Easter 5c

Preached: May 2, 2010

Friendship Excelling in Love: A Case Study of Jonathan and David
1 Samuel 20:12-17

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts with the love of Jesus is 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan said to David, “By the Lord, the God of Israel, I will search out my father in three day's time as to whether he intends good for David. If not, then I will send to you and tell you. May the Lord deal harshly with Jonathan and even worse if my father wants to harm you and I do not tell you and send you away so that you go in safety. May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father. As long as I yet live, show me the Lord's loving-kindness so that I don't die. And do not ever cut off your loving-kindness from my house, not even when the Lord cuts off every one of David's enemies from the face of the earth.”

Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David that the Lord punish David's enemies. And Jonathan again had David swear by his love to him, because he loved him as he loved himself. (1 Samuel 20:12-17)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A thread by itself. One pull and it snaps. But twist two threads together, now it's much harder to break it. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12), Solomon writes.

Friendship takes many forms, from casual acquaintance to bosom buddy, from those whom you see just about every day to the long-distance friend whom you might only get together with once a year, if that. Maybe your best friend is your husband or wife, your brother or sister, your school mate from years ago or your partner at work. Let's learn about friendship as we watch the friendship of Jonathan and David. Their friendship excelled in love.

A. The characteristics of friendship

1. Tell the story of Jonathan and David.

Jonathan was the eldest son of Saul, King of Israel. He appeared to be next in line for the throne. As an able soldier, he defended his father's kingdom. For example, the Philistines had been harassing the Israelites and raiding their territory. To make matters worse, the Philistines had a monopoly on blacksmithing. The Israelites would pay them to sharpen their farming tools, and the Philistines made sure that there where not many swords or spears in the hands of the Israelites. In fact, only King Saul and his son Jonathan had them (1 Samuel 13:17-22). Although their numbers were small, Jonathan trusted a sign from the Lord, and with only his armor-bearer he attacked a Philistine outpost. He knew that the Lord could save by many or by few. In that first attack the two of them killed twenty Philistines. That started a panic among them -- a panic sent by God. King Saul and the rest of the Israelites pursued in victory (1 Samuel 14:6-23). That's Jonathan for you.

The Philistines eventually regrouped. This time they brought a giant along, Goliath. You know well how David trusted the Lord. So even though he was too young to be a soldier and only had his sling and some stones, he went against Goliath saying, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head . . . for the battle is the Lord's” (1 Samuel 17:45-47 NIV). With one stone from the sling, Goliath was down and David finished him off with Goliath's own sword. That day Jonathan and David became one in spirit, and Saul took David into his service.

David led campaigns, and the Lord gave him success. The people loved him and sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7 NIV). But Saul became jealous and fearful of David. He even tried to pin David to the wall with his javelin (1 Samuel 18:5-16). For you see, the Lord had said he was taking the kingdom away from Saul's family because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:22, 23), and it seemed that they Lord was giving it to David (1 Samuel 16:12, 13).

Even though Jonathan knew this and that it would mean he would not be king, he spoke well of David. He reminded his father, “[David] took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason? (1 Samuel 19:5 NIV). Saul took an oath, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death” (1 Samuel 19:6 NIV).

But Saul did not keep his word. This time he tried to put David to death behind Jonathan's back. David flees for his life. Jonathan goes out to meet him. David knows that Saul is trying to put him to death, but Jonathan is still convinced that his father would have told him. That brings us to the text today.

Jonathan promises to sound out his father and find out whether he really does want David dead. He promises to warn David accordingly. Notice how he takes an oath. “By the Lord, the God of Israel . . .” (1 Samuel 20:12 NIV), he says, and a little later: “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away safely” (1 Samuel 20:13 NIV).

Now Jonathan did not make these oaths because he had been in the habit of lying to David and now was trying to convince him he was telling him truth this time. That would be sinful oath. And he wasn't like a child saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die . . .” That too is a sinful oath. Rather this was a most serious situation, a matter of life and death. Jonathan wanted to do all he could to assure and comfort David in this dire hour. So he takes these oaths so that David may rest assured that Jonathan will not fail him. Yes, even though it would be in Jonathan's own self-interest to hand David over, these oaths assure David that Jonathan would not. How their friendship excelled in love!

And even as Jonathan asks David to show loving-kindness to him and his family and has him reaffirm that oath, that too was a way to encourage David that the Lord would indeed keep his promise to raise up David to throne of Israel. Jonathan wanted David to remember the Lord's promise, even when all seemed lost and he felt so alone. Yes, the Lord's loving-kindness led their friendship to excel in love.

Jonathan does indeed keep his promise. And when he sounds out his father, Saul becomes so angry that calls Jonathan a “son of perverse and rebellious woman” (1 Samuel 20:30 NIV) and hurls a spear at him. And Jonathan does return to warn David and send him away safely.

2. What are some underlying characteristics you see in their friendship?

Now before we go on, let's brainstorm what we've learned about friendship from Jonathan and David. They certainly had common interests and shared experiences as comrades in arms, but let's look deeper than that. What are the underlying characteristics you see in their friendship?

Self-sacrificing love, putting the interest of the other before their own, (Jonathan risked the throne and his father's anger)

Trust, commitment, loyalty, (all the promises and oaths in the world mean nothing from a liar)

Words that defend and speak well of him/her even when the friend is not present (as Jonathan did to King Saul)

Words that encourage, build up, comfort, assure (as Jonathan's oaths did for David)

Words that point to the Lord and his promises (as Jonathan did by reminding David that the Lord would give him victory over his enemies)

Chart of the characteristics of friendship

B. The failures of earthly friendship

1. How do earthly friendships fall short?

Maybe the Lord has blessed you with such a friendship. Yet even the best earthly friendships fall short. Have you been deeply hurt by a friend? Has a close friendship drifted apart over the years? Do others seem to keep their distance and you wonder if you even have friends?

It's easy to see how others fail to emulate those characteristics of friendship toward us. It's easy to pity ourselves that others haven't been friendly to us. But examine your own heart as well. Ask yourself, “How do I fall short of showing those traits toward others, whether I like them or not? How have I been selfish instead of self-sacrificing? How have I let unfounded suspicion destroy trust or been untrustworthy myself? How have my words torn others down instead of build them up? When have I remained silent instead of defending someone's good name? How have my words failed to keep the Lord's promises before my eyes and the eyes of others?”

2. Tell how David experienced the failure of earthly friendships.

In this life filled with sinners, including myself, earthly friendships fall short of what we wish them to be. David certainly experienced this in his life as well. Consider again David and Jonathan. As we pick up the account again, Jonathan sends David away for his safety from Saul. They parted in a flood of tears. David is on the run for his life. We are told of only one opportunity that Jonathan had to visit David during this time to help him find strength in the Lord. He tells David, “Don't be afraid . . . My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you” (1 Samuel 23:17 NIV). He was reminding David of the Lord's promises

But it wasn't going to work out the way they planned. Yes, the Lord certainly did not fail to keep his promise. David became king. But before that happened, Jonathan is killed at Mount Gilboa, along with his father and two of his brothers (1 Samuel 31:2). When David hears of it, he grieves: “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen! . . . Saul and Jonathan -- in life were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted . . . How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:10, 23, 27 NIV). Earthly friendships fall short.

And David also knew the grieve of false friends. Later after he had reigned as king for several years, his trusted counselor, Ahithophel, conspired with David's son, Absalom, to take the throne from him (2 Samuel 15:12). David had to flee from Jerusalem for his life as Absalom's force came (2 Samuel 15:14). Again late in life as death approached, Joab, his commander-in-chief, conspires with David's son Adonijah to make him king instead of Solomon. Reflecting on the falsehood of earthly friendship, David writes, “Even my close friend, who I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9 NIV). Jesus, great David's greater Son, quoted the last part of that verse as a picture of Judas, another friend that betrayed a friend (John 13:18). How earthly friendships fail!

3. How does Jesus' friendship to you excel in love?

But take heart! “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), a friend who love truly excels beyond all other love. “Love divine, all love excelling, Joy of heav'n to earth come down” (“Love Divine, All Love Excelling,” Charles Wesley, Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 365:1)That friend is Jesus, your God and Savior. See his love for you, as he gave himself up for you on the cross in your place. “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down” (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,”Isaac Watts, Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 125:2). On that night he was betrayed a little later than the words Jesus spoke in the Gospel today (John 13:31-35), he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:13, 14 NIV). That's you, dear friend. That's you. He laid down his life for you. His self-sacrificing love for you.

Trust him. Rely on him. Lean on him. He does not fail you. Every word he's spoken, every promise he's made, he has kept and will continue to keep. Not even death could stop. He rose from the dead for you. The rolled away stone, the empty tomb, the risen Jesus -- they are the exclamation point behind all of God's promises. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV). Trust him. Rely on him. Lean on him. This friend will not betray you or lie to you. He will not fail or fall short in any way at all. The risen Jesus, the living Jesus, will always be wit you. You are not alone. What a friend we have in Jesus!

And just as Jonathan spoke up to his father on David's behalf, so also Jesus speaks up for you. Even now, sinners though we are, guilty and deserving damnation, Jesus speaks to the Father for you. He pleads your case, pointing to his wounds. “I have paid for their sins. I have freely given them my righteousness. Count my record as theirs. Judge them as you would judge me.” John writes, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1 NIV). What a friend!

He speaks not only to his Father, but to you as well. He speaks his words of comfort, encouragement and assurance. His voice calls to you through the Gospel, the Good News. The Bible, this book, is his love letter to you. His Supper is the testimony of his love to you. It's his last will and testament, his solemn oath and covenant, that brings you the forgiveness of sins. You are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus. You are no longer his enemies. You are God's friend, through faith in Jesus. And he is your Friend, the Friend who love excels all others. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313