An old man named John wrote it down in a little letter years later: “We have heard…we have seen…we have observed….our hands have touched.”
Those days long ago scroll across the old man’s memory. He was a young man then, maybe all of nineteen. He was hanging on the words of a rugged preacher named John the Baptist on that day when Jesus came in sight of the Jordan River.
“Look!” said the preacher, pointing at Jesus, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It was some time later when Jesus called him and his big brother, James, from their fishermen’s nets on the Sea of Galilee for part time service. Peter and his brother Andrew were there too. Later still, Jesus summoned James and John to leave their father Zebedee’s fishing business altogether to become full time students.
He and his brother James were hot and impulsive in those days, too angry, too eager to be on top. Jesus had a nickname for them – Boanerges – sons of thunder – thunder boys.
Now, years later, this old man, pen in hand, drifts back to those days of long ago – that day when he was designated as one of the twelve – and got a new calling – apostle.
He became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Was it because he was a cousin to Jesus? Was it because he was the youngest – and so Jesus took Him under his wing? Or was it because he was young enough to be less brittle than the others, more moldable to the likeness of the Master?
For the Lord’s own good reasons, the young apostle was part of an inner circle along with Peter and James. He heard, he saw wondrous things – in the death chamber of a little girl, on a high mountain where Jesus was transfigured, in the shadows of a garden on the slopes of Olivet.
He sat next to Jesus for that last meal in the upper room. Was he the very first to receive the body and blood of Christ in the newly given sacrament?
He stood with the Master’s mother at the foot of the cross. He was there for that breakfast with the risen Lord on the shore of the sea. And when his fellow thunder boy, his brother, James – and all the other apostles were slaughtered for the sake of Christ, he remained, the last apostle standing.
He grew old. He wrote a fourth Gospel years after Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote theirs. He wrote three short epistles or letters. And at some point, before or after, he was exiled by the emperor for a few years to a piece of rock in the Aegean Sea – the island of Patmos – the Alcatraz of the ancient world. There Jesus appeared to him. Once again the old man heard things with his own ears, saw things with his own eyes – and at Christ’s command wrote these things down. We can still hear the thunder – and see the flash of lightning – the book of Revelation.
In the end, church history records that he returned to Ephesus to shepherd the souls of Asia Minor. There at Ephesus, he would die.
Years ago in Watertown, when we college boys had only a couple years of classical Greek under our belts, and seminary was still a few years away, we began our study of the New Testament in Greek, the language in which it was first written. Where did we start? With the Gospel of John. Why? Because it was easy. John does not use big words.
In our journey through John’s Gospel, we continue to hear simple words: Life and death, truth and lie, light and darkness, love and hate, hunger and thirst, water and bread. But the simple words run deep, like a river, the older we get. He who is the Way, the Truth, the Life, reminds us that these simple words are the ones that matter when everything else in life is stripped away. And unlike us, these simple words never grow old.