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A Friend of Jesus!

Tom Pennington John 15:12-17


Today it is our joy to take of the Lord's Table. And I'm not going to do the next distinctive in our series. Lord willing, I'll take that up again next week. Instead, I want today to really prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table.

I was reminded that there is within each of us - deep within every heart, deep within your heart - there is a longing to be a friend and to have a friend. We understand this. I mean we read those proverbs like Proverbs 17:17 that says, "A friend loves at all times," and that's what we want. We read Proverbs 18:24 which speaks of a loyal "friend who sticks closer than a brother" - closer than a blood relative. We read the stories of great human friendships like that that existed between David and , and we long to have that kind of friend. On the other hand, one of the worst things that can be said about anyone is that he has no friends, or that he or she died alone and friendless. Even unbelievers understand the value of friendship.

Aristotle wrote, "Without friends no one would choose to live though he had all other goods." Samuel Johnson said, "Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship." Emerson (whom I wouldn't ordinarily quote favorably), said, "Every man passes his life in the search after friendship." Now why is that true? Why is this a universal principle of the human heart? Well, behind that universal longing of the human soul there is a profound theological explanation. You see, man was made in the image of God. You were made in the image of God. Although it has been terribly marred by the fall and by human sin, the residual image of God remains indelibly stamped on every human heart.

Now, the image of God is a complicated idea, and it's worthy of a message of its own; but when we speak of being made in God's image part of what that means is that we were made for relationship. Why is that? Because God, the one living and true God, is by nature a trinity. One God eternally existing in three distinct persons. And among the three members of the trinity there has always existed perfect relationship and perfect friendship. And so, when God made us in His image, He made us for relationship and friendship. It is a reflection of His own being. That's why we long for human friendships. And even more importantly and more profound, it's why we all long for a relationship with God our Creator.

When we read of Adam and Eve walking with God in the garden in the cool of the day, our hearts cry out for that. We long for that. But of course, we know that that didn't last very long because Adam's sin radically altered God's relationship with Him and with the rest of the human race. In fact, it altered it so badly that for the rest of the Old Testament only three men are said to be friends of God. Perhaps you remember who they are. There's Abraham. In 2 Chronicles 20:7 King Jehoshaphat is praying, and he refers in his prayer to God, he calls Abraham "Your friend". God Himself refers to Abraham this way in Isaiah 41:8. He calls Abraham "My friend".

The second man in the Old Testament who's called the friend of God is Moses by implication. In Exodus 33:11 we read, "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face just as a man speaks to his friend." And we're supposed to be amazed that that could ever be true.

The third Old Testament character who's called the friend of God is Job. Job, in Job 29:4 speaking of his life before his affliction said this, "The friendship of God was over my tent."

Now every one of us longs for that kind of relationship with God. That's why I love one of Jesus' statements. In John 15:14 Jesus said to His followers, "You are My friends." You are My friends. As we prepare for communion, I want us to turn to John 15, and I want us to briefly examine that surprising really shocking statement in its context. Let me read it for you. John 15 beginning in verse 12 down through verse 17. Hear the words of our Lord to us.

"This is My commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another."

Amazingly, in this passage you'll notice the beginning of verse 14 Jesus, whom John has already shown to be none other than God Himself, says to 11 flawed, human beings, "You are My friends". That's what we all long to experience: to have a relationship with Jesus so that He Himself would describe us as His friends. So, let's take this passage apart and see if we can understand what Jesus means and who qualifies to enjoy this amazing privilege. What I want to do is ask several questions and let Jesus answer them from this passage.

So first of all, let's ask this question, "Who are Jesus' friends?" Who are Jesus' friends? Who is He talking about here? Well, first of all, and clearly, the 11 apostles. Jesus spoke these words during the upper room discourse the night before His crucifixion. They just finished the celebration of the Passover and Jesus is now instructing His own. Back in 14:30 Judas Iscariot had left the Passover celebration in order to betray Christ. You'll notice John 14:30 [should be John 13:30], "So after receiving the morsel that identified him as the betrayer Judas went out immediately; and it was night."

From that point forward including our text all of Jesus words are directed to the remaining 11 disciples, those who were His true followers. So, in the immediate context, Jesus is calling those 11 men who had been with Him from the beginning of His ministry and whom He had selected to be His apostles, He calls them His friends.

But in the larger context of the upper room discourse we learn that Jesus wasn't merely referring to the 11. Amazingly Jesus was also speaking of all His true followers. You see within the upper room discourse it is clear that there are passages that were intended only for the 11 apostles. For example, in 16:16 to 22. Jesus promises the 11 that they would be eyewitnesses of His resurrection. He hasn't made that promise to us. At least not yet. Also, notice chapter 14, 14:25. He said,

"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

Now I hate to tell you students this, but this is not God's promise that you will remember on that test what you have never studied. This is, instead, Jesus' promising specifically the 11 that this when the Spirit came, He would give them direct revelation. He would teach them things Jesus didn't have time to teach them. And He would recall to their minds the things Jesus did teach them while He was with them in a supernatural way. That's why they can write their gospels recounting the events that occurred. It's because of this promise. This is not a promise to all of us. It's a promise to the 11.

But it is also clear that Jesus in the upper room discourse not only made promises intended and made statements intended just for the 11, but most of the upper room discourse was intended for all of His true disciples. This is amazing to me. Did you realize that on that night Jesus was actually thinking about us? He was thinking about you.

Turn over to chapter 17. This is His high priestly prayer. And He says in verse 20, as He prays to the Father, "I do not ask on behalf of these ..." [that is the 11 alone] "... but for those also who believe in Me through their word." [That's us.] On that night as Jesus prayed, as He gave the upper room discourse, He was thinking about us. On the cross the next day He was thinking about us. And so, clearly, Jesus didn't mean these words simply for the 11. And Jesus' statement about being His friends falls into this second category. It is not merely intended for the 11 apostles. It is intended for all of His true disciples.

How do we know that? Go back to the context. Go back to chapter 15. Let's set the stage. In the first 11 verses of chapter 15 Jesus gives that familiar and beautiful analogy of the vine and the branches. "I am the vine, you are the branches…." And in this parable, in this extended metaphor Jesus contrasts between His false disciples and His true disciples. You remember there are those branches that appear to be in Him but bear no fruit, and therefore He says the Father lops them off and throws them in the fire. That's a picture of eternal judgement. In other words, there are false believers in Jesus who profess to be His disciples but who bear no fruit, and He says they don't really belong in Me at all.

But then, there are those branches, and notice verse 2, every branch in Me that bears fruit He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." He's not talking here just about the 11. He's talking about all true branches; all true believers. And the rest of this analogy makes that clear as it unfolds. It's all of His followers that are truly His followers. And that doesn't change when you get to verse 12. "This is My commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you." This is not just for the 11. In fact, John the apostle applies this to all believers in his first epistle. And clearly verse 13 is not just for the 11. "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." Jesus didn't just die for the 11. He died for all of those who would be His true followers.

But we can even see it in verse 14. "You are My friends if you do what I command you." In other words, all of those who are in Christ, who have believed in Christ, who remain in Him, who persevere, who obey Him, who do what He says are His friends and the object of His personal love. So, in this text, when Jesus says you are My friends, He was not merely speaking of the 11 but of all those who are truly His followers. You know I have to admit to you that there are things that I read in this Scripture that I understand with my intellect, but I need the Spirit of God to use that truth to grip my soul because it doesn't really get there. And that's my prayer for us this morning. Let this settle into your soul. Jesus says to all who are His true followers. He says this to you, "You are My friend."

Maybe you feel friendless. Maybe you feel alone. Maybe you're unequally yoked. You're in a marriage where your spouse is not a believer, and you just feel hopelessly alone at times. Maybe in your school, you're the only Christian you know of and you have to stand alone for Christ. Maybe in the workplace there's nobody else. It's just you, and you feel alone. Listen, you're not alone. Jesus says, "You are My friend." And elsewhere He says, "And I will never leave you and I will never forsake you." If you love and follow Jesus Christ He says, "You are My friend."

And let me just say that if you're here this morning, and you've never turned from your sin, and you've never trusted Christ and His life and His death as your only hope of being right with God, you've never accepted Him as Lord and Savior,. you're still running your own life. Listen, you're not His friend. You are His enemy. He's made that very clear. But here's the amazing thing about His grace. If you will turn from your sin today and believe in Him, today you will become His friend. So, who are His friends? All His true disciples.

I want us to consider secondly what does Jesus mean by friend? Ok I'm His friend, but what exactly does that mean? Well, the answer to that question comes in verse 15, "No longer do I call you slaves for the slave does not know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."

Now, as it's always true with Scripture it's very important for us to understand what Jesus doesn't mean. You remember the Scripture's written by one mind, the mind of the Holy Spirit. So, what's said here will not contradict what's elsewhere, so I have to interpret this passage in light of what the rest of Scripture teaches. So, Jesus does not mean that as His followers we are no longer His slaves in any sense at all. That contradicts what Jesus says in the rest of this sermon. Turn back to chapter 13. You remember the evening begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Verse 12 of chapter 13,

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord [kurios, Master]; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, [the kurios, the Master] ... and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."

In other words, you ought to be willing to do the most menial service to care for other Christians. Verse 15, "... I gave you an example that you also should do what I did to you." Jesus took the lowliest position that was possible. The lowest slave washed the feet of those who came in the room, and Jesus took that position, and He said, look you need to be willing to take the lowest position of service to care for your fellow believers.

But notice verse 16, "Truly, truly I say to you, a slave" [which is what you are] "is not greater than his master … [his kurios which is what I am.]"

The word "slave" is the Greek word, "doulos". You are a doulos, and I am your kurios, your Master. So, in this very sermon, Jesus says that's still true. Also, Jesus can't mean that we're no longer His slaves in any sense at all, or it would contradict the rest of the New Testament. The New Testament authors consistently referred to themselves and us as the slaves. The plural doulos is douloi, as the douloi of Christ. In fact, at the very end of the New Testament (talking about the eternal state in Revelation 22:3) we read His douloi will serve Him. So, this doesn't change. Jesus was and remains our Master, and we will always be His slaves. So, what does verse 15 mean then?

Well, we could translate it like this: No longer do I call you merely slaves for normally a slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. In an amazing display of grace Jesus, even though we are His slaves, He doesn't think of us as His slaves. Instead, He considers us to be His friends.

This happened even in the ancient world. There were times when a master would become so attached to a slave that he would begin to think of that slave as his friend. On certain occasions He would even adopt that slave into his family. That's exactly what has happened to us. We are, I am a doulos of Jesus Christ. I am a slave of Christ. We are douloi, we are slaves of Jesus Christ, but that's not how He thinks of us. He's come to think of us as His friends. And because His Father has adopted me and us, Jesus thinks of us as His brothers and His sisters. It's incredible. This is how He thinks.

I don't think there's any clearer picture of this than an unusual passage in Luke 12. Turn to Luke 12. This is frankly a shocking passage. Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the Second Coming, and He's saying, I want you to be ready. Verse 35. Luke 12:35, "Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master [so here are slaves waiting for their kurios, their master] when he returns from the wedding feast so that they may immediately open the door to Him when He comes and knocks."

Now the picture is this. Weddings in the ancient world weren't like today. Here is how it worked. The bride would be at her house with her attendants preparing for the groom to come, getting ready for the wedding day. On the wedding day the groom would leave his house with this major entourage. Picture a kind of parade through town going to the bride's house. When he got to the bride's house, he would take her with him. He would take her attendants as well, and they all would go back to the bridegroom's house for a great feast and party, sometimes lasting for up to 7 days. Think of how expensive that would be, fathers.

But Jesus says think like that when it comes to the return of Christ. He says, "Be like those slaves at the bridegroom's house who know the bridegroom's gone to get the bride." They're going to get back any time for the party, and they're alert; they're looking. Now notice what He says in verse 37, "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself ..." [the kurios will gird himself] "... to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them." This shows us just how much our Lord has come to think of us as His friends. What should happen is we, as His slaves, should wait on Him, but instead, He is so come to think of us as His friends that we're His guests, and He says, sit down, and I will serve you.

This is a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is a picture of the feast that we will one day participate in. This is what it means to be His friends. He is still our King, and we are still His subjects. He is still our Master, and we are still His slaves. But that's not how He thinks of us at all. He thinks of us as His friends.

Now, there is a third question I want us to consider this morning, and that is: what are our duties as Jesus' friends? It's an amazing privilege to be His friend, and in this paragraph Jesus reminds us that that privilege comes with responsibilities. There are others, but in this paragraph there are three. First of all, we must obey His commands. Look at verse 14, "You are My friends if you do what I command you." Now don't misunderstand; we don't become Jesus' friends by keeping His commandments. We become His friends by grace alone. In fact, look at verse 16, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you." It's an act of sovereign grace that brings us from being His enemies to being His friends. In fact, He expounds on this a little bit over in chapter 17. Turn over to chapter 17:6. Again this is in His prayer to the Father, we call it the high priestly prayer of Christ on the night before His crucifixion, and He says in verse 6 to the Father,

"I have manifested Your name ..." [now watch how He how He describes believers] "… to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me…." [Here is God choosing those whom He would give to the Father as a love gift, as an expression of His love to the Son. He says You gave them to Me. Now watch what happens because these men have been given because we have been given to the Son by the Father. Here's what happens,] "… they kept Your word." Verse 6, "... they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You...." [In other words, they acknowledge that I am really from God. That I really speak on God's behalf.] "for the words you gave Me I have given to them. They received … [those words] and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me."

They had faith in Me. They believed My words. They believed Me Father. Why? It all goes back to because You gave them to Me. That's why you responded, that's why I responded. We're responsible to believe. We're responsible to repent. That hangs over every sinner, but when we actually do respond, it's because of sovereign grace. So, our obedience then, listen carefully, does not earn the position of friends. Rather, it shows that by His grace we have become His genuine disciples, and since we are His genuine disciples, we are His friends. And as the friends of our Master, we will continue to desire to do, to desire to do, and to actually do what pleases Him. So, our Master has become our friend. That doesn't change our response of obedience. It changes the motive. Our response of obedience is because we love this One Who has made us His friend. And we want to do what pleases Him. So, one of the responsibilities that come of being Jesus' friend is obeying His commands.

Secondly, we're to love one another. Notice, this is twice in this passage. Verse 12, "This is My commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you." Verse 17, "This I command you that you love one another." Now Jesus is here referring back to a command that He'd given just a few minutes before. Go back to chapter 13. Right after Judas left, Jesus says in verse 34 He says I'm going to leave, but let Me tell you, verse 34, "A new commandment I give to you. That you love one another even as I have loved you. That you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another." Now, why does Jesus call this a new commandment? I mean after all Deuteronomy 6 says, "Love God with all of your being". Leviticus 19 says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Why is it new? Well, it's new in two ways.

First of all, it's new in the standard that's set. Leviticus 19 said, "Love your neighbor ..." what "... as you love yourself." Here Jesus says, "Love one another even as I have loved you." That raises the bar. Also, it's new because the new covenant promise (of God writing His laws on our hearts and giving us the power to obey there is a new spirit) enabled power to do this. Now why would Jesus say in response to my friendship you ought to love one another? That isn't immediately connect. But really does. Think about it this way. If I am truly a friend of Jesus, and if His friendship truly matters, then I will want to be very careful in how I treat His other friends. Love one another because I love them. I mean we do this on a human level, right? I mean if you have a really close friend, even if you don't necessarily connect with that person's other friends, you do your best to reach out to them and to befriend them. Why? Out of your love for your mutual friend. This is what Jesus is saying. He's saying listen how can you how can you love Me? how can you be My friend and treat My other friends poorly? Love one another.

There's a there's a third responsibility that He identifies in this passage. It's this: "Go and bear fruit that remains." Look at verse 16, "You did not choose Me but I chose you. And I appointed you, or I set you apart that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give it to you."

Now earlier in this chapter Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches, and several times He speaks of the fruit that His true followers would produce. In those 11 verses that begin this chapter when He talks about fruit, He's probably referring primarily to two things: to godly character, or we could say the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peach, long suffering, gentleness and so forth; and to good works, or righteous deeds. But in verse 16 it's a different kind of fruit. Jesus had specifically appointed the 12 to go and bear this kind of fruit. So, the fruit in verse 16 required them to go.

Now, if you know your Bible, another text should immediately come to your mind. "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." In other words, Jesus is speaking in verse 16 about the fruit of new converts. He was talking about reproducing themselves, making disciples who would follow Him.

But that wasn't just for the 11. As the great commission and many other New Testament texts show every disciple of Jesus Christ has been appointed to go and bear this kind of fruit. Now, again why would He say this in the context of this friendship motif? Well, think of it like this. If you are a friend of Jesus Christ, and if you truly value His friendship, then you're going to want to introduce others to this wonderful friend that you have. That's what He says. How can you enjoy Me as a friend and not want others to know Me as well; not want your other acquaintances and family members to meet Me? The end of verse 16 Jesus assures us that whatever resources we need to carry out the mission of introducing others to Jesus all we have to do is ask the Father, and He'll give us the resources we need to carry out that mission.

Now, those are great responsibilities. We need to obey His commands. We need to love one another, and we need to go and bear fruit that remains, that is, see others introduced to Jesus Christ.

But there's one final question I want us to consider and that is: what are our privileges as Jesus' friends? And our privileges far outweigh our duties and responsibilities. There are a lot of privileges that we could speak of, but again, in this text Jesus identifies three of them.

First of all, He tells us His thoughts and plans. Look at verse 15. "No longer do I call you merely slaves for the slave does not know what His master is doing but I've called you friends for all things that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you." Jesus' point here is that masters don't typically explain all their thinking and all their plans and all of their thoughts to their slaves. They just assign them their duties. Do this, do that, here's what I want you to do. And they have no picture of how what they're doing fits into the overall scope of the mind of the master.

But it's completely different with friends. Part of the essence of friendship is to communicate yourself to another person. Jesus has not merely assigned us tasks to do. No, He has let us in on His and the Father's great sweeping eternal plans. He's not only told us what to do, He's even told us why. He's told us everything in this book that we need to know about life and the past and the future and eternity. He's withheld nothing that we needed to know. I love the way Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 2:16. He says, "… WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD?" In other words, who knows what God thinks? And the answer is: we do. He ends that verse by saying, "We have the mind of Christ." And he means we have the mind of Christ in God's revelation between the covers of this book we have God's mind on everything. No wonder He says I call you friends.

There's a second privilege that comes with our friendship, and this is astounding. He loves us as the Father loves Him. Notice verse 12, "This is My commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you." In other words, the standard of our love for one another is the standard of His love, but He's making a statement about Himself, "I have loved you." And how does Jesus love us? Look back in verse 9, "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you." We learned a few weeks ago in Romans 1 that the Father loves us. The Father loves us just as He loves His Son, and here Jesus tells us that He loves us in the same way the Father loves the Son. This is truly astounding. Again, this is something that we can't really get our minds fully around, but understand what Jesus is saying. He is saying that both the Father and the Son of the eternal creating God love you and me who are the followers of Jesus Christ with this same love that characterizes their relationship with each other. He loves us as the Father loves Him.

Connected to that, there's a third great privilege of our friendship with Jesus in this text: and it's that He laid down His life for us. Notice verses 12 and 13, "This is My commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you...." [and how, to what extent did Jesus love us] "Greater love has no one than this. That one lay down his life for his friends." There is no greater way for a friend to demonstrate his love than to lay down his life to rescue the life of his friend. You know, we understand this, and on occasion we see this happen even among human beings toward each other.

I read a number of the stories as I'm sure you did of that ill-fated South Korean ferry that sank with several hundred kids on board. On that ferry there was a 17-year-old student named Chawoong Jeong. That morning Chawoong and his friend (when they came to realize what was happening, that the ferry was in fact going to sink), Chawoong had had the foresight to grab his life jacket. His friend did not. He realized that his friend was terrified of what was unfolding. Chawoong thought he was a strong enough swimmer that he could stand it, but even if not he wanted to care for his friend, and so he gave his life preserver to his friend. A few minutes later as the ferry continued to sink, Chawoong jumped into the cold waters without one. He died, but his friend survived. He risked his life to rescue his friend.

That is exactly what our Friend has done for us. Notice He says that He willingly offered to the Father to lay down His life, notice what He says in verse 13, "for His friends." The Greek word "for" here simply means for the benefit of His friends. He doesn't say how His death would benefit His friends. Not here. But He does in another place. In Mark 10:45 Jesus says this, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for...." different Greek word; not the same word. There in Mark 10 it's the Greek word "anti" which only means one thing: in the place of, in exchange for. He came to give His life a ransom in the place of, in exchange for, His friends.

Jesus says you are My friends and greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends. The Lord's Table reminds us that it is impossible, listen carefully, it is impossible for Jesus to love us any more than He does because He did the ultimate expression. He committed the ultimate expression of His love. There is no greater love because He gladly, willingly laid down His life for us; laid down His life in exchange for our lives. For the lives of His friends.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for the amazing truths that this celebration points to. We thank You for our Lord's death, for His violent death, His life in exchange for our lives. His death in exchange for our eternal death. Father, we thank You that we also look forward to the day when we will sit down with our Lord, and we will have a feast, a real literal feast together. The marriage supper of the Lamb celebrating all that He has done, and amazingly He will serve us as His guests, as His friends.

Father, help us to live in anticipation of that day, and until then, help us to live out the duties that come with the great privilege we have of being His friend. Help us to obey His words. Help us to love His friends as He loves His friends. And help us to desire desperately to introduce others we know to this amazing friend.

We pray in Jesus' Name, Amen.