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Down through the millennia, Jesus has picked the most unlikely people as His friends. I have to be careful at this point because I wish to make a point regarding Jesus' choice of friends but do not wish to exclude the fact that Jesus calls all men to Himself. You will notice that I have picked some pretty undesirable persons to illustrate this lesson. If you are a "nice" person - you are the object of His love and He desires friendship with you also. I'm merely trying to point out that while we might exclude some people from our evangelistic efforts based on our distaste for their personalities or lifestyles, Jesus does not. So please bear with me as we take a journey through the pages of the Old and the New Testament and look at the lives of certain people and how their lives came in contact with the friend of sinners, Jesus. Some of this may be a review of past lessons.
Let's take a look at the basis of Jesus making friends:
Abraham, the liar, yet termed "Friend of God" (Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:2).
|James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.|
Abraham told a "white lie" twice that Sarah was his sister - it placed Sarah in a terrible situation both times, but for the protective care of God - say nothing of the betrayal of trust that she, as his wife had in him - yet God delivered Sarah out of the difficulties that Abraham created through his deceptive bent. Why would Abraham be called God's friend? James tells us that it was on the basis Abraham's (then Abram) faith in the LORD's promise of progeny in spite of impossible circumstances.
Hagar, impulsive concubine of Abraham (Genesis 16:8; Genesis 21:17). We'll hurry through some of these reviews but I wish to point out that the LORD could have rescued Hagar without the personal touch as recorded in our passages but He didn't. Instead, it seems that He went out of His way to deal personally with Hagar to reveal His providential care for her. We do not know much of Hagar after these accounts - we know only that she obviously survived quite well and was the matriarch of the Arabic tribes.
Matthew, the tax collector and his friends.
|Luke 5:27-32 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.  And he left all, rose up, and followed him.  And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.  But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?  And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.|
Jesus had returned to His adopted home town Capernam. It was during this visit that He "ran into" Matthew, the tax collector. Tax collectors were hated because they were viewed by the Jew as someone who had abandoned their patriotism in favor of personal gain - personal wealth gained at the expense of the Jew who had to pay taxes to Rome. When Jesus called Levi (or Matthew) his immediate response was that he got up from his desk and left everything there and obeyed Jesus call to follow Him. This was no light decision for Matthew was going to leave a life of certain financial security and follow Jesus - really a call to discipleship not merely to follow Jesus somewhere. The call to salvation and friendship with Jesus will exact a personal cost to the individual - that cost depends on the circumstances - yet an alignment of friendship with Jesus places the sinner in opposition to this sinful world and thus, the cost. Jesus, Himself, said; "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." John 15:18-19. Matthew was not ashamed to be associated with Jesus - in fact, he had a celebration party at his home. This brought on quite a bit of criticism on the part of the "righteous" scribes and Pharisees because Jesus did not fit in with their definition of the Messiah. That happens frequently even in today's life. Jesus was not afraid to associate Himself with the undesirable and unsavory of His day - why should His role as Savior / Friend of the sinner change today? It hasn't. The fact was that not only had Jesus associated Himself with the sinner Matthew but had called him to be one of His closest - the inner circle of the 12 disciples.
The Samaritan Woman - a woman of loose morals responds to Jesus' personal call to salvation. (John 4).
|Our passages opens up with the comment that Jesus had to pass
through Samaria. In fact, most Jews did not. While it was true that
Jesus could have done what most Jews did and detoured around Samaria by passing through
Perea. But He had to because of a woman - a woman who had a pretty loose definition
of her relationships with men. While Jesus was resting at the well at Sychar, a
woman approached to draw water from the well. Jesus surprised her by asking her for
a drink (he was not carrying a thermos) - she had the means for getting the water out of
the well. This really surprised her for she knew He was a Jew - it didn't matter to
Jesus because He had the opening that He needed to strike up a conversation (a good lesson
in evangelism here - don't be afraid to ask a favor from someone from whom you expect a
rebuff - it may result in an opportunity for evangelism - it may result in a new
Well, the conversation is well known by Bible students - the point I wish to make here is that Jesus was not afraid to enter into unfavorable circumstances - not afraid to strike up a conversation with someone who would normally respond negatively to any attempt for friendly conversation.
John, a middle-class tradesman (fisherman), becomes the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20).
We really do not know the details of this friendship except for glimpses here and there. I find it especially interesting to read the account in Revelation where Jesus appeared to John in His glorified state. John was scared out his wits but I find this account significant:
|And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, Rev. 1:17, NAS.|
Jesus had returned in His glorified state to visit an old friend in order that He might give to the church an account of the last things. John was laying flat on the ground - what is not said, but certainly is implied is that Jesus stooped and placed His hand on John as an act of kindness and graciousness. This was the reassurance of a Friend.
Saul, the Murderer, becomes the Church's defender of the Faith (Acts 9).
Finally we come to Saul. Saul's conversion has been the debate of centuries - whether Jesus sovereignly saved Saul or whether Saul's conversion was in the manner of many where there is great hostility toward the Lord but the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the hostility and the sinner gives in to the the call of the Gospel in spite of the hatred directed toward the Savior. It is not the scope of this lesson to cover this point - rather, let us look at the fact that Saul hated Jesus - add to that he was a murderer of the saints. Thus we have Jesus' convicting question:
|And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?  And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 9:4-5|
I think the thing we must note is that while Saul was killing the saints - Jesus had associated Himself with the church in such a way that Saul was really persecuting the Lord - such is the bond between the believer and the Lord. But I digress. The fact was that Jesus had picked a murderer as His ambassador to the Gentiles and as the apologetic of the Faith. Saul, the murderer of the saints became the apostle to the gentiles and the personal student of the Lord, Himself as recorded in Galatians.
Conclusion of the matter - Jesus chooses to be the friend of sinners regardless of the personality involved or the lifestyle.
Nowhere in God's word do we Jesus picking from the culturally correct or pleasant to be His friends. We do that - but He doesn't. That is not to say that He loves the sinful condition of the sinner - what the scriptures do reveal is that once the sinner becomes associated in friendship with the LORD, he is never the same after that. Here's a very important point - no matter what your personality is - Jesus finds you interesting and a potential good friend. This is very important, especially if you have been self-demeaning or have had difficulties dealing with your individuality because of cruel treatment from others. I'm not promoting any sin that might be in our lives - just that many individual personalities provide a rich, multifaceted opportunity of friendships for Jesus.
A Note for Church Leadership.
Nowhere in God's word do we find that the criteria for choosing men and women for leadership based on refinement or class background or for that matter personality. God seems to take delight in gifting men and women sovereignly for His work and friendship. Paul states this in this way:
|but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are,  so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Cor. 1:24-30, NIV|
I have heard it said - I do not remember by whom, that if Paul were to candidate for a church today, he would be rejected because of his personality, perhaps his failing health and certainly his background of being a murderer. It really takes commitment from any body of Christ to identify the gifted men and women in the church, to place them under discipleship and to train them to be effective in the ministry. It is more the rule that the church seeks to look outside for the "professional" or to seek within for the "pleasing" rather than to look for the gifted ones through the gracious, loving yet discerning eyes of our Lord.