Why 4 Gospels?

When I began studying the Bible for the first time, I was surprised to see that there were four different books in the New Testament that each talked about the same thing; the life of Jesus.  I remember wondering to myself, “Why did they put four accounts of the same thing in here?”
As I was preparing for this week’s message, I was reminded of this question and it occurred to me that I might not be the only one who wanted to know the answer to this question.  Maybe others have the same question and are just to shy or ashamed about what they don’t know about the Bible to ask it.  Which if the latter is true, allow me to offer up some encouragement to you.
There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant.  Everyone is ignorant from time to time.  However, being content with being ignorant is foolish.  The Bible (especially the book of Proverbs) has much to say that condemns foolishness.  Never be afraid to ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.  The more I read about the Bible the more I feel like I don’t know.  In truth, I often present myself as if I have all the answers but nothing could be further from the truth.  If you are wondering, “Why four gospels?” I would like to offer up some of the things I have discovered in my times of study.
The most practical answer I have discovered when asking the question, “Why are there four Gospels?” has to do with perspective.  Think of it this way.  Imagine a family, a father, mother, son and daughter, are walking down the road and they see two cars speed towards each other and have a head on collision.  The police are going to want a statement as to what happened and, because this family saw the whole thing, they are going to be questioned.  Each member of the family saw the same event, however they will each have a different perspective on the event.
For example, the father might tell the police officer what the year, make, and models were on the cars involved in the accident.  The mother might focus on the color of the vehicles and try to explain why the drivers might have gotten in the accident in the first place.  The son might recount how when the vehicles lost control they almost hit a dog.  The daughter might talk about how a doll flew out the window and onto the pavement when the two cars collided.  Which one of these testimonies is most correct?  All of them.  Each family member brought their own perspective and, together, the officer is able to get a more complete story as to what happened that day.
The Gospel writers, Matthew (a.k.a. Levi), John-Mark, Luke, and John each bring different perspectives to this monumental event in history, the coming of Christ; his death, burial, and resurrection.  However, it should also be said that each of these men had different agendas when writing their accounts of Jesus’ life.
For example, Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) was a former tax collector-turned-disciple of Jesus Christ.  When he wrote his Gospel, his intended audience was specifically to the Jews.  Matthew wanted to show the Jewish people that Jesus was the promised Messiah talked about in the Old Testament.  Which is why he begins his Gospel talking about the Genealogy of the Messiah’s line.  He shows there are 14 generations from Abraham to Moses, 14 generations from Moses to David, and 14 generations from David to Christ.  He also recounts 40 different Messianic prophecies found within the Old Testament in his Gospel.  The reason why is because he wanted his people to see Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Mark, on the other hand, didn’t address his letters to a Jewish audience.  Mark was writing to the Romans, a group of Gentiles, which is why he often has to explain the background behind many Jewish customs in his account.  It’s believed that, of all the Gospel writings, Mark was written first.  You may be wondering, who is Mark, anyway?  Well, as it turns out, Mark was actually referred to as John-Mark in the book of Acts.  When the Holy Spirit appoints Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries from Antioch in Acts 13:2, Barnabas and Saul decide to take John-Mark along as an assistant (Acts 13:5). But something happened after the team left Cyprus and headed on into Pamphylia.  When they were leaving, John-Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.  Two or three years later, the first Missionary Journey has been completed, and Paul feels the Holy Spirit prompting him to continue on another Missionary Journey.  Only this time, John-Mark wants to go again.  Paul refuses to take him because he abandoned them previously, but Barnabas has great patience with John-Mark and decides he should get another chance.  This “difference of opinion” causes division between Paul and Barnabas and they end up going separate ways.  Something important to note is that, if this hadn’t occurred, perhaps we wouldn’t have the Gospel of Mark.
Luke is a very unique individual.  In fact, it’s believed that he is the only Gentile writer in the entire Bible.  Luke gives a more detailed chronological order of Jesus’ life.  As he says in Chapter 1, verses 3-4 of his Gospel, “…it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke was the first historian of the early church.  No doubt, his extensive background as a physician helped him to gather facts and details.  He draws up an account from several eye-witness testimonies.  Luke was a gentile writing to gentiles about the Savior of the world.  Another not-so-well known fact is that Luke also wrote the book of Acts.
The first three gospels are known as the “Synoptic Gospels”.  “Synoptic” meaning “Similar” because they are very similar.  John on the other hand is very unique.  As I have recounted in this week’s sermon, “Visualizing the Invisible God” which is based off of John 1:1-18, John had his own agenda as well.  Very likely being the last living disciple of Jesus, he writes his gospel, not to Jews or Gentiles specifically, but to the second and third-generation Christians who were inside the church.  He wanted to combat the fallacies that were being spread about Jesus.  Since he was the one person who most likely knew Jesus the best, his Gospel carries a lot of weight.
William Barclay, author of the book “The Gospel of John”, once wrote, “Many people find themselves closer to God and Jesus in John than any other book in the world.”
Perhaps this is why when, people have never read the Bible, seasoned Christians suggest that they should begin reading in the book of John.
One final thought on the Four Gospel writers that you might find interesting.  Occasionally you might see the Gospel writers associated with the four different creatures written about in Revelation 4:7.  One with the head of a man, another with the head of a lion, another with the head of an ox, and another with the head of an eagle.  You might even see this displayed in a church’s stained glass windows.
There is much debate as to which of the four gospel writers should be associated with which creature, but here’s the argument I like.  Mark could be associated with the man because his retelling of the Gospel of Jesus is very straight forward and plain.  Matthew could be the lion, for he shows Jesus as the lion of Judah.  Luke could be the Ox, for he displays Jesus as the animal of service and sacrifice.  John could be the Eagle, for it is the only creature in the world that can look straight into the sun and not be dazed.  John offers the greatest look at all the eternal mysteries and truths that are inside the very mind of God.
Of course, my wife, Erin, and I like to laugh about the possibility of Revelation not being figurative at all, but quite literal.  We’d feel pretty silly if each of these creatures actually showed up at the end times.  Regardless, these four Gospels aren’t redundant at all, they offer us a more detailed look at the life and nature of Jesus Christ.  I hope this was helpful for you and answered more questions than it created for you.  They are each incredible letters!  Go read them and discover the God of all creation in the person of Jesus Christ!