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The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Series B

Text: John 15:9-17

Title: “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

Date: Sunday, May 6, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Joseph Scriven, the man who wrote the hymn we just sang “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, was born in 1819 in Ireland. Things seemed to go well in his life until he became engaged. The evening before the wedding, his bride drowned. Scriven eventually moved to Port Hope, Ontario where he became engaged again. But tragedy struck once more when his bride became ill and died just before the wedding. In 1855 when his mother in Ireland became sick, Scriven wrote the words of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Why would Scriven write such a hymn when his life as an adult had been wrecked with tragedy? Had Jesus really been a friend to him? Has Jesus been a friend to you? It might not always feel like it but through the words of our text, you’ll see the many ways in which Jesus is a friend to you.

         The Lord speaks the words of our Gospel reading the night before He is crucified for our sins. The crucifixion alone shows what a friend we have in Jesus, as Christ Himself says in our text: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13) Anytime someone sacrifices his life for a friend, that act makes front-page news. What makes Jesus’ sacrifice so much more amazing is that He willingly gave up His life to save people who, by nature, were not His friends.

A Greek story tells of the devotion and loyalty of Damon and Pythias. Dionysius of Syracuse had condemned Pythias to death. Pythias begged and pleaded to be set free for a short time so that he could get his affairs in order. Damon pledged His own life for the return of his friend. And Pythias faithfully returned before the appointed time of his execution, as he had promised. The tyrant Dionysius was amazed at the devotion and loyalty of these two and begged to be included in their friendship. Damon and Pythias were each ready to lay down their life for the other. But seldom is a person willing to identify with, and die for someone who is ungodly and tyrannical.

Yes, what a friend we have in Jesus that He would give up His life to pay for our sins we commit against Him. Jesus’ friendship doesn’t stop with His saving us. He went on to tell His disciples: “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.” (Jn. 15:15) When Jesus says that He has made known to us everything the Father made known to Him, He’s saying that we have inside knowledge of the kind of things that affect not only everyday life, but also eternal life. For example, we have knowledge of how the Father has planned to work everything, even sadness and pain, for the good of believers. We also know what He has planned for the end of the world. Yes, you might not know when the end will come but you and I do know how we can be ready for the end…by being friends with Jesus.

         Those who have friends in high places not only know what’s going on, they have access to power and influence. With Jesus as our friend we have that blessing. Jesus says: “…the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn. 15:16c) What exactly does it mean that the Father will do whatever we ask “in Jesus’ name”? It doesn’t mean that the Father will do whatever we demand of Him. What we can be certain of is that our heavenly Father will only give us that which is good for us no matter what we demand from Him. Our heavenly Father will give us these blessings for Jesus’ sake. What a friend we have in Jesus that He causes the heavenly Father to listen to and answer our prayers! We can be certain, however, that when we ask for spiritual blessings like forgiveness or a stronger faith, our heavenly Father will give us these blessings for Jesus’ sake. 

We’ve seen how Jesus is a friend to us but now let’s find out why he is such a friend. Jesus explains in our text: “…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (Jn. 15:16b) Jesus became your friend, not only to save you but to make you productive in God’s eyes. So what kind of lasting fruit does Jesus want from you and me? The Lord says: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:10-12)

Years ago, national television showed twin brothers about eight or nine years old. One was considerably smaller than the other because of kidney disease. Once he had been weak and sickly, but now before the cameras he played and chattered away. Why the improvement?  Because his brother had given him his kidney and saved his life. His brother was asked which kidney he gave. He replied: “My right one…because I am right-handed and I figured that my right kidney was my best kidney.” What an example of godly love! His parents said it was his own idea to give his twin brother his kidney and that his love was free and generous toward his brother.

         What Jesus wants from you and me is for us to love one another as He has loved us, in that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.” (Rom. 5:10) God sent His only-begotten child to love us…to befriend us…to die for us…so that you and I would be His friends. In return, you and I are to love Him and each other. We shouldn’t think of this as a burden that He imposes on us. This love is clearly the focus of the readings today. The word love is used five times in the Epistle reading and nine times in the Gospel text. So if you’re going to take one thing away from today’s readings, remember that [Jesus said:] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:12) The reason He wants us to love one another is so that our “joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:11b) Jesus knows what He’s talking about, doesn’t He? There is joy in speaking to your spouse with tenderness and affection. There is joy in empathizing with those who are in pain. There is joy in being patient with your children and grandchildren. When you don’t do these things, you feel guilt and shame instead of joy.

         But showing love to each other is easier said than done isn’t it? It’s hard to love those who aren’t appreciative of what we do for them. It’s hard to love a teacher, a spouse, or a boss who nitpicks our work. How can we love people like that? Jesus tells us how. In our Gospel reading from last week, Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) As long as we continue to remain in Jesus, that is, as long as we continue to hear and believe his Word, we will bear much fruit, we will love each other.

So yes! “What a friend we have in Jesus!” Joseph Scriven hit the nail right on the head when he wrote that hymn, didn’t he? Jesus became your friend when He died for you. He solidified the friendship by sharing with you everything the heavenly Father shared with Him and by opening the Father’s ears to your prayers. The Son of God maintains the friendship through His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Continue to remain in Him in His Word and the Sacraments. And continue to love one another as He wants each of us to do. Amen.

 

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