Yesterday, Julie and I recieved news that a very close personal friend of ours, Matt Wigfield, was found dead in his apartment.
It so strange to hear about the death of a friend. Matt and I knew each other for almost 10 years, and spent a ton of time together. Those of you who know me best could probably recite by heart many of the stories that I shared with you regarding Matt, the One-eyed-wonder, and myself. Throughout High-School and College, Matt, One-Eye, and myself were frequently together doing something stupid. In fact, Tim Jordan's (Julie's brother) first run in with the law was at my house with Wigfield. I remember sitting next to Matt on the night he first professed Christ, and then praying with him, and discussing the Bible with him in the weeks after his profession. I loved Matt like a brother.
When I heard the news on my way to church Sunday morning, I was in total shock. You don't expect friends to die. But then again, you don't expect friends to struggle with addiction either. In High School, Matt had an on-again-off-again battle with addiction to Marijuana. But once Matt was in college, addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs began to take hold. Matt was in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, and in and out of discipleship repeatedly during that time. My father-in-law welcomed Matt into their home and loved him like a Son, and preached the Scripture to him daily -- but the addiction never let go. Over the last two years, Matt's spiritual status became more and more ambiguous . . . and fruit of conversion less and less obvious. On numerous occasions Tim and I confronted and prayed for Matt . . . his repeated struggles never changed our love for him.
As I worshipped Sunday morning, I was overwhelmed by a flurry of thoughts, as I still am: the helpless feeling of not knowing the spiritual condition of one of my closest High-School friends, the hope that Matt was in heaven, the desire to pray for grace, but knowing that it was too late for that now. I felt guilty for not praying more when he was alive, and I hated myself for not keeping in touch.
In the middle of all of my tears and confusion there was one thought that was crystal clear: "Thank You God, for the gospel! Thank You Lord for saving me!" The gospel is all that matters in times like these, because it is the only thing that offers hope. It offers hope because the gospel is about God's ability to satisfy what Matt could not. Matt's performance as a Christian was, at best, lackluster. But if Matt had faith, however weak, the gospel made him righteous! As Alexander Maclaren said, "If I trust to him, and am thereby holding firmly by him my union with Him is so real, that . . . His fulness passes over into my emptiness, His righteousness into my sinfulness, His life into my death." It is the power of the cross alone which can take an addict, and make him a saint, celebrated by God himself.
But perhaps more poignently for me this Sunday as I wept, was an extreme thanksgiving that God would save me . . . that God would open my eyes . . . that he would call me. I rejoiced in the gracious statement of Paul, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst," because it made sense to me. I wept as I thought of how arrogant and self-righteous I had been when Matt slipped into addiction. I thought I was so much different than Matt was, so much better; and then I remembered 1 Cor. 1:21-31: "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those whom God has called . . . Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Why is the gospel beautiful? Because through the gospel, God lays hold of those too weak to lay hold of him.