Our primary sources for information about the life of Jesus are the four gospels (Lea and Black, The New Testament, Its Background and Message, 86). There are very few references to Jesus outside of the Gospels so they are vitally important to our understanding about his life the mission. They each begin in a unique way. They each tell the Jesus story in a completely unique way, yet each completes each other in the end result.
Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, may have also been the first Gospel written. It is not clear if Matthew or Mark were actually first. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father. Matthew’s beginning establishes the legal path of the Messiah, as a direct descendant of King David. This genealogy would have been very effective in establishing the positioning of Jesus to the Jews of that day. He was a legal and legitimate heir to the throne of King David. Mark ships any genealogy and skips ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist. Where Matthew appears to have been written to a Jewish audience, Mark was most likely written to Romans (New American Standard Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, 1420). Mark omitted the very-Jewish element of a genealogy and moved right to the charismatic forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist. While Matthew laid an early foundation of legal legitimacy, Mark began with an example of discipleship, service and sacrifice. John the Baptist spent his life proclaiming the coming Messiah and Mark tells that great story.
Luke’s beginning was far different than Matthew or Mark. Luke began with “the prologue” describing the writer’s process for gathering the materials for this Gospel (Lea and Black, 114). Luke outlined the three stages of his writing, from eyewitnesses to writers to his own role in Jesus’s life. He gave a clear map of writing, from oral to written to final composition, a step by step explanation of the writing of the story to come.
The beginnings of these first three Gospels illustrate the personalities of the writers. Matthew, a tax collector was accustomed to the legitimacy of the law in his life. He probably needed that legitimacy to justify his daily duties collecting taxes from many who could ill afford them. His genealogy, starting with Abraham, validated his work and Jesus life as the legal and proper Messiah. Mark is widely believed to have been the interpreter or companion of Peter. He started his ministry life traveling with and supporting Paul and Barnabas (Lea and Black, 141). His ministry life was about supporting and working through others as he did in his introduction, laying out the early ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. Luke, a physician, was practiced in process and procedure. A physician is a person of discipline and step by step process. He explained such in the writing of his introduction.
What about John? How did he begin? His beginning also showed his personality and perspective of the Savior but very differently than the others. John was much more personal. John “whom Jesus loved” began by clearly linking Jesus to Father God, who existed from the very beginning of time (NASB, John 13:23, 1578). His affection for Jesus was that of a deep, true friend with a deep understanding of Jesus’s connection to the Heavenly Father who was the creator of the universe and who had existed from the very beginning. Jesus is the Messiah because he is clearly the Son of the one true God. The beginning of this gospel was more personal than the others, showing John’s close relationship to Jesus. The beginning of this Gospel was also the first of many differences between the first three and John. While the first three Synoptic Gospels saw Jesus’s life in much the same ways, “seeing together” the life of Christ (Lea and Black, 113), John took a different approach both in his introduction and the content of this Gospel.
Each of the Gospels began in a unique way, reflecting the writer. Each drew a beautiful picture of the life of Christ from their own unique perspective. Each stands on its own, yet is in flawless harmony with the others. Their perspectives show that from the very beginning of the gospel presentation, there is room in the kingdom of Jesus for followers of different backgrounds and points of view.
The details of Jesus birth and childhood are vividly told in the Gospels, primarily in Matthew and Luke. The first event is the announcement of the one who would pave the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. Gabriel told John’s father Zechariah of his coming birth in Luke 1:5-25 (Lea and Black, 175). Then, the story of Jesus’s birth unfolds in Luke. While Luke and Matthew both give vivid detail of Jesus’s birth, their perspective is very different. Luke, the physician, tells the story from the compassionate view of the mother, Mary. Luke describes the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to announce the upcoming and unexpected birth and portrays an emotional story from Mary’s point of view. Mary immediately saw the will of God and accepted it. She quickly shared her news with her cousin Elizabeth and they celebrated the coming baby together.
Matthew’s story is from the father Joseph’s point of view. No doubt Matthew the tax collector was accustomed to dealing with the head of the household and saw the story from Joseph’s perspective. His account of the announcement dealt with Joseph’s reaction from the legal point of view, giving the details of the choice Joseph had to make. Joseph chose to accept Mary but Matthew’s story made it clear that legally Joseph had a different option. Once again, Matthew’s perspective of legality would appeal to a Jewish audience who cared deeply about following God’s law. Matthew’s telling of the dream experience of Joseph would take Jewish listeners back to many Old Testament stories with which they were very familiar.
Jesus’s birth continues to show the two different perspectives of Matthew and Luke. While Matthew’s account was intended to convince Jews of Jesus’s true place as their Messiah (Lea and Black, 178), Luke’s story is one of a manger and visiting shepherds, frightened nearly to death by the angel’s announcement to them in the desert. While Matthew used the Magi, the Wise Men to illustrate the story, Luke used the humble shepherds. The details of Jesus’s childhood in Matthew and Luke continue the parallel of different points of view. While Matthew tells the story of Jesus’s upbringing in Nazareth as fulfillment of the law, Luke gives details about his life as an obedient son. The two books complete each other in their telling of the story of the Messiah’s birth and childhood.
These accounts in Matthew and Luke, different but the same, follow the pattern set previously by the two genealogies. This writer is just beginning to understand the differences and needs to learn more and understand more deeply. Matthew traced the family of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph. Luke traced Jesus’s lineage back to Adam. Matthew showed 41 names while Luke used 77 (Lea and Black, 172). Matthew shows a path through the throne of Judah while Luke comes to Jesus through Nathan, a son of David. While still studying to understand, this writer sees the three suggestions offered by Lea and Black as logical explanations of the differences.
First, Matthew gave a path through Joseph while Luke gave a path through Mary. While Mary was not actually mentioned, this is the path given. This is also consistent with the two writer’s earlier methods. A second possible explanation is the marriage practices of the day. Matthew uses Joseph’s actual father Jacob while Luke uses Joseph’s legal father Heli. Or a third explanation is that Matthew used the official descendants of David to the throne while Luke used Joseph’s actual predecessors. Once again, Matthew choosing a legal path and Luke a more emotional one. Can the two be tied together? They both lead to the same place using a different path. One is legal the other more human (Lea and Black, 175). This all leads to a desire for deeper understanding. So much more to learn!
This week’s reading and assignment has given this writer an appreciation for the Gospels not held before. Each is so completely unique yet so much the same. The parallels between the Synoptic Gospels are so vividly different from John but so much in parallel with the Jesus story. They all so thoroughly complete each other, like the intricate pieces of a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is so uniquely different, so interesting all on its own. When joined with the other pieces, a beautiful picture comes to life for all to enjoy.