Encountering Jesus in Four Gospels
By Dennis Meaker, author of Radical Jesus
Who has changed your life? We often speak of people we have encountered who
have changed our lives. Sometimes it’s a teacher, a pastor, a special friend.
For many people it’s the person they find as a life mate, the person they
marry. These people either turn our lives in new directions or cast a special
kind of light on our world, enabling us to see things in new ways and helping
us to see things we never noticed before.
Encountering Jesus can change your life. Jesus is a life changer. People who
encounter Jesus have their worldview turned upside down. After Jesus’ death,
people accused early Christians of “turning the world upside down” (Acts
17:1-8). Early Christians offered people the risen Christ, and those people
discovered that their lives were never going to be the same.
The first four volumes of the 3V Bible Studies are about encountering Jesus. Be
warned. Jesus is a life changer. Whenever you encounter Jesus, be prepared to
see things in new ways and to have your favorite beliefs rocked to the core.
The area around Jesus is a construction zone. Lives are being reconstructed.
Jesus of the Four Gospels
Anyone picking up the Bible for the first time will note that the New Testament
begins with four separate accounts of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John. We call these accounts “Gospels,” from a Greek word meaning “Good News.”
Many people do not immediately notice that each of these Gospels, while
similar, is also quite different from the others. Some describe different
events or the same event in different ways. The way Jesus talks about God and
his own ministry also differs among the Gospels.
At the time the canon, or official collection, of books we call the Bible was
finalized around 400 A.D. all the included Gospels were at least 300 years old
and one, Mark, was probably around 350 years old. The Councils that decided
what to include in the canon of the Bible drew on the experience of generations
of Christians who could testify that, in the pages of these four Gospels, they
found the word of God speaking for their lives.
Which One is Right?
Talk to a police officer or attorney about eye-witness testimony. Any two
people viewing an event will see different things. That variance does not mean
that one is wrong and the other right. It simply means that they see, and
remember, different things. Consider another example. A grandmother and her
sixteen-year-old grandchild attend a political rally. The grandmother reports
what was said about changes in the property tax laws. The sixteen-year-old
grandchild can’t remember any specifics about the changes in the tax laws, but
he does remember what was said about driver’s license restrictions for minors.
Both were at the rally, but they heard and remembered different things. When
they tell others about the rally, they will focus on those things they believe
Something similar is at work in the four Gospels. Each of these Gospels was
first written to a distinct, early Christian community, likely by persons who
never actually saw Jesus. They worked with a body of stories about Jesus and
his teachings, some of which may have been written in other sources. For
instance, many scholars believe that the writers of Matthew and Luke both had
access to, and used parts of, the Gospel of Mark as well as another,
so-far-undiscovered document, referred to as the “Q” document. The make-up and
concerns of these communities influenced those things that the writers
emphasized when they wrote their Gospels. Look at pages 4 (Matthew), 32 (Mark),
44 (Luke), and 70 (John) in Radical Jesus for more specific information about
the emphases of the four writers.
There is no one “right” Gospel. Each contains a true witness to the life and
teachings of Jesus Christ. At the same time, each is told from a different
perspective. The power of these accounts, and the work of God’s Spirit through
these words, can be found in the fact that these four Gospels still speak to us
today, 2000 years after they were first written. In the words of each, we
encounter the living Christ. We encounter Jesus.