Each of the four Gospel writers declares the “good news” message in a way that best resembles his associated perspective of Christ, who is Himself the Living Message (Jn. 14:6 NKJV). Thus, each writer emphasizes different aspects of the kingdom gospel message. Can you recognize them in these verses? Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Mark 1:14-15: “After John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”
Luke 13:5: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
John 1:12-13: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
There is but one gospel message, yet each writer highlights varying aspects of that gospel as it relates to his associated theme. This variance is one of the most contrasting facets of the gospel accounts.
Though Mark’s is the shortest gospel, he uses the word “gospel” more than the others; John never mentions the term. Matthew’s authority theme stresses “repentance” eleven times, but only three times does he speak of the need to believe in the Lord. In Matthew, the Lord spends more time criticizing the Jews for not believing John’s message of repentance than for not believing Him.
Mark stresses the need to repent and believe in Christ to be saved, but clearly the heavier emphasis is on believing. He speaks of believing in Christ nearly a dozen times, and of the need to repent only four times. Since the Lord is not lauding His kingly authority in Mark, repentance is of a secondary emphasis. It would, however, require real faith to believe upon a lowly Servant for salvation.
Luke speaks of believing in the Lord only five times, but addresses the matter of repentance fourteen times. The beloved physician employs terms in his gospel which emphasize human need and suffering, such as “perishing” (Lk. 13:3,5). “Perishing” speaks of dying, and Luke speaks of it more often than the other gospel writers. In so many words Luke asks his audience, “Would you like to be saved from dying?” On behalf of Christ he petitions the sick, suffering, and brokenhearted – all those suffering under the effects of sin: “Do you desire to be relieved of your distresses and infirmities?” These aspects are contained within Luke’s gospel presentation. The Lord feels our infirmities, the painful consequences of our sin. He desires to save the sinner from eternal judgment and also to relieve the agonizing aftermath of sin.
The exalted tone of John’s gospel expresses a heavenly perspective. Matthew and Luke stress repentance, for one must acknowledge his sins before he can be saved. But John simply declares the overall spiritual situation: In God is life, and apart from God is death. Speaking of Christ, John writes: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:3-4). John stresses the plain truth that man is spiritually dead in the world and must be born again and made alive (Jn. 3:3; 5:21). How is this accomplished? By believing: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Consequently, the words “repent” and “forgive” are not found in John, but believing is emphasized 99 times! John’s message could be summarized this way: “Man is dead in the world. Eternal life is only in Christ. Do you believe this?”
A Story To Help
Perhaps the following story will help us understand how each writer relates to the gospel message preached by Christ. Imagine a man fishing from a large flat rock near the bank of a fast-flowing river. He was a stranger to the area, but while driving along the river, he spotted a great fishing hole. He couldn’t resist the temptation, so he pulled over and grabbed his fly rod and tackle box. His first cast landed a sizable trout, but while pulling it from the water he slipped and fell into the frigid water. He didn’t know how to swim and the cold deep water was quickly numbing his muscles. Fortunately, a big log was floating down the river near him, and he was able to grab it. Although exhausted, he had enough strength to cling to the log. Though chilled to the bone, he felt safe and confident that he would eventually reach the riverbank.
Suddenly he heard cries from behind him and saw five individuals running along the shoreline; one had a long rope in his hand. As they drew near, he heard their warning: “There’s a huge waterfall ahead. You will die!” Not being familiar with the river, he had no idea whether this information was true. Since he could not see the approaching doom, he determined to grip his only means of safety, the log.
One individual on the shore, named Matthew, yelled, “The man with the rope is the park ranger. He can save you from going over the waterfall, but you must let go of the log.” Another man, named Mark, cried out, “When this man throws you the rope, you must let go of the log and grab the rope; he will then pull you to safety for he is strong and able.”
The third man, Luke, shouted, “You will perish if you don’t let go of the log and grab the rope. This man with the rope knows how cold and afraid you are. He can help you.” Finally, the fourth man, John, declared, “Your situation is desperate. You are going to die. You must grasp the rope and trust this man with your life. He has saved everyone who has ever trusted him.”
The Story Applied
Repentance is stressed in the letting go of the log, which might be anything else we’re trusting to save us. Believing is demonstrated by grasping the rope held by a strong, secure savior. Repentance literally means “to turn,” and demonstrates an understanding of our desperate situation; we’re sinners who could plummet into hell at any moment. It is agreeing with God about our spiritual condition, and that He is right about sin. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
Repentance loosens its grip on self-pride, self-works and human traditions, and faith chooses to grip the “the truth and the life,” the Lord Jesus (Jn. 14:6). Repentance and faith are different but very much connected. If the man only let go of the log, he would still perish. To be saved, he must let go of the log and grip the rope. He can’t grip the log and the rope at the same time; they’re pulling him in different directions. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
To be saved, the man had to see his condition as desperate, understand he had only one means to safety, then act upon that means by letting go of the log and grasping the rope. Salvation is obtained only by grace through faith, but repentance precedes an exercise of faith. Though doubts may creep in from time to time, true faith abides for it reckons the real seriousness of the situation. Genuine faith holds on to the rope which is eternally secure in Christ.
Each evangelist (each man running along the riverbank) is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, but from different perspectives. It is all the truth related, and all one message, but uniquely presented for the purpose of seeing the fullness of Christ.
The Great Commission And More
The final words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples before ascending to heaven are commonly referred to as the Great Commission. Matthew upholds the authority theme in his account by recording the Lord saying, “All authority has been given to Me” (Mt. 28:18). Matthew’s account clearly shows Christ as the Lord of the kingdom, whereas Mark omits the authority and commanding aspects of the commission, and instead highlights the lowly path of God’s servant, which includes the possibility of rejection and the pouring out of oneself to meet the needs of others.
Matthew begins his gospel by focusing the Jews upon Jesus as the Son of David, the rightful heir to the throne of David. He closes his gospel in a manner that beautifully climaxes this realization. Unlike Mark and Luke, we find no ascension of Christ in Matthew’s or John’s account. John’s perspective is a heavenly one, and the omnipresent Christ need not ascend anywhere. Matthew presents to us Christ positioned on a mountain in Galilee imparting directions to His disciples. Mountains symbolize kingdoms in Scripture (Dan. 2:44-45, Mic. 4:1). From a Jewish perspective, this scene is the climax of Matthew and completes the theme he began in his very first verse. Just before the curtain closes, we get a futuristic representation of Christ’s kingdom established on earth. The subjects of the kingdom are before Him and resolutely worshiping their King (Mt. 28:17). God will keep His promise to Abraham, David, the Jewish people and all who heed the gospel message and enter the kingdom by faith.
Luke, keeping with the humanity theme of his account, rightly speaks of the Son of Man being “carried up into heaven” (Lk. 24:51). Mark maintains the servant vantage point of the Savior even in the Great Commission and ascension record: “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them” (Mk. 16:19-20). Mark bears witness to the active ministry of the Servant of Jehovah until they nailed His beaten body to a cross. Mark then concludes his gospel not just with the record of the Lord’s ascension, but with the fact that Christ was still “working with them.” In doing so, every true disciple since that day understands that Christ labors with them. In Matthew, Christ’s authority in directing the disciples is prominent throughout: “Jesus sent them forth,” “He commanded them.” Mark, however, alludes to an aspect of the Commission which Matthew does not: “the Lord working with them.”
We do not labor for the kingdom alone or in vain, for it is His work, and He labors with us to accomplish it. We are His eyes to discern the needs of others, and His hands to serve them. Paul informed the believers at Corinth, “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Christ labored with His disciples after commissioning them, and He still labors with His saints today. It is His work!
By Warren Henderson
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org