Being Friends With Jesus
Jesus was a teacher, a Rabbi. He was more than that, of course, but he certainly wasn’t less than that. And to the vast majority of people who knew him in his lifetime, that’s precisely what they thought of first when they thought of him. Like other Rabbis of his time, Jesus had disciples. But Jesus was different. Typically, a Rabbi would allow a student to approach him about becoming a follower. The Rabbi might ask the would-be disciple a few questions to see if that young man was serious about learning. Once approved, the disciple would follow his Rabbi everywhere, hoping not only to learn from his teacher but to actually become more like his teacher.
Jesus, however, reversed this set-up. He sought out his disciples. He didn’t wait for them to come to him; he went to them, calling them out of their workplaces to a lifestyle of following and learning and becoming. Mark’s Gospel tells us that he settled on 12 guys who would be his closest followers, and Mark tells us what Jesus’ primary educational strategy was.
The plan was that they would just “be with him” – just hang out with him, go where he went, watch, listen, ask, discuss, learn and then, under his watchful eye and careful tutelage, begin doing the same kinds of things he had done (cf. Mark 3:13-15).
Some amazing things happened over the next three years. Sick people were healed. Dead people were raised. Women and children were elevated and dignified. Religious people were confounded. Corrupt people were exposed.
But something else happened. Over time, as Jesus and his followers hung out, their relationship changed. By the end of his life, Jesus didn’t just think of them as his servants or his students.
They had become his friends.
He was still their Rabbi, and there was still much for them to learn from him. He was their Lord, their Master, and he would become their Savior in a matter of hours. But on the last night before his death, he gathered them all in a rented room and told them, “You guys are my friends now, and there’s no greater way of showing you how much you mean to me than by me making the ultimate sacrifice for you.”
Jesus wasn’t dying as a war hero or a religious martyr. He wasn’t laying down his life for his followers or students or witnesses or servants. This wasn’t just a theological event staged to satisfy some mysterious part of God’s nature. This was a personal expression of the deep love Jesus felt for his friends.
Jesus is many things, and talking about being friends with him brings up some angst in some folks. Jesus is God, and, as such, we are to worship and submit to him.
But one of the distinctive things about Christianity, something that separates Christians from, say, Muslims, is that we believe our God came near. He’s not just way out there, totally “other”, beyond the azure blue, concealed from human sight. He’s close. He’s willingly drawn near to us. He’s called us to be more than servants; he’s called us to be friends.
A Savior is someone you need.
A King is someone you respect.
A Master is someone you obey.
Jesus is all of these things. But he’s more. He’s a friend.
And a friend is someone you know. That’s the real difference. And it makes all the difference in the world.