I have been working today on my next course in Latvia.
This time I am teaching a Survey of the Gospels and Acts on the Theology and Ministry Course. This is one of my favourite courses to teach because I get to spend a whole day and two evening in my favourite biblical books.
The gospels have been a happy place for preaching over the past four decades. I am captivated by the four-fold portrait of Jesus. I took a cue from Tim Keller, who had a carefully laid plan for the year’s preaching.
In the autumn he would preach on the Fatherhood of God. In the spring he would focus on Jesus; this would invariably be in one of the gospels. In the summer the focus would turn to the Holy Spirit and discipleship, which tended to be from the New Testament Letters.
This method for organising the church preaching year meant that the congregation was never far away from a sermon series that fixed their attention on Jesus in the gospels.
JI Packer, whose Knowing God is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, wrote about how some preachers preached Jesus exclusively from the letters and others exclusively from the gospels. Packer warned of the danger of being somewhat lop-sided in our preaching if we mainly or exclusively preached from either source. Each gospel and letter provide a distinctive lens through which we can view Jesus.
The four gospels all speak with their own distinctive voices. Preachers need to try and catch that distinctive tone and reflect in in their preaching.
Matthew is the thorough teacher who tells the story of Jesus as a fulfilment of Old Testament teaching. No wonder he concludes his gospel urging the Apostles to make disciples (learners/apprentices), who are to “teach everything I have commanded you”.
Mark, who writes the briefest gospel, leaves us breathless with his rapid-fire verbal movie of the life of Jesus. Mark comes alongside us as an encourager, who helps us to see Jesus as the one who has come to rescue us from our sins and fears. Mark ends with the word “fear.”
How encouraging is that? Mark comes alongside the first century church with all its troubles and reassures them that they are not the first generation of Christians who have trembled.
Luke writes an elegant documentary style account of Jesus. This documentary is written in the form of a travelogue. The main central section from chapters 9–19 relates the story of a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke acts as the expert travel guide who takes us along for the ride to observe Jesus our saviour and the source of our joy.
John writes a gospel that begins before our space and time. It is a complex message of life, light and love from heaven to us. The message (the Word) comes from eternity so that we can experience eternal life. I love the imagery that John uses. His creative use of language helps to turn my ears into eyes.
That is the calling of preachers: to open the eyes of the heart so that hearers are helped to see Jesus.