Imagine a car accident taking place near an intersection where you live. At this accident there are four witnesses.
- Witness #1 is a medical doctor. He reports on the injuries sustained in the accident.
- Witness #2 is an insurance agent. He reports about those liable in the accident.
- Witness #3 is a policeman. He reports on the legal and safety issues related to the accident.
- Witness #4 is an auto repairman. He reports on the damage done to the vehicles.
Each of these witnesses gives details that are consistent with their respective purposes. They don’t contradict one another. Instead their reports complement one another. By putting all four of their accounts together, you are able to have a fuller and more complete picture of what happened at the accident.
So often, people ask, “Why are there four gospels? Wouldn’t it be simpler to have only one?” The example about the car accident above helps us understand why four are necessary. The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us all the same basic information about the life of Jesus, but from four different viewpoints and to four different audiences.
If you are looking for a great place to begin a Bible reading plan for the year, the gospels are a great place to start. While they are not a biography of Jesus (a biography typically tells a person’s whole life story; the gospels give us about 50 days of Jesus’ life over a three year period), when all four accounts are combined we are able to have a fuller and richer portrait of Jesus our Savior.
Here are a few helpful things to remember when reading the gospels:
- The gospel of Matthew was written by the Galilean Jew who is called “Matthew the tax collector” (Matthew 10:3). His account was targeted to the Jews of his day. This is why he begins with a record of the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1ff). To the Jewish mind it was critical that the Messiah be linked to the patriarch Abraham (the father of their nation). Equally important to the Jews, the Messiah had to fulfill the inspired predictions of the prophets. This is why Matthew quotes more than 40 Jewish prophecies (examples include Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6). For centuries the Jews eagerly anticipated a Messiah King. Matthew dedicates his entire account to proving Jesus is that.
- In the gospel of Mark, Mark presents Jesus as a man of action. Since his account was intended to appeal to a Roman audience (Gentiles), Mark spends a lot of time explaining the Jewish customs that they would have been unfamiliar with (Mark 7:10-13). He also doesn’t give any genealogy, as it would not be of much value to Gentiles (other nations that were not Jewish). Very early in the book Mark makes a goal to emphasize how Jesus was a powerful miracle worker (Mark 1:29-42). A key word found in Mark is “immediately.” This word emphasized the powerful and immediate consequences of Jesus’ actions (Mark 1:42).
- Luke’s goal is to present Jesus as the “Son of Man.” He is the only Gentile writer of the New Testament and his account broadly appeals to all mankind as it focuses on the humanity of Jesus. The purpose for his writing is to help disciples be certain about their faith (Luke 1:1-14). Like Matthew, Luke also gives genealogy, except he connects Jesus to the entire human race by tracing His genealogy all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). He also presents Jesus as the Master teacher who had come to seek and save the lost from all nations (Luke 19:10).
- But while Luke focuses on Jesus as the “Son of Man,” the gospel writer John presents Jesus as the Divine Creator, Lamb of God, and Son of God (John 1:1-3, 14, 29; 10:37-39). The purpose of both Jesus’ miracles and John’s gospel are clearly stated in John 20:30-31.
Each of the four gospels presents a unique perspective of Jesus, and yet, they each give harmonious information that completes the picture that God wants mankind to have of His Son. They show many facets of Jesus’ life to help us fully appreciate His amazing nature.
But the story is incomplete. There is an element that must be added to the wonderful story of Jesus in the gospel – you! The great question in life and of the gospel is whether you will make the decision to surrender completely to the will of Jesus.
Have you? If not, will you?
– Shawn Jeffries