Jesus in the Four Gospels
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In the New Testament, we have four accounts of the life of Jesus Christ that are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are called Gospels. But what is a Gospel, how are the four accounts different or similar and what were the main points each writer sought to communicate?
What the Gospels are!
Firstly they are called Gospels, because they gave substance to the Gospel or Good News as described by Paul in Romans 1:16 (The Message): "this extraordinary Message of God's powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else!"
We know that Jesus Christ during his time on earth wrote nothing, yet the stories about him were preserved and passed on by Christian teachers and evangelists. For the first thirty years or so, these stories were possibly collated and stored together. That would explain the similarity in the four accounts of Jesus' life. They are not an exhaustive biographical detail of all that Jesus did. Similarly they are also not diaries reflecting a daily account of Jesus' life. Rather they are selective accounts of His life, and were probably factual illustrations used by His disciples when preaching about Him. Therefore they would represent the theology of the disciples, as each story about is Jesus is told. That is why they are trustworthy accounts as well as rooting Jesus' life in first century Judaism and the Greco-Roman world.
The first three of our Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are what are called the synoptic Gospels. This is based on their great similarity and possibly use of a common source. Mark is probably the first Gospel as it is shorter in length than Matthew or Luke and it would appear that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a guide and elaborated where required. Mark wrote none of the great discourses of Matthew (Mark 13 being the exception), such as the Sermon on the Mount, nor does Mark show the great parables that Luke recorded, such as the Good Samaritan. Surely if Mark had used either the accounts of Matthew or Luke, he would have used those two examples! Matthew is closer in similarity to Mark than Luke. Luke does share large portions of Mark and quite often verbatim, and with a greater use of the Greek language.
John on the other hand, while still telling about Jesus' ministry, has vastly different story content. Whereas in the synoptic Gospels Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God frequently, in the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about himself much more often, as in the seven I AM statements. For this reason, John was probably written later than the synoptic Gospels.
Four Different Portraits
The Gospel of Matthew
Matthew 16:16 - Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Matthew 28:18 -Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Matthew wrote primarily to Jews who knew the Old Testament. He wrote to present Jesus as the Messiah to Israel. He also records Israel's attitude towards Him as Messiah. Throughout this Gospel, Matthew gives us the genealogy, presentation, and the authentification of Jesus as the Christ Messiah. Matthew then shows the nation of Israel's opposition to and rejection of Jesus as the Christ, followed by Jesus' rejection of Israel due to her unbelief. He then records the death and resurrection of Christ. He concludes with Christ commissioning the disciples. Throughout, this Gospel is a well ordered and balanced account.
The Gospel of Mark
Mark 8:34 - "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark presents Jesus as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, coming in fulfilment of the Old Testament. Jesus offers His credentials, gathers His disciples, offers the Kingdom of God and its message. Jesus' teaching is seen in short parables, which hide the truth from those hardened against Him, yet prepares and instructs those responsive to Him. Overall Jesus calls those who follow him to serve others and to deny themselves by taking up their own cross, just as He took. Early tradition states that Mark's Gospel had a connection with the Apostle Peter, and was therefore written to preserve some of Peter's memories before his death.
The Gospel of Luke
Luke 1:3-4 -Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke 19:10 -For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
Luke presents Jesus as the God-Man, as a saviour for the entire world, writing primarily to Gentiles. He does this from a broad vantage point that is compatible with the fact that he is a Greek. Luke traces the incarnation, Christ's introduction, ministry, rejection, subsequent teaching in view of His rejection, the cross, resurrection and ascension. Even though a Gentile, Luke emphasizes the kingdom program with Israel's place in the kingdom. This Gospel is not complete in itself, but is rather the first of two parts, with the Book of Acts being the second section. Both are addressed to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4 & Acts 1:1). The author is probably the Luke identified by Paul as a doctor, and was one of Paul's travelling companions (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11). The style and language used are those of a native Greek speaker.
The Gospel of John
John 1:9 & 12: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world... Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
John 20:31: - These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John presents the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ so that mankind would believe in him as the Son of God, Messiah, and Saviour of the world. His selective argument portrays Christ as the God-Man. John records miracles and messages that affirm the deity and humanity of Christ. John builds his record around the public ministry of Christ, the private ministry, the cross, and the resurrection.
For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.
Q1. Read Mark 8:34 and Mark 10:45. How strongly am I encouraged to carry my own cross, knowing that Jesus carried His cross?
Q2. Read Luke 1:34 and Luke 19:10. If Jesus gave up everything to seek me, what more can I give, in order to help spread the good news of Him?
Q3. Read Matthew 16:16 and Matthew 28:18. If Jesus is still living and has authority, how is that a help to me as I live a life worthy of His name?
Q4. Read John 1:9-12 and John 20:31. As a Christian Disciple and therefore a child of God, how is Jesus working on and changing me?
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