And so you find two things that stand out in John's life. The word love and the word witness. Eighty times he used the word love.
Seventy-some times the word witness in one form or another. He was always the witness to the truth and always the teacher of love. And so he is the personification of speaking the truth in love. One was silenced by the sword, another by exile, yet the legacy of James and John, the sons of thunder as Christ called them, lives on in the pages of Scripture. And by examining their lives, you discover that God uses people with all sorts of personalities, all sorts of flaws, to do great things.
And he's still doing that today. On this edition of Grace to You, John MacArthur continues his look at the 12 people closest to Christ. He calls them the Masters Men. This series on Christ's disciples will show you how these ordinary men were chosen and refined and empowered by the Lord, and how God still uses ordinary people today.
So now with a lesson, here's John MacArthur. James, the son of Zebedee. Several incidents stand out, and I'll show you where James is mentioned and the way he acts. In Matthew 20, very often zealous people are also ambitious people.
They're very goal-oriented, very task-oriented. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, and they're dragging along on her skirt tails, and they wanted something. And so she says to the Lord, grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on the right hand and the other on the left in Thy kingdom. Would you put my boys on the two thrones next to you? I mean, the implication is it's obvious to you that they're the cream of the crop, isn't it? A mother, right?
My children are gifted. Isn't it apparent? I mean, we can see it, Zebedee and I. I mean, and they're the ones who have the zeal. You say, what about Peter? Listen, Peter had a lot of zeal, but I mean, he also had some problems.
I mean, he would deny and bail out. James didn't seem to have that same problem. Peter faltered here and there, but it seems as though James was just resolute. He just...I mean, he was dead in 14 years. I mean, he just...they got rid of him fast. He didn't knuckle under at all. He didn't equivocate.
He didn't compromise. And boy, he could see his ambition. I'm going all the way for the kingdom, man, and not only to the kingdom, but right to the right hand. And Jesus says, you don't even know what you're asking. Can you drink the cup that I'm going to drink? Oh, sure we can.
All right, you will. In verse 24, the fever pitch was reached in the argument over who was going to get what in the kingdom. They all started arguing, and Jesus went into a little lecture on what real leadership is, but they were ambitious. James was ambitious. This is a terrible thing for them to do, to arouse the spirit of rivalry, to clamor for honor from the Lord. These who were the persecutors of the Samaritans are now ambitious, self-seeking place hunters, stalking the favor of the Lord as if he were some despotic ruler who could dispense his patronage on some kind of principle of favoritism.
They were demeaning Christ and His kingdom. Well, James had zeal. He had great fervor. He knew the Lord's special interest in him.
He was in the inside group. He felt he ought to have an equal reward for all of his capability. And the Lord reminded him, you'll get a reward, James, but it won't be what you think. Before you get your throne, you're going to get a cup, and you're going to drink it all the way.
And the cup is suffering because the weight of the throne is always the way of the cross. And James, as I said 14 years later, got his request. He wanted a crown. Jesus gave him a cup. He wanted power. Jesus gave him servanthood.
He wanted a rule. Jesus gave him a martyr's grave. Look at the one incident in the Bible where he appears alone, Acts 12. Now, about that time, Herod the king stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church. And when Herod wanted to attack the church, he went right for the main guy, and he killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.
That's who you go for first. And he put Peter in prison. It was James he was after, the son of thunder. He was filled with zeal. He was filled with ambition. He was filled with strong and intolerant feelings.
He didn't like things outside his own sympathy. And Christ had to harness all of that and make all of that into something useful and make him a pillar in the church. What kind of people does God use? He uses the great leaders like Peter. He uses the quiet, behind-the-scenes, obscure, faithful people like Andrew.
And he also can use the brash, courageous, ambitious, zealous, sometimes loveless, insensitive, selfish people like James. Because Christ brought his temper under control, he bridled his tongue, he directed his zeal, he taught him to seek no revenge and desire no honor for himself, and finally came to the place where James was willing to die for Jesus. So both the brothers drank the cup.
For John, the cup was a long life of rejection and a death in exile. For James, it was a short flame and martyrdom. The Romans had a coin years ago, and on the coin was an ox. And the ox was facing an altar and a plow. And under the ox it said, ready for either. And that's how it is in service for Christ, and that's how it was for the sons of thunder. There is the moment dramatic sacrifice on the altar. That was James.
And there is the long furrow of the plow. That was John. But both of them drank the cup. James had to learn sensitivity. He had to learn to quiet his ambition. But he did, and God used him. You know, a lack of sensitivity can just destroy a ministry.
There are many people who try to serve Christ who are utterly insensitive to their congregations, to their families, to the people around them. One such man was a Norwegian pastor. His story is very interesting. He had a motto. His motto was all or nothing, all or nothing. And he went around preaching and hurling out lightnings and screaming thunders on everybody. He was stern and strong and powerful and uncompromising and utterly insensitive. I mean, they said that his people in the church didn't even care for him because he didn't care for them. He was so ambitious. He wanted to advance the kingdom. He wanted to uphold the standard of God, and he was just blind to anybody else. It came down to his own family. And he had a little girl, just a little tiny girl, who was ill. And the doctor said, you must take her out of the Norwegian cold where she can come to a warmer climate so she can regain her strength or she will die.
To which he answered, all or nothing, and stayed. And she died. And when she died, the mother was so distraught and so shattered, she found no love in her husband but had doted all of her love on this little life, that she would sit for hours in a chair holding the clothes of the little baby and fondling them, feeding her starved heart on those empty garments. This didn't go on for many days until her husband took them all out of her hand and gave them to a poor woman in the street. But his wife had tucked underneath her a little bonnet, which she kept as the last vestige of a memory.
He found that and gave that away too, and gave her a speech on all or nothing. And in months, she died of grief. What stupid insensitivity! That kind of thing, un-mellowed, is only tragic. You can be insensitive to the people around you in a tragic way. I think of Billy Sunday, the great evangelist, all of his children died in unbelief, all of them. Utterly insensitive to the ones around him while he was winning the world. There are many pastors and evangelists and Christian people who aren't even listening to what's going on in their own house and the people around them, who are so oriented to the task that they miss the people. Zeal with insensitivity is so cruel, and James had to be refined. I mean, he had to get from the place where he said, just burn them up, Lord, if they don't cooperate.
Burn them up to the place where he cared. What kind of men does God use? What kind of women does God use? What kind of people fit into the plan? Dynamic people like Peter, leaders who can get everybody to do it. Humble people like Andrew who just do it quietly behind the scenes. And James, who don't really need other people to do it, they just do it with zeal and passion. You see, you mean the Lord can use all those kind of people? You don't have to be born with a halo?
You don't have to be on a stained glass? You can be just a person-person? These are very common people because He can transform all of those things. Finally, the last individual, and we're not going to spend much time on him, we'll see him, he intersects the story throughout the New Testament because of the fact that he wrote the gospel of John 1, 2, 3, John in Revelation. But I want to have you at least briefly meet John, James' brother. Now, may I hasten to add, we think about John, we think about some meek, mild, pale-skinned, effeminate guy lying around with his head on Jesus' shoulder, sort of looking up with a dove-eyed stare with little skinny arms, you know.
And you've missed it, folks, if that's what you think. He was in all those incidents about James that I just read you, and he was one of the sons of thunder. He was intolerant, burn him up, Lord.
He was ambitious, I want the seat on your right and left. He was zealous, he was explosive, but I think not quite as much as James. James seems to be the prominent one, and John does seem to have a side to him. I mean, at least John lasted. He lived till nearly the year 100, he outlived everybody.
He was explosive, too. Now, it's interesting to note that the only time he appears alone by name in the gospels, you know what he's doing? He's mad at somebody.
That's right, John. Who's he mad at? Some guy who was casting out demons in Mark 9. Why was he mad? He said to Jesus, he said, There is a man casting out demons and he's not in our group. He's not in our group. I forbade him to do that. I told him, Listen, fella, cool it.
You're not in our group. He was sectarian. I mean, he was narrow-minded. John says, Lord, I told him to be quiet because he wasn't in our group. Now, wait a minute. That's unbending. That's narrow. That is ridiculous intolerance. Well, that was John.
But you know something? That became a strength in his character because he also had a tremendous capacity for love. And you show me a man who has a great capacity for love and no sense of the truth and no limits and no guidelines and no strong convictions and I'll show you a disaster of tolerance and sentimentality. So God knew that the greatest source of truth in the New Testament, as far as a human author is concerned, about love would have to be a man who was also strong and uncompromising or his love would take him down the road of sentimentalism. And if he was to speak the truth in love, he had to be as much committed to the truth as he was to love. And so you find two things that stand out in John's life, the word love and the word witness. Eighty times he uses the word love.
Seventy-some times the word witness in one form or another. He was always the witness to the truth and always the teacher of love and so he is the personification of speaking the truth in love. It's so good that his love was controlled by his witness, by his truth. He was a truth seeker.
He wanted to know the truth. He was a discoverer. He was a visionary. He it was who first recognized the Lord at the lakeside of Galilee. He it was to whom God revealed the future in the apocalypse. He was the seer, the visionary, the truth seeker. The reason he was hanging around Christ's breast was not some kind of sloppy, sickening sentimentalism. What it was was that his heart literally hungered for the truth as well as the deep affection for Christ.
He wanted to gather in every word that came out of his Lord's lips as well as bask in the light of his love. So he became a lover, but a lover whose love was controlled by the truth and that control was born out of that tremendous zeal he had in his personality, that passion, that strength, that fiery character. And in case you don't think he is, you try reading 1, 2 and 3 John and see how he denounces those who are Antichrist and those who will stand up in the church to twist and pervert. He's firm.
He's strong. You read the gospel of John and see how he sets the people of God against the people of Satan, the redeemed against the lost, how he talks about the judgment of the righteous and the righteous and the unrighteous. The man knew where the lines were drawn and his love is never sentimentalism. But he is characterized by love. You just don't see much about him in the other gospels unless it's with James, as I showed you, or in the list of the group. But where he emerges is in his own gospel and he appears in his own gospel several times, always the same way.
How? Listen. John 13, 23, Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. Whom Jesus loved. The disciple whom Jesus loved. That's John. He never uses his name. He calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Now listen. The man had a heart of love and a man who has a heart of love understands love and has a great capacity to give and receive love. People who can love greatly can be loved greatly because they understand. And John literally took in the love of Christ and gave out the love of Christ. So he called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved.
That's the only thing he ever called him. In the 19th chapter, in the 26th verse, he appears again. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple standing by whom he loved. Same disciple whom Jesus loved. Chapter 20 verse 2, then runs and comes to Simon Peter, Mary Magdalene does, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved. Chapter 21 verse 7, same thing. Therefore, the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, verse 20, Peter turning about sees the disciple whom Jesus loved. Verse 24, this is the disciple who testifies these things. It is the disciple who Jesus loved that wrote the gospel of John.
That's what he said. He literally was in awe of the fact that Jesus loved him. And it wasn't a sickly sentimentalism. It wasn't that he said, oh, I'm so wonderful, the Lord loves me so much, I just want you to know I'm the disciple he loved.
No, no, no. It was the very opposite. I, the one who wanted to burn up all the Samaritans, I, the one who wanted Jesus to give me the place I didn't even deserve, I am one whom he loves. It's a celebration of grace. Jesus never had to ask John if he loved him, but he did have to ask Peter that. Jesus never had to ask John to follow him, but he did have to ask Peter that.
And when it came down to passing out the work, he said to Peter, feed my sheep. He said to John, take care of my mother. There was something special about John.
Tradition tells us John never left the city of Jerusalem until Mary, the mother of Jesus died, because he kept his vow to the Lord. So John was a son of thunder, but he was a tender, loving man who would never compromise his convictions. He taught on love. You could summarize the theology of John about love into ten statements. He taught that God is a God of love. He taught that God loved his son, that God loved the disciples, that God loves all men, that God is loved by Christ, that Christ loved the disciples in general, that Christ loved individuals, that Christ expected all men to love him, that Christ taught that we should love one another, and that Christ emphasized that love is the fulfilling of the whole law. And those themes run through all of his writings, and you can also see the truth there, too. You hear the word witness again and again and again and again as he affirms the witness, the witness, the witness to the truth. He speaks of the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the Scripture, the witness of the Father, the witness of Christ, the witness of the miracles, the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the witness of the apostles, always speaking truth, speaking truth in love. And so the Lord can use that kind of man, a man with great love. There are the James who just lived their life on passion, zeal, fervor, fire, sparks flying everywhere. And there are the Johns who can harness the truth in love, and they'll last and attract people to Christ, and God uses all kinds, a fiery lover whose love was a passionate devotion to the truth.
He lived to be an old man, but he was always a son of thunder. Let me close with this. So what kind of people does he use? What kind of people does he draw into intimacy with him? Who are these stained glass saints? What do you have to be to get really close to Jesus?
Think of this now. When God came into the world and walked in this world, God, the God of the universe, the living, eternal, almighty, holy God, when He walked in this world, He picked out four people to be close to Him, four men to be close to Him. Four men to be His intimates. One was dynamic, strong, bold, a leader like Peter who took charge, who initiated, who planned, who strategized, who confronted, who commanded people to Christ, and very often blew it. Another was humble, gentle, inconspicuous, Andrew, who didn't see the crowds, but he saw the individuals in the crowds. And while he never attracted a mob, he kept bringing people to Jesus. And then he picked a man who was zealous, passionate, uncompromising, insensitive at first, ambitious, who could see a goal and go for it with all his might and die in the process, James. And then there was sensitive, loving, believing, intimate John, every bit a truth seeker who spoke the truth in love so that he attracted people to himself.
And he made them into fishers of men in spite of what they were. Peter was finally crucified upside down by his own request while unwavering in his faith in Christ. Andrew, tradition tells us that Andrew had the privilege of preaching in a province, and the governor's wife received Jesus Christ as her Savior, and the governor was so upset that he demanded his wife reject Christ, and when she wouldn't, he crucified Andrew. Tradition says he crucified him on an X. That's why X is the symbol of Andrew, an X-shaped cross. And the traditional history tells us that he was on that cross for two days, and as he hung alive for all those two days, he preached without ceasing the gospel of Christ in the midst of his agony. I'm still trying to bring people to Jesus. Tradition tells us that James, when he was on the way to being beheaded by the Roman sword, had along the guard who had guarded him, and the guard was so impressed with his courage and constancy and zeal that he repented of his sin and fell down at the apostle's feet and asked if the apostle would forgive him for the part he had played in the rough treatment James received, at which point James lifted the man up, embraced him, kissed him, and said, "'Peace, my son, peace to thee in the pardon of thy faults.'" Tradition says immediately the officer publicly confessed his surrender to Christ and was therefore beheaded alongside James.
John banished to the Isle of Patmos after a long life, died around 98 A.D. during the reign of Trajan, and those who knew him best said, the echo of a constant phrase was their reminder of John, and this was the phrase, my little children love one another. What a group, ordinary with all the struggles, all the strengths and weaknesses of men like us. Yet in the power of Christ they were transformed. What kind of people does God use?
Any kind. Listen to this now. It is not what you are, it is what you are willing to become that is the issue, see? The fishermen of Galilee did become fishers of men on a most extensive scale, and by the help of God they gathered many souls into the church. In a sense they are casting their nets into the sea of the world still, and by the testimony to Jesus they gave in the gospel and the epistles, they are bringing multitudes to become disciples of him among whose first followers they had the happy privilege to be numbered. Listen, Christ can take a very common person and make them a very uncommon apostle. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.
Thanks for being with us. John has titled our current series, The Master's Men. It's one of his most popular and requested studies. John today we saw that James was passionate and ambitious, and at times insensitive. And of course, in a previous lesson we saw that Andrew was quiet and humble and willing to let others have the spotlight. So the personalities of these two guys could hardly have been more different. Would you say there is a lesson there for believers in terms of the kind of person God uses to do his work? Yeah, the lesson is no two people are alike. God has designed us with our sort of hard-wired tendencies and personalities. I think you come into the world with certain God-given, created characteristics that differ from person to person to person. And then of course there's that part of experience that kind of shapes how you think and react to the world. So the combination of your sort of hard-wiring and the soft-wiring that comes through your experiences makes everybody unique. I've always said every believer is like a spiritual snowflake.
They're no two alike. And that's how the body of Christ functions so well, because we all have a role to play. We all have a part to play in our uniqueness.
One other way to look at it is this. Christ is the consummate person. No person could be like Christ, but collectively the body of Christ sort of fills in all the attributes of Christ. Some of us are more aggressive, others are more passive, and yet in Christ you see the aggressiveness and the pure and beautiful and magnificent patience that he had with sinners.
That doesn't often come in the same person, but it comes in the body of Christ in the blending of so many people. Learning to see God's work through many lives in many different ways is an exercise that you can really go through in the Bible. And that led us to produce a new book called Forty Lives in Forty Days. It's a book that'll do just that. In forty days it'll take you through forty characters, and you can lean in and learn from them and learn how God used them.
They're all unique. People like Jonah, Rahab, Sarah, Eve, Joseph, Gideon, Paul, Enoch, Samson, and others. And the final chapter is on the most precious person of all, the Lord Jesus Christ. So get a copy of Forty Lives in Forty Days, hardcover 220 pages. You can order it from Grace to You, and free shipping, by the way, on U.S. orders.
That's right, friend. This book makes clear you don't need amazing talent, intelligence, or charisma to serve the Lord. You just need faith. To help cultivate greater trust in the God who works through ordinary people, order Forty Lives in Forty Days when you get in touch today. Call 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org. This book, Forty Lives in Forty Days, makes an ideal complement to John's current study or to your personal devotions. To pick up a copy for yourself or for a friend, call 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org. And at our website, take advantage of all the resources there for you. Do you want to know what the Bible says about how to honor God and honor your spouse in your marriage?
Or what the issue of sovereign election is all about? Or how to deal with the trials you face, and how to minister to a loved one who might be suffering? For all of those issues and countless others, you'll find biblical answers in the Grace to You Sermon Archive. That's 3,500 full-length sermons, all available for free download right now. You'll also find daily devotionals and insightful blog articles and much more. Our web address again, gty.org. Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, inviting you back for tomorrow's broadcast when John looks at how God uses common people just like you to build His church. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
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