Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Monday, July 15, 2013

Four Gospel Beginnings

Organising the four Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, John) in the order they were written (Mark, Mathew, Luke, John) reveals some very interesting things about them as retellings of the Story of the Ages. 

Each Gospel reaches further back into history to anchor Jesus into place as Messiah and Lord. The journey is fascinating!

Mark
Mark reaches back to the baptism of John the Baptiser. Mark reveals that John’s ministry was prophecied by Isaiah. Jesus was baptised by the prophet held dear by the Jewish people. John the Baptiser declared Jesus to be “one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7, 8). and to the first Christians ears, most of whom were Jewish converts, the word of the prophet John was enough.

Mathew
Mathew, written a few years later, starts with the birth of Jesus. He tells of Joseph and Mary discovering the pregnancy and meeting the angel. He tells the stories of Bethlehem, the Wisemen, the escape to Egypt, the return to Nazareth and a bit about Jesus growing up. So, Matthew reaches back, not to the baptism of John to anchor Jesus’ identity but beyond - to His birth. He even includes a linage that shows Jesus’ connection to Abraham—the father of the Jewish Nation.

Luke
Luke is the next to be written. Luke does something strategic and interesting. Knowing his audience would be familiar with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, he leads into the story by reliving their beginnings. He even tells his listeners he is doing this in his introduction: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write...” (Luke 1:1-3).

Then, Luke goes through the prophesied births of John the Baptiser and Jesus, the joy they brought their parents, Jesus growing up, and John baptising people. Finally, as Jesus shows up to be baptised (Mark’s anchor point) Luke inserts his linage of Jesus (Matthew’s anchor point) but goes back beyond Abraham—beyond “... the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38)—twice as far into history, to Adam—the father of human family.

John
John’s Gospel comes onto the scene decades later. How can John reach any further back that Adam—the first man—present on freshly created Earth, before sin? Surely there is no anchor point beyond Creation to which a human reader would feel both compelled and identified. 

Revisiting the starting point of the first Gospel, written years before, John joins Mark in beginning at Jesus’ baptism. But he doesn’t anchor Jesus to an Old Testament prophecy. Similar to Mathew and Luke, John starts by connecting Jesus to an ancient beginning. Not through a linage of mankind, however, but instead through a linage of Light. Rather than begin with baby Jesus, born in the darkness of a stable; John begins with the Light which first dispelled darkness—and in that light, and on that light, there rode and wrote, a Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

John has done the seemingly impossible task of anchoring his Gospel—his Jesus—to a time before time, a day without night. Jesus, the light, joined us as a light-bearer—to be baptised, to call, to care, to teach, to love, to give, to forgive and to shine eternally, as he already had been doing—in the beginning.