St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
December 27, 2020
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Today the Church remembers God’s servant, St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist. One of the 12, the author of three letters, the Revelation, and the Gospel account that bears his name, John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee and Salome. Jesus called these brothers “Sons of Thunder.” Like his brother and father, he was a fisherman by trade. He enjoyed a close friendship with Jesus. He is even called the disciple whom Jesus loved. This is seen during Jesus’ last supper, John reclines on his Lord’s chest and passed along questions from the others. He was one of the three inner circle, along with Peter and James, and a witness to Jesus’ Transfiguration. He was the only disciple to not abandon Jesus during the time of His passion. Together, with Jesus’ mother Mary, he stood at the foot of the cross where Jesus gave him gave His mother into John’s keeping. And then on Easter morning, he outran Peter to the tomb to find it empty.
After Pentecost, John stayed in Jerusalem for a while and then moved to Ephesus. Because of His bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, most likely the place where he received and recorded God’s revelation to him. Later he would return to Ephesus, where he wrote his letters and the Gospel account in the last years of his earthly life. As an old man, he never tired of telling Jesus’ disciples, “Little children, love one another.” Tradition holds that he’s the only disciple to not die a martyr’s death, hence the white paraments today and not red for martyrdom.
Because John is one of the original twelve disciples, among those who received the Spirit in the upper room on Easter, and who was sent to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, he is called an apostle. Because he wrote one of the Gospels, he is called an Evangelist. His symbol is that of the eagle after the heights to which His Gospel account soars and the sharp focus on Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, a favorite of many. He tells long, detailed stories, that the other Gospels don’t include like the Resurrection of Lazarus and the changing of water into wine at Cana and the coming of Nicodemus by night. Meanwhile he skips the narrative of Jesus birth, yet the Church hears him every Christmas Day – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14); and John omits the Institution of the Lord’s Supper all the while being the only one to include the discourse in John 6 that Jesus is the bread of life – “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). He ends his Gospel account with the reading for today – the part about Peter looking back and seeing the beloved disciple. And then we hear the Lord’s words about John remaining until the Lord returns.
This becomes even more meaningful when we remember what happened just before the reading. As Peter had denied Jesus three times before His crucifixion, Jesus had restored him threefold. While Jesus did this, he also spoke to Peter of what kind of death he was to glorify God, that Peter too would be crucified. And then he speaks to Peter, “Follow Me.”
Then Peter turns around and looks at John. What about him? And he asks a very childish question about the beloved disciple, who was following them, asking about John’s welfare and future. What about him? He dies an old man. Why doesn’t he get tortured like Peter? Why isn’t he fed to the lions? Is it because Jesus loved John more than Peter? Or John is better at being a Christian, more loving or something? But Jesus doesn’t play that game. He chides Peter a bit, basically telling him, “Mind your own business. What is his fate to you? You follow Me.”
How often do we act like Peter? We are tempted to look at others and wonder about them. Why do our friends have it so easy? Why do our mothers seem to prefer our brothers? How come other Christians seem to more faith, less struggles, greater glory? Those are questions borne of sinful envy, plain and simple. Repent. Jesus knows what He is doing. Crosses are custom-made and suffering must come before glory. His message is the same, “You follow Me!”
And this is the crux of the issue – to follow Jesus unto eternal life. John writes his Gospel account for this very reason, “These things are written that you may be believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John wishes that you too would follow Jesus, that you too would be a disciple, a follower, beloved by Christ Himself just as John himself is beloved of the Lord.
What is there about Jesus coming into our lives at Christmas that would allow Jesus to love us as He loved the disciple John? You and I certainly are not John. While these things illustrate his character, Jesus loved John not because he was perfect or pure. Jesus loved John because of Jesus’ own character, because He is the Perfect and Pure Son of God, the Word of God in the flesh. This is John’s message. This is the message of Christmas. Of Easter. Of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs. Of the Church throughout the ages.
The Love of the Father is shown to us in the Father’s Beloved, Jesus. That Love of God toward us was manifested, was shown, in God sending his only begotten Son into the world that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. The enfleshed Word of God dwells with us. He is God and Man, God with, and for us, as one of us. He is the One by whom all things were made and He became Flesh, was made in Mary’s womb our Brother, and dwelt among us to purify, cleanse, and reclaim us, to love us. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He has loved us by laying down His life, by being overcome by darkness, by being a guilt-offering for our sin. We, then, who have been baptized into Him, born again, who have been cleanse in Him, we are beloved disciples of the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
So if you have ever feared, not felt good enough, special enough, plagued by worry or doubt, cling tighter the gift of faith God has given you in His Word and Sacraments and know that you are beloved by God. You don’t deserve it. You don’t earn it. But you are. And if you are not certain enough or doubt or wonder if tomorrow you won’t be loved, look again at the cross of Christ. For you can’t get away from God’s love for you there. Look to the cross, where the One who is perfect love casts out all fear and where God teaches us what is love and how to love.