This article is part of the Gentle and Lowly: A 14-Day Devotional series.
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!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.—Matthew 11:19
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. In a striking passage in Luke’s Gospel we discover that, as it says in Luke 15, “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
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. They are at ease around him. They sense something different about him. Others hold them at arms’ length, but Jesus offers the enticing intrigue of fresh hope. What he is really doing, at bottom, is pulling them into his heart.
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.
Won’t most of us admit that even with our best friends, we don’t feel fully comfortable divulging everything about our lives? We like them, and even love them, and go on vacation with them, and sing their praises to others—but we don’t really, at the deepest heart level, entrust ourselves to them.
What if you had a friend at the center of the bull’s-eye of your relationship circle, whom you knew would never raise his eyebrows at what you share with him, even the worst parts of you? All our human friendships have a limit to what they can withstand. But what if there were a friend with no limit?
He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness.
It would be cruel to suggest that human friendship is irrelevant once one has been befriended by Christ. God made us for fellowship, for union of heart, with other people. Everyone gets lonely— including introverts.
But 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 offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain of our loneliness.
While that pain does not go away, its sting is made fully bearable by the far deeper friendship of Jesus. He walks with us through every moment. He knows the pain of being betrayed by a friend, but he will never betray us. He will not even so much as coolly welcome us.
That is not who he is. That is not his heart.
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