A few days ago, a neighbor of mine died, losing her fight with pneumonia. Some of us feel she was physically weakened after her husband died about six months ago. Then, a few weeks ago, her daughter rehomed her beloved elderly dachshund because she couldn’t walk the dog, given her need for continuous oxygen. Maybe she gave up, which is understandable because she knew exactly where she was going—to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. And, unfortunately, a few weeks ago, my friend lost her grown son suddenly in an unusual construction accident that took four lives. Deaths around Christmas are brutal. But if they lead us to consider Christ’s death—the reason for his incarnation—we can redeem our sadness and grief. Jesus, whose death was our hope and life, didn’t die for everyone but only those he calls his friends. “Jesus did not have to die. That is not true of us. We are mortal. We must die. But Jesus was immortal and therefore did not have to die. Indeed, he was life itself; for he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6)…when the Lord Jesus gave his life for us, strictly speaking we were not exactly his friends. True, he calls us friends. It is also true that we become his friends. But we become friends because of his act, because of his electing grace toward us manifesting itself in the atonement and in the ministry of his Spirit by which our natural rebellion against God is overcome and our hearts are drawn to love and serve Jesus…When we see ourselves as God sees us, then the surpassing worth of the love of Christ becomes evident…we have advanced man’s depravity…sought human autonomy…sinned…and hate[d]. Yet, in spite of our depravity, Christ came to be our friend and prove his friendship by dying for us. As Paul states, ‘At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:6–8).” (1) Jesus calls us friends; we are those he has chosen, for whom he laid down his life and demonstrated the Father’s love. As we celebrate Jesus’s incarnation, we rejoice in his love which led him to lay down his life for us, revealing his Father’s plan of redemption.
The Greatest Love for Friends
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:13-16a) “There is something charming about the word ‘friend’ or ‘friendship.’ It is due partly to our desire for a close friend or friends and partly, too, to our remembrance of them. We look to our past and can almost mark the major periods of our lives by friends we have had…When Jesus says, ‘You are my friends,’ it is evident that he is speaking to us on the human level in terms we can clearly understand. And he is doing so—we cannot fail to see it—so that we might contrast his friendship, which is great and perfect, to even the best of the other friendships we have known.” (2) What is your criteria for friendship? Are you friends with those who agree with you politically? Are your friends honest with you when you do something hurtful or harmful to someone? Are your friends those whom you have known the longest, based on a common experience years ago? In the context of John 15, “‘I have called you friends’ speaks of a custom which came from the courts of the Roman Emperors & the Eastern kings. (William Barclay)…At these courts there was a very select group of men who were called ‘The friends of the king, or the friends of the Emperor.’ At all times they had access to the king. They even had the right to come into his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. These friends of the king were those who had the closest & the most intimate connection with him, & who had the right to come to him at any time.” Look how Jesus let these [disciples] into His life. Sharing his future secrets w/them. Sharing His own struggles, pains, & emotion with them.” (3) We are his friends! He has chosen, laid down his life for us, and demonstrated the Father’s love in unmistakable ways. This blessing is worth celebrating, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.
The Finality of His Incarnation
In a few days we will celebrate the beginning of Jesus’s ministry during his first incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Advent not only instructs and inspires us to celebrate Jesus’s first coming. When Isaac Watts wrote his poem, later put to music, “Joy to the World,” he had Christ’s second incarnation in mind rather than his first. “Although it clearly depicts the Second Coming of Christ, it doesn’t have any trivial connection with the Christmas story. However, contrary to popular opinion, there lies a correlation – a ‘Second Coming’ cannot be manifested without a ‘First Coming.’ The piece is all about fulfillment, depicting the notions of a supernatural phenomenon, of what could be achieved from its impact. Similarly, Christmas does not only dwell in the past attainments but also looks forward to the grace that was achieved subsequently. The song proclaims the ultimate joy that is yet to be revealed, establishing a strong connection with the festive period.” (4) We look back and then forward to Christ’s glorious end goal at his second incarnation. In between, he laid down his life for us. We have many reasons to be awed, singing alleluias. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) “The character of ‘friends’, is applied to the disciples of Christ; and belongs, not only to his apostles, but to all that love him, believe in him, and obey him; to whom he has showed himself friendly, by laying down his life for them…whereby he has made them friends, and who appear to be so by their cheerful obedience to him.” (5) The Bible repeatedly calls us to praise the Lord. We are Christ’s friends when we do so. My neighbor and friend’s son’s life were taken by God rather than being voluntarily laid down (although elderly folks or those who are in great discomfort may wish to die). But their deaths should remind us of the sin that causes death—the reason why Christ died—to conquer death and sin. His life, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming remind us how much our best Friend loves us! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-10) Happy Christmas!
Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2; Exodus 33:11; Isaiah 44:1; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 15:2; 19:7-10; John 10:11; Romans 5:7-8; Ephesians 5:2; James 2:23; 1 Peter 2:9.
1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 15:12-18, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
2. Boice, Ibid.
3. Bell, Brian, Bell’s Commentary on the Bible, John 15:12-18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/john-15.html.
4. The Story behind the Christmas Carol, “Joy to the World,’ https://galaxymusicnotes.com/pages/learn-the-story-behind-joy-to-the-world
5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 15:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/john-15.html.
December 22, 2022