John – How God Feels About All of Us
First Baptist Church · September 28, 2014
An older gentleman with whom we once went to church stands out vividly in my mind any time I think about the subject of love.e was a mountain of a man. Well over six feet tall and weighing in at 250 plus pounds. Any time I saw him, he always gave me a big bear hug. When I say bear hug, I mean bear hug. He offered it with affection and yet it would almost take my breath away. In the midst of the bear hug, which he gave to lots of folks, he would call you beloved. Now, granted, that was an odd thing to hear someone say and particularly odd coming from him for after all he was such a gregarious, man’s man that it really struck you when he said it. Over time, I learned and others learned that his affectionate ways were simply his honest attempt to make sure that those in our church knew that he loved us and that God loves us.
In essence, the story of the disciple John is the story of the figure among the twelve who may have best understood that this is the same way that his friend Jesus felt about him. John, like his brother James, was likely hard for the other disciples to take at times. As we said last week, John and his older brother James came from a well-heeled family. Their father Zebedee, whom they worked for, owned a thriving fishing business. He was successful and apparently well connected. After all, even the gospels insinuate that their family was known personally by the High Priest of Israel at the time.
Likewise, Salome, who was the mother of John and James, had ambitious dreams for her sons. She went so far as to suggest to Jesus that they be his right hand men when he entered into his kingdom. Privilege, ambition, and a hot temper all characterized John which likely led him to be a tough pill for others to swallow at times.
Apparently to make matters worse, by the time we get to the fourth gospel, the gospel which John composed and which bears his name, this interesting figure transitions from calling himself by name to referring to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved”.
Now, knowing the rest of John’s backstory can quickly lead us to the idea that this way of referring to oneself was simply another indication of John’s growing arrogance. After all, who would refer to oneself as “the one whom Jesus loved”? It is sort of like saying “Jesus loves you, but, he loves me more!”
Having said that, most biblical commentators don’t think this is what John meant at all. Rather, the general sentiment is that John’s calling himself “the one that Jesus loved” was a sign of a growing maturity rather than a growing arrogance. The thinking is that John was finally growing up and that he had finally matured to be able to see that for several years his attitude and demeanor had led him to be seen as less than lovable. As a result, his saying that I am “the one that Jesus loved” was a way for him to say that he marveled that Jesus continued to love him and befriend him in spite of his behavior and attitude. It was a way for John to marvel at Jesus’ amazing love for a sinner and scoundrel such as himself.
If this is true, then it provides a remarkable reminder for each of us for I think what John would want all of us to understand is that how Jesus felt about him is how God feels about all of us. Even in spite of ourselves, today, we are the ones that Jesus loves. God loves us not because we deserve it or because we have merited it. No, all of us are like John. We are far, far from whom God wants us to be and yet we are the ones whom Jesus loves. Indeed, God’s goodness is bigger than our badness. And, God’s ability to love us and to forgive us, far outpaces our ability to sin. In essence, this is the heart of the gospel message and this is the word that God through the Holy Spirit wants to reaffirm in our lives each and every day.
I read a powerful story this past week that came out of the tragedy of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Somehow, I have missed this beautiful aspect from that horrific occasion until now. According to the story, one of the teachers in Newton gathered with her students in a closet in the school while the shooting transpired. Over and over again she simply kept saying to her small students “I love every one of you; I love every one of you.” In the aftermath of the shootings, the same teacher talked with a reporter about that day. As she shared what she had said with the reporter, she offered this, “If those children were going to die, I didn’t want it to happen without them hearing that someone loved them.” Simply stated, she wanted love to be the last word. (“The Quiet Strength of a Peaceful Leader”, Gordon MacDonald, Leadership Journal, Spring 2014)
Sure, God wants us to live morally upright lives. Sure, God, through the Holy Spirit, wants us to do the right things and to make right choices. Yes, there is judgment when we fail and there are corrections to make. Without question, we are to hold one another accountable. But, let us make no mistake, love is the last word. In the midst of it all – our failures, our arrogance, our sinfulness, our stubbornness – nothing can separate us from God’s love. Like John, we are the “one whom Jesus loves” and if we can hear this as did John it can make all of the difference in our lives.
At the same time, John seems to have become keenly aware that to embrace his own beloved nature in the eyes of God meant for him to also offer this as the last word for others to hear in regard to themselves as well. To this point, a wonderful aspect of John’s story is the responsibility given to him while Jesus was dying on the cross. If you remember, as one of his last statements, Jesus looked to John and basically asked him to be a surrogate son to his own mother Mary.
We don’t know for sure, but, it certainly is easy to believe that Mary may have been in a difficult situation by this time in her life. Obviously, Jesus’ siblings had various feelings about him and his claims. Thus, certainly they may have projected these feelings onto Mary who remained a faithful supporter of her son as God’s son from beginning until the end. Likewise, there is no mention in Jesus’ later years of his earthly father Joseph. Was he now deceased? Was he alive yet struggling with Jesus’ identity? We really don’t know. But, we do know that for some reason or another, Jesus wanted to make sure that someone was there to take care of his mother and to love her. He asked John to do this. Perhaps in part, his thinking was that since John understood so well how much he was loved, he was prepared to offer the same kind of care and affection.
Just this week, I read a powerful statistic about ministers. The statistic was that 70% of ministers don’t have one single close friend. Likewise, according to the same report, roughly this same 70% of ministers have a lower self-esteem today than they did when they entered the ministry. (From Finding Hope and Failure in the Midst of Ministry Failure, JR Briggs, IVP, 2014)
I point this out not to talk about poor minister but rather to suggest that if this is true for ministers, I suspect this is true for most people in most occupations. All of us, long to have people in our lives who are our friends and who regularly remind us that God’s last word in our lives is a word of love, nurture and support. And, you and I, as people of the church who know and have received God’s grace, like the disciple John, are the very people that need to stand in the gap and offer that word as God’s most important and last word for all of us.
There is a story about the famous Baptist professor and preacher Tony Campolo that I love. It’s been around for a long time and perhaps you have heard it before. But, it is one of those stories that deserves repeating about once every three or four months because of how rich and powerful it is.
Many years ago, Campolo was speaking in Hawaii. One night, early into the morning hours, for whatever reason, he couldn’t sleep so he got up and went out in search of a coffee shop that might still be open. The only one he could find still serving at that hour was not the most inviting but Campolo chose to enter anyway. While there, some ladies of the night if you will, came in and began to take up some of the other seats. One of them, who he later learned was named Agnes told one of the other ladies that the next day was her birthday to which they replied in their own ways, “why should we care.”
Campolo, overhearing this, recognized in Agnes’ voice that she cared that the next day was her birthday and he also heard her admit that no one had ever thrown her a party. As long as she had lived, Agnes had never had a party to celebrate her special day. Well that sealed the deal for Campolo. After learning from the cook that Agnes and the others came in every night at about the same time, he convinced the people in the restaurant to be prepared for a party when Agnes returned early the next morning. He also assured them that he too would be back and that he would gladly pay for everything.
According to Campolo, the look on Agnes face that next night was one of the most moving moments in his ministry. In fact, she was so overcome that she didn’t even want to cut the birthday cake that had been made because it was so precious to her. Campolo says that when she left, all he knew to do was to lead the whole restaurant in prayer. In a powerful moment, when the Holy Spirit seemed to permeate the room, they prayed for Agnes, for her life ahead and that God would somehow help her to know how much she was loved.
At the end of his prayer, the cook in the restaurant, looked at Campolo and said, “hey, you didn’t tell us you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?” To which Campolo replied, “one that throws parties for people like Agnes.” The cook again looked at Campolo and said these haunting words, “no church does that, if it did, I’d join it!” In his recollection of that moment, Campolo follows up the cook’s words with this statement. “Wouldn’t we all, wouldn’t we all.” (From the book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, Word Books, 1990).
According to legend, the disciple John lived to be older than any other disciple. At the end of his life, all he would say, over and over again was “love one another”. One day someone asked him, “why do you say this same thing over and over again?” To which he is said to have replied, because it is enough! Amen.