While our read-through-the-Bible plans may make it feel otherwise, each of the four Gospels is quite short.
- Matthew is roughly 18,000 words.
- Mark, roughly 11,000 words.
- Luke, roughly 19,000 words.
- John, roughly 15,000 words.
The average reading speed is 200 words per minute, meaning any of the Gospels can be read in 60-90 minutes. Or put another way, the Gospels are each about the length of a children’s chapter book. By comparison, the average novel is between 80,000 to 125,000 words long.
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is 95,356 words.
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is 99,121 words.
- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is 418,053 words.
- Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is 530,982 words.
- Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is 587,287 words. That’s 32 times the size of the Book of Matthew!
Here’s why this matters. Imagine sitting down to write a Gospel on the life of Jesus with the word count of a children’s chapter book! How would you decide which details from the life and ministry of Jesus you would include and which you would exclude? How would you even do justice to one of Jesus’ miracles, teachings, or interactions? John shared this struggle with us at the end of his Gospel when he wrote:
And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
So Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had quite a challenge before them as they penned their respective Gospels. But we cannot neglect to consider that these four men did not write their Gospels in isolation. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what He would have them to write. And that makes the point we are reaching even more important.
With so many events that could have been recorded in each of the Gospels and with such little space to pen each Gospel, we have to really pay attention when an event is captured in multiple Gospels. That tells us that something quite important happened in that event—important enough for the Holy Spirit to want it shared multiple times.
And that is what we have to keep in mind as we approach this week’s session, Jesus Was Baptized. (Unit 19, Session 5) The account of Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This alone tells us that there is something noteworthy in this event. So what is it? What is so important about John baptizing Jesus?
Well, from one perspective, Jesus’ baptism shows us that Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life to God the Father—even in something like a baptism that wasn’t necessary for Him. Baptism was, in part, an act that expressed a person turning from sin. Of course, since Jesus had no sin, He didn’t need to be baptized. (Thus John’s confusion.) Yet, He was. Not as a sign of His repentance, but as a demonstration that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness without question.
Then there is the descending of the Holy Spirit and verbal affirmation by the Father. (It is important to note that this is one of the clearer passages in Scripture where we see all three Persons of God working together at the same time, thus affirming the doctrine of the Trinity.) The baptism of Jesus provided an amazing opportunity for the Father to declare His Son before those gathered that day. Surely this was something they never forgot. Much like God declared all of creation good in Genesis 1, God declared His Son good at His baptism.
But there is one other reason the baptism of Jesus is so important. We encounter it in Luke 12:50 where Jesus is sharing about His impending crucifixion:
But I have a baptism to undergo, and how it consumes me until it is finished!
Jesus referred to the crucifixion as a baptism. That probably was somewhat jarring to those listening that day. Baptism probably felt more like a picture of washing than capital punishment. But Jesus took it to another level with this statement.
It may be easy for us on this side of the cross to miss how Jesus redefined baptism in this moment. We are so used to seeing baptism as death, burial, and resurrection. But Jesus’ baptism predated Romans 6, and of course the cross and empty tomb. And I suspect that is why this encounter appears in three Gospels. It serves as a bookend, along with the cross and empty grave, of Jesus’ ministry. It began here with a picture of death, burial, and resurrection and ended with the fulfillment of that picture.
Just as Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, neither did He deserve to be put to death bearing sin upon Himself. And yet He did. In a pleasing act of obedience and love to the Father and as an act of loving mercy and grace to us.
How can we help our kids see the beauty of baptism today? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the April 2, 2017 session (Unit 19, Session 5) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.