Opening Up the Bible

7. The Gospels 2008

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON

Sunday June 1 2008

10:00 a.m.

Children's Prep:

-Scroll story to read

-Handouts for Bible Books

Children's Message:

So glad you're here!

-Read Scroll Story

-We read the Bible and learn about God's love.

-A man named Doug has read the Bible

and learned about God's love,

and so he wants to be adopted into God's family.

-After the sermon,

we'll Baptize him

and he'll become the newest member of St. Paul's

and our brother in Christ.


Thanking God for the Bible to tell us about God's love,

and for Baptism which brings promise of God's love forever and always.


-Today in our “Opening Up the Bible” series,

we move from the 1st Testament to the New Testament

from the time before Jesus, to the time of Jesus.

-The earliest writings in our New Testament

were actually the letters to individual congregations,

such as the letters to the church at Thessalonika.

-The gospels weren't written until more than 30 years

after Jesus' death.

-As long as the original disciples were alive,

there was little need for written accounts

of Jesus' life.

-Many believed that Jesus' Second Coming

would happen within their own lifetimes,

so there was no reason for a written record.

-But as time went on,

it became more clear

that a written document would be helpful.

-The short Gospel of Mark

was likely the first to be written,

about the time that the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.

-Scholars think that the gospels of Matthew and Luke

were based upon Mark's.

-The Gospel of Luke, for example,

shares more than 200 verses

identical with Mark's.

-And because many portions of Matthew and Luke

are themselves identical,

scholars think that Matthew and Luke shared another,

unknown source,

in addition to having used Mark's gospel.

-That other source has never been found,

and so has simply be labelled “Q” for “Quelle”,

the German word for “Source.”

-Because of their shared resources,

the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke

are similar enough

that they've been dubbed the “Synoptic Gospels.”

-Synoptic means “seeing together.”

-Matthew, Mark, and Luke

share a common view

in their presentations of Jesus.

-For example, let's look at The Feeding of the 5,000

a story told by all four gospels1.

-In the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke –

this story follows immediately after

John the Baptizer is beheaded.

-But in John's Gospel,

the story is set just before the Passover,

with no mention of John the Baptizer.

-Turn now to Mark chapter 6, verse 35

(Page 56 of the New Testament in the GNT)

and you can read the words of Jesus' disciples to him:

35 When it was getting late, his disciples came to [Jesus] and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place.36 Send the people away....” so that they can buy something to eat.

-The words used in Matthew and Luke

are virtually identical to the words in Mark,

and scholars believe this is because

Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source.

-But in John's version of this story,

the disciples don't have a chance

to suggest sending the people away,

because Jesus himself raises the question

of feeding the people.

-John also adds details that it was a boy

who provided the bread and fish,

and that the bread was made of barley

the bread of the very poor.

-In the same way,

the words used by Jesus when he blesses the food

page 56 still, Mark 6, now verse 41:

41 Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people....

-These words are virtually identical in the Synoptics.

-But in John's gospel,

Jesus simply “took the bread,

gave thanks to God and distributed it.”2

-Same story,

but far fewer details than in Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

-For this reason,

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the

Synoptic Gospels”

because they share a common view.

-But Matthew and Luke do make changes

to the way Jesus is presented in Mark's Gospel.

-Turn to Mark chapter 6, verse 4 –

page 55 in the New Testament

for those of you using The Good News Bible:

4 Jesus said to them, “Prophets are respected everywhere except in their own home town and by their relatives and their family.”

5 He was not able to perform any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.6 He was greatly surprised, because the people did not have faith.

-When the gospel of Matthew tells the story3,

it's changed to read:

58 Because they did not have faith, [Jesus] did not [“did not”, rather than “could not” as in Mark] perform many miracles there.

-Another example of removing human emotions

from Jesus,

begins in Mark chapter 10,

verses 13 & 14, on page 63 in the Good News Bible:

13 Some people brought children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples scolded the people.14 When Jesus noticed this, he was angry and said to his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

-Matthew and Luke's versions

simply omit the word “angry”.

-The gospels of Matthew and Luke

were written in a time when theology emphasized

the divinity of Jesus,

so their gospels minimize any limitations on Jesus.

-But doing so,

they minimize the humanity of our Lord,

they present a Jesus

who is above the emotions of human beings.

-Now let's look at the specific gift

that each of the gospels is.

-The Gospel of Matthew

was likely not written by Matthew himself.

-It bears his name

because the work is based on sayings of Jesus

which had been collected by Matthew.

-So, out of respect,

Matthew's name is attached to the gospel

to give Matthew credit.

-The gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy

of Jesus,

starting from Abraham the patriarch of the Jews.

-The gospel of Matthew is written for Jews.

-This Gospel emphasizes

that Jesus is the one through whom God fulfilled

the promises made to God’s people

in the Old Testament.

-And it's a good thing, too, that God's requirements

have been fulfilled for us in Christ Jesus,

because Matthew's Jesus extends the law

to its ultimate conclusion

in Matthew 5:48 – page 7 –

48 You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect!

-When Luke for example, presents these sayings

of Jesus,

Luke summarizes: 36 Be merciful

not perfect but merciful

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”4

-Matthew's summary of this famous sermon

makes clear the greater righteousness

which God requires!

-Fortunately for us,

Matthew's other emphasis is fulfilment.

-Jesus is the one who fulfills the law:

what God requires of us,

God provides for us in Christ Jesus!

-Mark's gospel

is commonly believed to have been written

by John Mark,

who based his writings

on recollections given by St. Peter!

-John Mark was writing at a time

when Christians were being persecuted by Nero.

- Perhaps this is why The Gospel of Mark

presents us with the most-human portrait

of our Lord,

reminding us that Jesus feels with us.

-Jesus compassion

is often specifically noted by John Mark

when reporting about Jesus' healings.5

-Jesus could become angry.

-One time when the religious leaders

were watching Jesus to see if he would cure

on the Sabbath and break the third commandment,

John Mark reports that “.5 Jesus was angry

as he looked round at them,

but at the same time he felt sorry for them,

because they were so stubborn and wrong.”6

-Jesus is often portrayed as being frustrated

at the Pharisees,7

and tender and gentle with children.8

-On the night of his betrayal,

our Lord expressed his deep sadness

to his closest disciples, and sought their support.

-Taking Peter and James and John with him to pray,

Jesus said to them, “I am deeply grieved,

even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”9

-In John Mark's Gospel,

we meet a God who enters our human condition

and who feels with us!

-The gospel according to Luke

has been called the Universal Gospel.

-More than the other three Gospel writers,

Luke reminds us that Christ came to save all:

women, not just men;

Gentiles and even Samaritans, not just Jews.

-Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus

all the way back through Abraham

(the patriarch of Israel),

to Adam (the archetypal father of us all),

thus emphasizing our Lord's universal mission.

-When St. Luke tells the parables of the

Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,

he optimistically says “when it is found.”10

-By contrast, St. Matthew writes less-optimistically,

"if it is found.”11

-Although all of the Gospel writers quote Isaiah 40

when giving the message of John the Baptizer –

"Prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God” –

only Luke

continues the quotation to its universal conclusion:

And all flesh

shall see the salvation of God!

-Luke's Gospel brings us a message of

grace and forgiveness, hope and inclusion

for all!

-The Gospel of John

was the last-written of our four gospels,

and the church has changed

in the time between Mark's writing about 70 A.D.,

and John's, about 100 A.D.

-By 100 A.D.,

the Christian church is no longer primarily Jewish;

now it is overwhelmingly gentile.

-And so, Christianity has to be re-stated.

-No longer would a gospel written for Jews –

like that of Matthew,

which sees Jesus as the fulfiller of God's law –

be understood.

-So John restates the gospel

using terms those with a Greek background

would understand.

-In a sense,

John begins his gospel with a genealogy,

just as Matthew does.

-But John's genealogy goes back in time –

not to Abraham as in Matthew,

not even to Adam as in Luke,

but to the very creation of the world:

1 In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 From the very beginning the Word was with God.3 Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him....

14 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.12

-This “Word” – λογος in Greek –

was a term Greek-speaking people would know.

-Λογος was responsible for order in the world:

night and day,


the stars and planets in their orbits.

-Now, says John,

this λογος, this mind of God,

has taken on flesh.

-John restates the gospel

in terms familiar with his audience of Greeks.

-And John does this in a way

which also addresses a type of heresy – false belief –

that was growing in popularity at that time.

-Gnosticism was the false belief

that matter is evil,

and only spirit is good.

-According to gnostic belief, therefore,

God would never have created the world.

-So when John writes about God – λογος

becoming flesh,

John is combating gnosticism.


restates the gospel

for the people of his day.

-The four gospels

which came to be included in our Bible

are written by different people,

in different situations,

at different times.

-Each gospel writer

crafts his version of the gospel story

to meet the needs and interests

of the people of his day.

-Mark writes in times of suffering

about a compassionate Jesus who feels with us.

-Matthew is written for a Jewish community

and highlights Jesus as the fulfiller of God's law.

-Luke's Gospel is written at a time the church

is expanding,

and to support that change in understanding,

Luke's Gospel brings us a message of

grace and forgiveness, hope and inclusion

for all!

-And John's gospel, the last of the four to be written,

restates the gospel for a Greek community

which is battling gnosticism.

-We are blessed to have these similar-yet-different


for each will speak to us

at particular times and places and situations

within our own lives.

-Thanks be to God! Amen!

#421 By All Your Saints, stanzas 20 and 21 about Matthew and Luke, and then stanza 2 to finish.

Sending Thought: Message and Meaning

-Each of the four gospels

gifts us with its own perspective.

-Matthew portrays Jesus

as the one who fulfils God's law on our behalf.

-Mark presents the most-human Jesus

of all four gospels,

a Jesus who feels with us.

-Luke emphasizes that Christ came for all,

not just the upright.

-And John restates the gospel for the Greek community

by presenting Jesus as the eternal Word / Λογοσ.

-Each gospel gives us a different facet of the good news,

and that's their main purpose.

Each gospel writer presents the various stories

in slightly different ways

to make his point,

and we can learn a lot

by noticing the variations in each presentation

of a common story.

Skip to page d) if time is late

-I want to look for a minute

at the first chapter of Matthew,

on page 1 of the New Testament.

-Matthew, as I've mentioned,

begins with Jesus' family tree,

and he does this in an intriguing way.

-Matthew groups Jesus' ancestors into 3 sets:

- One “From Abraham to King David”

verses 2 through 6;

Another set in verses 6 through 11,

“From David to the ... exile.”

-And the final set

“from the time after the exile in Babylon

to the birth of Jesus” in verses 12 through 16.

-And then Matthew points out, in verse 17,

that there were 14 generations in each of these sets.

-Why would 14 be such a remarkable number?

-First of all,

in Hebrew there were no numerals, only letters;

so they used various letters as numbers.

-This means you can take the name

of King David in Hebrew,

and add up the letters in his name.

-They add up to 14.

-So, first of all, in keeping with his major theme,

Matthew is making a statement about Jesus

as the Messiah,

the promised descendant of King David.

-And secondly,

having 14 names in each set

makes it easier to memorize.

-But in order to make 3 sets of 14,

Matthew has to omit 3 relatives in the first set!

According to notes in

The New Oxford Annotated Bible,13

“such omission was quite consistent

with Jewish practice in forming genealogies.”

-And the lineage Matthew outlines

differs from the genealogy of 1 Chronicles,

and differs from the genealogy recorded in Luke.

-Luke records that Jesus was related to King David

through Nathan,

while Matthew states that the relation is through

Nathan's brother, King Solomon.

Skip to here if time is late:

-According to the Synoptic Gospels,

most of Jesus' ministry occurred in Galilee,

and he only went to Jerusalem

at the end of his ministry.

-Then, according to the synoptics,

Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover,

and the Last Supper then, was a Passover Meal.14

-But in John's version,

Jesus goes to Jerusalem three times,

and is crucified the day before Passover.15

-So, according to John,

the Last Supper was not a Passover Meal.16

-What all this tells us again,

is that the Bible is not to be red as a history book,

but as a message book.

-We don't look to Scripture for historical facts,

for we know that the writers

re-arranged historical facts

to make their point –

in antiquity,

this was considered alright to do.

-We don't look to Scripture for historical facts;

we look to Scripture for its message and its meaning.

The Benediction follows ....

1Matthew 14.`12-21; Mark 6.30-44; Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-15

2John 6.11

3Matthew 13.58

4 Luke 6:36 (GNT)

5Mark 1.40-41 for example

6Mark 3:5

7Mark 8.11-13

8Mark 10.13-16

9Mark 14:33-34

10Luke 15:1-10

11Matthew 18:13

12John 1:1-4, 14 GNT

13The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Note on Matthew 1.8, page 2NT.

14Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:1,12; Luke 22:1,7

15John 19.31

16John 13.1