Because the writers of the gospels wrote from various perspectives with different purposes in mind, it is difficult to establish the chronology of much of the content of the gospel accounts. Of the roughly three years of Jesus’ ministry, only about 30 days of actual activity are specifically recorded. By cross-referencing the content of the gospels, we can get a somewhat broader perspective.
The English word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon god spell, or good tidings. It is a literal translation of the Greek “eueaggelion” which originally meant “a reward for bringing good news” and eventually “good news” itself. The term in the New Testament has come to represent God’s plan for reconciling humankind to Himself through salvation and sanctification. Although Matthew, Mark, Luke and John differ in detail, they show remarkable agreement on the general flow of Jesus’ ministry, teaching, and supernatural character. They have been accepted from the earliest church period as sacred, authoritative accounts of His life and teaching.
Historical readings indicate that Matthew was the most revered and read of the four Gospels. It is considered the teaching Gospel. It concerns itself with the appearing of the Promised Savior and King (beginning with the genealogy). A unique feature is that it uses the word “church,” and is sometimes referred to as the Gospel of the Church for that reason. Matthew shows specifically that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament revelation.
The shortest Gospel, Mark, depicts Jesus as Servant. It contains very little of the teachings of Jesus. Nothing is recorded of his birth and childhood. A genealogy is not necessary to make the case of a servant. Beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, it goes directly to Jesus’ public ministry. It ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and shows Jesus as a humble servant and a powerful Savior. Most likely written in Rome, it is concerned with Jesus as suffering Servant and mighty Conqueror. Focusing on servanthood, Mark lists only 18 miracles.
Luke shines the spotlight on the perfection of Jesus as man and Savior. Written to the Greeks, the genealogy extends to Adam (not Abraham). A feature of Luke is the honoring of women, including Anna, Martha and Mary. He includes many healings performed by Christ, something that Luke, as a physician would have found extremely remarkable. Other emphases include Christ’s attitude toward the poor and the great value of prayer.
John emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God. The Gospel is written to “all who will believe.” A key word for the Gospel of John is “relationship.” He exalts Jesus, and in the opening verses calls him God. His express purpose for writing is that the readers would continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that they would continue to have life in His name. The faith of believers was under attack by teachings that He was not really God in the flesh, and John wrote his Gospel to refute that teaching and to protect the faith of true believers. It is referred to as the spiritual Gospel, emphasizing the King, not the Kingdom.
Jesus Christ is the most significant and impacting human being who has ever lived. History hinges on Him, and is even divided by B.C and A.D. demarcations because of Him. When we speak of His life, we are referencing the writings of the Gospel writers. Only parts of his life are revealed in these writings. He has existed before time began, and was present at the creation of the universe (John 1:1-5). He had fellowship with Father and Spirit before the world existed.
He appeared to different people in the Old Testament as the Angel of Covenant. His appearing in person was foretold by Old Testament prophets. His fulfillment of these prophecies is recorded in the Gospels. When his work was finished here on Earth, he returned to the Father to take his place at the right hand of the Father in power and majesty (Heb. 1:3), where He now lives as our glorified Savior and Intercessor. He reigns over the Church on Earth through the Holy Spirit. He has promised to return to Earth to gather his people and to judge all humankind. In ages to come, He will be worshipped and adored by believers (saints) whom He has redeemed for eternal fellowship.
His ministry in the form of man was expansive. However, we have only what is recorded in the Gospels. The recorded story began in Palestine, a tiny country bordering the eastern Mediterranean. It was a crossroads of the world in Jesus’ time. The nation of Israel had lived there for centuries, as Jehovah’s servant. Intended to display the glory of Jehovah among the nations, Israel broke her covenant with the Lord through idolatry and disobedience.
Christ came to Israel and identified with his people. He was focused on reconciling God and humankind. When He proved Himself obedient unto death, God raised Him from the dead. Those who believed in Him began proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of salvation. His enduring promise is to be with them until the end of time.
"But the angel said (to the shepherds), 'Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Matthew 2:10-11