The Sermon on the Plain: The Audience


During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter; his brother Andrew; James; John; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus; Simon, who was called a zealot; Judas the son of James; and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground. A great company of his disciples and a huge crowd of people from all around Judea and Jerusalem and the area around Tyre and Sidon joined him there. They came to hear him and to be healed from their diseases, and those bothered by unclean spirits were healed. The whole crowd wanted to touch him, because power was going out from him and he was healing everyone.

Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said…
(Luke 6:12-20a, CEB)

There is a lot going on in these two paragraphs, so we’ll spend a couple of days here. Today we’ll look at the audience.

Jesus has three audiences for his sermon. The first is his disciples. Not just the twelve who are named, but an unspecified large number of his disciples: a “great company” of them, in fact. Of these, Jesus chooses twelve whom he calls apostles (which means messengers, literally “sent ones”). These VIPs of the disciples are his second audience. (More on this in a minute.) The third audience is a “huge crowd” of people from all around who came to hear his teaching and be healed.

As in the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus has an indirect teaching style. He “raises his eyes to his disciples” before he starts talking. This teaching is meant for them, but the crowds get to learn by overhearing. So do we. Luke implicitly invites us to imagine which group we are standing in.

The night before this powerful sermon, Jesus spends all night in prayer. Was he praying about who to choose to be his twelve “sent ones?” The apostles are important to Luke. Luke uses the word more than any other gospel. It only occurs a couple of times in Matthew and Mark. Luke even goes on to write the Acts of the Apostles.

Here’s a note on why translations make a difference: Luke is a cheerleader for the apostles. Mark seems more skeptical of their set-apart status. But if you read Mark in the CEB (Common English Bible) translation, you’ll find that the translators insert the word “apostles” where it doesn’t actually occur in the Greek. The translators do this for clarity’s sake, but I think it obscures the difference between Mark and Luke’s opinion of Jesus’s students. 

For Luke’s Jesus, dawn brings a momentous decision. He calls the great crowd of his disciples together and picks his twelve. These messengers are going to carry Jesus’s Good News when he is gone, and this Sermon on the Plain is his first public lesson for them.

So to recap:

  • Jesus has already been in ministry, and tension is building between the way he and his disciples act versus the way other religious leaders and their students
  • Jesus has spent all night in prayer and chosen twelve to be his appointed messengers (apostles).
  • This is his first public event after picking his new leaders.
  • Jesus teaches them in full view of the crowds.

The characters are all in place. Tomorrow we’ll look at the setting.

Here I am, Lord; I am willing to be taught and sent.