As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.Matthew 9:9-12
While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Quotes from Chapter 12
… a friend of tax collectors and sinners!Matthew 11:19
If we allow the world around us in our present cultural moment to dictate to us the significance of friendship, we not only lose out on a reality vital to human flourishing at the horizontal level; we lose out, even worse, on enjoying the friendship of Christ at a vertical level.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they way, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’Matthew 11:19
Though the crowds call Jesus the friend of sinners as an indictment, the label is one of unspeakable comfort for those who know themselves to be sinners. That Jesus is friend to sinners is only contemptible to those who feel themselves not to be in that category.
What does it mean that Christ is a friend to sinners? At the very least, it means that he enjoys spending time with them. It also means that they feel welcome and comfortable around him.
All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him.Luke 15:1
The very two groups of people whom Jesus is accused of befriending in Matthew 11 are those who can’t stay away from him in Luke 15. Jesus offers the enticing intrigue of fresh hope.
Here is the promise of the gospel and the message of the whole Bible: In Jesus Christ, we are given a friend who will always enjoy rather than refuse our presence. This is a companion whose embrace of us does not strengthen or weaken depending on how clean or unclean, how attractive or revolting, how faithful or fickle, we presently are. The friendliness of his heart for us subjectively is as fixed and stable as is the declaration of his justification of us objectively.
We should not overly domesticate Jesus here. He is not just any friend.
Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.Revelation 1:12-18
When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid is right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
But neither should we dilute the humanness, the sheer relational desire, clearly present in these words from the mouth of the risen Christ himself.
See! 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.Revelation 3:20
He isn’t waiting for you to trigger his heart; he is already standing at the door, knocking.
I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.John 15:15
Jesus’ friends are those to whom he has opened up his deepest purposes.
God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it… He is come down from heaven and has taken upon him the human nature in purpose, that he might be near to you and might be, as it were, your companion.1Jonathan Edwards
There is no person in the world that stands in so endearing a relation to Christians as Christ; he is our friend and our nearest friend.2Jonathan Edwards
As we make our pilgrimage through this wide wilderness of a world, we have a steady, constant friend.
The heart of Christ not only heals our feelings of rejection with his embrace, and not only corrects our sense of his harshness with a view of his gentleness, and not only changes our assumption of his aloofness into an awareness of his sympathy with us, but it also heals our aloneness with his sheer companionship.
Friendship is a two-way relationship of joy, comfort, and openness.
Christ is indeed our ruler, our authority, the one to whom all allegiance and obedience are reverently due.
As he is our friend, so he is our king.3Sibbes
The condescension of God in the person of his Son means that he approaches us on our own terms and befriends us for both his and our mutual delight.
Christ delights himself in his love to the church, and his church delights herself in her love to Christ.4Sibbes
He is with us, as one of us, sharing in our life and experience, and the love and comfort that are mutually enjoyed between friends are likewise enjoyed between Christ and us. He relates to us as a person. Jesus is not the idea of friendship, abstractly; he is an actual friend.
Christ’s heart for us means that he will be our never-failing friend no matter what friends we do or do not enjoy on earth. He walks with us through every moment.
As his friendship is sweet, so it is constant in all conditions… If other friends fail, as friends may fail, yet this friend will never fail us. If we be not ashamed of him, he will never be ashamed of us. How comfortable would our life be if we could draw out the comfort that this title of friend affords! It is a comfortable, a fruitful, and eternal friendship.5Sibbes
- Jonathan Edwards, “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine love,” in The Glory and Honor of God: Volume 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Michael McMullen (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2004), 339.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 10, Sermons and Discourses 1720-1723, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Heaven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 158.
- Sibbes, Bowels Opened, 2:37.
- Sibbes, Bowels Opened, 2:37.
- Sibbes, Bowels Opened, 2:37.
- What happens if we allow the world around us to dictate the significance of friendship?
- What does the condescension of God in the person of his Son mean?
- What does it mean that Christ is a friend to sinners?
- Do you find it instinctively irreverent to speak of Christ as our friend? What in your life experience informs your answer?
- As a friend of sinners, did Jesus approve of sin? Why or why not? Cite Scripture.
- Define friendship. What does friendship with Christ look like?
- In what ways is Jesus Christ the perfect friend, a better friend than any human ever could be?
- What does Christ’s heart for us mean?
- What does it mean that Jesus is your companion?
- How is friendship with Christ an encouragement for you personally?
- Consider that Christ does not refuse your presence. If this is true, what do you want to share right now?
This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.