Nicknames. Some are the silly terms of endearment that only your family uses for you. And some are the ones you earn by reputation. Love ’em or hate ’em, but they say something about how people remember you.
There are cool nicknames. After all, who calls NBA legend “Magic” Johnson by his real first name, “Earvin”? Magic’s basketball contemporary, Charles Barkley, is still sometimes known as “Sir Charles.” Nothing wrong with that. But Barkley was known for three things: his outspokenness off the court, his rebounding on the court, and his tendency to gain weight during the off-season. Thus Sir Charles was also known as “The Round Mound of Rebound” or even “The Round Mound of Sound.” (Anything for a rhyme, I guess.) Not great for a Facebook page.
So: if you were the apostle John, would you rather be known as “The Apostle of Love,” or “Son of Thunder”? The first is the nickname we give John, because of his emphasis on love in the Scriptures, especially in the letters that bear his name. The second is the nickname Jesus gave him and his brother James (Mark 3:17).
I can just imagine Jesus calling to John: “Hey, Thunder Guy! Come over here for a minute. No, not you, the other one.” Cool nickname.
Who knows how John got his thunderous reputation? Mark gives us the nickname in the context of stories of preaching and exorcism; maybe John was a pulpit pounder. From reading his letters, you wouldn’t think of him as the fire-and-brimstone type.
But then we read of an episode in which a Samaritan village wouldn’t accept Jesus’ hotel reservation. James and John responded by asking Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54, NRSV). They probably had glorious visions of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel.
Jesus told the Thunder Boys to knock it off.
So, again: “Thunder Guy” or “Apostle of Love”? Maybe the latter is the better reputation to have.
But a gospel of love still has to have a bit of thunder.
John ends the third chapter of his gospel with these words:
He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (John 3:34-36)
We may hear much more about God’s love than his wrath — but both are needed for the good news to be good. More on that in the next post.