Imagine a lone figure, standing in the middle of a spacious, square room with a high ceiling and ornate scrollwork. In each corner sits a painter, adjacent to a corner window, each working on a canvas of the lone figure. The artists study the figure, look over their shoulders through the window, then add strokes to their canvas. Through the four windows, each painter views a distinct audience. When the artists present their completed paintings, you recognize that they are of the same person. But each artist has presented the lone figure in unique ways, highlighting and emphasizing various features.
This image of four artists painting a lone figure for their respective audiences has long helped people understand what is going on in the four gospels of the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all written to “paint a picture” of Jesus Christ for Christian communities living in the later half of the first century. Each gospel is recognizably pointing to the same historical person; yet each gospel is written to address the needs and concerns of differing communities, leading the gospel writers (the “artists”) to include and emphasize various themes, teachings, and activities from Jesus’ ministry.
We’re in our final month of sharing in an exploration of the four gospels in a sermon series titled, “Four Portraits, One Jesus.” Having spent one month each with Mark, Matthew, and Luke last fall, Jack Williamson is now helping us reflect on John’s gospel in January.
Our prayer is that we’ll appreciate the richness of insights which the four gospels offer us as we seek to understand and follow Jesus today. After all has been written and considered, Jesus’ ancient question to Peter (Mark 8:29) invites our personal reflection and response today: “But who do you say that I am?”