As part of a course on the Gospels, General Epistles and Revelation we spent time this morning ‘Responding to the Gospels’. In previous weeks we have covered the background to the Gospels and each Gospel in turn. Today I gave the class a few different options for reflecting on the Gospels, after which we shared our insights and reactions. Here are my instructions for some of the optional activities:

1. Reflection on The Return of the Prodigal Son
Read Luke 15
Reflect on Rembrandt’s painting
Flick through Henri Nouwen’s book
Think about how the two brothers and the father are portrayed
How do they relate to one another?
How is their lost-ness portrayed?
With whom do you identify?
Look for details; the Father’s hands; the son’s knife, the embrace

2. Jesus in Art
How has Jesus been portrayed in art? How have different eras and cultures depicted him? How might these help us to reflect on the person and work of Jesus, perhaps in new ways?
A number of art books are available. Also, they look for images on the web; a good place to start is

3. Quotations from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew
There is a pile of Yancey’s quotations at the front. Pick some and chew them over. Look up the relevant passages in the Gospels. Several copies of the book are available so read around the quotes for further inspiration.

4. Revisiting the text
Revisit a passage, theme or issue in the Gospels that has interested/confused/inspired/frustrated you. Get some commentaries and other resources and spend some time working it through.

5. Spiritual theology and the Gospels
Have a look at what Eugene Peterson has to say about the Gospels as part of his Spiritual Theology series (nb. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and Tell it Slant).

6. Meditation
Read, reflect on and pray through part or all of John 13-17. What do we as individuals or as a church need to learn from this immensely rich passage?

I happened to have a spare copy of Henri Nouwen stunning book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I am giving away to the member of the class who writes the best comment on this post in relation to ‘Jesus, the Gospels and mission’. Let the contest begin!!

6 thoughts on “Jesus, the Gospels and mission

  1. Sorry Tim,

    I don’t follow the rules of your game. (Dutch men never do!)

    I like to tell a story/experience of myself. I grow up as normal; have a job a beautiful girlfriend nice family and everything I want. On a day God called me to go prepare for mission. I did some short projects in developing countries, but now it was clear; we go on mission. We made plans first a year of preparation on Redcliffe College. After that a long mission where ever God calls.

    I went to different friends and told them the plan of God for us; they ask questions and some of them I never forget. One of them make the different for me, an old friend asked me ”How do you know that God calls you” and in a directly answer I asked him “HE calls also you, but do you listen to Him” a little bit confused he walks away. And in many presentations and preaching I ask the audience the question. “For what is God calling you?” We struggle lot of times if we are called and if it’s clear enough, but we are called. He told us; “you are witness of this things” (Luke 24:48) and have to tell everyone that Jesus is a Living GOD!

    Are at home, asking your self is God calling me, chance you question and pray about what is your job in His Kingdom!

    Wim de Groen

    Ps. HE calls you

  2. Hey Tim,

    As opposite from my Dutch brother I will try to follow the rules as much as possible (Dutch woman always try to do that 😉 )

    I am very motivated to win the book, so because of that I will try my best. I am motivated because I have heard very much positive about the book the prodical son and I have always believed that Henri Nouwen was a Dutchman and I was very proud of that. During my time at Redcliffe I found out that he isn’t, but still he remains a very good writer! Last year I was involved in a concert tour (in the beautiful country The Netherlands) which had the theme “Welcome home”. There I have heard a lot about to book and have become very curious to read it. But till now the opportunity was never there.. till…

    Allright this is my comment:
    For this comment I have red a paper on internet ( and summarized this here below (so to be honest they are not really my words, but that is why it is so good!!):

    ‘Jesus, the Gospels and mission’
    For many scolars Mathew is considered to be most missionary focused Gospel, but also John is focusing on mission. They both mention the Gospel as for God’s own people of Israel and outside of that. John uses the concept of ‘world’ where Mathew uses ‘nation’. Mathew uses the ‘nation’ four times at the end of the gospel (Mt 24:9,14; 25:32; 28:19) as John uses the word ‘world’.
    John employs the concept of the “sent one,” “envoy,” “agent of God” to convey the essence of mission to his readers.

    God’s Great Commission is found in John 20:21,22: “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with
    you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Here Jesus shows the three main aspects of mission which has been developing throughout the gospel of John:
    (1) Father has sent Jesus into the world, that all who believe would be saved (Jn 3:13-18; 10:36; 11:27: 12:46; etc.) Chapters 1-12 portray Jesus as the One, sent from God; he is the Envoy sent down from heaven to accomplish the redemptive task; he is the Agent of God in bringing salvation to the human kind.
    (2) the Holy Spirit is sent to enable disciples in their mission (Jn 14,26; 15,26); Starting with chapter 13 John begins a definite shift in the mission motif. Jesus is about to pass the baton of his ministry to the disciples and the Holy Spirit (chapters 13-16).
    (3) Jesus sends his disciples into the world, just as he was sent by the Father (Jn 17, 20:21-23) In chapter 17 Jesus declares that sends his disciples into the world in the same way as the Father has sent him (Jn 17:18).

    By ourselves we, as the disciples, are inadequate to fulfill the mission, yet by receiving the Spirit we receive authority and so also become God’s “agents, sent ones”. The mission is the message of salvation, which the apostles ought to proclaim, that convicts men of their sin; if they believe and accept Christ their sins are pardoned and will have eternal life, if they do not believe and reject God’s Son, they bring judgment upon themselves.

    Okay, I hope you enjoyed the comment!


    Numbers 6:24-26: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His face upon you and give you SHALOM. In the name of SAR SHALOM – the Prince of Peace.

    1. Congratulations Andrea, you win the book 🙂
      Thanks to everyone else who had a go; no doubt there will be other opportunities!

      1. Thanks Tim! That is great, I am looking forward reading the book!!

        I have just done some more research on Henri Nouwen and found out that he really is Dutch, but has lived a very long time (almost half his lifetime) in the US. 🙂

  3. I am not in your class but I am a person who is interested in the depiction of Jesus in art and I have been shaped by Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. Therefore, I thought that I would post a comment.

    2. Jesus in Art

    I am a growing fan of Caravaggio and the realism of the Baroque period. Caravaggio style was highly criticized by the leading “church” artists of his day as being debased and “natural”. And this of course included his depiction of Jesus. For Caravaggio, Jesus’ humanity seemed to dominate his work. Dirty hands and feet and weather beaten face speak to the life Caravaggio lived. It seems as those he depicts a Jesus who comes from the under side of society as he did. Yet the eyes of Jesus are telling in Caravaggio’s work. The eyes of Jesus always seemed to be focused on what is of ultimate concern in the scene. Be it the “Incredulity of Thomas” or the Matthew collection, Jesus’ power and authority is found in his gaze. Thus Caravaggio’s realism unintentionally called for a re-imaging of the incarnate life of Jesus in his day. It was a departing from the standard glorified images of Jesus of that time period and led to a group of artists who followed his style.

  4. Thanks Tim, for your post. I guess you will have lots of new Redcliffe readers of the blog through your cunning offer! And I will be one 😉

    I want to get more into Bible reading through using alternative methods ie. not just sitting on the sofa and reading a short passage! I was only talking to friends about this yesterday – and now today I read your inspiring suggestions. Thank you. God-inspired!

    Here are some more suggestions of getting more from the gospels that some benefit from:
    * working out what the message of a parable was to people of that culture, what that means for us today – and then thinking up a NEW story (new characters, setting, etc) which might speak to people today (ie. the story might become about a manager in an office or a building site rather than about a farmer in a field!)
    * thinking how the different characters in the Bible story would see the situation and feel
    * re-telling the story to your husband/wife/friend – without peeking at it!
    *forgetting the chapter divisions and just reading reading reading….
    * preparing a talk on a passage
    * reading a passage bilingually (ie in two languages) if you can, which sometimes throws up new ways of seeing things
    *reading what Christians from other parts of the world than our own say about the bit you are reading.

    As we say in Japan, がんばれ!

    (ps. if I’ve won, you will work out who I am if you email me!)

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