NO FRIEND LIKE HIM
October 29, 2006
I notice in my study that there are only a few passages in the New Testament that actually speak of Jesus as a friend. This is a thought-provoking thing to me. I noticed that in Matthew 11:19, other people spoke of Jesus as a friend, but they did so in a derogatory way. They didn’t mean it as a compliment to him. They said that he was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, and that, to them, was an ugly thing. In John 15:15, the Lord spoke of his disciples as his friends. He said that he had called them friends and not slaves. And in Luke 12:4 Jesus spoke to his disciples as friends. He began, “I tell you friends,” and then he talked about the fact that they should not be concerned about one who could destroy the body but have nothing to do to them afterward. In all three of those cases the Lord’s friendship is a factor in the discussion.
But here is what gets my attention and strikes me as instructive. When you think of how few passages there are that use this term, aren’t you impressed by how many songs that are so much loved speak of him as our friend? All of the ones we have sung this morning have used this idea in one way or another. I notice phrases in other songs like “The precious friend who died for me,” or “There is a friend who walks with me,” or “Finding in three a friend indeed,” or in that song that we have just sung, “No friend like him.”
What is it about this particular picture of Jesus which means so much to us? How is that Jesus exercises friendship toward mankind? How do we go about returning that friendship? The short answer would be to take all of the points we learned from Proverbs earlier today and just to say “do that,” but maybe the more helpful New Testament answer to this would be to look at what Jesus said himself about his friendship with people.
He Seeks Our Company
The first reason that there is no friend like him is that Jesus comes seeking our company. He seeks our friendship. It would be one thing if there were a great person who would allow us to approach him, and then would condescend to being acquainted with us. But it is a far different thing when someone who would be able to say “all authority in heaven and earth is mine” comes actually trying to establish a relationship of friendship with us - when he wants us to be his people! In John 15, that last night before the Lord was crucified, he said to his disciples in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” In other words, he came seeking their friendship. There are at least three ways in the New Testament that this theme is used as a comforting and challenging thought about the Christ and his work.
The first is that he would have been willing to come in the flesh to make God known to us. His friendship is such that he was willing to empty himself of his glory to take the form of a servant to be made like us (Phil. 2:6-7). I read of a little girl who one night found her house in the midst of a terrible, loud and violent thunderstorm. She, of course, was scared. It was dark and all she could hear was the thunder and the wind and the rain. All she could see was the flash of lightening. So she got up and went to the bedside of her parents, and she said, “Daddy, I’m afraid. I want to sleep with you and mama.” Lovingly and gently the dad suggested that she get back in her bed and cuddle up with her dolls and animals and blankets, and that the storm would be over before very long. She quickly answered, “No daddy, I need somebody with skin on to keep me from being afraid!” That is the need that Jesus Christ has answered for us. The word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). None of us had seen the Father’s glory, but the only begotten of the Father has declared him. We have been able to behold it in the flesh in the Christ (Jn. 1:18).
Not only that, but while Jesus was here, he went to seek out and to establish friendship with the people everybody else had forgotten. Remember in the Psalm in the Old Testament when the man said, “No man cares for my soul” (Ps. 142:4). Nobody cares! There were people like that when Jesus was here. He went to them. In Luke 5 we find him being criticized because he went in and ate with tax collectors and sinners (v. 30). In Luke 7 the murmuring is that he has let a woman who was a sinner touch him, and no prophet would have done that (v. 39). In Luke 19 when he went to Zacchaeus’ house, he was criticized then for going to the house of a sinner (v. 7). In Luke 15, the charge was that he received people like this (v. 2). In each one of those cases, it was a way of the Lord saying that he was able to care enough, to associate with, to understand, to accept people who would return his friendship.
Someone pointed out that the sympathy of Jesus which comes from this is a great comfort to us. “Do you long for genuine sympathy? It’s found in him who mingled his tears with those of the bereaved sisters in Bethany. Do you desire the enjoyment of sincere affection? It is found only in the heart which spoke of love in drops of blood. Do you seek the protection of real power? Then look at him who made the world. Do you feel the need of being guided by unerring wisdom? Then follow him who is wisdom personified, who of God is made unto us wisdom.” That is the way Bill Tyner said it. That is the friendship that all of us seek.
The third way in which this thought is especially comforting to us is that Jesus at the right hand of God from heaven still seeks our friendship through the gospel. That is what the preaching of the gospel is about. God wants us reconciled to him through Christ. The Lord wants to make intercession for us as a friend does and will. William Barclay pointed out in one of his writings that Jesus called us to be his friends and the friends of God. That is a tremendous offer. It means that no longer do we need to gaze lovingly at God from afar off. We are not like slaves who have no right whatever to enter the presence of the master. We are not like a crowd whose only glimpse is of the king in the passing on of some state occasion. Jesus gave us intimacy with God so that he is no longer a distant stranger but our close friend. No friend like him seeks our company when otherwise we couldn’t have it.
He Sacrifices For Our Sakes
Secondly, there is no friend like Jesus because he has sacrificed so much for our sake. Friends do illustrate their love and loyalty by doing things that cost and inconvenience themselves for the sake of their friends. I’ll bet you can look back in your own life and count times when your friends have put themselves out for you. Don’t you love them for that and appreciate what they have done? You can’t think of anybody, though, who has done more than Jesus has in this way. In John 15:13, one of the best known statements in the gospel of John, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” That is especially poignant given the occasion. Before that night was over, Jesus would be arrested. Before the next day was over, he would be offered on the cross, not with his life taken from him as if he were a victim, but with his life offered by a friend for the sake of his friends.
I read a story of two friends who lived in the days of WWI. These two fellows were inseparable. They had been through training together; they had been through battle together, and in and out of service they had been friends. They had enlisted together, trained together, shipped overseas together and fought side by side in the trenches of Europe. During one attack, one of the men was critically wounded by hostile fire in a field filled with barbed wire obstacles. He was, because of his wound, unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The entire area was under enemy crossfire. It was a hopeless thing to try to go out and bring that fellow to safety. And yet, his friend decided that he would do just that. Well, the sergeant objected. The sergeant told him, “It is too late; you can’t do him any good; you will only get yourself killed.” He tried to grab hold of the fellow and before he could, he had leaped out of that trench and headed to his friend’s side. He returned a few minutes later carrying his friend but he himself had been mortally wounded in the effort. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved, and he blurted out, “What a waste! He’s dead and you are dying! It wasn’t worth it.” And with almost his last breath, that dying fellow answered, “Oh yes it was, sarge. When I got to him the only thing he said was, ‘I knew you would come, Jim.’” That is friendship.
Now if that kind of thing were done for someone not already a friend, then it becomes infinitely more amazing. But that is what the Bible says the Lord has done for us. In Romans 5, as you are aware, the apostle Paul was teaching about the love of God, and he says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man one would dare even to die, but God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the reason that while Jesus talked about being a friend so rarely, we sing about it all the time. That friendship saves us. It inspires us. It challenges us, and it means something about how we are supposed to be living our lives.
He Shares What He Knows
The third reason the Lord’s friendship is so unique is that he shares what he knows. Again, I take you to John 15 and ask you to notice the statement that Jesus makes here toward the end of verse 15. He says, “No longer do I call you servants (or slaves) 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 it is just a master and slave relationship, the master doesn’t have to explain his plans or thoughts or purposes to the slave. All he has to do is bark out the order and that fellow does it. Sometimes we say it, “When I say frog, you jump. When I say jump, you say ‘how high?’” That is not the relationship.
Instead, Jesus said, “I have called you friends because I have taken everything that I have heard from my Father and I have told you, I have made it known to you.” One of the big things about friendship with the Lord that needs to be understood is the way that we look at his word because we see him as our friend. The authority of the Lord’s word to us is not the harsh burden of a heavy taskmaster who is trying to rob us from the joys and the fulfilling happiness of life. Instead, we see it as the guidance of a faithful friend who has already shown that he wants what is best for us, to the point of giving up himself. The Lord’s word is not a big wall to keep you from getting into something that would be such a blessing in your life. The Lord’s word is a guide toward how to live from somebody who knows.
You and I practice this principle of showing somebody what we know in all kinds of ways. For example, you get ready to go out to eat. A friend tells you, “I went to that place and it had the best barbeque I had ever eaten.” You get ready to go to a movie, and you call a friend and you say, “Have you seen such and such?” They say, “Yes.” You say, “Is it worth seeing?” Whatever it is, a friend shows you what he knows would be good for you, and you listen because you love him. Is it any wonder that you and I are able to read in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you”? A friend wants his friendship returned. The friend acts in showing us what he has heard from the Father, but he wants us then to appreciate the friendship to the point that we do what we have been instructed. That is a crucial part of friendship with the Lord. Sometimes we want his sympathy and his sacrifice, but we don’t want him telling us what to do. We are robbing ourselves of the blessing of friendship. Let’s not do that.
He Sends Us Into Meaningful Service
Fourth, there is no friend like him because he sends us into meaningful service. Lindy mentioned in the prayer earlier a phrase that I especially appreciated: “Lord, you have trusted us.” The highest compliment, perhaps, of his friendship is in that very fact. The Lord said in John 15:16, “You didn’t 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.” There is the idea of trusting us with meaningful purpose in our lives, giving us a mission, putting important work in our hands. The Cardinals just won the World Series. One big reason was the work of a rookie pitcher who was unexpectedly pressed into the role of closer at the end of the season. Adam Wainright did well! In an interview after one of the games he saved, he explained, “I just couldn’t let my teammates down.” He had been motivated by the desire to be worthy of the trust which had been placed in him.
If a political leader is facing some world crisis, and he is looking for a way to try to resolve it, he will choose a trusted co-worker, and he will send that person as an emissary. If God is seeking to reconcile the world to himself, and he puts the message that will do that in our hands, then he has enlisted our help as his friends. He wants us to be involved in that great purpose, that great eternal purpose, along with him. To send us in meaningful service is not an insulting demand on our time. It is instead a high compliment and a privilege that we have the opportunity to enjoy.
He Stands By His Own
The fifth reason there is no friend like him is that he stands by his friends. Have you ever tried to be a friend and not known exactly how to do it? You would like to be a friend but you are just not able to be there right then. One of the things about friends is that they do stand by us. I have been impressed with the story of Jackie Robinson, No. 42, a retired number in every major league ballpark. Jackie Robinson, as you know, was the first African-American to play baseball in the major leagues. He broke down baseball’s color barrier. In so doing he faced the very hostile crowds in every stadium. One day that first season while playing in his home stadium of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, he committed an error that contributed to the other team scoring a run. His own fans began to jeer at Robinson, calling him every kind of ugly name, booing loudly, throwing things, etc. Robinson stood out there by second base completely humiliated while the terrible booing continued. Then, in the middle of that, without saying a word, Pee Wee Reese, who was the shortstop of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, went over to the other side of second base and stood by Jackie Robinson, put his arm around him, and faced the crowd. The booing turned to silence. The fans were completely quiet. But Jackie Robinson later said that that arm around his shoulder saved his career.
That is what the Lord does with his servants in a greater and more wonderful way. In the Old Testament David and Jonathan’s friendship, which is legendary, has this quality about it. In I Samuel 23:16, when David faced a crisis, Jonathan went to him at risk to himself and strengthened his hand in the Lord. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul is the best illustration of this very situation, and I have read you the story many times because it is so meaningful. In II Timothy, Paul’s last letter, he finds himself imprisoned, facing the end, alone because nobody has stood with him. Nobody! His friends have let him down. And yet he says, as he nears the last words of this last letter, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” The Lord’s standing with us doesn’t mean that we will be removed from every burden that will ever come and that we will be delivered from every problem that ever threatens, but it does mean that he will be there and he will strengthen us so that we can endure it, overcome it.
No friend like him! Dennis wrote a little poem that he shared with me and I appreciate it. “There is no friend like an old friend, so the story goes, and there is no friend like the old friend that the Bible clearly shows. What a friend we have in him and what a savior he can be. What a help in time of sorrow and what strength he is to me. He knows all our pain, our sorrows and tears. He knows the heartbreaks that come through the years. He knows our joys, our happiness, our bliss. He knows for he shares with us in all of this. So when we sing of his great love in a hymn of this friend of thine, may we understand also his suffering he endured for all mankind. Let’s choose him then not only for today, but let us choose him now for everyday. Let us walk with him in his footsteps trod, for there is no friend like the Son of God.”
In all three of the passages where Jesus speaks or is spoken of as friend there is something which suggests an invitation to friendship. Matthew 11, while they are murmuring in verse 19 about his being a friend of tax collectors and sinners, in verse 28 he says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” In Luke 12 where he speaks to his hearers as friends, it says in verse 8 that whoever acknowledges him or confesses him before men he will confess before the angels of God in heaven. And then in John 15, he calls on us as his friends to do those things he has commanded us to do, and in particular, the commandment to love each other (v. 14, 12, 17).
Today, let’s see that there is no friend like Jesus. Let’s remember that the gospel is an invitation for friendship, and let’s respond to it. If you are here today and you need to make a friend of the Son of God by obedience to the gospel, we encourage you to do it. If you are a Christian and you need to come to the friend of all of us who is Christ in prayer, then if we can help, would you please let that be known this morning while we stand and sing?