THE FAITH OF CHRIST’S YOUNGEST APOSTLE
A year earlier all hell had broken loose when the tyrant emperor Caesar Nero had outlawed Christianity; and now, the last surviving apostle of Christ had been banished to Patmos Island. All looked bleak. The youngest of Christ’s apostles, John was just a teenager when he witnessed the brutal and protracted execution of Jesus. John, now in his fifties, had many reasons to feel disappointed and even disillusioned with God. His apostolic colleagues had each been martyred – having been put to death in often gruesome ways including: crucifixion, flaying, and beheading. On this barren rocky island, separated from the woman he had pledged to her crucified Son that he would look after, and away from the people that Christ had shed His blood for, John was alone. Ever since Jesus had risen bodily from dead, these life-time faithful sabbath-keeping Jews now recognised that Christ had sanctified the first day of the week, Sunday, as His day. It was also on this sanctified day that Christ poured out Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples. Ever since that day, no matter how he felt or the circumstances he was in, John had made it his custom to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This is why the earliest Christians shifted the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday as their ‘Sabbath’.
John’s first Sunday on this island of banishment was no exception. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. While some weak Christians (note Rom. 14:1; 15:1; 1Thess. 5:14) find disappointment with God an excuse to forsake God, John did not. While they may use their excuses for disappointment with God to walk away from their church family, John did not. John’s example has something to teach us.
¶ I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation
and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,
was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God
and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…
JOHN’S WORSHIPPED CHRIST
EVEN WHEN THINGS GOT DIFFICULT
Have you had a bad day? A bad week? A bad month? Have you prayed and God has not answered your prayers? The apostle John had been subjected to horrible violent persecution for month after month since Caesar Nero had commenced a State sponsored campaign of martyrdom against Christians. He had recently been publicly humiliated in Ephesus and it is believed that he was subjected to an attempt to martyr him (note Rev. 1:9). Rather than yelling at God about how unfair God had been, John continued to remember what his Lord and Saviour went through – especially after Jesus had entered Jerusalem days before He was to be crucified – and understood that God is still good even when things are bad. Shortly before the apostle Peter was martyred by order of Nero, Peter had written this to the Bithynian believers (take note of how he referred to Nero):
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor…
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious
thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ
also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow
in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered,
He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.
First Peter 2:17, 20-23
JOHN ALWAYS KNEW THAT GOD WAS GOOD
EVEN WHEN LIFE WAS SOMETIMES BAD
Each of the apostles of Christ, including John, had a resolute confidence in God’s goodness despite their often difficult circumstances. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans before he was extradited there to stand trial before the Emperor, and stated in Romans 8, that all of creation was subject to futility as a result of the fall of mankind into the devil’s plot to destroy them.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
All of creation, says the apostle Paul, was subject futility as a result of mankind’s rebellion. But it was not subject to this futility – disease, sickness, viruses, accidents, pain, betrayal – by the devil. No, it was subject to the consequences of rejecting God by God who subjected it in hope! What is our hope? It is surely not that we will lives exempt from futility as much as we would prefer that. No, our hope extends beyond this life, beyond the grave, to the kingdom of God prepared for all ‘the children of God’.
that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
This world is subject to the futility of cancer. This is world is subject to the futility of war. This world is subject to the futility of injustice. But the believer is not subjected to only dwell with God in a world of futility. In my previous Pastor’s Desk I cited the fourth century theologian, Athanasius, who said that followers of Christ now “despise” death and find it as nothing to be feared.
Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.
Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 5:29
HOW DID JOHN GET IN THE SPIRIT?
John tells us that it was “the Lord’s day”, so, he took steps to be in the Spirit (Rev. 1:10). He treated Sunday as a day different to every other day. This was the day when believers gathered to sing, pray together, heed God’s Word and Spirit, and fellowship together (“Communion”) over the Lord’s Table. It was a day to hear from God and be refilled with His Spirit. Even though John was alone and isolated from his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he prepared his soul to meet with God. Perhaps he spent time in prayer. Perhaps he spent time seeking God. Perhaps he worshiped by singing the songs that the early Church had developed to teach theology and gospel truths to their illiterate members. Then he waited to hear from God. And he did (which is how we came to have the Book of Revelation). How would our Sunday church’ experience be different if we each took time to prepare our souls to meet with God together? How might our collective witness be effected if we each regarded Sunday as a different day to every other day?
¶ Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me,
and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,
and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,
clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest.
John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. We have just considered these two important aspects of how the last of the original apostles remained faithful to Christ even when he was on his own. John’s example inspires us not to let our disappointments or unanswered prayers to be excuses to walk away from God. Secondly, John understood that Jesus ushered in the New Covenant and sanctified a new day of corporate worship, Sunday. This new day of worship would not need the old festivals and ceremonies that the Old Covenant demanded (Heb. 10:18). The New Covenant was commemorated by bread and wine. The Old Covenant involved effort, rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, and a priesthood. The New Covenant was established by Christ and administered by the Holy Spirit. And it still is. And it this same Holy Spirit who invites each of us to prepare our souls to meet with God, especially as we prepare to meet together on the Lord’s day.
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together
was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and
continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
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