The 5 Discourses of Jesus

In recent months, I have done some extensive study and teaching in the gospel of Matthew, a fascinating journey which produced a slew of articles, sermons, and posts (a couple of which are previously posted on the CiRCE blog here and here), mainly addressing the structure, types, and patterns in the gospel.  Here I offer one more.    

St. Matthew uses five of Christ’s discourses to structure and frame his gospel, completing what amounts to a retelling and fulfilling of the entire Old Testament.

The five discourses are large blocks of Jesus’ teaching found throughout Matthew’s gospel.  Each one of them begins and ends in similar fashion.  For example, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) begins, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…”  When the Sermon is over in 7:28-29, Jesus says, “And when he had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

The second discourse, which is found in chapter 10, begins this way: “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…” (10:5) and ends in 11:1 where Matthew says, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”  We find the same pattern used in the third discourse in chapter 13.  Matthew opens it officially in 13:1-3 and ends officially in 13:53.  The fourth discourse has a similar “official” opening in 18:1-3 and an “official” ending in 19:1.  The fifth and final discourse begins in 23:1 and ends in 26:1, all following the same pattern.  This pattern makes the discourses easily identifiable and, perhaps, serves a mnemonic function similar to Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.”

But, what is of particular interest to me is how these discourses are used by Matthew to retell the entirety of the Old Testament, demonstrating that Christ is the fulfillment of all that was promised therein. 

1.The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7)

The first discourse is the Sermon on the Mount, in chapters 5-7.  In His baptism and temptation, Jesus has passed through the Jordan and finished His wilderness journey (echoing Exodus), now He ascends the mountain and declares the Law, calling His people to live in a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees.  Jesus is Moses on Mount Sinai; He is YHWH delivering His law to the people.

Now, it should be remembered that because Matthew is moving through the Old Testament, by the time we reach chapter 5, he has taken us through creation (1:1), Abraham (1:2), Isaac (1:2), Israel (1:2), Joseph (1:2-17), and the early part of Exodus (1:18-2:23).  We now find ourselves at Mount Sinai, if you will, with the closing of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28) coinciding nicely with Deuteronomy 32:45 – “And when Moses has finished speaking all these words to all Israel…”  So, in a sense, when we finish the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has brought us to the end of both Exodus and the Pentateuch; the end of the Mosaic era.   

2.Commissioning of the Twelve (chapter 10)

The second discourse, in chapter 10, moves into the period of conquest – the story of Joshua.  Jesus commissions the twelve disciples to go into enemy country and cast out the enemy (demons, disease, and affliction).  Numbers 13 also begins with the commission and naming of the twelve spies who are to go into enemy country and spy it out with the plan of casting out and conquering the enemy. 

Leading up to this discourse, in Matthew 9:36, we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  In Numbers 27, Moses commissions Joshua to lead Israel and in verses 15-18 we read:“Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’  So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.’”

In commissioning His disciples, Jesus anoints the new leaders of the congregation of Israel for a type of military operation.  The disciples are sent into enemy territory (“sheep in the midst of wolves” – 10:16), expecting to be rejected by some (10:17-25), while those who do received them – like Rahab received the spies – will be rewarded (10:40-42).  Jesus urges them to have no fear (10:26-33), echoing the words of Moses and Joshua when they spoke to Israel before their conquest of Canaan (Num. 14:9, 21:34; Deut. 1:21, 31:8; 8:1, 10:8). 

It is also in this context of conquest that we find Jesus uttering those words which confuse many – “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…”  But, these words make sense on the edge of a holy war; a war not against the Canaanites but against Satan and his demons.  He is not making peace with them or those who serve them.  He is bringing them a sword. 

3.Parables of the Kingdom (chapter 13)

In the third major discourse, found in chapter 13, Jesus delivers His parables of the Kingdom and Matthew’s gospel moves from the period of conquest into the Wisdom of Solomon.  The word “wisdom” is only used 3 times in Matthew, with all three instances occurring in this section (11:19, 12:42, 13:54).  Matthew 12:42 is particularly interesting:“The queen of the South (Sheba) will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”  Jesus begins His parables just a few verses later.

At the end of His parables, in 13:54, note the response of the people: “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?’”

4.Talking of the Church (chapter 18)

From chapters 14-18, there are series of events that distinguish the followers of Jesus from His enemies.  He heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and confronts the Pharisees and scribes (chapters 14-15).  Then he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees (chapters 15-16).  Jesus then foretells of His death and resurrection (16:21-23).  Significantly, we also see the Transfiguration of Jesus in chapter 17, which connects Jesus with Moses and Elijah, showing another transition: the reader is now with Elijah.

Then, again, Jesus foretells of His death and resurrection (17:22-23) and the fourth discourse is delivered, mirroring the divided kingdom stage of Old Testament history.  Jesus instructs His disciples on how they are to live as the “church” – a word used only twice in Matthew, both in this section (16:18, 18:17) – or literally, “the called out ones.”  Jesus establishes a community or remnant of faithful disciples that have been rejected from greater Israel, a new “sons of the prophets,” a separate community, like Elijah and Elisha led.

5.Olivet Discourse (chapters 23-25)

In the final discourse, Jesus takes on the role of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, a thunderous prophet.  As Jeremiah, Jesus verbally attacks the priests and leaders (the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites) in chapter 23, uttering seven prophetic “woes” against them in the temple, just as Jeremiah did in his temple sermons (see Jeremiah 7 and 26).  Like Jeremiah, Jesus laments over Jerusalem even as He condemns it (Matthew 23:37-39).  Like Jeremiah, Jesus warns that the city will be left in desolation: “See, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38) and “But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation” (Jeremiah 22:5).  And, finally, in Matthew 24:1-2, as Jesus leaves the temple, the glory of the Lord departs (Ezekiel 8-11).

Why This Matters

Beyond the obvious benefits that come to any Christian who grows in his understanding of Scripture, the months I have spent in St. Matthew’s Gospel have reminded me of the benefits of reading deeply and contemplatively, not only with Scripture, but with great literature.  Paying attention to repetitions, literary devices, identifying parallels, and pursuing types and patterns yields tremendous reward.  Making comparisons and connections brings greater clarity to all of our reading and guides us in the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in ourselves and our hearers.


Originally posted on the blog of The CiRCE Institute, reposted by permission. 

Postscript: For those who would like to read more about the structure and patterns of the Gospels, I would highly recommend Peter Leithart’s book The FourA Survey of the Gospels.


A Prayer for Saturday Evenings

“O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth thine unending day upon us who watch for thee, that our lips may praise thee, our lives may bless thee, and our worship on the morrow may give thee glory; through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”

– Evening Prayer I in The Book of Common Prayer (1928)

The Beauty of Routine

Trinity Presbyterian Church (CREC) of Birmingham, Alabama has produced a wonderfully helpful guide to the liturgy.  You can read the full document here.  Here’s an excerpt on liturgy, routine, and pastoral care:

“Do not be put off by the fact that much of our service is scripted and repetitive.
While there are certainly portions of the service that change from week to week or season
to season, we intentionally have spoken and sung lines that that remain unchanged. In
fact, much of the service is repeated, verbatim, week after week, year after year, decade
after decade. We do this because God has given His people certain forms, words, and
rituals to do again and again so they can have a shaping effect on us. We are not engaged
in mindless repetition; rather, we are storing up the Word of the Lord in our hearts.
Repeated worship forms are like a river running over stones, smoothing and shaping them
over time. The rituals of the liturgy become so ingrained in us that they are woven into the
very fiber of our identity. 

We have a fixed liturgy because we believe liturgical routine is an excellent form of
pastoral care and is the most effective form of cradle-to-grave discipleship there is. The
repetition of certain portions of the service allows everyone to participate, even those who
are not able to follow a sermon or read the lines of a new hymn. In other words, it makes
our worship inclusive of the very young, the very old, and the mentally challenged—the
very sorts of people God wants the church to care for most diligently.


Before Jesus came into the world, God’s people worshiped Him in ways that were
highly ritualized. With the coming of Jesus, much changed in the form and content of
worship. However, the same Spirit who inspired the ancient Israelites to worship with
repetitive forms still does so in the new covenant church. What do we see when we get
glimpses of the worship practices of the early Christians? They are reciting Psalms (Acts
4:23-31; Eph. 5:19) and prayers (Luke 11:1-4) together, singing the same pieces of music
again and again (Rev. 4:8-11), and celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week when they
gather (Acts 20:7). The earliest Christians did not see ceremony and ritual as intrinsically
evil; rather, ceremony and ritual rooted in Scripture served as a powerfully formative and
symbolic way of helping Christians internalize the great truths of the gospel.”


Hands Full of Good Things

“I am in a season of my life right now where I feel bone tired almost all of the time. Ragged, how-am-I-going-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day, eyes burning exhausted … I have three boys ages 5 and under. I’m not complaining about that. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But I know that there are people who would give anything for a house full of laughter & chaos.”

– Steve Wiens, in his article “To Parents of Small Children”

My dear wife, Shannon, and I have three children (ages 6, 4, and 2) with our fourth on the way.  We are truly excited and blessed, but sometimes we forget it. The eternal pile of laundry that swallows rooms like an avalanche, the Lego land mines that bruise your feet in the middle of the night (every dad knows what I mean), and the constant reckoning of all things broken, tend to temporarily overwhelm any parent.

My wife serves as a homemaker while homeschooling our daughter. If one wished to assign our day’s greatest misnomer, we could say that she does not “work.”  Hilarious, I know.  True, she does not have a “job”; she has a calling, a vocation.  As Chesterton once noted, a homemaker’s “function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

Strolling through the grocery store with my family, I became aware of a meaningful tradition that my wife had established. Inevitably, when she would go shopping with the kids while I was at work, some well-meaning soul would smile and say, “My, you sure have your hands full!”  Though Shannon understood that the comment was innocent enough, she wanted to make sure that no one pitied her for her blessings or that our children somehow developed the idea that they were simply “too much to handle.”  So, the tradition was set.  Every time someone comments on her “full hands,” Shannon smiles and answers, “Yes.  Full of good things.”

Too often, we trip over the innumerable blessings God has given us, only to complain, “Great, now my toe hurts.”  We are profoundly skilled at being frustrated with the never-ending goodness of God.  Among the blessings of God are the labors to which He has called us.  For those of us laboring in Christian classical education – at home, in a school, or in some other context – we would do well to remember that, while our hands are full, they are full of good things.  Nurturing the souls of students on truth, goodness, and beauty is a high calling indeed.  Sure, it would be easier without students, but it would also be non-existent.

Certainly, I do not mean to imply that genuine problems will not arise or that they should not be addressed.  But, I assume that you all need the same kind of encouragement that I need; a little help in sorting out the mole hills from the mountains, some encouragement that the headaches are part of something bigger, a reminder that full hands are not a bad thing.  Thank God for busyness, for meaningful work, and hands full of good things.

Originally posted by The CiRCE Institute.

A Minister’s Confession

Here’s an old prayer, from The Valley of Vision.  Humbling and, therefore, so needful, this prayer should really be a part of every pastor’s routine:


I know that I often do thy work
without thy power,
and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving
without thy help.
I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation
of others;
This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion
my rule, whereas
I should see what good I have done,
and give thee glory,
consider what sin I have committed
and mourn for that.
It is my deceit to preach, and pray,
and to stir up others’ spiritual affections
in order to beget commendations,
whereas my rule should be daily
to consider myself more vile than any man
in my own eyes.
But thou dost show thy power by my frailty,
so that the more feeble I am,
the more fit to be used,
for thou dost pitch a tent of grace
in my weakness.
Help me to rejoice in my infirmities
and give thee praise,
to acknowledge my deficiencies before others
and not be discouraged by them,
that they may see thy glory more clearly.
Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural,
whereby I can attempt things above my strength,
and bear evils beyond my strength,
acting for Christ in all,
and have his superior power to help me.
Let me learn of Paul
whose presence was mean,
his weakness great,
his utterance contemptible,
yet thou didst account him faithful and blessed.
Lord, let me lean on thee as he did,
and find my ministry thine.”