John the prisoner

Tradition has it that John was exiled to Patmos which is where he wrote the book of Revelation. Patmos, and other islands in the Sporades group of islands off the east coast of Greece, was used by the Roman authorities to keep ‘political prisoners’ banished and out of the way. Political prisoners could include magicians, astrologers, prophets and anyone expressing views that could be considered a threat to Roman power. Clearly the preaching of the new followers of Christ would come into that category, and one who had been known to be someone who had spent time with Jesus and whose teachings and writings would therefore carry more weight was someone to be watched by the authorities.

According to Revelation 1:9 John ‘was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’, in other words, because he preaching the salvation Christ offered. Like other apostles such as Peter, John did not see imprisonment as a time to sit moping and worrying about his own sorry state and lack of opportunity to continue his evangelistic endeavours, but as a time to spend more time with God, and to witness to those around him. So it was that in verse 10 we read that John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day – spending time with God – when he had his ‘revelation’, initially being instructed to write to the seven churches and then seeing various visions of heaven which he also wrote down to share with other followers of Christ.

Time in prison, or banishment, is similar to ‘waiting’, waiting for Jesus’ return, waiting for release to continue speaking and witnessing about Jesus, waiting on God to hear what work He has for you to do, or to hear what he wants you write or to see what he wants you to draw or paint or write about. John had a head start on us; he had spent three years with Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, witnessing His transfiguration, with him in His agony in Gethsemene, having his feet washed by Jesus at the Passover meal, seeing His crucifixion and His ascension, and through the Holy Spirit God revealed some amazing things to John while he was on Patmos.

I hope we all might have taken the opportunity of the ‘imprisonment’ imposed by lockdown to spend time with God, to be with Him in the Spirit, and hope we might all have the desire to continue to do that as lockdown lifts and we are released to speak and witness more openly about Jesus. We might not have the revelations John had, but we won’t know unless we spend that time with God!

*John the Elder*

As we move on through the life of the apostle John into his years as pastor, elder and senior leader in the early church, it becomes clear from his letters (1, 2 and 3 John) that all was not well in the churches. We tend to focus on the persecution that Christians suffered in Roman times, but John’s writings reveal that problems had emerged _within_ the church. Among the things that caused division were theological disagreements about the person of Jesus (1 Jn 2:20-21), as well as claims from some believers that they had “special knowledge” which contradicted past teachings, because they had unique inspiration from the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 4:1-6).

There’s too much detail to include in this post, but it’s clear that the three letters are still relevant to us today. Over the last two days I’ve been leading a staff training conference looking at exactly these issues: how do we tell a lost and broken world about Jesus, if we can’t seem to agree within the church? In his time, John was so heartbroken over this that he described it as “the last hour” of the church (1 Jn 2:18).

There’s nothing more painful in church life than when we are divided, when we should be living as brothers and sisters bought by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross. And it could be discouraging, not to mention scary, to think that there could have been so much confusion even in the churches led by the very disciples who lived with and learnt from Jesus in the flesh. And yet God’s people, His worldwide church, continues to grow in number to this day. His power and His plan to bring people to Himself have not been defeated by division and false teaching. Hallelujah!

Here’s a warning to us then, but also encouragement. The warning is that we must ALL make every effort to make sure we know our Bibles thoroughly, so that we can discern what is true. The Holy Spirit will never contradict Scripture but always speaks to confirm and clarify it, affirming that Jesus is Lord:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)

And the encouragement? To know God’s love and live in obedience to Him, extending that love to one another even when we have divided opinions. There may be points that we disagree on, and while Pastor John warns us to know the truth, he is also clear that love for one another is non-negotiable:
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us…” (1 John 3:19-24)

PRAY: Dear Father, thank you that You have established and protected Your church through the generations. Help me to love my brothers and sisters with action and in truth, as You command. And give me a love for Your Word so that I will be anchored and secure in Your truth, not easily tossed about or deceived by false teachings. Give me a discerning heart and lead me always back to my first love for You.

John the mystic

Mystic – A person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

I’m not sure if, according to this definition, we can rightly call John a mystic for in his gospel and his letters he balances contemplation with the need to demonstrate our love for Jesus with our love for one another. John also clearly believes that we can know spiritual truths above and beyond our human intellect but we should test what we receive in the spirit. Yet we can also say that self-surrender and unity with God are key themes in John’s teaching. Does any of this help us? There are two things I would like us to dwell on: self-surrender and knowing the truth.

Self-surrender is essential in our relationship with God. God will not make us bow the knee until Jesus returns – at that point every knee shall now. But presently, it is clearly a choice, we must choose to surrender/submit to God’s will just as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. This is not achieved through yoga-like practices or meditation, nor self-flagellation or physically denying ourselves. Self-surrender comes through a determined will and humble spirit, we set our faces like flint and walk to the cross no matter how painful because we understand that life is found on the other side. Silence, fasting and spiritual experiences (like speaking in tongues or receiving visions), as well as serving others, remembering scripture and standing firm in faith can all be used to help us become one with our heavenly father. However self-surrender and unity with God are a matter of the heart not outward performance and as such these things are tools not fool-proof methods. This is what John writes

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining. 1 John 2:3‭-‬8 NLT

‬ Self-surrender is not about denying ourselves; it is about obeying God. When your will is the same as God’s then there is no conflict, but where we think and act differently from Jesus we must learn to “surrender” our will and desires and submit to his commands.

John quotes large speeches of Jesus in his gospel and our next verses come from when Jesus was teaching his disciples about being united with him (e.g. he is the vine, we are the branches, we are to ask in his name and to love one another as he loves us). In these verse Jesus tells us truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit. We also learn that as the Father has given to Jesus, Jesus gives to the Spirit and the Spirit gives to us. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and to reveal spiritual truths to you. Spend time contemplating on the verses quoted, mull them over, if you can read different translations. Ask the Holy Spirit what he wants to make known to you. You are already united with Jesus through faith and baptism but let us seek a deeper stronger unity as we surrender to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. Let the Holy Spirit be your teacher.

‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’ John 16:12‭-‬15 NIVUK‬

May this song be our prayer

John the Beloved

John 21
“20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

John describes himself in his gospel as “The discple whom Jesus loved”(v20), so unsurprisingly church history has him named ” John the Beloved”.

Was John more loved than the other disciples? Does Jesus play favourites? It is important that when we read the Bible we take off our western cultural spectacles:

Firstly, physical affection between men is VERY common outside the west and has none of the sexual overtones it does here. The Filipino pastor I did an internship with used to hold his friend’s hand and even tousel his hair. A good thing I was warned this was normal! Secondly, it is normal and understandable that we can have a special affection for someone without denying others the love they are also due. As the littlest of all my siblings and cousins, I can attest to the fact that your elders can consider you the “indulged baby of the family”, when you know that there is no real favouritism and are just as likely to be told off for being naughty! After all, John was the youngest and was a direct relation of Jesus, so he was probably everyone’s “kid brother” among the disciples.

Jesus seemed to provoke Peter to single minded devotion by playing a little on Peter’s tendency to compare himself to John (v21-21).

Perhaps, though, John intended no special relationship, and it was simply his way of saying “I was there”.

All that said, John was very clear that Jesus loved him. This formed the strongest possible foundation for a long life of sacrificial service. It also led John to speak of the requirement to love EACH OTHER as evidence of our love for Jesus, arguably more than any other New Testament writer.

Yet, here’s the thing: John’s writings (John, 1,2,3 John, Revelation) are among the toughest to read, having the highest, most exacting standards of Christian discipleship shown through love in action.

John may be the “apostle of love”, but that love is no soft option. Real love, born of God, is the fuel for endurance, obedience and sacrifice.

How can I show that kind of love today? Following John’s writings, that must find a concrete, practical expression, or it isn’t real:

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18).

John – a son of thunder

Mark 3:13-18. “Jesus went up on a mountain side and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”
Luke tells us that Jesus had spent the night in prayer, alone, before the momentous task of choosing the Twelve. When it was day, He called His disciples who were waiting below. Boanerges is an Aramaic word referring to the fiery zeal of James and John; e.g. their wish to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, and John’s desire to stop the work of someone who was casting out devils, or the prayer of the Zebedee brothers that they might sit on the Lord’s right and left hands in His Kingdom.
The choosing of the Twelve was the first step in organising the church. The teaching and training of these men became a matter of paramount importance to Jesus.
Jesus called whom He would according to His decisions, not theirs. But they responded with free will to come to Him. They were companions to be with Him, commissioned to go and preach and given authority to have power to heal.
Here are twelve typical men, no two alike and all imperfect but with one exception – there was a place for each in the fellowship of Christ.
From what we know, would we have thought any of them suitable to be apostles? What about ourselves? Are we flawed personalities and yet still called to be disciples?

Peter’s wisdom/teaching

As we learnt earlier in the week from Lynette we know Peter the disciple to be impetuous, with a big mouth and big heart, quick to jump to conclusions but equally capable of brilliant Spirit-led flashes of insight into who Jesus was. We know that at the beginning of Acts Peter steps up to the mark and begins to take the lead as the disciples wait for the promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit – and begin their ministry and establish the early church. We also know that Jesus called Simon ‘Peter’, the rock on which He would build His church, and Peter’s journey ended in Rome where he was crucified by Nero and became the first Bishop of Rome, or Pope. There are two letters attributed to Peter, though modern scholarship generally rejects this.

However most sermons and teaching about Peter usually focus on Simon the disciple rather than Peter the Apostle, his wisdom and teaching evidenced in the early chapters of Acts and the two letters and, as we also learnt earlier this week, Mark’s gospel which it is believed was heavily influenced by Peter’s teaching’s and eye-witness memories.

Peter’s actions in the first 12 chapters of Acts are mostly concerned with preaching the gospel and performing miracles – doing what he had seen Jesus do – initially to the Jews, but increasingly as the Spirit led him to the Gentiles, and this is where we see his wisdom, in realising that the message wasn’t just for the Jews but was for all people, and encouraging the other believers to spread out and spread the gospel across the whole of the known world. Try reading the first 12 chapters as if you were reading a novel (ignore the chapter and verse breaks), it won’t take long to read the story and get a picture of Peter and his wisdom in leading the early church.

Father, fill us with Peter’s enthusiasm, excitement and wisdom as we preach your word to those unbelievers who need to hear it. May we be able to perform miracles as Peter did, to help to spread your precious word, and give us Peter’s strength and wisdom to cope with the opposition that we might face as we do so. Amen.

Peter’s Courage

Acts 4

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

This was no longer the Peter who sulked in the shadows while Jesus was taken to be crucified, who denied knowing Him.

Courage is very similar to faith, or at least true faith inspires courage. Peter was unafraid because whatever threats the Sanhedrin made, Peter’s life belonged to Jesus. Faith operates the nerves that flex the muscle of courage. But they both need exercise.

The priests and rulers saw that these uneducated, ordinary men “has been with Jesus”. Almost right: Peter and John not only HAD BEEN with Jesus, they were at that moment WITH Jesus. They were filled with the Holy Spirit (v8), just as Jesus had promised, “And surely I am with you always” (Matt 28:20).

We are not at war, nor are we undergoing persecution, so courage sometimes seems a redundant quality. Not true!! Every day we are called to demonstrate courage to (a) live out our faith before others, (b) risk rejection to tell people about Jesus, (c) make moral choices that go against the majority, (d) hold on to convictions in the face of criticism (in love, of course), and (e) press on to invest our lives in the Kingdom of God and not just go with the flow.

PRAY: Lord, You promise to be with us always. So today I trust You and ask You to fill me with Your Spirit and with the boldness (aka courage) to do all You call me to do. I refuse to live hiding in the shadows any more. Help me to walk in the light where You are. Amen.

Peter’s Passion

So imagine the scene: you, an accomplished fisherman, are out on the sea during the night – a very stormy night. The wind is strong and the waves are high but you have been through this before; they do not overly alarm you. However the sight of someone walking towards you does! People do not walk on water so this must be a ghost – perfectly rational response totally deserving of a scream or two. Then the ghost says “Be of good cheer. It is I. Do not be afraid.” What do you say to that?
Well, Peter says, “If it is you Lord, bid me come to you on the water.”
Ok, so this could definitely qualify as a “big mouth” moment, speaking too soon without thinking through the consequences but it equally shows the passion of Peter. One definition of passion is “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something”. Peter has enthusiasm in abundance, he is keen to get involved and do something, he was almost always the first disciple to step up and try something new. Just read through the beginning chapters of Acts – it’s all Peter. He’s out there preaching and healing in Jesus’ name no matter the consequences. I confess I do not have such enthusiasm and passion for stepping up and doing something. I’d much rather watch and wait and only get involved when I have a sense of the situation. No matter, we are all different. Nowhere in scripture are we all exhorted to be like Peter and rush into something, nor are we told to refrain from doing so. My passion for reading and music means I could spend all day doing those things, but not everybody shares that passion. And that’s ok because in scripture it is all about Jesus’ passion. It is about what Christ did for us. It is about Christ’s intense love for us and our response to that love.
Lord, there are times when my passions are in danger of blinding me to what you are doing. Sometimes my desires take over and even passion for something good can be a hindrance to your work in me. Jesus, please help me to keep my eyes fixed on you and not get caught up in my own plans. Holy Spirit will you keep developing in me a greater passion for the Kingdom of God and for King Jesus. Amen

Matthew 14:22-32 MEV
22 Then Jesus commanded His disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23 When He sent the crowds away, He went up into a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening came, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was turbulent.
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a spirit.” And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water.”
29 He said, “Come.”
And when Peter got out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

*Peter’s big mouth!*

Mark 8:27-29, 31-33
(Jesus) asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah .”
(Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Of all Jesus’ twelve disciples, I find that Peter comes across as the most relatable. Time again we see Peter blurting out his gut reaction to Jesus’ commands and teaching, with outright refusals to believe, indignant protests, or trying to trust, and then bottling it halfway through. And in the passage quoted above, it is Peter who declares in an amazing flash of Spirit-led insight and faith: “You are the Messiah.” Yet not long after, he oversteps the mark, tries to block Jesus in His fulfilment of God’s plans, and earns Jesus’ strongest rebuke.

It’s not the most encouraging picture of a future leader of the church! We might rightly conclude that Peter did have a big mouth, a brash personality, a lack of wisdom, and the tendency to act before thinking. And these traits didn’t go away, as Heather reminded us yesterday, even after Jesus’ resurrection, and even into the life of the early church, when again, Peter’s rash decision-making caused issues among the new believers (Gal 2:11-13).
Strangely, this description gives me huge hope. It’s likely that Peter himself helped Mark write his gospel, yet chose to allow these portrayals of his faults and mistakes to be included. Rather than being the perfect saint with everything sorted and no mistakes made, we are invited to see that Jesus takes us as we are, working in and through us despite our stumbling, faltering, up-and-down faith, and keeps doing His work of refining through His Spirit. Peter had a big mouth, but he also had a big heart and a big
love for Jesus which won through despite a sometimes bumpy track record.

Pray: Dear Lord, just like Peter, I just can’t seem to get things right! I might have a big mouth, a tendency to pride, or a faith that fails at times, even though I want to love and serve You. Please keep drawing me to You, as You did with Peter. Shape me through the work of Your Spirit, so that You may be glorified even as You refine my heart.

Peter’s call

*This week our reflections are on the apostle Peter.*
*Peter’s Call *(John 21:15-19)
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.” Then he said it a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that he was asked for the third time, “Simon son of John do you love me?” So he answered, Master you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the truth now: when you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you will have to stretch out your hands, while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, “Follow me!”
Jesus asked Peter to feed His lambs and His sheep. In John 10, Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep. Matthew 9 says that Jesus saw people as sheep not having a shepherd. He now speaks directly to Peter and told him what his work was to be: Peter was to shepherd God’s people. That isn’t always in flowery meadows and beside still waters. Sometimes it means grappling with wolves in order to save a lamb. Then Jesus talks about the qualifications needed. “Are you devoted to me?” Peter’s honest reply was that he loved Jesus. The question and answer were repeated. Peter couldn’t climb up to the word used by Jesus, so Jesus came down to Peter’s word. “Do you love me?” Peter didn’t like Jesus coming down to the lower word. The qualification for feeding lambs was love of the Lord, but the bar is set high, the love of absolute devotion. Jesus then described the sort of person Peter had been: he had gone his own way, self-willed, independent, managing his own affairs. Then He told him of the differences there would be. When he was old he wouldn’t be self-centred or self-satisfied. He would need to take up his cross to follow and Jesus implied that he would be true to that principle.
Maybe Peter felt “I shall never be equal to it,” but he would have been reminded the Jesus-Cross has led to a resurrection, and so it would be with Peter.