How does the ‘son of thunder’ become the disciple of love?

How does the 'son of thunder; become the disciple of love? “James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them ‘Sons of Thunder’).” — Mark 3:17 (NLT)

They were all misfits.   All the disciples.   Normal people, working men, one a hated tax collector, doubters, betrayers, riffraff, and rebels.  

“James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them ‘Sons of Thunder’).”

—  Mark 3:17 (NLT)

One by one, they were chosen.   One by one, they made the choice to follow Jesus.   And one by one, their lives were changed and they, themselves, were changed.

John (and James) was always happy to take the initiative, to take radical action when he felt it was needed.   We see this in defence of Jesus in such instances as:

“John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.’”

—  Mark 9:38 (NLT)

“When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’”

—  Luke 9:54 (NLT)

John was not afraid of radical action!   But on each occasion, he was thwarted by Jesus and at times rebuked.   Jesus spoke of a better way.   Jesus spoke of peace and patience and the pursuit of the kingdom of heaven in all things.   Radicalism and rebellion become observation and obedience.   This would not have come naturally or easily for John.

So, what changed?   By the end of Jesus’ ministry, it was Simon Peter and not John or any other disciple who reacted rashly to cut off the ear of the guard who was taking Jesus away.   But it was John who is thought to have stayed with Jesus on the cross, together with Jesus’ mother, Mary (his mother’s sister) and Mary Magdalene.   Jesus spoke to his mother as she stood by John.

“When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’   And he said to this disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’   And from then on this disciple took her into his home.”

—  John 19:26 (NLT)

Several times in the Gospel of John, he refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.”   Although it is not specifically stated that this is the apostle John, most believe this to be the case.   The “son of thunder” had become “the disciple Jesus loved.”

John then went on to write three letters (John 1 – 3) which could be described as love letters, in as far as they speak clearly about love.   In John 1, he speaks about Jesus’ commandment to love one another, he urges us not to love the world, but to love one another, and to show love in our actions towards one another.   Gone is the “thunderous” approach towards those who do not follow the ways of Jesus; no calling down “fire from heaven to burn them up!”   No, just keep away.

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

—  1 John 5:21 (NLT)

How on earth did John change so much?   How did the son of thunder become the disciple of love?

Clearly, the answer is Jesus!   James, Peter, and John were the apostles who were the closest to Jesus.   They alone, out of the twelve apostles, who were with Jesus when the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead (see Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, and Luke 8:40-56); and at the transfiguration (where Jesus is transformed into radiant glory up on the mountain, written in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36).  

Being close to Jesus transformed John, as it did the other disciples.   In fact, everyone who came close to Jesus was transformed.   The man possessed by many demons who had to be shackled with chains, transformed into a man who shared the truth of his recovery with everyone; Mary Magdalene, who once was a prostitute, transformed into the most devout follower of Jesus; Zacchaeus, a thief and a tax collector, transformed into one known for his generosity; the adulterous woman who would have been stoned to death, called to live a holy life as no one would continue to condemn her.

The Bible is filled with stories of transformation and recovery.   And today, you too can discover your own story of transformation.   How?   By following Jesus.   By getting close to Jesus.   By seeking first, the Kingdom of God before anything else.   By turning away from your past wrongs, asking God for forgiveness, and thanking Him for sending His Son, Jesus, to pay for all your wrongs.   He has already paid the price; now it’s up to you to accept Him, believe in Him, and follow Him.   Perhaps you, too, can be transformed from being the son of thunder to become the disciple of love.  

May we pray.   Heavenly Father, Thank You that you have paid the price for my wrongs.   I turn away from my past and ask you to transform my life.   Help me also to become a disciple of love.   I ask this in the name of Jesus.   Amen.


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