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The friendship of Christ

August 2007 | by Timothy Cross
The friendship of Christ
by Timothy Cross 
‘There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24).

The friendship of Christ is rarely written about in Christian literature. Perhaps it is assumed but not articulated. To the Christian, however, the friendship of Christ is a blessed reality enjoyed day by day and which will continue for all eternity.

An article on the friendship of Christ could degenerate into sentimentality, but any such tendency is checked by remembering that this particular Friend is the eternal Son of God, who is now enthroned in glory.

Amazingly, this ‘high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy’ is content to ‘dwell … with him also who has a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’ (Isaiah 57:15). This he does, of course, by his Holy Spirit – who indwells those who, being born from above, repent of their sins and trust in the atoning blood of Christ.

A hymn by Johnson Oatman (1856-1922) sets the scene for us:

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No not one! No, not one!
None else could heal all our soul’s diseases,
No, not one! No, not one!

Jesus knows all about our struggles,
He will guide till the day is done
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!
Let us then explore the notion of the friendship of Christ.

Infinite understanding

Firstly, the Bible reveals a Christ who is infinite in his sympathy and understanding towards his own. Hebrews 4:15 states this positive truth emphatically by using a double negative: ‘For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’.

The God of the Bible is no remote deity, for in Christ he became man. He shared our human lot and plumbed our human depths. ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).

C. H. Spurgeon – who knew something of the darkness of this world – once said this about the Saviour’s sympathy and understanding:
‘God is with us in sorrows. There is no pang that rends the heart … not one which disturbs the body, but that Jesus Christ has been with you in it all. Feel the sorrows of poverty? He “had nowhere to lay his head”. Do you endure the grief of bereavement? Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Have you been slandered for righteousness’ sake and has it vexed your spirit? He said, “Reproach hath broken mine heart”. Have you been betrayed? Do not forget that he, too, had his familiar friend who sold him for the price of a slave.

‘On what stormy seas have you been tossed which have not roared about his boat? Never glen of adversity so dark, so deep, apparently so pathless, but what, in stooping down, you may discover the footprints of the crucified One! In the fires and in the rivers, in the cold of night and under the burning sun, he cries, “I am with you; be not dismayed; for I am both thy companion and thy God”.’

A true friend

Secondly, the Bible reveals a Christ who stands by his own. He is indeed ‘a friend who sticks closer than a brother’.

Matthew records that Christ’s last words on earth to his disciples were, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). In the Upper Room, Christ promised ‘I will not leave you desolate [literally ‘orphans’], I will come to you’ (John 14:18).

Jesus was referring here to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Christ is present with his people both individually and corporately in the person of his Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer – ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God …?’ (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The presence of Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit may be distinguishable in systematic theology but in Christian experience they are one and the same. It is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ real to us. Jesus explained, ‘He [the Holy Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:15). The Holy Spirit, then, enables us to know and enjoy Christ’s presence. Oatman’s hymn continues:

There’s not an hour that he is not near us,
No, not one! No, not one!
No night so dark but his love can cheer us,
No, not one! No, not one!

Did ever saint find this Friend forsake him?
No not one! No, not one!
Or sinner find that he would not take him?
No, not one! No, not one!

It is the universal experience of Christians that Christ draws nearer to us during times of trouble and distress. The Christian never suffers alone, for in Christ we have a Friend of infinite faithfulness – ‘For he has said I will never fail you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).

Mighty to save

Finally the Bible reveals a Christ who exerts his power to deliver his own. Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). Christ did indeed lay down his life for his people. Our Saviour ‘gave himself for us to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father’ (Galatians 1:4).

The Christ of the Bible is ‘mighty to save’ (Isaiah 63:1). Only his death at Calvary can deliver us from the fearful ‘second death’. His blood alone has the potency to cleanse us from all sin and make us fit for heaven. Nothing but his atoning work can reconcile the alienated sinner to God for time and eternity.

In saving mercy, Christ exerted his saving power for his people’s blessing and benefit – he ‘loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her’ (Ephesians 5:25). By his death on the cross Christ procured the actual salvation of his chosen people. He is a Saviour who really saves!

Providential power

It is also the common testimony of every Christian that Christ still exerts his saving power from heaven for the relief of his people. ‘This poor man cried and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles’ (Psalm 34:6).

Proverbs 17:17 asserts that ‘A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity’. In times of adversity, when all human props are unavailing, the friendship of Christ is never found wanting.

When we, like Peter in Matthew 14:30, are ‘afraid and beginning to sink’ on the stormy sea of life, we have a Friend to whom we can turn – a Friend who declares that ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is well able to sustain us in our troubles.

As the sovereign Lord of the universe, our Lord Jesus is able to exert his providential power to remove our earthly troubles when he sees fit.

Truly, in the Lord of glory, seated at God’s right hand, we have a Friend in the highest place – for whom no difficulty is too great, no trouble too deep and no problem too complex.

Many times in Psalm 107 we read how God’s Old Covenant people ‘cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress’ (Psalm 107:6 et seq.). The words can be fittingly applied in relation to the Christian and his Saviour.

The name ‘Jesus’ actually means ‘The Lord delivers’ or ‘the Lord saves’. His name and his nature are inextricably bound together.

Covenant faithfulness

So, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus!’ He is a Friend of the utmost sympathy and understanding; his friendship is characterised by eternal, covenant faithfulness; and he possesses infinite saving power.

So when our spirits are brought low by the wear and tear of our earthly pilgrimage, we may profitably remember the friendship we possess with our Saviour. To meditate on ‘Jesus and his love’ will surely be the tonic needed to revive our flagging souls. A hymn by E. E. Hewitt sums it up:

There’s no one like my Saviour
In seasons of distress;
He draws me closer to him
To comfort and to bless;
He gives me in temptation
The strength of his right arm;
His angels camp around me
To keep me from all harm

There’s no one like my Saviour;
He pardons all my sin
And gives his Holy Spirit
A springing well within;
He leads me out in service
With gentle touch and mild;
O, wonder of all wonders
That I should be his child.