“Jesus as Friend?”

John 15:9-17


            Have you ever been asked, especially by someone who may not be connected to a church or who may not even be a Christian … “Why are you doing that?” 

            Something similar happened at the Easter Egg Hunt this year.  One of the little ones there was so excited to go search for eggs, which who could blame them, there were about 1,000 eggs out in the grass.  This little one asked if they could go and start getting eggs.  I had told them no and in little kid fashion I was asked why.  I told this little one we had to do our devotion first. Again, this little one asked why?  Why couldn’t they just go search for eggs?

            This conversation was a familiar one, one which all of us have probably had at some point in time.  We’ve had this conversation with others about one thing or another in connection to church.  It usually begins with that little kid’s innocent question “why?”  “Why are you doing that?”  “Why are you reading the Bible?  Haven’t you read it all by now?”  “Why are you going to church during the week?  Don’t you get enough on Sunday?”  “Why are you talking about religion and God?  Don’t you know that people are free to believe whatever they want to believe?”

            For all different times I’ve been asked questions like these, for all the times I have answered these “why” questions … never once did I respond to them by saying, “Because Jesus is my friend.”  Usually, I launch right into some sort of explanation.  To the little tyke at the Easter Egg Hunt, it was me telling them why we had to wait for others and learn what Easter is about.  Other times I try to explain what it means to be a Christian as I try to teach about what it is we believe.  As good as these are for answers … perhaps there is a better answer.  Perhaps I have forgotten to talk about something which is even more important.  I’ve not shared that “Jesus is my friend.”

            Why don’t I think about that, why don’t I think of that answer?  For some reason, writing and saying that Jesus is my friend just sounds strange to me.  I’m more comfortable talking about Jesus as my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, my King, my Shepherd, my Resurrection, and my Life.  On Monday I asked the high schoolers who came to have lunch with me, “Who is Jesus to you?”  Of the eleven answers I got, majority of them said Jesus was their Savior.  Only three out of the eleven said Jesus was a friend.  Calling Jesus “my Friend” just seems odd to me.

            Yet, in our reading today … Jesus draws our attention to that very word … friend.

            Let me set up the scene of our gospel reading for you.  It’s Holy Week and Jesus is with His disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed.  He has already washed their feet, probably already celebrated the Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus is now talking with his disciples, he’s comforting them after giving them the news that one of them would betray him and that Peter would deny him three times.  In essence, Jesus is trying to prepare them for his coming death.

            In doing so, Jesus turns the conversation toward the love.  Jesus turns their attention to a greater lover, a love which saves.

            Jesus reminds the disciples that he has called them, he’s chosen them, taught them, appointed them, commanded them, promised many things to them … but above all these things, the most important thing … Jesus has sacrificially loved them.  Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  There it is, there’s that word.  “Friends.” Filos in the Greek.  Jesus calls his disciples friends or beloved.  Of all the things Jesus said and did, this has to be the greatest mystery of all.  Jesus will be abandoned by these disciples he is with, he will suffer, die, and rise again for them.  By this love, by Jesus’ sacrificial love, the disciples are forgiven.  By this love they are made his friends.  Friends of God.

            From here, Jesus helps the disciples understand what this means.  He helps them understand the life of a friend against the life of a servant.  Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (15:15).  You see the difference?

            A servant doesn’t know the master’s business, they just do as they are told, they simply follow orders.  If the master says “go”, the servant goes.  If the master says “come here”, the servant comes.  If the master says “jump”, the servant responds “how high?” and then does it.  Simply put, the servant is obedient and does what he is told.  He doesn’t ask questions.  He does not reason.  He just does it.

            A friend, however, is totally different.  A friend knows far more than a servant does and because of this, a friend does things differently.  The outward action, the result may be the same, but the motivation behind the action is different.  It’s different because the dedication to and the service is done out of love.

           On Monday I asked the high schoolers at lunch, “why is someone your friend?”  They said things like, “they are there for me when no one else is,” “they are caring,” “they talk with you”, and “they are always there for you.”  A servant wouldn’t be like this.  They aren’t like this because they aren’t a friend.  A friend is there for others, cares for others, loves others … a servant is in it for themselves.

           This makes the ways of Christianity seem strange to the world around us.  Living as a Christian can raise questions.  When those questions come up … how do we respond?  So often, we respond to questions of Christianity as if we were servants and not friends.  Like a servant, we do the things we do because we are told to do them or we give one of the most unhelpful answers ever, “That’s just the way we have always done it.”  How different would our conversations sounds if we were to say that the things we do and why we do them is simply because we are friends of Jesus?  How different would that sound?

           Things like praying before a meal, reading Scripture, attending church, speaking of faith … these things are all activities which flow from being a friend of Jesus.  Remember, Jesus chose to make you and me his friends.  He suffered and died and rose again for you.  Do we know all that God is doing?  No.  God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9).  The plans and workings of God are far beyond anything we can truly understand.

           However, … we do know one thing.  We know one thing for sure about Jesus.  Jesus died and rose again to forgive us and make us friends.  Since Jesus has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity … his love never ends.  Jesus is always at work, extending his grace, so that those who do not know him, so that those who have questions about him, so that those who are enemies of him might be forgiven and become friends.

           As our world slowly changes, as the values and ways of life stray farther and farther from our Christian calling … people are going to have questions, people aren’t going to understand.  They’ll ask, “Why do you do that?”  One answer we can give is that this is what the Church teaches.  We are told to do these things from God’s Word and so we do them, we obey.  That’s one way to answer, and, in some sense, it is right.  But does it go far enough?

           Another answer, an answer which Jesus gives us, is that he is our friend.  “Why do you do that?” the world asks.  Our answer … “Because I’m a friend of Jesus.”  Beginning there, we start at the heart.  The heart of our relationship with Jesus and the heart of what Jesus desires for all people.  Amen.

           The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds, in Christ Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior, and our friend.  Amen.


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