I like the quiet and the coffee and the calm before the start of the day. So, for many years, it was my practice to arrive at work a bit earlier than everyone else. Each morning, mug in hand, I would sink into the most comfortable chair in my office and reach for a reader’s edition of The Gospels.
Day after day, I would spend time working my way through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—although “working” isn’t quite the right word; it wasn’t exactly a chore. It’s more accurate to say I found peace in those pages. I was often surprised at the way my morning reading set the trajectory for the rest of my day. And now, looking back, I can see how God regularly used His Word to prepare my heart for the large and small challenges about to come my way.
As I was nearing the end of my journey through the book of Psalms on this blog, I knew I wanted to go back to the Gospels once again, to encounter Jesus as He loved and healed and showed people the kingdom of heaven.
Reading a Gospel
As a genre, the Gospels do not report “history” as we think of it today. That’s not to say they contain false or misleading information. They don’t. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were ridiculously careful to present the facts as they actually happened. They had every reason to. The claims they made about Jesus could change the world, but if any part of their story didn’t check out, it would all be suspect. They were willing to die for the truth of their reports.
At the same time, we should never suppose that what we have in the Gospels is an unbiased and dispassionate reporting of events on the ground. This is theological history, and each evangelist framed his narrative with a specific audience and certain emphases in mind.
The Gospels are the climax to the story of redemption, because they offer us Jesus. Every Old Testament saint strained their eyes looking forward to the day when the Savior of the world would come. Today, when you and I pick up our Bibles and turn to the Gospels, we hold in our hands a treasure they could only have imagined.
Jesus shook the earth when He walked among us, and the vibrations are still being felt. That’s why, regardless of the controversy, how Jesus lived and what He said should inform our thinking about current events. We must always look back to Jesus. As He Himself put it, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 25:35).
The Fourth Gospel is a strange animal, an odd specimen in a breed known for wild creatures. John tells the story of Jesus from a unique vantage point, offering us stories and details the other evangelists left on the cutting room floor of their minds—events like the wedding at Cana, Jesus’ late-night talk with Nicodemus, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Using seven signs and seven “I am” statements, John reveals to us who Jesus is and why He came, all “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Plus, laced throughout this tale is a mystery we often ignore: the author of the Fourth Gospel, whom we commonly refer to as “John,” is never named outright. He’s simply called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). So who is he? There are clues to examine and questions to answer as we read, but everything we need to uncover the truth can be found in what the Beloved Disciple left behind in these pages. I believe his identity—whether it’s truly John, the son of Zebedee, or someone else—will profoundly shape our understanding of the message he’s delivered to us.
All this adds up to a lot of Bible-Geek fun that keeps us focused on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Amen to that!
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
- Unless otherwise marked, all of the Scripture I’ve quoted is taken from the New International Version of the Bible.
- Although at times John seems to assume knowledge of the other Gospels from his readers, his book is also self-contained, meaning we shouldn’t need to look for interpretive clues in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Reading a Gospel should not be an exercise in piecing together all four in order to reconstruct a timeline of Jesus’ earthly life. There’s value in such an effort, but it was not any single author’s intention for their work.
- For the sake of simplicity and in keeping with tradition, I will generally refer to the author as “John,” but as I mentioned above, I believe we were meant to discover the identity of the Gospel’s author during the course of our reading. In fact, John 21:24 seems to invite us to do just that.
- If you have a question, speak up! I’ll do my best to respond.