FOUR PORTRAITS, ONE JESUS
Here are my teaching notes for Four Portraits, One Jesus. This is the first part of a series called #JESUS. I taught it at the Cornerstone on Sunday, January 13, 2019.
GROWING IN KNOWING JESUS
I'm very excited. Today, we begin a six-month journey to know all we can about Jesus. By the end, we'll all be Jesus-experts.
Why this focus on Jesus? There are so many good reasons, There are so many reasons to learn about Jesus. The one reason driving this six month project is simple: Jesus is the center and founder of the Christian faith, so it just makes sense to know as much about him as we possibly can. You can be a Jesus-expert. Just join me on this journey for the first half of the 2019.
A word of caution: We're not stuffing our heads with facts for facts sake. That's really dangerous. We're stoking our hearts with strong feelings, such as love and adoration. We want to light a fire in our hearts for Jesus.
KNOWING JESUS FROM THE GOSPELS
The best way to learn about Jesus AND is to study the Four Gospels, prayerfully and with faith in our hearts. They are the best, clearest, and most accurate information available to us.
So, today, I want to introduce the Four Gospels in order to build a foundation for our six-month study. This is just an intro; we're sort of easing our way into the study. The really exciting stuff starts next week. But don't switch off; the end of today's teaching is amazing.
This introduction will answer three questions:
What are the four Gospels?
How were they written?
Why were they written?
A. WHAT ARE THE FOUR GOSPELS?
The four Gospels are the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The purpose of the Four Gospels is to paint a portrait of Jesus. Mark helps us see the this:
(Mark 1:1) The beginning of the good news (gospel, Gk. euangellion) about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God
All four gospels focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And they all contain accounts of his teachings and miracles. John is focused mostly on the identity of Jesus - the incarnation of God. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are mainly focused on how Jesus is connected to the Kingdom of God - he is the King who brings the kingdom.
The point of the Gospels is to present Jesus from three main perspectives:
They are historical. They are based on real events that occurred between BC 5 and AD 33 or so. They are also based on historical research. This is important to understand. The
Christian faith is rooted in accurate records of historical events centered on Jesus.
They are contextual. They were written by real people for real people. The Gospels were written to be used in the earliest churches. They were written to answer the questions from first Christians were asking and to teach them how to follow Jesus in their situations, such as under persecution, or in their Jewish communities.
They are theological. Yes, it is true that the Gospels have the features of biographies and narratives (story line). However, they also have a theological perspective - they communicate a message about God and what he is doing in the world and how we should respond. We'll come back to that in a moment.
B. HOW WERE THE FOUR GOSPELS WRITTEN?
The four gospels were written before 70 AD (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army). Mark may have been written as early as 41 AD, less than a decade after the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospels were developed in a four stage process. Luke outlines the process:
Stage 1: Historical events. The events centered on Jesus.
Luke 1:1 - Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
Stage 2: Oral traditions. Sayings and stories of Jesus were passed on verbally by eye-witnesses, apostles, and teachers.
Luke 1:2: - just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.
Stage 3: Written sources. The oral traditions and other sources were written down and collected.
Luke 1:3 - With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,
Stage 4: The Gospels. Using investigation, the oral traditions, and the written sources, each Gospel writer produced their work as the Holy Spirit guided them.
Luke 1:3 - I too decided to write an orderly account for you ...
Mark's Gospel may have been the first. There is evidence that he worked with the apostle Peter, collected his teachings, and organized them into the Gospel. Both Matthew and Luke used Mark for their core content, but they added material from other sources. Because Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so closely related, they are called the synoptic gospels - from the Greek "seen together."
John's Gospel used different sources and a distinct style, so that 90% of his material is unique and distinct from the synoptic gospels.
C. WHY WERE THE FOUR GOSPELS WRITTEN?
Each Gospel has a distinct focus:
Matthew is the Gospel of the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of OT hopes. It was written to help Jewish converts who needed to know the connection between Judaism and Jesus.
Mark is the Gospel of the suffering Son of God, who offers himself as a sacrifice for sins. It was written for Christians in Rome who were suffering persecution under Emperor Nero. It calls them to cross-bearing discipleship.
Luke is the Gospel of the Savior of the world, who brings salvation to all nations and people groups. It may have been written (along with Acts) as a defense of the apostle Paul as he went on trial before Caesar.
John is the Gospel of the eternal Son of God, the incarnate self-revelation of God. It describes who Jesus is and what he has done so that the readers will, "believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).
Four portraits, four perspectives, one Jesus. Not contradictory, but complementary. Each is a complete, carefully crafted, narrative with a specific message for the church. They were written for:
Everyone to provide a portrait of Jesus: An accurate, historical, account of the person, words, and deeds of Jesus and apologetic rguments for the credibility of the Christian faith.
Christians to provide a message proclaim: An accurate presentationto share with the world and encouragement to stand firm in the faith.
Churches to provide a program of instruction: A catechetical curriculum for grounding new converts in the Christian faith and material for worship services.
Paul taught us that knowledge for its own sake puffs us up (1 Corinthians 8:2), making us proud and arrogant. It would be a disaster if that happened after today's teaching.
We're not looking for knowledge about Jesus for its own sake. We're not called to be walking textbooks. That doesn't help anyone.
Last week, I listened to an interview with Martin Smith. Some of you remember the band Delirious? He was their singer and song writer. One of my favorite songs is Lord, You Have My Heart. He wrote it when he was a teenager. He had moved to a new town and he visited a church that was alive. In that service, he had a life-changing encounter with God and was filled with the Holy Spirit. It opened his eyes to Jesus in new ways.
Lord You have my heart
And I will search for Yours
Jesus take my life and lead me on
Lord You have my heart
And I will search for Yours
Let me be to You a sacrifice
And I will praise You Lord
And I will sing of love come down
And as You show Your face
We'll see Your glory here
I first heard it in 1997. I was at a conference in Toronto and Delirious led worship. Some time during their set, all the instruments went silent. There was a hush in the huge crowd. Martin Smith began to noodle on his guitar and then he started to sing, "Lord, you have my heart ..." It wrecked me. I was there as a broken, bruised, exhausted defeated man. And in that song I received healing and the sweetest taste of Jesus' love, a love that has never let me go.
We study Jesus and the Gospels so that we know how much God loves us (He sent his Son into the world to die for us), so we can sing songs like that, and experience Jesus's healing love deep inside, and pass it on to everyone.
Another British song-writer, Graham Kendrick wrote a song that captures what I'm trying to tell you. The chorus is:
Knowing You Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You're my all You're the best
You're my joy my righteousness
And I love You Lord love You Lord
This winter and spring, we're on a long journey to discover everything we can about Jesus. But we're not doing it just to know about him. We're doing it to know him and to find in him our greatest treasure; to fuel the fire of worship and joyful obedience; to experience his love so we can give it away.
I invite you to join me. It's going to be a blast.