A photo showing the beginning of the Gospel of John. The first five verses are visible, but the book becomes out of focus after that.

The Beginnings of the Four Gospels and Their Use in Evangelism

Some of you may be wondering, “How could anyone use the beginnings of the four Gospel accounts for evangelism?”

Actually, it can be done in a number of ways, and effectively too!

This may be surprising since Matthew begins with a genealogy and Luke starts by explaining his reasons for writing. Such passages are probably boring to some. While such a perspective may seem valid, it is also shortsighted.

Consider this possibility. What happens if you examine the four Gospels on a deeper level and appreciate why their opening verses were written? Details such as these begin to pop out:

  • Mark immediately declares Jesus to be the Son of God.
  • Matthew begins his work with a genealogy that connects the Lord with King David and the Patriarch Abraham.
  • Luke contains references to prior research and prepares to give an orderly account in a historical context.
  • John echos the words of Genesis 1:1 to make the claim that Jesus Christ is divine and the source of creation and life.

These narratives all speak of the same person but do so in very different ways. This is important because each of us comes to the Lord from a different perspective. Some of us were taught about Jesus from a young age. Others were not, and find it ridiculous to assert divinity to Him. We all had questions that needed to be addressed before we would obey the Gospel. Some of us even had serious objections.

The Gospels present Jesus Christ in a variety of ways. This is true from the very beginning of each book. Because of this, we can address multiple concerns in a very efficient manner. In this week’s post I will show you how to do so. I’ll discuss three main things:

  1. The major ideas shared at the start of each Gospel
  2. Their use in evangelism
  3. How to combine them to share key truths about Jesus Christ

This will be done by focusing on just the first five verses from each Gospel!

The Gospel of Mark

A close up of a lion's face can be seen. His mouth is closed and he is staring at the camera. There is not much light around him so he looks menacing.
The Gospel of Mark is as bold as a lion.

The Gospel According to Mark begins with the words,

“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophets, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!” ‘ 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. 5 All the country of Judea and all those of Jerusalem went out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.”

Mark immediately declares Jesus to be the Son of God. There is no ambiguity in his statement. Nor are there any apologies for what he has written. He gets straight to the point.

This is great for people who appreciate being direct!

Verses 2 and 3 contain prophecies of the forerunner of Jesus. We know him as John the Baptist. The quotations are from the books of Malachi and Isaiah (Mal. 3:1; Isa. 40:3-5). By using them, Mark is connecting the Gospel with what was written by Jews centuries before. If someone rejects these two verses, he or she would also have to reject Malachi and Isaiah as well to be consistent.

If that is the case, then one probably has more issues with the Bible than just this Gospel.

The last two verses from Mark are helpful in introducing some major themes found throughout the Word of God. In them we see references to baptism, repentance, forgiveness of sins, and also confession. All of these are worthy of detailed study and are important to discuss if you are teaching someone about obeying the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew

A statue of Jesus with His face looking downward. His mouth is closed and he seems contemplative.
The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the humanity of Christ.

In contrast to the Gospel of Mark, Matthew begins in a way that initially appears boring. It reads,

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham became the father of Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron. Hezron became the father of Ram. 4 Ram became the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon. Nahshon became the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon became the father of Boaz by Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed by Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse.”

This list may not mean much to us, but to the Jews it is very impressive. It begins with two of the most important people in Jewish history. Those being King David and the Patriarch Abraham. This was necessary because multiple prophecies of the Messiah were spoken to these two men. They were fulfilled in Jesus Christ hundreds of years after they were first said.

God promised that David’s throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). When Matthew includes David in Jesus’ genealogy he is bringing that prophecy to the minds of his readers. He is also associating Jesus with the power and authority to reign as king.

This would cause great excitement for his Jewish audience because they had been waiting for the kingdom to be restored to Israel for centuries.

The genealogy’s reference to Jesus as the son of Abraham is also incredible. All Jews knew him as the father of their people. They would have studied God’s call of him repeated through the years. This pivitol event is recorded for us in Genesis 12. There we find a prophecy of Jesus which says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3, emphasis added).

If one reads the Gospel According to Matthew in its entirity, such a student will observe various examples of how Jesus fulfills this prophecy.

People today may not care about the genealogy of Jesus, but when you understand its ramifications it becomes much more intriguing. That is why you, and I, need to be students of the Bible to teach it to others accurately.

The Gospel of Luke

A bull standing in a field. Its horns are prominent and it is looking to the side of the camera. The sky is cloudy and trees can be seen in the background.
The Gospel of Luke is distinct by its priestly sacrifice early in the work.

Instead of sharing genealogies and specific prophecies, Luke opens his text with reference to prior accounts of Jesus and his reason for writing. The beginning reads,

“Since many have undertaken to set in order a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, 2 even as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write to you in order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 that you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed. 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

With its mention of previous narratives, Herod, and Aaron, the Gospel of Luke is written in a strong historical context. This may be appreciated by those who believe that the New Testament has too many mythical elements.

The history is not only presented from a Jewish perspective (with its reference to Aaron), but also from that of the nation as well. Speaking of the reign of King Herod demonstrations that fact.

The book stresses the ability of readers to know things with certainty, and thereby believe what is said within its pages. Eyewitnesses and ministers of the word were consulted in its preparation, and the course of events were traced from the beginning (vv. 2-3).

It even mentions the idea of instruction in the person of Theophilus (vs. 4). Centuries later, Christians still seek to teach others.

The Gospel of John

A close up of a bald eagle. His beak is closed but his left eye is staring at the camera.
In the Gospel of John the Word from heaven comes down to man.

Up to this point, all the other Gospels have placed their accounts in the context of Jewish history in some way. John doesn’t do so. In fact, he begins his work even before time existed. His testimony starts with the words,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.”

This introduction is fascinating because it hearkens back to God Himself in Genesis 1:1. The divinity of the Word is proclaimed immediately where it says, “the Word was God.” As the passage continues, we recognize this Word as Jesus Himself.

This may be confusing to some because His name is not found in the first five verses. When teaching others you need to be ready for that possibility. We can recognize that the Word is a reference to Jesus because of verse 4. The incarnation of Christ is implied by the statement, “the life was the light of men.”

Beyond the first verse, the eternal nature of Christ and His authority over all creation are stressed (vv. 2-3). Saying that the Word was in the beginning with God and that He created all things is only possible if the one being described is divine.

This section is particularly impressive so be sure to stress what is said here when you teach others.

Contrasts between light and darkness, and life itself, are some of the topics discussed in the last two verses. By pointing out these aspects, you can help others to reflect on his or her own life and the need to be with God through His Son.

Using These Passages Together in Evangelism

An image of a stylized cross that looks like a plus sign over a red background. It is gold in color. Outside the cross, in each corner of the image is the Tetramorph. These are four shapes of winged creatures that represent the different Gospels. Clockwise from the top-left are Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. They are represented by a man, an eagle, a bull, and a lion respectively.
An artistic representation of the Tetramorph. Four winged creatures represent the four Gospels.

Having provided a brief overview of the beginning of each Gospel account, we are now ready to see how they build on each other and can be used for evangelism as a whole. Perhaps the best place to start is by discussing the historicity of the Gospels.

Luke shows a careful examination of the accounts that were available at the time of his writing. He speaks of the eyewitness and ministers who delivered knowledge of Christ to him. His references to King Herod and Aaron also solidify the idea that Jesus was a person in history. The Gospel of Matthew adds to this by showing Him in the lineage of King David and Abraham. Teaching on the prophecies that were spoken to them may be beneficial at this point.

In conjunction with Luke’s research, other documents corroborate the view that Jesus was a figure in history. This is done by including Mark’s quotations from Malachi and Isaiah. Using Matthew, Mark, and Luke together presents a strong case for the historical person of Jesus Christ.

Now that this has been established, claims about Jesus’ importance need to be discussed. If you spoke on the prophecies in connection with Matthew’s Gospel, then that would be a good place to start. Luke also alludes to Him fulfilling prophecies. Outside of those two, Mark boldly tells us that Jesus is the Son of God and John attributes divinity to Him.

Because of these claims, saying that Jesus was just a good moral teacher or prophet misses the whole point of the Gospels.

Considering the bold assertions made in these texts, how should we respond? The Gospel of Mark gives us some of the answer.

Through John the Baptist we see many concepts related to salvation. Even though he was under the Old Law, many of the things he preached are in the New Covenant as well. Confession and forgiveness of sin, repentance, and baptism are all discussed at length in Paul’s letters and the book of Acts.

Having heard of Jesus’ divinity from Mark and John, those you teach may be willing to reflect on their own lives at this point. In John’s introduction, he speaks of the contrast between light and darkness. This distinction can be used to prompt self reflection.

  • Am I really a good person?
  • Do I do anything that makes me want to hide in darkness?
  • If Jesus’ life is the light of men, what would He think of my actions?

If such soul-searching results in a desire to move away from darkness, then you can share that salvation is available in the person of Christ. You are now ready to go further into the scriptures and instruct him or her in the Way more completely.

Having shared the above line of thought, I think it is exciting to observe so many Biblical ideas about Jesus and salvation in just the first five verses of each Gospel. I find that to be rather amazing! I hope this study gives you a new appreciation for how the Gospel accounts begin.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below!