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Introduction To The Four Gospels

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jesus Calls Disciples


By James & Mary Lee Thornton

 This introduction to the Four Gospels is not intended, by any means, to be a complete treatise on The Four Greatest Books Ever Written. We would like to establish the grand, and momentous importance of these writings as they rank at the very pentacle of all human literature. Beside them, all other writings shrink into insignificance.

 We will give a brief synopsis of each author, and his qualifications to undertake such a work. Three of these men were eye-witnesses. They heard with their ears and felt with their beings, the emotions, the excitement, and feelings of the things they wrote about.

First, we would like to establish the supreme importance of the Four Gospels. They are the anchor of the Christian faith. Without the Four Gospels we would know practically nothing about the life and death of Jesus Christ. God has ordained it that these accounts of the life and ministry of our Lord should survive the ravages of time and the onslaughts of the devil.

 It would be impossible to calculate the impact that the Four Gospels have made on civilization. Without their message, the whole world would still be in the darkness of idolatry and slavery. Their very name speaks for itself, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which means, "The Good News of Jesus Christ."

 They occupy the most prominent place in the New Testament as they are the first things we read when we begin a study of the New Testament. They are the only authentic voice which tells us the greatest story ever told.


Matthew, Mark, and John were Jews living in Palestine during the life of Jesus and were personally acquainted with him. Two of these, Matthew and John, were disciples of Jesus and were later chosen to be Apostles by him. Mark, probably the youngest of these, lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), and had ample opportunity to become well acquainted with Jesus during his many visits there.

 The other Gospel (Luke) was written probably by a Gentile, who was a companion and fellow traveler with Paul the Apostle, and most likely never met Jesus Christ. We will discuss each of these men and give their reason for writing their book.

 These men were not the first to begin to write the story of Jesus Christ. Luke tells us (Luke 1:1) that many had taken it in hand to write a declaration of those things. These books (Four Gospels) were written so that a true and accurate account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ may go on record.


Matthew (gift of God) was born into a Jewish home and given a Jewish name, Levi. It is interesting to note that he never calls himself by that name. Mark and Luke both call him by his Jewish name, Levi, on three occasions.

 He is generally believed to be about the same age as our Lord or maybe a few years older. There is also strong evidence that Matthew was closely related (cousin) to Jesus on Mary’s side of the family.

 As Matthew grew up he chose for himself an occupation that was appalling to his Jewish race, he became a tax collector, or a publican, as it was called. I'm sure his mother and father were very disappointed in their son, they, no doubt had high expectations of him. By choosing this occupation, Matthew had the opportunity to become wealthy, although he lost the respect of his fellow Jews. They looked upon publicans as low-class people who had sold their religious heritage, and therefore was not allowed into the fellowship of the synagogue, and they offered no place of repentance.

 Matthew was a resident of Capernaum, and had his seat of customs there, when a new resident moved into town, his name was Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 4:13). That is where Jesus began his ministry, and Matthew would have seen and heard him from the very first.

 Several months went by with Jesus preaching, and teaching, and healing all manners of sickness and afflictions. Matthew watched, and listened (he gives the best account of the Sermon on the Mount), until one day Jesus walked up to the seat of customs where Matthew was sitting and simply said "follow me" (Matthew 9:9). Matthew pushed back his chair got up from the customs table and left his lucrative occupation to follow one who had nothing to offer but himself. No doubt Matthew had become a follower in heart long before he became one in person.

 Matthew became the first of many government officials, of all grades and ages, through the years, who have given up a morally doubtful, but financially safe, position at the call of Jesus Christ. He reckoned his daily income and the opportunities that it gave of self-enrichment as nothing compared with the possibilities involved in following Jesus. If Matthew could only know how much he has helped to enrich the world through his gospel. Thank god, he responded to the call, "follow me."

 The next three years Matthew followed Jesus everywhere he went. Matthew listened and learned and participated in the events he described in his gospel making him well qualified to write his Gospel. Not a word spoken by him is recorded in the gospels, not a word or an action in the Acts of the Apostles.

It is generally believed that Matthew wrote his gospel about 30 years after the ascension of Jesus (a.d. 63-65) before the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). At this time there were many who had made a collection of the sayings and acts of our Lord (Luke 1:1). Matthew realized that it lay in his power to draw up an account of the things he had witnessed personally and how they related to Old Testament scriptures. His gospel is directed towards a Jewish audience. However, it was written in the Greek language so that the many Gentile believers might be informed, quoting from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) which our Lord also quoted from.

 The key expression in Mathew’s gospel is, "that it might be fulfilled." Matthew was interpreting the things that took place as being the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew quotes more from the Old Testament (130 times), than any of the other gospel writers.

 Another expression that occurs only in the gospel of Matthew is, "The Kingdom of Heaven," that is used 32 times. The expression "The Kingdom of God," is used 5 times.

 The opening sentence of Matthew’s gospel sets the tone for the entire New Testament. It affirms that Jesus Christ was born into the human race, whereas Mark 1:1 declares him to be "The Son of God," Luke explains how this is possible Luke 1:26-35, John further explains that God himself became flesh. (John 1:14)



Matthew presents Jesus as the Israel’s promised Messianic King. (1:23; 2:2, 6; 3:17; 4:15-17; 21:5, 9; 22:44, 45; 26:64; 27:11, 27-37)

 Matthew tells about the appearance of the star at Jesus' birth and the visit of the wise men from the east that came to worship him. He also tells of the journey down into Egypt.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and in the instructions given to the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:5-42), and in the parables (Matthew 13), the King (Jesus) presents new laws and standards for God's people. No government that ever sat has had as much influence on the world.

The works of the Lord are presented in a series of 10 miracles (Matthew 8, 9) that reveal his authority over every realm (disease, demons, death, and nature). Thus, the words of the Lord are supported by his works; his claims are verified by his credentials.

Matthew 21:1-11, records the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the welcome by a great multitude of people who lay their garments in the path crying "Ho-san-na to the son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Ho-san-na in the highest." the whole city was moved.

Matthew records the rejection of their King by the religious group, the ensuing trial before Pilate and the crucifixion on Golgotha, and his burial in a rich man's grave.

Authenticating his words and works are the empty tomb, resurrection, and appearances, all proving that Jesus is indeed the prophesied Messiah, the very Son of God.

According to Acts 12:12, Mark's mother had a large house in Jerusalem where the disciples gathered. It is believed that this is the house where Jesus celebrated the Passover supper with his disciples, and that it is also the place where they gathered on Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Ghost came. If this be true, Mark had many occasions to be closely associated with Jesus. It is probable that it was to the sacred bond in that home that Mark owed his conversion.

 Some scholars believe that John Mark was born into the Levite tribe, which made him eligible for priesthood. The linen cloth cast about the body of the young man (Mark 14:51-52), which most probably was Mark, answers to his position and circumstance. It would not have been worn by a person of a very humble life. This is an incident that would have been remembered by him. Colossians 4:10, tells us that he was a nephew of Barnabas who was a wealthy Jew that sold his possessions (Act 4:36-37) and gave the money to the Early Church.

 Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). Paul was very disappointed that John Mark left them before the journey was complete. However he later recovered the friendship and admiration of Paul. John Mark was with him on many occasions, Paul said, "take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11) it is very possible when Paul wrote this last letter that Mark had already written his Gospel and they may have been part of the "parchments" he spoke of in 2 Timothy 4:13. They would have certainly have been a great consolation to Paul there in the prison.

 Mark also accompanied Peter on some of his journeys, where Simon Peter refers to him as "Marcus my son," (1 Peter 5:13). Peter may have been instrumental in winning Mark to the Gospel, and was also a source of much of his Gospel. It is said that Mark took the Gospel to Egypt, where he established a Church, becoming the first bishop of Alexandria, and was martyred at Alexandria.

Most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the Four Gospels, but as with all the Gospels there is uncertainly of its date. It certainly is the shortest, much of Mark’s Gospel is centered around the Sea of Galilee and the City of Capernaum and the teaching of Jesus and miracles he performed. The storm on the lake, the crossing over the lake to and from, back and forth, the feeding of the multitudes, the people pressing to touch Jesus, is given in details that only an eye-witness could have known. This leads us to believe that Simon Peter was the source.

 Marks Gospel is a gospel of action, "straightway," and "immediately," are words often used by him. Mark focuses on Jesus being a servant who ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of others. Mark's purpose was to show that Jesus was the Son of God. A Roman soldier sums up the Gospel for Mark, "truly this man was the Son of God." (Mark 15:30)

Luke was most likely a Gentile and the only Gentile writer in the New Testament. Philippi has been suggested as his home, and there is strong argument to support this. Luke the author of the Book of Acts, joined Paul and his company when he went to Macedonia from Troas. (Acts 16:11) this is noted because of the word "we" is used signifying that the author of acts joined the story of acts for the first time. He also remained in Philippi when Paul and Silas left there (they sailed) (Acts 16:40) Six years later Paul revisited Philippi and Luke again joined Paul, (Acts 20:6) and there is where the "we" section of Acts continues. From that point on Luke was a constant companion and helper of Paul.

 Luke accompanied Paul back to Jerusalem where Paul was apprehended and imprisoned. The next two years, while Paul was taken from court to court, before one ruler after another, Luke had ample time to personally visit the places where the Gospel Story took place. Many were still living, including the apostles that were eye-witnesses to the miracles and teachings of our lord. Luke had ample time and opportunity to interview the people involved.

 Mary, the mother of Jesus, could possibly have been still living and gave him a first hand account of the birth of Jesus. Only she could have described her feelings in such intimate details. (Luke 1:45-55; 2:19, 35, 51)

 Paul refers to Luke as "the beloved physician" (Colossians 3:14). This calling, or profession, required a considerable amount of scientific knowledge, and shows that Luke the physician certainly belonged to the class of educated men.

Luke wrote the full story of Jesus' life, from his birth to his ascension back into heaven. Luke gave intimate details about the birth and early life of Jesus that only a mother would know. What a loss it would be to not have the gospel of Luke.

The gospel of Luke was written to a Gentile by the name of Theophilus, a man believed to be of high rank in the Christian congregation, a noble Greek, or Roman. Theophilus’ greatest contribution to the human race was saving the letter. Where the residence of Theophilus was is not know. An acquaintance, a patient?

The gospel of Luke was written many years (25-30) after the Lord lived, and died, and arose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The overwhelming majority of the believers at that time had never seen, but only heard of Jesus. Many were the written articles circulating about Jesus. Luke felt that some of them were not accurate accounts so he wrote to set the record straight.

 Luke 1:1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 

2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
3. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
4. That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (KJV)

 Luke, being himself a Gentile, and writing to a Gentile, was eager to stress the fact that Christianity was a world religion that recognized no racial limitations.

 Luke's genealogy of Jesus traced His ancestry to Adam, the first man, rather than to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Throughout his Gospel Luke stresses Jesus' dealing with Gentiles, the Roman Centurions, the parable of the Good Samaritan are good examples of this. Luke wished to support the claim that the Church had superseded the Synagogue as the true Israel and was entitled to the recognition and protection that the state had heretofore afforded Judaism.

 Luke, in chapter 15, writes 3 of the greatest short stories in human literature, of 3 parables by Jesus, the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. These were written to emphasize how that Jesus came to seek and to save those that were lost.

Luke gives prominence to the work of the Holy Spirit. There are 17 references to the Spirit in the Gospel of Luke, and 57 in the book of Acts. "The Holy Spirit" is by far the most common phrase, but "The Spirit," "The Spirit of The Lord," and also "The Spirit of Jesus" is also used.

 Luke emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus and the place of prayer in the life of the early church. Jesus went into the wilderness for prayer and fasting immediately after his baptism (4:1-13). He spent the night in prayer before he chose his apostles (6:12-13). His own praying inspired His disciples to ask him to teach them how to pray (11:1). This practice was carried over into the early church (Acts 3:1; 6:4).

 Luke shows a great interest in role of women in the gospel tradition and in the history of the church. The role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the annunciation and birth of Jesus, as well as her being present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 1:14), Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Anna the prophetess, all form a large part of the birth narrative. He also contrast Mary and Martha (10:38-42).

 Luke gives prominence to the Resurrection, and the post Resurrection appearances of Jesus. He tells of appearances to 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-32), to Peter (24:34), to the 12 as they were assembled (24:36). This is carried over into the book of Acts, which speaks of appearances over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Luke emphasizes how the risen Christ appears and disappears at will, asserts that he is not a disembodied spirit, eats a piece of broiled fish (24:41-42), and while giving instruction to his disciples raises his hands and while blessing them, is taken into heaven (24:49-53).

 There is a marked sympathy for the poor. John the Baptist teaches that men should share their possessions with the needy (3:11). Jesus declares that he was to "preach the gospel to the poor" (4:18).

 Luke stresses the proper stewardship of wealth in both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The parables of the rich fool (12:13-21), and the dishonest Stewart (12:47), and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), tells the story. After his first contact with Jesus, Zacchaeus promises to give half his goods to feed the poor (19:8).

James and John along with their father owned a fishing boat on the sea of Galilee and most likely were of an upper middle class family. These two were to become, along with Peter, part of the inner circle and very close to Jesus. The road from fisherman to Apostolic Writer was a long and difficult one, but it shows that regardless of occupation or disposition, Jesus can use us in His service.

John would out-live all the rest of the Apostles, most likely the only one of the twelve to die a natural death. John was the first of these two brothers to meet the Lord at Bethabara, where John the Baptist was baptizing, along with Andrew and Peter (John 1:28). So we can safely say that John was a disciple of John the Baptist before he became a disciple of Jesus.

Of the Twelve, the story of John is most complete, only Peter is mentioned more than the other ten. John is revealed to us, not only in the first three Gospels, but his own writings, and by his silence. With true humility, John seldom alludes to his own existence. In the 21 chapters of his Gospel, his own name is never used by him. In John's Gospel he alludes to himself as, "The other Disciple" (John 18:16). John is also referred to as "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" (John 21:7).

 It is interesting to note that in the Christian World more men and boys bear the name John than any other name, followed by the names, James, Thomas, Paul, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Stephen, Nathaniel, Matthew and Timothy. That shows the tremendous influence which this band of men still hold upon the world.

James and John were sons of righteous parents, Zebedee and Salome, who lived in Bethsaida on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44; 12:21). Their mother's name was Mary, surnamed Salome, who was most likely a sister to Mary the mother of Jesus. Most likely James and John were cousins to Jesus (John 19:25). Zebedee, Their Father, was a man of means and influence. He also owned a house in Jerusalem and was known by the High Priest (John 18:16).

Probably because of their Father's profitable business, James and John never knew poverty till they shared it with Jesus. We can only wonder about Zebedee' reaction to the decision of his two sons to leave the family business and follow Jesus. We are not told whether he was pleased or pained by their surrender of all to follow Jesus. Maybe he did not share their faith. This one incident is the only time that Zebedee comes before us in scripture.

Salome, their mother, was a disciple of Jesus and one of the first to believe on him. She was very happy that her two sons followed Jesus. As her two sons did, she also gave up all things for Jesus and followed him. Salome was one of the women who followed him and who ministered unto Jesus of her substance (Matthew 27:55-56). She sought the Lord for high positions for her sons.

What an immense spiritual advantage it is to be children of a Godly Home. Mothers, Fathers, you should pray that your sons, your daughters will do more that just make the Team. Salome so loved their Master and Lord that she stayed at the cross and helped to carry his body to burial. What a strong Christian mother James and John had. I feel she was at Pentecost and received the Holy Ghost along with Mary, Jesus' Mother.

John alone occupied the Inner Most Circle. He Cherished the mere thought of it, and used the phrase "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved," to describe the relationship. John was mentioned in the Bible 5 Times as "The Disciple Whom Jesus loved." It must have been because of their all-consuming zeal that prompted his nick-name for James And John. Mark 3:17. "And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Bo-an-erges, which is, "The sons of thunder:"

 It seemed as though a fire burned within James and John. Jesus did not want to extinguish the fire, but to gain control of the energy that it created. Bo-an-er-ges, "Sons of Thunder," I do not feel that Jesus gave them this name as a derogatory title. It was not to belittle them. I feel it was intended as a title of honor, although it was never mentioned again.

Jesus allowed a year to pass before he permitted James and John to pass from discipleship to Apostleship. "The Sons of Thunder" had to learn that the higher the calling, the harder the discipline would be. Jesus was more concerned about their Qualification. Apostles are not born but made. I think we could safely say that of the Twelve, John more closely portrayed our Lord.

Moses was 80 years old when the call came to do the greatest work of his life. John, the last surviving witness to the life, death, and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ was over 90 years of age when he was sent to labor in the mines. History tells us that men worked chained to their barrows. Patmos was “the killing place,” men were sent there to die, to be worked to death, it was a prison colony, a small isle in the Aegean Sea. 

 No wonder he could write your brother and companion in tribulation (Revelation 1:9). John at this old age needed loving care, but in Patmos there was no one to watch over him. What hardship John suffered we are not told. Are we not tempted to ask why God allowed his most faithful servant to reach the age when activity had passed, and only the dregs of life seem to remain, to endure the mailed fist of the Roman Empire. Was it to prove once again that his strength is made perfect through human weakness?

John now over 90 or maybe 95, was in Patmos. He found himself in the Spirit on the Lord's Day and received the Vision (Revelation 1:10). It was at this extreme age that John wrote his epistles, And most likely his Gospel.

John, was the last friend Jesus spoke to before he died. To him Jesus put the burden of caring for his mother. John alone tells us of this most touching incident. John 19:26. "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the Disciple standing by, whom he loved. He saith unto his mother Woman, Behold Thy Son!"
27. "Then saith he to the Disciple, Behold Thy Mother! And from that hour that Disciple took her unto his own home."

 Jesus was concerned about his mother and the future that lay ahead for her. He commits her to the care of John whom he himself loved beyond others. I feel that this act of kindness towards Mary, and the trust he placed in John, was the opportunity Jesus gave John to develop his own character. Jesus loved his mother and wanted the best of care for her. He trusted John to give that care above all others on earth. He trusted the relationship as Mother and Son. We must remember that Mary had other Children who could have taken care of her.

More than 80 times John uses the word LOVE in his writings. In his Gospel and Epistles, he gave to the world a definition of love not to be found in any writings of any author, religious or secular. "God Is Love." John as an old, old man was led into the Church at Ephesus and someone would help him rise to his feet to give his Testimony, "MY LITTLE CHILDREN, LOVE ONE ANOTHER." In Ephesus John fell asleep and passed into the presence of his Master, there to be with him forever.

It has been said that the first 18 verses of John's Gospel is the most sublime of all human literary achievements. The words seem to be coming from another world. The educated men of John's generation branded him as being "Unlearned and Ignorant" (Acts 4:13).

John's vocabulary was limited compared to the other Evangelists, and especially Paul, Yet No Writer in History made better use of what he had.

 One great German Scholar made this statement concerning John's writing. "If the Author has only a few terms in his vocabulary, these terms may be compared to pieces of gold with which great Lords make payment." John writes in words so simple that any young grade school child knows the meaning yet so eloquent as to confound the wise.

Matthew and Luke trace the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam the first man. John began his genealogy before the creation of the universe, all the way back to the beginning when Jesus and God were one and the same (John1:1). John emphasizes Jesus' role in the creation. "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3).

In John 1:14 we are told that "the Word (which was God) became flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (1 John 1:1);

The Gospel of John presents the most powerful case in all the Bible for the deity of the incarnate Son of God. The deity of Jesus Christ can be seen in his 8 "I Am" statements.
"I Am the bread of life" (John 6:35, 48).
"I Am the light of the world" (John 8:12; 9:5).
"Before Abraham was, I Am" (John 8:58).
"I Am the door" (John 10:9. 9).
"I Am the good shepherd" (John 10:11, 14).
"I Am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).
"I Am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
"I Am the true vine" (John 15:1-5).

 One of the most powerful statements concerning Christ's deity is recorded in John 10:30 "I and my Father are one."

 John records the last few hours Jesus spent with his disciples (John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17) in a way that has been a comfort to all of us when we are in a crisis.

Chapter 13 records Jesus washing the disciple’s feet and then announces one of them would betray him, and finally tells them He is going away.                                   

Chapter 14 Jesus comforts his disciples with the words, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

In Chapter 15:1-11 Jesus gives the relationship of Believers to himself. 

In Chapter 15:12-17 Jesus tells the relationship of the Believers to each other.
In Chapter 15:18-25 Jesus tells the relationship of the Believers to the world.
In Chapter 15:26-27, And Chapter 16:1-15 Jesus gives them the promise and function of the Holy Spirit.

John 17 Records the longest prayer in the New Testament.                                         
In  John 17:15 Jesus prays for himself                                                   
John 17:6-19 Jesus prays for his disciples.
In John  17:20-26 Jesus prays for all believers.


A Seer is a person credited with extraordinary moral and spiritual insight. As a Seer, John had no equal. Evidence of this power of perception was evident before the Ascension of Jesus. John was the first to see the fact of the Resurrection.

As a witness, he described every thing he saw, even the position of the clothing left behind. John was the first to discern his Lord's person on the lakeside. As an accurate witness, he described all he saw.

 John's quality as a seer is at its best in the Book of Revelation. In fact no one ever saw so much or saw so far into the future. He wrote what he saw in Revelation.

Alexander Whyte in his Book "Bible Characters," said, "John a Fisherman's son was born with one of the finest minds that was ever bestowed by God's goodness upon any of the sons of men." John's Gospel records the exactness of description, a representation of the whole scene as if it were photographed upon his memory. John remembers the days and the hours the events occurred for he was present. John writing from his memory, he knew what happened at the sixth hour, the seventh hour, and the tenth hour.

 Some men conquer with sword and their deeds die with them. John has proved that the pen is mightier than a sword. John has conquered the hearts of more people than Alexander the Great, or Napoleon Bonaparte, or Tamerlane, or even more than all the Roman Caesuras.


There are 879 verses in the KJV of the Gospel of John, 419 verses contain words of our Lord, almost one-half of all the verses. It is also a Gospel of conversations. There are 24 conversations with 17 people recorded in John.

 We do not want to forget any of the great works John did when he was younger, He was An Apostle or planter as the words means. He did a great work among The Seven Churches of Asia. Yet John's written words far surpass any other work he ever attempted. It has been nineteen centuries since his death, yet many today will hear him say "My Little children I write unto you To Love One Another.”

 I hope these short introductions to the men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) who wrote the Gospels Of Jesus Christ will be an inspiration to each of you, and will help you to study their Gospel with new Insight.

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By, James & Mary Lee Thornton


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