by Pastor Al Robbins
In the last article, I stated that a good place to begin a comprehensive reading of the Bible would be the Gospel of John (Where Should I Start Reading the Bible? part 1). This is because John focuses on the divinity of Jesus, the fact that Jesus is God. Once you have read John, flip back a few pages and start reading at the Gospel of Matthew.
The first four books of the New Testament are known as the Gospels. The word gospel comes from the Greek word evangelion (Îµá½Î±Î³Î³ÎÎ»Î¹Î¿Î½) meaning good news. Unlike much of the rest of the New Testament, most of which are letters, these four books directly relate to Jesus and His life and ministry on this earth.
Written by four men with varying knowledge of Jesus and His life, they present Jesus in slightly different ways. Just as reports of any particular event, taken from several different people who all viewed the same event, these four books have a number of similarities and differences.
Matthew presents Him as the King-Saviour, with the emphasis on the lineage of David. Mark presents Him as the Suffering Servant and Luke presents Him as the Son of Man. These three books are often referred to as the synoptic Gospels (i.e., presenting or taking the same or common view) as they present the common theme of Jesus as man. John, however, presents Jesus as the Son of God.
The Gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. It was written by Matthew, also known as Levi, one of the twelve apostles, to an audience of Jews. This is the reason that there are so many references to prophecies and quotations from the Old Testament.
The book of Matthew starts with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, emphasizing that Jesus was a descendant of King David.
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Matthew 1:1 (NIV)
After the listing of the genealogy from Abraham to "Joseph, the husband of Mary", Matthew continues with the events around the birth of Jesus. The story of the Magi and the flight into Egypt are only included within this narrative. From the flight into Egypt (fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy), Matthew jumps into the story of John the Baptist.
Matthew continues on with the narration of the many miracles and the record of the teachings of Jesus. The book contains 53 quotes from the Old Testament, again emphasizing the Kingship of Jesus. Matthew wanted to ensure that his readers saw that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of God.
The Gospel of Mark is the next book in the New Testament, and is believed to be written by John Mark, the young man who accompanied Barnabas and Saul on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:25), but departed for Jerusalem part way through the journey (Acts 13:13). Mark writes his Gospel as a story, beginning with, "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1 NIV)
As suggested by the opening sentence, Mark focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, with the emphasis on Jesus as the Messiah. There are less of the sayings of Jesus included within this gospel, but a strong emphasis on who Jesus was. The progression of revealing Jesus as Messiah goes from keeping it a secret through the first half of the book as illustrated by Jesus saying, "See that you don't tell this to anyone." (Mark 1:44 NIV)
Jesus also warns His disciples not to tell others who He was, even though Peter has come to recognize that He was the Messiah, the Christ. Mark 8:29-30 (NIV) says,
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
This "secret" becomes more public when Jesus is crucified and the centurion acknowledges Him as Messiah.
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Mark 15:39 (NIV)
The Gospel of Luke is the only Gospel that has a sequel the book of Acts. Written by Luke the Physician, these books were written "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." Luke 1:4 (NIV)
Luke's emphasis is that Jesus is the Son of Man. This phrase is used twenty-five times in the book. Luke's purpose is to show that Jesus lived as the perfect human, and therefore is the only one who could be the perfect sacrifice. Luke is the only Gospel that contains the announcement foretelling the birth of John the Baptist, the visit of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth and the birth of John. It is also the only book that described the announcement of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth. Luke also tells the story of the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the reaction of Simeon and Anna.
Many of the stories and teachings in Luke are not included in the other Gospels. One example of this is the story of Martha and Mary, where Jesus talked about the importance of spending time with Him. Luke's purpose for writing so that others would know the certainty of the things includes understanding that Jesus came as our Saviour.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
Luke 19:10 (NIV)
As you can see, each of the four Gospels has its own unique emphasis, but together they give a complete picture of the life and ministry of Jesus. We see Him as the Son of Man, as the Messiah or Anointed One of God, as the Suffering Servant, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As you read the Gospels, ask God to give you a personal revelation of Jesus Christ for your own life. You'll be glad you did.