What the Gospels Say: Introduction


What the Gospels Say About Jesus Christ


Jesus’ teaching in the gospels comes to us from a variety of settings. Most people are familiar with what is called the “Sermon on the Mount.” It may well be that what Matthew and Luke wrote came from a series of public discussions which were delivered to more than one audience. From the text, this was not just a quiet conversation with one or even ten or twelve people. These were large groups of people.

On many more occasions, the story of the gospels is the account of Jesus’ conversations with either small groups or with individuals. Sometimes, others were “hanging around” trying to catch every word that came from Jesus’ lips. For example, in Matthew 9, Jesus heals a woman, brings a girl back to life and restores sight to two blind men. In each case, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people, but spoke one-on-one with the individuals being restored.

Some of the most significant teaching of Jesus came as the result of private conversations with one or two people. A great teacher of Israel, Nicodemus, came to Jesus during the evening when nobody else was around. From that private conversation we have the most quoted verse of Scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, what whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) In one brief sentence, Jesus gave Nicodemus and the world, the essence and definition of the Gospel.

Further, we understand that aside from Jesus’ death and resurrection, the great and lasting work that he accomplished was the teaching of the 12 apostles. It was to them and a larger group of about 120 people that he left the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the world. By the end of the first century, they had carried out his instructions.

The personal touch and teaching of the Master had the imprint of the Divine origin of his message. Yet, consider this question: How did the first century Jew come to accept and believe the spoken word of Jesus? How did he or she know this was the voice of God? Were there not hundreds of other Rabbis talking and teaching at the same time? Why should Jesus’ words receive special attention?

The Apostle John partially answers some of these questions in his gospel as he nears its conclusion. He states: Jesus did a lot of things in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. (John 20:31).

The first century Jew would have recognized the words and actions of Jesus as being divine because they were reflections of God’s words and actions seen in the Old Testament writings. Most Jews who heard Jesus teach had no problem with his referral to the Law and the Prophets. Confrontation usually came from the religious leaders when they believed he was threatening their hold on the nation’s religious teaching.

The Purpose of This Book

A dominant description of God in the Old Testament is as Creator. The first book, the first chapters and the first verses of the Old Testament point to God’s activity as the primary agent in the process of creation. From the “big bang” forward, God’s guiding hand is seen throughout the sacred documents, be they Law or Poetry or Prophecy. So to accuse God of overstepping his pay scale by bringing about miraculous events in human history would be scorned at by the religious Old Testament Jew.

As we follow the narrative into the gospels and other New Testament writings, we come to the same conclusion: God isn’t out of character when he is associated with miraculous events. The Creator of heaven and earth is not just some high achieving Dale Carnegie protégé. In one of Abraham’s earliest confessions about God, he declares, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth . . .” (Genesis14:22).

So we see the New Testament is in many ways the fulfillment and natural continuation of the Old Testament. Much of the prophetic writings were realized in what we see in the New Testament. Accordingly, there should have been increasing awareness by the devout Jew that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament prophets. Their description of future events and places were supported by another factor: The miracles performed by the man from Bethlehem were a review of what they had read in the Old Testament. There were times when witnesses to Jesus’ words and actions exclaimed in simple candor, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (John 7:47).

What linkage, then, can we make between the two Testaments? We find the recorded events in the Old are often repeated in the New. The Wonder-worker of Creation and redemptive history seen in the Old reappears in the New. As you follow along, you will understand why the seeker after God in the New will be reassured that the God of the Old fulfilled his promises. Those who wished to see had their eyes opened; those who refused to see remained blind. That is true with both Testaments as they were written, and is true today as they are read.

I have selected a number of instances where the New reflect God’s words and actions found in the Old Testament. There are many other examples we could look at, but the ones here outlined are certainly representative of the record we find in both Testaments. At the end of these chapters, a challenge will be offered to the modern day reader. What is our obligation to pay attention today to what we read?


Chapter 1