So who’s John?
In the above shot taken from the movie The Passion of the Christ, he is the guy whose face you can’t see, the one Jesus is looking at and talking to.
He is the writer of 5 books in the Bible: the gospel of John, three letters – 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the book of Revelation. The gospel of John is perhaps the best known book in the Bible – it is sometimes given as a standalone book to new believers and anyone who wants to know more about Christ. And John 3:16 is probably the most well-known and memorised verse in the entire Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
He’s the one to whom God revealed the events of the end times and Jesus’s eventual victory with all believers in visions, that became the book of Revelation, possibly the most mysterious, exciting, and discussed book in the Bible.
He’s best known as the apostle of love, because of his focus on God’s love in his writings, and fondness for addressing believers in his writings as “Beloved”.
He’s the one who leaned on Jesus’s bosom at the Last Supper, to whom Jesus revealed the identity of the disciple who would betray Him. He’s one of the 3 disciples of Jesus (the other 2 being Peter and James) whom Jesus took to witness great things, like the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount.
He was the only one of the 12 disciples who remained with Jesus at the foot of the cross, with Jesus’s mother Mary and Mary Magdalene.
According to church history, he was the longest-living of the apostles, passing on of old age and the only remaining apostle who did not die as a martyr. Not that it was for the lack of trying, because historical accounts tell of John being persecuted and put into a cauldron of boiling oil to kill him, but coming out unscathed; and being forced to drink poison, which also did not hurt him.
Pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say? What amazing accomplishments and testimonies!
Ah, but perhaps some of you might say, well, but he was an apostle, wasn’t he? And an apostle of love, no less. That’s like a saint!
Actually, before John was known as the apostle of love, he had another nickname: Boanerges, or translated “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), given to him by none other than Jesus. What does that mean? John and his brother James probably had bad tempers, and were brash and given to be quick in issuing judgement.
We see proof of this in Luke 9:49-50, where John stopped someone outside their band of disciples from casting out demons in Jesus’s name. And a few verses after this we see the eagerness of James and John in wanting to “command fire to come down from heaven to consume” the Samaritan village that had rejected Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Hmm, not exactly very loving.
He was ambitious and eager for power, too. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark we read about John and James asking Jesus for the place of honour at His right and left, to the great displeasure of the other apostles (Matthew 20:20-24, Mark 10:35-41).
So what changed?
I believe the turning point for John was realising that Jesus loved him just as he was, and he practised this love of Jesus for him personally.
John was the only apostle recorded as referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, which appears only in John’s own gospel.
The first time this phrase appeared, Jesus revealed His betrayer to John (John 13:23-26).
The second time it appeared, John was found standing at the foot of the cross, the only one of the 12 apostles who had not fled and scattered, available and ready to serve Jesus as Jesus passed the care of His mother Mary into John’s hands (John 19:25-27).
The third time it appeared, John outran Peter to the empty tomb, saw the linen cloths without the body, and believed in the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:2-5).
The fourth time it appeared, John was the first in the boat who discerned that the risen Lord Jesus was the One who gave them the multitude of fish in their net (John 21:4-7).
The fifth and final time this phrase appeared, John was found following behind Jesus and Peter, even though he had not been told to do so (John 21:19-20).
Though John wasn’t perfect (just like you and I), he found a secret in simply resting in and practising Jesus’s love for him, the love that far surpassed his own for Jesus, the love that never failed and never wavered. And simply feeding on that love resulted in John being the most faithful and loyal to Jesus, hearing the most intimate secrets of the Lord, having unconscious faith and discernment, and being at the right place at the right time.
The secret and the lessons we learn from John’s life is this: it is always better to depend on and boast of the Lord Jesus’s love for you than to depend on and boast of your love for Him.
And the amazing thing is, the more you depend on and boast of the Lord Jesus’s love for you, the more you will end up unconsciously loving Him, hearing from Him, seeing Him in situations, getting close to Him, following and serving Him, and being at the right place and right time to do so.
Start seeing and calling yourself the disciple whom Jesus loves. And then start seeing Him do great things through you, in you, and for you.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.