It is difficult to summarize in two pages what the Gospels say about Jesus Christ. These four books contain more than 100 pages of information about Jesus, and so much of it seems important. Perhaps we can summarize the Gospels by looking at three questions: 1) Who is this person? 2) What did he do? 3) What does he mean for us today?
Who is this person?
Jesus looked like an ordinary person. He was born in an ordinary way, in humble circumstances. Like other Jewish boys, he was circumcised. As a firstborn child, he was dedicated at the temple. Two pigeons were sacrificed, showing that the family was poor (Luke 2:24; Lev. 12:8).
Like other children, Jesus grew physically, intellectually and socially. Later, he was known as "the carpenter, the son of Mary" (Mark 6:3). He walked and worked like other people did. He ate, slept and became tired and hungry and thirsty. Later, he died, as all people do.
Jesus did have a special interest in religion. His family went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year, and when Jesus was 12, the temple teachers were surprised at how much he knew (Luke 2:46-47).
His cousin John was also religious—and quite out of the ordinary. John lived in the wilderness, eating strange food and wearing strange clothes. He preached repentance, and baptized people as a symbol of forgiveness. Crowds of people came to rededicate themselves to God. Jesus also came, and he was baptized.
At Jesus' baptism, something extraordinary happened —a voice from heaven, and something like a dove came upon him (Luke 3:22). This was a major turning point in his life. His behavior suddenly changed. He quit his job, moved to the desert and stopped eating for 40 days.
When Jesus came back to the synagogue at Nazareth, he practically claimed to be the Messiah when he said that God had anointed him to preach. He announced that he was the fulfillment of Scripture (Luke 4:16-29).
Jesus began to do some extraordinary things: turning water into wine, feeding thousands of people, healing all sorts of diseases, giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead. He commanded demons to leave, and they obeyed! Repent, he preached, for the kingdom of God is near.
Could this be the Messiah?
No way, said the experts. They liked Jesus when he was 12, not now. He disrupted temple-related businesses, turned over tables and drove out the animals (John 2:13-17). He publicly criticized the Jewish leaders, calling them blind leaders, snakes, children of the devil, sons of hell (Matt. 15:14; 23:15, 33; John 8:44).
And no one ever taught like Jesus did. What extraordinary things he said about himself! Such as, If you don't do what I say, you will not be in the kingdom of God. No one comes to God except through me. I am the judge of your eternity. I can forgive your sins (Matt. 7:26; 9:2-6; 10:33; 16:27; John 5:22; 14:16).
Moses is not enough, Jesus said. Moses said one thing, but I teach something else (Matt. 5:21-39). He claimed to be greater than the temple, greater than Solomon and Jonah (Matt. 12:5-8, 41-42). He said that people should be more righteous than Pharisees, but he ignored their rules about ritual washings and Sabbath-keeping.
Who is this man? Where did he get these extraordinary ideas?
If Jesus didn't do any miracles, his teachings might have been ignored as ridiculous. But his miracles gave evidence that he really could forgive sin, he really could bring spiritual light to the blind and he really did have authority from God. This man could not be ignored.
The people saw Jesus' miracles, and they wondered, Could he really be the Messiah? (John 7:25-31, 40-44). Could this person who criticizes our traditions really be anointed by God?
Jesus often called himself the Son of Man. Sometimes this phrase meant "an ordinary person." Sometimes it referred to an extraordinary person—someone "like a son of man" coming with the clouds of heaven, crowned and given great glory (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus said that he would come in great glory, at the right hand of God (Matt. 24:30). This was such a bold claim that the high priest accused Jesus of blasphemy (Matt. 26:64).
Paradoxically, Jesus also used the phrase Son of Man to predict his own death on a cross (Matt. 20:18-19; 26:2)—but crucifixion was the most shameful way for any Jew to die. "Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deut. 21:23).
How could anyone have both shame and glory? How could a blasphemer be honored by God? If Jesus were the Messiah, why did he say that the people would reject him and kill him? A dead Messiah made no sense.
That's why Peter said, Not so, Lord! We will never let this happen to you! But Peter could not stop the envy of the Jewish leaders, nor the injustice of the Roman rulers. Peter was powerless against sin and evil.
And so Jesus, once hailed by the people as a king, was soon rejected, betrayed, deserted, condemned, beaten and crucified. The disciples' hopes were crushed. Some left town; some planned to return to the fishing business.
The Gospels do not hide the shameful death of Jesus. Indeed, all four books spend a disproportionate amount of space on this tragic event. These books were designed to tell us what Jesus did (Acts 1:1), but they give a lot of space to Jesus' suffering and death. Could it be that his death is part of what he did? Could it be that his manner of death was part of his ministry? What made his death so newsworthy in the eyes of the Gospel writers?
Even in death, Jesus was a controversial figure. One Jewish leader asked for permission to put him in a brand-new tomb. Other Jewish leaders posted a guard.
Early on a Sunday morning, some women came to put burial spices on his body, but they came back with a strange report. There was an earthquake, they said, and an angel rolled the stone away, the guards fainted and Jesus suddenly appeared to the women.
The disciples "did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). Even after Peter examined the evidence, "he went away, wondering to himself what had happened" (verse 12).
It was not long before Peter became convinced about what had happened. But why? If God wanted Jesus to be alive, why did he allow him to die in the first place? Is this what Jesus was all about?
"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (verse 27). The disciples began to learn a new understanding of Jesus—not just his resurrection, but also the purpose of his death, the meaning of his life and most astonishing of all, who he was.
Who was this man from Nazareth? He called himself the Son of Man. Blind men and a Canaanite woman called him Son of David, another name for the Messiah. Demons called him Son of God—but could they be right?
Nathanael, Peter and Martha also called him the Son of God. He accepted that title in front of the high priest, and was condemned for it. The crowds ridiculed him for it, but the centurion said, "Surely he was the Son of God!" Mark, Luke and John begin their books by calling him the Son of God—not a child of God in the same way that believers are, but Son in an unprecedented way.
Despite appearances, Jesus did not begin in the usual way, Matthew and Luke tell us—he was conceived by the Spirit of God. Even when he was a baby, the Magi worshiped him. His disciples fell on their knees and worshiped him (Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 28:9, 17).
John tells us something even more astounding: that Jesus was, from the beginning of time, the Word of God, who "was with God, and the Word was God." Through him all things had been created (John 1:1-3). John calls him "God the One and Only" (verse 18). Thomas called him "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). Jesus said he had the glory of God "before the world began" (John 17:5).
Who was this person? He was God, worthy of worship and honor and absolute obedience.
How could Jews ever come to believe such an idea? Not easily! But the Gospel writers had seen the evidence, and they report to us the evidence that convinced them. They describe for us a Jesus who is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
Well, if Jesus was God in human flesh, what was he doing on the cross? Why does it seem that the focal point of his ministry is an ignominious death? The Gospels do not give us many details why (other New Testament books give us much more). Jesus did say that he would draw people to himself through the cross (John 12:32). His death would be a means of acquiring disciples.
Jesus said that his death had been predicted in the Old Testament (Matt. 26:24; Mark 9:12; Luke 24:46). So we can look to the Old Testament to learn more. But where does the Old Testament predict someone sent by God to die for others?
In Luke 22:37, Jesus pointed the way by quoting a specific prophecy that "must be fulfilled in me." He quoted from Isaiah 53, which describes a servant who carries our sins, suffers and dies, brings forgiveness, and is honored by God. Jesus saw himself as that servant. He is the one who would "give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).
As a ransom for many, as a sin-bearing sacrifice, Jesus accomplished more in his death than he did in all his miracles. This is the reason he came (John 12:27). There was no other way to achieve his purpose (Matt. 26:42).
What then are we supposed to do with this person? How is he relevant to us today?
John tells us that he wrote his Gospel so that we would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing we may have eternal life through him (John 20:31). We can have eternal life only by being forgiven, and it is only through the death of Christ that we can be forgiven. It is to him we must respond. We should fall to our knees and confess, My Lord and my God.