Recall this stirring account of betrayal in Matthew 26:45-50…
…he came to the disciples and said, ‘Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’ And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
How wonderful it is that God calls sinners his friends in Christ! But what did Jesus mean in calling Judas his friend? Don’t the gospel accounts make it clear that Judas is not a true member of God’s family? In the context of Judas’s greeting, it’s likely that Jesus was being sarcastic. How terrible it is for those who are deceived into thinking that Jesus says of them, “My friend” when they do not experience true friendship with him!
There are some key observations to be made in Judas’s approach to friendship with Jesus. Judas’s example reminds us that friendship with God is:
- Not only about outward signs of piety (e.g. a kiss on the cheek as a sign of deep friendship)
- Not only about acknowledging truths about God (e.g. calling Jesus “Rabbi,” which means teacher)
- Not only about associating ourselves with other Christians (e.g. being a member of Jesus’s disciples)
Many people say that God is their friend, but the danger is that not many of us understand the nature of that friendship. To enter into friendship with God is not something to be taken lightly, but calls for more trust, faithfulness, vulnerability, and fidelity than any good earthly friendship. When we usually think about friendship with God, we are prone to think of it only in terms of forgiveness and grace. While those things are the essence of the friendship, the nature of the friendship includes our response to his forgiveness and grace — one of gratitude, worship, and obedience to his lordship.
The good news of the gospel is that, while we were once enemies of God, he reconciled us to him by the death of his Son and offers us forgiveness and acceptance by faith in him. God invites all to come to him in repentance (turning from sin) and faith in Christ, who died in their place. This good news is not only for those who aren’t Christians, but also for those who are. Everything we do must be understood in light of that friendship — not as a means of earning it, but as a means of enjoying it and living in its freedom. If we are living unfaithfully, God promises to forgive us and restore the joy of friendship with him if we turn away from our sins and return to the love he offers in Christ. But Christians who continue to deny the friendship with God that is offered to them in Christ will one day be shocked to find that they were no better off than Judas!