In rounding out our series this week on Friendship it’s only appropriate that we look to our Lord Jesus and the friends he kept and keeps.
JESUS: FRIEND OF SINNERS
In two places in the gospels (Matt. 11:19 and Luke 11:34) we read that Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” Jesus introduced an upside down Kingdom and part of the upside down-ness is the fact that he befriended the last in line, the least of these, the not-good-enoughs, the throw-aways… the sinners. Of course, as God incarnate, he didn’t have any options. If here were to befriend anyone, that person would be a “sinner.” And yet, when the gospels use the word “sinner” they’re communicating something more than a common blanket statement lumping the whole human race under the rubric of “sinner.” In the very religious society that Jesus found himself apart of there were the insiders and outsiders, the clean and unclean, the righteous and the sinners.
Keeping company with sinners said more about him than their sins. The religious folks took offense to the fact that this so-called “Messiah” would dare blur the lines between what is and isn’t clean. You see, where Jesus came from, both the food you ate and the friends you had must be kosher.
Calling Jesus a "friend of sinners" was intended to ruin his reputation. It was a slur used to demean his character in the eyes of others. However, Jesus cared more about the those who were clearly far from God than what the religious people thought of him. Being a "friend of sinners" wasn't something he hid or was embarrassed about. He came to seek and save the lost. And friendship is one way he went about doing just that.
Christian, are you a friend of sinners? And I don’t mean like are you a friend of unbelievers simply for the sake of trying to convert them.
I mean, can you see another image bearer of God and not turn them into a project? I’m afraid that until we reach that place, we aren’t in a place of authentic friendship. You see, we don't use the medium friendship merely for the sake of converting the lost. We pour out our lives for the glory of God! That's an entirely different paradigm! Of course we share the gospel and don’t hide our faith! Of course we want people to meet Jesus and experience the grace of God! Yes! But hear me… it is easy to buy into a a lopsided evangelicalism that is more concerned with numbers than love. More concerned with programs than actual broken lives. More concerned with being ‘right’ than being real.
Please hear me… I’m not downplaying evangelism. I’m saying that true evangelism, true Christ-centered conversations and conversions bloom brighter in the soil of authentic friendship than anywhere else.
But here’s the deal… Jesus was and is way more than merely a friend of sinners.
JESUS: FRIEND OF SAINTS
Jesus also had his close, inner three disciples: Peter, James, and John whom he invited to pray with. You see, Jesus is the closest friend of the Church. In fact, Jesus is the eternal friend of saints.
Jesus transforms sinners into saints and he did so through entering our mess, taking our sins, brokenness, and failures upon himself.
On the night of his betrayal Jesus said, “there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends” and that is exactly what he did.
In his death we see Jesus lose the closeness and intimacy with the Father that he had enjoyed from eternity past. The nearness and friendly communion he’d always known with the Father was cut off and he was left alone.
You see, Jesus was pushed out so that we could be brought in.
Jesus was put to death that we could have life.
Jesus went into the darkest place of saying “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” So that we can pray, “My God, My God, you have never left me!”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is not so concerned with conversions that he neglects growing saints deeply in discipleship. Jesus is not so concerned with the depth of growth in discipleship that he proves to be dispassionate about conversions.
At the end of the day, if we’re only a friend of sinners there’s a problem. And if we're only a friend of saints, there’s a problem. If we really walk with Jesus, he will lead us to the grimmest of places. And if we walk with Jesus, he’ll lead us to the holiest place – the very presence of God.
I’m praying for us here at Redemption Church that God will call us deeper into these realities afforded to us in the gospel and that we may experience closer communion with God, deeper relationships in the church, and authentic friendships here in the city of Seattle where so many desperately need to know that they are loved, they matter, have dignity, value, and respect.