If You’re A Christian There Was A Death In Your Family Wednesday Night
Witnesses said the gunman specifically asked for the church’s well-known pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator, and sat next to him in the Bible study. First he listened, they said, then he argued, and eventually he began ranting against black people, until finally, he stood, drew a gun and fired, reloading as many as five times.
He fatally shot six women and three men, ranging in age from 26 to 87. Among the dead was Mr. Pinckney. (New York Times, 6-19-15)
Nine people. Nine people were murdered, during a Bible study just the other night. There’s anger and outrage all over the country because of it. But you know what? Even before this tragedy there was anger and outrage everywhere. Everywhere we look we see it. We see it on Instagram, Facebook, TV, and Twitter where friends, family, talking heads, and politicians rage against one thing or another. Or against one person or another. Do you ever share your anger and outrage? Or do you ever have urges to share your anger and outrage?
Did you know there is someone in the Bible like that?
John’s Anger And Outrage
John was like that. I’m talking about John the disciple of Jesus, the very one who wrote the gospel of John. John and his brother James were nicknamed, “Sons of Thunder.” We see why when a village of Samaritans refused to take in Jesus and his disciples while they were travelling. When that happened James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Jesus rebuked them and they went on to another village.
And we see why John was called “A Son of Thunder” when he encountered a man from outside of their group casting out demons. John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him…”
That was John. That’s who he was. He was a Son of Thunder. He was angry. He could be like you and like me, angry and outraged.
But that’s not who he is today.
The One Thing John The Apostle Had That Made All The Difference
Ultimately John was transformed. Ultimately he was transformed into the likeness of Jesus. Ultimately John lost his title, “Son of Thunder” and became known as “the apostle of love.” And you and I can be transformed like that too. You and I can benefit from and learn from how John was transformed.
John didn’t have it together, initially. As we’ve seen, he was prone to anger and outrage. But there was one thing John did have. Thousands came to Jesus for healing, or for food and John was among them. Fewer came for teaching but John was one of them. And after the teaching on eating of Jesus’ flesh and blood many of Jesus’ disciples left him, but John stayed. Only three disciples climbed the mountain with Jesus to witness the transfiguration–one of them was John.
And every disciple stayed away when Jesus hung there on the cross. Everyone except for one: John.
John had issues. John had baggage. John had anger and outrage. But there was one redeeming attribute John did have. John had devotion to Jesus.
John was completely devoted to his Lord no matter what the circumstances. And that made all the difference. That resulted in transformation. That changed John from a “Son of Thunder” to what the historian Eusebius called him: “the apostle of love.”
The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
And John’s title he gave to himself, the way the author John refers to himself in the book of John is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” That’s curious when you think about it. John obviously loved Jesus but he never referred to himself as “the disciple who loved Jesus.” Like you and like me, John seems to recognize he’s not worthy of Jesus’ love. He has issues, and baggage, and anger. But John’s devotion took him to the cross, where no other disciple dared go, and where he saw up close how Jesus loved him. Maybe that’s why he calls himself that. Maybe that’s why John “the disciple whom Jesus loves” emphasizes how Jesus loves him. Because John was there, at the cross, when Jesus died for John’s issues, and baggage, and anger. Where Jesus died for his sins. Where Jesus died for all our sins.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “…we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image…”
In other words, when we behold Jesus, we become like Jesus. That’s what happened to John.
Devotion to Jesus made all the difference for John. And that can make all the difference for you and for me too. Devotion to Christ is what provided John with the continual opportunity to behold Jesus. Devotion to Christ, the kind that keeps us close to Him, not just for His blessings, but during the difficult times as well. Devotion to Christ not just in the beginning, but enduring to the very end. Devotion that keeps us close to Christ all the way to the cross, where we see up close His love for us. That’s the kind of devotion that will change us.
The Charleston Shooting Victims’ Family Members Respond To Their Persecutor
One by one, they looked to the screen in a corner of the courtroom on Friday, into the expressionless face of the young man charged with making them motherless, snuffing out the life of a promising son, taking away a loving wife for good, bringing a grandmother’s life to a horrific end. And they answered him with forgiveness.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, her voice rising in anguish. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
…It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God. (New York Times, 6-19-15)
“It was as if the Bible study had never ended…” the New York Times reporter wrote. Those family members. The very ones who lost their mother, or son, or wife: they forgave him. They forgave their persecutor. And what causes that kind of forgiveness? Where does that kind of grace and mercy come from? It comes from the same place John’s transformation came from.
Like Jesus’ disciple John, these people have devoted themselves to their Lord. And like John they stayed close to Him: through studying the Bible, and through experiencing community in church, and through prayer to Him. And like John they were transformed. That’s what you and I need to do. We need to be transformed in the same way. We need to be transformed from “Sons of Thunder” to “apostles of love.”
John was transformed.
The families of the shooting victims were transformed.
You and I must be transformed too.
Devotion to Jesus. Real, intentional devotion to Jesus. Devotion and love for Jesus in response to what He did for us.
It’s the one thing that can make a difference.
Those family members, they’re like John and Peter when they appeared before the authorities. The Bible says of those who heard them:
…they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13
Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, Thomas Nelson, 2015
Brant Hansen, Danger: Here Are The Writings Of A Crazy Man
Jon Courson, Application Commentary New Testament, Thomas Nelson 2004
Nikita Stewart and Richard Perez-Pena, In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting, New York Times, 6-19-2015