Sons of Thunder

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In our continuation of our look at #SQUADGOALS, today we get to know two of my favorite dudes…the Sons of Thunder, also known as the brothers James and John.

(Included below, at bottom, is a list of Scripture readings if you want to get your fill of these Sons of Thunder; and feel free to contact me or Beth Hildebrand if you want to be added to the SMC online Facebook Bible Study—also #SQUADGOALS)

“And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him” (Mark 1:20).

When I think of James and John, and Jesus giving them *that* nickname, the first image that comes to mind is fire and brimstone. These guys were on fire! And they clearly didn’t do anything in half measures. When Jesus called to them, never having met them, they left everything behind IMMEDIATELY. Who does that? Well…these guys. They were sold out well before Paul ever came into the picture. They gave up everything, and without hesitation, and they pursued Jesus with diligence, passion, and unquestioning loyalty (ride or die, if you will)…even before the Resurrection, and the definitive proof that Jesus was who He said He was.

But the people did not receive him (Jesus), because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:53-55)

As we learn in the Scriptures, James and John needed some polish to help them discern when their passions needed to be kept in check for compassion’s sake. We’ll see the Lord model for them the saying, “you’ll catch more flies with honey.” But what is most clear from the beginning is that they are Sold Out from the very first minute. I can’t help but wonder what nickname the Lord would give me…Likely not Daughter of Thunder, though there are characteristics I identify with in our brothers James and John. I can find myself in an all-or-nothing mindset, even when a more moderate stance would be more appropriate.

James and John here are the ultimate #BFFgoals in their relationship with Jesus because they were all-in on His mission, a true picture of bromance by today’s standards. I think if Jesus had suggested skydiving, they’d have suited right up no questions asked. They were on board with being Jesus’s posse. And if you crossed the Messiah, you’d better check yourself…they’ve got His back.

But Jesus, as we know, and as I hope you’ve encountered, has transformative power…if we let Him. He transformed the hot-headed Sons of Thunder into loving, merciful, grace-filled teachers of the gospel. They didn’t lose their confidence, they didn’t lose their boldness, but they were softened by doing life with Jesus such that they were able to recognize how to win people over to the cross. The message isn’t one that needs to be pounded into others’ heads, it’s not one that must be forced upon folks by fear, but rather its love…it’s treating people with compassion and mercy, its seeing them where they are, and its being joyful about the great good news…letting that joy overflow and sweep folks up.

I often wonder what Jesus’ rebuke was like in that moment. I doubt it was anything other than loving and kind. I imagine he scooped up their faces and said something along the lines of “No, no, dear ones…” with maybe a slightly wry smile and just a hint of twinkle in his eye.

“…but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  (John 19: 25-26)

This Son of Thunder, John, has been transformed into “the disciple whom He loved.” Jesus did mighty works, but perhaps none so mighty as the transforming of man’s heart. By the time Jesus’s earthly ministry is done, John has become so trusted and so loved that He is given the responsibility of caring for Mary, Jesus’s mother, upon the Savior’s death on the cross. Culturally, this is big deal and a big responsibility. Widows and orphans relied on the kindness and mercy of their extended male family members, or were otherwise left to despair and beg and suffer. Jesus had other family members—brothers and sisters. What does this tell about who John is that Jesus would call out to them as he hang there dying?

As we read more of the Resurrection story, we see that John is the first to recognize the risen Lord on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when the others were confused and uncertain. John and Jesus clearly had a bond, a close relationship, built on trust and obedience. Does that mean he had all the answers? No. But he was willing. He was willing to continue the Lord’s work in the face of oppressive suffering, along with the other disciples. He was willing to take on responsibility that he could have very easily shirked, if he’d wanted to.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos on account of the word of God and testimony of Jesus.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword. (Revelation 1: 9, Acts 12: 1-2)

James and John ultimately suffered for Christ. These Sons of Thunder were passionately devoted to Jesus…and he had told them they would suffer for it. As passionately as they followed Him, they died in much the same way.

James met his martyrdom at the end of Herod’s sword—but not before spreading the Word around like wildfire (along with the other disciples). It was a quick end, violent and brutal—like the lightning that often accompanies a raging storm.

John, whom Jesus loved, would find persecution in a different, but also torturous way: living in exile—rejected, ridiculed, excluded, cut off from the mission field he’d devoted so much of his life to—suffering long and continuously, like the rolling thunder that you can hear from miles away that goes on forever it seems. Patient endurance…

Toward the end of that patient endurance, John provides us with the book of Revelation…one more task to complete his good works during his time here on earth. But why? Why John? The disciple Jesus loved. He was trusted, he was proven, and he remained devoted even in the face of great suffering.

Today friends, let us consider the examples of these two courageous, zealous, sold-out men. Let us hold close the transformative power Jesus had on them and within them. These guys are #SQUADGOALS and we can be, too. Maybe a little less fire and brimstone, and a little more honey…but we can do it, too! We’re all holding onto some nets we could easily throw down…My prayer is simple, today. May you throw down anything keeping you from following Jesus. Amen.

Highlighted reading for more information on our Sons of Thunder…

Mark 1: 16-20 and Mark 3:17; Luke 9: 51-56; Mark 10: 35-45; John 13: 23, John 19: 25-26, John 20: 2, and John 21: 7; Revelation 1: 1-11, Acts 12: 1-4