I grew up in a traditional southern church with old pews and, of course, hymnals in the back of them. One of my favorites as a little girl was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” not because the lyrics were profound, but because I loved the rich harmonies belted out by some of the older ladies sitting not far behind my family. And as I’ve gotten older (and now attend a church without pews and hymnals), I’ve grown to love those dear hymns even more. There is something special about singing these tried and tested words that my parents and their parents sang.
As I was reading our passage for the day, this old hymn came to mind:
“What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer…”
What does this song have to do with this passage today? Well, the Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus. They were accusing Him of befriending sinners, and the thing is, they were right! Jesus’s friendship, His saving love, wasn’t reserved only for the good folks with all their junk together (and it still isn’t today!). Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of man came to seek and save the lost.” And Luke 15:7 says, “I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” All through Scripture we see that Jesus befriended tax collectors, women with colorful pasts, men who were murderers (Saul who became Paul!), and many other friends whom the Pharisees deemed unworthy.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus!
He is the truest picture of what friendship should be. He’s the One who doesn’t give up on us when we make mistakes. He’s the One who, like the parable of the good shepherd, goes after the one when they’ve strayed from the ninety-nine. And He doesn’t merely add the sheep back to His flock; He rejoices over their triumphant return. He is kind to the outsider, and the defender of the weak. His love is unconditional, never-ending and never-failing. And no matter how far we run from Him, His redemption is but one confession away.
The truth is, sometimes I’m uncomfortable with the idea of God, our Savior, being depicted as a friend. I’m much more comfortable viewing Him as a holy and just Father. And yet, I think my hesitations say more about my myopic view of friendship than the character of God. Because as I read in Luke 15 about how the Lord rejoices over a lost soul returning home and then in Luke 19 that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, I can see clearly that His friendship is the saving kind. For it is in Christ, where we find our ultimate friend.
So when the world fails you, or when you fail yourself, I want to leave you with this final piece of encouragement taken from the last two verses of “What a Friend We have in Jesus” written in the 1800’s:
“…Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Take it to the Lord in prayer, because Jesus isn’t just a kind friend to sinners, He is our ultimate friend.
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