Monday, May 13, 2013

The Greatest Combined Story Ever Told

I have been reading a commentary on the gospel of John and it has been quite eye-opening. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, ( Read it Here ) I was raised in a Christian family, so I grew up going to Christian schools, camps and churches. I never missed Sunday School so I heard all the Jesus stories. Yet, I never remember hearing about how the stories of Jesus in all four gospels differed from each other. I am not even sure I understood the complete story of Jesus, at least chronologically, until I started to study it on my own as an adult. I just knew the isolated stories, their spiritual implications and the important verses from each story. I earned my Pioneer Girl badges and summer camp awards and that was it. I had a very myopic view of the gospels. My view has since opened up. Wide. And it is a amazing view. Yes, even with all the "contradictions." Which as they turn out, aren't really contradictions after all, at least as I am coming to understand it.
Bart Erhman, a famous professor, atheist and writer, says what Christians do is they put all the gospels together into one--mash them together so to speak--to make another gospel.
Yeah, so?
The gospel of John is missing Jesus' birth story, you know--Mary & Joseph, the inn being full, angels, etc. You can get details on that part of the story in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Does it mean that the 3 gospels contradict John? No, it just means John skips that part and goes right to Jesus' baptism. Does it mean I can't take Mark's description of the birth of Christ and combine it with John's account of the crucifixion without creating my own Gospel?  I don't think so. I think of it as picking up pieces of the same puzzle and putting them together. The puzzle pieces aren't all in the same box neatly packed together for easy assembly, but they're still all pieces to the same puzzle. Anybody with kids knows that puzzles only come with all their pieces together in one place when you first open the box. After that you find them in toy bins, under bunk beds and in the dog's mouth. Even if they are bent and dripping with drool, they still all fit together into the picture shown on the box.  By putting them together you don't create your own puzzle.
So I say "Big deal" when I hear critics say the gospels have different, missing or incomplete stories. John writes it as he remembers it.  So does Matthew, Mark and Luke. I read each of them to see what they saw, heard, and experienced as they traveled with and loved Jesus. So John leaves out Jesus' birth. What is wrong with getting the rest of the story from someone else?
If I wanted to hear how the Lakers game went the other day I could ask a few friends.  If Heather leaves out the amazing first quarter slam dunk by Kobe, but Joe elaborates on it in great detail, does that mean Heather wasn't at the game? I mean how could she miss it?  Kobe took off from practically the top of the key and slammed it with one hand!
So what, says Heather.  Kobe is a ball hog. Let me tell you about the great pass from Steve Nash in the 2nd quarter. Behind the back. Perfect.
They were both there. They were eyewitnesses to the Lakers pitiful play that got them eliminated from the playoffs despite Kobe's spectacular slam. Put together their testimonies with your Dad's who listened to it on the radio in his car on his way home from work and you'll get a pretty good summary of the game.  Heather, Joe and Dad will all see different highlights and emphasize different players and moments, but Heather won't say that the Lakers won, while Dad and Joe describe a devastating loss.  And if Heather says there were 5 blocked shots and Dad swears there were three?  So what.
The major difference here is we are not talking about the Lakers home game, we are talking about the story of Jesus in the gospels, so the story is much more important because it has spiritual and eternal implications. (For some of you Laker season ticket holders who dress in purple and gold even in the off season, the differences may not be as obvious.) All four gospels reveal the life of Jesus in powerful ways that show the particular point of view, preferences, and writing/speaking style of the author.  The major points and message of the story don't change thanks to the influence of the Holy Spirit on the writers:

Jesus lives, loves, heals, serves, teaches, saves, declares himself the Son of God, Messiah of all, is crucified and resurrected on our behalf, promises eternal life to all who believe, reveals himself to many before he ascends back to heaven, promises to return. 

A Good News story indeed!

Here are a few highlights from the story as presented by the William Barclay Daily Study Bible I am working my way through:

Mark saw things plainly, bluntly, literally. John saw them subtly, profoundly, spiritually...John's aim is not to give us what Jesus said like a newspaper report, but to give us what Jesus meant. John is not so much the gospel according to St. John, but the gospel according to the Holy Spirit.

Eternal life is a life which knows something of the serenity and the power of the life of God Himself.

To believe in Jesus is to take Jesus at his word.  It means the conviction of the mind that Jesus is the Son of God.  It means the conviction of the heart that everything Jesus says is means to base every action in life on the unshakable assurance that we can take Jesus at his word.

The truth is something that must be known with the mind, accepted with the heart and enacted in life.

The "glory" of God means quite simply the presence of God.

If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the distant, unknowable, invisible, unreachable God has come to men, and God can never be a stranger to us again.

Jesus not only sees what man is, but what a man can become. "Give your life to me and I will make you what you have it in you to be."

No need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ.

Jesus was not simply a prophet. He was not simply an expert psychologist. He is not simply a pattern or example. Jesus was Savior.

When we are tempted to despair we would do well to remember the salvation of men is the plan and the purpose of God and that nothing, in the end, can frustrate the will of God.  The evil will of man can delay God's purpose; it cannot defeat it.

The resurrection is the proof of the indestructibility of Jesus' claims.

Stay tuned for more of the story. I'm only up to John Chapter 6 in the commentary and my guess is there are a few more puzzle pieces to be found.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote

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