The human heart possesses a deep longing for friendship. As human beings created in the image of God, we are wired for friendship. A great author of long ago wrote, “A friend is what the heart needs all the time.” How true it is!
We long to know and to be known, to be accepted and cared about by others. We long for intimate connections, to have someone in our corner in the good times and the bad, through thick and thin, who won’t desert us when the going gets tough. We need someone who understands us, knows us through and through and likes us anyway. From the time we are young to the end of our lives, we are always on the lookout for a friend.
We see signs of this longing in our culture, signs of the importance of friends. Years ago, back in the late 60s/early 70s, a song came out that received a lot of air play. It was called, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and it seemed to resonate with the longing in our human hearts to be a friend and to have a friend.
♪Just call out my name,
You know wherever I am,
I’ll come running.
You’ve got a friend. ♬
Of course, we remember back in the 90s a popular TV show called “Friends.” It had a big audience. The show seemed to resonate with that generation. One of the better selling books in the 70s and 80s was “The Friendship Factor” by Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis. People were trying to figure out how to have more friends in their lives. Lately we find a lot of talk about Facebook friends.
Over the centuries, even, we find very positive statements about the value of having friendship. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” The philosopher Cicero said, “What sweetness is left in life if you take away friendship?” Even way back in the biblical times, King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “A man with many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Solomon also said, “A friend loves at all times. Kinsfolk are born to share in adversity” (Prov. 17:17). He understood the value of friendship.
We value friends and typically long for more of them in our lives. However, close friendships are missing in some people’s lives, which can be quite a painful experience. I recall Mother Teresa saying one time, “The greatest disease today is not leprosy or cancer; it is the feeling of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.” People need friends. Yet 70% of Americans admit that while they have many acquaintances, they have very few close friends, and they recognize this as a void in their lives.
Listen to this sad scenario about Ken who played golf with the same group of guys for 15 years. When he had to give up golf, he was surprised and dismayed to find he seldom saw his companions or heard from them anymore. “I guess all we had in common was golf. Our conversations were at the head level but not at the heart level.”
A close friendship was missing there.
These days, I’ve noticed that as people try to fill the void with Facebook, they find themselves disappointed. Facebook friends, you see, mostly are not really friends. They won’t be there when you need someone in your corner.
Deep inside of us, it’s true – there is a longing, a voice that says I wish I had someone who really understands me, likes me, and is there for me.
The good news for the day is you do! You really do! You have the best friend of all in Jesus Christ.
When I was a kid growing up in church, we would sing a hymn about Jesus.
♪One there is, above all others,
Well deserves the name of friend♬
It is so very true – we all need proper friends in life. Jesus Himself is the truest of all friends. Let me explain.
On the night before He was crucified, Jesus, in an upper room with His disciples, said some very important things to them. His words are recorded in John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17. One of the subjects covered by Jesus was friendship. “I do not call you servants any longer, but I call you my friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15). That must’ve been quite a stunning honor for them to hear. They had always known Him as master and themselves as servants, but now they moved from servants to friends. This is quite a move! A servant knows his instructions, but a friend is given the inside track on what’s going on.
A friend knows all the background. One typically guards what they say to others, but is completely open with a friend. Jesus says to His disciples, I have been open with you. “Everything I have heard from my Father, I’ve made known to you” I have been transparent. Someone once said, “A true friend lets you in and never lets you down.” It is a good description of Jesus as a friend.
He let them in on the Father’s plans for the world. Jesus said, “I have not come to condemn the world but to save the world” (John 3:17). God wants to save His world from sin.
He let them in on the Father’s love. “God loved the world so much he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
He let them in on the Father’s desires for them as Jesus’ followers. He demonstrated the blessedness of serving as He washed their feet and explained He was doing this as an example. “Blessed are you if you do this for one another” (John 13:17).
He let them in on the promises that awaited them. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so where I am, you may be also” (John 14:1-3). They had never heard this before.
He told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would minister to them and empower them for ministry, so they didn’t need to be fearful and anxious about the future. He promised He would not leave them orphaned, but would be with them. He was talking about the resurrection even before it happened, the plan God had. Jesus shared truth from God with them, which was evidence of His love and friendship to them. Never were friends so generously provided for or so intimately honored.
Bishop J. C. Ryle writes about this passage. “There is nobody so rich, so strong, so independent, so well off, so thoroughly provided for as the person of whom Christ says, ‘This is my friend.’”
I want you to know that the same Jesus Christ who said those things in an upper room to His disciples is risen! He is alive, present among us, and still stands ready to call us friends and impart the truths of God’s Word as we open our Bibles. He is there to expand our understanding about God, about ourselves, about life in His kingdom, and about building our faith in the promises and wisdom of God.
Jesus also gave them His trust. “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.” What an honor! He expressed confidence in them when He said, “I appointed you to bear fruit, fruit for the kingdom of God” (John 15:16). In other words, I am trusting you with a mission to impact the lives of others for the Gospel. I believe in you. I trust you.
The same Jesus Christ, the Risen One, extends His trust and confidence to you and me when we step into a relationship with Him. He calls us into His ministry saying, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14).
You are my witnesses. I am trusting you to carry out the mission I have begun in you.
There is a made-up story (but a good one) about Jesus returning to heaven after the Ascension. The angels gather around Him to find out about all the things that happened to Him on earth. Jesus explained how He lived among people sharing His teachings and expressing His love. How He suffered and died on a cross to atone for humanity’s sins and rose from the grave. As He is telling the story, Michael, the Archangel, asked, Do they understand how much you did for them?
Jesus said, I hope so.
Michael asks, What happens now? What’s the next move?
Jesus answered, I left behind a handful of faithful men and women to tell my story, to express my love. They are going to spread the kingdom.
That bunch? Michael asked. Are you kidding me? What if they fail? What is your backup plan?
Jesus answered him, There is no backup plan.
Jesus has entrusted us as His friends to be instruments for the spreading of God’s truth, His Gospel. He trusts us with it.
The greatest demonstration of friendship Jesus showed was in laying down His life for people like you and me. “Greater love hath no man than this – to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). When Jesus said this, He knew what was ahead. He was headed to the cross for you and for me, for all have sinned. All are separated from God. All of us are lost and helpless. Out of great love, Jesus came to earth to die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sins. His blood covers over our debt. As the old hymn says,
“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!
No one else can heal all our souls diseases.
No, not one! No, not one!”
Jesus is the ultimate friend in a number of ways.
▸ He is constant.
▸ He never leaves us.
▸ He tells us things we need to hear about ourselves and about God.
But the greatest demonstration of His friendship is in laying down His life for us. When you look at Him as a whole, you see He is a friend who perfectly meets every yardstick for friendship. “Greater love hath no man than this – to lay down his life for his friends!”
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, Solomon describes Jesus as the “friend who loves at all times,” and one who “sticks closer than a brother” (17:17; 18:24). He is one who forgives and is willing to tell us the truth we need to hear, as painful as it might be sometimes.
My dear brothers and sisters, as the song says, “You’ve got a Friend,” and He is a friend you can trust with your life – Jesus Christ.
The text for today is not simply about Jesus calling His followers’ friends. It is also instruction on how to be a friend to Jesus. He is basically saying, You’ve got a friend in me. Now be a friend. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” The directive He gives here is not a way to get Jesus to be your friend. He already did that for you when He died and rose for you, and you received Him.
Jesus is a describing a response after you’ve received His friendship. This is how my friends operate with one another – Obey my command to love one another as I have loved you. He is insinuating that when we follow Him, we are to live out our faith in the Church and be a friend to other believers. Nothing casual is being described here. He is not talking about simply gathering on Sunday and drinking coffee together, but a major commitment to others in your community of faith, a willingness to actually love as He loved you, to spend yourself on others, to risk for others, to support and be transparent, to encourage, forgive, serve, instruct, exhort, and pray for others just as Jesus does for you.
This personal relationship is meant to be lived in community, which serves as a school for building Christlike character into us. It makes us more loving so we might be more fruitful influencers for Christ in the lives of those who have yet to meet Jesus and trust Him for salvation.
It is true. It can be a lonely world. But it doesn’t have to remain that way for you. As the popular song says, you’ve got a Friend. His name is Jesus, and He is the ultimate friend. He came to make us His eternal friends through His death and resurrection. When you say yes to following Him, He goes with you and never leaves. He also surrounds you with brothers and sisters and says, You are my friend; now be a friend. As you treat them as He has treated you, you find yourself not only getting closer to Him but also enjoying life with new friends in the faith who are also committed to loving you as Jesus loved them. When that kind of love is happening in the Church among Jesus’ friends, it has a dynamic power to attract new friends for Jesus Christ.
Let me give you the big idea one more time just so you don’t miss it.
You’ve got a friend – Jesus Christ. Now, be a friend.
Love one another as Jesus has loved you. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer