John, the man Christ loved
This study looks briefly at the impact knowing Christ had in the heart and life of the apostle John.

JOHN: THE MAN CHRIST LOVED

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

The Carpenter walked with the fisherman through the dusty paths of Judea and Galilee, their footprints trailing behind them. In history they also left a trail: the Carpenter the story of the cross - sacrifice, substitution, salvation; the fisherman, a testimony of love, immeasurable, unexpected, unequalled love.

Was it the hope of this love that first caught the fisherman's attention as John the Baptist called out: 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' (John 1:29) Or was it perhaps the Baptist's mention of a mystery beyond human thinking that grabbed his attention: 'I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.' (John 1:34). Here was a deep incongruity, an impossible identity: the Lamb of God - destined to suffer; the Son of God - destined for glory. How could they be one and the same? How could this Galilean carpenter be both?

Intrigued, compelled, the fisherman followed the carpenter, unaware of the radical reorientation, the eternal impact, that this would have on his life, unaware of the depths of love about to overwhelm him, unaware that never again would he be just a fisherman.

There are Christians who credit John with deep spirituality, so deep that it seems beyond our grasp. If what we see in John is spirituality, then it is a spirituality far different from what many today assume to be spirituality. It is neither mystical - that is, based on what is hidden, unknown and unseen, nor pious - that is, based on human religious effort, nor personal - that is, based on his own inner experiences. John's spirituality is something solid, something down-to-earth, tangible, and as such it is something within reach of everyone of us. It is based on facts - on the knowledge he gained of Jesus Christ as he walked and talked with him for those three years (Acts 4:13). 'We know' he wrote, 'that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true' (1John 5:20).

It was to share this knowledge of Jesus Christ that John wrote his Gospel. He did not see his relationship with Christ as something unique to himself, or his spirituality as something to be attained only by an elite few. Rather it was his goal that we too should enjoy that same spiritual life that he enjoyed:

'These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name' (John 20:31);

'We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us' (1John 1:3a).

[1] John's Christianity is based on the knowledge that Jesus Christ is human.

John wrote:

'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 ... ' (1John 1:1,2).

John's knowledge of Jesus Christ is concrete: his ears heard him speak; they also heard his heartbeat as his head rested on Christ's chest; his eyes saw him and observed him; they also saw his blood dripping from the cross; his hands touched him, they also received from him breakfast on the beach.

John knew that this Carpenter was human.

[2] John's Christianity is based on his knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God

But as John's ears listened to this man's message, and as his eyes observed his miracles, it became increasingly obvious that this Carpenter was not just a builder of chairs and ploughs and tables, but was in actual fact the Creator of all that exists -

'Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made' (John 1:3).

Such was his creative power and authority that he turned water into wine (2:1-11), he turned a single, small snack into substantial servings sufficient for thousands (6:1-15), and he turned a raging storm into peaceful waters (Mark 4:35-41). John's comment is 'he thus revealed his glory' (John 2:11). Summing up the impact of all that he had seen and heard Jesus do John wrote:

'We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth' (1:14).

Check the verses listed below to learn John's understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, equal in all respects to God the Father.
John also knew that when he looked at this Carpenter, he was looking at God. Not someone godly, not someone like God, but God.

John 1:18

 

John 10:30

 

Selected verses from 14:1-9

 
He knew that he must give to this man the same honour that is due to God

John 5:23

 
He knew that his relationship with God stood or fell by his response to this man

1 John 4:2,3

 

1 John 4:15

 

1 John 5:1

 
He knew that to believe in this man was to believe in God; to accept this man was to accept God

John 8:19;

 

John 12:44

 

John 13:20b

 

1 John 2:23

 

It is this knowledge, this incredible truth, that this village carpenter is the God of all the earth, that gives to John's spirituality its strength and its focus.

[3] John's Christianity is based on his knowledge that his relationship with God through Christ is complete and final.

John's Christianity overflows with deep satisfaction. He knows Jesus Christ: he needs nothing more, he seeks nothing more. Indeed he knows that there is nothing more to seek and nothing more to know. Too often he has heard Jesus promise that those who believe in him:

  • 'will never thirst',
  • 'will never go hungry',
  • 'will never walk in darkness' (John 4:14; 6:35; 8:12).

He knows that there is nothing beside, beyond or in addition to, Jesus Christ.

  • Here in Christ is God made known (John 1:18).
  • Here, in Christ is eternal life (John 3:36; 5:24; 1John 5:12a).
  • Here, in Christ, there is not, and never will be, condemnation (John 5:24).
  • Here, in Christ, one has already crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

Because John knows this, his spirituality is characterised by peace and contentment.

[4] John's Christianity is based on his knowledge of the hand of God upon him.

John's Christianity is theocentric, that is, it centres on God, not on himself. He knows that he himself is neither the source nor the sustainer of his spirituality. From the words of the Carpenter he knows

  1. that it is the Spirit of God who brought him to spiritual birth (John 3:3-8),
  2. that it is God the Father who got hold of him and gave him to Jesus (John 6:37,44), and
  3. that left to himself he was incapable of coming to Jesus (John 6:65).

This knowledge of his total and utter inability in himself, and his total and utter dependence on God for his relationship with Jesus Christ gives to his spirituality both its confidence and its humility.

[5] John's Christianity is based on his knowledge of what Jesus Christ has rescued him from.

John is acutely aware that through Jesus Christ he is saved from everything that is the opposite of life:

In the table below read the verses and identify what these verses teach we are saved from by Jesus Christ.
Reference
Jesus Christ saves us from:

John 3:16; 10:28

 

John 3:17,18; 5:24

 

John 3:36

 

John 5:24; 8:51; 11:25,26;
1 John 3:14

 

John 8:12; 12:46

 

John 8:21; 1 John 1:7

 

John 8:32-36

 

1 John 1:7-2:2; 2:12

 

He knows that all of this is because 'Jesus Christ laid down his life for us' (1John 3:16; also John 10:11). This knowledge gives to his spirituality a commitment to praise:

'To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father - to him be glory and power for ever and ever! ... ' (Revelation 1:5b,6)

[6] John's Christianity is based on his knowledge of the responsibilities involved in believing in Jesus Christ.

Having this faith that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, John saw clearly the implications of this knowledge. He saw that if Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, and has done what he did on the cross, then no one who knows that and believes that can ever be the same again.

He understood the significance of Jesus' words 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples' (Jn 8:31). Although he never used the words 'repent' or 'repentance' in his Gospel or letters, he understood that a radical repentance and commitment went inseparably hand-in-hand with faith in Christ, indeed were an essential part of faith in Christ. For John, claiming to know and believe in Jesus, and continuing to live in opposition to the principles laid down by Jesus, was an incongruity, an impossibility of the highest order. The one ruled out the other.

Write out the following verses from John's first letter [1 John]; think deeply about their implications:

1:6

 

2:4

 

2:6

 

2:9

 

2:11

 

3:6

 

3:9

 

4:8

 

4:20

 

Because John knows all of this his spirituality is one of commitment to obedience to the commands of Christ.

[7] John's Christianity is based on the knowledge that this present life is not final.

John knows that because he believes in Jesus he 'will live even though he dies' (John 11:25). John knows that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for him (John 14:1-3). John knows that one day he will be with Jesus where he is and see his glory (John 17:24). John knows that when that happens he too will be changed and will be like Jesus (1John 3:1-3). John knows that a time is coming when all that is opposed to God and his kingdom will cease and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when every creature in heaven and on earth will render praise and honour to the Christ the King (Revelation - the whole book). His spirituality is thus also characterised by hope and anticipation.

The New Testament does not really tell us much about John; the biographical details it records are not enough to enable us to do a real character study. We have looked, therefore, at some of the truths that impacted John - that scored deep into his heart. We have seen, particularly if you have looked up all the references, that John was completely overwhelmed by Jesus Christ, by who he is, by what he did. As he walked and talked with the Carpenter, this fisherman learned that those introductory words of the Baptist were indeed true. The love promised in that 'Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' was indeed there. The unheard of mystery in that 'this is the Son of God' also proved to be there. Incredible love. Impossible mystery. Both here unveiled in this Galilean Carpenter.

So the fisherman followed, and believed, and loved. We have not walked and talked with the Carpenter from Nazareth as he did, but because he did, and because he wrote of what he had heard and seen, even so we, like him, may follow, believe, and love.