Matthew mentions Jesus’s earliest followers: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Once Jesus accumulates this small group of Jewish followers, he begins to preach. His early ministry reaches a peak when he gives a sermon famously known as the Sermon on the Mount, which deeply impresses his increasingly large group of followers (5:1–7:29). The sermon emphasizes humility, obedience, love of one’s neighbor, the proper method of prayer, and trust in God. Jesus says that the poor, meek, and hungry are blessed.
As he travels through Galilee, Jesus continues to attract crowds. Matthew relates ten of Jesus’s miracles, which are also described in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus cures a leper, a paralytic, a hemorrhaging woman, a centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law. He also calms a storm, exorcizes demons, gives eyesight to the blind, and brings a dead girl back to life. Jesus resolves to “send out laborers” to minister to the Gentiles, to whom he refers as lost sheep (9:38). Jesus appoints twelve disciples, telling them that they will be persecuted but they should not be afraid. Jesus instructs the apostles to preach that the “kingdom of heaven has come near,” and to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons, all without payment (10:7).
In Chapter 11, Matthew interrupts his account of Jesus and his disciples’ mission to focus on Jesus himself. He gives an account of the opposition Jesus faces. Some people disapprove of his association with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. They call him a glutton and a drunkard. In the face of such rejection, Jesus does not apologize, but, rather, admonishes those who reject him.
Jesus responds to his challengers with a collection of parables. Matthew describes several of the parables—the parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, and the leaven—that Jesus tells to the crowds that gather to listen to him (13:1–33). Jesus then explains that his disciples are part of his family.
Jesus’s ministry of healing, cleansing, and raising the dead continues as he travels throughout Galilee. But he is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, where his friends and neighbors deride him. He continues to perform miracles, but the people become increasingly resistant and disbelieving. Jesus multiplies loaves and fish, feeding thousands on very little food. He heals the sick and continues to preach the message of spiritual righteousness. Yet Jesus repeatedly finds that his disciples still lack faith in him. When he miraculously walks across the water to them, they assume he must be a ghost. Even after he multiplies the loaves, they fear hunger. Only Simon properly professes his faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). Jesus renames Simon “Peter,” a name whose Greek form is identical to the Greek word “rock.” Jesus announces, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (16:18). Jesus then lays out the rules for communal relations among Christians, emphasizing forgiveness, humility, and obedience to his teachings.
Jesus continues to preach. He forbids divorce and advocates chastity, while expounding the virtues of asceticism. He warns against the pitfalls of wealth, teaches forgiveness, and welcomes children. In Jerusalem, cheering crowds await him. People “spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (21:8). Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus expels money changers from the Jewish temple and defies the chief priests and elders, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (21:13). Jesus’s action earns him the support of the crowds. He chastises Jewish leaders, telling them they have been poor caretakers of the temple and that the people have been hypocritical, focusing on technical legal issues rather than “justice and mercy and faith” (23:23). Seeing the wickedness of Jerusalem, and foreseeing God’s punishment of the wicked, Jesus warns his disciples to be prepared for the end of the world. He says that tribulations will precede the final judgment, but that the Son of man—Jesus himself—will come, and that the righteous will be saved.