John [Jŏhn]—jehovah hath been gracious.
With the appearance of John the Baptist we have the burial of the Old Dispensation and the emergence of the New. We seem to see his rugged figure standing with arms outstretched, as with one hand he takes the Old Testament, and with the other holds the New, and who, through his ministry, makes the transition from Law to Grace. He was the foreclosure of the old and the forerunner of the new. Perhaps we can helpfully gather the witness of John around these salient features:
I. His parentage. John came as the child of promise and was born in a city of Judah when his parents were old, and his mother long past conception (Luke 1:7, 13, 39). His parents were of priestly descent, his mother being a kinswoman of Mary the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:36).
II. His ascetic affinities. John, as a man of the desert, knew what it was to practice self-denial (Matt. 3:4). A Nazarite from his birth, he developed self-reliance and spiritual strength as he communed with God in the desert solitudes he loved (Luke 1:15). He was a plain man in every way, akin to Elijah whom many took him for.
He was plain of dress. He dressed simply, his raiment consisting of camel’s hair, that is, either a robe of camel’s skin or cloth woven from camel’s hair. What a humble habit compared with the luxurious robes of soft wool worn by the fashionable and great of his time!
He was plain of food. No sumptuous dishes for this Elijah-like prophet. It was on rough food he thrived. Vegetable honey exuding from fig-trees and palms, and edible locusts, classed among the flying, creeping things the Israelites were allowed to eat (Lev. 11:22), formed his diet (Matt. 3:4). John the Baptist could subscribe to the words of a devout Englishman of a past century:
I shall be spare of sleep, sparer of diet, and sparest of time that, when the days for eating, drinking, clothing, and sleeping shall be no more, I may eat of my Saviour’s hidden manna, drink of the new wine in my Father’s kingdom, and inherit that rest which remaineth for the people of my God for ever and ever.
He was plain of speech. Living near to nature, he heard God’s voice in solitude as well as in Scripture. Familiar with the Old Testament, he made frequent use of its picturesque language (Luke 3:17; Isa. 66:24; with Amos 9:6). After his sojourn in the desert, brooding over the need and peril of his time, he came forth to speak of barren trees fit only for burning—vipers fleeing before the flaming scrub. John saw in his desert surroundings much that symbolized his nation’s calamity and which lent color to his solemn warnings of impending doom.
There is a great deal we would like to say about this man sent from God who had the privilege of acting as the forerunner and then as the baptizer of Jesus, who said of him that he was greater than a prophet. Space, however, forbids a full exposition of this mighty character in the Bible’s portrait gallery. The preacher might be able to expand the following features: his self-denial (Matt. 3:4); courage (Matt. 3:7; 14:4); powerful preaching (Mark 1:5); humility (Mark 1:7); holiness (Mark 6:20); burning zeal (John 5:35); honor (Matt. 11:11); ministry of witness (John 10:41); preparatory work (Matt. 11:10); testimony (John 1:29-36); results (Matt. 9:14); death (Matt. 14:10), of which Spurgeon said, “John was the first Baptist Minister to lose his head through dancing.”
4. John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, the fisherman who became the beloved disciple, The Apostle of Love.
This younger brother of James has the rare distinction of being known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The original of his name means, “whom Jehovah loves” and John’s experience corresponded to his name. From the many references to this honored disciple we can gather these facts:
He was a native of Bethsaida in Galilee.
His godly parents were probably cousins of Christ, and John was their youngest son.
His mother followed Christ, ministered unto Him, was at the Cross and among those who went to anoint the body of Christ with sweet spices.
His father was a fisherman owning his own vessel and prosperous enough to hire servants.
John himself was also a successful fisherman.
He was called to discipleship while plying his nets.
He was the youngest of the disciples, the Benjamin among the Twelve.
He was one of the select triumvirate, Christ’s inner cabinet of three, Peter and James being the other two.
He was surnamed by Christ as a son of “Boanerges” because of his prophetic zeal and resolution to witness for Christ.
He was treated by Christ with greater familiarity than the others enjoyed.
He sat next to Christ at the Last Supper.
He was intrusted with the care of the mother of Jesus.
He died when he was almost one hundred years of age.
He wrote the gospel and three epistles bearing his name, and also the Book of Revelation. How true are Wesley’s words of John the Beloved:
A Caesar’s title less my envy moves
Than to be styled the man whom Jesus loves;
What charms, what beauties in his face did shine
Reflected ever from the face divine.
From manifold references in the four gospels, the Acts and Revelation, the preacher can develop these traits in John’s character: his natural energy (Mark 3:17); his intolerance (Mark 9:38); his vindictiveness (Luke 9:54); his ambition (Mark 10:35-37); his eagerness to learn (John 13:23; I John 2:9); his sympathy (John 19:26); his love (1 John 4:7-21).