St. John, Apostle and Evangelist: The Ministry of St. John

Lessons: Revelation 1:1-6, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 21:20-25
Hymns: 375, 523, 401, 385, 377

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Just two days ago, we celebrated Christmas. And so, the twelve days of Christmas has begun. Within some of these twelve days of Christmas, the Church has chosen to observe certain feasts and festivals. Yesterday, (December 26) was the Feast of St. Stephen. He was first martyr as he faithfully confessed the life and works of Christ Jesus. You can read about him in Acts 6-7. Today (December 27—the third day of Christmas), is St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, who unlike the other apostles did not die a martyr’s death. As I mentioned on Christmas Day, St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos for faithfully preaching the Gospel. Tomorrow is the Holy Innocents, the day the Church remembers those baby boys around Bethlehem whom King Herod murdered in a feeble attempt to eliminate Jesus.

      Remembering those who died while confessing the faith is certainly a huge shift from the joy of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yet, they serve to remind us of a truth we don’t want to face—being a Christian in this fallen, hostile world is dangerous. While Christ Jesus is the Prince of Peace, He brings us peace with God. And when we have peace with God, Satan and the world will not have peace with us. In His life here on Earth, Jesus suffered even though He was innocent. He reminds us that servants are not above their masters, and so when He calls us to be His disciples, He also says, “Take up your cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24-26).

      One of the first disciples of Christ is John, whom we are remembering today (Luke 5:9-11). He, along with his brother, James, were fishing partners with Peter. You may recall the time when Jesus told Peter to go fishing and he caught two boatloads of fish. This is the occasion in which Jesus called Peter, James, and John to be the first disciples. They would become the closest apostles to our Lord.

      On Christmas Day, we heard the first verses of John’s Gospel. Jesus is the Word from the beginning who became flesh and dwelt among us. Today, we heard the first verses of John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, the first verses of John’s first epistle, and the final verses of John’s Gospel. Throughout the Church Year, we hear additional passages from John’s writings, especially his Gospel. In all, John wrote one Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.

      This John is not the same man as John the Baptist, who died a martyr’s death. Instead, this John is one of the Twelve Apostles. John and James are the sons of Zebedee, and Jesus calls them the Sons of Thunder. John is called an evangelist because he wrote one of the four Gospels. John never names himself in his Gospel but refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20).

      It’s possible the Church chose this day in the Christmas season to observe this disciple because of John’s writings concerning the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we heard on Christmas Day. John emphasizes our Lord’s divinity and humanity—God became Man, died, rose, lives, and now reigns at the right hand of the Father.

      Yet John does not report the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. He ends his Gospel (as we heard) prior to the Ascension. Today’s Gospel begins with Peter seeing John. Just before this, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves Jesus and Jesus instructs Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Peter is a little irritated because Jesus asked Peter of his love toward Jesus three times. Then Peter looks up and sees John coming. Taking the focus off himself, Peter asks Jesus, “What about John?”

      Jesus replies unexpectedly, saying, “If it is my will that he remains until I come, what is that to you? Peter, you follow me!” Jesus’ words here are clear. He begins with an if. “If I should let John live until I return, how does that concern you?” Jesus was not saying that John will live until Jesus returns for judgment. The point Jesus is making is this: He’s telling Peter, “Don’t concern yourselves with others at this point. I’m telling you, Peter, to follow me. Your salvation is not found in others following Me, but you need to follow Me.”

      However, some did not understand Jesus’ words and began saying that John won’t die before Jesus returns. Of course, they were proven to be wrong. Around the year of our Lord 100, John breathed his last and was received into Heaven. He was probably in his mid-nineties.

      John’s salvation was not something he earned, and he knew it. John’s salvation was not because he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” for God loves everyone. Instead, John’s salvation was found in Christ Jesus, who was born for him, lived for him, died for him on the cross, rose from the dead for him, forgave him of his sin, called him to be a disciple and apostle, and blessed him with the Christian faith. It is only by grace through faith that John was saved from his sin.

      John’s objective as an apostle and evangelist was to point sinners to Jesus. He made it clear that we are sinners when he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). He speaks of the seriousness of sin, pointing out that it is darkness, outside the fellowship of Christ, and contrary to the truth. He points us to Jesus in that his entire Gospel was centered around the life and teachings of Jesus. His book of Revelation begins as “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our epistle is filled with words of Jesus—Jesus was from the beginning, incarnate whom John saw with his eyes and touched with his hands, and Christ is eternal life who is the light.

      John writes that the works of our Lord Jesus Christ are so vast that John concludes his Gospel, saying, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain all the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Such an amazing statement! Some feel the Bible is already too long of a book. Many have a hard time reading the whole thing. Yet the Bible testifies of Jesus. A Bible itself does not take up much space. But John asserts that world cannot contain the books that could be written of Jesus if it were possible to record everything He did.

      John was very concerned about maintaining the truth. Already in his time, there were false teachers arising who were pulling people away from the truth of Jesus Christ. Some were outright liars with their false teachings. Others mixed truth with lies. There was a movement known as Gnosticism that was beginning to rear its ugly head while John was still living. They had false belief concerning our Lord’s humanity and divinity. Some claimed to have inner knowledge of their relationship with God. John, however, draws us away from what we may dream up in our minds and directs us to the truth of God’s Word—to Jesus. That’s why he writes, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).

      Nowadays, truth has fallen on hard times. We are told to keep our minds so open that we must accept any person’s understanding of truth. What is not tolerated are claims to have absolute truth—that is, making exclusive claims or stating that only one way is the truth. What this means is the exclusive claims made by John concerning our salvation in Christ alone is considered unacceptable in today’s society. Our world would have you believe that there are multiple ways of salvation, or that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you sincerely believe it. I listened to Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas address and she gave a good testimony of her faith in Jesus Christ. However, she also spoke of other religions in such a way that one person’s faith expression is just as valid as the next person’s. She named other religions as if they are equally fine.

      But that cannot be. There’s only one sinless Son of God. As John confesses, it is through faith in Jesus alone that one can have access to God. For Jesus alone is our advocate who appeased the wrath of God on behalf of us sinners. Jesus alone shed His innocent blood on the cross to take away the world’s sin. Jesus alone credits us with His very righteousness so that we can be acceptable to God. Therefore, faith alone in Jesus alone is the only way we sinners can be reconciled to God and receive eternal salvation.

      It really is amazing how sinful and prideful man does not want to hear this. They want to hold on to their sins—their pet sins—so badly that they won’t listen to the truth of God’s Word. They insist that they’ll be fine as they forfeit Christ’s forgiving love. They know God is merciful, so they twist that to thinking that perhaps He’s not truthful in His teaching that sinners must turn from their sin in repentance.

      My little children (as John loves to address Christians), do not follow your hearts, but follow Jesus. Do not listen to the preaching of the world which would tear you away from Jesus by saying you’re good enough already and you don’t need your Savior. Do not listen to the Devil’s lies who would have you believe you aren’t good enough to be a Christian. Satan wants us to think we can somehow make it through this life without Christ. The devil is continually searching for the most subtle ways to draw our attention away from our Savior.

      We must resist these temptations and focus on the truth of God’s Word—truth which John emphasized. And the glorious truth is this: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) and “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). May we always fix our hearts on Jesus—the Word made flesh—who was born to save us. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen