Friends are such an important part of life. Can you imagine? The man of your dreams pops the big question and asks you to be the queen of his castle. Emotion sweeps over you as you envision the years ahead building a family, building hopes, and building memories. You come to the point in your engagement when it’s time to make arrangements for your big day. Flowers are ordered, the minister is contacted, and a dress is fitted for your crowning moment. When you sit down with your fiancee to make out the guest lists — your mind goes blank. You strain, you think, you come up empty. Not one friend can be found. Can you imagine?
Can you imagine? For weeks you’ve had a nagging pain which you thought would go away only to be reminded every time you move that it is still there. You make an appointment with the doctor, arrive on time, take the tests prescribed, and the doctor utters that nasty six letter word that sparks dread and fear in the hearts of millions each year. You check into the hospital to be operated on only to be told when you finally awaken — “there is nothing we can do.” The doctor sends you home to a hollow shell of a house where you sit, and sit, and sit some more. No one comes to see you, no one calls…no one. Can you imagine?
Can you imagine? You start your sophomore year with high hopes of making a name for your self, making new friends, and making the grade. You meet a group of guys who say they are your friends. They want to spend time with you, go to the places you go, and do the things you do. One night they are out on the town when they dare you to do the unthinkable. You know it isn’t right, but you don’t want to disappoint your “friends.” A gun is fired, a child falls, a mother weeps. The police arrive at your home, handcuff you like a common criminal, and cart you off to jail. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, justice is served, and you go to jail. Your cell is cold and lifeless — almost as cold and lifeless as you feel. No one comes to see you. Your so-called friends are nowhere to be found. Can you imagine?
Can you imagine? You’ve shared your life with your husband for more than a decade when you get a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night which shakes your home to its foundation. In an instant brokenness fills the room — hearts, hopes, and even your home are shattered into a million pieces. The ache inside you hurts so bad that you feel like someone has driven a dagger into your heart. You would like nothing more than to have someone reach out and hold you, pray with you, and listen to your tears fall to the floor. The phone never rings and for the life of you, you can’t recall one single number to call. Can you imagine?
Can you imagine what life would be like without friends? The fact of the matter is that these gruesome scenarios are more real than reality for many people who wake up to face each day believing they have no one to turn to when the storms of life come racing in at mach speed.
If you don’t come away from “Friend Day” with anything else, I want you to come away with the assurance of knowing that you have a friend. A friend who loves you more than life itself. A friend who cares for you when the rest of the world turns away. A friend who knows your name.
Is that a fantasy? Is it too good to be true to believe that there could be someone who would never walk away, someone who would never fail us when the chips are down, someone who would literally lay down their life for you? I don’t think so. It’s not some fairy tale, Pollyanna belief, youthful naiveté, or modern-day myth which has convinced me of this reality. History has recorded “His story” of love, unyielding devotion, and caring.
Jesus is a friend to the friendless. A father to the fatherless. A source of refuge to those who are being washed over by the storms of life.
It is my prayer that this morning we might come to see Jesus as our very best friend. I believe there are many of us here this morning who have seen Jesus as a point of public debate, a baby in a manger, a man on a cross, but I hope we can come to see Him this morning as our friend who loves us more than we can truly comprehend and who wants us to share every aspect of our life with Him.
In John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16, Jesus prepares His disciples for the inevitable — His cruel death upon a despised wooden cross. In preparing them for this moment which will send them scurrying for cover, Jesus comforts them. He says,
(13) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (14) You are my friends if you do what I command. (15) 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. (16) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. (John 15:13-16 NIV)
Powerful words of comfort. Comforting words of power. We live in a day when words have precious little meaning. Anyone can speak flowery words of praise and encouragement, but few are willing to back them up with tangible means of support, love, and devotion. Jesus didn’t speak empty words — His life was the greatest evidence that when Jesus spoke He meant what He said.
Over and over again in Scripture we find Jesus being a friend to those who desperately needed someone to stand with them. Let me give you a little sample of what I mean.
Bartimaeus was a man not unlike many today who battle chronic illness and infirmities. He was tired of not being able to wake up and see the paintbrush of God scrolling a masterpiece across the eastern sky. He was tired of being able to hear his grandchildren playing in the front yard, but not being able to go out and play with them. He was tired of sitting along the roadside shrouded in darkness as others watched with wide-eyed amazement as the parade marched by. He was just plain old tired…and desperate.
Throughout Bartimaeus’ many years every kind of potion and traveling medicine man had made their way through Jericho peddling their wares to heal every infirmity known to man. Bartimaeus had become so desperate that he had tried them all, but none of them worked.
Then one day Bartimaeus’ life took a turn for the better. He had heard about a Healer. This Healer didn’t have a slick presentation to offer, no Dr. Feel Good’s “Miracle Tonic,” no beautiful blond model to entice the desperate to deposit their funds in the good doctor’s dream. Jesus was a simple Man who took the time to talk with those others talked about. He made His way to those others made a way around. He stooped to serve those that life had broken down.
Jesus came to Bartimaeus’ town of Jericho. He was surrounded by a large crowd as He walked the streets like a rock star making his way through a crowd of adoring fans. Bartimaeus was simply a lonely beggar sitting alongside the road. As the crowd whooped and hollered, Bartimaeus was once again reminded of what he couldn’t see as the large crowd caused such a stir that Bartimaeus knew something was going on. Then Mark tells us, (47) When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 NIV) The entourage didn’t take too kindly to a lowly beggar shouting at the main event. “Be quiet old man! Don’t you know who that is? Sit down and mind your own business — we’re only passing through!” Bartimaeus shouted even louder. Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” Someone went over to the old man and said, “Cheer up you old geezer. Get up on your feet. He is calling you.” Bartimaeus threw his cloak off of his lap, jumped to his feet, and made his way to Jesus. As Bartimaeus stood before Jesus the dawning of a brand new day was about to break forth. Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Hope burst forth like flowers in the Spring as Bartimaeus said, “Rabbi, I want to see?” With those words visions of smiling children dashed about before his eyes, Fourth of July fireworks whizzed across the sky with every color of the rainbow bursting forth in full view, and friend’s faces which he had never seen before began to take shape.
Jesus opened eyes that had been darkened for far too long, and the light of God’s love shone forth for the world to see. After Jesus opened Bartimaeus’ eyes, Mark tells us that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus along the road.” I would follow a friend like that anywhere.
The crowd followed Jesus because of what they had heard, because they were “star struck,” but Bartimaeus followed Jesus because he had found a friend who had cared.
Jesus was a friend to the friendless, but He was also a friend to those who seemingly had it all in the eyes of the world and yet were brought to the point of despair by the predicaments and pitfalls of life. Don’t take it from me — just ask Jairus.
Jairus wasn’t down and out. He was dignified. He was a community debutante. He was charming and debonair. He was the leader of the synagogue.
The synagogue in Jairus’ day was the center of religion, education, leadership, and community activities. Jairus was the senior pastor, most highly esteemed professor, mayor, and best known man in the town. He had it made. He didn’t want for anything. Jairus had the world on a platter and a silver spoon in his mouth. Or did he?
There have always been those that society has looked upon and said, “Boy do they have it made!” Throughout the ages there have always been those who would fit nicely into the story-line of MTV Cribs. There have always been the Solomons, Bill Gates, King Davids, Oprah Winfreys, and Donald Trumps who provide the day dreams for those who have never experienced the glitz or glamour of life. There have always been those which many in society look at with amazement, gawk at, idolize, and hope to emulate in life. Jairus was one of those people, and yet he came to a place in his life where all of his fame, notoriety, and money couldn’t get him out of the fix which was breaking his heart.
Jairus was tormented because his baby was sick and dying. Positions of royalty can’t make for a story book marriage. Fame never foiled the deaths of any of societies children. Billions couldn’t buy peace and contentment for a reclusive Howard Hughes. A million magazine covers couldn’t buy contentment for glamour queen Marilyn Monroe. Tragedy was knocking at Jairus’ home and it was tearing his heart apart.
Jairus was so pained with the predicament of his daughter that he willingly laid aside his dignified demeanor and fell at the feet of Jesus pleading with him for a miracle. Jairus said, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (Mark 5:23 NIV) Jesus saw the pain of the synagogue ruler and went with him to his home.
On the way to Jairus’ house Jesus healed a woman who had been suffering for years and then all of a sudden some men from Jairus’ house came and said, “You daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any more?” Boy talk about friends. With friends like that who needs enemies. How true to life this is though. When we lose someone we love so dearly those around us can be so cold and callused with their little clichés and simple solutions. Jesus would have none of that. Mark 5:36 tells us Jesus’ response: “Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’”
Don’t be afraid. Fear was gripping the heart of Jairus. His “friends” said his daughter was dead. Jesus said, “Believe. Don’t be afraid!” Some of us here this morning are firmly in the clutches of fear at this moment. You are fearful of what the future holds for you. You fear the direction your life has taken. You fear the hopes and dreams you have had for a long and fulfilling marriage will never be realized. You fear the decisions your children are making. You fear the doctor will come back with a bleak report. You fear your job will end and you will have no way to support your family. You fear… Jesus, your friend, says to you this morning — “Don’t be afraid. Believe.”
The walk to his house seemed like an eternity for Jairus. He didn’t know what he would find when he got there. When he arrived with Jesus — people were crying, Kleenex was flying, and Jairus’ daughter was lying lifeless on her bed. Before a word could be said, Jesus spoke up: “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” (Mark 5:39 NIV) Evidently the seriousness of the moment didn’t deter the inhabitants of the house from breaking out in unbridled laughter. They laughed at Jesus, but to the Lord the pain of Jairus was no laughing matter.
Jesus ran them all out of the house. The only people left in the house were Jairus, his wife, and four of the disciples. Love was lavished upon the little girl. Compassion was carried to those who needed it most. Broken hearts were healed. Jesus knelt down beside the bed, brushed the little girl’s hair with his tender hand, and said, “Little girl, get up!”
Jairus needed a friend in the worst way. The apple of his eye was withering away and nothing he had, nothing he could do, none of his distinguished friends could solve his problems. Jesus became a friend to a man who was more than a erudite scholar, more than a dignitary, more than a distinguished community leader, but to a man who was first and foremost a daddy.
Time after time throughout His life Jesus befriended those who felt so alone, so hurt. From blind Bartimaeus to Jairus — Jesus proved to be a friend. Even as He hung on the despised cross, the symbol of shame and humiliation, the King raised His head, looked down upon His friends who had hung Him there, and said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV)
Jesus wasn’t alone on that lonely hill called Golgatha. Golgatha — “the skull” — Even the name of the hill brings images of death and destruction vividly to mind. It was there on the hill that Jesus hung lifeless, listless, lethargic, and languid, but He didn’t hang alone. Two thieves hung alongside Jesus. One thief was belligerent. No doubt partly because of the scourge he had become to society. You know the type — the thief, the gangbanger, the drug dealer, the prostitute. Looked down upon by everyone, trusted by no one, feared by most. As a result, attitudes form which perceive everyone as a threat and no one as a friend. This was the mindset of the thief. He lashed out at Jesus. “Who do you think you are? Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 NIV)
There was another criminal there that lonely day who hadn’t been twisted and gnarled by the insults hurled at him. He was guilty. No one was more aware of his guilt than he was, but he desperately needed a friend. He cried out to the thief, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong?” (Luke 23:40-41 NIV) It wasn’t enough to stand up and speak out for justice. Even the greatest moral revolutionaries can still be friendless. The thief cried out for a friend. “Jesus will you remember me when you come into your Kingdom?” (Luke 23:42 NIV) Then an amazing thing happened. In the midst of the most excruciating pain ever endured by any person; with the sin of the world resting firmly on His shoulders — Jesus raised His head. He looked deep into the hollow eyes of the thief and said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV) No more comforting words were ever spoken from the mouth of a friend. In the throes of turmoil and hopelessness — hope shines forth once again because of the effort of a friend.
All of these stories tug at my heart because I know people who fit into all three categories — those whose infirmities have darkened their perspective on life, those who are struggling to hold on to what is most precious in their life — their babies and loved ones, and those who are mired in a life of crime, delusion, deception, and defeat. Boy do they need a friend. Knowing that Jesus is a friend to all of these warms my heart, but I’ve got to be honest — It’s not enough that they have a friend, I want one too.
I’ve got good news for you who have come this morning — Jesus greatly desires to be your friend. You may have experienced some of the tragedies which have been mentioned this morning or you may be one of the few people that has experienced relatively little adversity in life. Either way, each and every one of us longs for someone who will love us no matter what, someone who will encourage us, and someone who will rush to our side when tragedy strikes and we feel so alone.
I speak as an authority on the subject because I have always longed for a real friend. Not an acquaintance — someone to simply share box scores or the latest jokes making their round, but someone to share the most intimate details of my life.
When I was eighteen years old Jesus found me alone and in great need. Like Bartimaeus, my eyes had been blinded to the abundance that God offers in life. Words like peace, contentment, and salvation were as foreign to me as Chinese, the fashion of sagging pants or teenagers wearing shirts that are four sizes to small. It was at that moment that a friend took me to a lonely hill where a cross hung against a darkened sky. He told me the story of God’s great love for me and how that love enabled Him to allow His only Son to suffer the most horrible of all deaths — for me. I had always thought that I had to accomplish something of great significance to be liked and accepted by my peers, but my friend told me that Christ’s love was not determined by what I accomplished or by how miserably I failed. His love was constant, steadfast, and would never pass away. The only undetermined question was, “Would I accept His love or reject it. Would I accept this one who wanted to befriend me or would I turn Him away.”
I have to be honest with you and tell you that for the first eighteen years of my life I was never one to be in the least concerned with “church stuff.” Religion was merely a crutch for weak people and I couldn’t imagine ever thinking I was weak. Something strange happened to me though when I heard of God’s great love demonstrated to all the world through His Son. I was drawn to that love, I wanted a friend, I was tired of struggling and busting my behind to “be” somebody. Christ came into my life that day and I can honestly say to you that He has never brushed me aside because He was too busy for my puny concerns, He has never rejected me because I didn’t add up, and His love has not faded a shade throughout these many years of my life. It is a love which will not let me go and that is why I can stand before you today and say, “What a friend I have in Jesus!”
I know there are many people here this morning who have heard all kinds of stories about Jesus. My hope for us this morning is that we might not trust the rumors we’ve heard, but that we might trust Christ. Just as Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” I hope you have heard something this morning that will allow you to lay down your failures, your fraud, and your fear so that you might take Him by the hand. Jesus is your best friend. Will you accept His great love or will you reject it?