“…the disciple whom Jesus loved…”

Although he was one of the characters in the book he wrote, he never mentioned himself by name. It is generally understood, however, that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John was the apostle himself.

In referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was John saying that Jesus loved him more than the others? He certainly held a special place among the disciples. He was the one reclining next to Jesus at what we know as the Last Supper. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s care. After the resurrection, John was the first apostle to look into the empty tomb. Then he was the first disciple on the fishing boat to recognize the risen Lord on the shore. At the end of his gospel, John identified himself not only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” but as the one “who testifies to these things and wrote them down.” (John 13.23; 19.26, 27; 20.2; 21.7; 21.20, 24)

As I read the gospel of John, I don’t believe John saw himself as a favorite of Jesus. I believe John saw himself as special not because Jesus loved him best, but because Jesus loved him at all. He had been one of the “Sons of Thunder” who asked Jesus to destroy an unresponsive village. He and his brother James had had the audacity to ask for a special place in Jesus’ kingdom. But through his faith in Jesus, he later became “the elder” writing to his own disciples and the one who was chosen to pen Jesus’ last words in the book of Revelation. (Mark 3.17; Luke 9.54; 3 John 1; Revelation 1.1)

When John wrote that he was loved, he was expressing a gratitude for the special love that Jesus has for every one of his disciples, a tender spot in his heart for each one of his children. I am that disciple “whom Jesus loves.” And if you follow Jesus, then you can say with the same eternal gratitude and joy that John had that you are also that disciple “whom Jesus loves.”

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“Show us the Father”

It wasn’t enough that Philip had been chosen by Jesus to walk with him during his ministry, witness his miracles, watch him heal and care and serve. Philip wanted to see God the Father for himself.

Jesus had just told his disciples that he would soon have to leave them to go back to his Father. He was going ahead to prepare rooms for them in his Father’s house. He told them there was only one way to that house — Jesus himself.

“No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip makes a request: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

You can almost hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice in his reply,

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8, 9)

Philip was like so many of us at times — we would really like to see God for ourselves — up close. We want him to show himself. But God has shown himself — in the person of His only Son. If we want to see the Father in the flesh, all we have to do is open our Bibles to the first four books of the New Testament.

There you see God’s compassion as he heals the sick, gathers the children to him and mourns for the city that will soon crucify him. You see his power as he calms a raging storm, opens the eyes of the blind and raises a young girl from her deathbed. You see his wisdom as he instructs the simple and confounds the scholar. You see him face temptation without sin, cruelty without revenge and rejection without depression.

You see him wrongfully accused, humiliated, tortured, and crucified. You see him rise from the dead and ascend back to heaven.

You realize you have seen God in the flesh.

And that is sufficient.

Rejoice, anyway.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18

The terms are pretty demanding, aren’t they? Always — without ceasing — everything. How could anyone rejoice, pray, and give thanks in every circumstance, every minute of the day?

Yet that seems to be what God through the apostle Paul is requiring of believers. And in context, these exhortations are among other verses that also use absolute terms: “be patient with allalways pursue what is good…test all things…abstain from every form of evil.”

From what we read in Acts 17 about their early history, this young church in Thessalonica was undergoing some heavy persecution because of their faith. Yet Paul praised them at the beginning of his letter for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.”

In light of their situation, we might understand why they were told to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They needed to be reminded that no matter what their circumstances, 1) they could rejoice because they had salvation through Jesus; 2) they had constant access to their heavenly Father through prayer; and 3) they could be thankful even during hardships, knowing that trials produce patience, and patience leads to perfection (James 1:2-5).

What does that mean for Christians today? It means that in all circumstances,  God asks us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It means we replace our complaining with rejoicing. It means we overcome anxiety and despair through prayer. It means that in our prayers we not only ask God to bless and help us, but we remember to thank him for all things physical and spiritual with which we have been so richly blessed.

Learning by Heart

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119.11

If you grew up going to Bible classes every Sunday morning, it’s likely you were expected to learn memory verses each week. We called it knowing verses “by heart” — remember? According to the dictionary, that means to “learn something so well it can be written or recited without thinking.”

Somehow we leave memorization behind as we grow into adulthood. But Psalm 119:11 indicates that adult believers may need those memory verses more than ever — to help us remember who we are and to whom we belong and to keep us from offending the God we serve.

Jesus was able to use scripture to defend himself against sin when he was tempted in the wilderness. With every temptation, Jesus answered, “It is written” (Matthew 4.1-11). Likewise with our every temptation, God has promised a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Could it be that memorizing Bible verses is one of those ways?

Bible verses we can recall at a moment’s notice can be used not only to keep us from sinning but to give us spiritual courage: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” will help us live at peace with one another; “Cast all your cares on him” comforts us; “In everything give thanks” reminds us to view the world with gratitude.*

Whatever your situation, hide some appropriate Bible verses in your heart. Remember those you learned as a child, or even better, memorize new ones that will help you handle life’s unexpected turns and temptations. Write them down on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your pocket or tack it to the front of your fridge.

Make them such a part of you you don’t have to even think about them. Then, like having God standing beside you, they’ll be there when you need them.

*Romans 8.31; Luke 10.27; 1 Peter 5.7; 1 Thessalonians 5.18