Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Human friendship is beautiful and precious. If we didn’t have the affection and sympathy of friendship, our lives would soon be uninteresting and burdensome! Every type of friendship is different. Some friends share their hobbies and interests. Other people form friendships around common principles or occupations. We may form friendships around telling stories of bygone years. These are examples of the power and the beauty of friendship, even among flawed beings like us. Who here is not grateful for friends? Could you live without them? Friendship is a relation between two parties. On both sides, it is voluntary. It is mutual and reciprocal. So, this morning we will look first at how Christ shows his friendship towards us. Then we’ll look at how we demonstrate our friendship towards Christ.
Christ’s Friendship Towards Us
Whether our friends are many or few, faithful or unkind, we have a Divine, a heavenly Friend. He declares his love for us by the words of his mouth and proved it by his bitter suffering and death. Christ calls his disciples friends. He calls you his friend. We can see just how amazing this is when we think about who we are. When we reflect that we are poor, miserable sinners, who could not, apart from his assurance, dare to claim or to hope to be friends with Christ. Because who is he? Jesus is not merely the best human; he is the Son of God. In the Person of Christ, the eternal and supreme Creator God comes down to our level, walks our way, dwells on our earth, reveals to us his love. He is the Friend, the Well-wisher, of sinners; he is the Friend, in a fuller sense, of those who know and love him.
The way people talk to each other tells you what kind of relationship they have. Some conversation is ordinary and casual, and some conversation is confidential and intimate. Acquaintances will talk about things they have in common. Masters will convey orders to their servants. But then, friends are different. There is a kind of conversation distinctive of close and affectionate friendship that deals with matters of personal interest and concern. How does our Lord talk to us? Jesus has perfect knowledge of the Father’s thoughts, and he communicates those thoughts to his people. Just like God the Father has no secrets from the Son, so the Son has no secrets from his disciples. This is proof of our Lord’s friendship for us. The words of the Redeemer are the communications of his friendship, the tokens of his intimate love. True friends of Jesus will never find his words uninteresting or without value. No, we can feel their sweetness and their might; applied by the Spirit, they are the lessons, the counsels, the promises, of a Divine and faithful Friend. Jesus proves his friendship by revealing to us, in his words, the thoughts and the purposes of the Father’s heart. He lets us in on the “inside story,” the intimate conversation between Father and Son. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Yet, this still does not exhaust his friendship for us. We have rebelled against God, yet he loves us anyway. He can’t help Himself. God is love. It’s His essence to love. He can’t stop Himself. He loves the loveless, the unlovable, the unloving: you, me, the world. He loves us to death. Do you want to see this love in action? There is only one picture that can help you. Jesus on the cross, bleeding, dying, pardoning, loving. Self-denial is a regular part of true love and friendship. We’re often willing to give up our time, money, and resources for the benefit of our friends. Self-sacrifice is the highest form of friendship. And it is self-sacrificing friendship that the Lord Jesus chooses to give. He laid down his life for the sheep. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus gave us salvation by his death. This willing sacrifice was to win our hearts, to make us his friends. Through this bloody act of friendship, we are bound to him forever by the chains of gratitude and devotion. He is a friend who sympathises with us, who can understand our weakness. He is a patient friend who is not put off by the half-hearted response he gets from us. He is a practical and helpful Friend who continues to expresses his friendship by interceding for us, watching over us day and night, and by ministering to us through Word and Sacrament. He is your unchanging and eternal Friend.
Our Friendship Toward Christ
We used to be God’s enemies, but now we are friends, simply because he counts us as such. Jesus makes it clear that we belong to him, not by virtue of what we have done, but by virtue of his love for us and the fact that he chose us. Although we are Christians, we are baptised, and are His friends, Christ still wants us to be grateful for his friendship and to show it with love. Jesus makes our obedience a proof of our friendship toward him. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” says Jesus.
Our Lord cannot divest himself of his authority. Our Friend is a King, and he doesn’t stop being a King even when he suffers and dies for us. Love is the best motive to obedience, and obedience is the best proof of love. A forced, mechanical obedience is not what Christ wants, and it’s not what Christ accepts. Our part is to serve our Master, but not in the spirit of slavery; rather as grateful and affectionate friends. Your love shows that you treasure Christ’s friendship. Your obedience demonstrates that you have received Christ’s friendship. We love because God first loved us.
The command that follows this is, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Not simply “love one another.” But love one another as I have loved you. Our friendship toward Christ is seen in our love for one another. Jesus’ love comes first. He first goes the way to the cross and the tomb, where he dies for our sin and forgives us. That’s the way it works with forgiveness also – forgive as God forgave you, love as God has loved you. We can only forgive others when God forgives us. We love others because God loves us in Jesus. And then the love we give is not our own. It doesn’t come from within but from above. It’s God’s love, not our own, by which we love one another.
You and I are baptised into Church; declared to be children of God, members of the family, “friends of Jesus” with the same access to God in prayer. And the same love from Father to Son to disciple to one another. We have our differences. We might not necessarily like each other. Maybe we rub each other the wrong way. Step on each other’s toes. We have our political differences, our differences of opinion. We have our issues, and some may be tempted to withdraw. But if we start thinking about what divides us, the words of Jesus slam into our ears: Love one another as I have loved you. Love one another. Husbands, love your wives the way Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Parents, love your children. Children, love your parents. Disciples of the Lord Jesus – chosen, baptised, believing – love one another.
It’s not an option. You can’t say, “I don’t feel like it.” This love overrules your feelings. John says, “Anyone who says ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother is a liar.” If you can’t love your brother whom you see, how on earth can you claim to love God, whom you do not see? Jesus isn’t saying, “Love one another, or you’ll burn in hell.” That’s not how love works. There is no fear in this love because love drives out fear. Love comes from recognising ourselves as the miserable sinners we are. God has picked us up out of the trash like some rusty old can on a junk heap and made us His friends in Jesus. Even if we don’t like someone or have been arguing with that person all week, we show God’s love to them. We let go; we drop dead; we forgive for this one simple reason: God in Christ has done the same for us and for that person too.
What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus? It means that you are loved by Jesus. This friend, literally loved you to death. Christ, the Son of God, calls you His friend. And because Jesus laid down his life for you, because he died to save you, because he rose to give you life, love one another. There’s nothing else you can do, not when you are a friend of Jesus.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.