A few years ago I read the book On Writing by Stephen King. In it he talks about writing and what that life looks like and gives some great thoughts on writing...but even better were the stories he told of how he comes up with his ideas. I mean he has some weird ideas in his books...so it was interesting to see how some very normal things were combined to make these novels that he writes.
In the same way, John’s experiences and life story will help us better understand the message of 1 John. It will give us insight into why he says what he does, and what it means. So we will be bouncing between a few different places this morning. We will be looking at the Gospel of John, the letter of 1 John, and the book Acts.
Biography of John
Ready? Here we go.
The book of 1 John was written by John the Disciple of Jesus. John is an interesting guy who often gets overlooked, as do most of the disciples because of Peter. Peter was the one with the big mouth who goes on to be the most recognized leader of the early church. But John has an equally interesting story to tell..
We first meet John in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell how John and his older brother James were fishermen working in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. They worked alongside their father Zebedee and their business partners Peter and Andrew.
Fishing as a vocation is a difficult job. It is backbreaking and dangerous. It isn’t a very glamorous job...you work hard all night long, and then in the morning you sell your fish in the market, repair your nets, prepare you boats, and then try to get some sleep before going out again the next night. Not to mention that you smell like fish all the time.
But one day these fishermen have a life changing encounter with Jesus. Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee, and notices Peter, Andrew, James, and John in their boats. They have been out all night fishing. They are exhausted. They have nets to repair and fish to get to market so they can be paid for their nights work. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked third shift, and the last thing I want to do in the morning following an all night shift is have something disrupt me on my way to bed.
But Jesus walks up to them and simply says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” There must have been something in that moment that cannot be conveyed with the written word, something that explains what would cause these men to drop everything they are doing...leave their job and family behind...and follow Jesus. But John did...he left everything. The Bible says that he and James left their father sitting there in the boat and followed Jesus.
John was chosen as one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus and spent three years with Him. Everywhere that Jesus went, John went too. And over time, John became one of the inner three disciples. This was a smaller group of disciples who were closer to Jesus and saw some wonderful things the other disciples didn’t get to see or experience.
One story tells of how John along with Peter and his brother James went with Jesus up this mountain, and while they were praying Moses and Elijah appeared. Jesus was standing there in the midst talking with them. Peter was so blown away by what he saw that he wanted to build three temples on the mountain and stay there forever! No one else got to see that, but John did!
Mark 5 tells us about a man named Jairus who came to Jesus asking him to heal his daughter. By the time they got to the house, the child had died. Jesus took John, Peter, and James into the room with Him, and they witnessed Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead. No one else got to see that!
While Jesus was on the cross, He gave John the responsibility of caring for His mother...a fact that made such an impression on him he included it in his Gospel (John 19:26-27).
John started and led many churches. He wrote 5 books in the New Testament, second only to Paul. He was persecuted for his faith (some traditions say even being tortured with boiling oil!), and was eventually exiled to live alone on the island of Patmos.
In fact, 1 John was written when John was an old man living out his last days in exile. Word had come to him about some false teachers that were trying to sway members of his church and lead them away from Jesus. But even while writing against all of this false teaching, John maintains a great sense of humility and love.
He was known for his great humility and was called the Apostle of Love. In the Gospel of John...the Gospel he wrote...he never once mentions his own name. He simply refers to himself as “the one Jesus loved.” He refuses to mention his own name.
In his Gospel he uses the word love 26x almost more than the other Gospels combined, and he uses it 36x in the small book of 1 John...more than any other book in the Bible!
People knew John for his love and his humility, but he wasn’t always known for his humility much-less known as the Apostle of Love.
What’s in a name?
Jews of the first century took naming their children very seriously...they felt it identified a person’s destiny. Some names were given to call something out of that person...to pull them toward a destiny...to call them to something bigger out of them...Peter is a good example of this.
When Jesus met Peter in the Gospel of John chapter 1 He renames him. John 1:42 says, “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.)” If you know any of the stories about Peter you know he was not a rock. He talks without thinking, he is impulsive, he has flashes of brilliance mixed with utter stupidity, and, after three years of being with Jesus, when he is faced with accusation by a slave girl...he denies even knowing Jesus. Not just once, but three times denies Jesus...that doesn’t sound like a Rock
But Jesus saw his destiny. He saw what Peter could and would be...so he renamed him. Peter would eventually become the rock the early church needed. He stood before the crowd in Acts 2 and said, “You killed the Messiah! But you can still follow Him.” He stood before the Jewish Leaders and denounced them for killing Jesus. He led the church through the tough waters of its beginning; convincing the other leaders that they could allow Gentiles into the Church. He was eventually martyred for his faith in Jesus by being crucified upside down...Peter became the rock that Jesus always knew he could be.
Sometimes, though, people were given names to call attention to something in them...to name a character traits...sometimes even a flaw. You and I know that sometimes our biggest gifting...our biggest positive trait, if used wrongly, can be our biggest flaw.
People who love and serve others can become enablers.
People who are leaders can become bossy and demanding.
People who are funny and have a great sense of humor can become obnoxious and hurtful.
Our biggest positive traits, if used wrongly can be our biggest flaw.
In the Gospel of Mark chapter 3, Jesus is naming those who will be the 12 disciples. In verse 17, as part of the list, it says, “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”)...” Jesus calls James and John, “The Sons of Thunder!”
Sounds like a tag team wrestling duo from the WWF! Doesn’t it? Now making their way to the ring...James and John “The Sons of Thunder!” They would have a special move off the top rope called the The Thunder Bolt! I don’t know...
Sons of Thunder! It meant their character, their personality was one of fiery zeal. They were passionate about the things they love. But sometimes their fiery zeal came with destructive consequences.
In Luke 9 there are two stories, right in a row, that highlight John’s fiery zeal.
The first story tells of a man, who is not one of the 12 disciples, casting out demons. John sees this man who is not part of the “in” group, so he goes to Jesus.
Luke 9:49-50 says, “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
John sees someone not given status as one of the 12 disciple doing something he thinks should be reserved for only the 12 disciples to do, and he wants to go put an end to that nonsense. But Jesus stops him.
The second story follows right after, and shows even more of that fiery zeal...
In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem where He will be crucified. On the way there, Jesus and the disciples are getting ready to pass through a Samaritan town, but it is late and they need something to eat and a place to spend the night.
Now in order to understand this story you need to know that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Each thought the other was worthless and each believe the other was doomed to hell for their religious beliefs. Things became way more intense when Jews started passing through Samaritan country on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. In fact, most Jews would travel many miles out of their way to avoid even going through a Samaritan town.
Not Jesus. It was like He went looking for this stuff.
So he sends messengers ahead into the Samaritan town to make the preparations for him and his disciples. But the Samaritans weren’t having anything to do with a Jewish traveler headed to Jerusalem. They refused, and this angered John.
In verse 54 it says, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
That is fiery zeal right there! What do you mean they won’t let us eat in their town...Lord, can I call down fire from heaven to destroy them? Please, please please?
There is one last story about James and John that once again show their ambitious zeal to elevate themselves above the others. A complete lack of humility. This time in Mark 10:35-45.
James and John come to Jesus, on the sly, of course, and ask Him to let them to sit on His right and left hand when He takes the throne of His Kingdom. These are positions of power. In this culture, those sitting on the right and left hand of the King were rulers, they were important...they were more important than anyone else in the Kingdom. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Right-hand man”? That is where this comes from.
James and John, with astounding boldness, are asking to be elevated above the other disciples...to be made more important. And when the other disciples hear of this they become angry! So Jesus has to redefine what leadership and authority look like for those who follow Him.
None of these stories seem to indicate that John was known for humility muchless worthy of the title Apostle of Love! He was ambitious and angry and arrogant and judgmental. He wanted to destroy an entire village simply because they would allow them to sleep there! He wanted to be a ruler in the Kingdom of God above the other disciples.
He wasn’t worthy of the title Apostle of Love, and yet, history time and again demonstrates that something changed in John’s life. Somehow, though, by the end of his life John had become known for his humility and known as the Apostle of Love.
What would cause John to go from calling down fire on a village to calling the church to love their neighbors?
What would cause John to go from ambitious glory-grabbing self-promotion to putting others first?
What happened that turned him from being a Son of Thunder into the Apostle of Love?
Jesus is what happened to John
He encountered Jesus. He heard Jesus. He knew and lived with and befriended Jesus, and this encounter with Jesus made such an impact on him he was changed.
And not just the pre-crucifixion Jesus. No, John encountered the living, breathing, resurrected Jesus. He saw Jesus crucified and buried, and, like the other disciples, saw something he never expected...He saw Jesus raised from the dead. And it was this encounter with Jesus that changed everything for John.
In fact both his Gospel and 1 John begin with a similar sentiment.
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John emphasizes that he saw Jesus; the Son full of grace and truth. He encountered Jesus. It wasn’t a figment of his imagination. He wasn’t hallucinating. It wasn’t some sort of apparition. Jesus was real. He saw Him, heard Him, and was with Him.
There were some false teachings circulating in the churches John is writing to that said, anything that is made of flesh is evil and condemned therefore Jesus wasn’t really human. He only appeared to be human.
And John says No way, Jesus was real. He was in the flesh. I saw Him. I touched Him. I heard Him. And if you saw what I saw you would know! Jesus was God in the flesh. That encounter changed me.
Again in the letter of 1 John 1:1-3, it says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
This encounter with Jesus convinced John that there was something more powerful than hate and anger and ambition...there was something that could change a person deep inside. I don’t think John ever lost his fiery zeal...he was always a Son of Thunder, but it was redirected. John had seen and heard and lived with Jesus and that experience changed him from being the angry ambitious power grabber to being the Apostle of Love.
In this passage John uses some lofty terms to refer to Jesus. He says that Jesus is “that which was from the beginning...” He calls Jesus “...the Word of Life” and “the life” He says that Jesus was no ordinary human being He was “with the Father.”
And then he makes this bold claim, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” The reason John tells this over and over again is so we can have fellowship with God and take part in this “life” this “eternal life” which he is talking about through Jesus Christ. John had experienced new life in Jesus, and wanted others to have that too.
When we hear the phrase “eternal life” we often think of living forever and ever. We think of the person who asks, “Do you have eternal life?” And then tells us how we can get to heaven when we die...But there is more to it than just where we spend eternity.
The biblical writers were not just concerned with the afterlife...they were concerned with the life we have to live day-in-and-day-out. They knew that unless the Gospel made a difference in this life...unless the Gospel of Jesus Christ made a difference here and now it was worthless. So that phrase “eternal life” means more than just where we spend eternity. It means that we can take part in a life...in THE life...a life of the ages...when we encounter Jesus in this life.
John knew that if others would encounter the presence of Jesus like he did that it would change them too! It would give them meaning and purpose and direction. He was a fisherman...now he was part of the mission of God. He was the Son of Thunder...now he was the Apostle of Love.
Many of us are like John. We have been given a name that maybe we deserve, but we don’t want it. We have done some wrong in our lives. We have sinned. We have failed. But we don’t want that to define us...we don’t want that to be how we are remembered.
John didn’t want to be remembered as the Son of Thunder calling down fire from heaven to destroy a village. He realized that God had a better way for him to live. A way that was so good John referred to it as life. Later in 1 John 1 he says it is like a ray of light pushing the darkness out of his life.
Maybe you are like John and have been given a name you don’t want. And like John...the way out for us is to encounter Jesus and experience a revolution of love in our lives. John encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ, and we need to encounter it too.
For some that is difficult. Some of us come from backgrounds where God was angry at our sin and the pastor made sure we knew that He was angry. And we have to get over the false belief that we are some how unworthy or unlovable byt.
Some of us come from families where we had to perform or be perfect to receive love and acceptance...and that carries over into our relationship with God.
For some those traits and abilities that are good and great about us have taken over and they need to be redirected so they can bring honor and glory to God.
This morning I want you to know that God loves you, and wants to have fellowship with you. He wants you to come as you are. He wants you to come as a Son or Daughter of Thunder. He wants you to come as whatever label you have been given and become part of what He is doing.
We sent out this card to everyone in Huber Heights because we believe that God wants you to know that He accepts us and loves us...we don’t have to clean up before He will take us back. We don’t have to be perfect. He even loves Chihuahuas with mohawks!
We don’t have to be perfect...but we do have to be willing to take our next step closer to Him.
Here at Crossroads Vineyard our mission is to help each person take their next step closer to God. We say it that way because we believe, like John believed, that everyone of us has a next step. Whether you have never followed God or you have followed Him for 50 years...you have a next step. And when we encounter Jesus we can’t help but be changed. We can’t remain the same.
Peter was changed when he encountered Jesus.
John was changed when he encountered Jesus.
We can be changed when we encounter Jesus. We don’t have to accept or keep the name we have been given. We can have fellowship with God.
This morning I want to invite you to take your next step...
For some of you...today is your first step. You need to be back in church. You need to get back in contact with a community of believers that will love and support you and stand beside you in this journey of faith.
For others...there is still another step to take...you need to say, “Jesus I want to have a relationship with you!” And I’m not just talking about getting into heaven...you need to says, “I want to follow you and become your disciple.” Jesus never calls us to follow so we can get into heaven...he calls us so that we can learn to do life according to His principles and guidance.
For some...you have been stalled out for too long in your Christian faith and you need to shake the rust off and get moving. It may be a sin that you need to confess. It may be that you just need to make Christ the real priority of your life. I don’t know. But you have stalled out and you need a fresh encounter with Jesus this morning.
This morning...what is your next step? What stands in the way of having a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ?
For more information about Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights, Ohio check us out online at www.daytoncrossroads.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daytoncrossroads