Good Friday is the last day of Jesus’ life. This past week Jesus’ closest followers became liars, cowards, deserters. These hand-selected men deny and abandon their Messiah. Each author tells the “Passion” story in their own way. Each one gives their perspective of the death and resurrection events. Each writer has their own unique theology, creating a style that suits their audience. If you read each gospel as an individual book, you’ll see those differences. We Christians tend to take parts of each gospel, as we do in the birth stories, and combine them to create a new gospel. Mark doesn’t agree with Luke in many ways. John seems to have his own message – nothing like the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here’s an example of how Mark and Luke’s story differ:
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied three times by Peter. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Him on the way to His crucifixion. On the way, Jesus says nothing. The soldiers dress Him in a purple robe (scarlet robe in Matthew) and a crown of thorns. The other apostles scamper off like scared rats in a sewer. Jesus follows Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying His cross. The soldiers are laughing and mocking Him. People on the way mock him, some are crying. Jesus still says nothing. The soldiers placed Jesus on the cross next to two robbers. Both robbers mock Jesus. People passing by look up and mock Him. The Jewish leaders mock Him. Finally, Jesus ends His silence and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he dies. Jesus had felt forsaken by God. He was in great despair. Why had His followers betrayed and rejected Him? This is how Mark portrays Jesus.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter just as in Mark’s gospel. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. However, it is not Pilate’s soldiers that mock and beat Jesus – it’s King Herod’s (a minor difference in stories). There’s no purple robe and no crown of thorns. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross. Jesus, however, is not silent on the way to His crucifixion. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me… (v.23:28),” he says to a group of women crying for Him. Jesus does not appear to be in despair and knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He appears to be confident and knows what’s ahead. Jesus speaks again while being nailed to the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 23:34). Jesus is more concerned about those around Him than Himself. Only one of the robbers on the cross next to Him mocks Him. The other robber rebukes him and asks Jesus to remember him when He gets into His kingdom. Jesus says to the robber, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 23:42-43). Then Jesus prays to God, “Father, into your hands I command my spirit” (v. 23:46). He does not feel forsaken, but is confident of what is happening to Him.
Mark’s Jesus is in despair, not knowing what is to come. He says nothing on His way to His crucifixion. He feels forsaken by His followers and by God. Luke’s Jesus is not in despair. He is confident and knows exactly what is ahead of Him. He is concerned for others more than Himself. He speaks to others on His way to the cross. He is prepared to enter His Father’s kingdom.
We can’t say which writer gave the most accurate account of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing for sure. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. The stories were passed on as an oral tradition until these educated Greek men wrote them down. The authors were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. We risk calling some of the authors liars if we believe in one account over another. And if you think that combining the events of each account to make your own story is alright to do, then feel free to continue the Christian tradition.
For this Holy Week, I challenge you to read each “Passion” account in each one of the gospels (Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19). Take detailed notes on each account. Compare your notes. Learn what each author has to say. Become a Bible Reader. I dare you.