I love “Friend Day.” I love seeing new faces. I love the excitement that “Friend Day” brings with it. I love eating good food, and we’ve got plenty waiting for us right after this service. I also love having an opportunity to talk about the importance of friendship. Friends are so very important. Have you noticed how for some reason we as adults tend to relegate the word “friend” to the world of children? When we hear the word “friend” we tend to conjure up images of little girls playing on the playground. They are walking hand in hand. One of the little girls, as they walk by their teacher, looks up and says, “She’s my friend,” as she puts her arm around her friend and pulls her up close. Or we imagine a group of boys playing together with their teammates on the field of competition. As they execute the play and head into the endzone, the boys jump up and down and hug each other with enthusiasm. Friends are such an important part of life…and not just for kids. We all desperately need friends.
Can you imagine? The man of your dreams, Prince Charming, pops the big question and asks you to be his Cinderella. 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 fiance 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 how horrible that would be?
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–“it’s cancer.” 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 how lonely it would be?
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 you’re broken, shattered, and so is your heart and every hope you had for the future. Broken 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 to pick up the phone and call someone you know would understand, someone who would listen, but you can’t think of anyone 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 die for us? I don’t think so. It’s not some fairy tale, some Pollyanna belief, youthful naiveté, or modern-day myth which has convinced me of this reality. History has recorded “His story” of love and devotion. 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 the cross. In preparing them for this moment which will send them running for cover, Jesus comforts them. He says,
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s 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 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. (John 15:13-16 NIV)
Such 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 see their precious little faces. 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 supposedly 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 who had no slick presentations to offer, no Dr. Feel Good’s “Miracle Tonic,” no beautiful blond Tic Toc 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 that others made every effort to avoid. 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!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47-48 NIV)
The crowd didn’t take too kindly to a lowly beggar shouting at Jesus. “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. Wouldn’t you?
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 has always been an Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Will Smith or Tom Brady or…you fill in the blank of whoever you believe has it all. And there has always been the rest of us who look at the super wealthy or the super famous and dream about what it would be like to live their lives. Jairus was that guy in Capernaum, 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 little girl was sick and dying. Having millions or even billions of dollars has never secured a story book marriage. Possessing world-wide fame couldn’t bring Iron Mike Tyson’s four year daughter, Exodus, back from a tragic accident when she died in 2009. 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. Mark tells us,
22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” (Mark 5:22-23 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 can be at times. When we lose someone we love, some of those around us can say things that aren’t helpful at all. 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. Just believe. Trust Me.”
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.” Evidently the seriousness of the moment didn’t deter the inhabitants of the house from breaking out in unbridled laughter. We read in Mark 5:40 that they laughed at Jesus, but to Jesus, Jairus’ pain 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 offered to Jairus and his family. 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)
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, but He didn’t hang there 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.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 NIV)
There was another criminal there that lonely day. He had been tried and found guilty also. No one was more aware of his guilt than he was, but he desperately needed a friend. He cried out to the thief,
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42 NIV)
It wasn’t enough to speak out against the criminal who was mocking Jesus. Even a reformed criminal turned moral revolutionary can still be friendless. The thief cried out for a friend. “Jesus will you remember me when you come into your Kingdom?” 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.” (Mark 23:43) 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 children, 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 us to have a friend 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 always be there no matter what happens in our lives.
I speak as an authority on the subject because for a long time I was looking for that kind of friend as well. Not acquaintance, someone who simply knew me, but someone who really knew me, the good and the bad, and yet would never walk away.
Just over forty years ago 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 they could be. It was at that moment that a friend of mine painted a picture for me of 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…and He did it 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 unanswered 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 wasn’t 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 working 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 failed, and His love has not faded a shade. 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 we 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, put aside your mask, 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?
Britton Christian Church
November 7, 2021