There was this man named John who walked with Jesus for a few years. He was one of the inner circle in the life of the Christ and seemed to somehow successfully develop a very close relationship with him, apparently significantly more intimate than the other eleven had managed to do. There are no great details as to what this relationship really was like other than the few suggestions centred around the fact that he and Jesus are recorded to have shared some peculiar intimacies.
On one occasion as they were all reclining during a meal (as was the custom of the day) he was recorded as lying back on the breast of Jesus. To me this is clearly indicative of a level of personal shared space that is not common amongst most men (at least not in our modern, western culture). On another occasion he was requested by the others to approach Jesus about an issue that was obviously very sensitive amongst the disciples in that theyapparently felt they were unable to ask Jesus directly for themselves. To me this is sort of like the other brothers and sisters asking the favourite sibling to speak to their father as to whether they could all have ice cream as the favourite, being the favourite, had far better chance of success. John was also the only recorded apostle at the scene of the death of Jesus. Whilst breathing his last Jesus entrusted the care of his own mother to him, indeed a privilege and a deeply intimate request of anyone. There are other occasions but think these suffice for now in painting an interesting picture for us.
According to tradition John had a fairly long life in comparison to his fellow disciples and near the end of his days he penned a letter to the churches that we have come to know as “Revelation.” This letter was written as a result of a vision, or a series of visions John received whilst exiled on an island called Patmos. Interestingly, in this letter he writes how he saw Jesus and heard him speak of things that were, and also of things that were still to come.
The thing that really grabs me is that John, the closest one to Jesus, the “Beloved”, who walked alongside him for years and was openly known as the “one whom Jesus loved” at first never recognized Jesus at all in the visions. The appearance of Jesus took him by surprise and if not by surprise it was like nothing he had seen or imagined before. It was either revealed to him that it was Jesus in his vision or he understood it slowly, bit by bit, as the visions progressed. In these visions Jesus was somehow represented by something very un-worldly and even at times frightening, definitely amazing, often confusing. … and this to the man who knew him arguably better than any disciple at the time.
This is amazing to me. John penned this letter possibly only a few short decades after the actual events and did not even recognize Jesus. He was caught off guard and never recognized his great and dear friend and long time companion. … and this after only a relatively short period of absence.
… and here we are, over 2000 years later, with a whole cluster of wonderful letters and stories and even the transliterated copies of the original legal contracts the Jewish leaders had at the time of Christ (even rendered in our day into English, even into multiple different English versions of the same texts). And somehow, as I think of these things I cannot help but wonder just how much we might be exactly like those poor, devoted, yet blind men whose hands, hearts and minds successfully plotted the murder of Jesus? … what with all our very systematic, ordered, detailed doctrines of Christ and things heaven and God related… . . .
It also makes me wonder about the legal qualifications we pursue and obtain to legitimize our ministry of the grace of Christ. Alongside this I cannot help but think of how fully qualified or socially endorsed church leaders build perfectly trimmed and water-tight theologies and doctrines, even attacking those of very similar faith who may differ, if only ever so slightly on certain specific aspects of the nature of grace and godly servitude ( … and just how one can legislate grace is logically beyond me – but that’s perhaps for another time).
What really alarms me though is that the Jewish religious leaders and teachers of the law themselves never recognized Jesus even though he was clearly spoken of in their sacred texts in the law of Moses as well as in the prophets and even though they were diligently searching and eagerly waiting for the revelation of their beloved prophet, the promised Messiah. In fact, they were so unable to recognize him that when he appeared they, as has been said, actually plotted his death as an act of worship and honour to the God they loved to the fullest of their natural ability.
We love to speak, even to preach about the folly of the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Priests and the legalists. But just how similar are we to these infamous rejecters of our Lord and Saviour? I make no personal judgments, …. I merely ask the question, of myself, …. of you… and quite frankly, speaking of myself, I am truly found wanting.
Maybe, just maybe, it might be an idea for us to re-visit our emphatic theology and the air-tight doctrines we hold?
Now I have no clear idea of what we might find, but maybe it might be that God really is far bigger and so vastly beyond our human ability to comprehend with these natural sensory limitations we all so frailly share?
And maybe, just maybe, God is far more gracious, powerful, wise, and faithful than we could ever imagine – even to the extent of not being at all concerned with the almost exclusively cognitive, intellectual manner in which we have allowed our minds to develop into, and with which we have so robustly legislated and documented our theology and doctrine? … . . . or maybe not?
Perhaps the creator of all things is sitting down somewhere, relaxed and happily content to trust the power of the invincible seed he has sown into the human pods who walk about like ants under the blazing sun to germinate and proliferate according to his divine instruction and ability? (regardless of our efforts to help or not).
If John was surprised, confused, even terrified after a short gap of only one or two decades what do we think we might be when it comes to a good old face-to-face in possibly the not too distant future?
Can you imagine if we were wrong? WOW!! … on the one hand it could be devastating … but on the other, it could be literally out of this world!!