That’s what friends are for (Wednesday)

April 5, 2023

When I was in third grade my dad threw me a surprise birthday party. I remember that it happened extremely well, because I was INCREDIBLY surprised. I walked into the back room of their house, looking for something I had been asked to retrieve, and a group of my classmates jumped out from behind the door, screamed surprise, and I nearly peed my pants. We spent the remainder of the night playing video games, eating junk food, staying up way too late, and doing all the things that pre-teens do when they’re at one another’s house.

If I’m being honest though, other than a few faint images of Madden NFL video games, my friends smiling faces when they scared the heck out of me, and my dad’s house filled with kids from my school – I don’t remember much. I couldn’t tell you what flavor the cake was, what I got for presents, or even what day of the weekend it occurred on. If I were to be even more honest, I couldn’t tell you other than two specific kids, who of my classmates actually attended the party for sure – and I only remember them because I don’t think we ever hung out together OTHER than that party. Were I to be injected with truth serum and caused to spill out every truthful detail as it surrounds said party, I’d tell you that the REAL reason it was such a surprise, was that I know for a fact that it’s the only birthday party (with classmates or friends) that my father ever threw me. Most of the surprise was around the fact that it was happening at all, and the reason that I remember parts of it so vividly, is that they don’t get lost in the jumble of all the rest. 

Last year, I turned 40. It apparently is some sort of “milestone” birthday. Old enough to have accomplished a great deal, and yet not SO old that you should imminently fear death and await the inevitable end of your life at any moment. My wife, knowing that I am keenly aware and perceptive, and that I also possess the spiritual gift of discernment – knew better than to try and surprise me with a party. It may also have something to do with her lacking in the area of sneakiness – but mostly, she knew that I would figure it out, as I do almost everything.

So rather than keep me in the dark about the party, she instead decided it would be a fun twist to let me in on the fact that the party was happening, but not tell me who was invited or planning to attend. I have to say, it was rather enjoyable. Sure, I figured out based on the number of table settings and my knowledge of other people’s Spring Break plans (my birthday is March 11th), who would NOT be attending and who MIGHT be on the list – but I didn’t know FOR SURE until they walked in my front door. To say I only have 3 VERY close friends would be a lie. I have 6 🙂 I’m kidding, I legitimately couldn’t count. I have been incredibly blessed in my life with wonderful people who call me friend. But that night, 3 of the most important men in my adult life and their wives attended a VERY special dinner with me and mine. 

We talked about so many wonderful things. Family, faith, our friendship and even a little politics. We reminisced about our shared experiences together over the years, and they were incredibly kind to me about the role that I played in their lives. One of them even drove here all the way from Iowa (which is further than it seems) just to be a part of my special night. I felt celebrated, honored, and perhaps most importantly safe. Safe to be myself, let down my guard, and truly just relax – which anyone who has a job in the public sphere will tell you is a present all its own. They made me feel special, because at least in part -that’s what friends are for.  

Jesus had similar experiences to both of the parties I just described for you I am sure. The Gospels recall story after story where hundreds if not thousands of people came and surrounded Him. He was the center of attention and in many cases, they celebrated who He was and what He was doing. I am sure people tried, as best they could, to make Him feel special and revered. But REALLY, they didn’t know Him and He didn’t know them. Not in a true and unique way. Not in the ways that separate friends from acquaintances, or that make relationships deep. These were people and places that He might have forgotten, were He not God, and had He lived to be as old as I am now. 

He also had 12 friends of the closest kind. These men were His people. They had given up everything, including family, jobs, and the places they called home, to follow an itinerant preacher around the countryside and listen and learn from all He had to say. They saw Him when the crowds had wained. They knew Him in ways that other people simply couldn’t. They spent nearly every waking moment with Him, and believed that He was different than all the rest. They saw Him heal the sick, calm the storm and turn water into wine. They also saw him frustrated by the pharisees, troubled by their incompetence, and weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. They were the ones He trusted. They were the ones He counted on. They were the ones with whom He let down His guard. They made Him feel safe, because that’s what friends are for. 

But anyone who’s ever had a friend, like the really good kind, knows that while they have the power to help you, that same person (because you’ve let them ALL the way in) has the power to hurt you. And now, in the most important moments of Jesus’ life, someone who should have His back, is about to stab Him in it instead. The Gospel of Luke records it like this; 

Luke 22:3–6 (ESV)

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

The betrayal of a friend is one of the most painful things any human can experience. It causes wounds and pain that can linger for a lifetime. This part of the Holy Week story perhaps more than any other (maybe the denial of Peter), reminds us of the humanity of Jesus. Yes, He was fully God, but He was also fully man. And while we cannot entirely comprehend what that might mean, what we CAN know for certain is that He felt what we would feel. He hurt like we hurt. His heart was broken as it beat, because of it was betrayed by one He had held so dear. 

Holy Week isn’t just the story of Jesus’ last days on earth. It isn’t simply a collection of circumstances He had to walk through and we get to recall. It’s also the very real reminder that Jesus was fully man, a human being, living life just like you and me. Joy and sorrow. Happiness and heartache. Dependence and division. And He was also fully God. Spiritual and sovereign. Powerful and promised. Humble and holy. So while Judas is betraying, Jesus is believing. Believing that although someone who should have loved Him, has shown the ugliest of humanity, He will demonstrate selflessness and sacrifice. Love in its truest form. After all, that’s what friends are for. 

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