THE FREEDOMS OF FRIENDSHIP
There are many freedoms that come with the kind of friendship Jesus described in John 15:15.
There is freedom from the tyranny of the arbitrary exercise of authority. We may ask questions. God wants us to understand.
There is freedom to speak plainly and clearly, as Job and David did. When the Psalmist talked to God, he was very candid about the
subject being discussed. If he hated someone, he did not try to hide it in dark speech. If he wanted vengeance on his enemies, he asked
plainly for their destruction.
“O that you would kill the wicked, O God,” he prayed in Psalm 139. Then afterwards he added,
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (NRSV)
David knew that God wanted him to be especially honest in their relationship with each other. David had not always been this way.
So he prayed in Psalm 51:
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in
my secret heart. . . .
Create in me a clean heart,
and put a new and right spirit
within me. (NRSV)
Freedom from Fear
To be one of God’s understanding friends means to be free from fear of God himself. Obviously, there is no need to be afraid of a God who
wants us to be his friends. And he never has threatened, “Be my friend or I’ll destroy you.”
Even when facing the judgment, we have no need to fear. This is not because we have a friend between us and our holy God. God himself is our friend.
This freedom from fear may be tested for a brief moment when we come face to face with God in the hereafter. How do you expect to feel when
you come that close to God? Moses was so overwhelmed with awe when God came down on Sinai that he said, “I tremble with fear.”1
But soon he was able to reassure the people that there was no need to be afraid.
Will this freedom from fear last for eternity? What will it be like to live in the presence of a God who knows all about us—everything!
Will he haunt us with the memory of our sinful past?
How Jesus Treated the Adulterous Woman
and Her Accusers
For an answer we have only to watch how Jesus treated all kinds of sinners. One of the most dramatic examples can be found in the story of
the woman caught in adultery. As translated in the New International Version, the story reads like this:
At dawn he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus,
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and
said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing
there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”2
Evidently the early Christians did not know what to do with this story, for it appears in different places in the manuscripts, or sometimes not
at all. Your version may have a note of explanation. But many scholars are of the opinion that the story does belong in the Bible. It is hardly
the kind of story that would have been made up in Jesus’ day or created by the typical manuscript copyist in later years.
The distinguished Princeton scholar Bruce Metzger, in his book The Text of the New Testament, agrees that “the story . . . has all the
earmarks of historical veracity; no ascetically minded monk would have invented a narrative which closes with what seems to be only a
mild rebuke on Jesus’ part.”
Some religious leaders brought this poor woman to Christ in another attempt to trap him into contradicting the teachings of the Old Testament.
Each attempt to entrap him Jesus met with his customary skill and grace.
This time, to make sure that they could carry the crowds with them, the enemies of Christ made certain that they had the necessary evidence.
In the hearing of the whole onlooking crowd they announced that “this woman was caught in the very act.”
Then they posed their question: “You know the teaching of the Old Testament on this matter. You know the rule about what ought to be done with
a woman like this. Will you agree that she ought to be stoned?” The public watched to see what Jesus would say.
He said nothing. He just bent down and began to write with his finger in the dust. A puff of wind, a few footsteps, and the record would be gone.
Then his conscience-pricking words: “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Why didn’t Jesus draw the whole crowd closer and say, “Let me tell you a few things about these accusers of this poor woman.” Didn’t
they deserve to be exposed? What does it say about God that his Son did not publicly humiliate those self-righteous men?
This is what Christ came to reveal. God finds no pleasure in our embarrassment, in exposing our sins to others.
When they had all gone, Jesus turned to the woman and gently said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go home, and don’t sin again.”
Graciously he tried to restore the dishonored woman’s self-respect.
How Jesus Treated Simon
Simon, a wealthy man whom Jesus had cured of leprosy, invited Jesus and other friends to eat with him at his house. Three of Jesus’ closest
friends were also there: Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Mary is described by Luke as “a woman who was living an immoral life
in the town.”3
While they were all reclining at the table, Mary brought a flask of very costly perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair.
Simon watched with disapproval and thought to himself, “ ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman
she is—that she is a sinner.’
“Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ”
“ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.”4
Jesus then told a story of two debtors who both had been forgiven. And as he told it, Simon realized that Jesus had read his thoughts.
He began to see himself as a worse sinner than the woman he had despised, and he wondered if Jesus might go on and expose him before his guests.
Nothing is more offensive to the Lord than self-righteous accusation. But did he expose Simon? Did he say to the company, “Let me tell
you about our host”?
Instead, the Lord as always did the gracious thing. He courteously accepted Mary’s impulsive act. With equal grace he corrected Simon without
humiliating him before his friends. Simon must have been deeply touched!
The Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda
When Jesus met the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, he did not humiliate or condemn him for having squandered his health in youthful
indulgence. He simply asked him kindly, “Would you like to be well? Then pick up your mat and go home.” Later Jesus met him and said,
“You know what caused your trouble. Go and sin no more, lest something worse happen to you.”5
The Misbehaving Disciples
Picture Jesus in the upper room the night before he was crucified. The twelve disciples were squabbling like children as to “which one of them
was to be regarded as the greatest.”6
Did Jesus chide them for their folly or scold them for their unwillingness to wash each other’s feet? Instead, he quietly arose, took a towel
and a basin of water, and the universe watched as the great Creator knelt down and washed a dozen pairs of dirty feet. He even washed the
feet of his betrayer, Judas.
What a chance the disciples missed to wash the feet of the Son of God the night before he died! If only one of them had volunteered,
“Please, Lord, may I wash your feet?” What a memory he would have cherished for the rest of eternity!
But instead, Jesus was the only one in the room that night who ate his supper with dirty feet. I wonder how onlooking angels felt.
Imagine the effect on the disciples as each in turn looked down on the head of Jesus bent over the basin and felt those strong
carpenter’s hands washing his feet.
Jesus could have looked up at them and said, “You don’t believe my Father would be willing to do this, do you? But if you have seen me,
you have seen the Father. The Father loves you just as much as I do. If you are comfortable with me, you will be comfortable with him.”
Later Jesus said that one of them would betray him. But he didn’t expose him to the whole group. When he told Judas to go and do quickly
the terrible thing he had to do, the other disciples thought he had been sent out for provisions or even to perform such a noble act as to
give an offering to the poor.
Why didn’t Jesus expose his betrayer before the others? Surely he deserved to be exposed. Think what it says about God that Jesus did not
humiliate such a traitor!
Peter, James, and John
Later that night, out in Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter, James, and John still deeper into the Garden and there began his awesome experience of
separation from his Father. Three times he came over to where the disciples were dozing, hoping for some companionship and comfort in his agony.
What a chance the disciples missed to encourage the Son of God! What if the three of them had arisen and gone back with Jesus and knelt
down around him as he prayed? Isn’t that what real friends would do? What a memory those three men would have had! But they slept through it all.
And Jesus did not reprove them. He sympathized with them for being too tired to help.
A few hours later Peter was cursing and swearing in the courtyard to prove he was not one of Christ’s disciples. He did not even know Him!
Then the rooster crowed, just as Jesus had predicted the night before—right after Peter’s bold speech that, though others might let him
down, he would give his life for the Lord.
When Peter heard that sound, he looked to see if Jesus had noticed. Though he was on trial for his life and had suffered so much already,
Jesus was more concerned about his erring disciple out there in the courtyard. He turned and looked straight at Peter.
As Peter knew God up to that time, he may well have expected to see wrath and indignation in the face of Christ. He surely deserved it!
But instead he saw sorrow, disappointment, and pity—the face of the one who just the night before had knelt down and washed his dirty feet.
Peter went out and wept bitterly.7
A little later Judas came into the court, threw down the thirty pieces of silver, and confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood.
Then he, too, looked at Jesus. He saw the same sorrow and pity that had touched Peter’s heart—the face of the one who just the night
before had knelt down and washed his dirty feet. Overcome, Judas went out and hanged himself.8
If only Judas had responded as Peter did to that look on Jesus’ face! If Judas had found where Peter was weeping and the two disciples
had knelt down together and become new men, what a scene that would have been for all heaven to watch.
Imagine how Peter felt all that Sabbath. What a fool he had made of himself the past twenty-four hours! Twice he had spoken impetuously in
the upper room. Twice he had disgraced himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. And such cowardice and disloyalty while his Lord was being tried!
Now Jesus was dead, and there was no chance for him to make things right.
No wonder he rushed to the tomb on Sunday morning when he heard the news that the grave was empty!
But it was Mary who had the privilege of seeing Christ first and carrying the good news to the other disciples—Mary, of all people,
the woman who had so many problems and so many weaknesses!9 Yet it was Mary who was picked for this high privilege. Think what it says
about God that Mary should be the one so highly honored.
When Mary recognized Jesus standing outside the tomb, she fell at his feet to worship him. And Jesus gently said, “Do not detain
me now, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go and tell my brothers that I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God
and your God.”10
Listen to Jesus calling the disciples his brothers—the men who had let him down when he needed them the most!
When the angels confirmed Jesus’ command to Mary to take the news to the disciples, they said, “Tell the disciples, and especially tell
Peter, that Jesus has risen and will meet them in Galilee.”11
How godlike of the angels to add, “and especially tell Peter”! The angels admire and worship God for the way he has treated sinners.
How they must have enjoyed adding, “Tell Peter”!
This is the kind of God with whom we may spend eternity. That’s why, even though we all have sinned, we’ll be comfortable in the presence
of the one who knows us so well.
We have nothing to fear from the infinite memory of God. There’s no limit to his willingness to forgive. And he has promised not only to forgive
us but to treat us as if we had never sinned. He will cast all our sins behind his back.12 He will “send them to the bottom of the sea!”13
There is no pretense or forgetfulness in this. God knows how we have lived. We know what sinners we have been. Angels have watched our every
deed. But in spite of all this, our heavenly Father will treat us with dignity and respect as if we had always been his loyal children.
Is this only a promise, or has God actually demonstrated his willingness to treat former sinners like this? After King David died, God
talked to David’s son Solomon about his famous father.
And God said, “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your
life.”14 But David had committed some notorious sins. How could God describe him as keeping all his commandments?
Something had happened to David since those transgressions. He had come to realize that God wanted truth in the inner man. So he had asked
God to search his heart and purify that place where a man does his thinking. In response to his prayer, God had given him a new heart and a
right spirit. Now once again God could speak of David as “a man after my own heart.”15
Evidently God really means it when he says he will put our sins behind his back. In the hereafter, if we are admitted to his kingdom,
God will even speak of us to others as if we had always been his loyal friends. And to make sure we are comfortable, God will not admit a
single gossip there!16
Would We Be More Comfortable with the Son?
Who would you rather meet first when you arrive in the kingdom—the Father, or the Son? I have asked that question of hundreds of people.
Most have responded that probably it would be the Son.
What if you do meet Jesus first? A little later, he asks if you are ready now to go and see the Father.
Would you say, “Yes, if you’ll go with me”?
Now you’re standing with Jesus in the awesome presence of the Father. Your head is bowed, and you’re staring at the floor.
You hear a warm and resonant voice say, “You can look at me, if you want to.”
You look up and see a face just as kind as the face of the Son. You begin to apologize, “Oh I’m sorry, God, that I was scared. Jesus said that
if we have seen him, we have seen you. He told us that you love us as much as he does, and that you want us to be your friends.”
“That’s all right,” says the same warm, resonant voice. “Now you know the truth. Now can we be friends?”
“I’m Not Afraid to Die”
Several years ago I buried an old friend and former student. He had been an officer in the air force and had led more than 50 bombing raids
over Europe during the Second World War. When the war was over, he turned up in one of my classes in New Testament Greek, preparing himself to
be a minister. He was an outstanding student. Frequently we talked together about our picture of God.
For the next 35 years, he served as a dearly-loved pastor. Now he was dying of cancer. As I stood by his bed in the hospital, he reached
out his hand and spoke quietly:
“You know, Graham, I’m not afraid to die. And you know the reason why. We share the same picture of God.”