During a stressful stretch last year I listened to a podcast sermon and one sentence jumped out at me. “Don’t measure God’s love for you by your circumstances or your feelings.”
The speaker went on to list Biblical characters who experienced very difficult times: Job, the apostle Paul, Mary, the mother of Jesus…
And I thought of “the one Jesus loved.”
John—who referred to himself by that title in the gospel of John.
When I was a teen, I thought John’s self-titling was a sign of narcissism (not that I would have used that word). After all, Jesus gave John and his brother, James, the nickname “Sons of Thunder” after they wanted Him to call down fire from heaven on some Samaritans who refused Jesus welcome. Later their mother asked Jesus if her sons could sit in places of special honor in heaven. If he had written his gospel then, as an impetuous, ambitious young man, an accusation of narcissism might be appropriate.
But John was old when he titled himself “the disciple (one) Jesus loved.”
In the years between the events of the gospel and its writing, most of his friends had been executed, and he himself had been imprisoned, beaten, boiled in oil (if the legends are correct), and exiled to Patmos, an island used by the Roman Empire as a place of banishment. “Patmos” means “the killing.” John was surrounded by other banished criminals—certainly a great mission field, but not exactly a place of comfort.
So when he called himself “the one Jesus loved,” that’s almost ironic.
It’s supernatural. MY tendency would be to write from a place of doubt. “Do You really love me, God?” I would wonder. “After all this? Now? In this place?”
Yet when John looked back to those precious days of being with a Christ who could be seen and touched (John 1:14 and I John 1:1-2), his chief memory was of being loved. When he titled himself “the one Jesus loved,” he was making a pronouncement: “Jesus loved me then and He loves me now. This is who I am, one loved by Christ. I have found my identity in being loved by Him.”
Clearly the ambitious young man who felt the need to prove himself, to grasp at accomplishment and glory, was transformed by Jesus’ love. He wasn’t saying Christ loved him more than He loved the other disciples; he was telling his readers that just like him we can find our true identity in Christ.
I, too, can call myself “the one Jesus loves.”
So can you.