If four of your closest friends wrote a biography about you, they might tell some of the same stories, but each description would be different. One friend might focus on your sense of humor, while another would emphasize your integrity. It is the same with the Gospels. Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, each of the Gospel writers highlights a different aspect of the life of Christ.
Matthew wrote his Gospel to prove, beyond any doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel.
Mark emphasized Jesus’ servant leadership.
Luke dealt with the humanity of Christ, revealing Jesus as the Son of Man.
John concerned himself with proving that Jesus is God.
Four Accounts: One Gospel
Matthew’s Gospel: The Messiah Has Arrived
Matthew’s Gospel account had one overriding purpose: to demonstrate that the carpenter from Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah—Christ, the Anointed One. He wrote, “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ … Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:13, 16). More than anything else that Jesus said or did, His claim to be the Messiah incensed first-century Jews. That is why Matthew begins his book with a seventeen-verse, forty-name genealogy, tracing Jesus’ earthly lineage back some two thousand years and 42 generations.
This genealogy is as unique as the Person it represents. At the time, a person’s family tree established their social status. People would often omit undesirable names to improve their pedigree. But, Matthew’s record of Jesus’ genealogy includes a variety of surprising inclusions.
Matthew names five women as earthly ancestors of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Including women in genealogy was unheard of at the time, but it demonstrates Jesus’ desire to break down the barrier between the sexes.
It gets worse. Three of the women in Jesus’ genealogy weren’t even Jews. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were from Canaan and Moab—nations detested by Israel.
Tamar tricked her father-in-law into having an incestuous relationship with her. Rahab was not only a Canaanite, but she was also a prostitute before joining the people of Israel. And if you recall the story of David and Bathsheba, you know that she committed adultery with David before he had her first husband killed.
What is the purpose of including such people in the Lord’s genealogy? In the words of Tim Keller, “In Jesus Christ, prostitute and king, male and female, Jew and Gentile, one race and another race, moral and immoral—all sit down as equals. Equally sinful and lost, equally accepted and loved. In the old King James Bible, this chapter is filled with ‘the begats.’—‘So and so begat so and so and so....’ Boring? No. The grace of God is so pervasive that even the begats of the Bible are dripping with God’s mercy.”1
Mark’s Gospel: The Ultimate Example of Servant Leadership
Mark was the shortest and the first of the four Gospels to be written. A sense of urgency marks his account—his favorite word being “immediately” (used 36 times). Solid extra-biblical evidence suggests that Mark wrote the Gospel in Rome during the last days of Peter’s life as persecution against the Church swept through the Roman Empire. Mark illuminates the urgency and seriousness of following Jesus as a disciple—in his day and ours.
Mark wasn’t alone in his intensity. Jesus used His power to serve others urgently and sacrifice His life for the world. After He preached in Galilee, we find Jesus telling His disciples, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth” (Mark 1:38).
According to Jesus, the Christian path to greatness comes through service and self-sacrifice. People are not on the receiving end of service but on the giving end in the Kingdom of God. In Acts 20:35, the Lord Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He took the whole issue of greatness and turned it on its head.
When James and John asked to sit beside Jesus in glory, He gave them a lesson in humility. He told them, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
The sad part of the story is that Jesus had spent months with these men, modeling servant leadership. But somehow, they had missed it all. Their request represented the attitude of the world when it comes to getting ahead. They wanted power and influence next to the throne. How disappointed Jesus must have been!
Greatness is all about serving. If you want to be great in the eyes of God, the way up is the way down on your knees before the Lord serving Him.
Luke’s Gospel: No One Is Beyond Jesus’ Reach
According to the apostle Paul, Luke was a “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) who accompanied him on several missionary journeys. However, Luke’s real passion was setting down an orderly account that detailed the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As the Bible’s only Gentile author, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ passion for saving the lost, especially those who imagine themselves “unredeemable.” The good doctor penned Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Luke’s Gospel contains 35 parables of Jesus; nineteen are unique to his book, including the Good Samaritan, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. They reveal great truths of love, grace, forgiveness, and the human element that captures our attention. These stories were not intended to entertain or fill the Gospels’ pages. Jesus’ word pictures were mighty weapons that He used to fill the minds of His hearers with truths they would never forget.
One parable unique to Luke’s Gospel is the story of the two debtors, recorded in Luke 7:41-43. When Jesus pardoned the transgressions of the woman who washed His feet with her tears, He shared this parable to demonstrate His authority to forgive sins. Immediately after the parable and the woman’s forgiveness, Luke described a group of women “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2), including Mary Magdalene.
Mary was known as “Magdalene” because she was from the village of Magdala. Rife with prostitution, it had a reputation as an immoral place. The Gospel narrative of Mary Magdalene begins by mentioning her former possession by seven demons. It ends a few years later when Jesus emerged from His tomb bearing the greatest news in history. The first person to receive the news wasn’t Peter, John, or even Jesus’ mother. It was Mary Magdalene. Of all the men and women living in the world at that time, the Lord chose her.
Luke’s Gospel powerfully illustrates what Christ can do in a person’s life.
John’s Gospel: The Path to Eternal Life
Public and personal encounters with people from all walks of life punctuated Jesus’ ministry. It is evident from the Gospels that He spent much of His time teaching people how to find salvation. Wherever Jesus went, He had one thing on His mind: to seek lost men and women and to bring them to a saving knowledge of God through faith. When John wrote his Gospel, Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already provided a comprehensive narrative of Jesus’ life. Thus, John wrote his account to complement the others and, above all, to lead people to salvation in Christ.
Jesus had great insight into humanity’s condition. In chapter 3, John relates how a man named Nicodemus came seeking answers from Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin—a ruler of the Jews—who lived in the highest level of religious life in his day. But he came to Jesus by night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). In that statement, we see the searching heart of this religious leader.
Yet Nicodemus was wrong in his initial statement to Jesus. His theology wasn’t correct because Jesus wasn’t just a teacher who came from God—He was God who came to teach. Before the end of the conversation, Nicodemus would come to recognize that he wasn’t simply dealing with a representative of God. Jesus Christ was God in a body—the Lord of glory.
As he closes his Gospel, John relates how the resurrected Christ comforted, prepared, encouraged, and restored His followers. He appeared to several disciples and breathed His Spirit into them to prepare them for ministry. When Thomas refused to believe in the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to him and eased his doubts. Finally, Jesus restored fellowship with Peter after his three denials.
John beautifully illustrates Jesus’ heart for humanity. Chapter 20 captures his purpose in writing: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
Four Accounts: One Gospel
If we only ever viewed ourselves directly in front of a mirror, we would have an incomplete self-image. We might not realize how large our nose is from a profile view or appreciate how our new jogging routine is contouring our calves. And if we only ever read one of the Gospels, we would not have a complete picture of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For a thorough understanding of the significant events of Jesus’ time on earth, we need Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
It is Matthew who informs us that Jesus came to announce the kingdom of God and inject new spiritual light into formal religion (Matthew 4:17; 9:17). We need Mark’s Gospel to know that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Luke tells us that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And through John’s Gospel, we understand that no one took Jesus’ life from Him—He laid it down to provide a way for the world to be saved (John 3:17; 15:13). The Gospels weave together essential elements of Jesus’ kingship, servanthood, humanity, and deity.
1Tim Keller, The Hidden Meaning of Christmas (NY: Penguin Random House LLC, 2016), 33.