John 18:17 “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ “
True friendship has its tests. One of those is how we act towards our “friends” when we’re around others who don’t like our friends. Our allegiances can be tested in such cases, or such “opportunities,” if you will. We all remember how it was in grade school and even high school. There were always those kids who weren’t liked as much as other, more popular, kids. They weren’t part of the “in” crowd. Perhaps their families were poor, or they were outcasts in one way or another. Perhaps they had a disability, and were made fun of and bullied. To stand up for such a person would expose us to the possibility of bullying or mockery ourselves, so the temptation was to remain silent, or even to join in with the crowd.
Jesus, the very son of God, set the standard as an example to us when it came to this issue of friendship. He loved people – all people – and because of it, He was mocked and harassed. He was mocked as a “friend of sinners” as he spent time with the tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and other outcasts of that day. He wasn’t afraid of the mockery, for He had come for the very purpose to seek and to save those who were lost. He didn’t reject those who weren’t like Him. Rather He reached out to them, and He identified with them, regardless of the mockery of the crowds and the “important people” of the day. He told His disciples that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And because He was a friend of sinners, it was for sinners that He gave His last breath.
But what about those who call themselves friends of Jesus, those who say that they “follow” Him, like Peter in the account above? When given an opportunity to identify with Him when it placed him in an uncomfortable situation, what did he do? As we see in the verse above, he denied the very One to Whom he had earlier said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
What a contrast this is! Christ – a friend of sinners, compared to a “follower” of Christ who didn’t want to admit he even knew Him when his friendship was put to the test. What about you and what about me? Are you a follower of Christ? If so, does anyone else know about it? When you have been placed in a situation in which you had the opportunity to confess your love for Christ by your actions and words, did you do it? When you have been placed in a situation, outside of the friendly confines of a church, to tell someone about this great Friend, the One you worshipped on Sunday morning, did you do it? Are you following Christ so closely and loving Him so intensely that when you are around anyone else, no matter who they might be, it is evident to them? Or are you, like Peter in the incident above, following Him “from afar” (Luke 22:54), and quick to avoid identifying with Him if such identification exposes you to discomfort of any sort.
May God help us to love with our words and our actions this Friend of sinners Who gave His life for us. And may we do so, no matter if we are around others who call Jesus their friend, or those who hate Him, and as a result might hate us, as well. Thanks be to God that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). May we have the overflowing gratitude in our hearts to love Him and be known as those who love Him, no matter the circle in which we might find ourselves. We all have many opportunities in this life to either identify with Him – or not. May God help us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16) for the sake of those who need Him, whether they realize it right now or not.
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