Matthew, Mark and Luke see things together (which is why they are often called The Synoptics), John seems to write from ‘Heaven down’ beginning with Christ’s deity and choosing an almost completely different selection of stories to prove his point. Add all four Gospel accounts together and we have a fully-rounded view of the Saviour, his ministry and his message.
Three minutes to go and it was 2-2. As the forward went past the defender, down he went! A moment’s silence then the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. The home side had a penalty to win the game with just seconds remaining! Stood on the terrace behind the goal I was convinced it wasn’t a penalty and went home sure that the three points were undeserved.
Two days later I came across internet footage from the same moment. This time the camera angle was different, taken from the television tower on the side. Now I saw it from a completely different view and the contact was clear. It was a definite penalty! Seeing the incident from a different viewpoint meant spotting things I’d missed first time around.
In one sense it’s a little like that with reading the four Gospels; the written, historical records of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth. Almost uniquely in terms of the Scriptures we have four accounts which cover much of the same material. That gives us possibilities but also challenges if we are to read them to maximum benefit.
Reading Them Together
What difference does having four accounts make? The four Gospels have many things in common as well as different features that distinguish them. They are all written collections of accounts of the life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection of the Saviour. All four spend a disproportionately large section (between a quarter and a half) on the events following Palm Sunday, the last week of the life of Jesus. That means they are not biographies as such. They all point us to the centrality of Calvary and of the empty tomb. We do well to read every verse of the Gospels with that in view.
All four are written to point us to who Jesus is – not just an ordinary man, not even just a great prophet or leader like those we have already seen throughout the Old Testament. The titles that are given to him by the Gospel writer himself, from the lips of those whose stories each Gospel records, or even within Jesus’s words themselves, are building up a picture for us so that we might see who he is and believe in him ourselves. It is here that we will see how different writers bring different themes to prominence.
In the first few verses of Luke’s Gospel and the last few of John’s we are assured not only of the reliability of the records in front of us, but also of the purpose for which they were written.