1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. – John 20:1-9 (ESV)
There is a quality about John’s writings that are unique. Not that the other New Testament writers churned out cookie cutter letters and testimonies. Each is unique and special in it’s own way.
There is a humility about John, a quality of identity that comes through loud and clear in his gospel. When John penned his gospel, he was most likely an old man. He had been traveling his path for decades. And the road of a first century Christian was not easy.
This was a time of political instability. During John’s lifetime, there reigned no less than eleven (and perhaps as many as thirteen) Roman emperors, each with his own view of how to deal with Christians and Jews. Some were indifferent, considering Christians to be some crazy little sect of Judaism. Others were downright hostile (such as Nero, who used Christians as scapegoats for the burning of Rome, having their heads stuck on poles and lit as lanterns to illuminate the streets). It was toward the end of Nero’s reign that Peter and Paul were both put to death.
During John’s time, walking around proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a punishable offense in the eye of the Roman authorities. They did not take kindly to anyone proclaiming the message of anyone about the current Caesar, revering their emperors as gods themselves.
Despite the odds, despite the hardships and the harshness of life, despite all the pain and difficulties John faced in his walk of faith, here he is: an old man of great humility. He’s not bitter. He’s not angry about how things have turned out. He’s loving.
John is so humble that he refuses to refer to himself in the first person. When you see a reference to anyone named John in the fourth gospel, it is John the Baptist being mentioned, not John the Apostle. In fact, John identifies himself as “the other disciple” and, most importantly, “the one whom Jesus loved.”
This is not a statement of superiority over the other apostles. One can read John 20:1-10 and believe John is gloating a bit, as if he is saying, “I am the one Jesus loved. And I beat Peter in the foot race to the tomb and got the first peak inside.”
Actually, John is merely recording the facts, correctly and honestly. He is giving detailed testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in all human history. He was an eyewitness. And he is telling us in detail what happened.
Humility is vital on many levels. For one, humility begets honesty. John makes sure we understand that, although he arrived first to the tomb, it was Peter who was bold enough to go into the tomb. This from the man who mere hours ago was cowering in fear, trying to blend into the crowd and disavowing any association with Jesus Christ. John, through his humble honesty, helps us see Peter’s humanity during a time of great stress and confusion. We get to see the hope that propelled this broken fisherman to run into the tomb and see that Jesus had done the impossible: raised from the dead.
Humility also brings strength. When we are humble, we are more able to understand our identity in Christ. John knew his. He was the one whom Jesus loved. He was no longer John the Fisherman, or John the Apostle. His identity was fully formed in the statement “the one who Jesus loved.” John recognizes that he has lived this long life because it was the Lord’s will:
20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:20-24 (ESV)
Humility boldly sets the record straight. It frames our view of reality because, when we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can better see the reality of God. Humility opens our eyes and hearts to the fact that “(we) are not (our) own, for (we) were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20, ESV). If we recline at a feast next to Jesus Christ, it is not because any of us is any great shakes. We did not – cannot – earn such honor, for without Christ, we have no honor. We are sinful. We are lost. We cannot save ourselves.
But Jesus saves us. He changes us. He makes us righteous. He prepares a place for us in heaven, even though we don’t deserve us. He loves us. He cares for us. He makes us His own.
And John so humbly knew it.
But, here is the thing. The apostle John does not own the sole right to be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” If that were true, his gospel would be nothing more than an opportunity to brag. John is giving his testimony that we may see the Truth, that each of us is the one whom Jesus loves. John is shining a bright light on our Hope, our Peace. He shows us that Jesus is God, and God loves us – always has, always will. We are His.
When we get tied up in self – whether through worry or doubt or self-delusion or exaltation – we can’t see the Truth. We can’t identify who we really are. But when we realize our identity is not based on our performance or how others view us or anything we may think about ourselves… when we see our identity is in The One Who created us, Who loves us and provides for us a way out of our predicament… then we can humbly set our “self” aside and see that we are who Christ says we are. We are His.
We are His.
Soak in that for awhile.