13. John – fisherman, fire-bringer, filled with love

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 13. John – fisherman, fire-bringer, filled with love.

Mt 17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves

Lk 9:54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

And So:  So we draw near, I believe, to the end of this little series and perhaps there is no better place to conclude these thoughts than with the apostle John. I came across a quote the other day from a well known and respected apologist who commented that scholars are more and more realising that the John in the Gospels, the John of the Gospel and the John of the letters is all the same John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23, also 20:2, 21:7,20). I’m glad about that because I believe the heart of John’s Gospel is the same heart that wrote John’s letters.  That comment about being “the disciple whom Jesus loved”  doesn’t necessarily mean he was more loved by Jesus than any of the others of the Twelve, but that he was especially aware of being loved. Describing himself like that four times in his Gospel says it must be the author of the Gospel writing about himself and that same love pours through his letters as well. Above all else John was conscious of Jesus’ love for them.

But when? But when did John come to that awareness? Without going into the details, his Gospel is thought to have been written last of the four, possibly sixty-five years after Jesus died. John was now an old man, an elder of the church in Ephesus. As I have written many times in the past, I have observed that the older people get the sharper their long-term memory often is. They forget things of a couple of minutes ago, but the things of sixty years back start becoming clearer. I teach a ‘strengthening-your-memory’ class for elderly people, using long-term memories to bolster short-term memory. I imagine John with younger disciples in Ephesus and, as elderly people do, reminiscing about those three most dramatic years with Jesus, and as he does so, so it is that things come to mind that he realises the other three hadn’t given any attention to as they sought to anchor the bare bones of what happened. This is why his Gospel is so profound, so full of meaning, so full of the deeper things Jesus taught about himself.

The Apostle of Love: Whereas Matthew records the word ‘love’ 15 times (Mark only 7) and Luke 14 times, the word appear 39 times in John’s Gospel and 27 times in his relatively short first letter! John oozes love!  But did he become aware of Jesus’ love at the time or when he came to write the Gospel? We’ll never know, but the truth is that he was certainly aware of it by the time he wrote his Gospel all those years later: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” (Jn 3:16) and, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” (Jn 11:5) and, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” (Jn 13:1) and, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (Jn 13:34, also 15:12), and “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” (Jn 15:9)

Back to the beginning: But this is supposed to be a series about failures being transformed into vessels holding His glory and so far we’ve been focusing on the end, the glory. Strangely there is not a great deal said about John. He’s presumably the younger brother always getting mentioned after James (e.g. Mt 4:21, 10:2, 17:1). Because there was something about them, Jesus names them ‘Sons of Thunder’ (Mk 3:17) and we see John’s less than full-of-grace early discipleship several times: “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (Mk 9:38, Lk 9:49) and, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask,” (Mk 10:35) and finally, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk 9:54) I leave you to make your own assessment of those instances. To be fair, John and James were part of that innermost group of four chosen by Jesus who went in with Jesus to Jairus’s daughter (Jn 8:51), went up the mount of transfiguration with Jesus (Lk 9:28), were sent by Jesus to make Passover preparations (Lk 22:8) and went with Jesus to pray in Gethsemane (Mk 14:33). Nevertheless, the somewhat graceless testimony still stands for those early days. (NB. He never uses his own name in his Gospel)

So what changed? The years! John has witnessed Jesus’ death (Jn 19:26), he was there at Pentecost filled with the Spirit, he was with Peter involved in healing the beggar (Acts 3), arrested (Acts 4:1,3), spoke out (Acts 4:19), imparted the Spirit to the Samaritan believers (Acts 8:14,17), heard of his brother being killed (Acts 12:2), i.e. he was part of the ongoing ministry of Jesus through the apostles. Of the remaining eleven he was the only one not to be martyred although he was exiled to the prison island of Patmos. We are told he ended his life and ministry as an elder of Ephesus, as we’ve already noted, and so put all these things together and you have a brash young, somewhat insensitive and self-concerned young man, drawn into discipleship where, as the years passed he is drawn more and more into spiritual leadership until, eventually in old age, he is the sole survivor of the Twelve, and an utterly transformed man – by love.   

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