More recently Jeffery Archer wrote a book titled The Gospel According to Judas. Like Short, Archer sought to give insight to the gospel by looking at it in a new way: this time through the eyes of the disciple who betrayed Christ.
There even was a 1994 book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus, which was a fictional retelling of Christ’s life. It depicts him as a flawed character with a lot of doubts and struggles about what it meant to be the Messiah.
I’m aware that we all have our own version of the gospel—our own version of what Jesus said and who Jesus was. Facing that reality, as a congregation we challenged ourselves to spend the summer letting Jesus speak for Jesus. Not knowing how we would do this, we approached the task with great trepidation.
The first thought was that maybe we should just make the sermons the words of Jesus— you know, the “red letter” words. Then we realized that without context we would fall into the same trap as all the other people through history who have tried to make Jesus say what they wanted him to say.
So we worked out our planning with fear and trembling. We selected passages from the gospels that we thought might give insight into Jesus. Then we proposed that we might simply read the gospel we were focusing on in its entirety. We initially thought we would do this at the church facility, but then we became aware that since the gospels were works that depicted life “on the streets” they would best be read in that context—on the street. And so we did just that.
Recognizing that all we were doing was still insufficient, we hoped that another medium like visual art might help us again to see and hear the “real Jesus.” So we invited our resident artist to read and paint—and he did.
In the end, the process was a complete failure and a complete success. There really is no way to do what we had hoped. Only the Holy Spirit has and can give us the authentic gospel. Surprisingly this is always done within our context, in our time, using ancient texts viewed within a changing world.
We tried our best to let Jesus speak, but he always came enfleshed in us. And it was amazing. As a pastor of 35 years, the reading of the gospels in their entirety, publicly, on the streets, was the most moving, eye-opening, and exegetically important time of our entire experiment.
—Pastor Phil Doeschot
Every month, before we started teaching through the next gospel, we invited people to come together and read through that gospel in its entirety. We met in the church’s coffee house and took turns reading chapters. We ended up reading outside on the patio and welcomed anyone passing by to come listen or read if they’d like. The readings took between one and a half to two and a half hours. In a larger setting the gospels could be read by just a few people up front with microphones in a “readers’
Churches interested in utilizing the paintings by Ed Westervelt may contact Christ Community Church, St. Peter’s, Missouri. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
We also created a “series teaser” video that we made to intro the whole series to the congregation. You can find it at tinyurl.com/SeriesTeaser.
There is also a splash screen for projection and printed materials available (see p. 37).
Week 1—Matthew 18:1-11, “Who’s the greatest?”
Week 2—Matthew 18:12-14, “Who gets the party?”
Week 3—Matthew 18:15-20, “Should we run from those who hurt us?”
Week 4—Matthew 18:21-35, “If I keep forgiving them, am I just enabling them?”
From artist Ed Westervelt: One of the reasons the gospel of Matthew was written was to show Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah to the Jews, foretold in their history and prophecies. Today we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus didn’t just show up out of nowhere but is the perfect fulfillment of God’s promises from the beginning. I painted Jesus in an ancient mosaic style with old Jewish symbols surrounding him to try to capture the historical feeling of this gospel.
Week 5—Mark 2:13-17, “Should I be careful who my friends are?”
During communion on Week 5, instead of playing music we had several readers take turns reading verses about Jesus hanging around the “outcasts” of society. This further illustrated the sermon and provided a wonderful invitation during communion, encouraging worshippers that God invites us all to commune with him.
Week 6—Mark 9:14-29, “Why should I pray?”
After the sermon, we allotted six to seven minutes for personal prayer, with a few songs played quietly in the background. The pastor could offer a short “prompt” every minute or so (e.g., “Now we pray for our missionaries,” “Now we pray for the blessings you have given us this week”). This much prayer time may not be typical for your service, but what better way to respond to a sermon about prayer than with prayer?
Week 7—Mark 10:17-31, “Can we be rich?”
Week 8—Mark 12:41-44, “Does God appreciate the money I give?”
From artist Ed Westervelt: Mark seems to be in a rush in the first two-thirds of this gospel, giving us quick snapshots of who Jesus is. Then in the last third, Mark slows the action down for the Passion Week of Christ. This is Mark’s primary focus and message: that Jesus suffered and died on the cross to pay the debt for our sin. I painted Jesus on the cross, up close, using only the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). I painted very quickly without much fine detail to get the raw feeling I got from Mark.
Week 9—Luke 4:14-30, “What’s the point?”
Week 10—Luke 5:33-39, “Why does Jesus have to take up so much of my life?”
Week 11—Luke 16:1-13, “Can I have it all?”
Week 12—Luke 19:11-27, “What’s the best return on investment?”
From artist Ed Westervelt: Luke gives us a much fuller story of Jesus from birth to death. Along his journey he shows us a more intimate picture of his relationships to the people he encounters. What stands out the most is the people Jesus relates to with mercy and compassion: the widows, orphans, prostitutes, the poor, the sick, the lame, the tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, and even a Roman centurion. These were the people who were despised and rejected by the religious community of Jesus’ day. I tried to imagine who Jesus might hang out with today. Whom would he embrace, break bread with, and identify with? So I painted, in an Andy Warhol style, an iconic portrait of Jesus surrounded by copies of that same image of Jesus altered to look like the people who are seen as undesirable or rejected today.
Week 13—John 3:1-21, “Do I really have to be born again?”
Week 14—John 7:37-39, “Does God care about me?”
This week, as a way to let “rivers of living water . . . flow from within” we handed out “love envelopes.” At the end of the worship service we had a stack of sealed envelopes, each with a “random act of love” inside, at the exit of the sanctuary that people could pick up as they left. We challenged everyone in the congregation to pick up an envelope and perform the action within. Some examples include “Buy lunch for a coworker,” “Write a ‘thank you’ to a teacher, a ministry leader, pastor, or neighbor,” and “Give a waiter/waitress a very generous tip and a sincere thank you.”
Week 15—John 14:1-14, “How can we know the way?”
Week 16—John 15:1-17, “What now?”
From artist Ed Westervelt: John’s gospel is a very different from the other three. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke show the man that God became, John shows us that this man, Jesus, is God who created the heavens and the earth. John is explicit about this from the first chapter to the last. However, even in the face of all the evidence, miracles, and statements that Jesus presents, the people just can’t quite see who Jesus is.
Even at the end, in the upper room, Jesus tells his disciples that they still don’t fully understand who he is, and that they will betray and run from him that very night. But Jesus also said that, after this dark night, an advocate would come: the Holy Spirit. And if they embraced the Spirit and loved one another they would see the truth of who he is.
So I painted the upper room using di Vinci’s Last Supper as a model. I made it look like the wind had blown the colors on the canvas—as if the Holy Spirit were creating an image with Jesus in the center of the light, appealing to his disciples who were still fading off into the darkness.