Jesus – Friend of Sinners
Text: Mt.11:19 "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’"
It’s good to have friends and in particular it is good to have trustworthy reliable friends. How important it is to have someone you can talk to, someone you can rely upon, someone who won’t give up on you the moment you do or say something wrong.
We have the expression "A friend in need is a friend indeed". Meaning it is great to have someone who will stand by us when we are in need, who won’t abandon us when we’re in trouble.
If it is a blessing to have human friends then surely it is a much greater blessing to have the friendship of God himself and the Bible tells us something about this.
In the OT three people in particular are highlighted as enjoying the friendship of God: Abraham, Moses and Job.
The LORD himself describes Abraham in this way:
Is.41:8 "Abraham, my friend..."
And this estimate is confirmed in the NT in the letter James wrote:
Jam.2:23 "and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God."
Of Moses it is said that:
Ex.33:11 "the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend."
And Job in the midst of his struggles could look back to a time when everything went so well in his life; he described it as being a time when:
Job 29:4 "the friendship of God was upon my tent"
Now it is perhaps tempting for us to race on and assume that the friendship of God is something to which we all have a right. Humans tend to have an inflated opinion of themselves and can so easily become blasé or carefree about something that ought to fill us with a sense of amazement and wonder.
We should take the following lessons from the fact that these three are described as somehow being in a friendship relationship with God:
It is possible for men and women to have such a relationship and we are right to have such a view:
Ps.25:14 "The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,"
The fact that only these three are mentioned as enjoying such a relationship should keep us from treating the whole matter as something "ordinary" or common. The friendship of God while available is not bestowed automatically nor indiscriminately: it is for those who fear him.
The Friendship of Jesus
When we turn to the NT we find something similar. The friendship of Jesus is spoken about and yet once again the language is used somewhat sparingly and I would again suggest this is done so to make us value such friendship and not to make so many assumptions concerning it that we trivialise it.
Let’s look at what the NT tells us. Firstly, we look at what Jesus said about who his friends were.
Jesus addressed Judas as "friend" when the latter came to betray him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The word refers to a companion and is used as a warm and polite form of greeting. Even confronted by treachery Jesus exhibits not the slightest hint of personal hatred towards Judas.
But there is another word that is more generally used to describe Jesus’ friendship with men and women.
Lk.12:4 "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do."
In context Jesus was warning his own followers about the evil influences of those whose religion consisted of nothing more than outward show and hypocrisy. But note he calls these followers his friends and the word used is the same that James used when he described Abraham as a friend of God.
Jn.11:11 "After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him."
Jesus had been informed about Lazarus being ill but instead of going to him at once Jesus waited a couple more days. Then he told his disciples that it was time to go to him. The disciples didn’t realise that Jesus knew that Lazarus had actually died and that Jesus intended to raise him from the dead and thus glorify the Father’s name.
Jesus had a special relationship with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha – it was clear to all that Jesus loved them: he owns Lazarus as his friend!
Jesus said these words to his apostles while on his way with them to the Garden of Gethsemane where he would be betrayed. He tells his apostles that they are his friends but this friendship is conditional upon their obedient response to him. None can have any claim upon his friendship without this type of response.
This does not mean that we fall in and out of his friendship depending upon our performance but we must enter into his friendship by responding obediently to him when he calls upon us to repent and believe. When we do that the work has begun in our lives which will one day be completed – there will be slips and mistakes along the way but he will not give up on us because of those. Being introduced thus into his friendship involves a radical change deep within – we do not become his friends only to go on as before.
We rightly sing that we come to Jesus "Just as I am without one plea" and again "Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot,". We come as sinners but we do not go on as sinners but as saints. We’re as yet imperfect saints but saints nevertheless and as such change is inevitable – we simply cannot know Jesus and stay as we were.
Having looked at what Jesus had to say about his friends now we can look at what others had to say on the same subject.
Matthew and Luke both record the words of Jesus’ self-
Jesus spent time with these folk and did not reject them out of hand as did the religious leaders of his day. He said he had come for just this sort of person – he had come as a physician to those who were sick and not for those who thought their spiritual health was robust. And yes he did indeed genuinely offer his friendship but in harmony with the teaching of the OT and with his teaching to his own close followers his friendship genuinely offered had to be accepted – he did not hesitate to call for repentance.
Jesus "friend of sinners" doesn’t mean that Jesus approves of everything that the sinner might be doing but it does mean that he offers his friendship freely and will receive whoever might respond to his invitation to come by obeying his command to repent. The gospel does not tell us to try to make ourselves good enough for Jesus or to wait until we feel somehow acceptable – the gospel tells us he will have all who will come to him at once before any improvement whatsoever takes place – and then, once we’ve come, in his faithful friendship, he begins his wonderful transformation of our lives.
And once he is our friend he is our friend forever!
In order to answer such a question we must look at his recorded dealings with his friends.
Briefly this means the following:
Communication – he intimately spoke to them
He shared his emotional life and thoughts
Do you remember the widow who placed two small coins into the temple treasury? The account is found in Mk.12. Well as Jesus observed this woman we read:
Mk.12:43 "he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box."
Or approaching the end Jesus shared how he felt with his disciples:
Jn.13:21 "After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.""
A short time later in Gethsemane he again told them of his inner sadness:
He longed to share certain experiences with his followers
I’m thinking about the Passover at which he would Institute the Lord’s Supper:
He told them when they had major disagreements concerning his agenda – straight talking
Peter tried to make the Lord change his mind and received a stern rebuke:
He expressed what he felt for them
As he instructed them he didn’t ask of them what he hadn’t already done for them:
Jn.15:12, 14, 16. "I have loved you.... You are my friends...I have called you friends."
He shared experiences with them
Rev.3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."
He was committed to them
Jn.14:1 ""Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."
Jn.14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
He expected commitment from them.
Friends, let us learn to appreciate the tremendous privileges that are ours in having Jesus as a friend. If Jesus’ use of the name I AM emphasised his deity this lovely name of friend and in particular "friend of sinners" makes us consider his complete humanity.
Truly we might sing "What a friend we have in Jesus". Let us enjoy his friendship as we repent, trust and commit ourselves to him.