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Your Influence on Your Friend Jesus

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Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, were Jesus’ good friends. He visited frequently in their home and loved them all dearly (John 11:5). But did he need them?

Luke brings up Jesus’ special friendships just after recounting his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:38–42). Jesus had closed with, “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor (i.e., friend) to the victim?” And his interrogator said, “The one who treated him kindly.” Jesus concluded, “Go and do the same.” After that, Luke says, Jesus went to his friends’ home in Bethany for hospitality, intimacy, and honest conversation.

“My sister shirks her responsibilities! And you don’t even care,” Martha told Jesus, and she was right. When Martha asked Jesus to reprimand Mary—to send her to the kitchen!—Jesus ignored Mary and gently talked to Martha about priorities.

Here in their home, Jesus received His friends’ best gifts . . . a place to unwind, good food and drink, candor, a comfortable bed. His friends listened, accepted, and trusted Him enough to be frank and even lay their expectations on Him. Did his spirits lift? The next morning, did his step revive? Would He miss them in the coming days? Were these friends critical to His future journey?

Later, Jesus heard that Lazarus was deathly sick and, despite the danger to himself, went to Mary and Martha. Expecting him to attend to their greatest need, Mary and Martha vented disappointment, confidence, relief, faith, and grief. Jesus cried (John 11:33–36). With no pretense, Mary and Martha handed themselves to their friend, and in doing so, widened Jesus’ own understanding of himself: his identity, his purpose, his coming pain.

Raising Lazarus had deepened Jesus’ own troubles: “From this day on they (chief priests and Pharisees) planned together to kill Jesus (John 11:53).” But the unvarnished episodes with friends had also spurred Jesus’ understanding of his own impending pain. A bit later, six days before Passover, Jesus returned to their house (John 12:1–12). While they made supper that night, Mary extravagantly anointed Jesus’ feet, which Judas tried to scandalize. But Jesus knew Mary was preparing him for death and burial. Mary was grateful to Jesus for Lazarus’ life, but she was also binding herself to a friend despite the consequences.

At least one consequence was that the people plotting to kill Jesus also wanted Lazarus dead; his recent raising was spurring faith in Jesus. Is it far-fetched to imagine that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus encouraged Jesus as He moved toward the cross? Encouragement imbues strength, resiliency, hope, and grit in the hearts of those who stand together. I believe that Jesus’ friendships helped him to enter His redemptive suffering—because He knew a few friends would abide with Him all the way.

Is it possible now to befriend Jesus? In John 15:12–17, Jesus clearly tells what it means to be His friend:

“. . . love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You do not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.”

Friends affect each other’s lives. Jesus invites all of us to affect His activity in our world. He is gracious enough to tell us how—as he asks us to be His friends.

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