His Dearest Friend

by Andy Wood on January 11, 2013

in Following Your Passion, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle

Dearest FriendHere’s a thought question for you.  Did Jesus have a best friend?  If so, who was it?

Aunt Ruth, who was neither my aunt nor was she named “Ruth,” used to say it was Judas.  “Only a friend can betray a friend,” she would say.  I told her she was nuts.

You could obviously make the case for Peter, James and John collectively.  He took them places the other disciples didn’t go, and let them see parts of Him the others didn’t necessarily see.  He also gave each of them nicknames – something guys like to do with their friends.

Individually, Peter and John seemed to have this ongoing competition for who was going to be the closest to Christ.  John even referred to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  But Jesus said more to Peter directly than any other disciple.  Of course, Peter was also saying more to Him apparently.

I have another suggestion for who his dearest friend was…

…and it was a girl.

Not girlfriend.  Friend-girl.  And her name was Mary.

Not Mary Magdalene, though she’s gotten a lot of press for her deep love for Jesus.  Not Mary his mother.  I’m talking about Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Why Mary?

It all depends, of course, on how you define “friend.”  But look at how Jesus responded to her and how she related to Him.

Mary only appears three times in the New Testament.  All three times she is at His feet.  Once listening.  Once grieving.  Once extravagantly worshipping.  But all three times her attention is riveted on Him, not the distractions around her.

Mary is one of the few people Jesus never rebuked when He might have.  She was part of the only household that is mentioned by name where He would stop and stay awhile.  She was part of the only family that John specifically said that Jesus loved.

But among the three siblings, Mary was the only one who truly seemed to “get” Jesus.  And she was the only one He is mentioned as calling for by name, other than that whole, “Lazarus, come forth” episode.

If being a friend means depth of understanding and depth of love, Mary was His dearest friend hands down.

Actions Speak Louder

Mary was a woman of very few words.  In fact, she’s only quoted once in all the New Testament – and that was a to-the-comma carbon copy of something her sister said.  I think sometimes that’s why she gets lost in the shuffle of “Mary’s.”  She seems lost for words to verbally express how she felt and what she understood about Jesus.  She seems overwhelmed with speechless gratitude to tell Jesus or anybody else what His love has meant to her.

But when it came to action, nobody said more with fewer words than Mary.  No one demonstrated more passion for Him or exalted Him to a higher place than Mary did.

Friends Listen Attentively

We all know the story that Luke records of how Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing a meal and Mary sitting at His feet.  We love to pick on Martha and her busy frustration and call attention to how Mary sat still in His presence.  But this was more than peaceful stillness.

Mary outrageously broke social custom.  She sat with the boys.  Ewww!

And I don’t mean hovering up next to the back wall.  She was front and center – focusing, attending, listening in a way no disciple ever did.

But this was no rebel.  She was in a place of submission – maybe not to the social rules, but most definitely to her Dearest Friend.  No one knows what Jesus was talking about that day.  But I’d bet Peter a denarius that Mary was the only one who truly got it.

That’s what friends do.  They listen in order to understand – even at the risk of being misunderstood by others.

Oh… and by the way… that’s exactly the kind of love and friendship Jesus offers you.

Friends Trust Completely

The death of Lazarus gives another study of contrasts between Mary and her sister.  When Jesus finally showed up on the scene Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Martha heard Jesus was close by and didn’t hesitate.  She ran out to meet him.

Mary?  Stayed in the house and waited until she was called for.

Martha and Mary said the exact same thing when they first saw Jesus.  My guess is they had said it to each other for four days leading up to the scene:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Martha said it to His face.  Mary said it to His feet.

What’s interesting is the reaction each statement generated.  In Martha’s case, it generated a theological discussion as Martha tried to understand what Jesus was saying about the Resurrection.

In Mary’s case, Jesus wept.

When Mary shows up weeping, and the teeming little horde of mourners scurrying along with her, adding drama to the scene, Jesus was “troubled.”  And he cried about it.  “Oh!” they said, “see how He loved him!”


Let me ask you a question.  If you already knew you were going to raise a man from the dead, would you be weeping because he had died?  I don’t think so.

Look at the scene again.  Martha is weeping, trying to understand.  The mourners are weeping because, well, that was their job.

Then there was Mary.  At His feet.  Completely trusting.  Completely yielded.  Not arguing.  Not accusing.  What she said with her words mimicked her sister.  What she said with her actions was, “But you’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

It’s easy to pour your love out at suppertime.  But it’s a lot harder to trust when you’re standing near the graveyard.  What broke Jesus’ heart was that Mary was the only one in all the crowd who really understood and trusted Him – not just for what He did or didn’t do, but for what He was about to do.

That’s what friends do.  They trust enough to wait.  They trust enough to see past the obvious.  They trust enough to hold onto the heart, even when they don’t always approve of the actions.

Oh… and by the way… that’s exactly the kind of love and friendship Jesus offers you.

Friends Love Extravagantly

It was Mary of Bethany who anointed the feet of Jesus with about a pint of pure nard.  An expensive, lavish gift, to be sure.  This event was so central to who Mary was that even though it is described in John 12, when John tells the story of Lazarus in chapter 11, he points it out that it was this Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet (John 11:2).

The focus of the night, and the most common modern takeaway, is the lavishness of the gift.  Judas objected because of what a waste of money it was when there were so many poor people around.  Many other people refer to the fact that this was worth a year’s wages.  How much do you make in a year?   Would you love Jesus enough to give something that extravagant to Him?

But what made Mary’s gift extravagant was not the cost associated with it.  It was the extraordinary meaning attached to it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7).

Do you realize that Mary was the only person among all of Jesus’ followers who said, “I understand why you came and what your purpose is, and it’s OK for you to die.”

That’s why she wiped his feet with her tears.  Her emotions said, “Stay!”  But her friendship said, “I love you enough to point you to your ultimate purpose, and will give lavishly of myself to make it happen.”

That’s what friends do.  They love extravagantly and save their finest gifts for helping declare and honor the life calling and purpose of another friend.

Oh… and by the way… that exactly the kind of love and friendship that Jesus showed to you.


I don’t really know that Jesus had a best friend the way you and I think of it today.  What I do know is that He offers a kind of friendship to you and me that was inconceivable during the days of the Old Testament.  And He asks for your friendship as well…

A listening ear, focused on what He has to say…

A trusting heart, resting in His love even when you don’t always understand it…

A lavish love, pouring out your love in honoring His finished work – and finishing your own.

That’s what Dearest Friends do.

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Martha Orlando January 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

This was so incredibly moving, Andy. I’ve never heard the relationship between Mary of Bethany and Jesus described in such a meaningful and probable way. I’ve always loved the story of her sitting at His feet, listening, hanging onto His every word, but I hadn’t thought about the social aspects and implications.
Beautifully crafted – a memorable lesson.
And, yes, I want Jesus for my friend!
Blessings to you!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Sweet, Sweet Music . . .

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