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How Did Jesus Relate to Friends?


By Ray Pritchard

It is late on Thursday night, and the Lord Jesus has gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples. He alone knows the truth about what the next day will bring. The awful truth of the Cross hangs over him like some thick, dark cloud. No doubt the disciples sense that things are not going well, but they still have no clear idea what is about to happen.

When trouble comes, we go without thinking to the people who mean the most to us. All of us have various circles of friends. Some are very casual, others we know better, others are close friends, and still others are in the inner circle we reserve for intimate friends. It is to that circle of intimate friends that we turn when life seems to collapse around us.

It was true of Jesus.
When he was on earth, he dealt with the thousands and with the hundreds. He was fully at home speaking to large crowds. But when the shadows were darkest, he wanted only to be with that group of 12 men who had been closest to him. They alone had been with him from the beginning. They had seen the miracles, heard the parables, walked the dusty roads of Palestine. They knew his heart like no one else. They had been with him when he had been accused of being filled with demons. They had heard the slanders, and still they walked with him. When others had left, they had stayed. Now as the sand slips from the hourglass, they are the men to whom Jesus turns in his moment of deepest sorrow.

One question plays on the mind as we ponder Jesus and his men in the Upper Room: What was on his mind on the night before he was crucified? What was he thinking about? What concerns filled his heart? After all, it is in the extremities of life that our priorities are most clearly revealed. When life tumbles in, we not only find out what we are made of, we also find out what we believe in and what we care most about.

“Stay Here and Watch With Me”

There are at least three passages that seem to answer that question. Each passage sheds some light on what Jesus was thinking about less than 12 hours before he was crucified. One is in Matthew, one in Luke, one in John.

Matthew 26:36-38
The scene has shifted to the garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Jesus has returned to this favorite spot for one final moment of prayer. He does not come alone.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

The lesson is clear:
As Jesus wrestles with the greatest agony of his life, he wants his closest friends to be there with him. He doesn’t want to go through this by himself. It’s not a question of his divine ability. He was the Son of God with supernatural power. He could go it alone if he had to. He proved that when he faced the devil in the wilderness. But now, at the climactic moment of his life, he wants his men to watch with him, to stand guard as he agonizes over what is to come.

Was he afraid? No, not in the normal sense of the word. But he knew, with a kind of knowing that we do not possess, what crucifixion would mean for him. He saw the horror of what was about to happen, and the sorrow of it all almost overwhelmed him.

And he did not want to face that alone. He wanted his friends to be there with him.

There are some things that only one person can do. No one else could face the awesome burden of sin he was about to bear. But he did not want to be alone as he steadied himself for the task.

Please don’t skip over this observation. It’s a crucial part of what was on his mind in those last few hours.

Luke 22:28-30.
The scene shifts back to the Upper Room. Jesus has just shared the Last Supper with his men. Now a discussion breaks out about who is the greatest among all the disciples. Jesus answers by reminding them that he came to serve, not to be served, and therefore that greatness in the kingdom is determined by lowly service to others. We pick up the story in verse 28:

You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The final act has been set in motion, the die has been cast, all the players are on the stage, the wheels of injustice slowly grind away. Evil times have come. Even now Judas is on his way to betray the Lord Jesus. The hour is late and the soldiers are restless. Soon they will have their prey.

But before the final drama unfolds, Jesus said something very significant to his men—”You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” He remembered that his men had been with him from the beginning. They had seen it all—the good times and the bad, the miracles and the controversies, and when thousands of Sunshine Disciples had left him, these 11 men had stayed by his side.

Jesus’ Friends
They were not much to look at from the world’s point of view; they weren’t educated or powerful or eloquent. They didn’t have much to recommend themselves. Maybe we wouldn’t have picked them as part of our support team. They were mostly blue-collar, country types who felt a little uncomfortable in a big city like Jerusalem. They were fishermen and farmers and tax collectors and political zealots. They really didn’t have that much in common. In fact, in other circumstances they might have never met each other.

But thrown together by their allegiance to Jesus Christ, over the years they had become a team. Now their Captain looks at them for the last time and says, “I haven’t forgotten that you stood with me when everyone else ran away. That means a lot to me. I’m going to tell you something that you won’t fully understand right now. But later on, you’ll look back on this moment and remember my words. The day is coming when I will have a kingdom of my own. It’s hard to believe right now, but it’s true. Better days are coming. And when those days come, I won’t forget that you stood by me in my darkest hours. I’ll make it up to you in ways you can’t even imagine. When that day comes, you’ll not regret your faithfulness, just as I tell you that I have not forgotten it. You will be with me in my kingdom, eating and drinking and ruling the people of Israel. I know that may sound like wishful thinking right now, but don’t forget that I told you these things. Nothing means more to me than this: You were with me in the time of my trial.”

True Friendship
And isn’t that what friendship is all about? You find out who your friends are when you really get in trouble. We all have friends who are glad to see us when the sun is shining, when we have money in our pockets, when we have a job, a family, our health, and good fortune. That’s not bad, because we’re like that to some people ourselves. You can’t be life-and-death friends to everyone you meet. You just can’t do it. It’s not humanly possible.

But when the chips are down, and the world is falling apart, and your plans have come to nothing, you soon discover the difference between acquaintances and friends. True friends stay with you when the going gets rough. They don’t check out just because you are down on your luck.

Jesus is saying, “Men, there are lots of people who like me and lots who don’t like me. And there are many who haven’t yet made up their minds. But you men made up your minds early and you’ve never changed your minds. You are my true friends because you have stayed with me to the very end.”

John 13:33-34.
These verses are very familiar to us. Jesus has just shocked the disciples by washing their feet. That bothered them because Jesus, the Master, washed the feet of his followers. They were visibly bothered and baffled. But there is more to come. Jesus is about to break some shocking news to them—news of his impending death. As he begins to break the news to them, he also gives them a very special instruction.

My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

How we love as friends
We have heard about Jesus’ words for years—Love One Another. This “new commandment” is not very new to us. We’ve known about it forever. But did you notice the qualification Jesus puts on his words? “As I have loved you.” We probably tend to overlook that in our rush to get to the part we understand. It looks at first like some kind of throwaway line—”As I have loved you.”

What does it mean? We are to love each other in the same manner and in the same way as Jesus loved us. His love for us is to be the standard by which we love each other.

©Keep Believing Ministries. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Ray Pritchard is the founder and President of Keep Believing Ministries. For twenty-six years he has been a pastor, speaker and author of twenty-seven books. Married to Marlene for thirty-three years, he enjoys being a dad to three sons, biking, world travel and playing with Dudley, beloved basset hound. Learn more about his ministry at www.keepbelieving.com.