THE TWELVE 2008 — JOHN
What happens when we deny we are sinners? 1 John says that makes us liars and the truth is not in us. But what happens when Jesus sheds His blood for our sins? We receive grace. Our love for truth is rivaled by our love for love. And we begin to see ourselves the way God sees us. John’s life reminds us of these things. And we should pay attention to them because aside side from Luke and the apostle Paul, John wrote more of the New Testament than any other Bible writer. Which means we could be here all day talking about John. Relax, we won’t be!!! But before we go any further, let’s take a little time to look at the big picture.
In the four lists of the apostles, John is always included among the first 4 mentioned. He was the younger brother of James and a frequent companion to Peter in the first twelve chapters of Acts. But since John outlived all the other apostles, ultimately it was his leadership and voice that lingered nearly to the end of the first century AD and his writings way beyond that—even to this day. When we first encounter John, both he and Andrew are disciples of John the Baptist. But like Andrew, John without hesitation began following Jesus as soon as John the Baptists announced “Behold the Lamb of God .” Why?
Because point number one: John loved the truth. He believed what John the Baptist was saying. About repentance. And forgiveness. And the coming kingdom of God. He couldn’t have been following John the Baptist for his luxurious life style and 401K. I mean, John the Baptist was a little crazy. He was out there in the wilderness saying some very startling things. Things that could get someone killed. But that didn’t matter to John because he wasn’t there for the locusts and wild honey. He was there because he heard truth. So when John the Baptist announced what he did about Jesus and followed it up in John 3:30 with “He must increase, but I must decrease”, John the disciple abandoned the Baptist and followed The Way, The Truth, and The Life as Jesus would later identify himself.
Truth was a big deal to John. He uses the word for truth in his gospel and epistles 45 times. In 3 John 4, John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” And while his vision and physical strength undoubtedly waned as he aged, the strength of his tongue and pen did not. 1 John 2:4 says, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Verse 6 adds, “6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”
Both he and Jesus hammered home the significance of obeying truth. Which is point number one. John loved truth. But he needed to learn how to speak it in love. Which is point number two. The story in Mark 9 where John forbade a man to cast out demons in Jesus’ name is a good illustration of this. So let’s turn there.
Interestingly, Mark 9 is the only place in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke so named because of their many similarities) where John acts and speaks alone. All the other times in the Bible, he’s always with someone else. With Peter going to prepare the Passover Meal. With Jesus, reclining as the custom was, on his chest around the supper table. With Peter in the high priest’s courtyard the night Jesus was arrested. With Peter Sunday morning racing to the tomb. With James pleading with Jesus to allow them to bring fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritans for rejecting Jesus. During that temper tantrum, John was as guilty as James in displaying a judgmental and unloving spirit toward unbelievers. Now, in Mark 9, John is guilty of a similar kind of exclusive unloving spirit, only this time, it’s directed toward a fellow believer. Let’s look at this.
Mark 9:38 (NIV) says, “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’” Other versions say “He does not follow us.” John forbade the man from ministering in Jesus’ name because he was not officially a member of their group. This from a genuine apostle mind you! A member of the inner three.
He had just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. An event unparalleled in all history! And then he meets some guy running around in the name of Jesus effectively and sincerely ministering for Jesus’ sake and John couldn’t handle it. He blew up. This shows the intolerance of the Son of Thunder. His theology was too narrow. In truth and love. And in word and deed. Later, in 1 John 3:18 (KJV), he would write, “My little children, let us not love in word, but in deed and in truth.” But right now he’s struggling with both.
He assumed no one but his chosen group could effectively minister in Jesus’ name with Jesus’ blessing. Do you think that happens today? I think it does. And when it does, it reveals our self–righteousness. It reveals our ambition. It tells others more about our desire to heard. It reveals our hunger for status and favor. John was competitive and aggressive. Think about it! He’s not judging unbelieving Samaritans worshiping Baalzebub like Ahab and Jezebel. Now he’s condemning a fellow believer, a fellow Christ follower, who is obviously doing effective ministry for God’s glory! Why? Because that man wasn’t a part of his group. Because that man didn’t share his understanding of all the blessings Jesus had revealed.
And I confess I’ve been as guilty as anyone of doing so in the past. But God is growing me up in this area of my life. He’s been doing so by sending sincere people, inside and outside of our church, into my life who remind me of the bigness of God’s family. So please notice, Jesus rebukes anything and anyone that smacks of arrogance, elitism, sectarianism, or exclusivism. Whether they’re outside our tribe like the Samaritans in Luke 9. Or inside it like the guy in Mark 9. Criticizing other Christians is not our job. Never has been. Never will be.
Jesus says in Mark 9:39 (NIV) He said, “‘Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lost his reward.’”
Most of that I’ve heard before. In some way or another. But this next part I haven’t. Maybe you haven’t either. Mark 9:38 makes it clear that John volunteered this information. He confessed what he said about that man to Jesus because he was convicted he was wrong. Why do you confess something? Isn’t it because the Holy Spirit convinces you to do so? I think John’s conscience was bothering him. He had always been zealous for truth. But now the Lord was teaching him to love. And because he confessed it, we know he was willing to learn. Point number one: John loved truth. But point number two: He learned to speak it in love. Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) says it this way. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
John must have learned this lesson well because in his epistles he repeatedly joins together the concepts of love and truth. In 2 John 1 he writes, “To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” Quoting Matthew 22:37, he adds in verse 5 saying, “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.”
But John balances that emphasis on love by urging this woman not to compromise her love by receiving and blessing false teachers who undermine the truth. 2 John 7, 10 (NIV) says, “7Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
So true love does not disregard truth. But neither is it ever hostile and hurtful. Especially to those who are already effectively ministering in Jesus’ name. Note the criteria. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching.” What teaching? The teaching about Jesus! How are we supposed to tell if people are part of some conspiracy or spiritual deception in the end time? By the day they gather for corporate worship? No! By whether or not they believe Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again. That’s how John says we can tell.
So let’s not criticize sincere pastors of other churches doing effective ministry for Jesus’ sake. Instead, let’s develop relationships with them. Befriend them. Work with them. And show them the difference our truths can make in their lives. And please stop spreading rumors. And forwarding emails. Or if you can’t, please stop forwarding them to me. Because I don’t want to read them! My relationship with Jesus doesn’t need to be motivated by fear and conspiracy and end times! The Bible says we have nothing to be afraid of, even in the end times, because love casts out fear. And even if it didn’t, doesn’t the Bible say in Luke 6:27-28 that we’re to love our enemies? Well, if we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you, how much more loving should we be with the fellow believers and true Christians inside and outside our own little flock?
Point number one: John loved truth. But point number two: He had to learn to speak it in love. And so do we. Real quick. One more John story. This one occurs one chapter later in Mark 10:35–37 (NIV). “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘We want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’”
Comparing Matthew’s account of this story, we learn that they actually recruited their mommy to ask Jesus for them. Matthew 20:20 [KJV] says, “20Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.”
We also know they asked her to ask him in secret because Mark 10:41 (NIV) says, “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.” When the ten heard...They had heard John arguing about who should be the greatest. But they didn’t know he actually had the audacity to ask Jesus to make him the greatest!
So obviously, though an apostle and sincere follower of Jesus, John’s theology and Christian witness was still very narrow. In truth and in love. In word and in deed. He had yet to leave the “elementary teachings” Hebrews 5:11 through 6:3 speaks about. John was still ambitious and proud. We know this is true because on the final night of Jesus’ ministry, none of the apostles including John, had the humility to pick up the basin and the towel to wash each other’s feet. So Jesus did it Himself.
But in spite of all his continued faults and failings, he learned to see himself and others as beloved. This becomes obvious when you note that the word love shows up twice as many times as the word truth in his gospel and epistles—some 80 times compared to 45. But even without that comparison, this becomes clear if you dig a little into John 13:23 so let’s do that.
In that verse, refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus kept on loving” (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). Now I know that’s not what that verse says in English. In English, that verse says, ““Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” It’s talking about the Last Supper in the Upper Room that Micheangelo’s painting made famous. And that painting is why ancient artists often portray him as meek, mild, even effeminate. But as we’ve seen from Scripture, John was anything but meek and mild. He wasn’t born that way. He wasn’t even born again that way!
He loved truth. But he had to learn to love love. And according to the actual Greek meaning of John 13:23, he did because he writes in his very old age that Jesus “kept on loving him.” John doesn’t call himself the beloved in John 13:23 because Jesus loved him more. Or because John was a better Christian than anyone else. He called himself the beloved because Jesus kept on loving him. Not because of him but in spite of him. He was rugged and ragged around the edges just like the rest of the fishermen disciples. He was intolerant, ambitious, zealous, hard headed, stubborn, aggressive, and self–assertive after years of sincerely following Jesus inevitably reminding Jesus why his nickname was “Son of Thunder.” Because he had a very short fuse.
But Jesus changed John. Not that moment. In the twinkling of an eye. But over a period of many years. By God’s grace. And because Jesus changed John, John eventually learned how to love truth, speak it in love, and let Jesus change others the same way. He learned to see himself and others as beloved. As people God keeps on loving. And as he did so, he eventually becoming the loving, godly elder statesman of the early church using gentle words like “Beloved” in 1 John 4:7-8 [KJV] which says, “7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
In 3 John 2 he includes himself as a brother and fellow child of God. “Dear friends, now we are children of God.” In Revelation 1:9 he describes himself as “Your brother and companion in the suffering and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.”
Point number one: He loved truth. But point number two: He learned to speak it in love. Eventually seeing himself and others as beloved. People Jesus keeps on loving. Which is point number three. Including the mother of Jesus.
We know from his account of Jesus’ trial in John 18:15 that he and Peter followed Jesus to the house of the high priest Caiaphas the night Jesus was arrested. There he watched as Jesus was bound and beaten. While all the other apostle ran away, as far as we know, John was the only eye witness to Jesus’ crucifixion. He watched the Roman soldiers drive in the nails. He was there when another soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. He was standing close enough to the cross to describe what he saw in John 19:25–27 (NIV). “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple whom he loved, standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Several witnesses in early church history record that John never left Jerusalem and never left the care of Mary until she died. After she did, early church historians say John became the pastor of the church Paul founded at Ephesus (modern day Turkey). To stem the tide of the rapidly growing Christian church, the rulers of the Jews enlisted the power of the Roman emperor. John was apprehended in Asia and sent as a prisoner to Rome where he was falsely tried, beaten, and, according to the ancient Roman historian Tertullian, cast into a caldron of boiling oil—only to have the Lord preserve his life as He preserved the lives of the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Since they couldn’t kill him, the Roman emperor Domitian, in the year 96 AD, banished him to Patmos—a 5 x 8 mile rocky island you can still visit today if you don’t mind the 10 hour ferry trip from Athens into the Aegean Sea.
Most scholars think after Domitian died and his edicts became null and void, that John returned to Ephesus in 97 AD at the ripe old age of 92 when he wrote his magnus opus—the Gospel of John—to combat Docetic heresies about Jesus creeping into the church. Eusebius, Iraneaus, & Clement of Alexandria state that John lived into the reign of Trajan, which began in 98 AD, dying shortly thereafter making him the only apostle not to die a martyr’s death.
Naturally a Son of Thunder, quick to condemn and preoccupied with prestige, he learned to be a loving, humble, and faithful follower of Jesus. His life proves it’s possible, by God’s grace, to be a faithful Adventist that loves truth, while speaking it in love. As we wait patiently for the return of Jesus. John’s life teaches us that God keeps on loving us. Even after we fall and fail and run away from Him. Which allows us to love ourselves and others the same way. Even when they don’t see that themselves. Is that your desire?
If it is, would you read 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) together with me off the screen? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.
For more information see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men pages 95-118, Acts of the Apostles pp.539–568, and Jon Paulien’s John pp.277–288.