by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director
Everyone wants great friends. There are volumes of books written on how to get friends, keep friends, and set appropriate boundaries in friendships. Friendships add meaning to our lives, and recent research indicates that friendships can even increase your lifespan.
But what happens when friendships don’t go as you hoped, when your friends let you down, stand you up, forget about important commitments, or even betray your trust?
One of the many things I love about God’s Word is its ability to portray life as it is. We see the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the faithful and the unfaithful. The Bible gives us examples of great friendships like David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth, and Paul and Barnabas, to name a few. But the Bible also records some problematic friendships like Paul and John Mark, or Job and his friends.
Even those most connected to Jesus, the Savior of the World, had a difficult time with friendships. Honestly, it is hard for me to believe that Jesus’ chosen twelve would ever have doubts about Him or misgivings regarding their devotion to Him. He had performed miracles in their presence, raised the dead, and fed thousands with little more than a single person’s meal. Yet when faced with personal threats to their lives and futures, they abandoned their closest friend.
In Mark 14:32-42, we see one of the most intimate friendships between Jesus and His disciples. This group of twelve men from various backgrounds and social strata, now narrowed to his three closest disciples – Peter, James, and John, demonstrate that friendships are not easy, even when connected to the only perfect person who ever lived!
In Mark 14, we find out that Jesus has been betrayed by one of His disciples, Judas, and is about to be arrested. Jesus is fully aware that the events which are unfolding are a fulfillment of all that has been prophesized about Him in the Old Testament and will eventuate in His torturous death on a Roman cross. Experiencing the fullness of His humanity, Jesus becomes overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. He asks Peter, James, and John to join Him as he seeks the Father in prayer. They have all had a long day and the night is coming to an end, but Jesus asks the three to pray and watch with Him as He journeys a short distance from them to pray Himself. Three times Jesus comes back to his disciples and three times He finds them sleeping, unable to stay awake for even a short time as He has requested. He finally acknowledges that their spirit is willing, but their flesh is too weak (Mk. 14:38).
Have you ever been in a situation where you depended on your friends to care, to be aware, to “watch and pray,” only to find they did nothing? Have you ever depended on someone to come through for you or be there when you needed them, only to discover they forgot, made other plans or something else just came up? I have, and I can’t help but imagine the disappointment in the heart of Jesus when those who had known Him best seemed to love Him least.
What can we learn from this single scene in the passion narrative? People are sinners and naturally inclined towards self-preservation and comfort over sacrifice and devotion. Though we need people in our lives, they can never be the source of our life. In our moments of greatest need and most profound despair, people can let us down. Jesus indeed experienced this with His disciples then, and with each believer today.
How many times do we choose our comforts over our devotion to Christ? How often do we cave to the cravings of our flesh when Jesus has asked us to “watch and pray?”
Friendships are hard because they involve sinful people trying to live life relationally and holy. But friendship with Jesus is different. Unlike other friends, Jesus is the ONE friend who will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5, Matt 28:20) and is a true friend of sinners (Matt 11:16-19, Lk 5:32).
Like Jesus, you may have experienced broken friendships, betrayals, and even hurt from those in whom you have most deeply invested. Don’t lose hope in humanity. God is still at work in each of us just as He was in the lives of His disciples. Eventually, they would see Jesus for who He really is. Eventually, they would impact the world for Christ because of their friendship with Jesus. Put your trust in Jesus. He will not disappoint (Rom 5:5).