Dare to Be a Disciple: Devoted John

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

02/07/2022

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Dare to Be a Disciple: Devoted John 

Acts 4:1-3, 16-20; Mark 10:35-45; 1 John 2:3-6

Last week we began a sermon series focused on discipleship. The word “disciple” is one of those “churchy” words we talk about, but don’t do a good job of defining. We don’t really understand what it means to be a disciple or what being one looks like in real life. As we learned last week, in examining what we know of the disciple we call Doubting Thomas, discipleship involves more than proclaiming a belief that Jesus is Savior and the Son of God. Out of many believers, few were disciples. Thomas taught us that disciples not only make a decision to follow Christ, but they persist in following even when they don’t understand or when following becomes difficult. Thomas taught us that disciples ask questions and continue to grow in faith, and are never content to remain stagnant. This morning we look at what it means to be a disciple through the life of John, known by the nicknames the Beloved Disciple and the One Whom Jesus Loved.  

I find it interesting that the nicknames claimed by John were given to John by John. These names for John come from John’s Gospel; they are not mentioned in any of the other gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament for that matter. This seems rather presumptuous, don’t you think? Didn’t John think that Jesus loved the other disciples and love them as much as him? It’s kind of like, if you have siblings, debating which of you your parents love the best. Even if you think it’s you, it’s best not to say it out loud. Joseph, in the OT, got into the habit of shoving his special status in the face of his brothers and they threw him into a pit and sold him to some traders who were passing by. But here we have John appearing to say that he's the disciple whom Jesus loved and loved best. 

As we will see, John did have a special relationship with Jesus, but in claiming this title for himself, it didn’t have the meaning then that we might read into it in our culture today. In his writings, John never mentions himself by name. He never refers to himself by name; he always refers to himself in the third person. It’s as if he wants to make himself anonymous. Early church leaders knew John to be the author of the Gospel and of the three letters which bear his name, and key facts in these writings support his authorship, but you wouldn’t know it on first glance. John, in referring to himself as one whom Jesus loved or as the “beloved” is highlighting Jesus’ love for him and how it transformed his life. John, as a devoted disciple, wants our focus to be, not on him, but on Jesus’ love.  

The gospels tell us that John was among Jesus’ three closest disciples. The other two were Peter and James. If you look at all the significant events in Jesus’ ministry, it’s these three who were with him. Matthew 17 describes the event known as the Transfiguration; the time Jesus went up on a high mountain to pray. The Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah appeared, and the voice of God came from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.” Peter, James, and John were there. Just before Jesus’ arrest and death he went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray; and he took Peter, James, and John with him. Mark 5 tells of Jesus restoring a child to life; when he went into the house to heal her, he only permitted Peter, James, and John to be with him. When Jesus was dying on the cross, there were women, one of whom was his mother, Mary, standing at the foot of the cross to be with him. Well, there was one man present, one of the disciples. The other disciples had all fled in fear, but John was there. Jesus, in one of his last human acts on earth, said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to John, “Here is your mother.” We are told in John 19:27, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”   

John’s road to discipleship was not without its bumps. Jesus, when he called the brothers, James and John, to follow him, gave them the nickname “sons of thunder.” There is no explanation as to why Jesus chose this name for John, but we perhaps get insight from Luke 9. Jesus and the disciples were traveling through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem and were seeking someplace to spend the night. They came into a village where they were not welcomed by the locals – Samaritans, you may recall, did not get along with Jews (and vice versa). The brothers said to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” In a moment of anger at being rejected, John was willing to wipe out an entire village. Jesus, we are told, simply led them to another village. Mark 10 tells us another James and John story. Jesus and the disciples were walking along the road to Jerusalem and Jesus was leading the way. James and John came forward to walk with Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” When Jesus asked them what they wanted, the brothers said that they wanted to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand when he came into his glory. In other words, they not only misunderstood Jesus’ mission, they misunderstood Jesus’ entirely. They believed Jesus would defeat Rome and become a great earthly ruler and they wanted the fame and status of being first at his side. Not only did Jesus tell them that they didn’t know what they were asking, he reminded them that in his kingdom the one wanting to be great must be a servant. John didn’t always get this discipleship thing right. 

In the end, however, John was overwhelmed by the love Jesus had for him and spent his life conveying to others the love Jesus had for them. The Gospel of John is known as the gospel of love. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 15:12 and 17: “This is my command: love one another.” John 21:15-17: Jesus asks three times, “Do you love me?” After each answer he says, “Feed my sheep.”

The first lesson we learn from John’s life of discipleship is that discipleship is driven by love. We don’t become disciples out of fear or out of a sense of duty: we are driven to become disciples of Christ when we realize how much God loves us and how that love is shown through the life and death of Jesus. The depth of that kind of love forces a response from us. One reason I think there are so many believers and so few disciples is that we don’t really feel Jesus’ love for us. We speak of it. We even sing of it: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The Bible tells us, but that isn’t the same thing as really believing it, accepting it, and living it. John 17 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It’s a prayer of love, and vv. 20-26 are for us here today.  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John understood that God loved him as much as God loved Jesus and that Jesus loved him as much as Jesus loved God. That same love is true for each of us.    

The second lesson we learn from John is that a disciple responds to Christ’s love and then responds by loving others. John wrote in 1 John 3:16-18: “We know love by this, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 1 John 2 states it another way. If we know Jesus, we obey his commandment to love others. If we say we are disciples and do not love, John says we are liars and the truth is not in us. If we are in Christ, John writes, we ought to love just as Christ loved.  

The final lesson we learn from John’s life comes from Acts 4. John and Peter have preached and taught and healed in Jesus’ name, and they have been arrested because of it. The Jewish leaders get together the next day and debate what is to be done. Thousands are coming to faith in Christ because of what Peter and John are doing, and the leaders don’t want their words and actions spreading any further. They bring John and Peter before them and order them not so speak or teach in the name of Jesus. This was no idle threat. This is happening just months after these same leaders had Jesus crucified; soon after, they will stone Stephen, another disciple, to death because of his words and actions. How did John and Peter respond? “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The end of Acts 4 tells us that John and Peter were released from prison and immediately met with other believers and prayed these words: “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.” By the middle of Acts 5, John and Peter are back to preaching, teaching, and healing. Although they were arrested again, and this time beaten, the two refused to be silenced. The chapter ends with these words: “They rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Christ. And every day they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.” The final lesson we learn from John is that devotion to Christ brings joy, no matter what the circumstances.  

In Galatians 2, the Apostle Paul simply says of John that he was one of the acknowledged pillars of the church. John was the only disciple, of the original Twelve, to die of natural causes. Early church records tell us that John was a church leader in Jerusalem until persecution began under the Roman emperor Nero after 64 AD. After fleeing Jerusalem, John made his way with Mary, Jesus’ mother, to Ephesus in Turkey where he wrote his Gospel and Letters. Mary reportedly lived with John just outside Ephesus until her death some nine years later. According to tradition, after her death, John was imprisoned by Rome on the Greek island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. Shortly before his death, John was released from Patmos and returned to Ephesus and mentored a young man named Polycarp, who became Bishop of Smyrna and passed on stories and teachings of John. John, who was reportedly the youngest of Jesus’ original disciples, died sometime around 98-100 AD and was buried in Ephesus. The theologian Jerome wrote of John’s last days. He was described as being of extreme old age. Before his death, he repeatedly said these five words: “Little children, love one another.” When asked if he didn’t have anything else to say, he added: “It is enough.” John reminds us that a disciple loves because Christ loves us.

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Dare to Be a Disciple: Devoted John 

Acts 4:1-3, 16-20; Mark 10:35-45; 1 John 2:3-6

Last week we began a sermon series focused on discipleship. The word “disciple” is one of those “churchy” words we talk about, but don’t do a good job of defining. We don’t really understand what it means to be a disciple or what being one looks like in real life. As we learned last week, in examining what we know of the disciple we call Doubting Thomas, discipleship involves more than proclaiming a belief that Jesus is Savior and the Son of God. Out of many believers, few were disciples. Thomas taught us that disciples not only make a decision to follow Christ, but they persist in following even when they don’t understand or when following becomes difficult. Thomas taught us that disciples ask questions and continue to grow in faith, and are never content to remain stagnant. This morning we look at what it means to be a disciple through the life of John, known by the nicknames the Beloved Disciple and the One Whom Jesus Loved.  

I find it interesting that the nicknames claimed by John were given to John by John. These names for John come from John’s Gospel; they are not mentioned in any of the other gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament for that matter. This seems rather presumptuous, don’t you think? Didn’t John think that Jesus loved the other disciples and love them as much as him? It’s kind of like, if you have siblings, debating which of you your parents love the best. Even if you think it’s you, it’s best not to say it out loud. Joseph, in the OT, got into the habit of shoving his special status in the face of his brothers and they threw him into a pit and sold him to some traders who were passing by. But here we have John appearing to say that he's the disciple whom Jesus loved and loved best. 

As we will see, John did have a special relationship with Jesus, but in claiming this title for himself, it didn’t have the meaning then that we might read into it in our culture today. In his writings, John never mentions himself by name. He never refers to himself by name; he always refers to himself in the third person. It’s as if he wants to make himself anonymous. Early church leaders knew John to be the author of the Gospel and of the three letters which bear his name, and key facts in these writings support his authorship, but you wouldn’t know it on first glance. John, in referring to himself as one whom Jesus loved or as the “beloved” is highlighting Jesus’ love for him and how it transformed his life. John, as a devoted disciple, wants our focus to be, not on him, but on Jesus’ love.  

The gospels tell us that John was among Jesus’ three closest disciples. The other two were Peter and James. If you look at all the significant events in Jesus’ ministry, it’s these three who were with him. Matthew 17 describes the event known as the Transfiguration; the time Jesus went up on a high mountain to pray. The Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah appeared, and the voice of God came from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased.” Peter, James, and John were there. Just before Jesus’ arrest and death he went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray; and he took Peter, James, and John with him. Mark 5 tells of Jesus restoring a child to life; when he went into the house to heal her, he only permitted Peter, James, and John to be with him. When Jesus was dying on the cross, there were women, one of whom was his mother, Mary, standing at the foot of the cross to be with him. Well, there was one man present, one of the disciples. The other disciples had all fled in fear, but John was there. Jesus, in one of his last human acts on earth, said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to John, “Here is your mother.” We are told in John 19:27, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”   

John’s road to discipleship was not without its bumps. Jesus, when he called the brothers, James and John, to follow him, gave them the nickname “sons of thunder.” There is no explanation as to why Jesus chose this name for John, but we perhaps get insight from Luke 9. Jesus and the disciples were traveling through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem and were seeking someplace to spend the night. They came into a village where they were not welcomed by the locals – Samaritans, you may recall, did not get along with Jews (and vice versa). The brothers said to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” In a moment of anger at being rejected, John was willing to wipe out an entire village. Jesus, we are told, simply led them to another village. Mark 10 tells us another James and John story. Jesus and the disciples were walking along the road to Jerusalem and Jesus was leading the way. James and John came forward to walk with Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” When Jesus asked them what they wanted, the brothers said that they wanted to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand when he came into his glory. In other words, they not only misunderstood Jesus’ mission, they misunderstood Jesus’ entirely. They believed Jesus would defeat Rome and become a great earthly ruler and they wanted the fame and status of being first at his side. Not only did Jesus tell them that they didn’t know what they were asking, he reminded them that in his kingdom the one wanting to be great must be a servant. John didn’t always get this discipleship thing right. 

In the end, however, John was overwhelmed by the love Jesus had for him and spent his life conveying to others the love Jesus had for them. The Gospel of John is known as the gospel of love. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 15:12 and 17: “This is my command: love one another.” John 21:15-17: Jesus asks three times, “Do you love me?” After each answer he says, “Feed my sheep.”

The first lesson we learn from John’s life of discipleship is that discipleship is driven by love. We don’t become disciples out of fear or out of a sense of duty: we are driven to become disciples of Christ when we realize how much God loves us and how that love is shown through the life and death of Jesus. The depth of that kind of love forces a response from us. One reason I think there are so many believers and so few disciples is that we don’t really feel Jesus’ love for us. We speak of it. We even sing of it: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The Bible tells us, but that isn’t the same thing as really believing it, accepting it, and living it. John 17 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It’s a prayer of love, and vv. 20-26 are for us here today.  “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John understood that God loved him as much as God loved Jesus and that Jesus loved him as much as Jesus loved God. That same love is true for each of us.    

The second lesson we learn from John is that a disciple responds to Christ’s love and then responds by loving others. John wrote in 1 John 3:16-18: “We know love by this, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” 1 John 2 states it another way. If we know Jesus, we obey his commandment to love others. If we say we are disciples and do not love, John says we are liars and the truth is not in us. If we are in Christ, John writes, we ought to love just as Christ loved.  

The final lesson we learn from John’s life comes from Acts 4. John and Peter have preached and taught and healed in Jesus’ name, and they have been arrested because of it. The Jewish leaders get together the next day and debate what is to be done. Thousands are coming to faith in Christ because of what Peter and John are doing, and the leaders don’t want their words and actions spreading any further. They bring John and Peter before them and order them not so speak or teach in the name of Jesus. This was no idle threat. This is happening just months after these same leaders had Jesus crucified; soon after, they will stone Stephen, another disciple, to death because of his words and actions. How did John and Peter respond? “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The end of Acts 4 tells us that John and Peter were released from prison and immediately met with other believers and prayed these words: “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.” By the middle of Acts 5, John and Peter are back to preaching, teaching, and healing. Although they were arrested again, and this time beaten, the two refused to be silenced. The chapter ends with these words: “They rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Christ. And every day they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.” The final lesson we learn from John is that devotion to Christ brings joy, no matter what the circumstances.  

In Galatians 2, the Apostle Paul simply says of John that he was one of the acknowledged pillars of the church. John was the only disciple, of the original Twelve, to die of natural causes. Early church records tell us that John was a church leader in Jerusalem until persecution began under the Roman emperor Nero after 64 AD. After fleeing Jerusalem, John made his way with Mary, Jesus’ mother, to Ephesus in Turkey where he wrote his Gospel and Letters. Mary reportedly lived with John just outside Ephesus until her death some nine years later. According to tradition, after her death, John was imprisoned by Rome on the Greek island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. Shortly before his death, John was released from Patmos and returned to Ephesus and mentored a young man named Polycarp, who became Bishop of Smyrna and passed on stories and teachings of John. John, who was reportedly the youngest of Jesus’ original disciples, died sometime around 98-100 AD and was buried in Ephesus. The theologian Jerome wrote of John’s last days. He was described as being of extreme old age. Before his death, he repeatedly said these five words: “Little children, love one another.” When asked if he didn’t have anything else to say, he added: “It is enough.” John reminds us that a disciple loves because Christ loves us.

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