By Irvin Himmel
“Friend” is a term of endearment. It denotes that one is loved, dear, or trusted. It applies to one who associates familiarly as a companion.
Jesus’ ministry on earth was a mission of friendship toward sinful humanity. His conduct as a friend was in striking contrast to the behavior of the religious leaders among the Jews.
1. He was a friend of social outcasts. The publicans collected taxes for the Roman government. Anyone who represented the Romans was despised and hated by most of the Jewish nation. On top of that, many of the publicans had the reputation of being extortionists. “The tax-gather, if a Jew, was a renegade in the eyes of his patriotic fellows. He paid a fixed sum for the taxes, and received for himself what he could over and above that amount. The ancient and widespread custom of arbitrariness was in the system” (International Bible Encyclopedia). The publicans were regarded as outcasts.
Jesus saw Matthew, a publican, seated at the receipt of custom, and said to him, “Follow me.” Later in Matthew’s house, Jesus and his disciples ate with many publicans and sinners. “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” asked the arrogant Pharisees. Jesus explained his association with these social outcasts by comparing his work to that of a doctor. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick . . . I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:9-13).
At Jericho, Jesus visited the house of the chief of the publicans, a little man named Zaccheus. That visit brought a blessing to Zaccheus. The friendship of Jesus was explained by the Master in these words: “For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:1-10).
2. He was a friend to the bereaved. Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus and the disciples approached Bethany. Martha went out to meet the Lord. She remarked, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Jesus assured her that Lazarus would rise again. She acknowledged that he would rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus explained, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha went her way and called her sister Mary secretly. Mary quickly went out to meet the Master. Many of the mourners followed her.
Jesus had deep feeling for Mary and Martha in their loss. The sadness of these two sisters and the weeping of others who had come to share their grief touched the heart of the Son of man. He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. He asked, “Where have ye laid him?” They said, “Come and see.” John reports tersely, “Jesus wept.” Then said the Jews, “Behold how he loved him!” (Jn. 11:17-36)
3. He was a friend of sinners. At the house of Simon a Pharisee, Jesus was approached by a sinful woman. She brought an alabaster box of ointment, stood at his feet behind him weeping, washing his feet with tears, wiping them with the hairs of her head, and kissing his feet, and anointing them with the ointment. Simon witnessed this and said in his heart, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for he is a sinner.” Jesus spoke to Simon and illustrated the sinful woman’s situation. He rebuked Simon for his own lack of hospitality and common courtesy. He demonstrated that he was a friend of sinners by saying to the woman, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (Lk. 7:36-50).
On another occasion, the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman which they said they had caught in the act of adultery. The law said that such a person should be stoned. They desired to tempt and accuse Jesus by asking, “What sayest thou?” He replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” One by one they left the scene. When Jesus and the woman were left alone, he asked her, “Woman, where are thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She replied, “No man, Lord.” He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” On. 8:1-11).
Some of the Master’s critics distorted his friendship toward publicans and sinners. They had found fault with John the Baptist because he came neither eating nor drinking, insisting that he had a demon, and when Jesus came both eating and drinking, they said, “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. 11:18,19). Jesus was not a friend of sinners in the sense of being a chum, buddy, pall, crony, or participant in their wickedness. In a much higher sense he was a real friend of sinners. Had he been a partaker in their sins, that higher friendship would not have been possible.
4. He was a friend of the disciples. When they needed rebuke, Jesus rebuked them. When certain Samaritans acted in a hostile manner, James and John wanted to command fire to come down and consume them. Jesus rebuked those two disciples for the spirit which they displayed, reminding them, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Lk. 9:51-56).
When the disciples were frightened, Jesus calmed them. A violent storm on the Sea of Galilee covered with water the boat in which Jesus and the disciples were passengers. In excitement they awakened him, crying, “Lord, save us: we perish.” He replied, “Why are ye fearful, 0 ye of little faith?” He rebuked the winds and the sea; a hush settled on the sea. They marvelled! (Matt. 8:23-27)
When they were troubled and confused, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled…” (Jn. 14:1). Jesus loved his disciples in spite of their slowness to learn, their failings, and their lack of faith.
Our Friend Today
The friendship of Jesus is just as real and meaningful today as it was during his earthly ministry. His is an abiding friendship. Unlike a friend who abandons us when we need him most, we can count on our Lord to stand by us.
1. He is a friend who sympathizes. He understands our problems, our pressures, our predicaments, and our plight. Remember that in all points he was tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). His life in the flesh, his sufferings, his hunger and thirst, and his painful death qualify him to be our most sympathetic friend.
2. He is a friend who helps. He is our high priest. “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1,2).
3. He is a friend who restrains. Much of the teaching of Jesus is designed to control, check, bridle, and regulate. If his words seem too sharp and piercing, his commands too hard, remember the proverb which says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6).
Friendship Is Reciprocal
Jesus is our friend, the dearest friend we shall ever have. He wants us to be his friends. He put it like this in John 15:14, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Because he is our self-sacrificing and loving friend, we show our friendship toward him by faithfully obeying his commands. We are not his friends if we rebel against him, go beyond his word, live in a worldly manner, or disregard his authority as the Christ, the Son of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII No.23, p. 6-7
December 1, 1994