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On your mark

Energy bolts

... James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder). (Mark 3:17, NIV)

We learn several things throughout the Gospels about James and John.

John was actually the first brother to follow Jesus. He notes in his Gospel the hour (4 p.m.) when he responded to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” Over the next three years, he saw close-up the Person, works, words and mission of Jesus. As with all disciples, the “come and see” over time became “come and die” (Mark 8:34-38) — die to self that we might live for Christ.

John’s discipleship at first must have been occasional, but it became full time when Jesus called him and James away from the family business of commercial fishing (Mark 1:20). Jesus never called anyone who was lazy. The persons He gathered around Him were engaged in everyday life and work.

Today, we might call these two brothers “pistols” or “firecrackers.” “Sons of thunder” conveys the idea of explosive energy and vitality. Indeed they could be over the top at times. When a Samaritan village gave no hospitality to Christ, their suggested solution was to burn it down (Luke 9:54). At that time they did not understand that Jesus’ way is to call persons to himself through love rather than the use of violence or force.

Jesus totally transformed them out of their prejudices — we find John later preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25).

We also know these brothers had a great desire for position (Mark 10:35), egged on by their mother’s drive (Matthew 20:20,21). Jesus did not completely deny their quest for the top spots inasmuch as He permitted them into the inner circle for the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and the visit to Gethsemane the night of His arrest. The Lord took their misplaced ambition and changed it into something good. Without ambition, we fall to the bottom of the class, or out of the class of discipleship altogether.

The end for the two brothers greatly differed. James became the first of the Twelve who died a martyr (Acts 12:2). He who had desired to burn down a Samaritan village ended by being a victim of violence and not its perpetrator.

James died before we ever had a chance to see the fruitfulness of his life. From him we have no recorded sermons or writings. On the other hand, from John, we have a Gospel, an Apocalypse, and three letters. Our times are really in the Lord’s hands. We do not determine the length of our days. Why is one taken and another left? We will not know until the other side.

John, of course, lived the longest — ending his life as a prisoner in exile on the Island of Patmos — probably in the tenth decade of his life. He became the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23) — not that Jesus loved the others less, but simply that John did what we all must do — see ourselves indeed as one whom Jesus loves.

John — who with his brother wanted to burn down a village, who with his brother antagonized the other disciples by asking for chief positions — that John becomes the apostle so changed by Jesus that he later wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. ... Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7,8).

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, help me today to yield to Your transforming power. Like James and John, I have way too much of self inside me. Teach me how to transition from being turbulent to being restful; from bulldozing my way through people to loving them instead. Use my energy for You.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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