This sermon was delivered to to congregation at Trinity United Methodist Church in Youngstown, Ohio on July 25, 1993 and again on January 28, 2001.
If you’re interested in theology – read the writings of Paul. If ethics is your interest – read James. But, if you want to know about true Christian love … if you want the heart of Christianity, you must read John. He and James and Peter formed the inner circle among the twelve laymen close to Jesus. And, of these three, John was the closest to Jesus. He was the apostle whom Jesus seemed to trust and care for.
Of course this raises the question … did not Jesus care for all twelve of the apostles…the laymen so close to Him? Of course He did. Does He not care for all peoples? Certainly He does. Does He not love the whole world? Listen to John 3/16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus because He loved and cared for Lazarus and His family. Jesus gave His mother’s care, at His death, to the care of John.
We are told that John was not born with a loving heart. He had a sensitive, gentle spirit, but he was also capable of anger, flareups and outbursts. He could go for a while, then he would have something anger him and he would lose control. Like a sudden storm that rises out of nowhere and and quickly spends its rage and disappears before you know it. John would blow up and then calm down. Being near Jesus helped him to control his temper. He grew in love, compassion and understanding.
By trade John was a fisherman. His father was a fisherman before him. He grew up in the fishing business. It was a prosperous business. His father could afford hired servants . But, John was restless. He had heard of a prophet preaching in the wilderness…a man who was baptizing in the region at the Jordan River. John went to hear the prophet John The Baptist preach.
It was a strange sight for young John to see men wade out into the river to be baptized…to respond to the invitation…to witness repentance and conversion. He heard John The Baptist preach saying, “I baptize with water, but somewhere among you stands a Man you do not know. He comes after me. I am not fit to undo His sandals. Look! There is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.”
From that first announcement by John The Baptist and to the very end of his days, John believed. He makes much of his belief. It’s a key word in his gospel. Ninety eight times in 21 chapters…believe, believe, believe. He came through it himself. “He knows that he speaks the truth, so that you too may believe.” Jesus loves us…warts and all. He loves those who believe in Him. Perhaps this is the reason why John had a special place among the laymen…the apostles. If you would know the wonder of being loved by God, have faith. Believe in His Son.
John began right where he was by faith. He grew in love. In his own gospel he is not called by name. Again and again it’s “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” When they sat about the table, John was always closest to Jesus. And, from that table he reports the new commandment Jesus gave them…and us. Listen to His words, “A new commandment I give unto you. As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” This is John’s theme – “Love one another and by this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ( John 13/35) There it is…John, a layman fisherman had come a long way in his life. Instead of love, in his younger life with Jesus, he had an infectious, bounding enthusiasm that bordered on radical, fanatical sectarianism .
One day when John had been on a preaching mission , he saw something that disturbed him greatly. He hurried back to Jesus to report. “Master! We saw a man casting out demons in your name! He was not one of us, so we tried to stop him!” And Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a work of divine power in my name will be able in the same breath to speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is on our side.” ( Mark 9/38-40) . At this point John was a long way from his later advice to “love one another.”
Here, John exposed his young, enthusiastic, sectarian spirit of his early days with Jesus. He thought we alone are able to cast out demons. We alone are the true disciples of Christ. We alone are the ones who are saved. And…we have this same attitude today. They do not think and act as we-do so they will not reap the rewards of Heaven. Or, they are an off-the-main- stream, non-sectarian bunch of hand clapping, shouting people who will certainly be too noisy for heaven.
My friends, it is well for all of God’s children to remember and take heed. God is limitless. God cannot be crammed into a suitable narrow persuasion of one group of believers whether they are a mainline congregation or not. Jesus judged sectarianism, seperationism, divisiveness and exclusiveness when He said, “No one who does a work of divine power in my name will be able, in the ‘same breath, to speak evil of me. Do not stop them. Do not judge them.” And, John, humble enough to take this rebuke from Jesus, says it over and over again throughout his life, “Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” (1st John 4/7)
Now, don’t let John’s statements lead you to think that he was a tame, milk-toast, wimp type of layman. He was sensitive and gentle of spirit, but he had fire, boldness, courage and a temper. Both he and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. it took courage, devotion and dedication to stand there out in the open before everyone at the foot of the cross. It took courageous love. None of the other apostles, as far as we know, were at the cross … only John.
It took courage, devotion and dedication to stand there in that screaming mob with Roman soldiers all around. It took courageous Christian love. And, in the midst of His agony, to whom did Jesus turn? John. He addressed his mother saying “Woman behold thy son…John behold thy mother.” And, from that time on John took the mother of Jesus into his home. She was completely entrusted to John the beloved of the twelve.
After the resurrection the apostles were forbidden by the authorities to preach the Gospel. They were imprisoned when they did so. Peter and John answered the charges against them saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to harken unto xyu more than unto God, you be the judge. As for us,we cannot cease to speak of the things we have seen and heard.”
There is the legend about John which is not without foundation. When he was so old that he could no longer walk, they carried him from his home to the place of worship. Time after time they would ask him to speak and all he would say was, “Little children, love one ,another.” Some one asked him why he said nothing else. He replied, ‘‘ Because this is our Lord’s commandment. If we fulfill this nothing more is needed.”
- How does· one become beloved of Jesus?
- Is it believing in Him?
- Is it becoming humble before him?
- Is it confessing our sins, taking rebuke?
- Is it having the courage to follow him?
- Is it standing firm in our faith?
- Is it extolling the Christian Gospel?
The resounding answer is YES!
There is a secret to a Christ-like life. There is a way to grow in love. The secret~ if you want to call it that – is to become a loving person…not through intellect. Not through deeds alone, but in our hearts, minds and souls. Now, this is not to play down intellect or deeds. John had an amazing grasp of spiritual truth. He had great spiritual insight. He had a gifted mind. John gives us the the ministry of incarnation. He understood the meaning of the coming of God into the world. It was John who wrote, “In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God, and The Word was God. And The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” This, the opening of John’s gospel, stands supreme over all other literature.
John understood Jesus and His mission better than any of the other disciples.
- He had the capacity
- He felt deeply
- He knew what it was like to be close to Jesus and he knew that being close to Jesus in all things was and is the secret, and in his gospel he says so when he writes,
“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, He who says He abides in him ought himself also so walk, even as He walked.” And he writes, “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another.”
But how can we love unless we get close to the source of that love? How can we progress and grow unless we get so near to the source of that love that the life of Jesus Christ spills over into ours. The secret to growing in love is found in experience, not education. This is not to disparage education, but John was not a learned man. But, he writes in his gospel about the Word made flesh.
John had no rabbinical training. He is described as an unlearned fisherman.
The experience of being in the presence of God lifted John above the others. Meditation on the truth on God…on Jesus…this experience of reality…of His presence…this walk in the light as He is in the light is the way to grow in love.
- Why is it that our faith falters at times?
- Why is it that our strength in the Lord is weak?
- Why is it that our Christian convictions diminish at times?
We read the New Testament, but we do not take enough time to think about it…to let its reality sink deep into our souls. We pray, yet we really do not pray because our minds stray elsewhere even as we speak the words of.our prayers.
- We wonder why we are here?
- We wonder what our purpose in life is?
- We wonder where life is taking us?
We must think about Jesus…about His Cross…about His resurrection…about His Kingdom…about His purpose for coming here on earth.
Then and only then ,will His presence in our lives be far more real and meaningful. John did not have a fine, formal education. But he had great and extensive experience. He could not rely on a highly-developed intellect. But, as the song goes, he had heart…miles and miles of heart.
It is not without foundation that the symbol for John is the eagle. To,mount up with wings…to fly ever higher…to live ever nearer to heaven…this is John. And, for him that was a long road…from temper to tenderness…from anger to adoration…from sectarianism to strength in love for one for the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a road that we must walk as we grow closer to Jesus.
Jesus speaks, and we must listen to what He says. “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you, you also love one another.”
A Closing Prayer
Our Father God’ help us to be sensitive, loving, caring lay people in your church. Help us to see the positive, the good in those whom we work on our jobs…in those with whom we worship in this church…with those in our families whom we love deeply, but sometimes try our souls. Help us to remember our beloved apostle. Help us to remember his words. Love one another, and in doing so draw ever closer to your love for us.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.