Comparative Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (fragments)

The Genealogies — Matthew and Luke

Matthew presents the Lord as Son of David and of Abraham: the MESSIAH OF ISRAEL. His Gospel may be called the Gospel of the kingdom, but the King is not merely Son of David and Son of Abraham, but JESUS — Jehovah the Saviour: EMMANUEL — God with us (chap. 1:21, 23).

MARK presents the Lord as the Servant of God: the great and perfect SERVANT-PROPHET; but "Jesus Christ" is "the Son of God" (chap. 1:1).

LUKE presents the Lord as the SON OF MAN revealing the delivering grace of God amongst men; but of this Man it was said, "He shall be great, and He shall be called the Son of the Highest," and "that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the SON OF GOD" (chap. 1:32, 35).

In this threefold character He was presented to Israel for their acceptance, and in each character was rejected by them. They had no excuse for this, for His words and works, as recorded in each Gospel, were the fulfilment of the Scriptures which had before borne witness to the fact that He would appear to them in each of these ways.

John is entirely different; there the Lord is viewed as rejected from the start(chap. 1:11), and there is then unfolded in that Gospel that which had not been the subject of prophecy.

The Writers

Israel was no longer under its own king, and that Matthew should have been a tax-gatherer (Matt. 9:9), actually an official under the alien rule, but evidences the divine wisdom which selects him to write the Gospel of the King.

Mark, the failing servant (Acts 13:13; 15:38), is selected to write the Gospel which presents the perfect Servant. How grace shines in this!

Luke was a Gentile (Col. 4:11, 14). How fitting then that he should write the Gospel in which Christ is pre-eminently presented in the perfection of His manhood, and so as the vessel of grace for all.

The Condition of the People (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2)

But only a small and poor remnant of the people were ready to receive their Messiah. The sad truth that must be told of the mass of the people is, "He came to His own, and His own received Him not."

They were well content with the Roman yoke and Edomitish king, and were troubled at the news of the Messiah's birth. Herod, in order to rid himself of a rival to the throne, might slay all the young children in Bethlehem if he so pleased; it drew forth no protest from them — they wanted not Emmanuel, for their hearts were far from God, though they drew near to Him with their lips.

The Announcement of the Birth of the Lord

MATTHEW records the angel's revelation to Joseph, whom he addressed as "son of David." Joseph was the legal heir to the throne of Israel, and the announcement made to him is in keeping with the presentation of the Lord in this Gospel. It is significant of the state into which the nation had fallen that the representative of the royal house should be an obscure workman living in the despised city of Nazareth.

The wise men from the East were attracted to the place where the young Child lay by the star in the heavens. They were drawn by this star from their distant home, but were probably deflected for the time being from the right course by the natural thought that the great King would be born in the chief city of His realm. Their going to Jerusalem, however, disclosed the condition of the people; the leaders had an intimate knowledge of the words of Scripture, but Him of whom the Scriptures spoke they did not want.

The fact of the birth of the Lord being made known to the Gentile Magi by the star in the heavens, in contrast to the revelation to those of Israel through the medium of angels, is interesting, showing the difference in the dealings of God with those who were not in covenant relation with Him, and those who were.

Angelic communication had marked the direct dealings of God with His people Israel from the first, but to the Gentiles He had given a testimony as to Himself in creation "His eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen in the works of His hand (Rom. 1:20), and these works were used on this occasion for the guidance of those who, from among the Gentiles, "sought for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life" to the only One in whom these things could be found They were led by the works in creation to the God of them, Him they recognized in the lowly Child in the house of Joseph, and bowed in worship before Him, offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and so gave an earnest of the fulfilment of the prophecy, "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him" (Ps 72:10-11).

LUKE records the visit of Gabriel to Mary, a lowly virgin, at Nazareth in circumstances of greatest poverty, but rich in faith Joseph is introduced in the story, but only incidentally. This also is in perfect keeping with the Gospel, wherein is set forth that surpassing grace that has come down to the very meanest in the eyes of men. Mary might be poor, and Nazareth despised, but these will God take up for the accomplishment of His purposes, and in them shall be demonstrated in the supreme act of His grace that, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God has chosen the weak things to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

It is notable that in Matthew, when it is necessary to bring in Joseph, not only because he was David's heir, but also because Mary was his espoused wife, great care is taken to guard the truth as to the birth of Christ.

From the commencement of the chapter we read, "Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob," etc., but the language is changed in verse 16, when we read, And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."

The eight short verses which follow need no comment.

In chapter 2 Joseph received two divine communications, in each of them the Lord is spoken of as "the young Child," and on both occasions Mary is called "His mother," but not once is Joseph addressed here as His father. The Lord is marked out, however, as the Son of God in verse 15, "Out of Egypt have I called MY SON."

The Birth of the Lord

This is the sign that God would give to His people, promised centuries before by the prophet's mouth — and what a sign! Infinite grace stooping to deepest poverty, the creator poorer than the meanest of all His creatures, that He might bless all. Yet in that lowest place He was the Son of the Highest; and as He lay in that environment of poverty the multitude of the heavenly host could praise God and say, "Glory to God in the highest."

But this sign was one that should be spoken against (v. 34). Blinded by their pride, the people saw no beauty in Him, His meekness and lowliness of heart did not conform with their thoughts of greatness and glory, and so He was despised and rejected of men."

The Character of John's Ministry

In MARK's John's testimony is confined to the greatness of Jesus, and in this testimony he doubly emphasizes his own nothingness before his Lord: he was not worthy "to stoop down" and unloose His shoe. It is fitting that this should be so in the Gospel in which the Son of God is presented as the Servant. In His presence every other servant, no matter how high in honour, must be silent, save to witness to His glory; yea, to do this is the highest honour that they could bear.

The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire

John baptized with water, he could bring the truth as to their sinfulness and ruin home to the consciences of the people, and bring them in figure into the place of condemnation and death — the end of a career of responsibility that had been marked by failure, constant and complete. But in the midst of the multitudes of Israel there stood the One who should baptize with the Holy Ghost. John might in figure bring them into the place of death, but Jesus alone could give them life, and the power by which that life should be lived according to God, for He, the last Adam, is a life-giving Spirit. He alone could introduce the new era, the kingdom that should never be moved, a kingdom not founded upon the frailty of man, but established in the power of God. But to do this He had to be baptized with a baptism — a baptism of fire and blood. He had to take upon His own holy person the sins that the people confessed upon the banks of Jordan, and bear them away into the land of forgetfulness. Yea, He had to do more, for He is "the Lamb of God, the bearer away of the sin of the world" (John 1:29, N.Tr.).

The Baptism of the Lord (Matthew 3:13-17; 4:1)

The Lord emerged at His baptism from the obscurity of His early life, a life entirely hidden from our eyes save for that one ray of glory that shone through the veil when, at the age of twelve, He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" It was given to LUKE alone to record that incident, and it falls in with the character of his Gospel, which, as we have before seen, presents the Lord as the Man of perfect obedience to, and dependence upon God. Every part that went to make up that life, whether childhood, youth, or manhood, was lived according to that rule; and that He had honoured the Father in those secret years is evident, for He was by Him rewarded openly when from the heavens. He was saluted, in the midst of Israel, as the Father's beloved Son. And thus in Him was the great principle of Matthew 6:6 first demonstrated.

The first words given to MATTHEW to record, and only recorded by him, as having come from those blessed lips, carry us along another line of thought. They were spoken to meet the difficulty which arose in John's mind as he realized the glory of the Person who had come to him for baptism. "Suffer now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."

Again the perfection of the Word compels our admiration, and we see that a divine, a master hand, has thrown the portrait on the canvas. Emmanuel comes before us here as the King amongst His people, the King who shall reign in righteousness.

But He would first prove His capacity to rule by obeying, He would demonstrate His own personal righteousness before administrating righteousness for others. This righteousness, which He would fulfil, was the path of God's will for Him in relation to His people, whom He would save from their sins. He is here seen identifying Himself with them, in infinite grace, as they confessed those sins, HIMSELF SINLESS. This path of righteousness was to carry Him onward until, as the scapegoat for Israel, He should bear their iniquities into "a land not inhabited" (Lev. 16:22), which, indeed, He accomplished when from the depths of the impenetrable gloom of Calvary He cried, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Matt. 27:46). But that path will carry Him still further; it will bring Him to that morning, a morning without clouds, when as the Sun of Righteousness He shall arise with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2), "then with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth" (Isa. 11:4).

The King gives character to His kingdom, and He was marked by inward righteousness, He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and though men betrayed and murdered "the JUST ONE" (Acts 7:52), yet to Him, the Son, has God said, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom" (Heb. 1:8).

The Parable of the Sower

The importance of this parable is evidenced by the words of the Lord, "Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all parables?" (Mark 4:13). The truth that it teaches is elementary, it lies at the threshold of all truth. In a sentence it is this: there can be no yield of fruit for God apart from repentance and the Word of God, for the heart of man is as the field of the farmer which brings forth nothing but rank weeds if left to itself. There must be the ploughing of the soil and the sowing of the seed.

The higher critic, blinded by his folly, does not discern this fact: he discards the Word of God and sows seeds of another kind, the corruptible seed of man's wisdom, in the soil of the heart, and the harvest shall be according to the sowing. Many earnest social reformers are astray here also, they plead for a change of environment, for altered conditions, and hope thus to make men acceptable to God and useful to their fellows, they are wasting their energies as far as any yield for God is concerned, for this there must be repentance: the good and honest heart, and the Word of God sown in that heart, nothing else will do. But repentance would be useless if there were not the incorruptible seed, the Word of God, which lives and abides for ever; this is the absolutely indispensable factor in the matter. Would to God that we realized more truly the mighty power of that Word which lives and abides for ever, the Word by which men are born again, by which they are brought out of death into life, and enabled to produce fruit for God, the Word which is God's power to salvation We cannot be truly effectual in our service for God and towards men unless we give to that Word the supreme place that God has given to it.

In each of the three Gospels a different element in the parable is made prominent, as may be seen from the interpretations given by the Lord.

In MATTHEW it is the soil He said, "Hear ye therefore the parable of the Sower. When any one hears the Word of the kingdom" (13:18-19). It is not difficult to see why this should be so in Matthew, for Christ is there presented to Israel as the Messiah, it is only in this Gospel that the seed is called "the Word of the kingdom." And everything depended upon how that Word as to His person and kingdom as received, that Word tested the character of the soil.

In MARK it is the Sower "He said, The Sower sows the Word" (4:14).

The Sower is the Lord Himself, and Mark calls attention to Him especially in this character, as the Servant of God. His Gospel is "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," and he shows us how "Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God: " sowing the Word.

In LUKE it is the Seed. He said," Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God" (8:11). It is the Word of God, and from God, perfectly proclaimed by the perfect One, and in itself as perfect as the One who proclaimed it, for the word that He spoke was the exact expression of what He was.

Each evangelist gives a different yield as a result of the sowing. Results there must be, results according to the eternal counsels of God and the word of prophecy; for neither the purposes nor the promises of God can fail, they were committed to the Son of God for effectuation.

The results, as given in each Gospel, must be in harmony with the character of the Gospel in which they appear. MATTHEW in giving "some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty," while, as in all the Gospels, the results in the individual souls that hear the Word are made manifest, presents in a striking way the wider dispensational results of the sowing, when at the full harvest the King shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied. He will look out with joy upon the sheaves that He will bring as the result of His sowing in tears. Nearer to Him than all else will be His church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, clothed in the beauty with which He will clothe her, a perfect reflection of Himself: here is the hundredfold. Israel will stand next, beloved by Him with an everlasting love: in Israel will be the sixtyfold. Then the great outer circle of the nations, brought out of death by the Word of the kingdom, they shall come and walk in the light of the Lord. In the nations thus yielded to the universal sway of Christ the thirtyfold is gathered.

In MARK the results are before us in another connection; it is here the work of the great Sower, the results of which must grow to a full harvest to the glory of God. The yield at first was small; it seemed as though He had spent His strength for naught: just 120 poor and despised people in an upper room, without any power, waiting in prayer. That was the small beginning, the thirtyfold if you will; but the hundredfold will be reaped when the scripture is fulfilled which says, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord" (Ps. 150:6).

In LUKE there is but one measure, and that is perfect — one hundredfold. Here is brought to view what is characteristic of the gospel — the work of God in the soul by the Word of God. In this Gospel only it is said that the good ground hearers are those who hear and keep the Word in "an honest and good heart." That Word, so received, must bring forth after its own sort; those who so receive it will be fashioned by It, and there will be a moral affinity between them and Him who was the perfect expression of the Word in His ways. The Lord owns such as being of God even as He was. "My mother and My brethren are these which hear the Word of God, and do it" (8:21). It is interesting to see that the incident which draws these words from the Lord is placed after the parable of the Sower in Luke, while it is given prior to it in both Matthew and Mark.

The Parables of Matthew

The parables peculiar to Matthew are distinctly dispensational in their bearing, as we should expect them to be from the character of the Gospel. They also illustrate that word of the Lord which is one of the keywords of the Gospel, "The tree is known by its fruits" (12:33). So they look on to the end, to the harvest, the consummation of things whether good or bad at the end of the age, the coming of the Lord. Then shall the righteous be severed from the wicked, the evil from the faithful, the sheep from the goats, and each will go to his own place.

The parables set forth, for the most part, the absence of the Lord, but, though absent, His authority and rights are not relinquished; how could they be? His title to everything must be maintained, or Satan would have triumphed when men cast the Heir out of the vineyard. So the Lord is shown to us as the Householder, the Bridegroom, the Lord of His servants, and the King. His supremacy in all these characters is evident. How great is the privilege of acknowledging this supremacy while it is refused by the world at large.

The kingdom is the widest circle of all, and includes every other, and His rights as King will be publicly declared when He gathers the living nations before Him and divides them as a man divides the sheep from the goats (25:31-46).

The servants, to whom talents were given, while in the kingdom, have a nearer place and a graver responsibility, for they are singled out and specially commissioned by the One who is directly the Lord, and owned as such, they are professedly His servants (25:14-30).

The household is a circle of still greater intimacy; those who form it are attached to the person of the King; they know what is suitable to Him, and are greatly concerned when they discover that in His field He had been wronged. Moreover, they have access to Him, they can carry their exercises to Him, and receive His assurance that the evil shall not triumph, but that all that offends shall be gathered out of His kingdom, and that the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (13:24-30, 36-43). What a priceless privilege is theirs who are servants to the Householder, and who enjoy this near place of knowing His will and being intelligent as to the end of things.

The Bridegroom sets forth a greater intimacy still, though the bride is not here mentioned, for the truth presented is not that of infinite love receiving a full recompense for all its travail, but the rejected One coming at last into His rights (25:1-13).

Space forbids our going into the deeply interesting details of these parables, but we would point out that that which abides is that which partakes of the character of the King, and that which is characteristically evil, and so of the devil, is cast out into the fire, or into the darkness, or into the prison. The things that abide are "the righteous" (13:43), "the good" and "just" (13:48-49), the obedient (21:31), "the wise" (25), the "good and faithful" (25:21), and the merciful (25:31-46). Searching, indeed, is the truth which Matthew unfolds, setting before us as it does the thoroughness with which every circle and individual will be scrutinized and tested by the Lord, when every one will be judged according to his fruits, and not according to his profession.

The Parables of Luke

The parables peculiar to Luke are strikingly different from those of Matthew; they set before us for the most part the tender compassions of God, and that grace of His which flows forth without measure wherever there is need. But observe that this grace only reaches those whose need is manifest. In the parables, as in the whole Gospel, the words of Mary, most blessed of women, are illustrated; "He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He has sent empty away" (1:52-53) — which words may be taken as a key to the Gospel.

The rich fool goes into eternity stripped of his possessions (12:16-20). Those who possess the oxen, the ground, and the wife, and want nothing outside these things, miss the great supper (chap. 14). Dives passes from his gay attire and sumptuous fare to a shroud and unquenchable thirst (chap. 16). The Pharisee goes down to his house without the blessing (chap. 18).

On the other hand, how untiring is the grace of God. We have not here the attitude of God, but His activity. It is seen in the pardon of the debtors (chap. 7), in curing and caring for the robbed and ruined traveller on the Jericho road (chap. 10), in compelling the hungry and homeless to come into the great gospel supper (chap. 14), in searching out that which was lost, and receiving that which was repentant (chap. 15), and in justifying the publican who had nothing to plead but the mercy of God (chap. 18).

But while the poor and needy become the objects of compassion and blessing, as magnificent as it is undeserved, we are also taught the absolute necessity of dependence upon God the giver. If we have learnt that He is gracious, He would have us to act upon this knowledge, and go to Him with importunity and expectancy, whether for the blessing of others (11:5-10) or for our own deliverance (18:1-7).

Yet we may not too definitely and closely divide one side of the truth from the other, for if in the parables of Matthew's Gospel the rights of the Lord are prominent, yet His grace cannot be hidden; it is seen in His treatment of the labourers in the vineyard, who only toiled one hour (chap. 20); it is seen also in His forbearance with the second son, in that space for repentance was given to him (chap. 21).

While if in the parables of Luke the unmerited grace of God is proclaimed, yet His rights are fully and clearly maintained as set forth in the parable of the Fig Tree (13:6-9), and in the parable of the Pounds (chap. 19).