Category Archives: The Way

Epistle to the Galatians

Paul addressed the early Christian communities in Galatia in the ninth book of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Galatian. Composed around 49 AD prior to the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD, some scholars suggest that this may have been Paul’s first letter. The purpose of it was to address the controversy that arose between the Jewish and Gentile Christians as to whether the Mosaic Law was to be observed. While Jewish Galatians strictly observed the Law, Paul argued that Gentile Galatians did not need to adhere to its tenets, particularly circumcision, in light of the New Covenant that was established with Jesus Christ.

Divided into six chapters, Pauls’ letter begins Chapter 1 by delivering a testimony to the Galatians about how he had received the authentic Gospel message from the Holy Spirit who now lives within him. Warning them not to believe false doctrines, Paul states that he is empowered as an Apostle to serve as Christ’s ambassador. In Chapter 2, Paul defends the Gospel, explaining that as a result of the New Covenant with Jesus Christ, there is no longer a need to observe the Mosaic Law.

In Chapters 3 through 5:12, Paul clarifies the New Covenant, declaring that salvation cannot be assured solely by observing the letter of the Law (performing good works). In God’s eyes, salvation is assured by believing in Him, seeking His undeserved grace, and demonstrating through our actions that we are now living a redeemed, righteous life (faith). Rather than abandoning the Law, Paul encourages us to live by the spirit of the Law, using it as a learning tool on how to live a righteous life (Galatians 3:24). Saying we are imperfect, we all have broken many of the laws over time. While we are incapable of strictly obeying all 613 laws, there is still much we can learn from them (Galatians 5:3).

In Chapters 5:13 through 6, Paul continues on this theme, explaining that as a result of the Last Supper and Jesus Christ’s subsequent death, a New Covenant has been established. Whoever believes in Christ and seeks His gift of undeserving grace, the veil separating us from God has been lifted with salvation assured (2 Corinthians 3:16). By having faith in Christ, we are now free from the Law that once enslaved us (Galatians 5:1‭-‬4)

Through acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are rewarded with the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit. Residing within us, the Holy Spirit guides us on our spiritual journey, helping us to follow a righteous path and assuring God’s acceptance (Galatians 5:5‭-‬6). As we choose to listen and act on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are less apt to give into our selfish desires and are more likely live a loving, peaceful Christ-like life (Galatians 5:16, 22-25). As one of Jesus’ disciple, Paul encourages us to share this gift and our new life, guiding friends, family, and others towards a righteous path, but warns us not to be tempted by ways of the world that may cause us to stay from our own path (Galatians 6:1‭-‬2).

In closing the letter, Paul reiterates that it does not matter how strictly we observe the Law. What is important is that we become a new person as a result of having faith in and following God as one of His true people. By following this one rule, God rewards us with undeserved grace and blesses us with peace.

Today as I write this, I realize that we are not unlike the Galatians of long ago with the debate continuing among religious denominations as to what constitutes salvation…faith or good works. Central to this discussion is whether the promised New Covenant as instituted at the Last Supper and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus Christ fulfills Old Testament prophesy (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Its fulfillment is substantiated further in the New Testament’s Book of Hebrews, specifically Chapter 8:6-13, which will be discussed in a future post.

Where do you stand? Do you believe in living by the letter of the Law (good works) or by Spirit of the Law (faith)? Why?

2 Corinthians

Deeply personal, 2 Corinthians is a letter that resonates with many of today’s Christians. Written by Paul along with Timothy, the letter reveals the difficult, often painful realities in ministering to and unifying the body of believers in Corinth. Striving to repair the strained relationship he has with the Corinthians, Paul begins his letter reassuring the people of Corinth that they will not have another painful visit, explaining that his recent visit did not go as planned and that he sincerely wanted them to know that he had a deep love for them. The letter continues by describing the role of an Apostle in ministering the New Covenant; making practical arrangements for collecting gifts for the struggling believers in Jerusalem; and defending his Apostleship and integrity. In refuting and condemning false teachers, Paul encourages the faithful to stay committed to the truth which is often a challenge and in closing reaffirms his deep love for them. More than his other letters, this one shows us Paul at his most vulnerable. With his integrity in question, he defends his faith and Apostleship. Drawing from personal experiences, he shares the persecution he suffered in Jesus Christ’s name and the chronic “thorn in the flesh” that keeps him grounded and reliant on God. Recounting how God refused his heartfelt request to remove suffering from his life, Paul embraced suffering saying (2 Corinthians 12:9):

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Grounded in faith, Paul understood that God is sovereign and in control of every aspect of our life… including suffering. While difficult, he surrendered to God and to the pain that was preparing him for a greater purpose that would be revealed in His perfect timing. Until then Paul found comfort in knowing that when he was at his weakest, he could rely on God as the source of infinite strength. A beautiful lesson we all have an opportunity to learn.

Timing

While the New Testament leaves you with the impression that 2 Corinthians was Paul’s second letter, it was in fact the fourth letter he wrote to the community in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul references his first letter saying:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.

From there, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians… his second letter…  which Paul asked Timothy to deliver to Corinth. In the meantime, Paul returned to his ministry in Ephesus, where he continued to be concerned about the church in Corinth. Weak and struggling with spiritual immaturity, the community was increasingly tense and divided due to the arrival of an opposing teacher. Presenting himself as an apostle, this opposing teacher questioned Paul’s authority and was misleading the community with false teachings. In an attempt to solve the turmoil, Paul traveled to Corinth. Unfortunately the visit was unsuccessful and only fueled the church’s growing resistance.

Upon returning to his work in Ephesus, Paul wrote a third and painful letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:3-4) saying:
I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Following this painful letter, Paul departed for Macedonia. Once there, he received encouraging news from Titus regarding the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:13):
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.

This news prompted Paul to write a fourth letter entitled “2 Corinthians”, which he composed near the end of AD 56, possibly in the city of Philippi.

Outline
This letter consists of five sections:

  1. Salutation and Thanksgiving (Chapter 1)
    Paul introduces himself and Timothy as the authors of this letter; praises and thanks God for the comfort He provides to all; and describes changes to upcoming travel plans.
  2. Characteristics of an Apostle (Chapters 2 to 7)
    Paul discusses forgiveness; the role of an Apostle in ministering the New Covenant; and the characteristics of an Apostle. More specifically, he explains that his ministry is not about him; rather it is about sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ alone. Further, that as Christians, they too would experience suffering as he did, but compared to eternity with Christ, the sufferings of this world would be temporary and serve a purpose.
  3. Collections for Jerusalem (Chapters 8 and 9)
    Paul encourages the Corinthians to give an offering to the believers in Judea as they had promised, saying that if they gave generously. they would also “reap generously”
  4. Paul Defends His Authority (Chapters 10 to 13)
    In response to those criticizing him and questioning his integrity and Apostleship, Paul defends his ministry and declares that those who preach a Gospel differing from that of Jesus are false, deceitful teachers who should not be trusted or accepted. In Chapter 12, Paul details the persecution he suffered in Jesus Christ’s name and the mysterious “thorn in the flesh that keeps him reliant on God.
  5. Concluding Exhortations and Benediction (Chapter 13:5)
    Paul closes the letter by challenging Christians to test their faith, saying  … if you want to know if you are a Christian, if you want to know if you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, then you must test yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5) “to see if you are in the faith”; examine yourself with Scripture.

Describe a time in your life when you were at your weakest, What strength did God provide you to get you through it?

1 Corinthians

A chief city in Greece, Corinth was inhabited by approximately 400,000 made up of a mix of Greeks, Jews, and Italians, along with other nationalities. Upon his arrival there during his second missionary journey, Paul found Corinth to be a crowded center of world commerce, where sailors, merchants, adventurers, and refugees came to trade their goods as well as to partake in a vast array of questionable cultural practices and beliefs. Out of this mixed population grew many forms of rituals and human degradation with religion and philosophy being prostituted to new lows; intellectual life being placed above moral life; and future life being denied in favor of enjoying present day life to its fullest without restraint. It was in this setting known for its wickedness that Paul founded the church in Corinth.

During his subsequent stay in Ephesus somewhere between 55 – 57 AD, Apostle Paul received word that increasing tension and divisiveness had arisen due to the continuance of immoral behavior amidst his Christian community at Corinth. It is in the first of two letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians) that Paul addressed the increasing divisiveness along with ways on how to fix it. With Sosthenes as his scribe, Paul began this letter as he always did first by thanking God for His continued grace and providence. From there, he explained the reason for his letter, “admonishing” his beloved children as a loving parent would do. Urging uniformity of belief (“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”), this letter focused on the key issues plaguing the community — divisiveness, immorality, marriage, liberty, and worship — with the goal of bringing the community back to Christian doctrine. As a community, Paul shared that he expected them to become imitators of and to follow the ways of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians. 4:14–16). Further, that as a “wise builder”, God gave him (Paul) the grace to lay a foundation upon which others could build upon (1 Corinthians 3:10). The remainder of the letter delivers some of the greatest passages in the New Testament, including the very familiar “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) and is remarkable in that it offers some very practical advice that remains relevant today in resolving problems associated with everyday life.

Outline

1 Corinthians is divided into seven parts:

  1. Salutation (1:1–3). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the challenges in his apostleship with stated resolutions being given to him through a revelation from Christ.
  2. Thanksgiving (1:4–9). In this section of the letter, Paul thanks God for health, a safe journey, deliverance from danger, and good fortune. In addition, it introduces unity, which is the focus of this letter.
  3. Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the nature of divisiveness in the Corinth community, including facts, causes, and cures. The focus here was relying upon the Holy Spirit, Christ as the foundation for unity, and the Apostles as servants of Christ.
  4. Correction of Immoral Behavior (5:1–6:20). In this section of the letter, Paul admonishes the community of Corinth as beloved children, sharing ways in which to discipline an immoral Brother; resolve personal disputes; and address issues surrounding sexual purity.
  5. Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40). In this section of the letter addresses marriage and celibacy, freedoms, the rights of the Apostles, warns against idolatry, encourages reverence in worship, and spiritual gifts, including prophecy, but the greatest of all gifts is love.
  6. Doctrine of Resurrection (15:1–58). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection, the dead, and the body.
  7. Closing (16:1–24). In this section, Paul closes the letter with remarks about his intentions and efforts in improving the community of Corinth. The letter wraps up with his exhortations and wishes for peace with a prayer request and final grace.

What is some practical advice you learned after reading this letter?

Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans is the sixth book of the New Testament. Written by Apostle Paul during the winter of 57–58 AD, this letter represents one of 13 letters or Pauline Epistles written during his travels in spreading the Word of God. Transcribed by Tertius, Paul wrote this letter marking the third stop of his first missionary journey. Having already received contributions from mission churches in Macedonia and Achaia, Paul was staying in Corinth at the home of Gaius in Corinth, Greece prior to heading back to Jerusalem with offerings for poverty-stricken believers.

Addressing the people of the church at Rome (Romans 1:7) who were predominantly Gentile, Paul wrote this letter to prepare the church for his upcoming visit to Rome and his proposed mission to Spain (Romans 1:10-15; 15:22-29). The goal of this letter was to present the basic system of salvation to a church that had not previously received Jesus’ teaching from an apostle. Through this letter, Paul sought to explain the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles in God’s overall plan of redemption. It was critical that he convey this message to the Romans as the larger group of Gentiles within the church were rejecting Jewish Christians (Romans 14:1). Their rationale? Jewish believers were constrained by dietary laws and sacred days observed under the old law (Romans 14:2-6).

Considered his most important theological legacy or “magnum opus”, it reads more like an essay than a letter, emphasizing Christian doctrine such as sin and death, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, resurrection and glorification with widespread references to the Old Testament. At the heart of the letter is a beautiful reminder that resonates to this very day… salvation is offered to all of us, not to a select few, through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Outline

  • Introduction (Romans 1:1-15)
  • Righteousness from God (Romans 1:16-17)
  • The Unrighteousness of All People (Romans 1:18 – 3:20)
  • Justification for Righteousness (Romans 3:21 – 5:21)
  • Righteousness Imparted and Sanctified (Romans 6 – 8)
  • God’s Righteousness Vindicated: The Justice of His Way with Israel (Romans 9 – 11)
  • Righteousness Practiced (Romans 12:1 – 15:13)
  • Conclusion (Romans 15:14-33)
  • Commendation, Greetings, and Doxology (Romans 16)

Map of Apostle Paul’s Greatest Missionary Work (Source: Bible.org)

greatest-missionary-work-area-of-apostle-paul

The area of Paul’s greatest missionary work centers around the lands found near the Aegean Sea. Visiting cities including Miletus, Ephesus, Neapolis, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and many others, the Biblical irony is that Apostle Paul wanted to first preach the gospel in other areas and that it took a special miracle to bring him to the continent of Europe!

What does salvation mean to you?

The Epistles

Following the book of Acts is a series of books known as the Epistles. Coming from the Greek word, “epistole” meaning a letter or message, each of these letters were written on a scroll. In all, 21 of the New Testament’s 27 books (from Romans to Jude) were originally written as letters to churches or to individuals. With text often dictated to a scribe, the author then reviewed the scroll prior to having it delivered by a trusted messenger. For example,  Timothy was the scribe and messenger for some of Paul’s letters (namely, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon), with Paul signing each one to verify that he was the author. Meanwhile, 1 Peter was authored by Apostle Peter with Silas as the scribe.

All Epistles were written in a similar format. For example, most of Paul’s letters began by introducing himself and his associates then continued by addressing the targeted audience with the main body of the message. Each letter concluded with a blessing, providing notes to individuals within the recipient church.

As mentioned in a previous post, Paul was the most prolific author of the Epistles, having authored 13 of the 21 of such letters; namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. A subset of these Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon), known as Pauline Epistles, were written by Paul while he and Silas were in prison for two years in Rome (Acts 16:16-40). Meanwhile, Paul’s Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were targeted messages to church leaders to address many teachings and practices of the early church.

The remaining Epistles, known as General Epistles, were written to a universal audience by other authors. While the author of Hebrews is unknown, many attribute the work to Paul. Meanwhile, the Letter of James was authored by Jesus’ half-brother, James; 1 and 2 Peter were authored by Apostle Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John were authored by Apostle John; and the Letter of Jude was authored by another one of Jesus’s half-brothers, Jude.

In summary, the Pauline Epistles are as follows:

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • Thessalonians
  • Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

While the General Epistles are as follows:

  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

In subsequent posts, I will delve into each of these letters.

What is the significance behind Jesus’ disciples writing His teachings in the form of a letter?

 

Acts

The fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles reflects the second half of the work began in the Gospel of Luke. A historian and travel companion of Paul, Luke wrote this book somewhere between 80 and 90 AD, describing the early church after Jesus’ death. Like the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles (or simply “Acts” as it is often called) continues to address an unknown reader Theophilus while targeting both Jews and Gentiles. Covering roughly 38 years, this book serves as a bridge between Jesus’ life as portrayed in the Four Gospels as well as the ministries of Paul along with the other apostles in continuing the work Jesus began to do and teach, but now through the Holy Spirit. It begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven in 30 AD and ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in 68 AD, where he awaits trial.

Divided into two parts, this book covers the following:

  1. Early Development of the Church (Acts 1-11). This section focuses on the presence and acts of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the conversion of 3000 people at Pentecost (Acts 2) then continuing with the spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 2-8); the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9); and the witnessing of Peter (Acts 8-11). For this reason, many theologians refer to this book as the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
  2. Paul’s Ministry (Acts 12-26). This section focuses on Paul’s ministry in spreading the Gospel to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, and to the rest of the world.

Whether you refer to the book as “Acts of the Apostles”, “Acts of the Holy Spirit”, or simply “Acts”, this book offers all who read it valuable insight into the development of the church during the first century and describes the characteristics of early Christians. Interspersed throughout the book are seven examples of conversions, illustrating the steps the faithful follow, leading to salvation through God’s grace.

What steps did you take in your life that led to your salvation?

The Four Gospels: John

The Sea of Galilee offered fishermen a livelihood for many generations with the calling of the Jewish fishermen being the first step by which God brought the light of the Gospel to shine on all people. John was one such man. The youngest apostle, John was the son of Zebedee and Salome and was mending nets with his father along with his brother, James when Jesus called him and his brother to be “fisher of men”. As author of the Gospel of John as well as four other books of the New Testament (the three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation), John writes as an eyewitness to the events he recorded.

Serving as one of four canonical gospels in the New Testament, the Gospel of John is traditionally positioned after the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in part due to when the book was believed to be written. Many scholars believe that the three Synoptic Gospels were written while the city of Jerusalem was still standing and contained predictions by Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. Meanwhile there is a debate among many scholars as to when the Gospel of John was actually written. Some scholars suggest it was written as early as 65 to 70 AD with portions of the book referring to areas around the temple while it was still in existence. Due to variances however, found in literary style within the gospel, more contemporary scholars believe the gospel was actually written in two or three stages over a period of years, with the gospel emerging in its complete form sometime after the temple’s destruction and John’s exile… around 80 and perhaps as late as 90 AD. This latter account would offer an explanation as to why this book differs from and is not linked to the three Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In terms of audience, the Gospel of John targets Gentiles and Christians of Greece, emphasizing Jesus as the Son of God. Referring to himself throughout as “the one whom Jesus loved”, John covers spiritual themes for strengthening the faith of believers while appealing to unbelievers to come to faith in Christ. Focusing on events and details of Jesus’ life not mentioned in the other Gospels, John conveys God love for humanity and is the only Gospel to refer to Jesus as the Word and the voice of God.

The following is the basic outline of the Gospel of John:

  1. The Prologue (1:1-18), which includes the Word introduced (1:1-5); the Word’s witness (1:6-13); and the Word in Flesh (1:14-18).
  2. The Book of Signs: Jesus Reveals the Father (1:19-12:50), which includes the miracles Jesus performed along with as a number of dialogues and monologues encompassing the Witness of John (1:19-34); the First Disciples (1:35-51); the Wedding at Cana (2:1-12); the Cleansing the Temple (2:13-22); the New Birth (3:1-10); a Monologue on Believing (3:11-21); John the Baptist’s Final Witness (3:22-36); the Dialog with the Samaritan Woman (4:4-26); the Living Water (4:7-15); Worship in Spirit and Truth (4:16-26); Dialog with the Disciples (4:27-42); the Life-Giving Word (4:43-5:47); Jesus – The Bread of Life (6:1-71); Dialogs on Jesus’ True Identity (7:1-8:59); Signs and Teachings (9:1-11:44); and Jesus’ Last Days (11:45-12:50)
  3. The Book of Glory: Jesus Returns to the Father (13:1-20:31), which introduces the Discipleship (13:1-30); the Last Discourses of Jesus (13:31-16:33); Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (17:1-26); Passion Narrative (18:1-19:42); as well as the Resurrection Narrative (20:1-21:25), which includes the First Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection (20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (20:11-18) and to Thomas (20:19-29)
  4. The Epilogue (20:30 – 21:25), which closes the book with the Purpose of the Gospel (20:30-31); Jesus’ Appearance to Seven Disciples Who Were Fishing (21:1-14); Jesus’ Final Words to Peter (21:15-23); and the second ending to the gospel (21:24-25)

Do you think the timing of when this inspiring book was written matters? If so, why?
What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Luke

As a Greek physician, Luke was a Gentile and a second generation Christian. That is to say, he did not see or know Jesus during His earthly life. Targeting a broader, Gentile audience than the other gospels, the Gospel of Luke was written between 60-70 AD using a more sophisticated literary style. Similar to the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke begins with Jesus’ birth and baptism by John the Baptist followed by Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, and culminating with the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

Most noteworthy about the Gospel of Luke though is its construction around a “travel narrative”, illustrating Jesus’ ministry as a carefully planned journey that culminates with His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. To ensure Jesus and his disciples followed a clear and concise route, Luke left out details or filled in gaps with additional details while rearranging some events. For example, Luke expanded the Galilee section of Jesus’ journey (IV below), rearranging the confession at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-33) while omitting the location so as not to mention the event as being outside of Galilee region. Using these and other techniques proved very effective, allowing Luke to include Mark’s Gospel framework while offering the reader an easier, more concise flow with a well-organized narrative to aid comprehension.

For his Gospel , Luke relies heavily on the Gospel of Mark for the narrative of Christ’s earthly life; the sayings collection for Jesus’ teachings (known as the Q source); and a collection of material called the L (for Luke) source for content unique to his gospel. Well-educated, Luke was a careful researcher and an accurate historian, portraying Jesus as the Son of Man and Savior who came to us in service to God as well as a priest and teacher, answering the needs and hopes of humanity through His divine love and care for those with whom the Jewish leaders never even noticed. Unique to the Gospel of Luke is the emphasis of faithful women with Mary (mother of Jesus), Elizabeth, Anna, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and others serving as positive role models for women throughout the ages, up and including today. Further, Luke details the spirituality and power of Jesus as demonstrated through His miracles with the sick and impoverished as well as through His compassion for those who were socially, racially, and religiously ostracized. Together with the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel of Luke provides readers with a compelling history of salvation. Using the following structure, the Gospel of Luke is a powerful narrative describing Jesus’ purpose as demonstrated through His teachings of redemption and salvation and His deeds (miracles).

I Preface (Luke 1:1-4)
II Infancy (Luke 1:5-2:52)
III Preparation for Jesus’ Ministry (Luke 3:1 – 4:13)
IV Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14 – 9:50)
V The Journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 – 19:27)
VI Jesus’ Ministry in Jerusalem (Luke 19:28 – 21:38)
VII The Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus (Luke 22:1 – 24:53)

What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Matthew

Born in Palestine, Matthew worked as a tax collector in Capernaum before preaching God’s Word. Writing primarily to a Jewish audience who had Messianic expectations, the Gospel of Matthew was most likely the second Gospel, written somewhere between 40 to 60 AD.

Matthew’s goal for this book was to convince reads that the King of Kings has come, using words and names his audience would be familiar with and presenting Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one and rightful King. In fact, Matthew sprinkles quotes from the Old Testament (over 60 in all) throughout the book, presenting various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry as the fulfilment of Old Testament messianic prophecy with the unique expression, “that it might be fulfilled” which is spoken by various prophets.

The structure of Matthew’s Gospel is divided into three parts: the prologue (1:1-2:23), the body (3:1-28:15), and the epilogue (28:16-20). The prologue focuses on Jesus’ genealogy, linking Him to Israel’s greatest King, David and to Abraham.

The main body of the book is constructed around five distinct discourses or sermons for strengthening faith and evangelism:

  • The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29)
  • The Commissioning of the Apostles (10:1-42)
  • Parables about the Kingdom (13:1-52)
  • Relationships in the Kingdom (18:1-35)
  • Olivet Discourse (24:1-25:46)

Each of these discourses end with a recognizable closing statement such as “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” or “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples…” Another interesting aspect of the book are the intricate parallels made between the first discourse (Sermon on the Mount) and the fifth (Olivet) discourses, and the second (Commissioning of the Apostles) and fourth (Relationships in the Kingdom) discourses. By doing this, Matthew made the third discourse (Parables about the Kingdom) the focal point of this book.

Of special note… some biblical scholars have also compared Jesus’ baptism with his death, with a rather striking parallel between “That they shall call Him Immanuel”, which is interpreted as “God with us” (1:23) in the prologue with Jesus’ last words, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20) in the epilogue.

What is your favorite parable?
What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.

Four Gospels: Mark

When I first read the first four books of the New Testament … the Four Gospels… I wondered about their backstory. You know… who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were behind the scenes, how they came to know Jesus, and how their experiences with Jesus influenced their point of view. I also wondered how their individual works compared and contrasted with one another. So this past week, I did a bit of research on each of their backgrounds to shed some light on what they witnessed and the aspects of Jesus’ life they chose to focus on.

For starters, I learned that three of the four gospels (that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke ) are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. With synoptic coming from the Greek word, synoptikós meaning seeing all together, these three gospels include many of the same stories, are often similar in sequence, and at times use identical wording in their accounts of events Jesus’ life and his teaching. Meanwhile, only the Gospel of John stands out as being distinctively different in its focus.

The following is a beautiful graphical depiction I found on Wikipedia that highlights the relationship among the three synoptic gospels.

Gospels

From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_Gospels>

As you can see, over three-quarters of Mark’s content is found in Matthew, and much of Mark is similarly found in Luke. Additionally, Matthew and Luke have material in common that is not found in Mark. So it is that I begin with Mark.

Mark was a disciple of Peter. Well educated, some sources say Mark served as Peter’s scribe. What most sources agree on is that the Gospel of Mark was likely the first Gospel (40 to 55 AD). His work targeted a Gentile audience, primarily Roman and Greek, and explained Jewish terms, customs, and Aramaic terms to a non-Jewish audience. The focus of this gospel was on Jesus’ works rather on His words, highlighting Jesus’ miracles and actions. The frequent use of “immediately” and “then” keeps his narrative moving rapidly, portraying Jesus as a Servant who came to suffer for the sins of many.

While many Greek and Roman authors would freely re-write their source material in their own way much like today’s authors, Mark did not. In fact, he took the utmost of care as he knew his sources were precious traditions, carefully passed on in memorized form or in written notes. He respected their contents and even, whenever possible, their formulation. It is with this mindset that Mark arranged and linked all this existing material into a chronological sequence to formulate a compelling narrative. In fact, during my research, some compared Mark to an artist who painstakingly fit existing pieces into a beautiful mosaic or to a composer who arranged existing melodies into a new symphony. Viewing his work not as his own, Mark saw himself as an arranger rather than a writer who compiled and presented Jesus’ work into a simple geographical structure:

Mark 1,1-13 Introducing Jesus and His baptism
Mark 1,14 – 6,6a Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee
Mark 6,6b – 9,50 Jesus’ apostolic journeys
Mark 10,1 – 52 Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem
Mark 11,1 – 16,20 Jesus’ ministry and passion in Jerusalem.

Once arranged, Mark bound all this material together into a compelling story that focuses on the mystery surrounding Jesus’ personality. Beginning with His baptism, Mark cites Jesus’ calling as a servant to humanity. Both a teacher and a healer, the common thread woven throughout His ministry is the question: ‘Who is this man they call Jesus?’ This mystery only intensifies when Jesus tells demons, disciples, and converts alike not to reveal His identity. The turning point though is when Peter cites Jesus’ profession as “You are the Christ!”. It is in this powerful statement that prepares us as the reader for Jesus’ declaration in Jerusalem before the High Priest: “You will see the Son of Man Jesus) sitting at the right hand of Power God)” and the centurion’s admission after His death: “Truly, this man was the Son of God!.”

Why do you think Jesus did not want those who were healed not to tell anyone?

What is clear is that the Holy Spirit served as the driving force for these four men and for these four gospels to show us in very real ways the truth about Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior from different vantage points. With each writer emphasizing different themes of Jesus’ life, these four historical testimonies provide a powerful, incredibly beautiful portrait of Jesus as servant and teacher, and as Son of God and Son of Man to convey God’s love for humanity.