Vs 4: In this verse we are introduced to a group known as the 144,000. According to John they are 144, 000 who are sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. However, the interpretation of this group is not as simple as clear as one would think. There are varying interpretations as to who this group really is, and we will look at them together. Before we do this, we need to be reminded of who this prophecy is written to (Seven churches in Asia Minor) and the temperature of society at the time (first century churches facing with persecution).
First, we need to note that John does not see the 144,000 at this time. We are told that he HEARS the number of those sealed. He does not actually see the 144,000 until chapter 14. Second, we need to establish what/who the 144,000 represent and we can interpret them two ways
Some believe the 144,000 is a literal reference to the nation of Israel. It is believed that these are 12,000 evangelists from each of the tribes who go out and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. This interpretation does bring up some issues though because it brings in racial distinctions that no longer exist. This means it disregards the historical fact that ten of the twelve tribes disappeared in Assyria and the remaining two lost their individual identity when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. Some do believe that the tribes were in hiding and would return before the end. But we do need to keep in mind that apocalyptic writing is often not literal.
Now, when we look at the interpretation as symbolic, we do not make it any easier. However, if we take the number 144,000 to be symbolic then as Mounce writes, “Twelve (the number of the tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand – a twofold way of emphasizing completeness.”
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Vs 5 – 8: It is interesting to note the enumeration and irregularities in listing the twelve tribes.
At the start of the new year, we began a new sermon series entitled “Friends”. We have been looking at friendships throughout the Bible. I launched the series with the most important friendship any Christian must have and that is our relationship with Jesus Christ. The second week I talked about the loyalty as we looked at the friendship between David and Jonathon. Last week John Glass spoke about the supportive relationship between Moses and Aaron. This week we are moving to the New Testament as we will look at the mentor relationship Paul has with Timothy.
We know quite a bit about the Apostle Paul. About one third of the New Testament was written by him. Unfortunately, we do not know much about his life pre-Christ, other than he was an aspiring young Pharisee who persecuted and killed Christians (Philippians 3:5 – 7).
However, we do know much about his life after he became a follower of Jesus as it is documented in the Acts of the Apostles and many of his epistles. He was influential spreading the gospel to and planting churches in predominantly gentile regions. He was a missionary who was zealous for spreading the gospel and he was determined share it wherever he went. This also meant he spent some time in jail and often fleeing for his own life.
Naturally, he had many friends around the known world, and he had faithful travel companions who went with him. Some of these companions include Luke (the author of the Gospel of Luke) Barnabas, John Mark (the author of the Gospel of Mark) and many more. One of the most valuable relationships he had was with his travel companion, co-worker, and eventual young pastor named Timothy. Timothy was Paul’s ministry companion and assistant on his second missionary journey.
Acts 16:1 - 5
Vs 1: “A disciple was there, named Timothy”
We are introduced to Timothy in this chapter. When Paul begins his second missionary journey his first stop was in Lystra. It was in this town that Paul meets Timothy. He was the son of a Jewish Christian woman (Eunice), and a gentile father. His grandmother (Lois), was also a believer. It is believed that Timothy may have become a Christian when Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra five earlier.
Vs 3: Paul was impressed with this young man and he invited Timothy to accompany him on his missionary journey. But before they left Paul circumcised Timothy. It seems a little strange that Paul does this because he spent much of his time defending gentiles from the law of circumcision. His message of salvation by grace through faith and not the works of the law (circumcision) was his prominent message among the church and gentiles. But according to commentator Ajith Fernando, “(Paul’s) battle was against insisting that circumcision was a condition for the full inclusion of the gentiles among the people of God (salvation). Here the issue was the qualification for the ministry.” He continues, “Timothy needed to win the esteem of the Jewish Christians and being circumcised would give him openings in evangelizing the Jews.”
Both Timothy and Paul wanted to be above reproach in their personal lives so as to not be a stumbling block to those Jews who would potentially come to faith in Jesus Christ. People knew Timothy was the son of a gentile father and he wanted to ensure that he would not be the reason someone did not come to faith in Jesus. He put others before himself. He very well could have said, “Paul, there is no need for me to be circumcised because as you preach regularly, I am saved by grace and not the works of the law.” But we see early on that Timothy had a deep trust and respect for Paul.
Vs 5: Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s journey was a success because the result was churches were strengthened in faith and grew in numbers… DAILY.
1 & 2 Timothy
As mentioned earlier Paul had a genuine love and relationship with Timothy. In both letters Paul writes to Timothy he calls him respectively “my true son in faith” and “my dearly loved son.” (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2) Paul’s life situations had changed drastically between his two letters to Timothy. His first letter was written to Timothy while was on the road and hoping to eventually visit Timothy in Ephesus. It is believed that at the time of this writing Timothy was a young man. Pastor John Stott believed Timothy was most likely in his early thirties. He was, in fact, a young pastor left in charge of the church in Ephesus and Paul writes to him about church order, discipline, and worship. Paul gives Timothy pastoral and practical advice and encouragement on how to be an effective leader for the glory of God and he encouraged him to remain faithful preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:11 – 16:
“But you, man of God, flee from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called and about which you have made a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and of Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep this command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. God will bring this about in his own time. He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power. Amen.”
In the conclusion of the first letter to Timothy Paul encourages him to be upright as a man of God by teaching sound doctrine, by remaining content, and resisting the temptation for financial gain. Pursue godliness. Fight the good fight of faith. Preach the gospel faithfully until the Lord comes back. Finally, to guard the gospel and heretical teaching.
The second letter to Timothy was written from prison in Rome. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he writes to encourage (yes, a prisoner writes to encourage a free man) Timothy to persevere in the ongoing persecution and trials he is and will be facing because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul has a special bond with Timothy, and he knows since he is in prison that he will probably not be able to see Timothy again, let alone have an extended life on earth. The purpose of this letter is to encourage Timothy to protect the integrity of the Gospel, stand firm in the faith during the good and bad times. In some ways it is a farewell letter to a good friend and colleague. The timing of Paul’s death is uncertain, but it is looms on the horizon.
However, at the conclusion of the letter, we do see Paul has a glimmer of hope to see Timothy once again. He tells Timothy to get Mark (the same one who wrote the Gospel of Mark) and come to see him. He is told to bring his cloak, books and parchments that he left behind in Ephesus. It is apparent that many people have either deserted or betrayed Paul and he is vulnerable enough to share how has been hurt by some of these people who were once his friends.
Mentoring and You
Paul was a mentor to the young Pastor Timothy. He invested his life helping Timothy become the leader God called him to be. A general reading of both Epistles to Timothy will show that Paul cared deeply for Timothy and he wanted to see Timothy succeed as a Pastor and church leader. This is what good mentors do… They invest.
Can you identify any mentors in your life currently or in the past? I believe having at least one person in your life as a mentor is extremely beneficial to your growth, especially in your Christian walk. But you may be asking yourself, “What is a mentor and how could having one benefit me as a Christian?” Glad you asked…
So, let’s begin with defining what a mentor is. A simple definition is someone who is an experienced or trusted advisor. In the case of Paul and Timothy, Paul had experience as a minister and missionary of Jesus Christ. He had lived through many experiences and learned many lessons in his life that he could use to share with Timothy in his early ministry. Paul was faithful, trustworthy and consistent in Timothy’s life. He commissioned Timothy for ministry, but he didn’t leave him high and dry. He nurtured, instructed, and remained in continual communication with him. However, the trust had to be reciprocated. Not only was Paul (the mentor) trustworthy, but Timothy (the mentee) was faithful and trustworthy as well.
Three characteristics a mentor.
A Practical Look at Mentoring
I have many people in my life that I consider my mentors. But there is one man that always comes to mind when I talk about the topic. His name is Jim Moelk. Jim was one of the three pastors named Jim at the church I served as a youth minister in Erie, PA.
Jim was/is a friend, confidant, influence, and mentor through and through. I never asked Jim to be my mentor, he just became a mentor to me.
We would meet regularly in his office to pray together, talk about life, and share our ministry desires and goals with each another. Jim would also ask me hard questions to ensure I was living a life of integrity in the ministry. There were times he would lovingly rebuke me for a bad attitude I had, or for something I did in my ministry that I probably should have thought through more carefully. He would give advice on how I preached, conducted myself, and dressed. I would always ask him for insight and help for sermon prep and he even went so far as to help (more like do) my taxes for me.
I remember one day he talked to me about the way I dressed for church. One Sunday I apparently came to church and I looked messy. The following day he came in to my office and instead of berating or shaming me for the way I looked he talked to me about how I should take more care in how I dress. He offered some suggestions and that was that. I appreciated what he said, and I took his suggestions. Now, it would have been very easy for me to be defensive and offended but I knew he had my best interest in mind. He wasn’t doing it because he was trying to control me, he was telling me this so I could look more respected in my position.
I respected and still do respect Jim greatly, and even though we live hundreds of miles apart I still consider him a great mentor and friend. Unfortunately, I haven’t talked to him in a while but his mentoring played a big part in who I am as a Pastor today.
I still have mentors in my life today and I do have some I mentored and still to some degree mentor today. God has given me gifts and allowed me to have experiences so I can mentor others as well.
So, my challenge for you today is to find a mentor and be a mentor to someone. This begins with prayer. Ask God to bring people to be a mentor or to to mentor. Be sensitive to God’s direction and be intentional in seeking. The church is called the body of Christ for a reason. We need each other, we grow with one another, and we share life together. This is God’s plan for the Church.
 Fernando, Ajith: Acts: The NIV Application Commentary, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998, p. 432
I have taken a few weeks off from Revelation due to the holidays. This past week we began our Wednesday night Bible study once again and below is where we pick up. If you want to read my previous studies on Revelation just scroll down (quite a ways) and you can start from the beginning.
The Lamb has the scroll and five out of the six seals have been broken. The six seals are divided into two groups, the first group contains the four-horsemen of the Apocalypse. These horsemen are among some of the most recognized symbols in the book of Revelation and they have a wide variety of ways they have being interpreted. Most likely they represent God’s judgment, and the imagery in this passage is closely related to Zechariah’s vision in Ch.1:8 -17 and 6:1- 8. But, in Revelation the judgment corresponds with the rider and symbolize conquest, slaughter, shortage, and death. In Zechariah, the riders patrol the earth and in Revelation they release disaster on the earth. All the scenes depicted by the seals take place on earth except for the fifth seal.
The Great Earthquake
Vs 12 - 14: Sixth Seal – Opening of the sixth seal brings about an earthquake. According to Robert Mounce, “With the opening of the sixth seal the great cosmic disturbances which are to herald the last days begin.” The early readers probably would not take this to be a complete literal earthquake, because they were part of an established tradition that goes back to the OT as the prophetic portrayal of the day of the Lord. The earthquake was traditionally taken as a divine visitation being at hand. We see this over and over in the OT When God ascended Mt. Sinai, it was accompanied by an earthquake. In both Isaiah and Haggai they speaks of the earth shaking and people wanting to hide in caves from the terror that was about to befall. After the earthquake we are told the sun was blackened, the moon became like blood, and the stars fall from heaven like a fig tree sheds its winter fruit. The falling stars meant one thing to the ancient reader – the end has come.
Vs 15 - 17: Once again, this does not mean it will happen in a literal sense, but regardless whatever is depicted literally or metaphorically it will instill fear and terror to the world leaders, military leaders, and the most powerful people in the world that they would rather die than face the wrath of the Lamb. The day of the Lord will be a day of terror, fear, and dismay. We can imagine the great and powerful men and women of the world fleeing for their lives and crying for death rather than face the judgement of God and the wrath of the Lamb. But there is no place to hide. God’s judgment will be swift and just.
The wrath of God is a major theme throughout the NT. It is not personal revenge or vindication. It is not an impersonal retribution that will work itself out over history. It is the response of God’s holiness and to relentless and unrepentant sin.
The chapter ends with the rhetorical question, “who can stand?”. The beginning of the end is at hand.
Chapter seven is a parenthesis or break between the sixth and seventh seals. This chapter serves as an interlude before the seventh seal is broken. Some suggest that this interlude is intended to answer the question posed at the end of chapter 6, “Who can stand?”
It consists of two visions –
Vs 1: Four angels hold back the four winds of destruction. In Apocalyptic writing angels are pictured as the ones who are in charge of the forces of natures.
“Four corners of the earth.” – this does not insinuate that ancients thought the world was a rectangle, but probably is the same expression that we use today. The winds are held in check by the four angels until the servants of God are sealed.
Vs 2 - 3: “Angel ascending from the east.” This angel has the authority to restrain the four angels from releasing destruction. The angel was holding the seal of the Living God. This seal is probably a signet ring like those used by oriental kings to authentical and protect official documents. The seal or signet is the mark that is the name of the Lord and seals the 144,000. The seal or signet is a sign of ownership and ownership entails protection. It is a seal of protection for the believers of the coming judgment.
According to Robert Mounce, “The servants of God are not a select group singled out from among the rest to receive the seal of God. They are the full number of faithful believers alive when that event takes place.”
We will stop here and pickup next week as we will look at the 144,000 and who and what they represent.
Last week we began a new series entitled “Friends”. In this series we are looking at various friendships throughout the Bible. Last week I began with the most important friendship we can have and that is our friendship with Jesus. Not only is he a true friend to the end, but he defines and models what true friendship can and should look like.
Today, we are going to look at the unique friendship of David in Jonathan. This friendship was a complex relationship because there were many dysfunctions in the family because Jonathan’s father was a little on the crazy side. It was a controversial relationship because it pitted Jonathan against his father at times. Yet, all in all it was a consistent relationship that models what a loyal biblical friendship looks like for us today.
In all transparency this has been a difficult sermon to prepare, not because the content is difficult but because there is so much back story that is needed to fully understand what is going on and why this friendship is unique. So, at times, this will seem like a history lesson (which is important for context) and at times it will be an applicable message that will help us continue to seek out and develop healthy biblical friendships. With that in mind… Let’s dive in.
Israel Wants a King
Israel is a nation that was established by God. If you recall with me that back in Genesis God calls out and establishes a covenant with Abraham, the Patriarch of the nation. God promises him that “(He) will make (Abraham) the father of a great nation.” In establishing this covenant, He promises to lead Israel to the Promise Land, make their name great, and establish the nation as a blessing to all nations. God makes the promise, and He will keep it.
Fast-forward centuries later, God fulfills his promise and leads the Israelites to the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. The rule of the nation was established, and it was going to be a nation governed by God (Theocracy) through chosen men and women who were appointed as judges.
The judges were raised up to be Israel’s saviors by a special empowerment of the Spirit of God. They functioned primarily as military deliverers, raised up to save the people from oppressing foreign powers (Judges 2;16). They served as leaders appointed by God to serve and protect the people of Israel. Notable judges include Gideon, Deborah and Barak, Samson, and Samuel.
During the time of the final Judge Samuel, the nation no longer wanted to be a nation ruled by God through Judges alone, they wanted a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations who were ruled by a king. In many ways the nation rejected God’s rule for the rule of a man.
(Read 1 Samuel 8:4 – 9)
Israel Gets a King(s)
In 1 Samuel 10 a man named Saul was anointed king of Israel. He had all the human qualities of a king. He was handsome, he was tall, he was the total package, but He was not a good king. He was disobedient to God on multiple occasions, very moody, and at times downright evil. His disobedience infuriated God, so God eventually rejected him as king.
(Read 1 Samuel 13:13 – 14)
In rejecting Saul as King, Samuel mentions that God will appoint one who has the heart of God to replace him. However, Saul continued as king (in title alone). During his reign, the Lord was against him and did not bless him. As stated earlier he had another man in mind for the job, his name was David.
The man (or should we say teenager) appointed to be king by God was a young shepherd boy named David. According to 1 Samuel 13 he was a man after God’s own heart. What does that mean? When we refer to someone who has a heart for something or someone, we generally are saying this person is passionate about something or has qualities of the person they have a heart for or after.
So, then what are the qualities of God’s heart? Exodus 34:6 – 7 gives us a glimpse. When the LORD met with Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 34, Moses asks to see God’s glory. The LORD responded by telling Moses that nobody can see God and live. So instead, the LORD has Moses go into the cleft of a rock and says he will pass by him and he could see the tail end of his glory. In Gods passing He declares who He is. He is compassionate, gracious, patient, abounding in love and truth, and forgiving. I believe this to be the heart of God and a person who has the heart of God has these qualities. Thus, I believe David is a man of compassion, patience, love, truth, forgiveness, and grace. Eventually David becomes Saul’s armor-bearer, musician, and we are told that Saul loved David greatly.
We also know David was courageous. His courage is evident when he takes on the colossal Philistine giant. David bravely confronted and slew the giant known as Goliath (it is believed he was 9ft tall). David’s courage and strength did not come from a deep confidence in his fighting skills, grit, or talent; no, his courage came from the LORD. He was, after all, a man after God’s own heart.
David’s fame began to grow throughout the country, and this incensed Saul. He was jealous of David’s popularity, but he continued to love him as his own son. Speaking of sons, Saul had a son who was David’s best friend, his name is Jonathan.
David and Jonathan
1 Samuel 18:1 – 3
Vs 1: In this passage we see that Saul’s son Jonathan and the future king, David had a unique bond between the two of them. They were bound together in a close friendship. The Hebrew translation is, “the soul of Jonathan was bound with the soul of David.” The two have been and will go through so much together that these instances became and will continue to be bonding moments. This was a relationship of two valiant warriors brought together because of intense opposition. It is the kind of bond people experience when they go through distress, trauma, or life-threatening experiences together. Maybe you have experienced this in your life where you went through a hardship, difficulty or a deeply emotional event with another person and that hardship is what bonds or unites both of your hearts together. In fact, I have found that in hardships and distress my true friends rise to the surface and create life-long bonding relationships.
I have witnessed these types of relationships develop and thrive mostly in my early years of ministry. When I was a youth pastor there were many times the youth groups I pastored went on retreats, missions, or conferences. There were usually moments (that I called bonding moments) where kids would bond together after experiencing something holy together. This would happen often when kids would serve at a VBS in the inner-city of DC. The kids would serve these less fortunate children with a compassion and love that they never realized they had, and they would see the living conditions of some of these young children and hearts would be broken and knit together again as these teenagers would go through these life changing experiences together. Other times I would see lifelong friendships begin when a student would open up and share their hardships, or sinful actions with one another and bonds would form immediately.
So as David and Jonathan’s friendship grew and thrived from hardships and distressing experiences, so too can our friendships begin, grow, and thrive.
Vs 3 - 4: Jonathan makes a promise or a covenant with David. We are unsure of the type of covenant or what the covenant entailed, but we see that he made a covenant with David because of his great love for him. This is the second time in this passage we are told that Jonathan loved David as he loved himself. He then confirmed the covenant by giving David a gift that included all of his military gear.
(Read 1 Samuel 19:1 - 7)
Jonathan and David also had an interesting and dangerous relationship because their friendship could ultimately lead to David’s death. Jonathan’s father had an unhealthy dysfunctional relationship with David. It was a love/hate relationship. As mentioned before Saul was jealous of David because of his success and partly because I think Saul was going a bit crazy as well.
In this passage Saul tells Jonathan and his men to find David and kill him. This poses a problem for Jonathan because David, as you know, is his best friend.
He convinces his father to not kill David because he has been a faithful servant and a valiant warrior for his father. Jonathan’s loyalty to David goes deeper than his loyalty to his father. Saul promises to not kill David and his life is spared.
(Read 1 Samuel 20:1 – 9, 30 - 34)
Overtime this friendship was not only dangerous to David, but it becomes dangerous for Jonathan as well. Jonathan tried to convince his father that David had done nothing wrong and that he should not kill David. Once Saul saw Jonathan’s loyalty to David, he became furious and threw his spear at his own son. Jonathan was loyal to David and loved him as his own brother. Since the bond was so strong Jonathan felt compelled to uphold this friendship, even if it meant defying the will of his father. Jonathan had integrity. He could have easily taken the side of his father and remained faithful to his will to kill David, but Jonathan loved David and he made a promise to David. He was a man who kept his word.
Jonathan and David were friends for life. Unfortunately, Saul’s hatred for David rages for a long time and ultimately tragically concludes when David and his sons was slain by the Philistines. When David heard the news of his fallen friend he mourned and wept for a day and he wrote a lament for Saul and Jonathan found in 2 Samuel 1:19 – 27.
As we have seen in this message what true friendship looks like I have picked out three qualities of David and Jonathan’s friendship that we can emulate in our own friendships today.
Qualities of Friendship
David and Jonathan modeled a true friendship that we all should all want to pursue or have in our lives. We see in these two men they had a genuine and bonding love for one another, remained loyal in all circumstances, and was a friendship that was rooted in integrity.
 Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.
Friendships are vital. I think it is safe to say that we all highly value friendship, relationships, and being loved in some capacity. In fact, we are created to be relational people. God designed us with the innate desire to connect with others. We crave community, relationships, and belonging so much so that many seek their identity in these things.
Today we are starting the new year with a new series entitled “Friends”. For the next six weeks we will be looking at various friendship relationships found in the. The Bible has much to say about friendship, but more so it SHOWS us what biblical friendship looks like. My hope and prayers are that as we go through this series, you too, can gain a better understanding of biblical friendship and most of all seek out healthy friends in your lives no matter what age or stage of life you may be in.
A Personal Friend
I have talked about Thom Potts in some of my past sermons. He was my best friend. I realize none of you have ever met Thom, but he was a unique person. He was the kind of guy that every pastor should have in his life; because he provided so many stories to tell to last a lifetime. He was also the kind of friend every pastor should have because he was truly a friend and he kept me grounded in ministry.
I don’t know if he ever realized it or not, but Thom impacted so many lives positively, including mine. I would bet that many of us probably do not realize how many lives we impact positively. In fact, many of us will go to the grave thinking that we made no significant impact in this world, society or in people’s lives and that is unfortunate. However, I believe when we receive the promise of eternal life, then and only then will we see what true impact we have left on others.
Thom fought his battle with cancer for over 20 years and eventually from a worldly perspective he “lost” the battle. On August 21st, 2009 Thom went home to be with the Lord. In the last years of his life we lived hundreds of miles apart but still we remained great friends until the day he died. I was asked by Thom’s wife to “say something” at his funeral to which I complied. When I sat down to write out my thoughts, the first dilemma I faced was how do you say something concisely about a man who has impacted my life so greatly? In fact, Thom was one of two individuals (with the exception of God) that I attribute my coming to know Jesus. So, I wrote an essay of sorts titled, “Life Lessons from my Best Friend.” I will share it you one day. But for today I am so glad I have the memories I have with one of my best friends.
Look at all the Lonely People
I mention that are all created for and crave relationships. However, one of the most unfortunate ironies for people today is that many people are surrounded by other people but are lonely. We do life with, play and work with people all the time, yet according to an NPR survey of 10,000 Americans, 3 out of 5 people are lonely. The article says, “Pervasive loneliness ‘has widespread effects,’ says Bert Uchino, a professor at the University of Utah who studies relationships and health. ‘It's strongly linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression…”
The report found several factors that were linked to increased feelings of isolation in 2019. Loneliness appeared to be more common among men. The survey found 63% of men to be lonely, compared with 58% of women. Social media use was tied to loneliness as well, with 73% of very heavy social media users considered lonely, as compared with 52% of light users.
But feelings of isolation were prevalent across generations. Gen Z — people who were 18 to 22 years old when surveyed — had the highest average loneliness score on the 80-point scale (about 50), and boomers had the lowest (about 43). We might think of older people as being the loneliest, but this pattern is actually consistent with results from other studies, says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University. "We need to recognize that no one is immune," she adds.”
Then March 2020 comes along and now many more Americans are facing loneliness during a pandemic. In a TIME, magazine article titled, COVID-19 Is Making America’s Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse. The author writes, “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public-health experts were concerned about an epidemic of loneliness in the U.S. The coronavirus has exacerbated that problem, with most face-to-face socializing for people still under lockdown orders indefinitely limited to members of their own households. For the 35.7 million Americans who live alone, that means no meaningful social contact at all, potentially for months on end.”
This all seems depressing doesn’t it? If my intention was to make you all feel good about yourself and society then I am failing miserably. Can there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Of course, and this is why we are going to look to the Bible for hope in loneliness and a better understanding of true friendship.
Jesus, the Friend
Often when we look for a friend, we probably look for someone who brings joy to our lives, a person who may have similar interests, and isn’t high maintenance. Granted sometimes people come into our lives who are high maintenance, have interests and desires contrary to yours, and aren’t the most joyful people to be around. But yet, we find ourselves in relationship with them. They can turn toxic quickly. However, we can also gain some great insight when we look at the relationships Jesus had with his disciples to see how He defines and models friendship.
Jesus the Perfect Friend (John 15:12 - 15)
Read John 15:12 - 15
Vs 12: Jesus gives the disciples commands that they must obey in order to remain in his love. He starts with the command, not suggestion, to “love one another as I have loved you.” What does this kind of love look like? How does Jesus love you? You and I are able to love because Jesus showed us proper love. Jesus shows us how to love through his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. His love wasn’t just an example, it was love displayed and showed. Jesus gave his life on the cross because of his great love for you and me and he displayed this love through his sacrifice
Jesus opens our eyes to the truth of love as an act of sacrifice and obedience. Sadly, our society has cheapened the act of love by defining it as an intense emotional attraction and feeling you have towards someone that just happens naturally.
D.A. Carson writes in his commentary of John, “genuine love for God ensures genuine love for his Son, who is the focal point of divine revelation; that genuine love for the son ensures obedience to the new commandment, the commandment to love. By an unbreakable chain, love for God is tied to and verified to love for other believers.”
Vs 13: Jesus lays out the standard for love the disciples should have for each other, and this kind of love also refers to Jesus’ love shown for the disciples through his death on the cross. So, is Jesus saying that in order to show the greatest love to our friends we must be willing to die for them? Or on the flipside, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies does this same rule for love apply?
Vs. 14 - 15: It is here that Jesus is not so much saying that in order to be a friend you must be willing to die for them (but he also isn’t saying that we shouldn’t) but instead he is lovingly informing the disciples that they are now no longer considered servants, but they are now friends if they obey this command of love. Now, this command to sacrificially love is not what makes them friends; it is what distinguishes them as friends. They are his friends because of his great love on the cross of calvary. In response to this great love is obedience. Clearly, this type of friendship cannot be reciprocated. The disciples (or us for that matter) cannot say that Jesus will be their/our friend if he does what they/we say. We can’t declare or demand obedience from Jesus, as he does with us, in order to be called his friend. No, Jesus’ friends are the objects of his love and as a result of his love are obedient to him thus making us his friend.
This is what makes Jesus the perfect friend. He doesn’t call you or me friends because of being a good “friend fit” or because we have certain qualities that appeal to Him. We are his friends because “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” And “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”
Jesus the Friend of Sinners
Read Matthew 11:19
In this short verse we learn something about Jesus that brings comfort and peace to so many. In this we read that Jesus was indeed a friend to the sinner. This was controversial in Jesus’ time and in some ways remains controversial today. It is deemed controversial solely because of the interpretation. It is important for us to understand that when Jesus was called a friend to the sinners it does not mean he condoned their lifestyles or partook in their sin. We see time and again Jesus encountering sinners and showing them love, mercy, and even grace. However, we often overlook what Jesus says or what happens to the sinner as a result.
In John 8:1 – 11 a woman was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. He responded to the crowd, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Nobody did. Jesus asked her where her accusers were. She acknowledges they left. Jesus tells her he does not condemn her either… BUT “go and sin no more.” Jesus shows mercy and forgiveness, but he also calls for the sinner to stop living in sin.
We see a similar situation with Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus goes to his house and in this encounter, Zacchaeus acknowledges his sin and offers to make right by giving back four times what he stole from others.
This type of relationship and transformation happens with Saul who later becomes Paul when he encounters Jesus on the road.
Jesus was a friend to the sinner, but his friendship demanded change. None of We hear story and story of people from all walks of sinful life talking about how the Savior has shown them mercy, grace, and forgiveness. All of us should rejoice in knowing that Jesus is a friend to sinners because then it shows that our Savior cares enough for his creation that he is willing to redeem us even while we were sinners. However, we must not remain in our sins and we must live in be obedience to the savior.
So, what is our takeaway from today? I realize that I have been all over the place in the message. The point I want to make though is friendship is important and the most important friendship you can have is one with Jesus. Friendship with Jesus results in a radically changed life and a radically changed life has radically changed relationships. I conclude with a few applicable thoughts on friendship.
Now, I know that when some of us reflect on our past or current friendships they may stir up some sort of positive or negative emotion. My prayer is that everyone in this room would have a healthy biblical friendship that they can lean on to get them through day-to-day life. But I do want to conclude by saying that the only friendship that is fully satisfying and life-giving is your relationship to Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate friend who will never let you down and will bring peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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