Friday, June 12, 2009

The Transformation of John: Part One

One cannot come face to face with Jesus without either yielding to him or rejecting him. When one chooses to yield, transformation takes place. Paul offers the flashiest example of transformation in the New Testament but all who believe in Jesus are changed. I was looking for this as I read through John’s Gospel. I kept wondering, How did a fisherman learn to write like this? Why did God choose him? Who was this man? How did his encounter with Jesus change John? And because I wondered I searched for answers.

THE BAD NEWS: JOHN’S ORIGINAL NATURE

AMBITIOUS: This story found in Matthew 20 reveals that John was ambitious to be a prominent figure in Jesus’ kingdom. It also reveals that his idea of God’s kingdom and reality were entirely different.

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" he asked.
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
"We can," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, 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 by my Father."
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

I think James and John put their mother up to this request. They seemed awfully eager to accept whatever came Jesus’ way. I am sure they were only thinking of glory and not suffering. The disciples were indignant with these two men. Could they have been thinking, There they go again, trying to wrangle the best position for themselves!

EXCLUSIVE: John saw himself as part of the inner circle. Jesus was going places. John was going with him and he was impatient with anyone who might be trying to get in on the act. We see this in Luke 9:

Master said John, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.

When I read these words I hear them delivered in the urgent tattletale voice that my children use. The disciples had been arguing over which of them would be the greatest. With all this jockeying for position going on, John sure didn’t want any newcomers coming in and stealing his thunder.

HOT TEMPERED: The Samaritans failed to roll out the red carpet when Jesus passed through their town and John had a solution for this that makes me laugh out loud.

Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? Luke 9:51

John had just been up the mountain with Jesus. He had seen Him in all of His heavenly glory. I think his head was still full of heavenly visions. How dare these people be so disrespectful! Let’s do something about this! I love that he says do you want us to call fire down. It’s almost as if he forgets that all power comes from God. It also appears that he forgets mercy, gentleness and patience.
John’s temper is highlighted in Mark’s Gospel as well. Jesus called his twelve disciples. Among them, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder.) Jesus must have had a fabulous sense of humor. This line just makes me roll. I can picture James and John about to explode over some slight and hear Jesus remark offhandedly, “Relax Boanerges! It’s no big deal.”

QUICK TO UNDERSTAND: This trait must have been one of the primary reasons that Jesus called John to be one of His closest followers.

At the end of John’s gospel there is a contrast between Peter and John. Peter charged into the empty tomb first and appeared to be clueless in spite of all the clues. John initially remained outside the tomb (I think this presents John as a devout Jew. He would become unclean if he came in contact with death.) Finally John was overcome with the need to get closer. He stood inside the tomb and put the pieces together. He realized without bodily evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The last story in John’s Gospel reinforces Peter’s tendency to act first and think later and demonstrates John’s ability to understand. Jesus stood on the shore and reenacted the miraculous catch of fish. John remembered that early in His ministry Jesus had performed the same miracle. Again he put the pieces together and he told Peter, “It is the Lord!” Evidently Peter could not recognize this for himself but as soon as John pointed it out, he sprang into action. He leapt from the boat and waded toward Jesus and then dashed back to the boat again to help with the nets. Peter reminds me of a Labrador retriever in this scene!

This, of course, is not the end of the story but I have shared enough for today. I will post part two on Thursday.

Coming Up Part 2:
The Good News
John: A New Creature in Christ