Reflections on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke/Acts
We speak of the Gospel as being the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The Gospel Accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are certainly not a biography of Jesus. I know that some Christians who would certainly like to know more about Jesus’ growing up years. We know nothing about his family like sisters and brothers names other than Mary and Joseph being his parents. We know nothing about what Jesus looked like, how tall he was. Other than a few stories about his birth and childhood, we virtually know nothing else about Jesus before he came upon the scene. When you think about all that Jesus did and where he traveled, we have but a glimpse of what he is about.
Each of the Gospel writers share the Good News of Jesus in their own particular perspective, but what all seem to have in common is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Another thing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have in common is that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God; about God’s rule. The words kingdom of God or its counterpart the heaven of heaven is mentioned 82 times in the three Gospels. Jesus’ proclaiming of the kingdom, ““Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” Jesus tells stories or parables of what the Kingdom of God is like (what God is like). He demonstrates the joy and healing and peace of God’s kingdom in healing people and eating with the poor and sinners. In these Gospel accounts, you find Jesus having little patience for religious hypocrisy while at the same time reminding his followers of God’s great mercy and compassion especially on those who are hurting, poor and lost. He expects his followers to be servants for the well- being of others saying, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” Central to his ministry was what he referred to as the Great Commandment which is based upon Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is just like it, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” According to Jesus, the entire Law is fulfilled by following this Commandment. .
The arrest and trial of Jesus is not just an indictment against the religious authorities and the disciples who abandoned him. Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross is a judgment against us and the whole human race for our sin and failure to live in the freedom of God’s grace and love. At the same time, Jesus’ resurrection is a demonstration of God’s victory over the forces of death that sought to silence him and his message forever.
After Christ’s resurrection, Jesus came among his disciples and empowered them through the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and across the ends of the earth. The book of Acts, which is the history of the early church, reveals how the church continued the ministry of Jesus, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching about Christ and the kingdom that he promised.
The Gospel accounts were believed to have been written around two to three generations after Christ’s death between 70-90 A.D. The reason for the late date in writing the accounts is the death of the eyewitnesses of Christ. During the early years, there was not an urgency to write these stories down since the apostles shared these stories wherever they traveled. The Gospels were written to continue to instruct new generations of believers about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the first Gospel account written somewhere between 68-70 A.D.. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were believed to be written later between 80-90 A.D.. The first three Gospels are very similar in nature with a number of stories and sections shared between them that are virtually word for word. These three Gospels were given the name the Synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” is means to “see with one another”. You can see Mark’s Gospel reflected in Luke’s Gospel for example. The reason in part that it is believed that Matthew and Luke were written some time later is that both Gospels used Mark as a primary source for writing their account. You will find 75% of Mark’s material in Matthew and over 90% in Luke’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel is much shorter in length than the other two accounts. It is believed that Matthew and Luke in addition to using Mark also used other sources such as Jesus sayings not found in Mark such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. Matthew and Luke also include stories of Christ’s birth not found in Mark’s Gospel. Both the Gospels of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke draw from sources only found in their account such as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew and the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan story found only in Luke’s Gospel.
The Gospels are our defining story as Christians. Everything else we find in the New Testament is mere commentary to what the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Sunday, I will touch upon how these stories continue to provide us wisdom in our contemporary world and shape our lives as followers as Kingdom people.