St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Dear friends in Christ. The Church has set aside today, the Third Day of Christmas, to remember St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. John was one of our Lord’s 12 disciples who was with Him during His earthly ministry, and, in fact, Jesus often took aside John, together with Peter and James and gave them great glimpses of His glory and divinity, for example when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead; and they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. As he does in today’s text, John calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” How richly blessed John was!
Not only was John blessed during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but also after Jesus’ ascension. The Holy Spirit used John to write an account of our Lord’s life; He had John write letters to the churches, three of which He saw fit to preserve in the NT; and Jesus blessed John with a glimpse of heaven and the history of the NT Church, which John describes in the Revelation.
After a number of references early in the Book of Acts, no further mention is made of John. According to old and reliable traditions in the church, John worked in the city of Ephesus. In about the year 90 AD, during the persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian, John was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation. He later returned from exile. One account of John has him wanting to go to the public bath house; but when he heard that the heretic Cerinthus was there, he turned away from the building in order to avoid even such outward fellowship with him. When he was very old, he was carried into the assemblies, and too weak to preach, he could only said in a faint voice, “Little children, love each other.” and died at a ripe old age early in the Second Century.
How fitting we remember St. John here in the midst of the Christmas season because John is the one who spoke of God’s becoming man in such a high and exalted way at the beginning of his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is the mystery and wonder of Christmas!
1. As you look at the altar this morning, you will see the colors are white. They are white not just because of the joy of Christmas, but in honor of St. John—a sinner, saved by grace, pure and holy through faith in Christ. They are not red like they are when we remember the other apostles of our Lord. Red not only symbolizes the Holy Spirit but also blood—the blood they shed on account of their faith in Jesus. John died a natural death at a ripe old age. Yes, he suffered on account of his faith—but not to the point of bloodshed.
Jesus seemingly dealt differently with John than He did the rest, who all died a martyr’s death. That’s the point Peter makes in our text as we join in the scene of the Risen Jesus once again calling Peter and reinstating him into his office as Apostle after Peter had denied Jesus three times. Then, right before our text, Jesus also tells Peter that he would suffer death by crucifixion for his faith and confession of that faith: but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. This [Jesus] spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.
Then, Peter hears someone coming, turns around and sees John. So Peter then says to Jesus, But Lord, what about this man? Peter had just gotten a glimpse of the future, the word that he would die a martyr’s death. Now he is curious. He wants to know: what’s going to happen to John? Jesus’ answer? If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me. In short, Jesus says that He’s not going to tell the future; what Jesus had told him is a grace, more than enough, for Peter.
How fitting this is for us as in a few days we will begin the brand new year! How we would like to know what the new year will bring to each of us! What will happen over those 365 days to us and to others? But simply put, the Lord does not reveal our future. Instead, we have His words resounding in our ears, which we do well to heed this new year: If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me! The point is this: whatever way the Lord leads and guides us, so what? It doesn’t matter. We are simply called to follow Him.
Here we are in the midst of the Christmas season. Christmas is not just some isolated event, some Baby being born 2000 years ago. It is the event; the great divide. We are either for or against Christ. Either we receive in faith Jesus as our Savior and all His works and blessings, or we reject Him. When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, we, in that Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, follow Him. We follow Him wherever He may lead us this new year.
To follow means what? To look straight ahead. Don’t look to the left or right; don’t try to make your own path. In the new year keep looking straight ahead to Jesus and follow wherever He leads you. Another Apostle says: [Look] unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. The point? Ultimately, Jesus is leading His dear Christians to heaven. He has led the way and He is leading us there as well. He led Peter to heaven on the road of martyrdom; John He led down a different path. Whatever the path, the Lord is leading each of His dear Christians safely to Himself in heaven.
What a glorious comfort we have! In the new year, whatever way the Lord leads us, He is leading us to Himself in heaven. Here is where faith comes in: to follow Him as He leads us.
Although the Lord does not reveal to us what the new year will bring, we have the great assurance and comfort that He deals with us in love, grace and in the way that is best for us. Although it was true of John in a wonderful way, all Christians can call themselves “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” We are in the midst of the Christmas season: each of us can say that Jesus loved Me enough to became true man to be MY Savior. Each of us can say that Jesus loved ME enough to suffer and die for MY sins and reconcile Me with God. Each of us Christians has that assurance of His love as He came to us in Holy Baptism, gave us His Holy Spirit, worked faith in our hearts, washed away our sins and brought us into His holy family.
2. This Lord who loves us also orders and governs our lives. Peter, seeing [John], said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” The only thing we need to know and to content ourselves with is this: the Lord loves us and He is the one ordering and governing our lives. If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? The Lord doesn’t need or want our consent. He is God after all; He loves us. What does the future hold for us? What does 2010 hold for us? Who knows?! Who cares?! We are the Lord’s! He is ruling, guiding, ordering our lives. The Lord’s will is always done and it’s always best. Yes, we may not like it—as Peter was led to where he did not want to go—but in faith we are simply called to follow our Lord wherever He may lead us in 2010 and beyond.
What great peace we then have! It may go well for us; it may go badly for us, but through it all we don’t have to worry about the next step, about how it will all end. Jesus, true God, who loves us, is ordering our lives.
In that peace, we can fight the temptation that Peter fell into and worry about the way the Lord was dealing with him and John. Our old sinful nature will often arise and lead us to question why the Lord is dealing with us the way He is and differently with another Christian. This is the way the devil uses our old sinful self to lead us into unbelief. If we question why the Lord is seemingly dealing harshly with us and mildly with a neighbor; if we are judging the Lord and His ways; if we forget that the Lord always deals with us in grace and love, no matter how differently we might judge it; how we need to hear our Lord’s words: What is that to you?
Judging the way the Lord deals with us, comparing it to how He deals with others, is a complete rejection of the Lord’s love and guidance He has given us; it’s a rejection of His divine omniscience: I know better than He does! In short it is a sin which needs to be repented of. Instead of worrying and fretting, cling to, rejoice and revel in that Gospel peace that our good and gracious Lord, who suffered and died for our sins, whose resurrection proves we are reconciled to God, who has claimed us as His own in Baptism, is ordering and governing our lives and working all things for our spiritual and eternal good. So what that He deals with me this way and another Christian another way? –He is leading both of us to Himself in heaven. Certain of our Lord’s love, grace and guidance, an attitude of simple trust in the wisdom of His guidance will characterize the Christian’s attitude.
What is that to you? You follow Me! Instead of worrying about why the Lord deals with me one way and you another—what is that to you?—the Lord simply tells Peter, and us, You follow Me! We are responsible for our own faith; we only can answer for ourselves. Instead of “worrying” about another in a carnal, meddling way, let us see to it that we ourselves are actually following Christ in faith, trusting Him and His wisdom and leading.
3. As we enter this new year, in which the Lord has not told us what will happen to us, we can enter it in full joy and confidence, following Christ who orders and governs our life. To follow Christ in 2010 means not only to trust Him to guide and lead our lives ultimately leading us to heaven, but to rely on His word. Precisely because the way that the Lord leads us is so opposite our way of thinking; precisely because it is inscrutable and beyond our finding out; that’s why we need to rely on His Word in the new year, His Word which is truth, as John says in our text: This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
When the devil and our old sinful nature tell us that the Lord is rejecting us, we need to be in the Word that assures us of His love. When the devil and our old sinful nature tell us that there can be no forgiveness for that sin we committed, we need to be in the word that tells us that in Jesus all our sins are forgiven. When everything seems to say that God has now become our enemy because of the way He is dealing with us, we need to be in that word that tells us that in Christ we are reconciled to Him and that He is our dear loving heavenly Father, to that word that tells us that in baptism we have become part of His holy family, to that word that tells us of our forgiveness, our reconciliation, as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament.
Following Christ in 2010 means listening to Him in His Word—careful listening. Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” This means that in the new year we will not have a “hear-say” religion, accepting any and everything people say because it sounds good or makes sense to reason. Instead, we will examine everything according to the clear word of Scripture, for there Jesus is still clearly speaking to us and leading us as we follow Him to wherever He leads us in 2010. INJ Amen.