By Tim Sullivan


ezekielMost Christians are aware that there are four Gospels in the New Testament. Not every Christian knows why.

Today, almost all color printing utilizes a process called "color separation." Like the least common denominator in mathematics, the entire palette of colors needed to produce an image is reduced to four components: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These translucent colors are printed one on top of another in varying amounts, producing the desired hues.

Suppose you wanted to print a photographic image of an evergreen tree standing against a clear blue sky, and your printer had only yellow ink. With so much information missing, your finished product would be scarcely recognizable. On the other hand, if you had all the ink you needed except yellow, the image you produced would be at best a distorted representation of the original image.

The four gospels work together like the four inks in a printer. Each gospel tells a particular aspect of the story of Jesus Christ. All four gospels are required to tell the whole story.

A vision seen by the prophet Ezekiel provides interesting information as to how the four gospels work together as one.

Ezekiel 1:10:
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

In this vision, Ezekiel saw four faces: the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox and the face of an eagle. Now, these four faces were the ensigns of the tribes of Israel. The lion was the ensign of the tribe of Judah, the ox was of Ephraim, the man was the ensign of the tribe of Reuben and the eagle was of Dan. Judah, the Lion, camped on the east, opposite Ephraim, the ox, on the west. Dan, the eagle, camped to the north, opposite Reuben, the man, to the south.

Now, things get even more interesting! These four faces represent the four sides (if you will), of the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ is figuratively portrayed with the face of a lion. He is the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel, and the King of kings. In Mark, Christ is figuratively portrayed with the face of an ox, that is, that is, as a Servant. In Luke, Christ is portrayed as a man, the "second" Adam. In John, Jesus is figuratively portrayed with the face of an Eagle, the Son of God.

Just as a complete color portrait requires all four of the printer’s tones, our understanding of Jesus Christ must be based on not one or two but all four Gospel accounts, each held in check by the others. To the north, we see John’s portrayal of Jesus as God dwelling in his Son. That portrait is countered on the south by Luke’s Gospel of Christ the man. Lean too heavily on Luke, as is the manner of some, and your portrait of Christ will be imbalanced in favor of his humanity. Lean too heavily on John, as is the manner of others, and your portrait of Christ will be imbalanced in favor of his divinity. To the east, we have the Gospel of Matthew, Christ the King. That portrait is countered on the west by the Gospel of Mark, Christ the servant. Christ the King is balanced by Christ the Servant. "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt. 23:11)! Now, how fantastic is that?

Each Gospel becomes increasingly interesting not only for what it contains but also for what it does not. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, the line of Joseph is key. His genealogy of Christ spans from Abraham, the "father of all who believe" to Joseph, by whom Jesus held legitimate right to the throne of David. Matthew writes only of Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. We must turn to Luke’s testimony to learn how Mary herself reacted. Mary is the focus of Luke’s genealogy, which spans from Adam to Heli, who through marriage was the other father of Joseph (or as we say, his father-in-law). Only Matthew tells of the visit of the wise men from the east. Only Luke tells of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, because there was no room at the inn. The record of the birth of the King is balanced by the birth of the Man.

The testimony of Christ’s birth would be incomplete but for the Gospel of John. Here, the genealogy of Christ does not commence with Adam or Abraham but "in the beginning" when "the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (Jn. 1:1-2). Concerning his nativity, we read only that "the Word was made flesh" (Jn. 1:14a). John’s Gospel references neither Christ’s temptation in the wilderness nor his agony in the Garden, for the Jesus of John’s Gospel is God (who cannot be tempted) made manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). As Jesus told Philip, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn. 14:9).

Yes, it just as interesting to note what each gospel contains as what it does not. With this in mind, I’d like to direct your attention to four events that occurred in the final days of Jesus’ first coming, with emphasis on how they together portray a complete picture of Christ, the man, the servant, the king and the Son of God.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He spoke to them of his impending death, and shared with them the bread and cup of remembrance. On this momentous occasion, which would be immortalized as the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot departed into the night to betray him. Undoubtedly, the hearts of the remaining eleven apostles were heavy as they made their way toward the Mount of Olives. It is here that we read from Mark.

Mark 14:26:
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.

Matthew also records this event, but I’d like to emphasize this from Mark’s perspective, that is, Jesus as Servant. I have the joy of knowing two ministers who are singularly adept at what we call the song service; the song leading that is an important part in our congregational meetings. These two men, Rev. Evan Pyle of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Rev. Jerome Lucas of South Harrow, England, are in many ways as different as different can be. At the same time, their lives run a parallel course. Both are men who have been entrusted with the oversight of a church. Both are accomplished musicians who use their talents to minister to the Church. A song service in their hands is not a performance or a sing-a-long, but a true service. I have witnessed song services that were as effectual as the laying on of hands to minister healing.

Imagine the kind of song service our Lord led that night on route to the Mount of Olives, as he ever cared for the hearts of his followers. How wonderful it is to read of this in the gospel of Jesus the Servant. But soon, the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus. It was then that Jesus spoke these words, words that you will only read in Matthew’s Gospel:

Matthew 26:53-54:
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

The King of the Jews was also King of Heaven. He had limitless power at his fingertips. If a legion of devils held no sway over him, how much less a legion of soldiers? He could have walked right through that mob, just as he had so many times before. But as he said, "How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled?" Christ was arrested, tried and sentenced to die on a cross. As he hung on the cross, the very people for whom he was giving his life cruelly mocked him.

Luke 23:34a:
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do....

Here again are words you will only find in one gospel, in this case, the Gospel of Luke. Here we see Christ’s compassion for mankind. He is not untouched by the feelings of our infirmities. Before he ever asked us to walk in his steps, he walked first in ours.

Hebrews 2:16-18:
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Jesus is no Pharisee, looking down his nose at us in perpetual annoyance at our weakness. He is a merciful and faithful high priest, waiting to succor us in our time of need. As the Psalmist wrote, "He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14).

Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus hung on the cross for six hours, from the third to the ninth. And on the ninth hour, Christ proclaimed these words, words that you can only read in the Gospel of John:

John 19:30:
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

"It is finished!" Jesus proclaimed. This was the triumphal cry of God our Saviour (Jude 1:25 among many). His plan of redemption, written in the stars even before there were men on earth to gaze up at them, was complete.

Hebrews 4:3:
For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

The Gospel of Matthew concludes with the resurrection of Christ. Mark concludes with his Ascension. The Gospel of Luke ends with the promise of the Father, power for service here on earth. Finally, the Gospel of John ends with the promise of his return. No one book can tell us all there is to know about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, no, not even the Bible. For as John wrote:

John 20:25:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

May this message add to your appreciation of our Saviour, the Gospels and the upcoming Easter holiday. God bless you.



From the March 2003 issue of The Vine & Branches