The Gift of Friendship
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 8 February 2003
Click here to see Part 2
A Church like ours which has such a developed and complex theology to meet its calling as a gatherer of truth and of people from every background must, as I said last week, never lose sight of the simple core of its faith which is friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus). Theology can be, and is, challenged by the grander revelation of this vast physical and spiritual cosmos that Yahweh-Elohim has created. Were our faith to be built upon theology we would go through innumerable mental crises. That is why the unchanging, reliable and reassuring friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) is what matters the most.
I promised last week that today we would focus on the practical realities of that friendship. Given the way our world has changed in two thousand years, and especially in the last century, people often rightly wonder how we can commune with a Messiah whose earthly life and revelation are separated from us by nearly two millennia. So how can we actually come to know the man of Galilee? How can we have the kind of communion with Him that we have between earthly friends and spouses in the here and now? How can we touch the Carpenter of Nazareth?
All of us, if we are earnest about our faith, should be able to treasure the Master's words. We can follow His way of life, imitate His example, observe His heroism, and benefit by His ideas. But hard though we may try, and imaginative though we may be, we can never reproduce a picture of Him clearly enough to form a substitute for His real presence. So can we actually meet Him? Can we come to know Him? Can we commune with Him as friends and spouses commune with each other?
In today's quest for spiritual reality, which is a reaction to the atheistic materialism of the last half century, people are rushing madly to psychics, spiritualists, witches, shamans and others for spiritual 'experiences'. They are trying to contact their 'inner selves', the spirits of the dead, and - far worse - demons. A few weeks ago I met a lady who had consciously invited a pack of demons into her because she believed they could change her eye colour. Her eye colour remains unchanged but for her trouble she is horribly oppressed - she is nervous, depressed, experiences wild swings of mood, and is tormented in her dreams while she sleeps and by voices in her head while she is awake. Others turn to demons for power, wealth, fame, drugs and sex, and are progressively destroyed by them. I was looking at a list of rock stars the other day and noticed that nearly half of them died in their youth from one abuse or another. Yes, there is a spiritual reality beyond mere physicality, and it's not difficult to make contact with it, but it isn't what most people suppose it is. Worse, they have never heard of - or don't want to hear of - the other spiritual dimension - the dimension where we can enjoy the presence and friendship of someone who actually loves us.
It is easy to use the language of mysticism without having actually experienced anything mystical. Biblical passages become familiar with frequent reading. Hymns have moving tunes. And after a while it is possible to be declaring the wonderful truths of the Gospel in such a way that we fail to realise just what it is we are saying. Profound truths like "God is love" become mere clichés for constant repetition. It is not only possible, but actually very common, to find Christians going through the motions of their religion whilst having little or no contact with its source. I remember reading about a theologian called Dr.Dale who wrote a book called, The Living Christ and the Four Gospels. He'd been a minister all his life and possessed a profound knowledge of the Scriptures but suddenly one day, as he was working on his book, he had an amazing experience: he suddenly connected spiritually with the truth he had been teaching and preaching all his life, and declared in astonishment: "Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is alive! Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is alive!"
"Well of course," you might be tempted to retort, "of course he knew that." But that's my point. Until that moment of time he didn't. Before then it had all been doctrine - theology. Yes, he believed it, and that made him a Christian, but not until that particular moment in time did He actually make contact with Christ and was, for the first time, able to declare with a certain knowledge that "Yah'shua (Jesus) is alive"! That is the difference between death and living faith.
Another great Christian writer, Drummond, pictures in one of his books a scene which might be witnessed if Yah'shua (Jesus) were actually alive in-the-flesh today. He pictures boats and trains loaded with pilgrims going to see Yah'shua (Jesus). He imagines the vast crowds which would want to see Him, hear Him, touch Him, commune with Him. What if, with a little faith, we could have the central thing in that experience, and have it regularly and authentically every day of our lives? Wouldn't that we worth having?
We are not startled by the truth that "Yah'shua (Jesus) is alive" when we read it in print because in a way - and I think this is true for most Christians - the Bible has become a kind of replacement for spiritual experience. People's connection to Yahweh is through words - the words in a book. And we are apt to forget that the ancients had almost no books at all. For thousands of years the history of Yahweh's dealings with them was committed to memory and passed on orally. As far as we know, nothing was written down until the time of Moses. And yet what do we learn? What do we read? We read: "Enoch walked with the Elohim (God)" (Gen.5:22,24). We read that Abraham was called "the friend of Eloah (God)" (Jas.2:23). We read that "Yahweh spoke to Moses" (Ex.6:2; Jn.9:29), and not just that, but "as a man speaks to his friend" (Ex.33:11). We read how David feels that the valley of the shadow of death is less dark because his Friend is with him - "Thou art with me" (Ps.23:3, KJV).
And so, intermingled with the inspiring thoughts in the Old Testament about the majesty of Yahweh-Elohim, high and lifted up, and the insignificance of man, very far below like a grasshopper, whole nations being but a drop in a bucket or the dust of a balance, is this new idea, like a friendly little river flowing through a frightening wood. of the companionship and friendliness of Elohim (God).
People have all sorts of ideas about Elohim (God). For most He is a distant, frightening figure. Many people see Him as harsh. They view Him as a killjoy with all His rules and commandments. And yet what does Yah'shua (Jesus) say about Him? What was it that the Son of Man revealed about His Father in heaven? He lived in such a way to show people what Yahweh is actually like. He did not go and live in a cave in the desert, or in some mountain retreat, to be consulted as an oracle by toiling pilgrims, who then went back without Him. He came right into the midst of man's toil. He was a toiler Himself. He was always available. He would spend all night with a sincere seeker after truth, while an unheeding city slept. He forgot His noontide weariness if He could talk to a woman by a village well. He was never too busy or rushed or worried. He got through tremendous masses of work, and yet there was a poise of spirit, a quiet heart, an inward peace. He was "gathered into Himself" . When you spoke to Him you never had the impression that you were intruding on the time of a very busy man. He went to each task freshly and quietly. He did that task with all the strength of His personality, and then went on to the next. And what could not be done He was quite happy to leave undone, for there were only twenty-four hours even in His day, and He gave a place of honour both to eating and sleeping. To all folk He was the same kindly, sympathetic Friend. He was never servile to the rich or condescending to the poor. Poverty not riches, nor social position, nor education, made any difference to this Friend. "He was a refuge for every hunted life". He was the personification of the friendliness of the Most High God, El Elyon, Yahweh-Elohim. That's right, He is exactly like our Father in Heaven, the One who executed justice, showed favour and mercy, and gave Laws, Commandments and Rules for men to live by. And Yah'shua (Jesus), you must remember, obeyed them no less, and taught others to do the same.
So what happens when Yah'shua (Jesus) dies? Is this fellowship with people broken? It is significant that Matthew records Him making this incredible promise: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt.28:20). Why does He say that? Quite simply, so that He can carry this friendship across the gulf of death and plant it securely on the other side, and in order that that friendship might be made available for all who needed it and had faith to make it possible.
If you want to know how we can establish a bond of friendship with Yah'shua (Jesus) here and now, then take a look with me at that time between the Master's Resurrection and Ascension. Why is it that He does not allow Mary to touch Him? There are many reasons but one of them is that He wants to take her beyond the evidence of sight and touch. She must learn her next lesson, and realise His presence without the need of eyes and hands. He is planting the friendship in the unseen.
Even more amazing, perhaps, are the post-resurrection appearances. Two men - or perhaps a man and his wife - are on their way to Emmaus. Yes, you have heard me relate this story before, but today I want to give you another angle. Suddenly, without hearing anything, they find a Companion by their side. He materialised out of thin air, just as Philip was to later materialise in Azotus after teaching and baptising the Ethiopian. He walks with them, sits with them at table. They recognise Him by the way He breaks a loaf, and then He has gone.
The Twelve are gathered in the Upper Room. Suddenly, they are aware of a Presence. He is there. There is a word of peace. And He is gone. Again on the seashore. Again in a mountain in Galilee. Again near Bethany.
Now I don't want you to get too excited by the phenomenon of transmaterialisation. That's not what I am trying to draw your attention to. Occultists can do these things too. New Age gurus like Maitreya can do this, and have done it, fooling Christians into believing that he is Christ. I know Satanists who can do these things. Angels do it all the time. And Christians are once again doing it, and shall do it more and more in these dangerous end-times where travel is hard. What is more important is not the fact that Yah'shua (Jesus) transmaterialised but what these happenings mean. These happenings have the purpose of making the disciples realise and understand that He is never far away. He does not seem to be there, and then, suddenly, He breaks in upon them, and always knows what has been going on. He always takes charge of the situation until they never know when they may become aware of Him.
I imagine that those first disciples often turned to the opening of a door expecting to see Yah'shua (Jesus) standing there. They probably stopped midway in a sentence because they remembered that He could not be far away, and was perhaps an invisible auditor. The experience becomes richer. They feel that He is never absent. Communion will now mean as much as it did when they could hear His voice, and see His face, and touch Him. They no longer need their eyes, ears and hands to draw close to Him. He has carried the friendship beyond death; and the Ascension does not mean that he has passed to some distant heaven beyond the possibilities of friendship.
The truth is that heaven is not "out there" but right here. It's literally right next to us, in a parallel dimension. That goes for hell too. When Yah'shua (Jesus) and His angels visit us they do not make vast cosmic journeys. It is perhaps hard to visualise this since we are accustomed to thinking only in terms of three or (at most) four dimensions. And yet it is true. I have seen so much of the 'invisible' world that I have not the slightest doubt of it. Yah'shua (Jesus) is right next to you; but it is only our lack of faith, or disobedience, that makes His presence indiscernible.
Yah'shua (Jesus) has widened the possibilities so that for all men and women He is the ever available One. And Pentecost (Shavu'ot) was not, for those first disciples, the coming of the third Person of the Godhead, but Yah'shua (Jesus) present in an overwhelming sense, their Friend back in their midst in power indescribable.
Whether we have realised it or not, the disciples realised it. When the tongues of fire fell on them in that Upper Room they were not so much amazed at their ability to speak in foreign languages and regional dialects but at the intense closeness of Yah'shua (Jesus). That is what they were exulting in!
Furthermore, those first disciples held no memorial service of Yah'shua (Jesus). If He had been dead and absent I have no doubt they would have done so. No flowers adorned His grave. No poet wrote memorial verses to Him. And why not? Aren't these the things we normally do when important people die? And the reason is because they knew He was alive and present. It was because they were aware of His living presence and of an undying friendship which could be realised day by day. Were this not true, they could never have done what they did.
So we are getting nearer the answer to the question we started with: Can the friendship of Yah'shua (Jesus) be a reality today? And we can get nearer that answer simply by learning that, for a handful of very ordinary men, that friendship was the biggest reality in their lives. And because of it, they went to the uttermost ends of the then known world and died for the truth of that tremendous experience. You see, these men and women didn't lay down their lives for an idea, or a theory, or a theological proposition. They died because they knew the crucified Messiah was alive and real. They knew Him on a day-to-day basis. And that is what sustained their faith. When people lose their faith in Him, as they do sometimes, it is either because they never had that friendship in th first place or they have lost it because of wilful disobedience.
People who knew the disciples before they met Yah'shua (Jesus), and who did not see them again until after the Resurrection, must have noticed a difference such as one sees in some landscape in the grip of winter, when the bitter winds howl through the leafless branches, when black frost makes the ground hard and hostile to the feet, when low storm clouds make the mountains forbidding and fearful, and the moors bleak and desolate; and that same landscape when the summer sun is shining, when the trees are all in leaf, when the flowers are everywhere, and when the air is full of the sound of running brooks and the humming of bees and the singing of birds. You see, it was the friendship that made them what they had become.
Take Peter as a landscape. One imagines a rough fisherman, with a ready flow of plethoric (vulgar) language, and a temper not easy to govern. But in all who came near Yah'shua (Jesus) manners soften, hearts become gentle, a new joy erupts, a kind of infectious goodness overflows. The disciples begin to say things, do things, be things, which they could never have said or done or been before. But those friends who have watched the change know the secret: "They have been with Yah'shua (Jesus)". The friendship has done it. Friendship will always do that for us. It will make us like the friend we admire and see much of. Merely to enter the presence of some people is to go into an atmosphere in which we become our best selves; in which nothing unworthy could be done. To live in that presence would make us new beings. To companion with Yah'shua (Jesus) must have meant a greater power to be at one's best, and a longing to do the worthy thing, and a hatred of the low, the base, and the mean.
You can tell whether someone is a friend of Yah'shua (Jesus) or not simply by their behaviour. A knowledge of theology will not secure it. I knew a woman who kept on telling people that she was willing to die for the truth, but she could not relate to people at all, and they got tired of her fanatical martyr-spirit. Her god was a set of doctrinal propositions about the life, death, and resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) but she had never encountered the Man of Galilee for herself. She did not know His friendship. In these spiritual dangerous times, there are people who know a lot about their Bible but who have befriended demons and do not know the Carpenter from Nazareth. Demons talk about Yah'shua (Jesus) and the Bible too and if you believe them - if you believe their account - your friendship will be with them. And you can be sure they will cause you to believe in a different Yah'shua (Jesus) because you will have met them and not the Son of God.
I'll be talking more about this next week. In the meantime I'd like you to ask yourselves some sober questions: what Yah'shua (Jesus) do I know? Do I know His friendship? Or have I perhaps heard of, or met, a counterfeit Yah'shua (Jesus), one who has never shown friendship to me? Next Sabbath we shall be unmasking the false messiahs, which is not a difficult thing to do, because if you are not friends with the Father and His Torah, then you most certainly aren't friends with the Son either. May you be blessed. Amen.
Click here to see Part 4
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