Why do we have four different Gospel accounts in our Bibles? Tim Mackie says,
“There are four apostolic accounts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in the New Testament. Each one offers a unique perspective that highlights different aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching. Think of it as a beam of light shining through a crystal prism. The story of Jesus is too rich and dense to be captured entirely by any one account. We need to see Jesus in ‘multi-vision,’ which is what we have in the four Gospels.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each have different audiences and different purposes for their Gospel accounts and each reveals a different piece of the complex portrait of Christ. The Gospel writers are selective of which material they record and where they place it in the literary structure of their Gospels in order to paint a specific portrait of Jesus and to make specific theological claims.
With this in mind, the differences in the four Gospel accounts of Jesus giving up His spirit can each reveal different aspects of Jesus’ sacrifice. As we discussed earlier this week, Matthew and Mark record Jesus crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” before giving up His spirit (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). This separation from God emphasizes the way Jesus became sin for us (2Co.. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). By bearing the weight of our sin he drank the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf (Mt. 26:42; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Jn. 18:11; Ro. 5:9). In John’s account of the death of Jesus, we have Jesus triumphantly declaring “It is finished” before giving up His spirit (Jn. 19:30). This portrait of Jesus reveals to us the way Jesus was in control on the cross and how He used this instrument of humiliation, torture, and disgrace to make a public spectacle of the dark powers in our world (Col. 2:15).
Luke’s account of Jesus’ death reveals yet another aspect of Jesus’ character. Luke does not record Jesus’ agonizing cry of forsakenness, nor His triumphant cry of accomplishment. Instead, Luke paints a picture of the ultimate, humble, obedient servant who, before breathing His last breath, cries out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46). This is the climax to a journey started in chapter nine. On a mountain top Jesus was transfigured into His glorious form in front of Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah appeared next to Him and “they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31). From this point on the narrative of Luke’s Gospel becomes about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, until chapter nineteen when He triumphantly arrives riding on a donkey. This long journey of obedience eventually led to the cross, as Jesus knew it would. And at the end of that journey, obedient even still, Jesus trusts in His Heavenly Father and commits to Him His last breath of life.
All of these portraits of Jesus are important, but Luke’s is the one I personally relate to the most. I cannot be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, or the triumphant King who conquers His enemies through self-sacrificial love. But Paul says my mindset should be like that of Christ Jesus, who humbled himself and was obedient even unto death on a cross (Php. 2:5-11). With Jesus as my example, my guide, and my strength, I can strive to trust my Heavenly Father with my spirit and follow Him wherever that journey may lead.