There are four Gospels telling the story of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mark’s Gospel was written first, followed by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, who each used Mark as a source along with another unidentified source commonly known as Q. (The material found in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, is attributed to this author). Then John, the last living disciple, wrote his own version, adding lots of new material, which is why his Gospel seems so fresh ~ especially if one has just read the other three in a row!
As an avid reader and book lover, I love the way John ends his Gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25, New International Version). But did you know that one of the four Gospel writers also penned a sequel?
You now have a one-in-four shot if you’d like to guess the author!
The answer is Luke, and his sequel is The Book of Acts, or simply Acts. The opening words: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-2, New International Version). Theophilus may be a king, but since “Theo” means “God” (as in “theology”) and “philia” means “love” (as in “Philadelphia,” the city of brotherly love), “Theophilus” may also mean “person who loves God.”
The book begins with a flashback to Luke 24. If this were a TV show, it would start, “previously on Luke.” And then there is a business meeting, a thrilling development for United Methodists, who love business meetings; the word “Methodist” is related to “methodical,” and was once meant in a derogatory sense. At this meeting they vote on a new person to take Judas’ place. For comic book fans, this is like picking a new person for the Avengers or the Justice League after one of them has fallen.
By Chapter Two, it’s on to Pentecost, but we’re not going to go there yet because Pentecost is not until … (do you remember the answer from yesterday? I’ll give you a minute to guess).
May 23, that’s right, very good! Exactly 7 weeks after Easter, although it’s supposed to be 40 days after Easter instead of 49, which like Lent was affected by Catholics not counting Sundays and then moving the day to the nearest Sunday after that because people are less likely to go to church on any other day of the week. Yes, I know it’s complicated, just like Easter being on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Stay with me here as I get to the point, which you’ve been praying would happen for a couple paragraphs now.
The point is that Christmas and Easter are very different holy days. After Christmas and New Year’s, we put away our toys and decorations and feel a sense of letdown as we wait for the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day. After the Epiphany (Three Wise Men) and dedication in the Temple, even Jesus disappears from the story until he is 12, then he disappears again until he’s in his mid-20s.
But after Easter, the Gospel becomes a never-ending story. (Yes, I know that’s also the name of a movie and a half-decent theme song by Limahl). There’s no break in the action. 40 days of appearances are followed by the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the birth and growth of the church. Jesus promises his disciples that he will be with them “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and he prays for all who will believe in him because of what they say (John 17:20). That means us!
Easter is an open door, like a tomb with the stone rolled away. Easter is winter turning into spring. Easter propels us further into the story. Whenever another person meets Jesus, the closing words of John ring true again. Easter is still happening, still unfolding all around us. It’s too big to be contained in one book, or four, which is why a sequel had to be written, and why, in our own words and actions, we continue to tell the original story while adding more stories of our own.
Some may use pen or pencil, others typewriters or keyboards. Some, recalling the way stories originally spread, simply use words. Some use paint or music or clay. There is no end to the type of tools that can be used, just as there is no limit to the type of spiritual gifts that God can give. Luke may have written the first sequel, but because God writes his story on our hearts, each of us is a living sequel as well. And in this way, the Gospel continues to expand, far beyond the bindings of any book.
How will you tell your story?