When LeAnn and I moved to Waverly in the summer of 2012, most everyone we met was kind and welcoming. Yet despite our best efforts, we noticed a year or two later that we didn't really have many friends, just lots of "nice" acquaintances.
At first, I thought there must be something wrong with me. But over time, we learned others new to the community had a similar experience. The citizens of Waverly were nice and welcoming, yet most people living here already had their friend groups, leaving no space for new people in their lives.
I am SO glad it isn't this way with God!
One of the complaints the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day had about this carpenter from Nazareth was that He not only welcomed "sinners" into his presence, but he actually seemed to like them and befriend them. He let prostitutes touch Him. He partied with corrupt tax collectors. He let some extremely average (and even questionable) men be His disciples.
Yet Jesus didn't make an excuse for this attitude, or try to protect His reputation, or even try to deflect the accusations. He admitted to it!
Jesus flat out told His (questionable) disciples...
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."John 15:13-15 (ESV)
Jesus did not see His disciples as merely servants to do His bidding, nor a group of guys toward whom He could simply display Midwest niceness. He saw them as friends with whom He shared His heart, as well as people for whom He would lay down His life.
This phenomenon of friendship with the Divine comes through the work of the cross. Jesus' death pays the penalty of sin, so your sin could be forgiven, allowing you to come into the presence of your Holy Creator God. And not just so you can simply be "welcomed" into Heaven (yet kept at a relational distance), but rather fully received into the arms of your loving Heavenly Father.
Yet it isn't only through the cross Jesus befriends you. He is also doing it through His Spirit (John 14:15-31), the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14-17), through prayer (Ephesians 6:18), and through fellowship with other believers (Acts 2:42). Just like the more time you spend with a friend helps you get to know them better, time with Christ lets you know Him better.
Don't forget: Jesus is the King of the Universe who deserves your awe, worship, and highest respect. Yet He also is your friend.
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