Four Stories, One Message
President George Washington was our nation’s first president. He is one of the most celebrated heroes of our nation’s history. He helped America win its independence against Britain as a courageous military leader. However, did you know that after his presidency, he became the first man on the moon? Oh, you’ve never heard that before. That might be because I just made up that last part. Actually, I could make up a lot of information about him like how he had three legs, and he hated Mondays, and he invented the one dollar bill...This is fun.
If you wanted to call me out for my misinformation, how would you do so? Well, I would imagine you could locate some biographies about him. There are dozens you could find at the library or on Amazon. I’m sure if you spent time reading through these accounts of his life, they would all lack information about any trips to the moon. An act of such significance would surely have made it into several of his biographies.
Previously, I have considered how Jesus’ disciples accurately wrote down the things which Jesus Himself taught as we find them in the New Testament letters. In my last article, I talked through how we can be reasonably sure that Jesus lived in the correct time period in which the Bible presents Him. He lived at the same time as many other historical figures like Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Lysanias, who are also well-documented outside of the Bible. Thus, if we can trust the Bible in what it says about things of earth, we can have more confidence about what it says regarding the things of heaven.
I’d like to turn our attention to the biographies of Jesus as we find them in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are often referred to as the Gospels. What we see there regarding Jesus helps explain how the early church functioned and helps explain what it was that they proclaimed. One problem that is often put forth, however, is that these are four different accounts and they all show Jesus in a slightly different way. Some have tried to show how this makes them unreliable. Are they?
Mark and John seem to contrast the most. Mark writes primarily of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to the north and only shows Him visiting Jerusalem at the end of His life. John, on the other hand, writes of Jesus primarily in Jerusalem interacting with the Pharisees and His disciples. Many scholars have noted that these two Gospels are independent of one another. This is probably true. It is striking then to see how much in common they share. The two books both show Jesus feeding the five thousand, being anointed by oil, as well as several of the events leading up to His death and resurrection. While the vocabulary between Mark and John is different, the details are remarkably consistent. Neither author proposes to write about Jesus’ life in its entirety, but instead chose to focus on different parts.
If we include Matthew and Luke in the discussion, we could formulate an outline of the life of Jesus as follows: Jesus was born in Bethlehem but did not begin His public ministry until He was baptized by John. He remained in relative obscurity until John was killed at the wish of King Herod. Jesus gathered a large following with His teaching and miracles. He chose and trained twelve disciples, whom he taught both publicly and privately. He also engaged in disputes with other Jewish leaders, which eventually forced Him out of Galilee into adjacent Gentile regions. Finally, He went to Jerusalem for Passover where He was accused of blasphemy and handed over to the authorities to be crucified for treason against Rome. And while none of this necessarily sets Jesus apart from any other religious fanatic, there is something that does. That would be His resurrection from the dead. It is recorded in all four Gospels and reiterated clearly by His earliest followers. Such an incredible act would be enough to explain the change that took place in His disciples and earliest followers. They began to proclaim this Jesus as God Himself who walked among us. The fact that there are four different accounts gives more credence to their reliability.
So, what is the point of all of this? Well, first of all, the Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). It is necessary to hear the message of Jesus to create faith in its hearers. John said that the things in his book are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:31). I want to create faith in my readers. Secondly, it is good to know that this faith is not an empty-headed faith, nor is it based simply on wishful thinking. It is a historic faith, and it is necessary from time to time to devote credibility to the story of Jesus. Jesus was an actual figure in real time and space. The faith that saves is a faith in Christ. When we study the person of Jesus and the subsequent early church movement, we see a continuity. You can’t have one without the other. The church’s mission today is the same: to proclaim the message of Jesus so all can be saved. We can place our trust in Him with confidence. Our integrity is not hindered in doing so.
I pray we come to a deeper appreciation for these books and their message of salvation for sinners like you and me. The stories included in the Gospels tell of a man who was concerned for people who realized their desperate need for help. They tell of how He provided that help. It is a free gift and it is for you.