March, 2005: John

This month, we look at the Apostle John. John was part of Jesus’ inner circle. His father was Zebedee and his mother is the one who asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit on his right and left. John and his brother, James, were called the “sons of thunder,” most likely because of their fiery temperament. Their family was a fishing family and was likely middle class or wealthier.

John is connected with the authorship of the Fourth Gospel (“According to John”). Also attributed to the Apostle John are three short letters and the most captivating/ controversial book “Revelation.”

Tradition holds that he was the youngest of the twelve. He accompanied Jesus through most of his sufferings and is thought to be the only disciple to actually witness the crucifixion. He was the first disciple to witness the empty tomb, beating Peter in a footrace after the women reported the strange thing.

Catholic tradition teaches that John was arrested in Asia and sent to Rome in about 95 A.D., where he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil – but miraculously survived. Then, he was exiled to the Isle of Patmos where he experienced and wrote Revelation. Eusebius (an ancient writer to whom scholars look for external corroboration of tradition) reports that John died in peace at Ephesus near the turn of the first century.

There are often stories and traditions told about the Apostles – stories that seem to be more folklore than gospel, but interesting nonetheless:

  • When John was on his way to preach in Asia, his ship was wrecked in a storm. All of the other crew were cast ashore, but John was not found. He was assumed to be dead only to be washed up alive 2 weeks later.

  • When John denounced idol worship, followers of Artemis tried to stone him; however, the stones turned around and hit the throwers.

  • Then, he goes and prays in the temple of Artemis. Fire from heaven killed 200 men who were worshipping the idol. When the remaining group begged for mercy, he raised the 200 from the dead and they all converted and were baptized.

  • Once a year his grave gave off a fragrant dust that cured diseases.

John’s writings are noted for their loving portrayal of Jesus, the fidelity to the message Jesus proclaimed, and for the sovereign power of God. The gospel of John is dramatically different in style and perspective than the other three gospels. The letters of John – particularly the first – are written to deal with problems in the early church. In the first letter, John is writing to comfort those who had remained faithful in the midst of a major church split; exhorting them in to remain faithful to the gospel they had received.

What can we learn from the life of the Apostle John? For me, it is the example of John’s devotion that is most powerful. His unencumbered, uninhibited desire to love Jesus stands out. Whereas Peter can often come across as a bull in a china shop, John seems to have a more nuanced approach. John seemed to grasp that Jesus was a mystery to behold, not a puzzle to be solved.

John loved Jesus and he loved the people of the churches he founded and served. He was uncompromising in his proclamation of the gospel yet – with the notable exceptions of the imprisonments in Acts and the stories noted above – did not have the kind of volatile daily experience that Paul had. John’s life and ministry are a gift to the church.

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