“We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. Both Scripture and experience teach that it is we, not God, who determines the degree of intimacy with Him that we enjoy.”[i] Is this true? Could J. Oswald Sanders be right?
We’ve identified Three Circles of Intimacy of people who were with Jesus when he was here on planet earth. The seventy-two, the twelve disciples, three disciples…is there a fourth circle of intimacy?
The Intimate Circle: John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”
Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciples whom Jesus loved was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord who is it?” (John 13:21-25).
John had that cherished place of intimacy with our Lord. He chose to remain close to the Lord, physically near him. John wasn’t afraid to ask the Lord the hard questions. In fact, in this incident he asked when the other disciples (including bold Peter!) were hesitant. Is this an illustration of John’s words in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear”?
Simon Peter and another disciple (John) were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciples, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in” (John 18:15-16).
Is it likely that because John was with Jesus so often that the high priest (and others) recognized John as a disciple of Jesus, even before they recognized Peter?
Perhaps the most moving scene is when Jesus was dying on the cross:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)
Jesus entrusts his beloved mother’s future to John, who chose the place of intimacy with Jesus. Certainly this speaks of a special place Jesus held in John’s heart.
On resurrection morning Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb and ran to tell Peter and John, the other disciples, the one Jesus loved. John outran Peter to the tomb and was the first disciple to see it empty.
John was also the first to recognize Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection. Some of the disciples were fishing and didn’t realize it was Jesus on the shore. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ (John 21:4, 7).
Is it not likely that because John spent so much time in the Lord’s presence, that he was able to recognize the Lord when the other disciples—including Peter and James in the inner circle—did not? It seems it was love that drew John into deeper intimacy with Jesus. This is the same John who wrote 1 John declaring God is love….
See what great love the father has lavished on us… (I John 3:1a).
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us… (I John 3:16a)
We love because he first loved us (I John 4:19).
God pursues a love relationship with us. He clearly initiates. But the heart-cry of our Lord is that we would Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
I find it fascinating that John referred to himself repeatedly as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Is that a name tag you wear? How often do I indentify myself as a daughter “whom Jesus loves?” Isn’t this a powerful reflection of John’s own understanding and acceptance of the depth of Jesus’ love for John, as a forgiven child of the King? Does this give us deeper insights to John’s seeming continual desire to be in the presence of Jesus?
As a very young woman, I would have had difficulty identifying myself as John did, but rather more like the man Blackaby encountered:
One of our church members always has difficulty in his personal life, his family, at work and in the church. One day, I went to him and asked, “Can you describe your relationship with God by sincerely saying, ‘I love you with all of my heart?’”
The strangest look came over his face. He said, “Nobody has ever asked me that. No, I could not describe my relationship with God that way. I could say, ‘I obey Him, I serve Him, I worship Him and I fear Him. But I cannot say that I love Him.’”[ii]
Is J. Oswald Sanders’ quote true? We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be.
Sanders declares that the place close to Jesus’ heart is still available. If other intimacies are more desirable to us, we will not gain entry to that circle.
It would seem that admission to the intimate circle is the outcome of deep desire.
Only those who count such intimacy a prize worth sacrificing anything else for are likely to attain it.