John 15:9-17 (reading 12-15)
12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. 14 "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
“You've got a friend in me. When the road looks rough ahead/And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed/You just remember what your old pal said/Boy you've got a friend in me…”
Those familiar words are the first verse from the song You’ve Got a Friend in Me, written by Randy Newman for the movie Toy Story—a movie that was mostly about… friendship. Two children’s toys, a cowboy named Woody and a spaceman named Buzz, start out as enemies and then wind up becoming the best of friends. Kind of gives you warm and fuzzy feelings thinking about it, doesn’t it?
Why do stories about friendship resonate with us? Well, friendship is something we value. Even if you have everything else—the job, the money, the house, the car, the life—you could have it all and life still would not be complete if you didn’t have a friend or two or three. When life is hard, when you’re facing difficult times, one of the greatest blessings we can have are friends. Even remembering that there’s a friend out there can make all the difference.
Especially when that friend is Jesus. The disciples were facing a rough road. Jesus was going away—not just by His death, but after His resurrection He was going where they would not be able to go. He was ascending to heaven. He wanted them to know that they weren’t facing the world as merely His servants, but as His friends.
And that’s who you are too! You are more than a follower, more than a servant in His kingdom. You are Jesus’ friends!
One of the ironies of our modern, connected world is that people have fewer friends than ever. Oh, we have “Facebook Friends”—people that we’re connected to via social media. But how many real friends do you have? I’m talking about people for whom you’d be willing to go to the ends of the earth—and they would be willing to do the same for you. You can probably count them on one hand.
There’s a reason for that. It was Jesus Himself who said that because of the lawlessness in these latter days, the love of many would grow cold (Matt 24:12). And the world has become a cold place. Because of sin, a lot of “friendships” that exist in the world today aren’t really friendships.
Sometimes they’re just relationships of convenience. We choose our friends based on the benefits that they can give us. But when the mutual benefit is gone, what happens? A lot of times the friendship is gone too.
Sometimes we are led to believe that certain people are our friends, but they’re really not. Somebody once told me about the time he had met a slightly older boy in school. During the week they had played together in gym class, so when Saturday came, he thought he’d ride his bike over to this kid’s house. It was a long ride—the kid lived on the other side of the neighborhood—but they had several things in common: they liked sports and telling jokes; they’d be great friends, right? Well, when he finally gets to the older boy’s house, he’s there with a few of his friends, straddling their bikes and talking. He pulls up next to them, says “Hi” and asks if he can hang out with them. “Sure,” the kid says. Then the older boy said something else: “That’s a sweet bike. I bet it goes pretty fast. Want to show us how fast it goes?” And the younger boy, not wanting to disappoint his new friend, agreed and took off down the road as fast as he could. But when he looked behind him, there was no one there. The older boy and all his other buddies had taken off—in the exact opposite direction. They ditched him.
True friends are hard to come by because true friendships are hard. It’s about more than just common interests and common goals, more than just liking the same sports teams and the same pastimes. It’s even about more than having common beliefs. In the end friendships are about love. And love is not the same as camaraderie. Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends” (v. 12-13).
Love means being willing to lay down your life—and that little word “for” is so important, isn’t it? “For,” as in “in the place of.” As in “taking the full blame and punishment in their place.” As in “offering my life as a sacrifice in order to save theirs.” Like Peter who said he was willing to die for Jesus, we’re often more than willing to say, “I can do that! I can lay down my life for my friends.” Yet what usually happens? What happened to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? His friends ditched Him!
And how many times have we ditched Him too? Ditched His love by failing to love one another as He has loved us. Failing to give up some of our own time and pleasure for someone else’s sake? Failing to risk all—even our lives or the friendship itself—if it will save our friend who is headed over the cliff, headlong into sin? We’ll sing along with Randy Newman saying, “You’ve got a friend in me,” but when a friend really needs us, where are we? Riding as fast as we can the other way? And don’t even talk about how we treat our enemies! It’s the selfishness of our sin—sin that marks us as being unworthy of friendship, with God or anybody else.
Yet what does Jesus say? “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends” (v. 13-14). You are Jesus’ friends! We started out as enemies, but Jesus stepped in and took your place before God. He was the One who cared for His friends perfectly in every way, always acting in love and compassion, always speaking the truth in love--even with His enemies! He did that for you. He stepped in and took your place. He took the guilt of all your sins on Himself and laid down His life at the cross. Every last sin is paid for; every last sin is forgiven. That’s how much Jesus loves you! That’s the kind of friendship Jesus has with you—a friendship built on deep, self-sacrificing love!
What is it that makes this kind of friendship possible? Usually, in a friendship the love has to be mutual. And yet that’s not how it works with Jesus, is it?
Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (v. 14-16). Jesus is God; we are people. If you think about it, “friends” should be the last term we use to describe our relationship. Gods are not “friends” with humans. And yet Jesus calls us friends. When we first learned that God was real—and that He had a plan of salvation for us, a plan that involved sending His Son to die for us—it was like Jesus was letting us in on the big secret. By sharing the good news of salvation with us—everything the Father had told Him—Jesus made us His friends.
Yet Jesus didn’t become friends with us because somehow we were good enough. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” We were incapable of choosing Jesus; our sinful natures would have run the other way every time. It’s only by Jesus’ pure grace—His pure, undeserved love for sinful human beings—that He chose us to be His friends. It’s only by His grace that He came into this world and laid down His life for us. And it’s only by His grace that He establishes His friendship with us by allowing us to hear about the plans He and His Father have for us—plans to prosper us and not to harm us plans to give us hope and a future that will last forever (Jeremiah 29:11).
And it’s in that grace—that love—where Jesus wants us to stay. “Abide in my love,” Jesus says. Love one another, letting His love shine forth in your lives. Letting His love shine forth in your willingness to lay down your life for your friends—to do everything for their good, to love them as Jesus has loved you. To love other people as Jesus has loved us.
That kind of self-sacrificing is hard. It’s a real struggle because often the people who are closest to us are the ones who drive us crazy! Mothers? You know this all too well!
Yet even in this we have the grace of Christ. Your friend Jesus assures all His disciples, even you and me: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (v. 16). He hasn’t just sent us off to go and bear fruits of love all by ourselves, without any help. Our Friend is also our Vine; Jesus Himself appoints to you the fruit—the fruits of His love—and then makes them fruits that will last. And more than that, in midst of the struggle, our Friend promises that as His friends, His Father—the Almighty Father—hears and answers all our prayers. When you need help being a friend, all there is to do is ask, and all the help and strength you need? It’s right there for you. Having already given His Son, how will He not also graciously give you all things? (Romans 8:32). Think about the lasting impact that your love has on the lives of those around you. You can’t take credit for that; it happens all because of Jesus’ own grace and love!
This world is cold and often friendless; but you are not friendless. You are Jesus’ Friend! You started out as enemies, but are now the best of friends, abiding in His love—chosen by His grace. And by this friendship, may His joy be in you and may your joy be full… in Him. Amen.