On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds…
The four calling birds can be seen to represent the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, calling out the story of Jesus to the world.
Each of the four gospels highlights a specific theme of Jesus’ life and ministry. Matthew presents to us Jesus as the Lion King – of the lineage of the tribe of Judah, through kings David and Solomon. This is understood to be Jesus’ legal lineage, “…through [his stepfather] Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16b).
The gospel of Mark depicts Jesus as the Laboring Ox – the Suffering Servant; and in Mark’s gospel we see Jesus tirelessly working, moving quickly from place to place, healing the sick, performing miracles and casting out demons.
Luke’s gospel describes Jesus as the Son of Man. As a scientist and physician, Luke endeavors to provide us, who are lovers of God, an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 1:1-4). He also gives us a first-hand account of the acts of the apostles after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, in the Book of Acts.
John blesses us with a soaring depiction of the Son of God, and the creature associated with the picture of Jesus in John’s gospel is a mighty Eagle.
The creatures that represent the four gospels: the Lion, the Ox, the Man and the Eagle are represented in the Old Testament in Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures in the midst of the fiery chariot:
As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies (Ezekiel 1:10 NKJV).
And we see these cherubim again in John’s vision of the Throne of God in Revelation chapter 4, calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”:
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
(Revelation 4:6-8 NKJV)
The Book of Genesis tells us that God made humankind in his image. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were holy – sanctified, set apart for the glory of God. After the fall, the holy image of God in man and woman was distorted by sin.
Through Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross, and the rebirth into the Kingdom of God that occurs when we accept him as our Lord and Savior, we are remade and the image of God in us is restored.
The gospels cry out “Holy! Holy! Holy!” in the presence of God – who was, and is, and is to come. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, we may approach the Throne of Grace boldly, as God’s redeemed children. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as described in the Book of Revelation as surrounding the great Throne, continually sound the Word of God – the story of Jesus - to a lost and dying world.