All of us on Facebook have had a notification pop up, telling us that someone wishes to be our "Facebook friend."
We might notice that they might be a friend of a mutual friend already, and quickly accept their friend request, honored that they have made the connection with us, or that they like our posts.
We all have seen someone on the street with whom we went to grade school or High School. After speaking with them, we may be asked, "Who was that?" And we might reply, "That was a friend from school."
But by "friend," we likely mean that this is someone we happened to know by face or by reputation when we were in school with them. Or, this might actually have been a friend in the sense that you both were extremely close, and shared a circle of other friends with whom you were very close.
So with these examples, we begin to see very quickly that the word "friend" in the English language can mean different things.
Knowing this, what would it mean for someone to say that Jesus is their friend? On the surface, we knew instinctively that the word "friend" doesn't seem to be a strong enough word in relation to our master, Jesus.
"Of course he is our friend," we might say to ourselves, "and much more." If so, we'd be on the right track.
When Jesus himself used the word "friend," he meant it in an altogether more important and stronger way then we casually use it today.
For example, when Jesus was beginning to speak about how he was going to be put to death by those who were in authority in ancient Judea, he told his disciples:
"Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
While we all have friends that we care for us, there are very few, maybe even none, for which we would easily and quickly give up our lives.
Jesus, of course gave up his life, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry, on behalf of all who heard and followed him, and for all who would follow him, both then and now.
Jesus made this crystal clear when he went on to say, "You are my friends IF you do what I command you." (15:14)
Jesus, therefore, puts upon those who claim friendship with him the responsibility to follow what he's saying with action.
It is at this point, that many modern Christian preachers would take issue with Jesus. They claim instead that mere belief in the "person" of Jesus, not his teachings, is what can grant us eternity with God. They might claim that his teachings cannot be followed, and that we are unable to do any of the things Jesus did, and have no requirement to attempt to follow those teachings.
But Jesus actually says the opposite. In fact, he is very clear and precise in his teachings, noting:
1 - That following him has costs, responsibilities, and requires obedience, and
2 - That he believes we CAN DO all that he commanded us
Indeed, Jesus says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you."
And he clearly teaches that we must seek to obey God's moral commandments if we hope to spend eternity with God (Matt. 10:17, 19)
Further, he says we will do even greater things than he did on earth (John 14:12) and, "I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:15) Does this sound like an impossible mission he's given us?
The example shown by the teachings of Jesus, of course, was Love - pure, unadulterated, uncluttered, unfiltered love. We are called to love one another, love and serve our neighbors, love our enemies, love and have compassion on those in distress, and love God, our Creator, Who is the focus of all our love and gratitude.
This "yoke" - his teachings - he calls for us to learn from him (Matt. 11:29) and he says it would NOT be a burden, as the barren rituals of the Pharisees had been. (Matt. 11:30; 23:4) If his teachings are not even a burden, they are surely not impossible.
The bottom line is that those who claim to love him will seek to obey his teachings and put them into practice daily, as if they were taking up a cross. (Matt. 16:24) When we put all of his sayings together, they form a remarkably clear and consistent message.
We learn that Jesus said that he was dying an example to his friends, just as his life had been such an example, and that he considered his friends those who obeyed his teachings. Finally, he made it clear that his friends would be able to do all he commanded.
The Good News we hear from the lips of Jesus is truly GOOD, in that it tells us that through the life, teachings and example for God's chosen one, GOD BELIEVES IN US and has given us high standards to achieve.
This same Creator endowed us with gifts, abilities and knowledge that allow us to choose the Good, but also to choose what is evil. It is in rejecting what is evil, repenting of it, and actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.
Simply reading the teachings of Jesus puts friendship with him in an entirely new light. If we claim to be his friend, then we will surely make an effort to seek to follow his teachings, and when we stumble in our efforts, Jesus tells us that when the Righteous repent, we will be forgiven by a just and merciful God. (Matt. 6:12; 18:27)
Indeed, in his Great Commission, Jesus called those who followed him to go out into the world telling people to obey ALL that he taught them. (Matt. 28:20)
It's clear from all of these sayings of Jesus, that he believed friendship with him was intimately tied to following his teachings.
When Jesus says "Take up your cross daily and follow me," (Matt. 16:24) he's calling us to join him on a journey of joyful obedience, love, and service, one just as he embarked upon. That, to Jesus, is true friendship!
But if we do not follow his words, if we claim they are too hard, or not necessary, or not relevant for us today, then we are not really following Jesus, but other men's teachings. In fact, we hate him if we reject, warp or minimize his teachings.
If we make up excuses for not obeying his call for us to love and serve others with our Works, we are not worthy of his name. This fully and completely human Jesus that God chose as our example and Master is meant to be followed, not just admired.
If we are truly to be called his friends, as well as his disciples today, we will seek to put the teachings of Jesus at the center of our Lives every day. We can do no less, if we call ourselves Jesus Followers!