When we examine teaching in the New Testament, we first turn to Jesus, the great teacher. When we think of Jesus’ ministry, we often think of his miracles, his healings, his exorcisms, or his walking on water. But we must not forget that Jesus was also a teacher. And to understand the role of a pastor as a preacher and teacher, we need to look at Jesus’ own teaching ministry.
Perhaps my favorite story related to Jesus’ teaching is found in Mark 6. Jesus and his disciples had gone away to a remote place to rest because so many people were coming to them that they didn’t even have time to eat (6:30-31). But when Jesus and his disciples tried to get away from the crowds in a boat in order to rest, people saw them leave and ran ahead to catch up with Jesus (6:32-33). And then Mark tells us, “And when he arrived, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep who did not have a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things” (6:34). So while Jesus would go on to feed the crowd of 5,000, Jesus’ compassion for the people led him to teach them many things.
So the first point to remember is that Jesus was known as a teacher. When Jesus was being questioned about his teaching by the high priest in John, Jesus made the point that his teaching was a matter of public record. He had regularly taught openly in synagogues and in the temple (18:19-20). Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was marked by teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21, 2:13, 9:35). Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1), and he taught them many things in parables (Mark 4:2). And even toward the end of his life when Jesus came to Jerusalem to die, he was teaching in the temple and proclaiming the gospel (Luke 20:1). Proclamation was such pivotal part of Jesus’ ministry that he could claim that he came in order to preach (Mark 1:38).
The Source of Jesus’ Teaching
The Gospel of John perhaps most clearly addresses the source of Jesus’ teaching. In John 7, there was some dispute over Jesus; was he a good man or was he deceiving the people (7:12). In the midst of this dispute, Jesus went to the temple and began to teach (7:14). Jesus’ teaching led the Jews to question how Jesus could be so knowledge without any apparent formal training (7:15). Jesus answered, “My teaching isn’t mine, but it is from the one who sent me” (7:16). Jesus went on to say that those who desired to do God’s will would recognize that Jesus’ teaching came from God (7:17). In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing from myself, but just as the Father taught me, these things I speak.”
The Authority of Jesus’ Teaching
We also see frequent references in the Gospels to the people’s amazement at Jesus’ teaching. After the Sermon on the Mount, “when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (Matthew 7:28). Or in Mark, “ they were amazed at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (1:22). The people were astonished to the point that they proclaimed, “What is this? A new teaching with authority!” (1:27). In Luke 4:32, “they were amazed at his teaching, for his word had authority.” We see clearly that one of the most distinctive aspects of Jesus’ ministry was that his teaching had an authority that was not paralleled by other teachers of his day.
The Content of Jesus’ Teaching
So if Jesus taught authoritative words from his Father, what was the content of this teaching? While we can’t exhaustively cover Jesus’s teaching here, a few examples will show the kinds of things that Jesus taught. Matthew highlights the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as typical of Jesus’ authoritative teaching. The Sermon on the Mount contains a wide range of topics, but these topics include Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law (5:17-20) as well as many discipleship-focused topics: hatred, lust, divorce, oath-taking, love for enemies, alms-giving, prayer, fasting, worry, etc. The Sermon on the Mount closes with an emphasis on not just hearing Jesus words, but on putting them into practice (7:24-27).
In Matthew 13, Jesus used parables to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God. He told parables about different responses to God’s kingdom (13:1-9), parables about the growth of God’s kingdom (13:31-33), parables about God’s kingdom in the midst of a sinful world (13:36-43), and parables about the great worth of God’s kingdom (13:44-46). Jesus also taught his disciples that it was necessary for his to suffer and die, and he taught his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (16:21-28). Jesus taught his disciples that greatest in his kingdom meant being a servant of all (20:24-28).
This very brief survey of Jesus’ teaching ministry helps set the stage for a biblical definition of pastors as teachers. Jesus was known for being a teacher, and he taught his disciples not only about his death and resurrection, but he taught his disciples what it would look like for them to follow him. Next, we will turn to the formation of a biblical definition of pastoral preaching or pastoral teaching.