John's 21st Century Epistle to the Skeptics


 

Contender Ministries


The following letter is a work of fiction, but like many stories, is not entirely devoid of facts or truth.  Drawing from actual events in the gospels, I have developed the following as what the Apostle John might say to skeptics in the world today.  The historical accounts in this letter actually happened.  The "author" of this letter really existed.  I encourage you, after reading this letter, to read the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible.  My hope is that you will be entertained by this, but also that you will develop a greater understanding of the events John witnessed.


Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!  My name is John, and I was among the first of the disciples of Jesus.  I’m writing this to those of you who are skeptical about the miraculous works performed by Jesus.  Many of you believe Jesus was a great man, and nothing more.  You believe He died, but find it hard to believe he rose from the dead.  You’re critical thinkers, and I admire that.  I guess if I hadn’t been there – if I hadn’t seen these things with my own eyes, I may have been reluctant to believe them myself.  But I was there.  I want to tell you about the man I loved – the Son of God, who walked among us.  I want to tell you about Jesus.

I guess these things usually start with a little background, so that’s where I’ll start.  I grew up in a fishing family.  My father, my brother James and I spent six days of every week fishing in the Lake of Genesareth.  If you’re a person who takes your fishing rod out on the weekends to catch some trout, you may get the wrong idea about me.  We didn’t fish for sport, we fished to eat and to sell.  We made our living this way.  It was a hard life, and I don’t mind telling you I grew to hate the smell of fish.  By the time I was a teenager though, I could no longer smell it on my clothes. 

We were also Jews – faithful Jews.  The Sabbath was the one day a week we didn’t fish.  I think I liked that aspect of the Sabbath more than any other.  Preparation Day (Fridays, the day we prepared for the Sabbath) we worked extra hard to make up for the day we wouldn’t work.  James and I loved God, and we loved the Sabbath.  I never fell asleep listening to my father or the Rabbi telling us about Moses or Abraham.  I think I even wanted to be a Rabbi at one point.  Rabbis got to study scriptures every day, and they didn’t smell like fish!  Both were attractive selling points to me.  Then one day James and I met John the Baptist.  He told us about a man that would soon be coming – the Messiah foretold by the prophets.  I was so excited at the possibility of someday meeting the Messiah! 

I remember the day I first met Jesus.  John had finished telling James and I about having baptized this man Jesus only the day before.  He told us about the Spirit of God descending like a dove on this man, and of the voice that boomed down from the heavens.  As we sat in the shade, John’s eyes suddenly grew wide and he pointed behind me, “That’s him!”  I turned around and saw Jesus walking towards us.  At first, I was disappointed.  I had expected the Messiah to be – I don’t know… taller, I guess.  Jesus wasn’t short, but he wasn’t as magnificent in appearance as I had anticipated.  He wasn’t overly handsome either, He was just….well, plain.  He walked up to us, and when He smiled at me, I could feel that in spite of his appearance, this man was the Messiah.  I’ll never forget His first words to me either.  John didn’t have a chance to introduce us when Jesus grabbed my hand, grinned broadly, and said, “John, how’s the fishing?”  

James and I didn’t do much fishing after that day.  We basically dropped everything, and just followed Jesus.  He taught us every day. Oh! How that man could talk!  He was so wise, so gentle, and so good humored!  That’s something I don’t think was ever told very well.  The Messiah loved a good joke, and loved to laugh.  Jesus could make me laugh like no one else could – not even James.  And his laugh was so contagious!  I remember several times when Jesus burst out laughing for no apparent reason.  I ended up laughing so hard tears would run down my face – and I wouldn’t even know what we were laughing at!  I think after the first time that happened, Jesus would do that just to see me laugh.  He seemed to like the sound of laughter.  He reveled in it.  We grew very close over the years, and what amazing years those were!

Our numbers grew quickly.  Andrew and his brother Peter joined us right away.  Others quickly followed suit.  We traveled throughout the land with Lord Jesus.  He taught us of the law, and more importantly, how the law was being fulfilled.  I knew of the prophecies about the Messiah.  Prophet Isaiah, it seems, had somehow met Jesus.  Coming from the house of David and being born in Bethlehem, Jesus was fulfilling all of the Messianic prophecies. 

Many of the Pharisees were skeptical, as you are now.  They loved to test Jesus on the scriptures, and on the law.  They hated Him.  When Jesus showed He knew the scriptures better than any of them, they hated Him even more.  I used to be confused as to why they would hate Him rather than follow Him.  But I grew to understand that they feared Jesus was a false Messiah, who wanted to abolish the law.  We tried to reason with them, to tell them that Jesus was here to fulfill the law – not abolish it.  But their hearts were hardened, and they only hated Him more.  Not even the miracles could convince them.

Oh, the miracles!  There were so many!  I think I could write for a thousand years and still neglect to mention some of the miracles Jesus performed.  The first one I recall was when he turned water into wine at the wedding banquet.  I was so amazed at the time, and James could barely close his mouth from shock!  But the miracle of the wine was soon eclipsed by the healings, by the walking on water, by feeding thousands with a small amount of food.  And by the resurrections.  Oh my, yes.  The resurrections were something else. 

I think – no, I know I must tell you about Jairus’ daughter.  Jairus was the ruler of the local synagogue.  We had just returned to Galilee, after having seen the Master deliver a man from demons, when Jairus came running through the crowd to us.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come heal his daughter, who was very sick.  Jesus admired the man’s faith, so we started through the town on our way to Jairus’ house.  We were delayed for a time by a sick woman who was healed by simply touching the Lord’s clothing.  It wasn’t a long delay, but by the time we reached the house, a man came out and told us it was too late, Jairus’ daughter had died.  I felt a tremendous weight in the pit of my stomach, I despaired so for Jairus.  As for Jairus, his legs just seemed to buckle under him.  He began to crumple to the ground, but Jesus caught his arm and lifted him back up.  He put an arm around Jairus, gave him a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.  “Don’t be afraid, Jairus,” he said.  “Have faith, and she’ll be okay.” 

There was a large crowd that had followed us, but only Jairus and his wife, Peter, James, and I were allowed in the house with Jesus.  As we entered the house, I could feel death inside.  It’s just a feeling a man gets when someone has passed.  As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting in the house, I saw her still form on the bed.  I had to choke back tears; she couldn’t have been more than twelve years old.  She was so still, so pale, and so lifeless.  The crowd outside, as well as some inside the house began to cry and wail in despair for Jairus and his little girl.  “Stop crying,” Jesus said.  “She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping.”  I have to admit I cringed at this, as it was easy to see she was gone.  Jairus and his wife just looked at him incredulously.  They think he’s crazy, I thought to myself.  As for the crowd outside, they were convinced he was crazy.  They began to laugh, almost hysterically.  Jesus didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.  He walked over to the bed, bent over, and grabbed her hand.  “My child, get up,” Jesus commanded softly.  My breath caught as her eyes blinked open and she actually stood up!  I nearly fainted! This was the first resurrection Jesus performed.  There were at least a couple of others. 

And so things went for a number of years.  What a blessing it was to be with Jesus!  This gentle, plain, soft-spoken man who loved to laugh, was truly the living Son of God.  I wanted to travel with Jesus for the rest of my life.  Alas, that was not to be.  I remember it was shortly before Passover Feast when Jesus told us that he would soon be killed.  At first, I thought he was saying this just to pull my leg again.  I wanted it to be a joke, but I could see in his face that he was serious.  I shook my head, squeezing back tears, denying that Jesus could be telling us this.  I didn’t want to hear it.  Jesus could see that I was disturbed, and he leaned close and squeezed the back of my neck.  Speaking to everyone, but looking at me, he told us not to be troubled, for he would rise again. 

I wish I could say that made me feel better, but it didn’t.  I knew Jesus was the Christ, and I’d seen Him accomplish more miracles than I could count.  So I knew He could rise again, just as He said.  But my heart remained troubled, because I knew our time together was drawing to a close.  I loved Jesus more than even my own brother, and I couldn’t bear the thought of Him leaving us.  We sat down together for dinner; just Jesus and us disciples.  This would be the last meal we all had together. I sat next to Jesus during the meal, and more than once leaned my head into Him.  I felt so close to Him.  Jesus had a way of being friend, brother, father, teacher, and master all at the same time.  I think he knew it would be our last moments of peace and fellowship too.  At one point, before He broke the bread, Jesus put his arm around my shoulder, and kissed the top of my head.  I looked over at him and saw that sly grin He sometimes wore when he was having fun with me.  “John,” he whispered, “you’re a kind, gentle bear of a man; but you smell like a donkey.”  Such was my relief at hearing His jokes again, that I laughed harder than the joke warranted.  When I squirted wine out of my nose, Jesus threw His head back and roared with laugher!  Everyone laughed.  Everyone but Judas Iscariot, that is. 

I could tell you about the capture of Jesus.  I could tell you about His appearance before the High Priest and Pilate.  I could tell you about Pilate’s reluctant sentence of death on Jesus – reluctant, because he found no fault with the Lord.  Yes, I could tell you how the hate-filled disbelievers demanded the release of Barabas, a murderer, so they could see the Messiah die.  I could tell you all of this, but it’s not germane to what I need for you to understand.  You can read about all of that in the gospel I wrote.  For now, let’s skip ahead to the crucifixion of our Lord. 

That morning, they brought him to Golgotha.  The soldiers had flogged him so severely, he was weak from blood loss.  They had stripped him down to his loincloth for the flogging, and as he stumble up the hill, he wore the royal purple robes in which the soldiers had dressed him.  They did it to mock Him.  “They King of the Jews must dress in the color of royalty,” they said tauntingly.  They had fashioned a crown of thorns, and pulled it so tight on his head that the thorns dug painfully into his scalp.  His face was pale.  His hair was matted to his skin with sweat and blood, which still ran down his face and neck.  As he walked by, He looked directly up at me, as if He could sense where I was standing.  He remained expressionless, but I could see in His eyes all that he could not put into words.  John, my disciple, my friend, I love you, he seemed to say.  I convulsed with sobs that I couldn’t contain. 

As they came to the cross on which he would be crucified, they tore the purple robes from his back.  The wounds from his flogging had scabbed into those robes, and they were now ripped open and bleeding anew.  The cross was still laid on the ground, and they lowered Jesus onto the vertical beam.  Two soldiers grabbed each arm and stretched them out on the cross-member as tight as they could.  One soldier would hold each wrist flat against the wood, while another soldier pounded spikes down through the small bones where the wrists met the palms.  Each time the mallet met the head of the spikes, a sour tone rang out that made me think of demons shrieking.  They then crossed his feet and pounded a much longer spike through both feet and into the wood below.  I don’t remember if Jesus cried out, but my soul did.  My soul wailed in agony.  The soldiers got quiet and kind of separated as the centurion in charge of the detail strode up to the cross.  He held a sign in one hand, and fastened it to the vertical beam above Jesus’ head.  I couldn’t make out the words from my vantage point.  Not until they began to raise the cross up, when I could see the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  The sign had been Pilate’s idea, and the priests were furious.  They shouted and screamed at what they felt was a blasphemy.  When the soldiers dropped the cross into the hole with a loud, diffuse thunk, everyone quieted down. 

Much of the next few hours were a blur.  The soldiers were acting like rabid children, playing betting games for our Lord’s clothing.  Many in the crowd screamed at Jesus, hurling foul words and hate at the cross.  Others in the crowd cried for Him, and others just watched in a mournful silence, waiting for the end.  I found Mary, Jesus’ mother, kneeling on the ground.  She had cried so hard that she was too weak to stand.  I helped her up, and together we approached the cross.  I wanted to give in to my feelings and let me tears flow freely, but I felt at some level that I had to be strong for Mary.  We looked up at Jesus, who seemed so frail on that monstrous wooden edifice.  His eyes were closed, but I could see He still struggled for breath.  I think sensing we were near, His eyes fluttered open.  He stared at Mary for a minute or so, a weak smile of love straining his face.  Love was pouring down on us from Him, and it felt as if it had substance.  Finally, His voice cracking from His dry throat, He said to Mary, “Dear woman, behold your son.” Then moving his eyes to me, He said, “John, behold your mother.”  Not long after that, He raised His face towards heaven, and with His last breath said, “It is finished.”  His chin dropped to His chest.  He was dead.  Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and had it placed in a new tomb nearby.  I took Mary home with me, and cared for her as if she were my own mother.

The next day was the Sabbath, and the women could not take spices to the tomb as they had wanted.  I comforted Mary and told her she’d be able to go tomorrow.  We worried some about even being able to gain entry to the tomb.  The Council knew of Jesus’ prediction that He would rise from the dead.  While they didn’t believe that to be true (and to be quite honest, I doubted it as well), they figured that one of us would steal the body from the tomb in order to make it appear that His prophecy had come true.  To prevent that, they arranged with the authorities to have a large stone moved in front of the entrance to the tomb, and Roman soldiers guarded the entrance around the clock.  Getting in to apply the spices might prove impossible.  Indeed, that never happened.

Early on the day after the Sabbath, the women set out for the tomb with the spices.  I stayed behind with Peter.  Both of us had reason to be alone with our thoughts, and couldn’t face going to the tomb.  I don’t know how much time had passed – not much, I imagine – Mary came running back to the house.  She was talking excitedly, and too fast.  I didn’t understand most of what she was talking about, but one thing seemed clear – Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb.

Peter and I started for the tomb.  We walked faster and faster, and ended up sprinting.  Peter was heavier than I, and not quite as fast, so I was able to beat him to the tomb by a minute or so.  The stone was no longer barring entry, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk in there.  I did stick my head inside, and confirmed that there was no body anywhere in the tomb.  At first I wondered who had stolen the body, but then I noticed that the burial shroud remained in the tomb.  I couldn’t imagine anyone taking the shroud off the body before removing it.  It just wouldn’t make any sense.  Then it hit me!  Jesus hadn’t been speaking allegorically!  He had really risen from the dead, just as he had predicted!  Jesus was alive!!

My heart soared that day.  Reports began to flood in to our group from people who had seen our risen Lord.  I was so envious of them.  I wanted to see Him myself.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Most of us were gathered in my home.  We had the doors locked, as we feared retribution by the Sanhedrin or the Roman authorities.  We were exchanging the latest stories of sightings of Jesus.  Suddenly a bright light filled the room.  It was like looking into the sun, only the light seemed to come from everywhere.  The light dimmed and when I opened my eyes, I saw Him.  Jesus was standing in the middle of the room, looking around at everyone.  When our eyes met, He smiled.  He walked slowly to me, and all I could do was fall to my knees and embrace Him.  This was no spirit.  He was every bit as real and solid as I was.  Jesus put his arms around me and kissed the top of my head.  I look up into His eyes, and he said, “John, my beloved.  You’ve washed your hair.  You no longer smell like a donkey.”  My sobs turned to laughter, and I once again was able to bask in His love and good humor.

Two of the twelve were not with us that day.  One was Judas Iscariot, who had hung himself after betraying Jesus to the authorities.  The other was Thomas.  When we told Thomas that the Lord had come to us, he refused to believe it.  You see, Thomas was a skeptic like you.  He didn’t readily believe anything he couldn’t see, feel, and touch.  He said as much to us.  He continued in his unbelief for another week.  I say “unbelief” as opposed to “disbelief,” because disbelief is a reaction, whereas unbelief is a choice.  His unbelief dissolved as we all were gathered together again a week later.  We were in the upper room again, with all the doors locked.  Suddenly, we found ourselves squinting against a blinding light.  This time, I knew what the light was.  Once again, Jesus was in our midst.  He looked at Thomas with love and understanding.  “Thomas,” he said, “Why do you doubt?  I told you I would rise again.  I’m no spirit, no apparition.  Feel my wounds, if you still do not believe.”  Jesus held his hands out to Thomas.  Hesitantly, Thomas approached and ran his shaking fingers over the holes in Jesus’ hands.  Tears instantly flooded his eyes.  He finally believed.  Jesus stayed with us only a little longer before ascending into the Heavens before our very eyes. 

Many of you still doubt what I’ve told you.  Did you know that the Romans eventually began arresting all of us?  They had left us alone for many years, but a new ruler in Rome did not take kindly to the disciples of Christ.  Every one of us that was rounded up was given a choice – recant our testimony of Jesus Christ, or die.  If any of us had invented any of this story of Jesus, we would have recanted quickly.  If any of us had not seen Jesus with our own eyes after the resurrection, we would not have hesitated to admit that Jesus was a fake, in order to save our own lives.  But do you know something?  Not one person that was faced with such a choice ever denied his testimony of Jesus.  There was just no way.  Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah.  He lives today, and soon the world will know exactly what we knew – Jesus is the Son of God.  I can’t wait to see Him again.  I can’t wait to laugh with Him, and talk with Him.  You have a choice.  You can continue in your unbelief, or you can trust that what I’ve told you is true.  If you choose the former, you will seal your fate and will never know the meaning of true love and peace.  If you choose the latter, then you are my brother or sister, and together we will laugh with Jesus someday.  Choose wisely.

A servant of Christ,

John

 

Contender Ministries

http://contenderministries.org