The Gift of Friendship
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 25 January 2003
There have been times in my life when I have thought that Christianity seemed a very complex thing especially coming from someone like myself who preaches here every week and writes articles and books. Sometimes people can spend several pages in a Bible commentary discussing a single word in the Scriptures. And yet the more you study what Yah'shua (Jesus) taught, the more you realise how very simple His message actually is. The people who took it from His lips were not clever people, but they were hungry people. Of course, they had all been raised on Torah and were commandment-keepers, and sometimes those of us who were raised in gentile ways are apt to forget that. And we must sometimes work hard to bring ourselves up the level of knowledge and obedience of those simple people. Yes, the message is simple and to receive it you must be hungry for it. But you must - to make it ultimately work - have a secure foundation in Torah.
However, when you are working with the raw material which is gentile humanity, who don't know Torah and are more than likely not living it, you don't have time to teach it all at once. Besides, he probably wouldn't accept it. In our day and age - unlike that of the Judeans of Yah'shua's (Jesus') time - we have to take a different approach. The goal is the same but not the circumstances. And this is very much the approach Paul took with the Gentiles of his day, and why he was so often misunderstood by his fellow Jews.
Imagine for a moment that you face a man who is penitent - who knows his life is wrong, who wants to change for the better, and who has heard about the New Life which the New Testament describes but which he doesn't understand. How will you approach such a man? If you ask different Christians what they would do, you would get a number of different answers.
One might say that he needed to know the circumstances of the man first. Another might tell him to go home, pray, and read the Bible. Another might simply say: "Believe in Yah'shua (Jesus) and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Another might tell him to imitate Christ. And someone else may tell him that it is a matter of the will. Yet another might tell him that it is simply a matter of straightening out a number of intellectual difficulties. Another might tell you to attend meetings and join his church. And finally, someone might tell you to go and obey the commandments. Perhaps you can think of other examples.
Now every one of these suggestions are correct but they are not necessarily the right place to start. Someone who is hungry doesn't want a moral lecture but food, and someone who is hungering for the New Life will want to taste the real item and not get a bucketful of theology.
An old man who was once asked this question gave, to my way of thinking, the best answer of all. He picked up his Bible and quoted:
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matt.7:11, NKJV).
The whole point of the New Life in Christ is that it is a gift from our Heavenly Father, Yahweh. It isn't something you can earn. That doesn't mean we don't have our part to play afterwards - there are things required of us, and included in that is obeying the commandments. But the New Life itself cannot be bought or earned. It is free. The price is simply to desire it with all your heart - to hunger after it - and be prepared after you have received it to walk the Way ordained by Yahweh.
This old man said: "All you have to do is kneel down and ask Yahweh, in the Name of Yah'shua (Jesus), for this New Life. And then all you have to do is get up and believe you have received it, go out and live life as if you had received it, and you will then discover that you have indeed received it."
Yes, it is that simple. Ask for the New Life, believe you have received it, and go and live your life in obedience to Torah. And if you don't believe me, just search your Bibles - you'll find at least 50 references to the New Life and the fact that it is a gift. And this is the beginning of the Good News - of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
Now you may ask: How do I take this gift? After all, when Yah'shua (Jesus) lived in Galilee, His friendship was an easy thing to take. He was so obviously there, and His friendship expressed itself in deeds that men might see, and in words that all men might hear. Who amongst us wouldn't give his right arm to have been there, hear Him for ourselves, and accept the friendship of this perfect, warm, flesh-and-blood human being. But now He is not physically here. And to ask for such a gift from someone who is invisible may indeed sound, to some practically-minded people, almost like self-deception ... like talking to plants. So how do we - today - 2,000 years after the events of Christ's ministry - reach out and accept His gift?
A vital clue, I believe, is in how Yah'shua (Jesus) viewed children, when He said:
"'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven'. And he laid his hands on them and departed from there" (Matt.19:14-15, NKJV).
Let us therefore pause and consider how little children accept Yah'shua (Jesus) for we have much to learn from them. When I hear one of my little children praying I know that he is probably imagining in his mind someone tall and dark, in a white robe, with a very kind face, and with perhaps a hand stretched out possibly even touching his head. He is taking hold of the gift of His friendship by the faculty of his imagination.
Of course, you might say at once that in the same way he imagines fairies and all kinds of other things too, but as he grows up, his experience will give the lie to the existence of fairies, but his experience, if allowed to develop naturally, will never deny the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus). All the history of the Messianic Community (Church) over the centuries vouches for this tremendous reality. How else can the gift of friendship be appropriated? When we make friends with other human beings we see traits that attract us to them and we imagine all the rest, and in time our false impressions are corrected and our correct ones are validated. What we actually do is pretend they are a certain way. Every single one of us does that, and in time, the pretense gives way to reality.
Now I am not saying that Christ cannot, and does not, supernaturally break into our lives sometimes. It happened to me 25 years ago, but in my experience the vast majority of people do not experience Him in that way. It is more gradual. Even so, those of us who have had supernatural experiences do not have to walk a path requiring less faith. We all require the same faith however we start our journey. The important thing, though, is to start.
I've heard some people say they 'imagine' Yah'shua (Jesus) walking by their side and who then discover in their own experience how true that is - they witness their imagination growing up in faith. Properly considered, faith is imagination grown up.
It is not necessary - and I repeat this - that anything abnormal should happen to us. We do not need to see visions or speak in tongues. Some of us have that gift to be sure but not all. For everybody - including visionaries and prophets - what is more important is the sense that Yah'shua's (Jesus') presence becomes overwhelmingly real to us, leaving us with no doubt as to its validity. This presence cannot be realised by intellectual keenness. nor by effort of will, but by appropriation through that imaginative faculty on which depends all real faith.
I wonder if you have ever had the experience of coming home thoroughly tired and disappointed and disillusioned. You sit down in a chair with bitterness in your veins instead of blood. In your mind words form that you would either like to write or speak to your opponent, and then they come together into phrases and elegant speech with which to thrash him. And if you claim you've never done this, I won't believe you! You may feel too tired to pray under such circumstances but there is something you can do which I urge you to try sometime. Just relax your body and relax your mind - just let go of the words of recrimination, and open the door of your heart to Yah'shua (Jesus). Silently invite your Friend - the One who understands our worst moments without losing belief in our best - to come in to you.
I have done this many times in my life, and quite recently too. I remember not so long ago that I was in agony of soul and all solutions to my problem seemed irrevocably closed against me. I had been weeping for hours. Then I decided to stop and open the door of my heart to Yah'shua (Jesus) and something wonderful happened. The peace of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), which is indescribable, simply flooded into my heart. A great hush came over me and quietened me down. And though I could see no solution to my problem I knew within that He was taking care of it. And He did. I had to wait a bit longer but he solved an insoluble problem and took the pain away with it.
You can experience the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) in a profound way like this. Everyone can. But first you have to receive the gift of His love and friendship. You have to let Him in. He won't force Himself. He won't change you unless you give Him permission to. He will always respect your free agency. And when you do, He is able to disarm the worst in you - usually harsh words and thoughts - with which you might have intended to use to slay the pride of an opponent instead of winning Him with love.
There is only one explanation for such an experience: Yahweh's greatest gift to man was given and accepted. The Friend came.
So Yahweh gives us a gift for which we need not strive, and about which we can't really argue since it costs us nothing. After all, our attitude to a gift is acceptance. If someone comes up to you and offers you $10,000, do you knock the man onto the ground? Do you? You don't have to struggle to get it. If you're wise, you take it and go home before he changes his mind. Would you say to such a man: "I'm sorry, but I can't accept the $10,000 until I can understand the intellectual basis on which it is being given"? If you're wise, you'll put the money in the bank and quit trying to figure out why you were given the money until the next morning. And in fact, you may never even see the money, especially if it's given you as a Cheque/Check or is deposited privately by your donor, but you can still pay it into the bank and you can still draw it out. If you trust the donor, you can go the bank and draw the cash out whenever you want. It's there for real.
The central experience of the Christian faith is a gift which you cannot see, but which is certainly there, and is yours, because you can take it out whenever you want to and prove that Yahweh honours it - every day. One thing you will find is that there are no strings attached - like the $5 bill which one of the Marx Brothers kept paying and taking back in their film, The Wild West. So let's now look at some of the false emphases we make in the spiritual life.
First, the emphasis on struggle. And that is the main note in many believers' lives. A lot of battle. Of course, there is a vital place for the will, but there is no good news for a man telling him that his will is all that counts - that he must 'try harder'. People get tired of trying, as I pointed out last week when we looked at Haggai. The minister who urges believers along the jaded ways of the harassed will is putting new burdens on instead of taking burdens off. People pathetically try to respond. Every Eucharist (Lord's Supper), every birthday, every New Year, some of us make resolutions to try again. Again and again Yahweh makes a silence in our lives. We listen to the birds at dawn, or the moan of the sea at night. We gaze into the heart of a flower, or watch the flaming sky at sunset. We spend an hour under the quiet stars. And then the hush of the Infinite One is upon us. We tell ourselves that we will try again. Yahweh sends love into our life, and we stand with the Belovèd at His altar. And we tell ourselves that we will try again. Then comes a day when we hold our firstborn in our arms ... that bit of two selves and Yahweh. And we say: "I will be a better man now." Then comes a day when the blinds are drawn, and voices are hushed and all the house is still. We stand by a grave as deep as life, as long as love, and as wide as desire, and then turn away saying to ourselves, "I will try to be a better man." And our sins mock us openly. We try and try and try, and nearly break under the strain. Religion is increasingly a burden, when it ought to be (to use Samuel Rutherford's phrase) "the kind of burden sails are to a ship, wings are to a bird". People are pushing a religion when it ought to be carrying them - which is just as stupid as a man pushing a motorcycle ten kilometres because he will not accept the gift of a can of petrol from a friend.
There is something that fires the will. It is the acceptance by faith of a New Life which is Yahweh's gift to any who will take it. That is worth calling good news! If Yahweh were unwilling to give this gift, all our striving would not make Him give it. And if He is willing to give it, there is nothing to strive for or against, except our own doubts that the gift is ours for the taking. So Paul, even in his moments of depression, doesn't say: "Try harder!" He says, "Believe differently" - which is a gospel. And when he tells men to fight, it is a fight of faith to which they are urged. The only battle is a battle with our doubts. "Not by might and not by power, but by My Ruach (Spirit), says Yahweh" (Zech.4:6).
Next week we shall take this concept of the free gift further. May I urge you in the meantime to get on your knees and simply accept the Father's gift for you, and surprise yourself with a New Life. You won't regret it. Amen.
Click here to see Part 2
This page was created on 24 January 2003
Last updated on 24 January 2003
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved