Sermon – “The Four Gospels”

Sermon for Sunday, November 29th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Deu 19:15-21 ESV] 15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

New Testament reading:

[1Ti 5:17-19 ESV] 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 18:15-20 ESV] 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

 

INTRODUCTION

The Gospel message is presented throughout the Scriptures. It is the message, the good news, of salvation in Jesus Christ, the messiah; that he suffered and died in place of His sinful people. And being united with him through faith, Christians have assurance of eternal life.

While the Gospel is found throughout the Scriptures, we have 4 books that we specifically call “Gospels”: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While many of the implications of the gospel are best explained in Paul’s letters, it is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that the history that constitutes the gospel is most detailed.

The fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament is found in baby born at Bethlehem, who lived a sinless life, was Himself God in the flesh, died for the sins of man, and was resurrected on the 3rd day. The Gospels were written to convey this information to us. The savior has come to the world; THIS world!

I. The Purpose of the Four Gospels

We know well after our series on John’s Gospel that the purpose of his writing was “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” And I appreciate that John has such a clear purpose statement.

What then of the other Gospels? Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Why did they write?

They aren’t as clear in their purposes.

Matthew’s purpose is something like: to tell the Jews that the Messiah has come.

Mark’s purpose is something like: to announce the words and works of Jesus.

Luke’s purpose is somewhat more clear. He says he wants to write an orderly account of the things that have happened.

Clearly, in general, the Gospels are about Jesus. They are virtually biographies of Jesus.

While each Gospel has its own purpose, there is much similarity.

And, as each Gospel has its own purpose, each also may have a certain audience in mind. Surely, each Gospel is written for all people, but they may also have had original audiences in mind.

Matthew is very clearly written to the Jews by a Jews.
Mark—if the early church histories are correct—is a summary of Peter’s preaching (possibly in Rome) which Mark recorded. (While Mark is not an eyewitness, Peter was)

Luke is written to the Gentiles. Or, more specifically, it is written to a single Gentile. He writes to a man named Theophilus, perhaps a patron of his or a connection in some way. And Theophilus is a Greek name. He could be from Greece, or a Greek-speaking place like Egypt.

Then, John is written—again to all Christians—but more specifically to those in Asia minor where he was living.

So each of the Gospels have their own purpose and their own audiences. But, you might ask, why are their four gospels? [REPEAT: Why are there four gospels?]

We know, from the Old Testament, that everything is to be established upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. When multiple witnesses independently provide testimony that is found to agree, then truth is established.

Consider a case where a person is “out to get you.” And they lie about something you’ve done. Maybe even they get their friend to lie as well. How then should it be determined if their accusations are true? The person and their friend are to be separated and asked questions. When their answers do not match one another then it is clear that they’ve brought up false accusations.

We saw this at the trial of Jesus. Accusations were being made, but nothing that could be substantiated.

We have this same idea in Matthew 18: [Mat 18:15-16 ESV] 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

So two or more witnesses is necessary to establish a truth. But still, we ask, why are their 4 Gospels?

Now this might be the answer. The first three – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – are known as the Synoptic Gospels. They are “synoptic” or “seen with one eye.” Much of the material in these books is nearly identical to the others. Luke even admits that others have written before him. So he is not opposed to repeating things that they have said. So then, if one were to argue that we have not 3 separate witnesses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only 1 witness spoken three times, then there is the need for another witnesses. Perhaps John knew this, and so wrote his Gospel following the others, to give an independent account and further establish the truth. This fourth Gospel was necessary to give an undoubted plurality of witnesses.

So I’ve covered the Purpose of the Four Gospels. And now I want to look at the Order of the Four Gospels.

II. The Order of the Four Gospels

Did you know that people have spent their lives working on this question: Which Gospel was written first? Which was written second? Which was written third? And which was written fourth?

And all sorts of ideas have been put forth.

It might seem like a silly question. What does it matter which of the Gospels was written first? What matters is that we have them all today!

Yet, the order is important, for reasons as I will explain.

The prominent unbelieving liberal view is that Mark was written first, then Matthew, then Luke, and then John. They like this because Mark is the shortest. The claim is then that Mark wrote first and that all the other Gospels add to him, and that everything added came much later, not from eyewitnesses, and is all false. The liberals try as hard as possible to make all four Gospels be written as late as possible. The further away from the actually events, the more likely that there are errors, so they surmise. The Liberals then come into this question of the Order of the Gospel already presupposes their answer.

But believer’s believe what the text itself tells us. And what we find in the text of the Bible in regards to the dating of the various books, is of great encouragement to us, for it proves that the New Testament was written not that long after the life of Jesus.

I mentioned that Luke’s gospel was written to a man named Theophilus. So also was Luke’s second book written to the Theophilus. That is the Book of Acts. Luke wrote Acts, and he wrote it to Theophilus again. Now, in the book of Acts he chronicles the early church history leading up to Paul’s journey to Rome. And whenever an important person—like Stephen or James—dies, Luke is sure to mention it. But in the book of the Acts, Luke does not record Paul’s death (which probably happened in the late 60’s AD). And Luke does not record the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. (Important events in 70 AD) Therefore, we have good reason to think that Luke was written before that time, and thus was written within a generation from the death of Jesus.

Paul actually quotes the Gospel of Luke (and calls it Scripture) in 1 Timothy 5:18.

This is our New Testament reading for today:

[1Ti 5:17-19 ESV] 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

When Paul quotes the Scripture saying “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” he is quoting from Deuteronomy (25:4). But when Paul continues saying also “from Scripture,” that “The laborer deserves his wages” here he is quoting from Luke 10:7 which uses the exact same words.

So Luke had to have been written before 1 Timothy. And since 1 Timothy was written by Paul (before his death, naturally), then Luke was as well. Both were written by the 60s AD.

Since then Luke was written before Paul’s death and before the Fall of Jerusalem, then so also were Matthew and Mark written in this early time since Luke admits that others have written before him. Matthew and Mark are those “others.”

Even John’s Gospel knows nothing of the destruction of Jerusalem, and may very well have been written before 70 AD, and thus within a generation of the death of Jesus.

To summarize then, what conservative believing historians think of the Order of the Four Gospels, it goes something like this:

Matthew (not Mark) wrote first. He wrote to the Jews. He may even, according to the histories, have written also a version in Hebrew (and not only in Greek as we have today). Not long after this, Mark records the sermons of Peter in Rome who preaches from his own witnessing of the events but also uses the material that Matthew had written. Then, perhaps around the same time, Luke interviews people in Israel and also knows of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and with all of this information puts together his, the longest, Gospel. Lastly, John writes his Gospel. And as we saw in that series I gave on John’s Gospel, he assumes that his readers know the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

All of the Four Gospels, as indicated both in the New Testament in church history, were written based on eyewitness accounts of people who actually were there in Jesus’ time and still remembered what had happened. And they provide multiple eyewitnesses so that we can be assured of their truth.

III. The Four Gospels preach the One Gospel.

These Four Gospels preach one and the same Gospel message. It is important to note that they aren’t the “Gospel OF Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” but the “Gospel OF JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

While the Gospels probably originally had no titles at all, in some early period titles were added. The word “kata” meaning “according to” was added. So the titles became Kata Mathaion (according to Matthew), Kata Markon, Kata Loukan, Kata Johannine. (according to Mark, Luke, John).

These are all the Gospel OF JESUS CHRIST.

There are Four Gospels, but one Gospel. Four Gospels but one Jesus. And through the multiple witnesses we get such a fuller picture of Jesus and the events of his life. It is certainly to our benefit that there are multiple Gospel writers.

But I want to be very clear about what the Gospel is. Based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, I’ve made this, the clearest definition of the Gospel I know of:

“The Gospel is that Jesus died and rose again, showing him, based on the Old Testament prophecies, to be the promised messiah and Lord, ushering in the kingdom of God with it’s justice and peace, and forgiving the sins of God’s people so that they are seen as righteous in his sight.”

It is good new of what Jesus has done FOR US.

To clarify what the Gospel IS, it can be helpful to say what IT IS NOT.

People tend to confuse their theological distinctives with the Gospel itself.

But the Gospel is not “You must speak in tongues”

The Gospel is not “Christians should conquer the culture of the land”

The Gospel is not that “miracles happen”

The Gospel is not that God wants you to be rich, or that God has a plan for your life

The Gospel is not “You should repent and believe.”

CONCLUSION

The Gospel is nothing that you do or even can do. It is something that Jesus has already done! It is good news of something that has happened in the past and continues to impact every moment of our lives.

“Jesus died and rose again, showing him, based on the Old Testament prophecies, to be the promised messiah and Lord, ushering in the kingdom of God with it’s justice and peace, and forgiving the sins of God’s people so that they are seen as righteous in his sight.”

This is attested to us in the Four Gospels, and all of the epistles of the New Testament. The Gospel is good news OF Jesus, FOR US. And the Lord has seen fit that we have infallible inerrant accounts of it in His Word.

The implications of the Gospels are massive, even if we must keep distinguished these implications from the Gospel itself.

Because of the Gospel, we are brought into fellowship with God.

Because of the Gospel, we are brought into fellowship with one another.

For the sake of the Gospel, Christians have missions all around the world.

And for the sake of the Gospel and the saving power of the Lord, we have our own missions right here in this church and in our families.

Because of the Gospel our lives are completely turned rightside-up. Note that I didn’t say upside-down. For our lives BEFORE knowing the Gospel were upside-down, and the Lord righted up.

The Lord has given us the Gospel in these Four Gospels and throughout his Word. Praise be to God.

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