Wednesday, 18 January 2017
The True Friend
If you grew up going to church, you’re used to Jesus being the answer to every question.
That’s the way it was in Sunday School. Your teacher might say, “I’m thinking of an animal. It’s small and brown and has a bushy tail. Oh, yes, and it stores acorns for the winter. Raise your hand if you know what it is.” You think, it sure sounds like a squirrel to me. But it’s got to be Jesus.
So I’m sure it’s no surprise that the answer to our hunger for friends turns out to be Jesus. Done. Yawn. But we’re not done, because I don’t want you to yawn and move on. I want you to see.
What John Saw
To do that we have to enter the gospels and look through John’s eyes. Not John the Baptist, but John the second son of Zebedee. John the tag-a-long younger brother. John the Jew.
John was a typical Jew of his day. He had been circumcised and raised under the Torah. He knew the God of the Scriptures, but he knew him from a distance. He believed that he was one of the chosen people, but that didn’t make him feel close to God. The true God wasn’t easily approached. He was hidden behind the veil of the temple.
John didn’t see God, he saw priests making sacrifices. He saw the high priest enter the holy place once a year. And if he was lucky, he saw him come out again.
If you had said to him, “John, God is your friend,” he would have looked at you as if you were crazy. God was Abraham’s friend. And Moses’. But that was a rare gift. And John knew he was no Moses.
John was by the Sea of Galilee one day mending nets with his father, his brother James, and some hired servants. A man walked up, stopped, and said, “Follow me.” It’s possible John had heard of this man’s baptism at the Jordan and that Jesus was a teacher worth following. He left and followed.
John saw and heard many other things from Jesus after that, most importantly that Jesus is Son of God, the Messiah. But on the last night of Jesus’ life he heard something new. He heard Jesus call him friend.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You did not chose me, but I chose you…John 15:15-16a
In these words Jesus revealed the nature of true friendship and the nature of the true God. John heard friendship described as love–freely chosen, freely given–between equals. John knew that the nature of their relationship was anything but equal. It was teacher-disciple. Master-servant. Now Jesus was calling him friend. That blew the categories.
God was revealing the condescension of his love. Now John could number himself, with Moses and Abraham, as God’s friend.
How much of this did John take in? We can’t be certain. But we do know that he soon faced his first test of friendship. How well would he hold up his side of the bargain?
The disciples went from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was distressed. He asked Peter, James, and John, his three closest companions, to stay awake while he prayed. If John was a true friend, he should be ready to die for Jesus (John 15: 13) shouldn’t he? Peter had said he would die for him. Surely John could at least stay awake with him for one hour.
But he didn’t. He fell asleep, not once, but three times. Jesus had called him a friend, but John had failed him. What now?
The next morning John stood looking up at the three who had been condemned to die by crucifixion that day. Jesus hung in the middle. John watched as he suffered. Was he filled with regrets for how he had failed him the night before? Was he hoping to make it up to him by being the lone disciple at the cross? Was he glad when Jesus asked him to take his mother into his home, a second chance at friendship? We don’t know the thoughts going through his head.
But when he saw Jesus breathe his last, surely he remembered his words from the night before:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
John saw Jesus fulfill the law of friendship. He secured not just salvation, but eternal friendship with the Triune God.
For John. For each of us who believe.
See him today as your True Friend. Share your secrets with him and hear him share his. Feast on his friendship.