What made John the apostle? I mean… what transformed this man into the one to whom Jesus entrusted the Book of Revelation?
We first encounter John in Mark 10:34, fishing with his brother and father – just doing the family business. At a simple invitation by a man they hardly knew, James and John leapt from their boat, waved goodbye to their father, and off they went on a grand adventure, never looking back.
We get a hint of John’s impulsive and hot-headed temperament through the nickname Jesus gave the brothers – the Sons of Thunder. Mark 3:17.
We see James and John’s bent toward ambitious goals when they do not stop their mother from asking their Rabbi for the most prestigious seats of power for her boys in anticipation of their Rabbi making His move to overthrow their oppressors. Matthew 20:20-28
Many scholars believe that John lived to a ripe old age of at least 90. All his fellow disciples, the men that John ran with, died horrible deaths long before he died a peaceful one. His brother James was one of the first martyrs within that close-knit cluster of disciples. Can you imagine the trauma and grief that John had at this news? His brother! Can you imagine?
When we read Bible accounts, we somehow detach the trauma and the grief that the apostles went through being beaten and tortured and thrown into prison. Fox’s book of martyrs wrote that John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil and came out unscathed, at least in his body. I can only imagine the scars that were left on his soul.
So, what was the secret to John’s longevity? Why didn’t he turn away? Why didn’t he become bitter? What marked him?
Was it the dramatic encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration found in Matthew 17:1-8? I’m not discounting the impact that fear of the Lord, face-planted in the ground experience must have had on John. That encounter set John up for the encounter of a lifetime; when in his elder years, he received the vision he wrote of in the Book of Revelation.
But I believe John’s successful longevity in service to His beloved Rabbi was due to his ability to lean into Jesus.
Even the most oblivious disciple would have sensed something was slightly different about Jesus on the night of the Last Supper. After all, the Passover was greatly celebrated in Jesus’ time. But they probably could sense that Jesus was a little distracted. He had something on his mind. While the other disciples distracted themselves with conversation around the table, John chose to stay close to his Rabbi, he leaned in.
To set the scene, Jesus had just washed the disciple’s feet and now invited them to the table. His first words were not what you would expect from a host welcoming guests to the Passover supper.
John 13:18-25 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 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.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
John leaned back on the heart of Jesus. He must have done this before because brave and bold Peter knew that John had the open door to ask the question he dared not ask.
For the briefest of moments, time stood still. I imagine all John heard was the beating of Jesus’ heart. Th-thump … Th-thump… Th-thump.
That quiet moment in that oasis gave John the strength to endure seeing his beloved Rabbi and friend suffer brutal torture, crucifixion and undeserved shame-filled death when all the other disciples fled.
I’ve sat under the leadership of many successful pastors and leaders. They all gleaned from leaning into the heart of Jesus. They sought after that deep place of intimacy with the Lord. They fought for it, and they stubbornly refused to change the message. They sought after God with all of their heart and then led others to the God who welcomed them to lean against Him.
I recently came across this quote by Graham Cooke.
It is absolutely essential that you are wounded in ministry and that you know the fellowship of His sufferings. It is such an essential part of the call that we get wounded in the House of our friends; we get wounded by the people that we really thought we could trust. That we feel that kiss of betrayal that Jesus felt in the garden. Being betrayed and wounded is just a part of your development. If you want all the fullness of God, you have to experience all the fullness of life. If you want the power of His resurrection, you have to know the fellowship of His suffering. So, when you know that it is part of our development, it’s easier to forgive those people who have done things to you.
Trials, traumas and betrayals will come to us because we are surrounded by people just like us. People sometimes make foolish choices. But we can endure and not just endure to the end but thrive to the end – if we embrace the secret of John’s longevity in God’s kingdom. I encourage you today – to enter that place of intimacy where the heartbeat of God becomes your most comforting sound. As you lean into His strength, you will be able to lead others out of their chaos and uncertainty and into that peaceful, quiet place, leaning into the heartbeat of Jesus.
If you’d like to see a video version of this teaching, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GzG5bvobj8
Until next week,
©2023 Katherine Walden