IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 32, August 7 to August 13, 2000

A TRUE AND UNFAILING FRIEND
A Sermon on on 1 Samuel 18:1-5

by Russell Smith

Our Scripture passage for today talks about friendship. A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of words have been spoken about friendship. Philosophers have written books; movies explore the concept in detail; everyone has an opinion about friendship. Frank Sinatra once said that "a friend in need is a pest" - great singer, bad theologian.

We're not going to take an exhaustive look at friendship here. Rather, we're going to take a brief look at the picture of David and Jonathan's friendship, and then we're going to learn about the nature and shape of our friendship with Christ. If you've thought of Christ not so much as your friend, but more as this abstract principle way up there, then what we're going to talk about today might surprise you.

So, before we get underway, let's put this passage in context. Recall that before David became king, he was a servant in King Saul's household. Back in chapter 17, David faced off against Goliath and won; David appeared before Saul as a victorious warrior. Our scripture takes place immediately after that scene. The whole of chapter 18 shows David's increase in popularity with Saul's household and with the people of Israel. It also describes Saul's jealousy of David, and sets up the eventual fall of Saul and enthronement of David as an ideal king over Israel.

With all that background in mind, we look at verses 1-5 and see that they focus on David's deep and committed friendship with Jonathan, Saul's eldest son and heir to the throne:

"Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants" (1 Sam 18:1-5).

Three things jump out at us in this passage: Jonathan's soul was "knit" with David's; Jonathan made a covenant with David; and Jonathan gave David his robe and his weapons. What does all this mean? What is it about?

We'll begin with the concept of David's and Jonathan's souls being knit together. The NIV translation says it this way: "Jonathan became one in spirit with David." What a great picture: a coming together, a unity of purpose, a resonance, a kind of inseparable pairing where you can't imagine the one without the other. This is the kind of relationship that most people secretly long for - someone who shares our vision, someone who appreciates our worth and understands our perspective. We have cliché examples like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Robin Hood and Little John. But those examples have more of the hero and sidekick picture. David and Jonathan are equals. Both are equally noble in soul; both are equally noble in stature. A better example might be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid facing challenges side by side - or perhaps a more contemporary example: the two main characters of Toy Story, the astronaut Buzz Lightyear and the cowboy Woody, equals in heart. That's the picture I want you to have of Jonathan and David.

The second thing we notice in this passage is that Jonathan made a covenant with David. A covenant is kind of like a contract, only more binding. Think of it this way: a contract is an agreement between two parties on a given matter. A covenant, in the way the Bible uses the term, is a kind of merging of fortunes. It is an oath sealed not with pen and ink, but with blood - it is a union, a unification. This is why we consider marriage to be a covenant, not a contract. It is not an agreement between two parties, but a making of one flesh. We don't have a lot of details about this particular covenant, so all we can intelligently say is that Jonathan felt so strongly about his identification with David that he wanted to formalize it through a covenant.

The final thing we notice in this passage is that Jonathan honored David through gifts. Jonathan gave away his robe, symbolic of his royal inheritance, and his weapons, symbolic of his strength and power and might. Jonathan effectively said that David's friendship was more valuable to him than were his military accomplishments, his political power, and even his position as heir to the throne. If you follow the course of the friendship, you find that in 1 Samuel 23 he actually gives the throne to David. That's like winning the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes and giving it to your best friend.

So we see that Jonathan's heart was one with David's, that Jonathan formalized that relationship with a covenant, and that Jonathan acted on that relationship by putting everything of value in David's hands. Now, these traits are wonderful, they are high goals to which our earthly friendships aspire. But there's another level on which we must approach this story. You see, David is an Old Testament shadow of Christ. Later generations would look back to David as an idealized king, and they would use David to picture their coming messiah. The Psalms and the Prophets are filled with poetry that looks forward to a future deliverer, warrior, and savior who would perfectly fulfill the ideal role of kingship that was established by David. At Christmas we celebrate the coming of that messiah in the form of a humble child in the manger. Now, 2,000 years later, we know that Christ fulfilled all the shadows that existed in the Old Testament. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he had come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. Jesus didn't just prove predictions true - Jesus fulfilled all the authority roles that God had provided to ancient Israel. He didn't just fulfill the prophecies; he became the prophet announcing the complete message of God's deliverance. He wasn't just a sacrifice for sin; he became the perfect priest, eternally offering himself as a sacrifice in heaven. And, most significantly for our passage today, he didn't just proclaim an earthly, geographic kingdom; he proclaimed an eternal heavenly kingdom of God's reign far superior to any earthly kingdom or government. So we need to understand that when we look back to the Old Testament, we see shadows, fuzzy incomplete images of the divine plan that reaches it's fullness in Christ.

This is not to say that we should read Christ into every detail in the Old Testament. There are some things that are there just to help tell the story. Over the past few months, it seems that nearly every computer glitch was blamed on Y2K. Can't you see the computer programmers right now? "Oops, we've found a mistake in our program." "That's okay, blame it on Y2K." We don't want to make that same mistake by reading Christ into everything in the Old Testament.

We can, however, draw a loose parallel between Jonathan and David's friendship on the one hand, and our friendship with Christ on the other, mainly for the reason that Christ himself called his disciples "friends:"

"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 his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:13-15).

Here we see that Jesus himself called his disciples "friends," and by extension he calls us "friends" too. Now, our friendship with Christ is bound to be different from Jonathan's friendship with David. David was just a man. He was a great man without question, but he was also a flawed man. Jonathan was able to have an equal relationship with him. But Christ is perfect; he is fully God and fully man. Because he is fully God, we can't relate to him as an equal. But because he is fully man, we can have a relationship of real friendship with him.

That's an astonishing statement. I have to wonder, what does that look like? What should it feel like to be the friend of the being who shaped the universe, yet who came in the form of a baby? As I thought about this idea, I struggled to come up with some picture, some way of conveying the power of friendship with Christ. The closest I could come was a children's story. Many of you may have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The first book in the series is called The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's basically C.S Lewis' version of the gospel set in fairyland. Four children from our world enter Narnia, a fantastic land populated by talking animals and mythical creatures, and ruled by an evil witch. But then Aslan, the true ruler of the land, appears. Aslan is a great, majestic lion, and the children ask one of the inhabitants of the land if he's safe. They are told, "Of course he's not safe, but he's good." When the children meet Aslan, they are quite afraid at first. He is so large, and his roar so great and deafening, and he seems so serious. But he allows the children to feel his mane. They have the chance to ride on his back, going faster than they have ever gone before. They overcome their first fear and become fast friends. However, when the time comes to confront the witch, Aslan becomes quite serious, giving grave and important instructions to the children. Because of his character, the children pay very close attention and obey every word. You see the dynamic at play in the picture? Trust and awe, play and obedience all rolled up into one. It's like the five-year-old boy who sees in his father his best friend and playmate, but also the strong protector and provider. The relationship is very real, very rich, and very wonderful, but it is not a relationship of equals. Such is our friendship with Christ - he's not safe, but he's good.

With all of that in mind, think back to Jonathan's friendship with David. If Jonathan's heart was one with David's, how much more do we make our hearts one with Christ in our conversion? If Jonathan formalized his relationship with David through a covenant, how much more do we formalize our relationship with Christ through the covenant sign of baptism? And here's the kicker - if you remember nothing else from what I've said, remember this - if Jonathan acted on his relationship by putting everything of value in David's hands, how much more should we put our very lives in Christ's hands?

But how can we do this? Let me suggest three things that can help us develop our friendship with Christ the king. First, we can strive to read the Bible every day. My wife and I have a devotional book that takes us through the Bible in a year, and this is a very helpful tool for us. Second, we can strive to be in prayer every day. The Bible is God's inspired Word, and it tells us about him. But with prayer we communicate directly with Christ, we experience Christ, we share our joys and our pains with him because he is our friend. Finally, we can strive to serve others, not only in organized service opportunities like Habitat for Humanity or summer missions, but in small, daily kindnesses: a note to a friend, doing something extra for our spouses, a complement given freely. Remember that in calling us his friends, Christ also commanded us to love one another (John 15:12-15).

We have explored the depth of Jonathan's friendship with David, and we have learned a little bit about the nature of our friendship with Christ. Now we are left considering the extent of Jonathan's dedication to David, and reflecting on how much greater our dedication to Christ should be. I leave you with a picture: Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century preacher whose sermons inspired the revival called the Great Awakening, lay dying. He has been called by some the most brilliant mind since Aristotle; his writing is still in literature anthology books today. This brilliant man, lying on his deathbed, turned from his comforting friends, saying, "And now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never failing friend?" He is our true and never failing friend too.

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