(The following meditation is adapted from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on Matthew 11:19, available at Blue Letter Bible)
“A friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).
Our Lord proved Himself in His own time to be the friend of sinners.
What better proof could He give of it than coming from the majesty of his Father’s house to the meanness of Bethlehem’s manger? What better proof could He give than leaving the society of cherubim and seraphim, to lie in the manger where the horned oxen fed, and to become the associate of fallen men? The incarnation of the Savior in the very form of sinners, taking upon Himself the flesh of sinners, being born of a sinner, having a sinner for His reputed father—His very being a man, which is tantamount to being in the same form with sinners—surely this were enough to prove that He is the sinner’s friend.
But there’s more…
As soon as Jesus Christ, being born in the likeness of sinful flesh, has come to years of maturity, and commenced His real life-work: He at once discloses His friendship for sinners by associating with them. You do not find Him standing at a distance, issuing His mandates and His orders to sinners to make themselves better, but you find Him coming among them like a good workman who stands over His work; He takes His place where the sin and the iniquity are, and He personally comes to deal with it. He does not write out a prescription and send by another hand His medicines with which to heal the sickness of sin, but He comes right into the lazar-house, touches the wounded, looks at the sick. And there is healing in the touch. There is life in the look.
And not only by His preaching to them, living with them, and patience with them, but He proved His love for sinners with His prayers too.
He used His mighty influence with the Father on their behalf. He took their polluted names on His holy lips; He was not ashamed to call them brethren. Their cause became His own, and in their interest His pulse throbbed.
How many times on the cold mountains He kept His heart warm with love to them! How often the sweat rolled down His face when He was in an agony of spirit for them I cannot tell you. This much I do know, that on that self-same night when He sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground, He prayed this prayer—after having prayed for His saints, He went on to say:
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.”
Here, truly, the heart of the Savior was bubbling up and welling over towards sinners. And you never can forget that almost His last words were, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Though willfully and wickedly they pierced His hands and His feet, yet were there no angry words, but only that short, loving, hearty prayer:
“Father, forgive them.”
Ah! friends, if there ever was a man who was a friend to others, Jesus was a friend to sinners His whole life through.
And again, so fond was Christ of sinners that He made His grave with the wicked. He was numbered with the transgressors. God’s fiery sword was drawn to smite a world of sinners down to hell, and smite them He must. The sword must fall on those sinners.
But Christ loves them.
What is to be done? By what means can they be rescued?
Swifter than the lightning’s flash I see that sword descending. But what is that in vision I behold? It falls, but where?!
Not on the neck of sinners; it is not their neck which is broken by its cruel edge; it is not their heart which bleeds beneath its awful force. No. The “friend of sinners” has put Himself in the sinner’s place! And then, as if He had been the sinner, though in Him was no sin, He suffers, bleeds, and dies.
No common suffering. No ordinary bleeding. No death such as mortals know.
It was a death in which the second death was comprehended, a bleeding in which the very veins of God were emptied. The God-man divinely suffered. I do not know how else to express the suffering. It was a more than mortal agony, for the divine strengthened the human, and this Man was made vast and mighty to endure through His being a God.
Being both God and man, He endured more than ten thousand millions of men all put together could have suffered. He endured, indeed, the hells of all for whom He died, the torments, or the equivalent for the torments, which all of them ought to have suffered—the eternal wrath of God condensed and put into a cup, too bitter for mortal tongue to know, and then drained to its utmost dregs by the loving lips of Jesus.
Beloved, this was love. “Herein is love, that while we were yet sinners, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6,8).
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
This Christ has done, and He is, therefore demonstrated to be the friend of sinners.