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February 27, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”—Mark 1:1 (NKJV)
This begins the Book of Mark, which is identified by its author (Mark) as a “Gospel.” Let’s hold that thought for a moment and take a closer look at what that means. To our 21st century ears, the word gospel can be connected with a lot of things that it originally wasn’t. A style of music, a metaphor for anything that’s true, or a certain spiritual stereotype . . . these are just a few examples of the misapplication and misunderstanding of this word.
In its most literal sense, the word gospel means “good news.” In biblical times, when the communication of news had to be personally delivered, a messenger would travel from community to community to share important happenings. And if the news was “good,” such as the end of a conflict or the reign of an evil ruler coming to an end, then a “gospel” was said to be shared.
This important word is owned and applied to the life of Jesus because what He accomplished during His time on the earth is the best news to ever be announced. Through His birth, sinless life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection, humanity’s age-old struggle against sin’s dominance ended, and death’s rule over our destiny was broken. What Mark had to share was good news, indeed! It was the good news, which is why he correctly calls it “the gospel.”
But Mark wasn’t alone. In fact, there are three other books in the Bible that are also called Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John), which also focus on all Jesus did while He was here on the earth over 2,000 years ago. So, there’s a total of four books in the Bible we call Gospels.
Now, you might be asking, “Why do we need four different Gospels if they’re all about the same person, Jesus?” The answer to that question is Jesus, Himself! His life was so important and so eventful that God gave us, through the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, four different perspectives on Jesus so we could see Him from every essential angle.
It’s similar to how a lawyer will reconstruct an important event for a jury by calling multiple witnesses of that event to share their view of what took place. Likewise, it took four different “witnesses,” each with their own testimony, to properly cover the person and work of Jesus. That’s why we have four Gospels, with each one filling in our understanding of a specific aspect of Jesus.
How so? Before answering, it needs to be emphasized there’s bound to be some bit of overlap as we examine each Gospel’s particular emphasis. These are generalizations, not absolutes, but there’s a reliable pattern to be seen when we take a closer look at each one.
Let’s start with Mark, since it was our launch point. Mark’s Gospel tends to emphasize what Jesus did. Written for the average Roman citizen of that time (around 60 AD), Mark doesn’t deal with a lot of the finer details of Jesus’ life. Instead, Mark focuses on the essential happenings, such as the many miracles and healings of Jesus. It’s more action oriented than the other Gospels, and it’s been appropriately called, “The Gospel on the go.” Mark puts you in the moment, he engages you into what’s going on—he’s the one you’d want telling stories at your party.
Next, we come to Luke’s Gospel, which tends to emphasize what Jesus said. One of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life was His teaching ministry. He was constantly educating those around Him on the things of God. Luke captures more of this by giving us more parables and teachings than the other Gospels. In fact, there’s an extended stretch of several chapters in the middle of Luke that are almost entirely dedicated to the teachings of Jesus.
We now come to the Gospel of Matthew, which tends to emphasize who Jesus was. Unlike Mark and Luke, Matthew is specifically committed to establishing Jesus as the coming King that God promised to His people, the nation of Israel. With skill and understanding, Matthew strings together a series of prophecies from the Old Testament that are fulfilled by the unfolding life of Jesus. He makes it undeniably clear, especially to a Jewish audience, that Jesus is the One that had been promised and the only One who can exercise the right to rule over, not just the Jewish people, but the entire world.
Lastly, we come to John’s Gospel, which is a real outlier because it takes us in a totally unique direction than the other three. John also emphasizes who Jesus was, but from a different angle. Whereas Matthew focused on Jesus as the earth’s rightful ruler, John shows us His heavenly identity as God’s Son. It’s in John’s account, which was written after the other three, that we get details we see nowhere else. This was undoubtedly deliberate, because John wanted the world to know what the other Gospels hadn’t covered. Specifically, the unique connection between Jesus and His Father, as well as His divine nature and identity as God, Himself.
We can see God’s wisdom in giving us these multiple looks at Jesus. His life was so full and rich with meaning that anything less would rob us of precious insight into what He did, what He said, and who He was.
But even with these four Gospels, there’s so much more about Jesus that wasn’t recorded and that only eternity can reveal. Eternity will be an ongoing discovery of Him. For as John tells us at the end of his Gospel: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25 NKJV).