Welcome to 2024! I like to take time at the end of each year to reflect on four questions:
- How have I matured or changed in this last year?
- What have I learned that I didn’t know the previous year?
- Who is part of my life now that wasn’t a part a year ago? And how is God using them in my life?
- Where do I need to head this next year?
As I reflect on each of these questions, I find it helpful to go back to the foundation of my worldview, Jesus Christ. Each of the four Gospels appear to approach the life of Jesus from a very different perspective. Therefore, each paints a distinctive picture of who this Jesus of Nazareth is and was. So, if you want to understand who Jesus was or claimed to be, it is helpful to understand how each perspective is different and informative. Together, they paint a diverse mosaic of this person who has changed history more than any other.
- Matthew was one of the original twelve Jewish disciples of Jesus. He was a Tax Collector who was disdained within the Jewish community. He appears to have written to the Jews who knew the Old Testament and needed evidence that Jesus was the fulfillment of the true promised Messiah. He repeatedly assumes his readers understand the Jewish traditions and often refers to Old Testament verses that Jesus’ life fulfilled. As you read this account, you get the feeling that Matthew kept precise bookkeeping practices because this is how he approached Jesus’ life.
- Mark is all action and fast-paced. Mark was mentored by Peter, and his account is about the many miracles that Jesus performed. His style is reflective of Peter’s personality. Peter was impulsive and the first to volunteer. Many scholars think Mark simply copied down the sermons of Peter and put them into this Gospel. His Gospel is one that sets Jesus apart. Jesus is shown as Lord over all creation.
- Luke was mentored by Paul and was the only non-Jew to write a Gospel. In the first four verses, he states why he wrote this account: ”Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Since Luke was a medical doctor, it is interesting to note that he describes various events and illnesses from a medical perspective.
- John was also one of the original twelve Jewish disciples of Jesus, and he writes his account from what appears to be a much later time frame than the other three Gospels. As you read his account, you sense you are listening to an old sage who shares events and then reflects on their meaning after a lifetime of living his faith. He is much more theological and reflective in what he writes.
I am convinced most people, including those who identify as Christians, have never seriously read an account of Jesus’ life. Or if they have, they surely are not interested in being like the Jesus presented in these four Gospels. Jesus refused to be defined by others’ expectations. He was guided by deep principles, not emotional reactions.
This year is an election year, and I hope that those who identify as followers of Christ will study how Jesus engaged with those who differed from him. He was not afraid to point out evil when necessary. However, this most often was when evil was hurting innocent people, not when it was aimed at him.
Considering our current cultural debates as we approach the upcoming elections, I find it interesting that Jesus refused to alienate people who weren’t part of his “group.” For instance, in Luke 9.49, John tells Jesus that others who were not a part of his group were healing in his name. John says he tried to stop them because they weren’t part of their group. Jesus said to leave them alone. He reminds them that if these others were not against him, they were for him. Wow, if Christians could just grasp that concept.
Immediately after this, they head to Jerusalem in Luke 9.51ff, Jesus sends his disciples ahead to line up a place to stay for the night in Samaria. When the Samaritans were told that they were headed to Jerusalem, they refused to let Jesus and his team stay in that city. Obviously, there were great differences and tensions between the two cultures of the Jews and the Samaritans. Again, the disciples (James and John)* respond out of a threatened, judgmental, or insecure position and say they are going to call down fire on this city. Jesus is very much at peace and simply says to ignore them and they moved on to another town which was more hospitable to them.
In both cases, Jesus refuses to draw up sides as was so customary in his day. He refuses to react out of anger. I think this is because he clearly knows who he is. He is not threatened by others healing in his name, nor is he bothered by others rejecting him. He is secure in himself and considerate of other’s positions. He understands.
My desire for this next year is that we become more like Jesus in the way we respond to others who are not part of our group or who openly reject us. This year, I personally want to be more curious of others and less concerned about correcting them. For me this means asking more questions and giving less answers.
*This is what I love about the Gospels, it is the unvarnished truth. They surely weren’t trying to make themselves look “good” through these accounts. Also, you can see why James and John were called the “sons of thunder”. They seem to have an anger management problem.