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John: Never Enough Jesus
Jack Klumpenhower

Of the twelve disciples, I may like John best. I say this even though for years I preferred to avoid John. He wrote parts of the Bible that made me feel guilty. Like this one: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, NLT). That stings when I consider how poorly I love others.

But here’s why I like John: He’s a deep thinker. In his Gospel—his account of Jesus—he explores themes like the Trinity, glory, and eternal life. Yet John is candid and humble. His purpose for wowing us with the deep truths of Jesus is simply so that we will “continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name” (John 20:31, NLT).

John goes out of his way to say that his own understanding of Jesus didn’t come easily:

  • When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, NLT), John mentions that it wasn’t until after Jesus was raised from the dead that the disciples thought about it and realized he’d been talking about his body.
  • When Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, John quotes Zechariah’s promise of a great King. Then he adds, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him” (John 12:16, NLT).
  • When Jesus arose, John says he saw the empty tomb and believed. But he adds, “Until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:9, NLT).
Elsewhere, it’s clear John gave much thought after the fact to Jesus’ death. Four times in John 19, he points out crucifixion details—dice, thirst, unbroken bones, and a spear—and shows how these were important happenings foretold by the Old Testament. John remembers how Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Then he comments, “He said this to indicate how he was going to die” (John 12:32, 33, NLT).

How did John come up with all that? Simple. He’d been thinking deeply about Jesus and the Cross.

The constant learner

I need to follow John’s example. Sometimes I get to thinking that Jesus’ death for our sins is a basic, elementary doctrine I mastered long ago. I figure I know this stuff. Maybe you think the same.

But consider how much more John knew. He watched Jesus raise a girl from the dead (see Luke 8:51-56) and saw him transfigured on a mountain (see Luke 9:28-36). John sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper (see John 13:23). He’s the only apostle who we know was close enough at the cross to talk with Jesus there (see John 19:26-27). And he was the first apostle to see the empty tomb (see John 20:4).

Despite all he witnessed, John didn’t assume he fully understood Jesus and the Cross. He kept learning. He explored their mysteries. He wondered at their power.

The constant lover

So let’s come back to that guilt-inducing verse where John says anyone who does not love does not know God. Here’s how he follows up that statement:

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. (1 John 4:9-11, NLT)
There’s John’s secret. He had a reason for always working to understand more of the Cross. He knew that the better he saw the Cross, the better he’d see God’s love. And the better he’d be able to love others.

My problem with verses like the one that told me to be loving was I didn’t catch on to what I could do if I failed. John’s prescription is a bigger dose of Jesus, and he’s helped me by writing down the very best Jesus stories he knew. They’re mine to read and ponder again and again so that I can, in John’s words, continue to believe and have life by God’s power.

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Trinity Church
Lansing, Michigan

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