Point of Reference
by Fred Price
From the first moment to the last, the disciples struggled to understand the full impact of Jesus’ invitation to, “Come, follow me,…” ( Matthew 4:19); failing to fully comprehend the extent to which this call would take them out of their comfort zones and the demands it would make on their lives. ( Matthew 19:27) Beyond that, they struggled to grasp the reality of Jesus’ deity and his mission to save souls in contrast to saving Israel. Which is somewhat understandable as Jewish scripture cites few examples of personal redemption for individuals persevering in the face of trials and difficulty ( Daniel 3:17), primarily recounting the promises of national restoration of a people in bondage. (See Is. 63; Hosea 13:4, Zephaniah 3:16,17) But even as Jesus’ proclamations of a personal salvation such as those found in Matthew 4:17; John 3:16,17 & 11:25 & Luke 13:1-5 speak to a need for redemption through forgiveness of personal sin, they still didn’t get it! The question on the tip of their tongues after the horror of Christ’s death and burial and the wonder of his resurrection being, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:7
James and John , sons of Zebedee, exemplified this attitude. Nicknamed Sons of Thunder ( Mark 3:17), either because their father could be vehement in expressing his opinions or as a result of being very persuasive in defense of their own strongly held ideas; they proved to be particular in the way they wanted things done. Their similarity extended to scriptural references to them, James always being mentioned in connection with John; their behavior at times revealing fiery ambition, which is often associated with “risky” behavior earning them the resentment of their fellow disciples. ( Mark 10:35-45) Their tempers at one point earning Jesus’ rebuke. ( Luke 9:51-56) But who wouldn’t want to be close to the top in this exciting, highly anticipated adventure to restore and rule Israel? Yet their aspirations lacked the humility needed for leadership in the kingdom Christ actually intended to inaugurate; the humility that would place others before themselves, tempering their ambition for kingdom rule with the desire to serve in whatever capacity was needed at the moment. ( Luke 18:14) It’s interesting to note that Peter, James and John appeared to form an inner circle of trainees and confidantes who possessed a natural affinity for one another as a result of their shared personality traits ( Matthew 17:1); an inclination for bold leadership that Jesus refined, developed and enhanced for their own benefit as well as that of the church. ( Galatians 2:9)
There is nothing inherently wrong with zeal, as long as it is well-directed. ( Romans 12:11) However, zeal separate from knowledge can be damaging ( Romans 10:2), without wisdom is dangerous, ( Luke 9:54) mixed with insensitivity can be cruel ( Acts 22:3-5); though when combined with patience and concern for others, it becomes a dynamic catalyst for service to God and man. James evidently developed a more Christ-centered disposition, as he reportedly converted his guard to Christ during his trial on charges of subversion; granting him forgiveness as they were both then executed. Yet his straightforward, zealous declarations may have been responsible, at least in part, for his being the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom for his Lord. ( Acts 12:1,2)
John was almost in every way like his brother at the start of their association with Jesus. ( Matthew 4:21,22) Later however, he became known for his great capacity for and emphasis on love; a topic prominent throughout his Gospel and Epistles. ( John 14:15 & 15:10; 13:34,35; 1 John 3:1; 3:10,11; 3:16; 4:8,10, 16,20; 2John 5,6 – Actually just a small sampling of the numerous times John appeals for love and its accompanying actions.) And yet the danger of loving without conviction is compromise and ineffective sentimentality; John did not have this problem. He had learned to temper his conviction with love, but the strength of his beliefs gave structure to his emotions . He was thus able to focus his energetic zeal on the needs of people, directing them to the supreme example of love in Christ.
One of the crucial times John heroically demonstrated his loving determination for doing the right thing even in the face of opposition and danger was at the foot of the cross. He was the only Apostle present at Jesus’ crucifixion, the others having fled in fear to safety in hiding. ( John 19:25-27) Jesus acknowledged this display of loving concern and strength of character by placing his distraught mother in John’s care, speaking directly to him from the cross. (Incidentally, John is also the only Apostle to die of natural causes after a long – albeit persecution filled life.)
Primary resource material taken from John MacArthur’s, Twelve Ordinary Men – Subtitled: How the Master Shaped His Disciples For Greatness, and What He Wants To Do With You and Follow Me , Christ’s Call, Our Response
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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