Summary: a biographical sketch of John


TEXT: MARK 9:38-41; 10:35-45

Sunday, March 28, 2004

It’s a good song leading into a message on the apostle John because John often spoke about the love of God, especially later in his life. The love of God is defined by his sending his son as the sacrifice; Christ becomes the true definition of love, a love that is sacrificial, a love that is giving. John becomes the Apostle of Love. He is referred to as the Apostle of Love, quite surprising, because that is not quite the picture you get of him if you read the gospels.

We are going to look at some of those portraits of John this morning. If you are visiting with us, we are doing a series on the 12 disciples, and we are on the last two - today is John. He is number 2 in the list in the book of Acts. Usually you find him number 3 in placement. A lot of that is because of his older brother, James. They usually list the older brother first anyway, but what the list in Acts reflects is what John really does in his ministry- surpass that of James. Part of the reason is because James’ ministry was very short. He was martyred very early in his life, and John’s ministry was the longest. He died in 98 A.D. at a ripe age of 100 under the Emperor Trajan whom we have a lot to be thankful for because he wrote the most of the Greek Caesars. He wrote the most about Christianity and about Jesus and Jesus’ existence in the Roman history books.

John, late in his life, was persecuted harshly. Although he was never martyred for the faith, he was persecuted, and at the end of his life in his 90’s, he was imprisoned on an island prison camp called Patmos where he lived in a cave and slept on a rock. A rock was his pillow. How would you like that for your retirement years? Yet, it was in that context that God moved him by his Spirit; he wrote the book we call Revelation.

Jerome, who was a contemporary of John, writes a commentary on Galatians. In that book he mentioned how people saw John at the end of his life - they saw him as a very gentle, old, saintly man, so frail that they had to carry him into the Ephesian Church which is where he died. He was confined to a chair but his last message to the church was this phrase: “Love One Another;” and that is why he is referred to as the Apostle of Love.

He also is the apostle of truth because you find these dual tensions in his books. He talks about love but he also talks about truth. He states truth in very black-and-white, bold terms. He focuses on the rule rather than the exceptions to the rule. He tells people, you know there are some things that are true and there are some things that are false. There are absolutes in life. Things of life in God’s Word are simply not left up to personal interpretation, where you can make of it what you will; you can’t. The Bible speaks clearly on the essential issues. The Bible is very clear and John spells out what those very clear teachings and objective truths are. As a result of John’s books in his later life, his name becomes synonymous with the word pastoral, and as a result, in the Catholic Church, if a pope took on the name of John, it signaled something to the congregation and to the world that this pope would be very pastoral and very gentle in the church. It is interesting that this current pope is Pope John Paul, meaning he has got to be gentle and loving, but he has an appreciation for truth and he is very evangelistic- much like Paul was, and exactly how this pope is.

Again, you would be very surprised when you look at John in his early life. You would be very surprised to discover that John doesn’t seem to be an apostle of love, but he ages well. He ages well! I am going to address this to the retired group out there. Are you aging well? Are you aging like John does? He is very harsh and critical early on, but he ends up very loving and very kind and humble. Are you aging well? You know, grapes are interesting. Grapes under careful attention from a vine dresser become fine wine, or left to their own they become vinegar. Grapes left to their own always turn to vinegar. Are you fine wine or are you vinegar? Are you aging well?

Let’s look at John. There are two passages I would like to look at. One is Mark 9:38-41 and the other one is in Mark 10. Let’s take these one at a time getting a sense and a portrait of John, the lessons from his life, and things that we can take for ourselves today. Here is what Mark 9:38-41 says:

‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man 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. ‘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. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

[Let’s pray.]

What is the portrait of John you get in this passage? Again, it is an interesting thing, if you were to look at Luke 9 and Mark 9, they parallel exactly. The order is exact. In both Luke 9 and Mark 9 there is a transfiguration, then there is the healing of the boy with an evil spirit, and then Jesus talks about who is greatest. Then in Luke 9 there is a story we talked about last Sunday about the Samaritan (they opposed Jesus and didn’t welcome him), and John and James wanted to call fire from heaven, but Jesus said no, that is not what we are about. In Mark 9, instead of that story Mark includes this story of the man casting out a demon whom they told to stop.

Both stories make the same point in that the disciples, and especially John and James, just did not grasp what Jesus’ ministry was all about. Last week we talked about how they just didn’t grasp the nature and purpose. Jesus didn’t come to kill and destroy and condemn people and cast them to hell, but he came to give life and help people to experience the abundant life. In Mark 9 you see that they didn’t grasp the expansion or the breadth of Jesus’ ministry and who is called into ministry. John’s view is very exclusive and very controlling; Jesus’ view of ministry is very dynamic. Jesus unleashes people for ministry. He thinks in exponential terms, again imagine the scene. John and James, the others included, see this man praying in Jesus’ name and doing ministry, and he is effective. I mean things are happening in his life and through him and it is interesting that in the story right before, the healing of the boy with the evil spirit, the disciples tried the very thing that this man is doing, and couldn’t.

I think that is very interesting. Here they are supposed to know how to do this, and they are supposed to have the faith because they have been going to ‘Jesus’ Uuniversity’ for the last three years, and they are powerless. Here’s this man- I don’t know where he comes from- who has heard Jesus, actually listens, and applies what he says, and he is very powerful. God works through him. I wonder if there is some sense of jealousy. Anyway, the disciple John sees him and says, stop, don’t do that, don’t you know it is only those who are chosen, it’s us, the chosen disciples, who can do that sort of thing, don’t you know that? Plus, you haven’t even taken it to the 12, you haven’t taken it to the session yet. You haven’t done a study and you haven’t done your charge, the provisions, the efficiency, who are the personnel, what’s your line item? You haven’t done any of those things. I mean you have gone outside the Presbytery. How could you possibly do that? You haven’t gone to seminary, you haven’t gone to ‘Jesus University’. Don’t you know that there is no unauthorized ministry here? That is John’s view.

What does Jesus say? Don’t stop him. Don’t stop him. Do you think just because I have chosen you that ministry stops with you? This man is doing my work. This man is doing the work of the heavenly father. In fact, Jesus describes his ministry in Luke 4. Part of it is the release of people from bondage and from oppression. This man is doing the works of Jesus and he is doing it in the name of Jesus. He’s clearly a believer. He’s clearly one of these men who has been listening to sermons on Sunday morning and he has been taking them seriously. You know what, that is what God wants me to do, he and takes and lives it out in his life. He applies it in his everyday life, and God works through him powerfully because he really believed that what Jesus said is what he meant. Then he said, you know what, I think I can do that. Let me try that.

May we capture the sense of the expansiveness of Jesus’ sense of ministry? How this applies is God calls us all to ministry. It’s not just reserved for the professional chosen clergymen. That’s John’s view, that’s not Jesus’ view. I am not sure where it happened in the Presbyterian church, but somewhere along the line in the Presbyterian church, and somewhere along the line in a lot of churches, somehow people have been taught that ministry is the exclusive right of the ordained and professional clergy, and that’s surprising in the Presbyterian church because it’s our doctrinal belief that everyone is called to ministry. We call it the priesthood of all believers. Everyone, all believers are priests and are called into ministry. Somewhere along the line we told people, you know preaching, that’s only for the ordained. You know teaching, it takes a professional. You know praying for the sick, home visits, that’s for the professional, assurance of pardons, leading worship, well no, you really can’t do that, children’s messages, leading a person to Christ, how many times have you said “I just don’t think I could do that.” Jesus says you can. It doesn’t take a seminary degree. It doesn’t take holy hands laid upon you. All you have to do is do just what this man does. He hears what Jesus says, says how can I apply this in my life; he has the boldness to believe and he does it. Now I think that is remarkable and I encourage you to do the same thing. Believe that God can use you in some form of ministry and do it. God trusts you to do it.

I think one of the most powerful ministries I have seen is Steven’s ministry. It’s a program where you train lay people for caring for the sick and praying for the sick. What we are discovering is that people are more effective- lay people. You are more effective than most ordained clergy. Why? Because a lot of ordained clergy just don’t have that gift. You just can’t do everything. It is impossible. No person can do it all. It is just like the apostles. Here this man is more effective than the 12 when it came to exorcisms. He is not ordained. He has not been the chosen. He is not in the inner group and yet he is more effective. You will discover when you say yes to God and ministry that you can become more effective than ordained clergy. Why? Because God has empowered you to be so. That perhaps is your gift and your calling so I encourage you to seek that out.

Now, you see the same scenario in churches today, the sense of the powerful and the powerless, how this disciple on the outside is more powerful than the disciples on the inside, and you see this in these independent evangelical churches that are springing out.

The largest churches in America were started only 20 years ago. Saddleback and Willow Creek both have average attendance of about 25,000 people. God is using these churches powerfully. Why or how? It is the same thing with this man, sometimes God works best outside the ‘professional group’, you could say. What they are finding is the reason why they are so effective and so powerful is because of three things. One, they really believe in Jesus and that a person needs a spiritual birth through faith in his name. They believe that the Bible is the word of God and they unleash people for ministry. I think that’s what makes White Clay vibrant. In a denomination where most churches are dying, White Clay is the most vibrant church in this Presbytery. Why? Because of these three things: that we believe in a spiritual birth of a person through faith in Christ, that we treat the Bible as the Word of God, and we unleash people for ministry - which is something as leaders we need to do and I have talked to leaders whether in Deacons or Session or any committee. Do you have the view of John, that you have to control and approve of all ministries, or do you have the view of Jesus where you see ministry as something that all of us can do and we unleash and encourage for ministry.

Let’s take a look at Mark now. One thing with John is he has this exclusive view of ministry and Jesus has a very exponential view of ministry. In Mark 10 we see another picture of John - Mark 10:35-45:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.

They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’

‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’

‘We can,’ they answered.

Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, 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.’

Now last week I talked about the disciples maybe really wanting to get close to Jesus. Well, that is a good thought but the reality was they wanted to be on Jesus’ right and left for very selfish reasons. They wanted to be first and they wanted to be second. How do you know that? Because Jesus goes into a sermon right after this experience with the disciples and talks about how a person can become first and how a person can become second. You see the problem with them wasn’t their request, the request was fine. Jesus already said ask and whatever you ask I will do for you, so the problem wasn’t the asking. The problem wasn’t the desire to be first and second in God’s kingdom.

The problem was they wanted to obtain something that they had to become worthy of. They didn’t want to be worthy of it, they just wanted to have it. Why? Because they wanted to get it before Peter and the rest of them did. This is a quality of John all through his life -John and James actually, and actually all of them, all of the disciples desired to be first. Jesus, all the time, had to wrestle with them. You see this quality of the need for recognition in John’s relationship with Peter. It is subtle but you can discover it. These two stories we read- the gospel of John leaves them out. Who includes them? Mark does. Well, who wrote the gospel of Mark? Well technically it is John Mark who wrote the gospel but the disciple who tells the stories (John Mark is simply the writer, the ghost writer), is Peter.

Peter includes two very embarrassing stories that John leaves out. I find that quite interesting. Maybe they do not mean anything but it does when you compare it to some other things. Compare the gospel accounts of the upper room, the arrest of Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection versus how John records them, you find something very cute, but sometimes juvenile, in that Luke mentions and all the gospels mention that Peter ran to the empty tomb and was there and walks into the empty tomb. In John 24 John says no, wait a minute, I was there too. In fact, I outran Peter and I got there first, but of course, Peter got inside and that is why they are telling you he was there first, because he went inside first, but technically I was there first. I outran him.

Then you get in all the gospels this portrayal of Peter, whereas all the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested and they deserted him, although all the gospels said that Peter had the spiritual fortitude to trail behind. He trails and he follows Jesus into the area where was tried.

In John’s gospel, though, John says, wait a minute, I was there too. In fact I was good friends of the high priest and I had front row tickets. I am the one who brought Peter inside where he would be nice and warm. In all the gospels you find that there are no disciples at the cross. In John’s gospel John says I was there, and the fact is that Jesus put me in charge of his mom. In John 21:20 you discover that the beloved disciple is the apostle John and he lets you know that he was leaning right up against Jesus when Jesus told them who was going to betray him. It was going to be Judas, and only John secretly knew this. On the porch of the upper room it is John who has the place of honor, the seat right next to Jesus, whereas Peter is in the last seat, completely opposite of the table. So you get this constant sense of rivalry between Peter and John. John always wanted to outdo and beat Peter. They are always part of this inner three. They always seemed to be wrestling for leadership it seems. And all the time Jesus goes back to the same sermon as to who is greatest. It is interesting before Mark 9 and after Mark 10 Jesus preaches the same sermon about who is greatest. In these two stories about John is the same exact message on who is going to be greatest.

Now 2000 years have passed since these stories, and we have read these things. Some of you have read them hundreds of times, but I wonder if we have understood the message yet, not intellectually. I find a lot of Christians can repeat these stories through their mouth, they know them intellectually, but have we grasped them in our lifestyle and in our lives? If we have, we can ascertain this by a simple question. That question is how are you serving the Lord today? How are you serving the Lord today? If your answer is I am not, then I ask you, have you learned this lesson 2000 years later? Because if you are not serving, what posture are you in? You are being served. Have you learned the lesson that Jesus teaches here? You know I find a lot of Christian people believe that there is a certain role in the church called back-seat driver. There are a lot of sign-ups for back seat driver.

What do I mean by that? Well, you all know what a back-seat driver is. What does a back seat driver do? They sit in the back seat, they let you drive and what do they say to you? You are getting too close to the person in front, you patter, patter, slow down, don’t turn left, no turn right, brake, and they are constantly harassing you and how do you feel? You feel like stopping the car, getting out and saying if you can do any better, why don’t you drive. No, no, I am just going to sit here and be quiet, thank you. A lot of Christians act like that sometimes. We believe we are serving by making comments about what everyone who is serving is doing- “I don’t like that”, no, “why did you change the worship times?” You know, you could come up with a lot of them. “No, don’t pick that color carpet, why did the choir sing that number, why is he preaching so long, when are we getting out,” and you get the point.

How does it make you feel? Well, you feel like saying if you can do better, why don’t you drive? You know there is no position in the church, there has never been a sign-up for back seat driver. God, since 2000 years ago, has said this position no longer exists in my church. God calls us all from the back seat to the front seat. All of us are to be front-seat drivers. All of us are called to serve. Well Pastor you don’t understand, I have a job and I have kids and we have two jobs actually in our family and we have a home and all these things and I just don’t have the time. You know what? Everyone in this church is in the same boat. We have jobs, we have kids, we have houses, why is your job more important than the others around you, why are your kids more important than those around you, why is your home more important than those around you? Because by saying that, what you are saying is, my wife, my job, my kids, my home are more important than yours. The church is not a limousine service. We talk about images in the church. The church is not a limousine service where everyone chauffeurs you around serving you. All of us are called to be chauffeurs for God where we serve each other and serve one another. So I ask you the question again 2000 years later. Have we learned this lesson that Jesus is teaching us? God calls us all into service.

The reason Jesus says this is because this is the secret to success. Again, the disciples desire to be number one and Jesus says okay, that’s fine, I will tell you how to get there. He talks about how those who want to be greatest must be the least. In fact, if you are going to be first, you have to be last. If you want to save your life, you have to lose it. If you want to lead, you have to first serve. Dave Thomas is a great example of this. If you have ever read the story of Dave Thomas, he spent most of his life serving hamburgers at Castle Hamburgers (that is in the South), and working in management for KFC. Through his service he learned how to lead and he became a hamburger giant, the owner of Wendy’s, but he learned his lesson a long time ago, it is through service that you become great.

God wants you to succeed far beyond your imagination, but you are not going to get there by seeking success. You are going to get there, Jesus said, through service, and you see this in John. Did John learn his lesson? Yes, he did. John was a very prominent disciple all through the book of Acts until Acts 12:2 and his life in Acts 12:2 is shaken up. His brother is martyred and all of a sudden he disappears, he disappears. He has been through Acts in almost every chapter and now he disappears, he becomes quieter. Ten to twelve years later there is only one passage that describes him and it is Galatians 2:9. He is described as a pillar, he is third now in the church, James, Peter and John. He then completely disappears for 40 years and no one knows really what he is doing until he writes a book, the book of Revelation, and you discover for the last 40 years he has been quietly serving seven churches in a remote area called Asia Minor. Finally, this disciple who desires to be first is in a cave in Patmos, cold and alone, and finally after 50 years of quiet, humble service, God taps him on the shoulder and says John now you are ready, and he inspires him to write the longest and the last gospel of the New Testament, and he inspires him to write the last three epistles, and he inspires him to write a special revelation.

Peter had received a special revelation much earlier in Acts 10, Paul received a special revelation in Acts 9. John never got a special revelation until 50 years of quiet, humble service and then, God said, you know what, now I will give you your special revelation, that is the longest revelation in the Bible; it is the most read book today -the book of Revelation. When did God do this? When John learned to put himself last, when he stopped seeking the recognition and the supremacy and he humbled himself like Christ did and he served. When will God bless your life and all of our lives? When we learn that same lesson, that to become great we must become least. To find our life, we must give it away.

[Let’s pray.]