15. Variety

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 15. Variety of Followers

Mk 1:19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.

Two meditations ago we considered how Jesus chose such ordinary men. Here are now two more very ordinary men who get called by Jesus to follow him. These two, however, later get the nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ because they started out being such fiery followers. That is strange because John ends up being the apostle who was most aware of God’s wonderful love and that brought about such an incredible pastoral heart in him.

These may be just some more fishermen but they are unique individuals. There are some cults of which it is said they just produce clones. That could never be said of mainstream Christianity because the Lord takes individuals and keeps them as individuals and in fact develops their uniqueness and individuality. Here is a mystery for the New Testament also speaks of the Church as the body of Christ and the emphasis is on the individual parts and yet they all work in harmony.

Chinese Christian leader, Watchman Nee, wrote a book emphasizing the difference in calling of these men, Peter who was called after fishing and who became the ‘Great Fisherman’ and then John who was called ‘preparing’ or ‘mending’ his nets and who role and writings in the New Testament seemed to focus on mending or strengthening the early Church. Peter ended up being martyred while John was the only one of the twelve apostles to die of old age. Both started from the church in Jerusalem but Peter ended up in Rome while John ended up in Ephesus before and after a period of exile on the island of Patmos.

Yes, when you become a Christian you need not have any fear that the Lord is just going to clone you and make a uniform pattern Christian out of you. There is no such thing!  Each one of us is unique and we have a unique calling and a unique experience of the Lord. Some of us the Lord will turn into apostles, others prophets and others Pastors or teachers and other just unique witnesses. He sees our character and He sees what we are capable of and uniquely draws us out to be that unique person, gifted by Him.

Lord, thank you that you do not try to make me be like anyone except your Son, Jesus. Thank you that you have made me a unique individual and you love me as an individual and you will take me and use me as an individual.

8. James

People who met Jesus : 8 :  James

Mk 3:17    James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder)

Sometimes when we look at the apostles, or hear them being preached about, we feel that these were spiritual giants and we can in no way match them. Well, without doubt they were men who stood out, if for no other reason that they were called by Jesus and travelled with him and witnessed all he did for three years. That must have been life transforming!  Some of the twelve stand out in that there is much written about them, some stand out because their names stand out for some reason, and others don’t stand out at all, because they hardly get a mention. James comes into the second category – it is always ‘James and John’.

However, James seems to sit in the shadow of John in history. John became a great leader and died an old man. Yet, in all the descriptions of the two brothers, James comes first and is presumably the older of the two. Like his brother he is nicknamed a ‘son of thunder’. Presumably the two brothers were alike. Yes, it had been John who had wanted the person delivering people in Jesus’ name to be stopped (as we saw in the previous meditation), but it was James and John who wanted the Samaritans to be killed for their rejection of Jesus: 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). It was also both of them who came wanting Jesus to promote them: “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.” (Mk 10:35-37)

He had been called with his brother while they were in their fishing boat, so he was another of the fishermen: “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him,” (Mt 4;21,22) so, to be positive about him, he was another of those who just put everything aside to follow Jesus. Good stuff!

But of course he was also one of the ‘inner three’ who Jesus took with him up the Mount of Transfiguration: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves,” (Mt 17:1) so he was clearly close to Jesus. He had also been taken by Jesus with the other two to witness the healing of the Synagogue ruler’s daughter: “He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.” (Mk 5:37) He was also part of the small inner group who asked Jesus for understanding: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mk 13:3,4)  In the Garden of Gethsemane he was also one of the inner group that Jesus took to be close to him while he prayed: “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mk 14:33)

And that, in the Gospels at least, is all we are told about James. After Jesus’ ascension, James was with the others praying in the upper room: “Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James,” (Acts 1:13) so he was one of the senior apostles who continued the church in Jerusalem. Interestingly Luke puts his name after John now, who presumably had risen to greater prominence.  The only other reference we find to him is: “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” (Acts 12:1,2) Thus he dies as one of the early martyrs.

So here we see him, a close follower of Jesus, one of the inner leading group, originally a firebrand, but one who sticks with Jesus and is clearly there as a leader as the years go on, until the point where he is singled out (probably because he was a leader) and is put to death by Herod. He doesn’t get any particular fame but is simply known as a good follower. That may be you or me and, as we stick close to Jesus and go with him wherever he takes us; that is enough. Be known as a faithful follower. You may not be called to great and spectacular things, but just be faithful in all you do, and be a blessing to Jesus as he leads, trains and transforms you.

7. John

People who met Jesus : 7 :  John

Mk 3:17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder)

When we come to the apostle John we come into an area of dispute and it’s really to do with whether he was the author of the fourth Gospel and if he was, was he the one described there as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. My own conviction is that he was both. Our verse above shows John in the list of the twelve appointed by Jesus, where we also see that Jesus nicknamed he and his brother James, ‘sons of thunder’. They were clearly loud and noisy as we’ll soon see.

They were called immediately after Andrew and Peter: Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Mt 4:21,22) and there was no indication, like the other two, that they had been seekers who had gone to John the Baptist. Perhaps this designation, ‘sons of thunder’ also suggests that they were rough and ready and not of the same ilk as Andrew and Peter. If that is so, what is wonderful about these two being called, is that Jesus could see what they would become rather than what they were.

This tendency to be loud and noisy also had a negative nature to it, which we see in Luke chapter 9: Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (Lk 9:49) John was clearly loyal to Jesus and didn’t want anyone else horning in on the act! Jesus simply gently corrected him. A bit later we find, “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) in respect of the Samaritans who rejected Jesus. Again Jesus simply rebukes them gently.

A further illustration of their forwardness came when, “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.” (Mk 10:35-37) They clearly have leading positions but not much of a clue as to what the kingdom of God was about. Jesus explained that this was not possible but when the other disciples heard about this they “became indignant with James and John.” (v.41)

Without doubt he was one of the ‘inner three’: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves,” (Mt 17:1) and so they share in the wonder of the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. (We’ll see more of these three in the next meditation).

Later Jesus used John with Peter to make preparations for the Last Supper: “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” (Lk 22;8) It was during the Last Supper that we find John’s Gospel inferring that John was particularly close to Jesus, possibly even closer than Peter: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (Jn 13:23,24)

So let’s consider John’s Gospel. John’s name is not mentioned once. Peter is mentioned over 30 times. Andrew, Peter’s brother is mentioned 6 times. James, John’s brother is not mentioned at all; not surprising if it is the apostle John writing and he’s keeping his family out of it.  We have already just seen one reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in Jn 13:23. Another such reference is, “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,” (Jn 19:26) Why would such a designation be given unless it was the writer himself?  Why would Jesus commit his mother into the care of anyone other than one who had been with him throughout his ministry? After the resurrection, reporting on Mary Magdalene, we find, “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (Jn 20:2) We know from the Synoptic Gospels that it was Peter and John who she encountered.

Later in the boat up on the Sea of Galilee we find, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” (Jn 21:7) This is a fisherman in the boat with Peter, surely John.

Finally we find, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.(Jn 21:20-24)

Thus five times, from chapter 13 to 21, we have John testifying to his awareness of being loved by Jesus.  By the time he wrote the Gospel, he is a self-deprecating, humble, senior, old leader in the church. The transformation that has taken place in John is possibly greater than in any of the other disciples, or at least as far as the evidence we have tells us. From being a somewhat loud mouthed, judgmental and self-seeking disciple, he has become a gentle, humble, wise, insightful leader – all because he has been loved. Thus he was able to write in his first letter, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (Jn 4:10) John’s life is a testimony to the transforming love of Jesus. May ours be the same!