Why are the Gospels Still Important?
What is the redemptive value of the Gospels? How do these books help us almost two thousand years after they were written? Are the Gospels even relevant for today’s readers?
While the Gospels and the rest of the Bible are considered ancient documents, the fact that the Bible is the perenial best-seller of all time conveys the fact that people are still reading them. There is no question as to the Gospels’ continued popularity. They are read every week in churches and homes all over the world, in almost every known language.
One of the ways in which the first four books of the New Testament could be considered redemptive is that they provide the reader with a historical perspective on God and His plan of salvation. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are four different historical accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. They provide first-hand, and in some cases, eyewitness accounts of Jesus in action. Luke, for example, provides a glimpse of his research and writing methods. He mentions reports that were circulating among the early Church. These were likely both oral and written. Luke also refers to eyewitness accounts. Luke’s Gospel provides the longest and most detailed account of both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ birth. The vivid details of these stories make many scholars believe that Luke obtained them by interviewing Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Luke was not one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples and likely did not have any contact with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Mark was not one of the Twelve, either. Early Church tradition, though, links Mark very closely with the Apostles Peter and Paul. The Church Father Papias stated that Mark was Peter’s interpreter (translator?) and recorded his messages and sermons. These became the basis for his Gospel. If this is the case, the Gospel of Mark is based on the eyewitness accounts of Peter.
Both Matthew and John, however, were numbered with the Twelve. While there are many scholars who dispute the traditional authorship of the Gospels, there are many others that affirm it. While both of these men relied on their own memories of their time with Jesus, they both take vastly different approaches. Matthew and Luke both use almost all of Mark’s Gospel in their accounts. They then added supplemental material. John, however, uses a completely different template. John appears interested in telling stories that the other three writers did not.
While all four Gospels are unique and view Jesus’ life through the lens of their particular author, there are several things that are common to all of them. First of all, Jesus was a real man. Secondly, they all agree that He was also divine. Thirdly, they all convey some of His teaching and miracles. And lastly, all four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified by the Romans and physically rose from the dead on the third day.
The historicity of the Gospels has been and will continue to be debated. Each person will have to examine the evidence and come to their own conclusions in this regard. The Gospels themselves portray God stepping into history in the Person of Jesus. Whether or not someone accepts that is a decision that can have far reaching consequences.
A second way in which the Gospels could be considered redemptive is in their spiritual nature. Each of the four books contains examples of Jesus’ teaching. These teachings reveal much about God and His desire to bring salvation to the world.
Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish of the four and appears to have been written to Jews who had become Christians. Matthew contains the brilliant Sermon on the Mount. Here, one of the things that Jesus discusses is the true nature of the Law. For example, Jesus uses two of the Ten Commandments as illustrations. Jesus quotes the commandment, “You shall not murder.” He then goes on to explain that it is not enough to just fulfill the letter of the Law. If we get angry with someone to the point of violence, we have broken the Law.
Jesus also quoted, “You shall not commit adultery.” He said that it was not enough to just not commit the physical act of adultery. Jesus said that if we lusted in our hearts after someone, it was the same as if we had broken the Law. This teaching was revolutionary for His hearers who were often taught that rote obedience was the most important thing. For Jesus, what was really important was what was going on in our hearts.
Matthew also contains much of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. He prefaced many parables with, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” These snapshots about the Kingdom conveyed what Jesus thought we needed to know about life in God’s Kingdom.
As mentioned previously, each of the Gospels contains the crucifixion and resurrection story. Mark gives his readers a theological insight into what Jesus’ death meant. In Mark 10:45, Jesus said that He came, “to give my life as a ransom for many.” Jesus’ death had a spiritual meaning that went beyond Him dying a martyr’s death. Jesus’ death can actually be viewed as a sacrifice. This idea is developed in other parts of the New Testament, particularly the Letter to the Hebrews.
John’s Gospel also conveys a strong redemptive message. The key word in his book is “believe.” It is used almost one hundred times in John. in every encounter that Jesus has with someone in John, He is seen trying to lead that person to have faith or to believe in Him. In John 20:30-31, John even states that the reason that he wrote his book was to lead people to faith in Christ.
While each Gospel is unique and different in certain ways, all four of them convey the same basic message. They show a historical faith in which God stepped into history in the form of a Man. The Gospels also convey a spiritual faith recording the words that Jesus preached and taught to help people find faith in Him. The redemptive value of the Gospels is a powerful truth and one that will be impacting people until Christ returns.
David and Annie are serving the Lord in the US, South America, and India. They are training leaders and helping build great local churches. Click here to be a part of what God is doing! Thanks so much!