Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do? In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our Lutheran worship service.
The Old Testament rule for evidence was that everything had to be established by at least two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). The wisdom of this rule is obvious. It is easy for one person to invent a charge against another by claiming to have witnessed something. Testimony needs to be corroborated by at least one other witness—preferably more than one—to be believed.
The same rule is also valid for establishing the truth of any claim. One person’s say-so is weak at best, especially in matters of importance.
We see that God Himself employed this rule in recording the history of His Son. He did not want the facts of Jesus’ coming into this world, His life and works, His teaching, His death and resurrection to depend on the testimony of only a single witness. By His Spirit He moved several witnesses to record the facts about these things. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each independently recorded an account. Later the apostle John wrote a fourth account, in which he adds to the record much material not covered by the other three, and also serves as a fourth witness to Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.
These four accounts of the person, life, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ are not second-hand reports. They are the testimony of the apostles who were with Jesus during the three years of His ministry. They were there when He healed the sick and raised the dead. They heard with their own ears as He taught with divine authority. Together their reports form a sure record of the greatest events in all of human history: the coming into the world of the very Son of God and His work to redeem the world from the curse of sin.
The four Gospels are central to the Scriptures. They reveal the fulfillment of what was foretold of Christ in the Old Testament. They are the basis of what follows them in the New Testament: the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in the book of Acts, the exposition of Christ’s doctrine in the Epistles, and the ultimate triumph of His kingdom over Satan and the world in the book of Revelation.
It is therefore most appropriate that selections from the four Gospels are read in Christian worship services, as has been done since the early days of the Christian Church.
Christians have shown their high appreciation for the Gospels in customs they have followed in their services. For example, the liturgies in The Lutheran Hymnal include responses of praise both after the announcement of the Gospel Lesson and after the reading: “Glory be to Thee, O Lord” and “Praise be to Thee, O Christ.” These exclamations of praise express the believers’ faith that the Christ of the Gospels is living and reigning and that He is present wherever two or three are gathered in His name, as He promised (Matthew 18:20).
The Gospels read in our churches present a living message. They are not merely records of persons and events from long ago, but they reveal the Savior Who rose from the dead after offering His life as a sacrifice to cleanse of us our sins. They tell us of the Savior Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father with all power in heaven and on earth, and Who still intercedes for us with the Father so that our sins are forgiven and our prayers heard and answered.
What a blessed privilege we have to be able to gather in our houses of worship and listen together to the reading of the Gospel Lesson!