January 22, 2023

  “The Good News”

(Matthew 4:12-23)

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.  What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”  Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.  For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

Matthew 4:12-23
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

     “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” These are the words of the familiar and favorite gospel message to believers found in John Chapter 3 verses 16-17.  Friends in Christ, this is John’s Gospel Message, and it is good news for all believers.  It shares the essence of the story of our salvation and is the firm foundation upon which we build our faith-life.  This message, in various forms, has been conveyed down through the ages by many voices, in many times and places, to many, many people in need of this good news.  For example, many of us here today will remember the gentleman who attended many sporting events wearing a multi-color wig and holding a sign that simply read, “John 3:16.”  This sign was this man’s unique way of conveying the good news about Jesus to many people through sports and the modern medium of TV.  Before there were TV sets, computers, or radios in our homes to broadcast news events, people shared the “good news” story of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ with oral stories and written documents.  These methods, although they may not have been as far reaching as our modern media, were very successful at spreading the Gospel Message about Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, to people much in need of receiving this good news.  

     If you paid very close attention to the scripture lessons that were shared over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a few discrepancies among their stories.  Some contextual differences between the scripture lessons we have recently shared are noteworthy.  They illustrate the variety of traditions and experiences about Jesus’ life and ministry that are recounted in the messages of the four Gospel authors, known to us as Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   These differences center on Jesus’ biological and personal relationship to John the Baptizer, and Jesus’ baptism by John.  As you will recall from our Advent Season lesson, The Gospel of Luke shared with us that Mary and Elizabeth, the mothers of Jesus and John, were cousins.  Mary visited Elizabeth during the time that they were both pregnant, making Jesus and his cousin John close in age.  Later, in Chapter 3 of Luke’s gospel, the author shares that as Jesus prepared for his healing ministry, he went down to the Jordan River, where John was baptizing people for repentance and the forgiveness of their sins.  Luke’s gospel also shares that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, and that upon his baptism the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.  Then a voice from heaven proclaimed, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  According to Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus and John were biological cousins who were close in age and familiar with one another.  It recounts, in great detail, the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan.  The Gospels of Saints Matthew and Mark relate similar stories about the events surrounding Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptizer, although they do not include the background details about Jesus and John being biologically related because their mothers were cousins.

    Chapter 1 of The Gospel of St. John, which we read last week, shared a different story about John the Baptizer and his relationship to our Lord Jesus.  In St. John’s gospel, John the Baptizer saw Jesus walking toward him and declared aloud, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  In this gospel account, John the Baptizer also admits several times in his conversation regarding Jesus, “I myself did not know him.”  This implies that this author did not know that John the Baptizer was a relative of Jesus.  In addition, no details are shared specifically about Jesus’ baptism in St. John’s gospel account.  Scholars believe Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer is implied within this story’s text by John the Baptizer’s statement “I saw the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and it remained on him.” It was this sign that confirmed for John the Baptizer that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.”  This is the same scene and imagery Luke, Matthew and Mark describe as occurring upon Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan.  Therefore, scholars believe it infers rather than recounts Jesus’ baptism.  So, friends, although there is a seed of commonality between the gospel accounts of Saints Luke, Matthew and Mark with St. John, with all of them confirming an encounter between John the Baptizer and Jesus early in the time of Jesus’ ministry, the details of their stories, and the sequence of the events involved are not a perfect match.

     At this point, you may be asking yourself, “So what, Pastor Claudia?”  This may not seem be to be a matter of great concern to us.  It is, however, a matter of concern to biblical scholars who seek to record, verify, and track the historically accurate life of Jesus.  They take great pains to mold all these various gospel accounts into a unified and accurate gospel message about our Lord.  Detractors to the authenticity and authority of the Holy Scriptures have cited differences such as these that we have discussed as the validation for their distrust.  They speak and live in the world of absolutes, where differences are looked upon as unfavorable and problematic rather than as enlightening and enriching the gospel message.  Therefore, biblical scholars have spent countless hours dissecting each of the gospels and their messages.  They have considered the times, places and audiences for whom each gospel was developed.  Their similarities and differences have been categorized in a way that affirms the commonalities as a unified core of the truth about the life and ministry of Christ Jesus.  The variety in the details is understood to be the result of there being many contributing sources to the work of each author.   

    The gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic gospels because of the “sameness” or general similarity of their stories, some even using similar wording to describe particular events.  The prevalent theory of biblical scholars today is that the Gospel of St. Mark was the first account about Jesus’ life and ministry.  Matthew and Luke are believed to each have had Mark’s gospel to use as a source for their own gospel message.  The Books of Matthew and Luke share commonalities that are not found in Mark’s gospel message, leading scholars to theorize another common source these authors had that was not known to Mark.  Each of these gospel messages also contains differences that are believed to be the result of unique sources that were known only to Matthew and Luke themselves.  It is not known whether these sources are written or oral sources, as no records of them have yet been recovered.

     The gospel of John, although sharing a general similarity of good news about Christ Jesus our Lord, shares events and characters in Jesus’ life and ministry that appear not to have been known or available to the Synoptic gospel authors.  For example, John’s Gospel includes stories about Jesus’ miracle sign of turning water to wine at the wedding of Canna.  Jesus also has an encounter with the Pharisee Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, where Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah, the Son, to him.  As one final example, Jesus encounters a woman at Jacob’s well, and a whole community becomes believers because of her faith after Jesus reveals the truth about himself to her.  In addition to these stories, the unique language and literary style of combining and contrasting the spiritual with the worldly in John’s Gospel have led scholars to conclude that it was a later writing than the Synoptic Gospels.  It is purported to have been authored by the Apostle John to address the times and issues of a later and different audience of believers.

     That, dear friends is the foundation of “the good news” story we have about Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  Its variety of contributing voices and sources, which sometimes differ in their details, has been seen as a source of dissention and disbelief down through the ages.  I believe that all Holy Scripture is inspired by God, and that each of these differences also adds context and meaning to the gospel story as a unified whole.  Now you have a deeper and, hopefully, richer understanding of the variety of voices that comprise the one good news message that John’s gospel summarizes so well: “God so love the world that God sent us Jesus, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but that we might be saved through him.  This is the gospel message, and it truly is good news.  Amen.