A RADICAL NEW IMAGE
Over the past two weeks we’ve been talking about some of the images of Jesus that we find in the gospel of John. Two weeks ago, we talked about probably the most well known one – which is the Good Shepherd. Last week, we moved to Jesus as the vine with us being the branches. If we want to bear good fruit, we need to be connected to the vine. This morning, we’re going to look at what it means to see Jesus as a friend.
Back when Jesus first said this, it was a radical idea. Not that it was radical to have Jesus as a friend. People have been friends with other people for as long as people have walked the earth. The radical part is that Jesus is not only human. We also believe that he is divine. We say that he is God incarnate, God with us in human flesh. One of the basic tenets of the Christian faith is that God is in Jesus, that he is both completely human and completely divine. What that means is that to call Jesus a friend is also to call God a friend. And that was the radical part of what Jesus said.
The God that the Jewish people knew was the God of the Old Testament. Having said that, the God of the Old Testament is exactly the same God as the one in the New Testament because there is only one God. There is a difference, however, in the way that God revealed himself in the Old and New Testaments.
When we think about the God of the Old Testament, we often think of a distant God who showed himself in power and majesty. Last fall, we went through a series of messages on the Exodus, where the people of Israel made that forty year journey from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. When God wanted to convince Pharaoh to let his people go, what did God do? God sent ten plagues, each one worse than the last until Pharaoh let them go. But then Pharaoh changed his mind and followed the people of Israel to Red Sea. That’s where the waters of the Red Sea parted and Israel walked across on dry ground with wall of water of their right and wall of water on their left. But when Pharaoh’s army tried to follow them the waters came back and drown everyone.
But then, in the desert, the people got hungry so God did a powerful miracle and provided manna and quail. And they were thirsty and God did another mighty miracle and made water pour from a rock. But still the people weren’t happy because they wanted guidance so God called Moses up to Mount Sinai and God appeared there in thunder and lightning and storm clouds. And the mountain shook and the people were terrified. But Moses came back down the mountain with the Ten Commandments.
But then Israel didn’t want to follow the rules anymore so they made a golden calf that they were going to worship. And then God in his fierce anger threatened to destroy the people but Moses begged God for mercy and God relented but he did send a plague upon them. This was the God of the Old Testament. It was a God that you didn’t want to mess around with. So God was to be respected and honoured and even feared because God is great and powerful and mighty. This is the image of God that the people of Israel still had 2,000 years ago when Jesus walked the earth.
But Jesus gave them a new image of who God is and what God is. Is God still powerful and mighty? Is God still omniscient – that he knows all, omnipotent – that he is all powerful, and omnipresent – that he is everywhere all at the same time? Yes, God is still all of those things and more because God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
God is always the same but Jesus and provides the people with a new way of seeing God. He says that he is a friend.
Who is a friend? A friend is someone whom you know. A friend is someone who is close. A friend is someone who cares, who loves, who will laugh with you in the good times and hold you in times of sorrow. A friend will always be there, no matter what. And he most important thing, perhaps, is that God is not only God of the universe – which, of course, he is – he is also a personal God with whom we can have a relationship.
This is very different from the God who defeated Pharaoh and his armies, shook the mountains, caused thunder and lightning to envelope Sinai and sent a plague upon the people for their disobedience.
In calling himself a friend, Jesus calls God a friend. Let’s find out how that happens.
It starts off in John 15:9-12 (NIV) where Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
In these verses, Jesus is describing the way that we are treat one another. It is summarized by the word love. Love is all over these four verses the word love or loves appears seven times. So, I think Jesus is trying to tell us something.
I’ve told you this before but just as a reminder, there are a number of words for love in Greek. There is eros which is a passionate love laced with sexual intimacy. It’s where the word erotic comes from.
Then there is the word storge which expresses the kind of love that a parent would have for a child. It expresses a deep affection. This is also the word that someone might use when referring to their favourite sports team, such as, “I love the Montreal Canadiens and the Hamilton Tiger Cats”.
There is a third word that the Greeks used for love and that word is philia. Philia expresses an affectionate regard or a friendship between two equal people. And you’d think that this might be the word that Jesus used when talking about his relationship with us as a friend. But it’s not.
The word that Jesus uses for love in this passage from John 15 is the word agape. All seven times in this passage, when Jesus says the word love, he is talking about agape. We’ve talked about agape as kind of love before. It’s the unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It always looks out for the best for others. It is the kind of love that is willing to give all of it means that someone else will benefit even a little. In fact, it is the kind of love that God has for us. It expresses the unconditional love that God has for us, his children.
And that’s the surprise. Jesus isn’t just saying that his disciples should love each other as friends, he’s saying that they should love each other as God loves them. That becomes very clear when we just look at verses 9 and 12 which say this, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love… My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jesus says that the Father has loved him with agape love. Jesus then says that he has loved us with the same agape love with which the Father loves him. And finally, Jesus says for us to love each other with the same agape love with which he has loves us. Do you see how that all fits together?
That bottom line for us is that Jesus doesn’t call us to love each other the way that friends should love each other – with that philia kind of love. He’s telling us that we should love each other the way that God loves us – with agape love. Once again, Jesus sets that bar high in terms of what he expects of those who follow him. The world may demand that we love each other in a friendly way but I’m asking you to go one step further and love others the way that I love you.
NO GREATER LOVE
Jesus continues with this radical description of love in the very next verse, John 15:13-14 (NIV), which says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” Wow, that kind of says it all. And it begs the question – what would you do for a friend?
If you really love someone with that unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificing agape love that Jesus talks about, how far are you willing to take it? Does it mean that you’d drive someone to the hospital if they asked? Actually, that’s what happened to our daughter-in-law Amanda last Saturday. When she went into labour Stephen was at work. And they don’t have car anyway, so Amanda phoned a friend who was only too glad to drive her to the hospital. Friends should do that.
When you’re going on vacation you need someone to look after your cat who do you call? Maybe you call your mother of your brother or, if you’re like us with limited family in the area, you call a friend. Friends do that.
And if you’re going through a tough time and you need to talk to someone whom you trust and you know will be there for you, who do you call? You turn to a friend. If you want to know who your real friends are, wait until you walk through the proverbial valley of the shadow of death. Then you know who your real friends are. There the ones who stand beside you because friends do that.
Let’s not forget that we also turn to friends in the happy times. When you have good news, who’s the first people you tell? It’s your friends of course. Next to family, depending on your family of course, friends are the closest relationships that we have.
But again, Jesus takes it to a whole new level. He says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s the unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificing agape love that Jesus was talking about. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to take love that far? Most of us will never be put in a situation where we need to find out. For that we can count our blessings. But what we do know is that Jesus was put in that spot and he said that, as his friends, he loves us that much.
But then in verse 14 Jesus offers a challenge. He says that if we are really his friends we will do what he commands us to do. What does he command us to do? He’s already said it. If we want to be his friends, we must be willing to give up our lives for others because that is the ultimate expression of a loving friendship.
WHAT KIND OF FRIEND?
Then Jesus describes the difference between a friend and a servant. In John 15:15 (NIV), he says this: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Again, Jesus is pointing to the change that he initiated in the relationship between God and his people. God is no longer distant. God is no longer threatening. God is no longer way up on a stormy mountain, leaving us to cower in fear. That might be what servants do but it is not what friends do.
Servants do what they’re told. They don’t have to know why. They simply have to obey. But friends are different because friends are part of the process.
We are just about three weeks past the 101st anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. As most of us know, it was a decisive victory for Canadian forces. In a few hours, they captured a ridge that both the British and the French had failed to take despite numerous attempts and 10,000’s of casualties.
What we sometimes forget is that for the rest of world, the Battle of Vimy Ridge is called the 2nd Battle of Arras. The Canadians were given the task of taking what was thought to be an unassailable ridge. But someone had to attack it and the British and French were more than willing to give it to the colonials rather than waste any more of their soldiers on it.
Fortunately, General Julian Byng was not so willing to sacrifice the men under his command and decided to try a few new tactics. We’ve heard about the creeping artillery barrages and the different military tactics that he and his chain of command created that led to success. But what we seldom hear about is the important things that happened behind the scenes, the relational stuff.
The British and the French officers were famous for treating their soldiers like cannon fodder. Byng had other ideas. He encouraged his officers to get to know their men personally. He encouraged them to create close relationships – friendships if you will. In fact, he was roundly criticized by the British and French for allowing his officers to fraternize with the troops.
He also did something else that was different. He wanted every soldier to know that plans of what was supposed to happen during the battle. Again, the European powers did not like this. What if a private was captured? Would he divulge the plans for the entire military operation to the Germans, ensuring failure? No, that was not going to happen and so they treated their soldiers more like servants than like friends. They were simply expected to do what they were told to do.
But not the Canadians. Giving everyone knowledge of the battle plan helped to ensure success because even if all of the officers and all of the NCOs went down, the privates knew what they were supposed to do and why. And they could carry on even if their leaders could not.
Jesus said “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus has ensured that we know what we are supposed to accomplish. That includes many things. It includes the great commission which is to make disciples of all nations. It also includes the great commandment which is to love others as God has loved us. That means many thing. It means to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the broken hearted and visit the prisoners and the lonely. We are called to go the extra mile to be the hands and the feet and the voice of Jesus to the world because we are no longer servants but we are friends because we know what he calls us to do. And if faith we will do it.
IT STARTS WITH JESUS
Jesus ends with an interesting couple of verses. In John 15:16-17 (NIV) we read these words: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
What it means is simply this. Nothing happens in our lives for the kingdom of God until Jesus first initiates it. Everything begins with him. Before we come to him, he must first come to us. It goes along with something we said last week when we talked about how Jesus is the vine and that we are the branches. Do you remember that we said that as branches, we can do nothing for God until we are united in Christ? On our own we simply cannot do the work of God. It all begins with Jesus.
This says the same thing. When Jesus says that he choose us, it means that apart from his Holy Spirit, we cannot come to him. But the good news is that he has sent his Spirit and his Spirit speaks to our spirits, whispering words of love and hope and compassion. His Spirit encourages us to receive the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to all people when he died on the cross of Calvary.
Why did he do that? Because we are
no longer servants but we are friends of Christ. That’s why he gave his life
for us and that’s why he calls us to give our lives to him. He is our Lord and
he is our Saviour. And today, we have learned that he is also our friend.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, this morning, O God of Creation, out of our need. We need your guidance. We need you support. We need your love and your caring. But first and foremost, we need to give thanks.
Thank you for your many and varied blessings. For warmth and sunshine. For clean air and clear water. For nature as it bursts forth around us. We thank you for our communities where we receive our nurturing and support. We thank you for our families which give us a place to belong, security, comfort and discipline.
We also give thanks that there is a glimmer of hope that the decades long war in the Korean Peninsula may be coming to an end. At least, talks are scheduled where no talks previously existed. We pray God for cooler heads and a stronger peace.
We give thanks for the birth on Sunday of Victor Gilliland, a son for Stephen and Amanda and a grandson for Ruth and Pastor Kim. We give thanks for medical technology and caring staff. We also are so grateful that Victor is doing well and hopefully will be home soon.
We pray for the people of New Brunswick and other areas that are experiencing extreme flooding. Thank you God for the cooperation that is happening and the good will that is being done as the love of Christ is shared in real and practical ways.
We pray, God of Mercy, for our communities. Our land and our livelihoods are threatened on many fronts. There is the threat of pollution and volatile stock markets. We are concerned, also, about the longer term issue of land management and the possible effect of farming and forestry practices on the land. We need to continue with our efforts to have sustainable development that our environment would be available for future generations. We pray for solutions that will benefit all people.
Finally, we pray for the sick. We ask your special blessing upon Sharon, Helen, David, John and Rachel. You, know, O God of Healing, where we all need you the most. Touch us in those deep places and give us peace.
We lift all of these prayers to you
in the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 6, 2018 / Easter 5
Psalm 98; John 15:9-17; Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Sing a new song to the Lord who had done marvellous things.
The right hand of God has brought victory.
The love of God has sealed our salvation.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
ALL: Praise be to God who lives and loves forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, our gracious Creator, the time of worship is upon us and we seek, once again, your enduring presence. We lift our praises to you as the Author of all good things. We come to you with our laughter; we come with our tears. We come with our satisfaction and our sufferings. We come with our whole beings, knowing that you accept us just as we are. Hear our prayers and enter our worship as we, with longing hearts and faithful lives, glorify your name.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God of Light, Father of Life, Giver of Wisdom, Benefactor of our souls, who gives grace to the faith-hearted that put their trust in you; O Lord, who has brought us from the depths of darkness to light, and hast given us life from death: scatter, we pray, the darkness of sin within us; enlighten the eyes of our understanding that we may see your glory; and sanctify us in body, soul and spirit, that we may be accepted in your presence, through Jesus our Lord.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The wonderful love of God is the Good News of all creation. There is nothing in all of the world that can separate us from that love. There is no ocean too deep, no mountain too high, no power too great, no sin too tempting. Our honest repentance brings us to the doorway of peace with God and all creation. Alleluia!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
These gifts we bring, our hearts we share, our lives we offer for your purpose, O God of Compassion and Strength. Your four mighty winds have brought us abundant blessings. We give them to you and the work of your Kingdom.
The Cross of Christ is lifted high. The Good News of
Jesus is on our lips. It is our privilege and our duty to share our faith
stories with our neighbours. In sharing, perhaps we may open a someone to a new
experience of the Holy. Go and be the Christian story in your corner of
Creation. Share the Spirit and change a life.