This week’s podcast is an overview of the first 3 Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These gospels pick up the story approximately 400 years after the events of the Book of Nehemiah. These 3 books are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they give a synopsis of many of the same events. Next week I’ll give an overview of the fourth gospel, the Gospel according to John.
The Gospel according to Matthew
Matthew was probably written between 38 and 70 AD by Matthew, who was a tax collector in Galilee before Jesus called him to “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9-13). Matthew portrays Jesus as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. His target audience was his fellow Jewish community scattered across the Roman world and he was seeking to persuade them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Because his Jewish audience knew the Old Testament Matthew recorded lots of Jesus references to Old Testament scripture. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used a teaching formula used by rabbis:
“You have heard it said…But I tell you…”
Matthew begins his book in a very Jewish way with Jesus’ genealogy traced through David and Abraham. Also, he refers to Jesus as the “son of David”, making sure no one forgets who he’s claiming Jesus is. In this way, Matthew hoped that the Jews would be convinced by this gospel, this “good news”, that Jesus is the King and Messiah.
Matthew takes us from a mountain in the Sinai (Exodus 20) to a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 5-7); from daily sacrifices in the Tabernacle to a final sacrifice just outside the walls of Jerusalem that reconciled the covenant between God and His people forever.
The Gospel according to Mark
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
In this Gospel Jesus is portrayed as both the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is the Lord and yet, he must sacrifice himself and suffer, and he calls his disciples to follow his example.
Mark’s focus is almost entirely on Jesus’ actions rather than his teachings. There are only 2 discourses in Mark. The first is a collection of parables on the kingdom in chapter 4. The second is Mark 13 and is about the end of history.
Mark wrote his book to the Church when it was enduring persecution at the hands of Roman emperors around 60 AD. He presents life as a disciple of Jesus as a relationship with him rather than simply affirming a list of beliefs. That relationship, the answer to Jesus’ question:
“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 NIV)
could have been a matter of life and death.
The Gospel according to Luke
It’s generally agreed that Luke, the physician and companion of the apostle Paul, wrote Luke and Acts c. 67 AD, shortly before Paul’s death. As a doctor Luke writes more about Jesus’ miracles and acts of healing than any of the other Gospels.
Luke’s target audience was Gentiles (non-Jews). At this time, the idea of Christian non-Jews was an impossibility to many people in the early Church. They thought you must first be a Jew, then you become a follower of Jesus. Rejecting that idea, Luke proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles, calling them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.
Taking the gospel to the Gentiles rather than the Jews shows a major theme of the Gospel in Luke: God is all about reversing humanity’s ideas of greatness. Gentiles are included in God’s covenant, children are considered great, those who serve are exalted, and those rejected because they follow Christ will receive a heavenly reward.
“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23–25 NIV)
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Grace and peace.