Tag Archives: John

John, the Beloved

John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus.  Current popular thought portrays him as a mild-mannered, almost feminine looking young man. A recent novel fictionalized him as almost, though not quite, a homosexual. He was the disciple Jesus loved and leaned on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. He was the type of man the postmodern world wants a man to be. 

Okay, enough of this pandering nonsense. 

What was John like?  He was a fisherman, one of Peter’s buddies. Don’t think for one moment Peter would put up with the modern description of John. Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, were all “cut from the same cloth.” They were hard-working, rough around the edges, people nobody in our day or in our country would want to tangle with. Some go to gyms to get exercise. Their very existence was exercise. They could out-row, out-run, out-lift, out-work any muscle-bound gym rat in this country. 

John had a temper. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). One time, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be murdered, they passed through a Samaritan village. Samaritans and Jews did not like each other. “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54-55). They were as tough as anyone living in Galilee or Judah at that time. 

John followed Jesus through almost His entire ministry. He was one of the inner-three, the most privileged of disciples. He was the only one who came back and stood before the crucified Jesus, nailed to a cross, with Jesus’ mother, staring at the gut-wrenching spectacle of mangled humanity hanging before him. He was the one who Jesus appointed to care for his mother. He was there when Jesus died. In my opinion, John had a stronger backbone and stomach than any of the other disciples.

John’s Gospel is unique, set apart from the three synoptic Gospels. He was intimately familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus. He gives insight into the gospel of Christ and its impact upon the people who knew and heard Him necessary to fully understand God’s will. John knew, intellectually and intimately, Jesus. 

John was the longest living Apostle. He not only wrote the Gospel of John, but the three Epistles of John and the Revelation or Apocalypse of John, the last book in the New Testament. 

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev. 1:1-2)

He was exiled to the Island of Patmos, probably a political prisoner of Rome, for the remainder of his life. While there, Jesus, whom he had walked with on earth, showed himself to John and told him to deliver a message to the Seven Churches. 

John saw God in his vision.  Remember Job?  He figuratively slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from spouting more self-righteous verbiage when he saw God.  Remember Isaiah?  He admitted his mouth and heart and the collective mouths and hearts of the nation were sinful when he saw a vision of God.  Remember Ezekiel?  He fell to the ground in a faint when he saw a vision of God.  All had seen a vision of God and all had reacted humbly, radically, honestly. 

Peter knew Jesus nominally, until Jesus performed a miracle, doing something only God could do. Then he fell on his face and cringed over his sinfulness.  Paul grew up steeped in the Scripture, a knowledgeable Pharisee blinded by the brilliance of Jesus and knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus. John knew Jesus during His ministry on earth, and walked with Jesus and the Church for the rest of his life. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of knowledge you have, when you are face-to-face with Jesus you will react.  When John saw Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

How can sin, and anyone corrupted by sin, stand before a just, righteous and holy God. They cannot. This means God has to remove sin from the person before the person can enter His presence. He will do this but not without us acknowledging the truth of sin.



In the Hebrew Scripture several words are translated “pride” which means to exalt (see Job 41:34), to have majesty or excellence (see Isa. 28:1), coupled with arrogance (see Prov. 8:13). In the New Testament there are several words translated “pride” and used only a few times. 

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). John uses a word which means “empty words,” “empty assurances” or “empty trust.” Everything the person says implies an empty belief and misplaced trust in an object which cannot deliver what is promised. 

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up (proud) with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Paul uses a word which means “smoke” or “mist,” having the outward appearance of substance but with nothing inside. Pride blows hot air into a person until they are so big they can see nothing but themselves. Pride is essentially a self-righteous, self-absorbed excuse to view self as not sinful or beyond sin. Pride expresses itself in self-righteousness.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize sin has separated them from the riches of a personal relationship with God. Pride hides truth and inflates self, shutting off every personal relationship. Once one begins working with God there is a continual trial to not place self ahead of Him. It is easy to begin viewing all which has been done, or said, to see the successes and failures, and to attribute them to personal effort. While we live in this world God does not erase the corrupted self inherited through Adam. We must continually fight the tugs and pulls of the world, continually acknowledge sin in ourselves and continually relinquish control. Even John, at the end of his life when he saw Jesus, fell on his face because he recognized his sinfulness. 


Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,(Psalm 5:10 ESV)

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the last week of His earthly ministry, He went to the Temple, His Father’s house, and cleared away the vendors and moneychangers. He disrupted Annas’ Bazaar, violently driving them from the Temple grounds. In the Gospel of John, at the beginning of His ministry when He did the same, He accused the authorities of turning His Father’s house into a market. “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade”  (John 2:16 ESV). Now, the second time, He accuses them of thievery. They are stealing from the people and from God.“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13 ESV; see Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46). Jesus acts angry.

Following this scene, Jesus confronts and is confronted by the spiritual leaders of Israel, who are leading the people away from God, not toward Him. Yet, the people come to Him, especially those who need healing. Children cried out, exclaiming over Him.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them.

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” 

And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. (Matthew 21:14-17 ESV).

The next day, Jesus again entered the Temple. There is no indication Annas’ Bazaar was still there. Immediately, the chief priest challenged and questioned Jesus’ authority. Jesus asked them about John’s baptism.“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matthew 21:25 ESV). They refused to answer. “And they discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From man,” we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’” (Matthew 21:25-26 ESV). They were not interested in knowing the truth. All they wanted was political power. “For there is no truth in their mouth” (Psalm 5:9 ESV).

Jesus confronts them and their rebellion using two parables. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46 ESV). Jesus used His stories to convict them of their guilt and wrongdoing.

Jesus’ first parable was of the two sons. A father had two sons. He told them both to work in their vineyard. One son declared he would, but did not. The other son said he would not work, but went and worked. One son claimed obedience but lied. The other son rebelled but then obeyed. The Father is God. The sons are the children of God. 

Which of the two did the will of his father?” 

They said, “The first.” 

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:31-32 ESV)

Jesus second parable is of the tenants of a master who built a winepress then traveled to a distant country. The tenants mutinied against him, killing the servants of the master sent to gather the profits of the winepress. The master sent his son, whom they also killed. They believed by killing the son they would then be rid of the master and have full control of the winepress. The Master is God. The tenants are the people of God. The servants are the prophets of God and the son is Jesus.

When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”  (Matthew 21:40-41 ESV)

Their own words condemn them. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits”  (Matthew 21:43 ESV). They will bear their own guilt. They will fall by their own counsel. They rebel and sin against God and He will cast them from His presence.

Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. (Psalm 5:10 ESV)

Peter, A Fisherman

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Luke 5:1-11 (see also Matt. 4:12-22; Mark 1:14-20; John 1:35-42)

What does a person think and feel when they suddenly realize they are in God’s presence?  Peter, who probably knew Jesus as an acquaintance, found himself in the presence of someone who challenged his worldview and how he thought and felt about himself.

There was something about Jesus that attracted people to Him. They came at all times of the day and from great distances.  Jesus began His ministry in Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee, also called Gennesaret. Early one morning He was walking near the lake followed by a crowd of people. They were pressing about and into Him. Seeing an opportunity, He boarded a boat owned by Peter and asked him to put some water between Himself and the crowd.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3 ESV)

This story is unique to the Gospel of Luke. We are not told what Jesus taught. His standard message was about sin and repentance, faith and obedience. His message was the gospel. However, the parallel passages in the other Gospels give an indication of the content of his messages during the early part of his ministry.  From the other Gospel accounts there are two points Jesus stressed during his messages, the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven or of God and the need to repent, a fundamental action to enter the kingdom.

Once He finished speaking to the people, He turned to Peter and told him to go fishing. Peter was a fisherman. Jesus was a carpenter and Peter probably knew it. In his mind, Peter may have thought Jesus knew nothing about fishing. The best time to fish is night time. Peter had been up all night fishing. He was tired, cleaning his nets so he could go home and eat and sleep. Yet, here was Jesus telling Peter how to do his job. “And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’” (Luke 5:4 ESV). My imagination suggests Peter felt angry, perturbed that a man, who knew nothing about fishing was telling him what to do.

He had worked all night. His was not a paid position. If he didn’t catch fish, he didn’t get paid. His livelihood, and the lives of his family, rested on his working and catching fish. He needed to catch fish. He knew how to catch fish, the best spots, the best times and the best circumstances. He answered Jesus truthfully. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Luke 5:5 ESV). The word toiled means to grow weary with effort, and to be burdened with grief, exhausted. Peter, and his fellow workers were drained of energy. They were cleaning and fixing their nets so they could repeat the process the next night. They were beyond tired. Yet, Peter acquiesced to Jesus command.

Jesus did not ask Peter to put out and fish. He commanded Peter put out into deep water and fish. God never asks us to do something. He commands with the expectation we will obey. Peter reluctantly obeyed. “But at your word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5 ESV). They rowed out into deep water and let down the nets they had just cleaned. In broad daylight, knowing they would not catch any fish.

They caught fish. Suddenly, in a place where there should have been no fish, there were fish just waiting to be caught. They caught so many fish their nets started breaking and they called for help.

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:7 ESV).

Jesus knew they would catch fish. Perhaps they heard part of what He said while He taught the people. Their anger and frustration turned into action. There were three or four families and a village of people relying upon their work which had, up to that point, produced nothing. Now, families would have their needs filled and people could buy or barter for fish to eat. Jesus had done something no one expected. Apparently, He knew about fish, too.

Peter, an Apostle

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Jesus is a real person and real people encountered Him. The full humanity of those who live in far-away places or long-ago times is often lost on those currently living. Most people are so involved in their lives they do not think or visualize that the names they read in Scripture are attached to a person who lived and breathed, who ate and slept, who felt emotions like love and happiness. Real people saw Jesus and walked with Him, ate with Him, listened to Him. They were His friends and enemies. They watched Him work and heal. They heard Him teach, rebuke and lead. Many either loved Him deeply or hated Him passionately. Many went about their business, seemingly unaffected by His presence. Yet, everyone was and has been affected by Him.

Jesus taught pointed lessons, through word and action, building into the lives of those who are His, qualities and characteristics God’s children throughout history could see and emulate.  Jesus confronted people who fought against him, those who rejected and finally murdered Him.

Peter, one of the apostles, and the author of two epistles in the New Testament, was taught and disciplined by Jesus. Trials and testing are the most effective means God uses to build into Christians the character of the citizen of His kingdom. Peter had a wild and aggressive personality God tamed before his death. He was impulsive, jumping into circumstances without understanding the consequences of his actions. God changed Peter, building discipline and Godliness into his life.  The words in his epistles come from the indwelling of the Spirit and personal experience with the Son of God.

What do we know about Peter? We know he was married. Before Peter was called by Jesus and began following Him, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (see Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:29-30; Luke 4:38).His wife was with him during his ministry years after Jesus’ ascension (1 Corinthians 9:5). We know he was a fisherman who worked the Sea of Galilee and partnered with his brother Andrew, and James and John Zebedee, who also would become apostles (see Matthew 4:18; Luke 5:1-7; John 21:3). He was called by various names including Simon Barjona and Cephas (see Matthew 16:16-19; Mark 3:16; John 1:42, 1 Corinthians 9:5

Peter was a disciple of Jesus, someone who followed Him and learned from Him. He became and apostle, chosen by Jesus after a night of prayer.  Apostle means delegate, messenger, one chosen and sent out with a specific message. Many people followed Christ during His earthly ministry. Jesus chose twelve men to receive specific instruction and direction in preaching the gospel.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16 ESV; see also Matthew 10:2; 16:18-19; Mark 3:16; Acts 1:13.)

As a disciple and apostle of Christ he Peter was commissioned to take the gospel to his own people, the Jews, while Paul carried the gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). During Peter’s ministry, after Jesus’, ascension, he faced hostility and persecution by the Jews and those opposed to the message of Jesus. He was imprisoned and beaten after his encounter with the same high priest who had Jesus murdered (see Acts 5:17-42). He had a vision which disrupted the traditional Jewish understanding of clean and unclean, learning that God had also chosen the Gentiles for citizenship in His kingdom (see Acts 10:1-48). Again, he was imprisoned and scheduled for execution by Herod, who had already killed James, the brother of John (see Acts 12:1-19). But, he was miraculously released from prison by an angel without the knowledge of any of the guards.

He was martyred, probably with Paul, in Rome during the time of Nero. There is no Biblical evidence showing the deaths of either man. Extrabiblical evidence, specifically Origen, suggests Peter was crucified upside down at his own request because he felt himself unworthy of dying like Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark, though written by John Mark, who was not an eye witness of the life of Christ, used Peter as his source of information. As a man who followed, helped and even interpreted for Peter, an eye-witness of Jesus and one of the inner circle of disciples, Mark’s gospel carries both the integrity of an eyewitness and the teachings of one of Jesus’ Apostles. In addition, Peter penned two epistles, entitled First and Second Peter. As an eye witness Peter is an important and critical observer of the teachings of Christ for those who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why Do the Nations Rage?

Meditations on the Psalms

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, (Psalm 2:1-2 ESV)

All peoples and nations fight against God. God asks Why? For what reason are the nations doing this? How did they come to the place where such thinking of their hearts is justified? What has God done to illicit a violent and consuming belief followed by insidious action? Why?

Nations refers to a large group of people or locusts or other animals and refers to all countries. Some translations use the word heathen instead of nations. People refers to the individuals of each nation. Rage means to scheme a tumultuous mutiny and plot in vain means to moan or mutter, to devise and imagine idle and empty thoughts. Thus, large groups of people, whole communities and societies, collectively believe and promote wrong thinking and violence against God.

God penetrates to the heart of the mutiny by identifying those who instigated such thinking. It is the leaders and teachers training the people. The kings of the earth set themselves means the kings of the entire planet who have planted their feet firmly, stationing themselves to take a stand. The rulers take counsel together means those who carry the weight and burden of leading the people daily have laid a foundation and seated themselves close together to consult and decide the actions of the entire group. Thus, the national leaders have listened to their counselors who have all agreed their position and place before God is unacceptable.

What king would allow his subjects to rebel in such a fashion? What ruler would discover and allow a conspiracy to develop in their presence? Do they not know before whom they are speaking and thinking and conspiring? No king would allow this to happen. Kings would squash the conspiracy and put the conspirators to death, or at least replace them with those who are loyal and support him and his authority. Why do any think God will allow rebellion against Him?

Peter and John, after the ascension of Jesus, found themselves before the people of Jerusalem declaring the resurrection of Jesus. Several times they were confronted by the same religious leaders who had condemned Jesus. As they entered the Temple they encountered a lame man begging for money. Instead of giving him money they healed him in the name of Jesus in front of crowds of people.

And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:7-10 ESV)

After this miracle and while Peter and John were teaching, the religious leaders sent guards to arrest them and bring them before the same High Priest who arrested and executed Jesus, using the Romans as executioners. Peter spoke to the assembled counsel of religious leaders about their complicity in arresting Jesus and His death, but also about His resurrection. Also, before them, stood the man healed of his lameness. They threatened Peter and John, telling them to no longer teach Jesus and released them.

When relating their experience to the rest of the disciples they prayed and quoted from Psalm 2:

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:24-28 ESV)

All leaders of all nations are fighting against the eternal God and against His Son, Jesus Christ.

New Testament Examples

God draws people toward Himself. Never will a person come to God otherwise. Instantaneous conversion is preceded by a long, hoary battle of the wills. Even when children “accepts Jesus” (a term which starts any disciple off on the wrong foot) the will must be broken by God. In fact, the will must be killed and recreated, something only God can do. Peter, Simon the Fisherman, often a disciple of Christ, and fallible Apostle of the early Church, lives the glaring need for action by God.

I like Peter. His first letter is a mainstay in my theological thinking, filled with mystery revealed. Peter’s journey toward Jesus is hard, starting and stopping and sputtering throughout the Gospels. Before Luke 5 Peter is an on-again, off-again follower. But Luke 5 is a turning, a sudden realization preceded by a long series of deliberate events, used by God to draw him close to His Son. I like Peter because I see myself in him even though I do not often like what I see, in either Peter or myself.

Peter knew Jesus. At least, he knew who Jesus was, a carpenter from the other side of the hill. Peter was a fisherman, worked mostly at night fishing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was a carpenter and worked mostly during the day. Jesus knew how to cut and shape wood. Peter knew the lake and how to fish it. Jesus knew how to attract people and talk to them in an attractive. More than likely, Peter wasn’t comfortable in crowds. He was a rough and tumble, rugged fisherman.

One time, after a long, frustrating, unsuccessful night of fishing, Peter and his buddies were cleaning their nets. This means they were done for the day and getting ready to go home. They hadn’t caught a thing. This means they had nothing with which to sell or to barter. He did not draw a salary or get vacation and sick days. If he didn’t work or catch anything he and his family may not eat.

Jesus walked up, followed by the usual crowd, and hopped into Simon (Peter’s) boat and asked him (Peter) to put out into the lake a little. This would keep the crowds away. Peter and Jesus knew each other well enough for Jesus to ask and Peter to comply. In my imagination I see Peter acting a little miffed. He’s worked all night. He’s bone tired. Jesus wants to use his boat as a floating soap box. Peter probably only half listens to what Jesus said. Remember, this is in my imagination. I’m not saying it happened this way.

After He is done speaking He looks at Simon (Peter) and says let’s go fishing. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” [Luke 5:4 ESV] Peter is condescending in his response. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [Luke 5:5 ESV] My imagination hears the heavy sigh coming from Peter’s face. The, they catch so many fish two boats are threatened with sinking.

Jesus’ presence does nothing for Peter. Jesus’ words did not move him one inch. Jesus’ request was outlandish. But something happened which changed Peter. He caught fish and Peter’s spiritual eyes were opened to who Jesus was. Peter probably didn’t realize Jesus had just done something only God could do. Peter did recognize there was something different, even holy about this man. Peter saw his sinfulness. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” [Luke 5:8 ESV] He saw his sinfulness because he perceived Jesus’ righteousness. “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” [Luke 5:10 ESV] When God draws a person toward Himself He takes them out of one place and puts them in another. His call is always out of sin and into Christ’s righteousness, not self-righteousness.

Paul’s conversion is dramatic. Needless to say, most people do not have dramatic conversions. I don’t know anyone who was stopped in their tracks by a blinding light while on the way to capture and kill Christians.

That Christians are persecuted for their faith is an indisputable fact. Paul’s conversion was so dramatic he used it as a defense before the authorities who wanted to have him killed because he was a Christian and a Jew. Luke, the writer of Acts, relates “Saul’s” (who became Paul) conversion in Acts 9. Paul then tells us about his experience two more times, once in Acts 22 as he stands before an angry mob in the Temple Courts. They think he had brought Gentiles into their holy place. Then in Acts 26 he stands before King Agrippa after appealing to Caesar.

Before his conversion he was known as Saul of Tarsus, grew up in Jerusalem, joined the sect of the Pharisees and learned from Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). Gamaliel made an amazing statement about the disciples of Christ and their preaching after Jesus was resurrected and ascended. Because they were Christ’s disciples they were being threatened, beaten, thrown in jail and persecuted because they talked about Jesus. Peter and the others were not intimidated. They would continue to preach because God had told them to do so. Standing in court Gamaliel said to his peers:

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” [Acts 5:38-39 ESV]

Shortly thereafter, Stephen was murdered, with Saul standing nearby holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen.

Saul learned Scripture from Gamaliel but did not learn to think until confronted by Jesus. Saul learned blood-thirsty action from those willing to murder for god. Had he paid attention to the lessons of his teacher and learned how to think from him he would have seen the wisdom in letting God deal with those who are against Him. Instead, Saul tries to control the situation for God through his violent actions.

Saul is a zealot for god (I use little “g” for a reason), letting his loyalty for the traditions of his elders control his passion for religion. Notice in Acts 9:1 Saul breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and traveled out of country to capture those who were threatening his religion. Saul claimed to know God and God’s absolute will. He had spent his life learning … something. Studying god as an intellectual exercise, or the manipulation of people in god’s name, as an emotional point of pride, does nothing for the person’s actual relationship with God. In reality, both methods of learning about god are a cheat.

On the road, at noon-time, when the sun is the highest and brightest a “light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell “to the ground.” [Acts 9:3 ESV] A light so bright Saul could not see for three days. A light brighter than the sun at its zenith. Only God casts a light so bright.

Then God spoke. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [Acts 9:4 ESV]

For the first time in his life Saul is forced to honestly listen to God. In response, he asks an honest question. “Who are you, Lord?” [Acts 9:5 ESV] He called Him “Lord.” Saul knew instinctively with whom he was speaking. The answer must have stunned the zealous Pharisee. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” [Acts 9:5 ESV] Paul later tells the Church Christ is the head of the body. When the individual Christian is persecuted Christ is persecuted. Not only does the Christian identify with Christ, but Christ identifies with the Christian.

Those who were with Saul saw the light, heard the voice and helped the handicapped Pharisee into the city of Damascus. We know nothing else about them. Jesus was after Saul. If He went after those other men you may be sure He got them.

In an instant, after a life of learning about god, Saul was broken and learned about God.

John was a disciple and apostle of Jesus.  Current popular thought portrays him as a mild-mannered, almost feminine looking young man. A recent novel fictionalized him as almost, though not quite, a homosexual. He was the disciple Jesus loved and leaned on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. He was the type of man the postmodern world wants a man to be.

Okay, enough of this pandering nonsense.

What was John like?  He was a fisherman, one of Peter’s buddies. Don’t think for one moment Peter would put up with the modern description of John. Peter and his brother, and John and his brother, were all “cut from the same cloth.” They were hard-working, rough around the edges people nobody in our day, in our country, would want to tangle with. Some go to gyms to get exercise. Their very existence was exercise. They could out-row, out-run, out-lift, out-work any muscle-bound gym rat in this country. 

John had a temper. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder.” One time, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be murdered, they passed through a Samaritan village. Unwelcomed by the people of the village these wandering Jews were going to a place they hated, Jerusalem. ”And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” [Luke 9:54-55 ESV] They were as tough as anyone living in Galilee or Judah at that time.

John followed Jesus through almost His entire ministry. He was one of the inner-three, the most privileged of disciples. He was the only one who came back after Jesus was crucified, standing before the cross with Jesus’ mother, staring the gut-wrenching spectacle of mangled humanity hanging before him. He was the one who Jesus appointed to care for his mother. He was there when Jesus died. In my opinion, John had a stronger backbone and stomach than any of the other disciples.

John’s gospel is unique, set apart from the three Synoptic gospels. He was intimately familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus. He gives insight into the Gospel of Christ and its impact upon the people who knew and heard Him necessary to fully understand God’s will. John knew, intellectually and intimately, Jesus.

John was the longest living Apostle. He not only wrote the Gospel of John, but the 3 Epistles of John and the Revelation or Apocalypse of John, the last book in the New Testament. ”The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” [Revelations 1:1-2 ESV] He was exiled to the Island of Patmos, probably as a political prisoner of Rome, for the remainder of his life. While there, Jesus, whom he had walked with on earth, showed himself to John and told him to deliver a message to the Seven Churches.

John saw God in his vision.  Remember Job?  He figuratively slapped his hand over his mouth to keep from spouting more self-righteous verbiage when he saw God.  Remember Isaiah?  He admitted his mouth and heart and the collective mouths and hearts of the nation were sinful when he saw a vision of God.  Remember Ezekiel?  He fell to the ground in a faint when he saw a vision of God.  All had seen a vision of God and all had reacted humbly, radically, honestly.

Peter knew Jesus nominally, until Jesus performed a miracle, doing something only God could do. Then he fell on his face and cringed over his sinfulness.  Paul grew up steeped in the Scripture, a knowledgeable Pharisee blinded by the brilliance of Jesus and knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus. John knew Jesus during His ministry on earth, and walked with Jesus and the Church for the rest of his life. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of knowledge you have, when you are face-to-face with Jesus you will react.  When John saw Jesus he “fell at his feet as though dead.” [Revelation 1:17 ESV]

How can sin, and anyone corrupted by sin, stand before a just, righteous and holy God. They cannot. This means God has to remove sin from the person before the person can enter His presence. He will do this but not without us acknowledging the truth of sin.

Those Who Loved Jesus

Finally, there is another group of people standing before the cross who are defined by their love for Jesus.

All of Jesus disciples ran away, hiding themselves from the authorities, abandoning him to those who hated him. One returned coming to the place of execution viewing the cross upon which his teacher and friend was now dying. We make a strong assumption John is the disciple who stood near the cross and watched Jesus die. He is the one who wrote the document with his name attached. Only in this document will we find Jesus’ words spoken to his mother and his disciple. Although Jesus spoke several times from the cross this is the only time he directs his words toward someone standing as witness.

Next to John, perhaps near the cross, though the guards would shove people away so the spectacle might be witnessed by all, were a group of women. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” [John 19:25 ESV]. Matthew increases the number of the group of witnesses. There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” [Matthew 27:55-56 ESV]. Jesus’ mother was one in this group. His aunt was also there, his mother’s sister, as was Mary Magdalene. That all of the women were named Mary has generated much confusion. Discussion through the centuries has tried to identify each of the women with other historical characters and those mentioned in other historical documents.

Here is what we can know for certain. Of the people witnessing the agony of Jesus at least three women and one man loved him deeply. One of these women was Jesus’ mother and the man was a disciple of Jesus. We do not need to know why she was in Jerusalem though the Passover festival is enough reason. They are witnesses to the agony Jesus endured while on the cross.

It is the end of Jesus’ life. He is hanging on a cross, suspended by nails through his hands (wrists) and feet. His arms are probably bound to the cross beam for the weight of his body could easily tear through the weakness of his arms and feet and drop him to the ground. He struggles to breath, to think, to speak. His words will come only in short, gasping phrases. He is not going to preach a sermon or deliver a discourse in this position. It is unreasonable to expect such. It is reasonable for him to make short statements.

He sees his mother standing near. We can only assume their emotions based upon our own, the sympathy and empathy we might feel under similar circumstance. She is his mother. Like a mother she will not leave her son alone no matter the hideous and horrific torture inflicted upon him. She cannot. Though her heart break, her emotions overcome her ability to stand or speak or even breath, though her heart is gripped with fear and hopelessness, she will not leave. Neither will the others who are there leave. Their loyalty to him and complete love for him is enough explanation to believe they were truly there.

Jesus spoke directly to two of these witnesses. He uses the term “Women” for his mother. This is a term of respect and honor not derision or distance. In this term he acknowledges her humanity. He knows she is his mother, the woman who gave birth to him, who raised him and taught him and then had to let him go to fulfill his duty. He is the firstborn with duty toward his family as well as the world in which he lived. He, seeing her, takes care of her. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother! And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” [John 19:26-27 ESV]. John was standing next to her with his own mother standing next to them. Without hesitation, in spite of the circumstances, he fully and unequivocally took upon himself the responsibility given. He now stood between two women, both his mother.

Under the extraordinary circumstances there is nothing out of the ordinary in what was happening. There is no reason to believe these people were not there or that Jesus did not say what he did.

Pilates Fear

What would make Pilate afraid? “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid” [John 19:8 ESV]. Jesus has just been accused of declaring himself a god, a crime worthy of death under Jewish Law, but not under Roman law. Aside from losing control of the situation, which should bring fear to any representative of the Emperor of Rome, Pilate was also steeped in superstition. He was enough of a pragmatist to know there were no gods, but he wasn’t sure. He sacrificed to gods, considered the Emperor a god and sacrificed to him, and had doubts about any and every deity. Culturally, he was a pagan. He worshipped gods at his convenience, as the situation demanded. Because he had no set moral standard he did not know how to make a decision, vacillating from extremes, showing strong emotions from fear and anger to apathy. Here, his fear lunges to the front and he is shaken.

Pilate leaves the portico and enters his headquarters, his guard bringing Jesus behind him. Jesus is either beginning or already in shock from the beating. Pilate looks at the beaten man, a new twist on the drama playing out between the Jewish leaders and the condemned. He thought Jesus a lunatic, a man who declared himself a king without a kingdom only to discover Jesus’ kingdom had no physical borders. Jesus declared his army greater than Rome’s. Yet, no one came to Jesus’ rescue. Jesus obviously operated on a truth unrecognizable to Pilate, barely recognizable to the Jewish leaders. (Modern people would suggest Jesus was living in an alternate universe.) Pilate’s question is asked in fear and exasperation. “Where are you from” [John 19:8 ESV]? Pilate knows Jesus is a Galilean so his question has nothing to do with geography. Pilate knows Jesus has cultivated the ire of the Jewish leaders to the point they want him dead. He has never met anyone with Jesus’ credentials. He claims to be a god but he is not a rebel. He claims to be a king but he has no army threatening the Empire. Everything about this man is an enigma.

Jesus does not answer Pilate. On Pilate’s authority, though he has been declared innocent over and over, he has been beaten and abused, tortured with a whip. He has been mocked and ridiculed and spat upon by Roman soldiers. He stands before the Governor wearing a ragged purple robe, a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely, sinking into trauma and shock. I visualize him, head bowed in pain and exhaustion, looking at Pilate, staring at him, giving him an answer from his eyes.

Pilate tries to regain some authority. His next two questions are arrogant posturing spoken from open desperation. “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” [John 19:10 ESV]? He has given his authority away to the Religious mob. He is allowing them to manipulate him, controlling him with fear and anger and lies. He is fully aware of what they are doing, has enough information to stop them but steadfastly refuses. Already, he has told the Jews to go ahead and murder Jesus, after symbolically washing his hands of the deed without actually being able to do so. He is not used to being confronted by a man, innocent or guilty, who would not beg for his life, or argue with him, or say anything in defense. Jesus has resigned himself to his fate.

Jesus answer shows he is still thinking clearly about what is happening even though he has been horribly tortured and mocked. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” [John 19:11 ESV]. This king recognizes authority, especially Pilate’s authority. But, he also knows from where Pilate’s authority comes. Pilate is not his own boss. He represents Rome and the Emperor the same way the High Priest and the Jewish religious leaders represent God. Pilate has already given away his ability to make a just decision the same way the Jewish leaders hypocritically rendered their decision not based upon the law of God but a threat to their own positions. Jesus spoke like a king who understands authority and the responsibility of authority. His rebuke stings the Governor. Pilate’s offense is great but those who brought Jesus to him are culpable of a greater, more grievous offense. Pilate is allowing himself to be used as a murder weapon. They are the murderers.

Not many in this group understood the implication of Jesus’ words to Pilate. Those standing next to the condemned man, the Roman soldiers who had mocked and beat him heard his words. They knew what he said to Pilate. They could see the drama playing out between the Jewish mob and the Governor. Again, Pilate tries to release Jesus. How many times does he have to declare the man innocent?

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” [Luke 23:4 ESV]

Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” [Luke 23:15-16 ESV]

Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. [Luke 23:20-23 ESV]

And he (Pilate) said, “Why, what evil has he done? [Matthew 27:23 ESV]

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [John 19:4 ESV]

From then on Pilate sought to release him.” [John 19:12 ESV]

Even Pilate’s wife recognized Jesus was a righteous man and tried to convince her husband to release the man. “Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream'” [Matthew 27:19 ESV].

Those more culpable for their crimes now seal their own decision. They hated Rome and the occupiers. They prayed God would deliver them from Rome. They reviled and held Pilate and any Roman Governor in contempt. They hated those who helped the Romans, especially fellow Jews who would sell their selves as Roman tax collectors. They dreamed of release from bondage when God would restore their land and reestablish self government. Their words are evidence for their true allegiance. “But the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” [John 19:12 ESV]. Their manipulation of Pilate begins to peak. They have only one more step down, one more statement to make, to condemn themselves.

Pilate has no where to go. He has already washed his hands of the incident while knowing he could never abdicate responsibility for what he allows. He comes back to the “judgment seat” and sits ready to make his decision final. “So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha” [John 19:13 ESV]. At sundown Passover would begin. According to Roman time the “sixth hour” is nine o’clock in the morning. He cannot resist a final poke at the hypocritical Jewish leaders and their mob ranting and raving before him. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King” [John 19:14 ESV]! “Behold, your king!” standing before them in a ragged purple robe soaked in his own blood, with a crown of thorns jammed down on his head, panting and bowed and shaking from shock and trauma. Jesus is an innocent man who deserved none of the torture he endured.

This mob sees Jesus and cries out in hatred and bitterness, the evidence of envy. “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” [John 19:15 ESV]! Pilate digs into their souls even further. “Shall I crucify your King” [John 19:15 ESV]? Their answer comes from purely emotional, unthinking, uncaring motivations willing to dehumanize anyone who would threaten their power and authority and place within Judea and before the people. With these words, however, they abdicate their citizenship as God’s people and align themselves with Rome. “We have no king but Caesar” [John 19:15 ESV].

“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified” [John 19:16 ESV]. Jesus is a walking, breathing dead man who hasn’t yet died. What Pilate doesn’t know but the Religious leaders do is Jesus said he would die but be raised from the dead. Jesus will die with no hope of resucitation. Too many people trained to kill will be involved in his death. Too many people thinking he was dead will see him alive. Pilate thinks the drama is almost over. Jesus’ death ends nothing. Jesus’ resurrection begins everything.

Denied by Peter

There are four major documents written within a short time which give details of Jesus’ life, words, works and actions and speak of his death and resurrection. They contain eyewitness accounts of people who were with him, who saw him and who heard him. There are no other documents from this time which counter or contradict these writings. They, the documents, have been given name, a descriptive name which, for no reason has automatically invalidated them in the minds of many. Of all the writing about historical events these documents, called gospels, are the most extraordinary and viable. Other documents, written after the lives of the eyewitnesses, lend magical, mythical, legendary wording to Jesus’ life and the lives of his followers. These documents, the four gospels, do not.

All four documents, labeled Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell the story of Jesus’ last days and hours before his murder and his resurrection. They all give eyewitness accounts of the events leading up to his trial and crucifixion, his death, burial and resurrection which are neither fanciful nor convoluted. Peter’s denial of Jesus is a prime example.

Peter asserts his devotion for his master. When the group is told by Jesus one of them was going to betray him and Peter himself was going to deny knowing him, Peter countered with an absolute statement. “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” [Luke 22:33 ESV]. Speaking of the spiritual battle fought in a physical, temporal world, Jesus responds with a prediction. He has already predicted accurately his trial, torture, death and resurrection though the prediction has yet to see its fulfillment. None of his followers actually believed him or perhaps were not paying attention to his words. Peter is no different. He has no concept of what Jesus is speaking. All he hears, I think, is an attack upon his character. How could Jesus suggest Peter would do such a thing? Has not Peter been the most devoted follower? Read Jesus’ prediction. “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” [Luke 22:34 ESV].

This is not an extraordinary prediction. Jesus does not say Peter will do something so out of the ordinary his action would be implausible. Jesus’ words are simple, direct. Before the first rooster crow, generally in the wee hours of the morning far ahead of the rising sun, Peter will deny three times his association with his master. At a time when all his followers would normally be sleeping, while Jesus prayed, Peter would be in a place where he would be tested by those who hated Jesus and he would fail the test.

Jesus does not absolve Peter of his future actions. He simply says what will happen. It is as if Jesus expected Peter to fail then encouraged him to continue following after the failure. It is going to happen. After it has happened don’t stop doing what you have been trained to do and don’t stop being what God has made you. Does God expect us to fail? And, yet, He still loves us with an eternal love beyond comprehension.

On the Mount of Olives, when the mob arrived to abduct Jesus, Peter, awakened from a sleep by a rush of adrenaline, his emotions still stinging from his master’s open rebuke, lashed out with a sword injuring a man. Jesus again rebuked him, healed the man and is led away without a fight. All of his followers, Peter included, except for Judas the betrayer, run away from the confrontation. All of them.

John tells us Peter and another follower (probably John) trail behind the mob to the High Priest’s home, where the illicit trial will take place. Knowing the High Priest, the one follower (probably John) gains entrance, brings Peter into the compound, so they can watch what will take place. Though they had run away they did return and place themselves in jeopardy, perhaps for sheer curiosity sake, by mingling with the mob which had just taken their master.

Try to visual the scene. It is still dark, early morning before sunrise. It is cold. Peter, who has cut off the ear trying to cut off the head of a man, part of a mob with torches and clubs and swords, is standing around with the same mob in an enclosed space. Perhaps he has covered his head, hidden himself or camouflaged himself in some way. He is standing next to a fire warming himself with the people he had just attacked. This is outrageous but not abnormal. Peter’s personality, stepping into experiences without thinking, shines. He may be trying to redeem himself, at least in his own mind. He doesn’t.

A servant girl first questioned Peter. After she studied him, looked hard at him, she placed him with Jesus. Peter responded by denying even knowing Jesus, as if it were the first time he’d ever laid eyes on the man. His statement is adamant, absolute, complete. “I do not know him” [Luke 22:57 ESV].

Next, a man looked at Peter and placed him with Jesus’ followers. He identified Peter, not with Jesus but with the group of men who followed Jesus. Peter had already denied knowing Jesus. Now, he denied knowing any of the people who followed Jesus. Peter responded to the man’s statement about being a follower of Jesus is also explicit and firm. “I am not!” [Luke 22:58 ESV].

Finally, about an hour later, while it is still dark another man confronted Peter. He identified Peter as a Galilean, after listening to him and recognizing his accent. There were probably lots of Galileans in Jerusalem for Passover, having traveled up for the celebration. But none of them are going to be awake at this time of night, sitting around a fire trying to stay warm, while another Galilean is mocked and ridiculed and questioned and condemned. “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean” [Luke 22:59 ESV].

Peter’s final denial judges even himself. “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” [Luke 22:60 ESV]. Peter said he could not be who the man thought he was. None of the evidence they had seen fit him. He is innocent of their accusation, a victim of mistaken identity, completely outside of any influence of Jesus, or Jesus’ followers, or even the land from which Jesus came.

Peter lied. Three times.

Not far away, though surrounded by his enemies, those who want him dead and were willing to compromise their relationship with God to have him murdered, Jesus glanced up and caught Peter’s eye. And a rooster crowed. And Peter is captured, tried, convicted, sentenced, undone. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” [Luke 22:61-62 ESV].

Peter, one of the pillars of Christianity, a writer of Scripture, a martyr of Christ, had feet of clay. He was a liar. This is not a tall-tale, a myth, a legend. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. It happened. Even Peter, as one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus found in the documents of Jesus’ life and work, confessed his failures and validated the truth of what actually happened. There is no evidence Peter ever contradicted the account of his denial of Jesus found in all four reliable documents.

It happened. So did Jesus’ death. So did Jesus’ resurrection. It happened.