Colin J. Mowat
Luke 15: 1-2 Rev 3: 20
We have spoken this afternoon about the Lord Jesus as a Sufferer. This evening I would like us to consider Him as a Friend. Again, I trust that this is something that we can take very personally to ourselves. If our objective this evening were to have a greater appreciation of the Lord Jesus as a Friend, the Friend of sinners, then I believe it would help us in our pathway here, to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him.
I suppose I am making an assumption that every person here is a believer – that is to say, simply, that they are saved, that we can all count the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. I wonder what sort of friend we are to Jesus? Is He Someone Whom we call on once a week, on a Sunday, once we have got ourselves dressed up? Or is He Somebody that we consider as a Friend the whole week through? My exercise is that we may be encouraged to take account of the Lord Jesus as a Friend for the whole time that we are here – seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
I suppose, first of all, we should ask the question, ‘What is a friend?’ What would be on the ‘shopping list’ of characteristics and attributes that you would wish your best friend to have? Someone who is faithful. Someone who is honest and displays integrity. Someone who sticks by you. Someone who ‘comes in when the whole world goes out’ – someone who is there when everyone else leaves you.
Then we can think of what our experience is of friends. Paul could speak of Onesiphorus who sought him – looked out for him – when he was in prison (2 Tim 1: 16-18). Onesiphorus put a lot of effort into it; he ran the gauntlet of Roman hatred to find Paul. Paul could count on him as a good friend. When I was last in Gardenstown, I sat down at table with two brothers in the Lord, who went to school with each other, who worshipped with each other, and there they were in their 80s, sitting having a meal together – friends all through their life!
That said, I would suggest that often our experience may be quite different. Imagine we were all to go home and look through our photo albums – go back 20, 30 years, however far back you want to (and some of you go a lot further back than I do). Look at the people that you spent time with, and you thought you would never be separated from. Think of how long it is since you last had contact with them. You probably experience what most people experience with friends in this scene – things come in, distance comes in, and we are let down. I suppose others may be looking through photograph albums, and maybe in one of the pictures I am standing somewhere with a crowd, and they can point to me and say, ‘He let me down.’ That is often our experience of friends.
What was the Lord Jesus’s experience? You see, it is one thing to stand here and present the Lord Jesus as the perfect Friend. But it is important to know that Jesus went through these experiences too – far more than we have ever gone through. And that is why He can sympathise with us, and that is why He can truly be our ‘best Friend.’
He was born into this world, and we know the story well. In the start of Luke it says that He “advanced … in favour with God and men” (Luke 2: 52). I wonder what it would have been like to know Jesus as your Friend at school, or at play. Someone Who never said a word wrong, never thought ill of you, never spoke behind your back. It must have been a wonderful experience! It says He “advanced … in favour with God and men.”
And then we come to the point where He comes into His public ministry, and He chooses disciples, He chooses these men that were going to be very close to Him – the close friends He was going to spend time with over the next three or more years. We sometimes make quite a lot of the fact that these disciples followed Him so quickly – and it is right that we do. These fishermen dropped their nets and followed Him. But what is actually far more remarkable is that He chose them in the first place! My understanding is that what the Lord Jesus did was not necessarily an unusual thing. The rabbis in those days would have chosen their disciples, chosen their followers, and these followers would have remained attached to the rabbi. The difference between the Lord and others was that He did not go to the Temple, or to the schools of law, and cream off the very best of society – scholars and scribes and lawyers. He went down to the sea and He picked some very ordinary fishermen. He went to the money table and He picked Matthew – Matthew, one who belonged to the lowest echelon of society: despised by his fellow Jews, in the pocket of Rome, collecting money for the Romans. On the other hand, we have Simon the Zealot – somebody from the opposite end of the spectrum, somebody who belonged to a group that hated Rome, and that carried out acts of terror against it. The Lord Jesus brings them together, just as He has brought us together this evening.
I do not know where you would want to fit yourself into the picture – I know we have got fishermen here tonight – but we have quite a range of people in those disciples that the Lord Jesus chose, and to whom He said, “Follow Me.” One of the joys of being a believer is that the Lord Jesus has come to each one of us and has said, “Follow Me” – ‘Come with Me.’
You might say, at this point, that things were going well. But as the Lord’s public ministry begins to develop, we find that difficulties start to come in. He is m isu n d er sto o d . His o wn fa m il y misunderstand Him. They say that He is “out of His mind,” or ‘beside Himself’ (Mark 3: 21) – nice words for saying that He was ‘mad.’ We find that the Jews said that as well – they said, “He … ra ves” ( Joh n 10: 20) . Th ere is n oth in g worse th a n b ein g misunderstood! How frustrating it must have been, naturally speaking, for the Lord Jesus to walk through this scene! The only One Who was sin apart, the One Who had the key to life, and yet to be found in a world that was so overwhelmingly riddled with sin!
And yet, we find that He seeks out those that are downtrodden, He seeks out those who know they are sinners. The Scripture that we read in Luke says of the Pharisees and the scribes that they “murmured, saying, This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” It is wonderful to know that Jesus could call on individuals to come to Him. He was not like us, who are sometimes influenced by friends when they are doing the wrong thing – He could take them with Him. should choose our friends carefully. It was Wesley who said that he made a decision early on in his life that he would choose friends who would walk with him on his way to heaven. Sometimes we find ourselves in friendships that take us the opposite way.
But the Lord Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood, and abandoned. Do you feel misunderstood at times? Do you feel abandoned? In John 6 we find that the Lord had quite a lot of followers, but there came a point when they left Him. ‘The word is too hard,’ they said (John 6: 60). They wanted an easier route, and sometimes that is our experience of friends. When things become hard, people start to disappear – melt away like snow in the su n sh in e!
How difficult it is sometimes to remain true and faithful in the face of opposition! Someone has said that any dead fish can float downstream – it is the live one that swims against the stream. And what we find with the Lord Jesus is that, when this company of people leave Him, He turns to His disciples and He says, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6: 67).
I would have loved to have listened to the way that the Lord asked that question, because I think He asks that question sometimes of us in our daily lives – “Will ye also go away?” What a great answer from Peter! Peter, so often the spokesman, says, “To whom shall we go?” What a great answer! He would have gone to death, he said, for the Lord (Matt 26: 35). Of course he had to learn, as we remarked this afternoon, that the Lord had to go that way alone.
The Lord also knew what it was like to be betrayed – perhaps we know something about that, I do not know. It is interesting, when Judas comes into the garden in that act of betrayal, you know what the Lord calls him? Does He cry, ‘You lousy, rotten traitor! How dare you do this to Me? I have done nothing but good for you! ’? No! He calls him “friend” (Matt 26:50). What a Friend Jesus is! Even under the worst of circumstances, with the pressure, and knowing what was going to come next, Jesus addressed that man, who was bound for perdition (John 17: 12), as “friend.” That is the sort of Person that we have before us tonight. And I am speaking, I hope, to believers, because we cannot really fully understand the friendship of the Lord Jesus unless we submit to Him as sinners accepting our place as sinners.
A brother referred this afternoon to a verse that I am going to read again, in Psalms. I think this one really strikes home. Prophetically it says, “But it was thou, a man Mine equal, Mine intimate, My familiar friend … . We who held sweet intercourse together. To the house of God we walked amid the throng” (Ps 55: 13-14). It is such a lovely scene, that: we could see individuals worshipping together. But then something comes in. The Lord Jesus has been through all that – I can say that reverently, and I say it carefully. There is no experience that you and I go through in our lives that He does not know intimately about. So is Jesus your Friend? You might say, ‘Jesus is my Savour’ – well, that is a wonderful start, and of course He is your Friend. But it is one thing for someone to say that they love you, but sometimes actions struggle to meet such a high claim. We look at the Lord Jesus, as we spoke about Him earlier on today, and we see Him standing there mute before Caiaphas, before Pilate, and Herod, just answering one or two questions; we see Him being scourged, and then finally crucified. That is what the Lord Jesus did in order to gain your friendship and mine. That is what He was prepared to do. It says, “No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13). Jesus counts you as a friend, and He was prepared to give His life in order to secure that friendship.
He “sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24) – brothers can sometimes fall out. I did not have a brother, but I have two sisters, and we knew what it was to fall out. But, He “sticketh closer than a brother” – Someone Who is always the same. It is great to have a friend who is consistent, not up and down – one day friendly, the next day not, up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. You never know quite where you stand – that is our experience with men. But the Lord Jesus is always the same. He knows all about you, but He loves you just the same. He loves you knowing all about you.
What would be our response to such an appeal of friendship? To turn it round the other way, how good a friend are we of the Lord Jesus? You say, ‘Well, if circumstances were a little better, I would be a little bit more faithful. You know, I find things a little bit difficult.’ I wonder how we would feel if somebody came to us and said, ‘I will be your friend, and this is the long list of conditions that I would be looking for you to comply with before I can extend the hand of friendship.’ Jesus’s love for each one of us here is unconditional. Does that make you feel that you would like to know this Person better? And I am speaking about how you feel as a believer. How can we cultivate this friendship of Jesus? You say, ‘Well, it is not a conventional relationship, because my ordinary friends that I know, I can see, and I go to their houses and I come away from them.’ It is not conventional, no. When you visit someone’s house, and it comes to the end of the evening, you go out of the door and you wave goodbye. But Jesus is Someone Who comes with you. He comes with you! How comfortable does that make you feel? How comfortable does that make me feel? Do I feel quite happy about Jesus coming with me? If I were to imagine that the Lord Jesus was sitting beside me as I drive home, would I be thinking the same thoughts, would I be involved in the same conversation, listening to whatever I listen to, driving the way that I drive? Would I feel quite comfortable as He came into my house? These are just small points that I would mention to help illustrate that when I say Jesus is a Friend, that is a reality, it is not just some nebulous thought.
We know the Lord Jesus is in heaven. He said, “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14: 18), and He has left us the Holy Spirit. But Jesus is Someone Who wants to know you, and wants to know me, intimately. Of course, Jesus knows everything there is to know about us.
You say, ‘Well, how could we enjoy more of the wonderful company and fellowship of the Lord Jesus?’ I read this Scripture in Revelation 3. And I find this very interesting because, as you all know, these are the letters to the seven assemblies. It is a fantastic couple of chapters to read to understand the panorama of the Church period that we are in. We have got these seven churches. And when we come to Laodicea, we come to the last one. We like to think that we spend our time in one of the more positive assemblies, like Philadelphia. But there are seven assemblies, and I sometimes think that in reality we may spend one day a week in each one of them. We have to be very careful that we do not think that we belong to one of these assemblies, when actually we belong to another one, because I think they are all somewhere in our heart. We have come here tonight from different localities and gatherings, and I would make a tentative guess that everybody here is aware of some sort of challenge back home. Just something – it might be simply struggling with the lack of numbers, it might be other challenges, it may be things to sort out. That is the reality: you know of something. We should probably be comforted about that, because as long as we are here, Satan will try to prevent glory returning to God. And the day that we arrive at the point where we are self-satisfied and smug, as the brethren in Laodicea were, is the day that you know that our company, our gathering, is in a very poor condition. The brethren there thought that they were doing well. They said that they were rich, “have need of nothing” (v17). I think if you had visited Laodicea, you would have got an impression of how well-off they were, how well things were going. But something was missing, and that was passion for the Lord Jesus. He was missing so badly that the company was going to be dismissed by the Lord as the Judge!
But even in the midst of this, the great encouragement is that there is an appeal to the individual. That is like an appeal to each one of us. “Behold, I stand at the door.” Who is standing at the door? The Lord Jesus, He is standing at the door! Something has gone horribly wrong here – He should never have been outside the door. Things come in and we allow distance to come between ourselves and the Lord. I am not talking here about our salvation. Our salvation is secured for time and for eternity. It is rather the thought that something has happened to break that close communion, and fellowship, and enjoyment. Speaking simply, the enjoyment of one another’s company – it is as simple as that. And what we find is that, despite the dreadful conditions in this place, despite what is shortly going to come about, the Lord is still looking for an entrance into the hearts and lives of individuals.
“I stand at the door and am knocking.” That is the Lord’s action here. When it came to the conversion, for example, of the jailor in Philippi, there was an earthquake (Acts 16:26). That man was saved as a result of it. But here the setting is quite different. The Lord Jesus wants an entrance into an area, into a heart, where He was once made at home. He knows this door well, and the appeal goes out, “If any one hear My voice and open the door” – well, that is where the responsibility shifts to you and to me! Do we hear His voice? Are we listening to it? So much noise is going on, so much distraction is going on in this world! Can we hear the voice of the Saviour, wanting to come in? It says, “If any one hear My voice and open the door.” There are two hands here: there is the Lord’s hand, and it is knocking. But there is your hand and my hand, and that is the one that has to unlock the key to the door of our heart, turn the handle, and let the Saviour come in!
This is a case of someone who saved, but the Lord wants readmittance into his life. It says here, “I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with Me.” Now, I do not know about you, but the impression that this verse gives to me is a very intimate one. When we go to Luke 14, we find a great banquet, and we find the message goes out – and that is like the gospel going out – and that is where everybody makes their excuses (v16 onwards). God never makes excuses. Excuses were first introduced when man came along. Everyone makes their excuses. But that scene, that large banquet, is the wonderful scene of the gospel, with people coming into blessing! We hear of tens of thousands, of millions even, who are being saved today in places like China and India, these huge countries that previously had so little inclusion in the gospel. But this verse in Revelation, to me, conveys a far more intimate picture, and if you are like me you will try to picture this. “I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with Me.” I just get the impression of two people, the believer and the Saviour, sitting down together, enjoying communion.
I like to speak to the Lord Jesus when I am on my own – walking, driving the car, or at other times with myself. Everyone is different, and others may have different views. But what is involved in this supping? I think it is spending time with the Lord, whether it is by ourselves, or whether others are involved. You will see there are two sides to it: “And sup with him, and he with Me.” The first side comes from the Lord Jesus. He is also the One Who put out the original invitation in the gospel, God’s invitation of grace. You know, the Lord made the first move – God made the first move, and covered the distance. And here we have the Lord, again, making the first move. Then, “And he with Me” – it is not a one- sided thing. Sometimes friendships can be one-sided. Somebody puts in all the investment and the other person just takes out! Well, here the Lord Jesus is looking for a return in our lives – for us to spend time, time with Him! We are so difficult when it comes to time. Those that are younger have lots of activities; for those of us who are working, there is always something to do; as for those who are retired, I do not know, maybe somebody here can tell me about the difficulties of being retired! But we have all got time for the things we end up doing! And I think what is probably most needed of all, in this busy age that we live in, is spending time with the Lord Jesus, contemplating. He wants to spend that time with us, He wants to be our Friend! The Lord has so many different titles and functions, if I can put it that way, but I am speaking tonight just about this thought of enjoying warm fellowship with the Saviour, of spending time with Him.
When everybody else has gone, He is the One that will be standing there. I read about a man called Bishop Beveridge, a godly man – others here might know about him. At the end of his life, his mental faculties were starting to slip. And a close friend came to him and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ And he said, ‘Tell me your name.’ And the visitor told him his name, and he replied, ‘No.’ And th3visitor said, ‘Do you know who your wife is?’ ‘What is her name?’ The visitor gave the name of the man’s wife, and he replied, ‘No.’ And the visitor thought, and he said, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ and the man’s face lit up, and he said, ‘Oh, yes, I have known Him forty years, I will never forget Him.’ That is just a small, poor illustration afforded by one man who, when the body was starting to close down and all the faculties were going, remembered one thing: that there was one Person Who would be with him right through to the end, a Friend for time, and One Whom he will be with for the whole of eternity.
My desire is that we leave this room tonight touched by the length and the extent to which the Lord Jesus has gone in order to secure us, and that, as having been secured by His sufferings that we spoke about earlier today, we may enjoy, in a practical way, far more of what it is to count Jesus as a Friend, as our very Friend! May God add His blessing!
Gardenstown 22 September 2012