Meeting the God of the universe, being saved from Hell by Jesus exchanging his life for yours, and having the Holy Spirit indwell you and recreate every part of your being, obviously has a pretty dramatic effect on every part of your life. Meeting Jesus and having His Spirit guide your life changes how you see everything. It changes your vocabulary. It changes your understanding of relationships. It alters your view of time as you go from only looking at your life, or the next generation, to having an eternal vision of things. Meeting Jesus and being in constant communication with Him makes troubles look smaller, power look weaker, fear look foolish, and greed look ridiculous. It’s like getting a peek beneath the iceburg, or into the clockwork of the universe.
Love and Truth
And the more you get to know Jesus, the more you allow his heart to envelop yours, the more you will understand the importance of love and of truth. Those two words, “Love” and “Truth” seem to be keystones in the life of a believer. We talk about them a lot.
God is love. Jesus loves you. “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son…” (John 3:16) All over scripture it tells us to “Love one another.”
And Truth. We have the Gospel Truth. “Thou shalt not lie” is one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus says “I am the truth.” (Jn 14:6)
The Apostle John seemed to be all about these two words: Love and Truth. He lived his entire life devoted to Jesus and when he spoke of Him it revolved around the bold proclamation that Jesus was the souce… the ultimate source… of Love and Truth.
Theologian Philip Schaff said this of John, “…John resigned himself to the knowledge of the world-embracing, divine personality of Christ, with a devotion which cast the whole world into the shadow of Christ. In this contemplation of the personal Christ he acquired that peculiar radiance in which he appears as the friend of Christ. Judas loved Jesus for a while for the sake of the Messianic kingdom as he conceived it; the other disciples, on the path of their discipleship, loved Jesus and His kingdom; John found all in the person of Jesus: kingdom and redemption, Father and home.”
Jesus was everything to John, and as we grow closer to Jesus, and as our vision of Him grows, the world becomes eclipsed in Christ. Everything becomes about Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the Apostle John and see how this relationship with Jesus developed.
John and James
We don’t need to spend too much time talking about John’s upbringing because we covered a lot of that last week under James. He was from a wealthy, affluent, popular family, had a rich mom and dad, and was probably quite spoiled as a child.
Jesus calls the brothers James and John the “Sons of Thunder” which gives us an insight into the kind of men they were. Passionate, fierce, vocal, loyal, … but probably also rash, judgemental, and quick-tempered. James and John were both part of the inner circle who got to see the most intimate parts of Jesus’ ministry life. A lot of what I said about James last week can probably be attributed to John.
How do we know that John was like James in this way? If you’ll recall last week you remember the story of James and John asking Jesus to call down fire on a Samaritan village who wouldn’t let Jesus come to them. John was around for a lot of the things that James said and did. We might think that perhaps all this was the impetuous James, but when we look at Mark 9:39, which is the only time John speaks in any of the Gospels, we can see that John did something similar. He says:
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Same idea. Not “because he was not following you…” but “…following us.” “Yeah, Jesus, we saw a guy who believes in you so much that he was able to cast out demons in your name… but we shut him down since he’s not in our club.” Same exclusive, spoiled, elitist mindset as we talked about before.
And just as I said last week, Jesus loved him anyway, called him into service, and because John said “yes”, Jesus made him into a powerful witness for the Gospel.
When you look at a lot of the old portraits of John, like in Da Vinci’s the Last Supper, John seems young, passive, gentle… but that’s not who John was. He was a passionate, zealous, loyal follower of Jesus’ – just like his older brother.
The Silence of John
There are some key differences in the life of John though that sets him apart from his older brother. The first is that John is always in the company of someone else. We never see John alone… not until he’s alone on the Isle of Patmos at the end of his life, long after the disciples have died.
Throughout scripture you read about James and John, Peter and John, even Mary and John – but never just John. In fact, as I just said, though John is present during many scenes, and is part of the inner circle, he only ever speaks alone once – and then is immediately smacked down J. James and John seem to speak together – there’s a lot of “they said”…, but John only speaks alone once.
Arguing from silence is always dangerous, but I think we can make some educated guesses about what this tells us about John. For example, I think this tells us something about how he was seen by the other disciples and by Jesus. It is widely understood that John was the youngest of the apostles, and probably the youngest in his family. He was a kid by the standards of the others, and that would certainly affect how they treated him and how he acted. His silence could be a result of being respectful to the elders around him.
However, even at his young age, Jesus called Him to be a follower – and then made him one of the three men closest to Him. His age didn’t determine how much Jesus loved him, or his access to the good news.
John’s age gave him a unique and interesting perspective on what was happening around him. Though he may have struggled with the same sense of entitlement as James, and bust out when he had the chance, I think his youth made him a background character. He jumped in to join James, and Peter, and was brave in following Christ, even going where others wouldn’t – like into the trial before the High Priest and standing at the foot of the cross – but he didn’t go alone, he always had a partner, and never really seemed to have the personality (or the right) to burst out like Peter or James did.
That position, of being younger, less respected when standing next to Peter and James and the other adult Apostles, needing permission to do things, standing behind and with others rather than striking out on his own may have made him more contemplative, more thoughtful, more introspective than the others. He wasn’t in front of the action, but along-side it — witnessing Jesus, hearing Jesus, mulling on what He said, how he interacted with what Peter was saying, what the Pharisees were saying, and… I think… that’s why his Gospel is so much different than the other three.
Each of the Apostles knew Jesus as the source of Love and Truth – but it seems that John knew it most keenly.
John and Peter
Mark’s Gospel, which are the recordings of the sermons of the Apostle Peter, is a gospel of action. We’ve talked about that before. The Gospel of John is much different. These were different men with different, dynamic relationships with Jesus – but they were indelibly tied together by their love of Christ.
In fact, the relationship between Peter and John, as presented in the Gospels, was something that I found to be very interesting and which I want to pick up on for a bit. They obviously knew each other before, since Peter probably worked for John’s father Zebedee. We don’t know what their relationship was like beforehand, but we can see that they became friends after Jesus called them both to be his disciples. It’s remarkable how many times we read about the contrast between Peter and John in the scriptures.
We talked before about the time when Peter and John went together to the house of the High Priest to be with Jesus during his trial. They were similar in that regard, going boldly to a place where they could be in danger. However, it is John who is able to get in easily to witness the trial – and Peter who was stopped at the door until John came back to get him. (John 18)
In John 20 when Mary Magdelene came to the tomb to anoint Jesus, she saw that the stone was rolled away and ran to find Peter and John. I love this story.
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.”
John then does something a little funny here. His concern has been all about the story of Jesus, but he takes a little break to give us a detail.
“Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (John 20:1–8, ESV)
There’s a give and take here between Peter and John showing they were kindred spirits, but different men. Peter was slower, John was faster. When Peter showed up he walked straight into the tomb – but John stayed outside. John came into the tomb second, but was the first to believe. Peter and John were similar in spirit and in love for Jesus, but very different in their journeys with Him.
Turn to John 21:3–8 and let’s read one more Peter and John story. Some of the disciples are wandering around without any idea what do to now – this is before the Ascension and the Great commission – and Peter says in verse 3:
“‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him,’ We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.” (John 21:3–8, ESV)
Who sees the Lord first? John. Who acts first? Peter. Another contrast of the actions of two men who deeply loved Jesus. Both knew Jesus very well, but they had different perspectives of Him and pursued Him in different ways.
And after Jesus has restored Peter by saying “Do you love me?” three times, he tells him that he will one day be martyred. And what does Peter do? He doesn’t complain or worry or argue – he points at John and says, “What about him?” Of all the apostles, he points at John. They must have had a pretty wonderful friendship / rivalry going.
It is Peter and John who Jesus sends to go and prepare the place where they would have the Last Supper (Luke 22:8)
Even later in Acts we see Peter and John hanging out together. They both go the temple in Acts 3 where they see a lame beggar. Peter and John both say “look at us”, but it is Peter who pronounces the miracle.
Peter and John are together in Acts 4 where they have been pulled before the ruling Counsel and are told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. And though both are seen as remarkable witnesses, it is Peter who speaks to the counsel.
In Acts 8 Peter and John are sent together to go to the new Samaritan believers so they might be blessed and given the Holy Spirit. So they traveled together – and I’m guessing this was there idea and that they simply enjoyed each other’s company.
The Differences in the Gospels
They loved each other, and they loved Jesus. And they related to Jesus in different ways. And when you look at their gospels, they even wrote about Jesus in different ways.
Where Peter uses himself as an example of how to do things – mostly wrong – throughout his gospel, John isn’t even willing to use his own name. He’s always using some other description, the most well-known being “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He never refers to himself. He does this to show humility, modesty, pointing attention away from himself and pointing it to Jesus. He always points to Jesus. He didn’t say it because he was more loved, but that he was amazed that Jesus loved him!
Where the other gospels, like Mark, are like photo albums of the events in Jesus’ life, John’s is more like a carefully crafted portrait – a single, master-crafted, vivid, painstakingly detailed portrait of Jesus.
Peter is all about Jesus’ miracles and going place to place. John doesn’t have a lot of miracles, he’s more concerned about explaining who Jesus really is – the source of Love and Truth. It is in John’s gospel that we read the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus where he gives us more symbolism – more word pictures – of who Jesus is. The portrait John paints of Jesus is complex, with layers and multi-purpose brush-strokes each giving us a deeper perspective of Jesus.
Most new believers are told to begin reading their bibles, not in the Gospel of Matthew or Mark, but the Gospel of John because it is in John’s book that Jesus is described in the most relational, intimate, loving, passionate language. John was a man who knew Jesus intimately, deeply, and in a very special way.
John’s gospel doesn’t have a birth story, or jump right into the story of John the Baptist, but shows us his desire to give the reader a deeper understanding of who Jesus is – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–5, 9-14 ESV)
For John, all of world history, everything from the beginning to eternity revolves around Jesus. Jesus is the source of Life, of Truth, of Love, and the presence of God – Jesus is where everything that matters comes from. He writes in a way to introduce us to this Jesus. Not just stories – but a deep understanding of the divine nature of Jesus, and the depth of his love.
The End of John’s Life
All of his writing came near the end of John’s life after he had spent decades praying, contemplating, serving, and loving Jesus. The depth of John’s writing comes from a long-term dependence on and passion for Jesus.
John spent his elder years being the bishop, the lead Pastor, of the churches of Asia in Ephesus. Ephesus had the largest church, and had the “seminary” where missionaries were trained to go all over the world.
At some point in his elder years John’s ministry became a threat to the Roman government and they exiled him to the Island of Patmos to live out his life alone and in obscurity. They struck the head of the church, the last living Apostle, but didn’t kill him – though tradition says they certainly tried. They exiled him.
What they didn’t know is that this was God’s plan all along. Jesus sent John to Patmos so that he could have the time, focus and concentration to be able to receive the greatest revelation of all time.
During his absence from them, the churches of Asia started to fall away from the truth. In the absence of their shepherd, “fierce wolves” (Acts 20:29) attacked the sheep and were tearing it apart. They were falling for traps – false teaching, working instead of worshipping, letting their hearts grow cold, allowing sin and sinners to infect the church and it’s leadership.
He had been fighting against it for years, one of the Sons of Thunder boldly combating false teachers and false teaching — his letters which we call 1st, 2nd and 3rd John are each about that. But on the Isle of Patmos John receives his greatest revelation and letters directly from Jesus for these churches.
John had stood back during his time on earth, had let others speak for him, had travelled with James, with Peter, but never alone, had been surrounded by churches and ministers and the presence of the church for years, was now alone – and in that time alone Jesus gave him exactly what He needed – a word for His beloved churches, and a special revelation beyond anything he could imagine.
Consider the introduction to the Revelation, starting in chapter 1 verse 9:
“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” (Revelation 1:9–19, ESV)
The love John had for Jesus was deep, and his understanding of Jesus was deep as well – but after this revelation, John would sit back and think – “I barely knew anything about him!”
Just like last week I want to pull a few applications out of the life of John that we can take home this week:
First, I’m really struck by the contrast between Peter and John. Both were men who loved Jesus, knew Jesus, followed Jesus, preached Jesus, led the church, wrote gospels… but were different people. Different ages, different temperaments, different stations in life – one outgoing and outspoken, the other brash, spoiled, contemplative – but they seemed to be able to overcome their differences and enjoy minister together.
Our world today seems to want to force like with like and encourages people to find their “group” or “clique” and stay within it. We put kids in of the same age in the same grade and expect them to grow. Many churches split people up into Kid’s group, Youth group, College and Career group, Parents with kids group, mom’s group, ladies group, men’s group, seniors group… but there is an need for people of different groups to be around one another.
It is very neat to me that Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the Last Supper together. Was he setting them up for a lifetime friendship before He died on the cross and commissioned them to the world? Let’s not write off people who are of different ages, personalities, outlooks and giftings. Let’s look for ways that we can appreciate the differences God made in them and include many voices in our various gatherings. Let’s see ways we can find older mentors, people with different skill-sets. When you come across someone who is difficult or different than you, don’t flee them – find out how their differences can teach you more about Jesus.
Second, the humility of John strikes me as amazing too. Throughout his life John learned humility. Like his older brother James, he put Jesus ahead and make himself second. And after a life-time of prayer and service John didn’t even want to put his own name on his letters and Gospel. Like John the Baptist who said “He must increase and I must decrease” John seems to have committed himself to proclaiming the name of Jesus – not his own.
Now that doesn’t mean he didn’t step in. John was no wallflower. He wasn’t wishy-washy. He was still a son of thunder, but as we talked about last week, his strength was brought under the lordship of Jesus. Listen to 1 John 1:5–10 and you won’t hear anything weak:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
John told it like it is, but without any concern about himself. It was all about Jesus, the gospel and the church. In the same way, let’s ask ourselves how we can decrease for the sake of the increase of the name and the fame of Jesus’ Christ. That’s when we will be truly happy, worshipping, and used by God – when we bring ourselves under the Lordship of Christ.
Third, being in relationship with Jesus, learning about Jesus, and loving Him, will never get boring. It will never get old. It is the one relationship in our life where there will always be something to learn, a dynamic exchange to happen, something special to experience. He’s the infinite God of the universe, the creator of all things, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. Our whole lives can be dedicated to following Him and studying His word and we will never run out of times where we are amazed, awestruck, humbled and are knocked on our knees in worship by Jesus. It is we who move away from Him to find joy in lesser things.
As CS Lewis said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)
He is worth our time, effort and attention. Let’s ask ourselves, “How can we press further into Christ, learn more dependence on Him, increase our awe, and not be so easily pleased with what we see here in this world when Jesus offers us so much more?” He offers us Love and Truth – the deepest desires of our heart.