younger son returned, his father killed his prize calf for a celebratory feast. The elder son objected, but his father said, “He was lost, but now he has been found”. These Chinese illustrations show the story from the handing over of the money to the family feast.


In this sermon Jesus said that members of God’s kingdom should try to achieve the perfection shown by God. For example, he explained that it is not enough simply to obey the commandment, “Do not commit murder”. Christians should avoid anger completely.


Jesus taught that you should love your neighbour. When someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” he told this story: Aman was robbed and left for dead. A Jewish priest and a Levite passed, but did not help. Then a Samaritan a member of a group scorned by the Jews came by. He helped the injured man and took him to safety. The Samaritan was the true neighbour.


Jesus compared his words to seeds scattered by a farmer. Some of the seed fell on the path and was stepped on. Some fell on rocky ground or among thorn bushes, where seedlings could not grow. Finally, some fell on good soil and grew into corn. Jesus said that people who heard and understood his words were like the good soil.


Jesus told people to think of a fig tree. When its leaves start to appear, people know that summer is on its way. Similarly, they should look out for signs of Jesus’ second coming. When strange things happen to the moon and stars, when whole countries are in despair, and people are faint from fear, then they will know that the kingdom of God is about to come.


Jesus gave his most important lesson about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. He told his listeners not to pray ostentatiously with long, elaborate prayers God knows what you need before you ask. Instead, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer beginning, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…”. It has been translated into languages as diverse as Spanish and Chinese, and is repeated in Christian churches the world over.


During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners that they should not care too much about everyday things like food and clothes. Wild flowers do not have fine garments, but they are still beautifully dressed. People should be concerned with God’s kingdom, not with possessions or finery.

“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!”

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount