“12 There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.” (Prov 14)
John boy. I am told John bar-Zebedee is possibly the youngest of the disciples. He is nearly always referred to in a relationship: “Sons of Zebedee,” “the brother of James,” as a child would. He’s not old enough to have a reputation of his own yet. But he’s eager to make one. Is this initially what draws him to the excitement of following fringe rabbis? It’s possible he first followed John the Baptist with Andy. Then when John directs them to the Lamb of God, he upgrades. Is it this desire for reputation, desire for greatness that leads this small town fisherman’s kid to Jesus? Teenagers don’t walk through life, if they move at all, they run. Odd isn’t it, they with the most time before them move like they have none? Lace up your running shoes. Let’s follow Johnny through Luke 9.
Jesus sends him out with the twelve.
He helps Jesus feeds the five thousand.
He hears Pete confess Jesus is the Christ.
He hears Jesus foretell his death.
He is one of three chosen to see the Transfiguration.
He sees Jesus heal the epileptic.
He and the disciples have their Muhammed Ali moment.
He tells Jesus about them trying to stop a successful, non-disciple demon punter.
Jimbo and he ask Jesus if they can call down fire on a Samaritan village.
Along the way, he sees and hears Jesus give interviews to other disciple applicants.
This possibly sixteen years old young man, I cannot call him a boy for his own people would not unless they were trying to insult him, is one of Jesus’ “inner circle.” He’s the elite of the elite twelve. Only Simon, James and John are singled out for many of Jesus’ miracles and praying moments. Quite the honor considering his age and the stature of the men around him. Did it go to his head? Jesus refers to the sons of Zebedee as Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder, Bene reghesh, sons of rage, sons of tumult. Cool nickname. If Jesus were a biker, he’d have something like seventy-two bikes in trail, a bevy of biker babes, his twelve immortals and his captains, Rock and the Sons of Thunder. Let’s ride!
But Jesus wasn’t a biker. He wasn’t a son of anarchy. He was the Son of Man, the Son of God, a shepherd, gently leading this teenager to true greatness. A teacher who sometimes cried out, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”
So what was Johnny like? This inner circle disciple captain. This one of three men who Jesus allowed closer than any. Brash? Brazen? He and his brother ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his kingdom. Take that Rock! Vengeful, power mad? Calling down fire on a village that denies hospitality to them? Yeah, I’d say so. Jealous? Denominational? Trying to constantly one up Pete and the others. Trying to stop a man with a successful ministry in Jesus’ name just “because he does not follow with us.” Safe bet. Deaf? Obstinate? Jesus tells him over and over what it takes to be greatest in the kingdom. What kind of kingdom he’s setting up. What it costs to follow him. What “drinking his cup and being baptized with his baptism” will mean and he still doesn’t get it. This is not some outsider atheist. This is Jesus’ friend! The “disciple whom Jesus loved”! But for all his boldness, all his big talk, there’s a timidity, a shyness that might betray his tender age. He does not try and walk on the water. He falls uncharacteristically silent when Jesus is angry. He is the first to the tomb but the second to enter. He is the first to recognize Jesus from the boat after the resurrection but Pete jumps into the water alone. Hypocritical, hyper-critical, power-hungry John.
But Jesus… “43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it.” (Luke 9) Then Jesus dies, just as he said he would. John is possibly the only disciple to see it. To stand at the foot of the cross. To see his own dreams shattered, beaten, bloody and nailed, to watch them die, horribly, painfully, oozing out one drop at a time. There would be no kingdom. There would be no places of honor. He wasn’t a captain leading a revolution now. He was a fugitive in the mop up of an insurgency. Days later, hiding behind locked doors, a wanted man. No longer proud. No longer boastful. The thunder had faded, the tumult had passed and a new day had dawned.
But Jesus… rose. “25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, people don’t get better, they get worse…. But Jesus! Without grace our whims become desires and our desires, lusts. Without grace there is no check on our selfishness. Without grace there is no force in the universe countering entropy. Grace is the seed. Grace is the rain. Grace is the sunlight. Grace is the plow, sower, the reaper. Without grace, dust you are and to dust you return. But Jesus!
Johnny does die at the cross! John the Revelator is born! Three gospels strive to tell us what happened in Jesus’ life. John’s agonizes over Why! Three gospels talk of the kingdom. John’s hunger for the kingdom died at the cross, now he speaks of Life! Light! Love! Three gospels speak of a man who was the Son of God. John speaks of God who became a man! The disciple who wanted a place on Jesus’ throne never again refers to himself at all. Johnny who personified “live fast, die young,” outlives all the apostles and sees heaven personally before it’s over. John who spoke like thunder and tumult, “47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9) turns into John who says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Amen Johnny, amen.