Transportation is much easier, faster, and less expensive than it used to be. We want to arrive at our destination spending the least time, effort, and money possible. Seldom do we take time to just enjoy the road we are traveling.

In our journeys of faith, we also usually focus on the destinations—perhaps a spiritual experience or an eternal reward. It’s in the process of traveling, however, that we are changed—and this transformation is essential if we are to reach our ultimate destination.

When Jesus started making public appearances, teaching about and demonstrating God's reign in the world, some people were so eager to hear such good news that they were ready to follow him without question. And Jesus knew just who they were.

One day, Jesus saw some fishermen. Some were casting their nets into the lake; others were working to repair their torn nets. When Jesus called them, they immediately left what they were doing and followed him. One of these fishermen was named John. He, along with his brother, James, suddenly left their father's fishing business and followed Jesus.[1]

We don't really know what John was thinking. Like many people, he believed that Jesus was bringing in a new age, but also like many others, he misunderstood what that new age would look like. Whatever John's misconceptions, he set out on a journey that would forever change him.

John had a fiery temper—a character trait that earned him and his brother the nickname “Sons of Thunder”[2] John developed a tremendous loyalty toward Jesus. Sometimes, in fact, Jesus had to rebuke him for being too loyal.

Once John reported to Jesus that a man who was not a part of their group of disciples was driving out demons in Jesus' name. John told the man to stop. He probably thought that this man was not qualified to represent Jesus. Jesus, however, didn't feel threatened. He told John not to hinder the man. Jesus said that as long as someone wasn't opposing him, they were on his side.[3]

Not long after that, John offered to call down fire from heaven on a village that had refused to welcome Jesus. John believed he could do it, and assumed that this was what Jesus wanted. Jesus rebuked John for his aggressive attitude and moved on to another village.[4]

I can't help but think that in spite of John’s over-zealousness, Jesus still appreciated John's loyalty. John shared a special relationship with Jesus. He was one of three disciples whom Jesus chose to be with him on special occasions.[5] The New Testament gospel that bears John's name identifies its author as “the disciple who Jesus loved.”[6] Jesus shared such a close relationship with John, the beloved disciple, that he even trusted him with the care of his own mother.[7]

John's loyalty was rewarded with Jesus' trust. After Jesus' resurrection, John testified to what he had experienced, even under fierce persecution. While John retained his boldness, his experience of receiving Jesus' love also had a softening effect.

The New Testament preserves three letters written by John, who became known as “the apostle of love.” In these letters, we sometimes catch glimpses of the fiery-tempered “Son of Thunder,” but the dominant message is John’s repeated plea to believers to “love one another,” to seek the good of others ahead of their own. John’s priorities had changed a great deal from the time when, as a much younger man, he selfishly vied for the position of prime minister in Jesus’ kingdom.

How had a Son of Thunder become the apostle of love? I think the answer is this: John may not yet have arrived at his destination, but he was still on a journey with Jesus. As he walked in the Way of Jesus, he was changed.

John wrote about what Jesus called his “new commandment.” That new commandment was this: “Love one another.” By itself, there was nothing new about the commandment. God had long ago told his people to love their neighbors as themselves. What was new, however, was the degree of love. Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”[8]

John had not only listened to Jesus teach, but he had watched how he lived, and finally watched how he died for others. Jesus’ own sacrifice had shown John what love really was. John also wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”[9] It’s by looking to Jesus that John—and we—can know what it really means to love.

If we really experience such love, we ourselves will be changed. John wrote, “And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”[10] When we receive the salvation that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice, not only are we cleansed from our sins, but our lives are changed by his love.

Laying down our lives for one another may demand that we die physically. But it usually involves something more immediate and practical. John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?”[11]

John’s gospel tells that Jesus called himself “The Way,” the road that we travel to get to God. John himself traveled that road, and he invites us on the journey as well. The destination may seem far away, but let’s enjoy the journey, and be changed as we travel with Jesus!


[1] Mark 1:19-29

[2] Mark 3:17

[3] Luke 9:49-50

[4] Luke 9:51-56

[5] The transfiguration (Matt 17:1f), the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37f), and in Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36f).

[6] John 18:23; 21:20-24

[7] John 19:25-26

[8] John 13:34, NIV

[9] 1 John 3:16a, TNIV

[10] 1 John 3:16b, TNIV

[11] 1 John 3:17, TNIV

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