The Savior's True Friend

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 3:28-30

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:28-30 rsv

One of the things that brings me up short in reading the Bible is coming on a passage in which God talks about some human worshiper as being His friend. Abraham, you remember, was called “the friend of God.” It was said of Moses that God spoke to him “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exod. 33:11). Most moving of all to me in that connection are these words of Jesus to His followers: “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” (John 15:14-15).

Isn’t that an amazing thing? That the almighty Lord, the maker of the heavens and the earth, should speak of some tiny, frail mortal as His friend? The emphasis falls in those passages mainly on God’s calling someone a friend, treating us like friends, as in this great word of Jesus, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He is the One who has befriended us, who gave Himself for us. We sing about it in one of the best of all the hymns, “What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.” He is the friend, as the ancient proverb says, “who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).

Today I’m looking at a passage which speaks of friendship with the Lord from our side, what it involves on our part, what it means to be a true friend of the Savior. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, beginning at verse 25:

Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I want to think about that passage with you today because I believe these words say something basic to us about what it means to be a Christian. We sometimes look at the faith only from the standpoint of the benefits we may receive from it. By trusting in Christ as our Savior, we receive forgiveness of sins and are fully accepted before God. We are welcomed into God’s family, come to know Him as our gracious Father. We receive a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have the sure hope of being forever with the Lord and, even in this life, we have His presence with us all the days. What wonderful blessings come to all who come to know the Lord! But it’s good to reflect also on the service we can then render, the gratitude we can express, the love which Christians are to bear toward the One who has done so much for us.

EVERYTHING FROM GOD

Think with me now about the Savior’s true friend. We have a great model for this, I think, in the person of John the Baptist. For one thing, the friend of the Lord recognizes that all gifts and graces, all successes and victories, all prominence we gain and praise, comes from God. One day some of the men who had become the disciples of John the Baptist came to him puzzled and maybe a bit peeved with the report, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan [that is, Jesus], to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” Listen to John’s answer: “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.”

John had no illusions about his own work and the response it had created. He knew he was God’s messenger, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” His message of repentance was what he had been commanded to deliver. So, since he was God’s man, proclaiming God’s message, whatever happened through it was obviously God’s doing. Knowing that, what can anyone do but praise the God of grace?

When we look at the ministries of others, then, we come to the same reminder. If they are remarkably gifted, if their ministries are crowned with abundant fruit, if they rise to prominence in the church and the world, how should we feel about that? Again, grateful to God.

John’s disciples were afraid that his light would be obscured by this brighter one. But John himself was puzzled that they should even worry about that. Hadn’t he flatly refused any claim to special honor? He admitted that he wasn’t the Christ. He wasn’t Elijah. He wasn’t the prophet who was to come. He was, he said, simply a voice. So now, if the greater One to whom he had borne witness was attracting attention and acclaim, it was only what John had predicted. The greater One was God’s Messiah. This was God’s anointing upon him. Any gifts he had, any power he manifested, had to be from heaven.

The friends of Jesus always seem to display this outlook. Their focus is not on personalities and reputations, but on the God from whom every gift comes, the One who puts down one and raises up another. The important thing for us, then, is to bloom where we’re planted, to use the gifts we have in the sphere where God has placed us, and to give all praise to Him. This will keep us on the one hand from despising our limited circumstances or on the other from becoming giddy over affirmation we may receive. The friends of the Lord know that they have what God gives them, and no more.

REJOICING TO SEE HIM HONORED

Here’s another thing about the friends of the Savior: they rejoice greatly when He is honored. These disciples of John misread his motives completely. Maybe they thought he would be upset at what Jesus was doing, would try to reclaim center stage for himself. That was the furthest thing from John’s mind. Listen again, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.” Here’s a further development of John’s humble spirit. Not only is he not resentful over the way people are turning to Jesus. It’s what he wants more than anything else.

Jesus, to him, is the Bridegroom. You can’t escape here the impression that John is thinking back to the Old Testament where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is spoken of as the husband of his people Israel. Now Jesus, the mighty One to whom John bears witness, is seen as that very bridegroom coming as a man to claim the devotion of God’s people. It’s obvious then that he, the bridegroom, is the most important man at this ceremony. (I say most important man because at all the weddings I’ve attended, it was plain to me that the bride was the center of attention. And that’s part of the bridegroom’s love, I suppose, that he wants the beauty of his bride to be the highlight of the wedding.)

John calls himself “the friend of the bridegroom.” He was an important person in the ceremony too. He was like the “best man” in weddings today. In those times, this person had some special responsibilities, the most important of which was to bring the bride and the bridegroom together. When he had done this, his task was over. He receded quietly into the background. All eyes now were to be on the bridegroom and his bride.

This is not a difficult thing for the bridegroom’s friend. He’s happy about it. Precisely because he is a friend, he rejoices when he hears the bridegroom’s voice, when he knows he’s near, coming to take his bride. The friend celebrates it when the pair are brought together.

Do you remember in Jesus’ parables how he said on more than one occasion that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents? The woman looking for a lost coin, a shepherd looking for his lost sheep, the father running to meet his repentant son, each is overcome with joy when the search is ended and the lost is found. Each comes back and says, “Rejoice with me.” The relatives and friends do just that. They share the joy, the excitement. They’re glad with the one who’s celebrating. They rejoice with those who rejoice. It seems to them the most wonderful thing in the world when the Savior and the sinner get together, when the seeking shepherd finds the lost sheep.

You can tell how near you are to God’s heart, how much your spirit is in tune with His, by how much you rejoice when another person – of any kind or class, nation or race – comes to know and follow Jesus Christ. The Savior’s true friends say with John the Baptist, “this joy of mine is now full.”

HIS PART AND OURS

Here’s one more thing about these friends. They see it as their mission in life more and more to exalt Christ and less and less to put themselves forward. That’s what John says: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Someone has said that it’s not ever easy in this world to gather followers about oneself for some serious cause or purpose. That takes a lot of effort and heart. Then, when they are gathered, it’s infinitely harder to detach them from oneself, to firmly insist that they go after someone else. Someone calls that the “measure of John’s greatness.” We could say also that it’s the test of his loyalty, of how much the Savior means to him.

John says, this is what must be, that Jesus should increase and that he should decrease. God has purposed it so. It’s His design that Jesus should be Lord of all, that every knee should bow to Him, every tongue confess that He is Lord. Jesus and John are not cast for similar, interchangeable roles. The role of the bridegroom is one that John can never play. It’s never the part of the servant to displace his master. Once Jesus had appeared, John never wanted to say, “Look at me!” It was always, “Look at Him!”

We preachers see the words sometimes when we ascend the pulpit of a church. They’re facing us as we look out toward the congregation. We can’t miss the little plaque that reminds us of our duty and our delight, our place and our prayer. It says, in the words of the Gentiles who came to Philip one day, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” That’s the way it’s meant to be because, as the Lord said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Now this on John’s part was an altogether remarkable objective. It goes against the grain of all our customary self-serving. By nature, we like to be in the limelight. We covet the cheers of the crowd. We aspire to be esteemed as somebody, as important persons. What in the world would ever lead us to point away from ourselves to someone else? To disappear from view so that He could be seen? To be less and less that He might be more and more? In John’s case, it was God’s clear calling to him to which he submitted. He could say, like Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). But there was more. For John and for all believers, it’s the friendship of the bridegroom that makes all the difference. Who wouldn’t want to defer to the One who sacrifices Himself utterly for us? He lays down His life for His friends. Those who know that feel a sense of enormous indebtedness to Jesus. “Let me be now and forever His person, a witness to His grace, a worshiper at His feet. Christ is my all!”

Early in my Christian life, someone taught me that in every person’s heart there’s a throne and a cross. As long as self is on that throne, Christ is still crucified there. If He, the bridegroom, is to occupy the throne, then for us there can only be the cross. We deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.

A man named Diotrephes will always be remembered in the Bible by these unflattering words, “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first” (3 John 9), or “who loves to have the preeminence.” But the friends of the bridegroom, touched by His grace, have found a better aim and a purer passion. They say, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”