I recalled the strange look on his face when he told James and me that, yes, we would drink from the same cup he drinks from. Now I knew. It was his cup of suffering we were destined to share.
I tasted a tiny drop from that cup there in the garden …
Sipped a bit more while Jesus was questioned and mocked …
Drank deeper when he was scourged …
Choked down a big gulp when he was crucified …
And drained it, down to the last bitter dregs, as I watched him … cry out … and die …
—John the Apostle, Transformed
John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” stood faithfully at the cross with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus. Like the two women, John suffered a crushing personal loss when Jesus died.
But John lost something more than a beloved friend and teacher that day. Into the tomb with Jesus’ dead body went the corpse of John’s ambitions for kingdom glory.
The kingdom promise
As a member of a devout Jewish family, John had been taught from childhood that the Lord God of Israel had promised to send his people a redeemer, one who would establish a righteous kingdom and rule in glory. John, his brother, James, and their mother, Salome, firmly believed that Jesus was the Promised One. Someday soon, Jesus would free the Jews from their Roman oppressors and seize control of the government. The three of them had even begged Jesus to give John and James the places of honor at his side when that day came.
Now it never would.
So John grieved for Jesus and also for his lost kingdom dream. The day after the crucifixion, while John did his best to comfort Jesus’ mother and the other mourners, his head must have buzzed with confusion and disillusionment.
Would Israel never be free? Was John destined for scorn as the follower of an executed dissident instead of glory as King Jesus’ right-hand man? Had his confidence in God’s kingdom promise been a mistake? Had he somehow misunderstood Jesus’ identity? No, surely not. John had heard the voice of God himself claiming Jesus as his beloved son. (Matthew 17:1–8)
But Jesus’ death was so … final. How could that be part of the Lord God’s kingdom plan?
The promise fulfilled
We know now that the kingdom promise was not canceled at the cross. It was fulfilled in the empty tomb of the risen Christ. But to accept that, John had to grasp the nature of Jesus Christ’s kingdom. Glory was redefined. Eternal, not earthbound. Sacrificial, not self-aggrandizing. Not what John expected. Much, much better!
Do you, like John, feel crushed and confused because something you begged Jesus for hasn’t turned out as you hoped and expected?
Take heart. As John discovered, sometimes the Lord’s promises are fulfilled in ways that are totally unexpected, but even more glorious than you could have dreamed!
As you can tell from the banner picture on the Faith Songs home page, I’m a firm believer in the Lord’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises. His answers to prayer do take unexpected turns! If you’ve experienced this in your own life, please leave a reply to tell us about it.
You can learn more of John’s story in the Gospels and in Transformed: 5 Resurrection Dramas, a collection of half-hour one-act plays. John the Apostle, Transformed is a dramatic monologue with humorous touches, portraying John as a visiting preacher in 44 AD. A letter from his mother about the recent execution of James, his brother, prompts John to share reminiscences of their quest for kingdom glory.
Speaking of Transformed, thank you to all who attended the book launch party on Facebook! We had a lot of fun and gave away lots of goodies, and I didn’t get grilled TOO badly in the Q & A sessions. If you missed the party, you still can read our conversations on the Facebook event page.
P.S. As I write this, it is Ash Wednesday. Here is a fitting promise, from the prophet Isaiah.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.
—Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)
May that promise be gloriously fulfilled in your life!