Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Four Gospels

Rev. Terri M. Zastovnik

I chose to explore The Four Gospels as my first choice in the variety of classes that I will choose from as I pursue the completion of my Doctorate. The material was well presented and the study guide was carefully written to enable the reader a better understanding of the Greek text. As I read each page I found myself often referring back to the NIV in a comparative effort. I spent much time exploring other translations using The Interlineal Bible, The King James Version and several Christian research based websites. I found that the Four Gospels were written with the same information to the reader but with different wording. As an example, I prefer the NIV Student Bible which was given to me over 20 years ago. I have purchased versions of other bibles but am always drawn back to my tattered bible simply because I am better able to understand the meaning of the text. I also decided to explore the different religions and their ideas on the Four Gospels. Most were the same or similar. 

After reading each book of the Four Gospels, I came to the conclusion that although very similar I preferred the writings of Matthew. Matthew tells the story from the time of Jesus birth walking us in detail through his life to the time of his death and resurrection. Although not the first book written in the New Testament, it has been regarded as the most important. Matthew makes his intentions clear from the first sentence as he connects Jesus’ birth with the Old Testament as “the awaited Messiah.”

In the extensive material Matthew provided 5 great sermons of Jesus, each ending with the words, “When Jesus finished saying these things” thus corresponding in a similar way to the divisions found in the Old Testament. To summarize, the five sermons were divided as follows: 

The Sermon on the Mount – Here Jesus uses The Beatitudes as a code of ethics for his disciples and a standard of conduct for believers.
The Missionary Instructions - Here Jesus instructed His 12 disciples to go out to the lost sheep of Israel cleansing and healing them while preaching this message, “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
The Parables of the Kingdom – Here Jesus taught His disciples and followers how to testify about Him. He used the parables in a way that they could understand. The parables were meant to keep those who would persecute Him unable to understand what he was revealing.
Church Order – Here he taught the disciples how to have a relationship between one another and how also relate to others. It was here that Jesus explained to His disciples that by living according to the laws of the bible we can have an assurance of Heaven.

The Eschatological Sermon (The end times and Christ’s return) – Here Jesus taught of what will happen in the end times and of the things that will happen when He returns. Jesus warned his followers about the imposters of Christ and how they would try to mislead their beliefs. He also taught of a hope of a future with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven for those who followed Him.
I found that The Gospel of Matthew holds many characteristics; the one I mentioned above as he ended each of the five sermons with “When Jesus finished saying these things, “and three others I found to be interesting.
First, Matthew pays a high regard to the teachings of the Old Testament as a way of filling God’s prophecies. Jesus came not to change the laws but rather to interpret those laws in a way that would bring an understanding of their original purpose.
Second, in studying the gospel I found that this gospel is the only gospel that makes mention of the church. One of the important issues in the early history of the church was the attitude that Christians should take towards the laws that are recorded in the Old Testament. I can put my own personal history in my growth and spiritual walk in perspective with this attitude. As a young girl brought up in the Catholic Church I knew mainly the teachings of the Old Testament. When I received Christ later in my life I was introduced to the New Testament. It was then that I began to understand God’s purpose for my life as I began my walk with Christ.
And third, Matthew places a major emphasis on the teachings of Jesus. As I studied it I saw Jesus teaching people, both through spoken word and by example, as in the parables. It is my personal belief that Matthew wrote this book to show the readers that Jesus taught people how to live their every day life in a wise and Godly way. He showed this by teaching others how to live, think, pray and treat others in the act of love and kindness as Christ loved others.
To summarize the areas in the Gospel of Matthew that made the most impact, I begin with The Sermon on the Mount. I have always found favor in this part of Matthew’s gospel because it has taught me how Jesus wants me to live. In my opinion it is Jesus’ message to others of God’s expectations in regards to how we live.

The profound impact of the Sermon on the Mount for me are “The Beatitudes”, or as translated, “the blessings.” Here Jesus lays out the foundations of the character traits of all Christians. We are all meant to conform to its pattern and rise to its standard. Jesus gave us the Beatitudes (blessings) to manifest all at the same time. It is my strong belief that we cannot be one without the other. Jesus showed us here how we are to live, how our character should be in the sight of God. We achieve these characteristics and learn to live as we are ought as a result of grace. I have studied The Beatitudes many times turning back to them countless times as I take a strong look at my life and how I am living. I ask myself, “Am I living the life that Christ taught me to live?” “Am I at peace with myself?” “Am I truly blessed?” 

We live in a world torn by oppression, hatred, stress and societal demands but I can honestly go to bed each night knowing that I may be in this world but I am not of it. I have a peace that is so wonderful and unexplainable. The Beatitudes are the standards that I daily chose to live by thanks to the awesome and precious grace of God.

My life has been totally affected and changed due impart to the great writings of Matthew through the descriptive teachings, sayings and parables of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes presented the standards for how we are to live. Jesus laid this foundation for us and then went on to show us how. 

Jesus chose 12 ordinary people who were despised by many. Some were tax collectors, but they all were sinners. They were lost and empty seeking fulfillment. They were just 12 ordinary people like you and I, all who fell short of the grace of God. Through the teachings and sayings of Jesus the disciples listened, learned and followed Him. They became extraordinary people in the sight of God as they chose to live their lives as Christ taught. They brought many to salvation. Their empty lives suddenly became filled with faith, love, joy, peace and hope, abundantly. 

In finality, Jesus has a perfect way for us to live. I do not believe that we are here by accident. God desires a relationship with us. He uniquely designed each of us to be used in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through the teachings of Christ as written in the Good News of Matthew he has brought not only my life but the lives of many under conviction. He called us not only to be separate from the world but to love the world and those that are in it. 

Jesus changed many hardened hearts. He taught life lessons. Our lives are filled with daily life lessons. The Gospel of Matthew is a tool for each of us on how to handle these “life lessons”. With the teachings and sayings of Christ hidden in our hearts and minds we can all live the life that God called us to live according to His word. 

Thank you for affording me the opportunity of taking this seminary course. It has greatly affected my life as it allowed me to take a spiritual inventory of how I live my life daily for Christ.


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