If God was going to pick someone to tell His story, John wouldn’t have been a likely candidate. He wasn’t a theologian. He was a fisherman. He wasn’t even-tempered, kind, and loving. He was temperamental, harsh, and difficult to reason with at times. He didn’t meet Jesus at a church picnic. He met Jesus while he was on his family fishing boat, working on his nets. He wasn’t a seasoned saint. He was young—probably the youngest of all of Jesus’ disciples. You don’t have to have read much of the Bible at all to know that God chooses the least likely and not the most likely to carry out His work. Jesus called John and John followed Jesus until the day he died.
This morning we are beginning a brand new study. For the next several months we will work our way through the most amazing story, told by John, about his time spent with Jesus. This morning I want to spend our time introducing you to the man who was known by Jesus as one of the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), but who was later known by the church as the “Apostle of love.” When we leave here this morning I want us to feel like we know John. I want us to understand the powerful testimony he has left for us. I want us to know the reason why he took the time to write down his experience with Jesus. So let’s get started.
John, and his older brother James were followers of Jesus, but they had a history before they ever met Jesus, dropped their nets, and began to follow Him. John and James are often referred to in the Bible as the “sons of Zebedee.” Zebedee was a successful businessman in the area around the Sea of Galilee. Zebedee’s sons worked in their father’s fishing business, but the business was too much for Zebedee and his boys so there were others on the payroll. Zebedee’s fame extended beyond the region around the Sea of Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. I say that because when Jesus was arrested Peter and John were following closely behind all the way to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. John was known by the high priest, probably because of his dad, so they let him into the courtyard. They didn’t know Peter so they stopped him until John went back and let one of the servants know that Peter was with him. (John 18:15-16)
James and John’s mother, Salome, was a faithful follower of Jesus. We learn from Scripture that she was one of several women who followed Jesus and His disciples as they went about ministering to the needs of the people. She wasn’t following Jesus because she was curious; she and other women were so committed that they even provided financial support for Jesus’ ministry. She didn’t just follow Jesus when He was around her hometown; she followed Him all the way to Jerusalem. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, when He took His last breath, Salome was there. Matthew tells us,
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56 NIV)
We learn from Mark’s Gospel that on resurrection morning, John’s mom, Salome, and two of her friends had gone to buy spices to anoint Jesus’ body. When they went into the tomb they were met by an angel who let them know that Jesus wasn’t dead, He was alive!
Salome loved Jesus, but she also loved her boys. In Matthew 20, right after Jesus spoke to His disciples about His soon coming suffering, death, and resurrection, Salome approached Jesus and said, “Lord, can I talk to you a minute?” In Matthew 20:21 we read,
21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21 NIV)
The boys didn’t roll their eyes and say, “Oh mom! There you go again. Would you stop?!” There is every reason to believe that they had put her up to it. It’s more than a possibility because right after Salome asked the Lord for a favor; Jesus turned to James and John and said, “You really don’t know what you are asking.”
James and John were both passionate young guys. They were zealous, intense, wild-eyed, confident, bold, aggressive hard-liners whose passion could sometimes be extreme. In the only place in the synoptic Gospels where John speaks by himself we find his personality and his zeal shining like a diamond. In Mark 9:38-40 we read,
38 “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.” 39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40 NIV)
This same story is told by Luke. Luke follows the story of John reporting to Jesus that he had stopped folks from casting out demons in Jesus’ name with another story that gives us a glimpse into the intolerance and zeal of John. Turn with me to Luke 9:51-56 and I will show you what I’m talking about.
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 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?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56 NIV)
The Samaritans weren’t as welcoming as James and John would like so their next thought was, “Let’s wipe ‘em out! Lord, just give us the word and we’ll call down fire from heaven and turn this joint into an ash heap!” I hope you noticed, that didn’t set too well with Jesus. He rebuked the “Sons of Thunder” and went to another village.
Something dawned on me this past week as I was becoming more and more familiar with John. Each and every one of us has a “natural bent;” we are born with a personality, natural tendencies that can be beneficial or detrimental depending on how those natural tendencies are expressed. Some of us are by nature passive and laid back. We avoid confrontation at any cost. We want, more than anything, to get along with folks so we won’t rock the boat for anything. There are others of us who are fiery, passionate, and zealous. We have principles. There is such a thing as “right” and “wrong” and we just can’t let it slide for the sake of getting along. Some of us are solitary individuals. We don’t mind being by ourselves. As a matter of fact, we’d rather be by ourselves. Others seem to be hardwired to be with others. We thrive on being with, and interacting with, people. Each and every one of us have natural tendencies and John was no different than any of us. He was aggressive, tenacious, he saw the world in black and white, he wouldn’t back down from a fight, and he was confident…sometimes too confident. John MacArthur writes,
It is probably fair to say that one of the dangerous tendencies for a man with John’s personality is that he would have a natural inclination to push things to extremes. And indeed, it does seem that John in his younger years was a bit of an extremist. He seemed to lack a sense of spiritual equilibrium. His zeal, his sectarianism, his intolerance, and his selfish ambition were all sins of imbalance. They were all potential virtues, pushed to sinful extremes. That is why the greatest strengths of his character sometimes ironically caused his most prominent failures. (Mac Arthur, John. Twelve Ordinary Men. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. 2002. pg. 99.)
Jesus called John, flaws and all, and John followed Jesus until the day he died. John was captivated by Jesus. He didn’t derive his identity or self-worth from the fact that he was the son of a prominent businessman. He didn’t pride himself in being a fiery, passionate person. John’s identity, what he cherished most in life, was being known and loved by Jesus.
When John wrote his Gospel, his experience of living with and following Jesus, he never mentions his own name. Instead, he refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” In John 13, as Jesus was sharing the Last Supper with His disciples, there we find the “disciple whom Jesus loved” leaning back against Jesus. (John 13:25) In John 19, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, there he is again, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” standing next to Jesus’ mother. (John 19:26) There’s no doubt that Jesus loved John because in the scene I’ve just shared with you Jesus tells John to take care of His mom. In John 20, when Mary Magdalene discovered that the tomb was empty, she ran to Peter and the “other disciple, the one Jesus loved” and told them the Lord’s body was missing. John outran Peter and made it to the tomb first. In John 21, after Jesus’ death, some of the Lord’s disciples are together when Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” John, and some of the others, went along with him. Jesus appeared to them, but they didn’t recognize Him. He said, “Cast your nets out on the right side of the boat.” They did as they were told and in no time they had so many fish in their nets that they couldn’t bring them in. Then the “disciple whom Jesus loved” smiled at Peter and said, “It is the Lord!” In John 21, Jesus took Peter out for a walk, to have a heart-to-heart, and Peter sees the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and said, “What about him?” (John 21:20-21)
Jesus loved John. John knew it. It was the love of Jesus that brought about change in John’s life. When he met Jesus, John was a “Son of Thunder.” By the time John died in Ephesus as the last living disciple of Jesus, he was known as the “Apostle of love.” That’s what happens when you follow Jesus. You will be changed. He will take that natural bent that can get you and me in trouble, that can be used to inflict harm or distance ourselves from others, and He will mold and shape your natural bent so that it’s used for the glory of God. Jesus didn’t drain John of his passion and zeal. He molded it and shaped it so that John’s zeal and passion were used for God’s glory.
John used the word, “truth,” 45 times in the five books of the Bible that he wrote, but he also used the word, “love,” 80 times in those same books. John MacArthur says, “It is wonderful to be bold and thunderous, but love is the necessary balance.” (Twelve Ordinary Men. pg. 115)
After Jesus’ resurrection and the birth of the Church, we see Peter emerge as the leader of the Lord’s followers, but John is still there. In Acts 4, Peter and John are thrown in prison for speaking to the people about Jesus. When they are brought out before the authorities they are unwavering in their commitment to the message of the Gospel and the call to make Jesus known. Threats didn’t faze them. In Acts 4:13-14 we read,
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. (Acts 4:13-14 NIV)
Even though Jesus had been resurrected and had left His followers, He was still transforming their lives. Do you remember the “Sons of Thunder” wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans? Let me show you another encounter John had with some Samaritans found in Acts 8. Turn with me to Acts 8:14-17 and let’s read together.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17 NIV)
Change was happening. John wasn’t losing his zeal and passion, but it was becoming shaped by Jesus’ love for all people.
Church history tells us that John ended up in Ephesus, overseeing the churches in the area, sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. One of the early Church fathers, a man named Irenaeus, who was born between 125 and 130 A.D. and later became the Bishop of Lyons, wrote an important book to combat the growing influence of Gnosticism on the Church. In his book, Against Heresies, written about 180 A.D., he talks about the authors of the Gospels. At the end of the paragraph he writes,
Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies)
This information is important because Irenaeus, when he was a young man, was greatly influenced by Bishop Polycarp, a man who was a disciple of the Apostle John.
So John went to Ephesus sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. but he didn’t live out his days there. A man named Domitian came to power as the new Emperor of the Roman Empire. Domitian ruled the Roman Empire from 81-96 A.D. Domitian didn’t like Christians. He had some killed, confiscated the property of others, had Christian books and the Scriptures burned, and many of the leaders of the followers of Jesus exiled to the island of Patmos. John was one of the leaders who was sent into exile.
The authorities can kill God’s people, confiscate their property, seek to destroy the Scriptures, and even try and hide God’s people in remote, out-of-the-way places, but you can’t stop the work of God. While John was in exile the Spirit of God revealed to him what we now know as the book of Revelation. John tells us in Revelation 1:9.
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NIV)
Revelation would prove to be a great comfort to God’s persecuted people throughout history. It is interesting, that all the while John wrote Revelation, he never once mentioned his own suffering. John wrote about the victory and glory of God over every evil power.
Domitian may have exiled John, trying to rid the Empire of the message of Jesus, but in 96 A.D. Domitian was killed by one of his own court officials and the exiles on Patmos were released. Eusebius was a Roman historian who became the Bishop of Caesarea in 314 A.D. He is known as “the father of church history” mainly because he published a ten volume work called, “The Church History.” Eusebius writes about John’s release from exile.
But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years and Nerva succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian’s honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode in Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition. (Eusebius)
The Roman Senate voted to release all of the exiles on Patmos and John returned to Ephesus an old, feeble man. It was at the end of his life that John wrote 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. His eyes may have been growing dim, his strength must has been failing, the powerful “Son of Thunder” was now feeble, but the fire still burned bright. You get the sense from reading those letters that the young kid is now a seasoned saint. Over and over again, nine times in 1 John we read, “dear children,” and “my dear children.” In 2 John and 3 John, the Apostle begins his letter with, “The elder.” On every page John is still taking his stand for the truth of God, but at the same time he is passionately pleading for God’s people to love another.
Most people believe that John died in Ephesus around 98 A.D. of natural causes. He was the last of the Lord’s original 12 disciples. All of the others had been killed. His own brother, James, was killed early on, by Herod Agrippa I.
Jerome writes that John stayed in Ephesus until he died. He says that John grew so feeble that he had to be supported by his disciples on his way to the church and was hardly able to speak. He didn’t speak much, but one phrase was most often on his lips, “My little children, love one another.” One day someone asked him why he always spoke the phrase? John said, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this alone is obeyed, it is enough.” John followed Jesus until the day he died.
You and I hear people on a regular basis question the authenticity and authority of God’s Word. Skeptics rule the day. Rarely will anyone ask the skeptics to answer the question, “What do you base that belief on?” For many years now there have been many Bible scholars who have questioned the reliability and authenticity of the Gospel of John. It is so unlike the other three Gospels that they said that it could not have been written by John, but was probably written 150 or 200 years after Jesus’ death. Those scholars basically placed it in the same category as Bible fiction.
Archaeological discoveries have changed all of that. Today, most respected Bible scholars embrace the Apostle John as the author of the Gospel. They’ve also given up their late date and now believe that the Gospel of John was written as early as the 60s…within 30-40 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
What brought about the change? It wasn’t a “feeling” or a “hunch,” but it has been lots of evidence that has been discovered by archaeologists that has changed the minds of the skeptics. One of the greatest new discoveries was found in Egypt, as part of a wrapping of a mummy, and is now in the Rylands Library in Manchester, England. The ancient piece of papyrus contains John 18:31-34; 37; 38. It dates from the first quarter of the second century, less than 100 years after Jesus. The find in Egypt shows that John’s Gospel had been written early enough for a copy to pass to Egypt, be used by the followers of Jesus, and then discarded by the year 125 A.D. Another great find was the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran in 1946. The language of the Dead Sea Scrolls shed new light on language used by John that caused the scholars of the past to doubt that a Jew could have written it.
Another important discovery which has changed the minds of many skeptics is a pool that John mentions in John 5:2, the “pool of Bethesda.” John wrote that the pool had “five porches.” For years nobody had ever heard of the pool of Bethesda. John’s description made it sound like it was shaped like a pentagon and there had never been any pentagon shaped pools in Jerusalem. Evidence that the Gospel can’t be trusted, right? Hold on a minute. Archaeologists digging in and around Jerusalem found a pool, about 50-75 feet below the present level of Jerusalem. The pool is surrounded by four covered colonnades with a fifth colonnade crossing it in the middle. The last time I went to Israel we visited the pool of Bethesda.
There is no doubt that a man named John lived around the Sea of Galilee with his family, became a follower of Jesus, was a passionate servant of the Lord all the days of his life, was the last of the living disciples of Jesus, wrote five books of the New Testament, and reported everything he saw with incredible accuracy.
I believe all of these things to be true, but I still need to know something…why did he write what he wrote? “Why did John write his Gospel?” Most believe that the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were already written so why would John write a fourth Gospel? The word, “synoptic” means, “through the same eyes.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in the way they tell the story of Jesus. You will learn, as we go through this study, that John tells stories that the others leave out and he leaves out some of the common elements of the other three Gospels. For example, there are no parables in John’s Gospel. You will also learn some things from John that you can’t learn from the other Gospels. John tells about the early ministry of Jesus in Judea. He alone tells the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana. We wouldn’t know about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus if it weren’t for John. The woman at the well would be long forgotten if John wouldn’t have told us about her. We wouldn’t know that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead if John hadn’t taken the time to write his Gospel. More than telling these important stories, John wrote for another reason. In John 20:30-31, we read about his primary reason for writing. John says,
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)
John wrote his memoirs of his time spent with Jesus so that you and I might believe, abandon our old life, and become a follower of Jesus until the day that we die. I don’t know where you are in your faith this morning. I don’t have any idea whether you are a follower of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or Krishna. I don’t know if you consider yourself an atheist, agnostic, or a spiritual person. What I do know is this—if you will come along for this journey with me you will come to know to the One who said…
• “I am the Bread of Life” …and you will hunger no more
• “I am the Light of the World” …and He will bring you out of the darkness.
• “I am the Door of the Sheepfold” …and by Him you will know salvation.
• “I am the Good Shepherd” …and His care will be your constant companion.
• “I am the Resurrection and the Life” …and He will give you eternal life.
• “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” …and He will never lead you astray.
• “I am the True Vine” …and He will, through you, produce great fruit.
Maybe this morning the Lord has spoken to your heart and you know that He is calling you to surrender your heart to Him even now. Don’t wait for next week’s sermon, let the journey begin right now.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 10, 2013
“So That You May Believe…”