Summary: A sermon dealing with what it means to call Jesus "Friend."
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.”