There is no better way to relax, in my opinion, than to be with friends. Recently, our youth group at Willow Avenue went on our fall retreat and had an absolute blast. Our theme was “closer,” and I really think that we became closer as friends and as a church family in those three days. One of the best things about it, though, was that people could be themselves and relax with those who were like-minded and friendly. When we got on the buses to leave, it was like we left our problems and the social pressure that every teen (and really most people) deal with at the door. There was no pressure to do anything in any certain way or by any certain deadline. There was a sense of togetherness and even a sort of familial bond that was shared in those moments; there was love between us, and a true friendship that cannot be denied.
In the hours leading up to Jesus’s betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew the Scriptures, like Psalm 22, Zechariah 12:10, and so many others, that prophesied about the things He was about to go through. More so, He knew that He was to be “despised and rejected by men,” as Isaiah 53: 3 says, and that He would eventually be sold out and abandoned by all. Indeed, Matthew 26:56 says that upon His arrest, all forsook Him and fled. Jesus knew full well what He was about to go through, and that the rejection that He had felt in the world since the beginning would be shown to Him, in the end, even by His friends.
Despite all of this, Jesus made it His mission to be the best friend He could be to the apostles in His last days on earth. He chose to eat the Passover feast with them and, as recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22, to institute with them an even more important Supper. He washed their feet in John 13, teaching them a very important last lesson about humility and true love in servitude. John 14-16 records His last extended conversation with them, in which His entire ministry is summed up and another Helper, the Holy Spirit, is promised to guide them into the truth even after His departure. In this context, He prays for them in John 17, asking the Father to guard them in holiness and sanctify them in the truth of His word. Mark 14:26 says that when they departed from the upper room, they sang a hymn together (the idea of collective edification and teaching is implied here, as it is stated in Colossians 3:16 and elsewhere). Later, He implores His friends to pray with Him in Gethsemane, giving them the opportunity to be close to Him even in one of His lowest and most human moments. It is obvious that the closeness with these men that Jesus desired was a high priority of His, and that it was something that He hoped would be remembered by them after His passing.
There is one more display of friendship, though, that may be even greater and even more moving than the rest. As the soldiers and the multitudes converged on the Savior just outside Gethsemane, Judas walked out in the front of them and signified the Christ to them by kissing Him on the cheek. When Judas has come to Him, Jesus asks him in Matthew 26:50, “Friend, why have you come?” In that moment, Jesus likely remembered many days spent walking and talking with this man, one whom He had chosen years ago to be among His closest followers and servants. He looked at the one whose feet He had just washed in complete humility, the one who had sold Him out for the price of a slave, the one who had delivered Him to go through the worst suffering imaginable, and the one who had come to betray His trust and His unconditional love with a kiss. In that moment, Jesus called Judas, “friend.”
How sad is it that there are people in our own schools, workplaces, and even congregations that don’t know what it means to be a part of a family? How disgracing is it that there are people we see every day as we profess the Name and word of Christ that we pass by? How shameful is it that there are those who walk into the house of God and feel like they don’t belong because no one has reached out to them in kindness and invited them to belong? How shameful, when Christ saw the man who put Him on the cross and called him a friend?!
There are no words in the human language that can describe that kind of love to us. There is no song that can be sung, no book that can be written, no great display of majesty that can ever communicate the love of God to the world. There is, however, one action that can. Jesus said it Himself in John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And that’s exactly what He did.
1 John 3: 18 – “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”