Read: John 13:31-38
Proximity control is a technique many teachers use to manage the behavior of their students. The concept is rather simple: as a student becomes more disruptive or deviates from the assigned task, the teacher moves nearer to that student. The closer the proximity, the greater the likelihood the student will stop the unwanted behavior. Proximity control works as long as the teacher stays nearby.
Religion is sometimes used as a form of spiritual proximity control. As long as religious institutions, symbols and friends are nearby; we tend to toe the ethical line, but as the distance from these reminders increases, so can our awareness of God. But God is not satisfied with proximity nor does proximity to God mollify the deepest longing of our hearts. The human heart was designed for more than proximity; it was designed for intimacy.
Some seek intimacy through irreligious means: sex, wealth, security, power, fame. Perhaps the disciple who most reflected this approach was Judas. His financial greed, coupled with his disappointment in Jesus' failure to seize power, revealed his irreligious motives. Others, like Peter, seek intimacy through religion, attempting to put themselves in proximity to God by going to church and doing religious things. Peter had correct theology, right answers, and was zealous (see Matthew. 14:29; 16:16 and John 18:10). It is easy to assume that God prefers the religious over the irreligious efforts, but while religion can make us aware of our proximity to God, it doesn't necessarily guarantee intimacy with Him. Proximity to God is not a substitute for intimacy with Him.
One of the most striking features of John 13 is the juxtaposition of love and betrayal, glory and treachery. These opposites are never as far apart as we think. The difference between them may be the difference between proximity and intimacy. Both Judas and Peter, perhaps the two disciples in closest proximity to Jesus, left the upper room and betrayed Him. Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, and Peter to save face.
While Judas and Peter offer examples of the failures of proximity, both religious and irreligious, there was another disciple present in the upper room who demonstrated the power of intimacy: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (13:23-24, NKJV, italics mine).
Over the past 90 days, we have journeyed together with the Gospel writer John to this critical moment, the moment that I believe defines "the disciple Jesus loved." Which disciple was that? Was it Peter with his bold proclamations of faith, or Andrew with his consistent witness? Perhaps it was Nathanael or Thomas and their questioning spirits, or Judas and his frugality? No, it was none of these. Please don't misunderstand. Jesus loved all of these men. But "the Disciple Jesus loved" was the disciple who drew near enough to rest his head on Jesus' chest.
I've thought a lot about this. I've asked myself, "When was the last time I rested my head on a man's chest?" As a man, I find that to be an awkward question. After all, men don't typically rest their heads on other men's chests. What would it take for me to assume such a posture? Trust, humility, love, surrender, freedom, and security are just a few of the words that come to mind.
While John doesn't specifically name this disciple, we know that the Gospel writer is talking about himself. We also know that John's intimate relationship with Jesus led him to be the only disciple to follow Jesus all the way to the cross physically. The intimacy of their relationship also led Jesus to entrust the care of His mother to John.
What about you? Have you confused proximity to Christ for intimacy with Him? Have you allowed religious rituals and correct theology to replace your need to draw near to Jesus, to lay your head on His chest? If you are more like Peter than John, perhaps you should read Peter's warning very carefully: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Even though Peter's denial happened years earlier, it was surely on his mind as he wrote these words. Words that echoed the warning Jesus gave just hours before Peter's denial, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Peter thought that his proximity to Jesus was sufficient to protect him. It was not, and he bore the scars to prove it.
The disciple Jesus loves encourages us to seek real intimacy with God through Jesus. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Rest your head on His chest. Draw near enough to Him that you can rest your head on His chest. Be still and hear the rhythm of His heart.
May I never be satisfied with proximity when You have invited me into an intimate relationship. Forgive me for my religious and irreligious attempts to find that intimacy. Like John, I want to draw near to You, to hear Your voice and feel the beat of Your heart. Thank You for making intimacy possible. Thank You for the price You paid so that I might be able to know You and draw near to You.