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The challenge of the four Gospels

December 2003 | by Geoff Thomas

The New Testament begins with the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In different ways, each Gospel tells the story of an extraordinary man.

This person, Jesus of Nazareth, claimed to have been sent into the world by God – indeed, he claimed to be the Son of the living God.

He said he came to give his life as ‘a ransom for many’, and that on the third day he would rise from the dead.

Furthermore, he claimed (and still claims) that he is your Lord and your God, your Creator and your Judge.

The Gospels do not present us with some emotional story. They confront us with an enormous intellectual challenge concerning the veracity of the claims of Jesus Christ.

True or false?

How do you react to these statements? Are you hostile towards what you are reading? Intrigued? Curious? Or maybe, like John Wesley, your heart is ‘strangely warmed’.

The four Gospels present to us a record of historical facts. You have to respond. Are the claims of Jesus Christ ‘real reality’ and ‘true truth’, or are they not? That is not a question of how you feel about them but of whether what they say is true or false.

Did he die as the Lamb of God – an atoning sacrifice to bear away our sins? Did he rise from the dead to justify sinners like ourselves? If that is all make-believe, then you can safely ignore it. But if it is true it has the most momentous consequences.

If what he says is true, and we reject it, then we go to hell when we die. If what he says is true and we receive him, then he becomes our Saviour and we go to heaven. It is as simple as that.

What Mark tells us

Consider Mark’s Gospel. It confronts me with sixteen extraordinary chapters which take about two hours to read slowly. Whatever chapter I dip into, I find an impressive person – strong yet gentle. Wise and compassionate. Always in control. A divine Teacher. A colossal Christ.

If what he says is a tissue of lies, he is a megalomaniac. If it is true, the implications are life-changing.

Have you ever pondered the challenge of his claims? Have you ever thought about the possibility that what Jesus said is true – that Jesus is God the Son?

There is never going to be a more important book for you to read than Mark’s Gospel. There will never be a more important question for you to resolve.

You have every right, from a purely academic angle, to sit down and examine it; or attend a Bible-teaching church for a month and listen to what the preacher says about Jesus Christ; to consider it all and then reject it.

But you have no right simply to dismiss it as irrelevant or beneath your dignity.

Mark, along with Peter the fisherman and Cornelius the Roman centurion (and all in his household), followed Jesus, as did a multitude of others, then and now.

Yet others hated everything he stood for, rejected him and crucified him.

But the point is this – nobody can just ignore him, for he claims to be your God, your Judge, and yet the Saviour of all who turn to him in faith.

Walking on water

Remember, I am talking about witnessed historical events, not fairy tales. In Mark 4 we are told that Jesus spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him. In Mark 5 he raised a dead girl to life. In Mark 6 he fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes – and walked on water.

In Mark 10 he prophesied that he would rise from the dead on the third day. In Mark 13 he announced that a day is coming when all people will see the Son of man appearing in the clouds with great power and glory.

And in Mark 16 we read of the crucified Christ: ‘He has risen – he is not here. See the place where they laid him’ (Mark 16:6).

True or false? You may take your choice. But remember this – spoon-benders do not preach the Sermon on the Mount. Megalomaniacs do not go about doing good or wash their disciples’ feet. Frauds do not deliver the most profound discourses the world has ever heard, like those recorded in the Gospel of John.

Sublime truths

What would you think of a Plato pretending to saw a woman in half, or a Bertrand Russell pulling rabbits out of a hat? Would they rise in your estimation as great thinkers? Would such conjuring tricks give their writings more authority?

But sceptics want us to believe that Jesus Christ deliberately deceived people with hundreds of fake miracles – while at the same time teaching sublime truths which are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.

It doesn’t make sense that such a man would fake anything.

But if he actually did heal a man born blind, and cleanse a leper, and raise a totally paralysed man; if he really did deliver one who had been bound in chains to stop him from harming himself and others – then these were the actions of more than just a teacher.

They are the works of one whom God sent into the world, fulfilling (among many others) a prophecy documented 800 years before his birth – ‘the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

‘To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.’

The right to our allegiance

If the Gospels are true, then, it has the most massive consequences for each of us. If Jesus is the Son of God, then we must bow before him in worship, love and praise. We must ask the Holy Spirit to show us how he ‘suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).

And seeing, we must believe.

It seems to me that people often look for subjective reasons for becoming Christians. Will it help me handle life better? Will it give me comfort, peace and strength? Will it resolve my inner conflicts?

No doubt it will. But to me there is one great yet simple reason for embracing the Christian faith – because it is true!

And if it is true, it has the right to our allegiance, whoever we may be.

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Evangelistic