STRANGE as it may seem, our Lord left no writings. The only occasion of His having written anything, so far as we know, is found in John 8:8. Here we read of His writing on the ground at the Temple. He thoroughly trained the Twelve during three and one-half years and sent the Holy Spirit after His departure to refresh their memories with reference to everything He had taught them and to bring new truths to them.
We have an account in the four gospel records of various sermons which Jesus preached. They are indeed marvelous beyond description. How thankful we are that the evangelists guided by the Holy Spirit have recorded His very utterances.
After our Lord returned to heaven, the apostles (Spirit-filled) took up the work which He laid down. In Acts of the Apostles we find different sermons that were preached by the early disciples. A study of these is most enlightening, and as preparation for the study of the gospel records, let us take a glance at the early preaching of the apostles.
In Acts 2 we find the first gospel sermon preached after the ascension of Christ. It was delivered by Peter in Jerusalem. In it he expounded the gospel message in terms of the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to Christ and made an appeal to individual Hebrews to accept Him. About three thousand did. In Acts 3 is the second recorded sermon by Peter. This was the national call to Israel to accept Jesus as Messiah. In Acts 7 is Stephen's indictment of the Jewish people for rejecting Christ. This message is very instructive. Those who wish to present the truth to Israel should learn some invaluable lessons from Stephen's approach to his subject. In chapter 8 is the account of Philip's preaching to the eunuch who was doubtless a Jewish proselyte. This preacher's approach is edifying. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus and the preaching of Ananias recorded in Acts 9 is also very enlightening. The conversion of the first Gentile to Christianity is recorded in Acts 10. A resume of Peter's sermon is found in verses 34-43. This seems to have been the typical method of proclaiming Jesus in the early church. Paul's address to the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, Acts 13:16-40 is a unique message. The digest of his speech to the heathen at Lystra, Acts 14:14-18, is most striking; and matchless is his oration to the senators of Athens recorded in Acts 17:22-31. In these messages we see the various methods of presenting the truths of the gospel to people of different classes. Anyone should study these carefully before he attempts to go into a thorough investigation of the gospel records, because these sermons give us samples of the apostolic methods of presenting Christ to various peoples before any of our records were written.
As time passed and the cross receded into the background, there arose a desire for the words of Jesus in a more permanent form. This situation was natural. Frequently speakers are asked to put their messages in permanent form for later reference. That is why we write books today. Someone wrote down the sayings of Jesus in the early years of the church. Tradition says Matthew did it, but, on this point, no one can be dogmatic. Some of these sayings have been discovered in the papyri rescued from the rubbish heaps of Egypt. This lost book, according to the references found in church history in regard to it, contained only the sayings of Jesus in bare form without any notations with reference to the circumstances which called them forth.
On account of the possibility of a lapse of memory as the days of Jesus receded into the background, there arose an insistent demand for a permanent record of our Lord's deeds as well as His sayings. Furthermore, we can detect, here and there, in church history evidence that differences began to arise on account of the personal equations of those who repeated the gospel story. By 60 A.D. conditions had developed to such an extent that the Spirit gave a permanent, authoritative, and inspired record of the life and teachings of Jesus. He chose Mark, who, according to tradition, accompanied Peter on his itinerant missions, to write the first account of our Lord's life. Doubtless this record was hailed with great acclaim and joy by the disciples who could, whenever a dispute arose in regard to anything which Jesus said or did, refer to this inspired document.
About this time Matthew and Luke were guided by the Spirit of God to write additional accounts. Mark, according to the tradition of the early church, wrote his record for the Romans who liked a man of action and of deeds. Matthew, as we shall see, wrote for the Jews; and Luke, for the Greeks.
Mark, according to the diagram above, began his record with the ministry of John the Baptist but gave us only a few words relative to it. Touching lightly upon the baptism and the temptation of Jesus, he hastened to describe the great Galilean ministry. Finally he gave accounts of the periods of retirements and the events of the last week of our Lord's ministry. Matthew and Luke were guided by the Spirit of God to give an account of the birth narrative. Luke, however, tells one incident in the childhood of our Lord which occurred when He was twelve years of age. Thus we know little about His early life.
Later John wrote his record of the gospel, as we shall see, laying his emphasis upon the divine nature of Jesus. He assumed the virgin birth and the baptism and devoted his efforts to presenting the sermons of Jesus and discussions which He had with the leaders of the Jews.
There arose a desire on the part of men to learn more about the childhood of Jesus. Since the inspired records of the gospel gave so very little information in regard to it, uninspired men, gathering bits of tradition from here and there and from great leaps of the imagination, filled in the gaps and thus produced the apocryphal gospels of the infancy of Jesus. When these are laid beside our canonical gospels, it becomes immediately evidenteven to an inexperienced laymanthat these uninspired books are on a very low level, whereas our four canonical records are upon the high plane of sobriety, sense, accuracy, and reliability. The apocryphal gospels demonstrate what menunaided by the Spirit of Godwith their imaginations can create. Our gospels, on the other hand, are proof of what men inspired of God and borne along by the Holy Spirit can write.
With these general thoughts in regard to the rise of the gospel records before our minds, I wish to note briefly a few things about Mark's record of the gospel. As stated before, he wrote for the Romans, presenting Christ as a man of actionone who was energetic and who accomplished much. This record is very brief, concise, and full of action. It probably is the most graphic of all the accounts.
In Zechariah 3:8 appears a prediction by the Lord concerning "my servant the Branch." A glance at Mark's record shows that he presented our Lord Jesus Christ as the obedient servant of Jehovah, who came not to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him. Mark seems to be the first of our gospels. He was chronological in his presentation of the truth. Luke is likewise chronological, for he declares that he was presenting his material in this manner. When Mark and Luke are laid down beside the other records, it becomes evident that they preserve more accurately the chronological order of events than the others do. Mark has little material that is not found in the other three gospels.
One would do well if he would read Mark first, asking, of course, the Lord to open his eyes in order that he might behold the wonderful things contained in the Word. The chart above gives a simple, yet definite, idea of the development of this record of the gospel. It is my hope that the student may be guided and assisted by it in his reading of this portion of God's Word.