John 15: 9 – 15
Jesus is friend. Saying Jesus is friend sounds a bit too personal, too informal, or a bit too friendly, even. Jesus is Lord. Yes, that sounds appropriate to us. It exalts him. He is Lord, high and lifted up. Jesus is Savior. Yes, that too. It defines his mission and purpose in our lives and in creation. And, Jesus is Healer. We get that, even if we don’t totally understand it. But, friend?
Oh, we love to sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus. The thought brings us consolation and comfort, even a measure of encouragement. I’m not sure if it’s the words we sing that make it so, or the fact it’s just an old song that elicits nostalgia in us, but we love to sing the song, nonetheless. There may be an element of sentimentality mixed in there somewhere, too. We like the idea of having a friend we can cast our sins and grief upon, and we say we count it a privilege to carry everything to him in prayer. There is great benefit in having Jesus as our friend.
As appealing as having Jesus for our friend sounds, it might actually be misleading and a little dishonest. If we treated any of our other friends like most of us treat Jesus, we wouldn’t have any friends in a few months. If we talked to our spouses as sparsely as we talk to Jesus, we would soon be divorced. The fact is most of us say we have a “friendship” with Jesus, but we mean that in a Facebook friend sort of way. It’s not the kind of interaction that could make a real friendship.
You know how it is with Facebook friends, right? In the Facebook world, “friend” means something totally different than what we mean when we say Jesus is friend. Let’s look at Webster’s dictionary to try to get a handle on the meaning of friend. According to Webster’s, a friend is:
1. A person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance.
2. A person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; ally.
Friendship is about relationship. In the Facebook age a “friend” doesn’t really need to have a relationship with us at all. The most remote, six-degrees-of-separation-relationships can now easily be promoted to “friends.” All it takes to be someone’s “friend” is to “friend” them. That’s funny because “friend” wasn’t a verb before Facebook.
Friendships involve not only relationships, but also intimacy. It involves knowing and being known, not merely as acquaintances, but deeper than that. We call many people with whom we are acquainted friends, but they are not really friends, at all. At least not in the sense the Psalmist said he was known by God. David writes in Psalm 139:
1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
Friendship also reflects accountability. How many people in our lives do we allow to speak freely to us, and how many people do we know with whom we would feel free to speak truth into their lives? Not many, I would suspect. The truth is we don’t speak truth into acquaintances lives for fear of offending someone. There is a vast difference in acquaintance and friendship.
When we say “Jesus is friend?” or more appropriately, when we understand that Jesus calls us friends, he means something much deeper. He tells his disciples that he does not call them servants anymore; he calls them friends. It wasn’t a bad thing to be called servant; it was a title of the highest honor. Moses was the servant of God, as was Joshua, and David. It is a title which the Apostle Paul counted an honor to use, as well as the Apostle James (James 1:1). The greatest men in the past had been proud to be called the servants of God. And Jesus says: “I have something greater for you yet, you are no longer servants; you are friends.” Jesus offers an intimacy with God which not even the greatest men knew before he came into the world.
The idea of being the friend of God has history. Abraham was the friend of God. The word Jesus uses for “friend” carries with it a special meaning that was connected with the courts of the great kings of the ancient near east. At these courts there was a very select group of men called the “friends” of the king. At all times they had access to the king: they had even the right to come to his bedroom to wake the king. The King talked to his “friends” before he talked to his generals, his governors, or his ambassadors. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him. Jesus was saying, “You’re those guys for me. I’ve chosen you to be that close to me.”
Can I tell you this is the first time I’ve ever preached this particular passage of scripture? As I researched for this series, and began to put this message together, I came across a sermon by Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock was a preaching professor for many years at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA, and considered one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century. In that sermon, Craddock himself confessed he’d never heard nor preached a sermon on this passage before a series of convoluted circumstances landed him in a small church listening to an old preacher preaching on being a friend of God.
Craddock said hearing the old preacher shattered him. The old preacher referenced Teresa of Avila. He recalled her begging in public to raise funds for an orphanage. After a series of setbacks – flood, storm, and fire repeatedly destroying the orphanage – Teresa in her evening prayers said to God, “So this is how you treat your friends; no wonder you have so few.” The sermon closed with counsel: if you find yourself being drawn into the inner circle of the friends of God, blessed are you. But pray for the strength to bear the burden of it.
Craddock would say it was no promotion to be considered a friend of God. Likewise of Jesus as he called the disciples his friends. Jesus had, this very same night, shown his disciples what it meant to be a servant. He took the basin and towel and washed their feet. Now, that’s servant hood. We get it! We’re glad to define ourselves that way. But friend, now that’s something more. But, was it then, and is it now a promotion?
I think Emerson had it right when he said “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” Being a friend is, too often, hard work, and many of us simply aren’t willing to do that work. It’s easier to keep people at arm’s length—as acquaintances. At arm’s length, there are no expectations. At arm’s length, we can grab some wings and watch some football, but when the game is over there is no more to the relationship than a high-five. As acquaintances, the connection only goes as deep as the latest book we’re reading in the book club. But, a friendship, well, that’s much more costly.
Jesus said, “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me” (v. 15). In other words, a friend knows what is going on in the other person’s world, and they share in those happenings.
Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives longer than any other man in our history. The teenage daughter of a friend of his died suddenly one night. Early the next morning the man heard a knock on his door, and, when he opened it, there was Mr. Rayburn standing outside.
The Speaker said, “I just came by to see what I could do to help.”
The father replied in his deep grief, “I don't think there is anything you can do, Mr. Speaker. We are making all the arrangements.”
“Well,” Mr. Rayburn said, “have you had your coffee this morning?”
The man replied that they had not taken time for breakfast. So Mr. Rayburn said that he could at least make coffee for them. While he was working in the kitchen, the man came in and said, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.”
“Well, I was,” Mr. Rayburn said, “but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn't come.”
A friend of Jesus knows what God is doing and how God is doing it. A friend of Jesus knows that God is creating a community of love. A friend shares that love and extends it to others, but it carries a price. The world that does not know God will hate the friend of Jesus as it hated Jesus for showing that kind love. Jesus laid down his life for those he loves. Why would we assume a friend of Jesus would be exempt from the same? Through knowing what Jesus heard from God, the friend of Jesus shares in the responsibility of that knowledge.
A friend of Jesus will weep with Jesus over a hungry child anywhere. A friend of Jesus will go with Jesus to fight injustice and oppression wherever either is found. A friend of Jesus will give his/her life for the poor, the outcast, the addict, the homeless and the lost. No cost will be too great because we know what he knows, and we know because he told us. After all, we’re his friend. Yes, we love to sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and we enjoy the warm-fuzzy that comes from believing it. But, would we dare sing to Jesus You’ve Got a Friend in Me?
You remember that song from Toy Story, don’t you? Randy Newman’s words strike a chord for us:
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you're miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you've got a friend in me
Yeah, you've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
If you've got troubles, I've got 'em too
There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you
We stick together and can see it through
Cause you've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
We started this series with “Jesus is Lord.” That’s really easy for us all things considered. Just tell me, Lord, what to do and I will do it. But, that keeps us in the acquaintance zone. That keeps Jesus at arm’s length. We can go to bed and sleep at night knowing Jesus is in control. Like being the greeter at Wal-Mart, we simply have to smile all day and make people glad to be there, but when we leave at 5 p.m., our work is done.
Then, we explored “Jesus is Savior,” and “Jesus is Healer.” Those, too, are great titles from which we are able to reap abundant benefit without them making too many demands upon us, but “Jesus is Friend” I find to be the most challenging of all because it demands the most of me. It demands that I lay down my life for him because he’s my friend.
What was that Fred Craddock said the old preacher said in that sermon that shattered him? Oh, yeah! “If you find yourself being drawn into the inner circle of the friends of God, blessed are you. But pray for the strength to bear the burden of it.”