John was a Disciple of Jesus. He was young, reckless and he was the one Apostle who lived to see all of those He loved die. John’s self-description throughout his letters is usually, “the disciples whom Jesus loved.”
This gives us insight into what it was that made John tick. John found his identity in what Jesus thought of Him not what he thought of himself. Jesus loved him and John was happy to be loved.
John was the disciple who put his head on Jesus’ shoulder during dinner. It was John who was brought close enough to see his beloved friend transformed on the mountain with Moses and Elijah and it was John who let his Rabbi down when He needed him most by falling asleep at His post.
Like the rest of us, John had failed Jesus, but Jesus had not failed John. Jesus loved John and was not ashamed to call him a friend. Having seen His Saviour love him from the cross, John became an example to all believers of what can happen when love takes hold.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
John was the first disciple to make it to the empty tomb, the first to recognise Jesus on the shore after His resurrection and the only disciple mentioned at the crucifixion.
This is the journey that John invites us to take with him. To walk with him from the shores of Galilee to the cross and on to the empty tomb.
Because John lived so long we have a number of accounts of his life after the resurrection of Jesus. Jerome, an early church father, recounts one story of John in his old age.
John, Jerome writes, lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples would carry him to church on a stretcher and he could barely muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings, he usually said little else but, “Little children, love one another.”
On one occasion, those in attendance, weary with John’s repetition finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is enough.”
John Fox also recounts the following event from several sources regarding John’s later years.
A handsome young man of “fervent mind” who had come to Christ in John’s care, was given to a local bishop while John travelled to Ephesus. John had charged the bishop before the congregation and in the sight of God to watch over the young man’s soul until John returned.
The bishop brought him home, kept him, and nourished him, and taught him, and after a while, feeling that his work was done, handed him over to the supervision of someone else.
The young man, now free from oversight, soon became bored and idle and so fell into the company of his old companions.
These worthless men enticed him to join them in their riotous banquets as in former days and little by little he joined with them at night to rob and steal. Leaving the right way behind, he no longer cared how much farther he went and in time became the head and captain among his friends in committing all kinds of murder and felony.
Time passed and John returned and enquired of the bishop about his young charge. The bishop with a loud weeping said, “He is dead”. “How, and by what death?”, replied John. “He is dead to God and has become an evil man.”
John tore his clothes, and with a great cry said, “So much for leaving you as a good keeper of my brother’s soul!”
With that, John headed for the mountains where the young thieves often hid in order to rob, steal and kill those who passed by.
Coming to the place where the young men hid, John was captured. But John, neither flying nor resisting them said, “Lead me to your captain.” And so he was.
Standing before John, the young man at first armed and fierce, began to recognise him and soon became stricken with confusion and shame and began to run away.
But the old man followed him as much as he might, forgetting his age, and crying, “My son, why do you fly from your father? An armed man from one naked, a young man from an old man?
“Fear not, for there is yet hope of salvation. I will make an answer for you before Christ. I will die for you if need be, as Christ has died for us.”
Hearing these things and the love with which John spoke to him, the young man stood still. His courage and strength now melted away. The young man began to tremble and fell down weeping.
John, also falling down upon his knees, the young man clung to him and wept. John kissed the young man’s murdering hand and in time brought him home.
And when he had prayed for him with continual prayer and daily fastings and had comforted and confirmed in his mind the mercy of God, John restored him to the congregation and he became an example in time both of the trial of regeneration, and a token of the resurrection of Jesus, who raises us from the dead.