Jesus’ three closest friends were Peter, James and John. They were among the first he called. They were the ones he invited to witness the transfiguration (his meeting with Elijah and Moses). They were the ones he invited into the Garden of Gethsemane to witness as he wept and prayed and sweat drops of blood because he didn’t want to have to go to the cross.
John was the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. He lived out his last days as an old man – a prisoner on the island of Patmos, but with enough freedom to continue to write and encourage the young churches. He wrote one of the four gospels, which described Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; and he also wrote the books 1, 2, and 3 John, as well as Revelations.
John understood love. He understood love and forgiveness and peace; and he trusted in the love of Jesus. In John 13:23 it says, “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.”
John was talking about himself in that passage. He used it again after the resurrection in John 20:2 “So she (Mary Magdalene) came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved -“
We see it again in John 21:7 – and then again in John 21:20 “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?”)
John believed in Jesus’ love for him. He owned it. It became his new identity. He was not a fisherman, or a Jew, or even a follower of Jesus. He was “the one Jesus loves.”
I’ve always been a little jealous of John because he was so special to Jesus, but I liked him at the same time. He was relatable – and not always perfect.
For instance, he was intolerant of people who did things differently than he did – who followed a path different from the path he followed.
‘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.’
‘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, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41)
I would like to pretend that I am not like that, but I am. I am constantly fighting to open my mind and stretch my heart to respect the ways people worship God, even when it differs from mine. If “their way” involves love, peace, and forgiveness, then they are not against Jesus, they are doing something right, and they will not lose their reward.
John was also vindictive (I’m using the descriptions from the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, which I find to be apt). In Luke 9:51-56:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Seriously? This just makes me snort with laughter. You think YOU are the one who is going to call down fire from heaven and destroy them? With all your power?
But I, too, can be the one sitting in judgment, waiting for the proverbial fire to rain down on someone for their nefarious actions. It’s called Karma. You get what you give.
But Jesus wasn’t like that. He wasn’t into karma. This scene? I can almost picture it – when Jesus hears what they said, he stops suddenly and turns around so that all the disciples bump into each other with the sudden action. He rebukes them for their lack of love, and carries on.
John is also ambitious. In Mark 10 he and his brother are asking for special treatment – to be seated in the honoured places next to Jesus. That’s when Jesus teaches us that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Ambitious, vindictive, intolerant – this is me without Jesus’ love. Jesus called John and his brother James, “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17) Can you imagine?
But John learned. It took three years of walking with Jesus, and a lifetime of serving him before he could finally write something as beautiful as this (closing out his book of 1 John 4, verses 16-21):
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
We simply cannot love God and hate anyone else. The two do not go together. A fresh-water fish cannot survive in a salt-water ocean, and so it is with love. Our love for God will not survive our hatred for our brother or sister.
It is easy for me to feel unloved and unworthy. It is easy for me to criticise myself, berate myself, flog myself internally. And it’s easy for me to expect and fear punishment for all the ways in which I fail in every area.
In the same vein, it’s easy for me to mull over the wrongs someone has carried out against me and want justice. I waste time remembering the hurts and injustices. I spend time hoping they will come to their senses, even if it means God’s heavy hand will be upon them (especially if it means God’s heavy hand will be upon them).
But God doesn’t work that way, does he? Perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and that has already been meted out on the cross. We’re fully capable of love, grace and forgiveness because he first loved us.
I’ve stopped feeling jealous of John for getting to be “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and have started whispering it to myself.
I am the one Jesus loves.
I am the disciple Jesus loves.
This sun is shining for me because I am the one Jesus loves.
I spoke too hastily and now everyone will see how ungracious I am. But . . . that’s okay because Jesus loves me, despite my lack of grace. That incident has already been swept away and forgotten.
My stomach is sticking out so far because I’ve been eating ALLthesweets but Jesus loves me even now when my stomach is really big. He doesn’t wait for me to come to my senses and stop eating before he loves me – he loves me with my flaws.
My face has a rash because I’m allergic to the silicone in my sleep mask, and everything about the situation makes me feel ridiculous. But Jesus loves me now and he doesn’t think I’m ridiculous. Okay, maybe a little ridiculous, but in a cute loveable way. I am the one he loves.
Today when I was walking the dog, the sun was shining for me and the birds were chirping for me. The flowers were budding for me because I am the one Jesus loves. God created this world for me.
Jesus came to earth and died on a cross to redeem me because I am just special as Eve was when she was the only woman that existed on earth. Maybe even more so because I was bought by blood.
I am the one Jesus loves.
You’re still with me, aren’t you? Are you getting the same message I am? The reason John learned to extend forgiveness, grace, and love – the reason he was allowed to be known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”
was simply because he believed it.