Text: John 15:12-16
Introduction: B.J. Miller was a sophomore at Princeton when, one cold Monday night in November 1990, he and two friends slipped out to have some fun and then decided to climb a commuter train parked at the adjacent rail station. When Miller got to the top, electrical current arced out of a piece of equipment into the watch on his wrist. Eleven-thousand volts shot through his left arm and down his legs. When his friends reached him on the roof of the train, smoke was rising from his feet. Miller remembers none of this. In fact, his memories don’t kick in until several days later, when he woke up in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center, in Livingston, N.J. That’s when he discovered that doctors had already amputated each leg just below the knee, one at a time. Now they were considering doing the same thing with his arm, which triggered in Miller an even deeper grief. For weeks, the hospital staff thought he was close to death. But Miller, in a devastated haze, didn’t know that. He only worried about who he would be when he survived. For a long time, no visitors were allowed in his hospital room; the burn unit was a sterile environment. But on the morning Miller’s arm was going to be amputated, just below the elbow, he describes a moving scene of support and grace from his community of friends: a dozen friends and family members packed into a 10-foot-long corridor between the burn unit and the elevator, just to catch a glimpse of him as he was rolled to surgery. “They all dared to show up,” Miller later said. “They all dared to look at me. They were proving that I was lovable even when I couldn’t see it.” What a difference a friend or, in B. J.’s case, a group of friends can make in our lives! Sometimes they can mean the difference between life and death.
For the past six weeks, we’ve been attempting to explain why Jesus is so important to Christians. For the last twenty centuries, men, women, boys and girls have chosen to put their trust in Him as Savior and Lord and follow His teachings to the best of their abilities for the rest of their lives. That’s a pretty amazing impact for just one person who lived only about 33 years in ancient Palestine. I hope this causes many people to ask themselves, “What’s the big deal about Jesus?”
This is our seventh message in a preaching series that provides what we hope are some valid answers to why we follow Jesus. So far we’ve said … because we believe He’s the Son of God and deserves our worship and obedience; He became a fully human being in order to die as one to pay the penalty for our sins; He heals our souls and eventually heals our bodies, if not sooner; He is our shepherd who leads us to green pastures; He is our deliverer who rescues us from the attacks of Satan and his demons; and He is our teacher who brings truth and life to us as we apply His word. Now this morning I want to consider still another facet of His life that means so much to Christians … Jesus is our friend. The Bible has much to say about a true friend: (1) He sticks closer than a brother — Proverbs 18:24; (2) He loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17); (3) He knows how to exercise tough love (Proverbs 27:6); and (4) He gives good counsel that brings blessing (Proverbs 27:9). In the Gospel of John we have more to learn about Jesus as our friend, so open your Bibles and turn to chapter fifteen and together we’ll be looking at verses 12 through 16 and discover five distinguishing characteristics of Jesus’ friends:
Jesus’ friends are loved by Him (John 15:12-13 — This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends). Now the command from Jesus is to love one another. But don’t miss the fact that the standard by which we measure our love for each other is the selfless act that Jesus was soon going to perform by laying down His life for all of us. In the Lord’s own words, there is no greater love that anyone can demonstrate than to die in the place of and for the offenses of another. That’s what Jesus did for us. And He did it to reconcile us to God. In the early part of Romans 5 we see that we were enemies of God because of our ungodly lifestyles and helpless to do anything to change this status. That’s why it was necessary for Jesus to become our friend. We needed Him to die in our place or we would all be doomed to an eternity separated from God in Hell. And so in a completely selfless act, Jesus showed how much He loves us by sacrificing His life for ours. And now we, in response to what He’s done, point to His love for us as the basis for our friendship with Him. (Jesus’ friends are loved by Him.)
Jesus’ friends are obedient to Him (John 15:14 — You are my friends if you do what I command you). Obedience is not what makes us Jesus’ friends. It is, however, what identifies us as His friends. We obey His teaching, especially when it comes to loving one another. Earlier in the Gospel of John (14:21), Jesus told His disciples that our obedience is how we evidence our love for Him. So putting these passages together … we show how much we love Jesus by obey Him and loving one another in the process. This kind of submission and brotherly love is what sets us apart as His friends. Illustration: Dr. D. James Kennedy shares in his book, “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born“, this story about a believer’s capacity to love. In the 1800s Charles Bradlaugh, a prominent atheist, challenged a Christian man to debate the validity of the claims of Christianity. The Christian was Hugh Price Hughes, an active soul-winner who worked among the poor in the slums of London. Hughes told Bradlaugh he would agree to the debate on one condition. Hughes said, “I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same.” Hughes then said that if Bradlaugh couldn’t bring 100, then he could bring 20. Eventually, he whittled the number down to one. All Bradlaugh had to do was to find one person whose life was improved by atheism, and Hughes—who would bring 100 people improved by Christ—would agree to debate him. Bradlaugh withdrew his request for a debate. WHEN WE OBEY JESUS’ COMMAND TO LOVE EACH OTHER WE PROVE THAT OUR FRIENDSHIP WITH HIM IS REAL. (Jesus’ friends are loved by Him and obedient to Him.)
Jesus’ friends are informed by Him (John 15:15 — 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). If a man owned a slave he would not normally offer an explanation as to why he was commanding that person to do something. After all, he was just a slave, and had no right to know anything more than the master chose to tell him. But Jesus’ disciples were not His slaves. They were His friends and so are all who follow Him as Savior and Lord. In times past (the era of the Old Testament), God’s people were not informed of His plan to save us. Now we are not only privy to hear His commands, but to understand the motives and purposes behind them. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “All that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.” It was His way of saying that He gives to His followers the great privilege of having the plan of God explained to them … the plan had remained a mystery for centuries. And though the twelve did not completely grasp what Jesus was doing at the time, later when the Holy Spirit was given, they were able to put all the pieces together as God gave them a clear revelation for how He would redeem us. Application: Isn’t this one of the things that sets friends apart? We not only enjoy each other’s company, but confidence. We have no problem sharing with one another not only what we’re going to do but why because we have achieved a level of trust that permits it. That’s why we feel free to reveal to each other what we conceal from others … the motives and purposes of the human heart. Jesus did that for the twelve and continues to do that for us. (Jesus’ friends are loved by Him; are obedient to Him; and are informed by Him.)
Jesus’ friends are chosen by Him (John 15:16a — You did not choose me, but I chose you). It may be that Jesus said these words because He didn’t want His followers to become prideful in the fact that He had chosen to reveal much to them (i.e., everything He had heard from His father). So He put the twelve (and for that matter … all of us) in our place by reminding every believer that we did not have the wherewithal to choose Him. Rather He chose us. And there’s nothing in this passage or any other that indicates that our Lord chose us to be His friend because of some condition that we first met. It isn’t as if Jesus made His decision based on who was smarter, showed more potential or was morally better than anyone else. It would be very hard to argue that when we consider the kind of people who were a part of the early church … or for that matter … the people who are part of the church today. Listen to these words from 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 — But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. JESUS INVITED US INTO FRIENDSHIP WITH HIM THROUGH A PROCESS OF SELECTION THAT ONLY HE UNDERSTANDS. (Jesus’ friends are loved by Him, obedient to Him, informed by Him and chosen by Him.)
Jesus’ friends are commissioned by Him (John 15:16b — (You did not choose me, but I chose you) and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you). The fruit in this verse refers to everything we do that is conformity to the will of our Lord, including leading others to faith in Him. If you wonder why we serve in the concession stand for a high school football game, help raise funds for a little boy who needed a diabetic alert dog, assist neighbors with their homes, put meals together for children in 3rd world countries and so much more, it is because we know that our good works open the door for conversations about how to become a friend of Jesus. And the foundation for bearing the kind of fruit Jesus’ speaks of in this verse is prayer to the Father in the name of the Son. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in agreement with all that He is and stands for. It is to recognize that our access to the throne of God is only possible because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But listen my friends … the real power, the only power that can bear lasting fruit comes directly from God by His Holy Spirit. HERE AT RIVER RIDGE, IF WE WANT TO MAKE IT KNOWN THAT WE ARE JESUS’ FRIENDS AND THAT WE WANT OTHERS TO ENJOY THE SAME RELATIONSHIP, WE MUST BE A PRAYING CHURCH! A LONG TIME AGO, SOMEONE SAID TO ME, “WHEN YOU WORK, YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN DO. WHEN YOU PRAY GOD DOES WHAT HE CAN DO. THERE’S A GREAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO!”
Application: We’ve said this morning that we follow Jesus because He has granted us the wonderful honor of being His friend. We remember that Jesus’ friends are loved by Him, obedient to Him, informed by Him, chosen by Him and commissioned by Him. Here is a final comment about our friendship with Jesus. It’s important to note that this passage speaks of us as Jesus’ friends, but it never speaks of Jesus as our friend. The same thing is true in the Old Testament where we’re told both Moses and Abraham were friends of God (Exodus 33:11; James 2:23), but it never calls God their friend. And again in the Gospel of John, we read that Lazarus was Jesus’ friend (John 11:11 — Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep), but nowhere does it say that Jesus was Lazarus’ friend. And now here in John 15:12-16 we see the same pattern. Christ’s followers are His friends, but Jesus does not say that He is our friend. Why is this? Well, first of all, let me say that it doesn’t mean that a believer’s relationship with God is only one-sided … we love Him, but He doesn’t love us. It’s impossible to think that when the Bible says repeatedly that God loves us with an everlasting love. So if we were to measure friendship strictly on the basis of love, God is a much better friend to us than we are to Him because He loves us so infinitely more. However, there is a reason that the Bible does not refer to the Father or Son as our friends and here it is. We view a friendship as a mutual relationship of give and take. We listen to our friends advice and expect them to listen to ours. We help them out when they’re hurting or in trouble, and they help us out when we’re in the same boat. But what can often be true when it comes to a friendship between two of us, can never be completely true when it comes to our relationship with God. While He often comes to our aid when we’re suffering, we can never do the same for Him. He does not need us to console or rescue Him from some sort of traumatic experience. In fact, He never needs anything from us (God is independent — sufficient to Himself — Acts 17:25 — God is not served by human hands as though He needs anything), and that’s where the idea of friendship between us and Him breaks down. We have all kinds of needs that He can meet, but we can never meet a single need for Him because He has none. So our human understanding of friendship is insufficient when it comes to describing God’s relationship to us. Yes — we can be His friends, but He can never be reduced to just being a good friend to us, not when He is so much more … our Savior, our Lord, our Creator, our Deliverer, our Shepherd, our Teacher etc. Now I know that’s pretty heady stuff, but it’s an important distinction for us to wrestle with. WE CAN BE JESUS’ FRIENDS, BUT HE WILL ALWAYS BE SO MUCH MORE TO US.
Now, how can someone become Jesus’ friend? In New Testament times, the word “friend,” seems to have become synonymous with the word “Christian“. The is the way the Apostle John used the term in 3 John 14 — Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. John wasn’t speaking for a few believers but for many who wished to express their greetings to a large group of Christians living in Asia Minor. The same is also true of other New Testament writers. The Apostle Paul referred to the church in Philippi and Corinth as “friends”. And so did the writer of Hebrews and the Apostle Peter as they wrote to encourage the saints under their care. This being the case, it’s not a reach then to say that if you want to be one of Jesus’ friends, it starts with becoming a Christian. (Share the Gospel)
Conclusion: The pop star Selena Gomez was shockingly quiet in the summer of 2017, especially for someone enjoying several chart topping hits. There were no tours, no television guest-spots, no radio interviews. And then in the fall of that year, we found out why. Gomez was recovering from a kidney transplant. Selena released the news via an Instagram post in a shout out to her friend Francia Raisa who had donated her own kidney for the lifesaving procedure. Raisa, known for her role as Adrian Lee on the TV series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” kept the whole affair quiet. Without notifying the media, she had herself tested and prepared for the operation. Then she told her family and friends that she was donating a kidney. All while never mentioning that the recipient was her pop star acquaintance. She didn’t do it for fame, she did it for friendship. A popular TV commentator described the gesture as “the power of a loving and selfless friendship.” I have to admit I’m pretty impressed with Francia Raisa. Her demonstration of selfless love was a breathtaking performance of true friendship. This young lady reminds us that just one friend can make all the difference. So listen … if you’re wondering why we follow Jesus, it’s because He invites us to be His friends and to receive the gift of eternal life made possible through His sacrifice on the cross for us.