Sunday, October 17, 2021 Brad Barrett
Luke 7:36-8:3 Extraordinary Forgiveness and Love
A man grew up in the Washington, D.C., area with quite a rebellious lifestyle. He mocked God in high school and college. He was immersed in the drug culture.
Later God forgave him and saved him, and he became a pastor. He continued to live and serve God in that same area. He was familiar with his old neighborhoods, the same places he formerly did great evil.
Sometimes those bad memories would come back to him with tears and sorrow. But then moments later, he would find great joy.
Why? How? Because he remembered what Jesus had done for him.
He said this:
“Many people today try to run from the past. I suppose I could try to as well, by leaving the hometown that holds so many reminders of my sinfulness. But I consider living here a gift from God. The regular reminders of my past are precious to me.
“Why? Because, like [the Apostle] Paul, I never want to forget the great mercy shown me.”
This morning, we are going to read a story that reminds me of what this pastor said.
We are working our way on Sunday mornings through the Gospel of Luke.
It’s the story of Jesus Christ. What he did. What he claimed to be. Who he was and is.
Whether you are beginning a search for truth, wondering about Jesus…
OR, whether you have been walking with Jesus for decades this document written by Luke is remarkable. Through it, the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to heaven and give us clarity on earth.
So let’s start reading. Take your Scripture journals out this morning. Turn to page 58. Luke 7:36. Take notes in your journals, if that helps you to learn and remember.
This morning our main reading is one story with three characters. A story of (1) Jesus, (2) a Jewish man named Simon, and (3) an unnamed woman.
Let’s read the entire story first, and then go back and examine it more closely.
Luke 7:36-50 ESV
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
As we have looked at in previous weeks, the Pharisees were a religious party within the Jewish community. As a whole, they have a growing hostility toward Jesus.
But for now, this Pharisee named Simon invites him for dinner in his home. He may be curious about Jesus, so he invited him. But the story reveals his skepticism.
Now entering into the story: a woman from the city with a reputation of being a great sinner. We can only speculate what her great sin was. Perhaps she was a prostitute.
Historians tells us it was not uncommon in those days that if a special rabbi was invited for dinner, it was considered a public event. So for someone to come in like she did may not have been particularly unusual. But it’s who she is…her sinful reputation… that…that is noteworthy.
Then we observe with fascination what she did.
She offers no words. Only emotional, heartfelt actions. But these actions are worth 1000 words.
She is weeping. The word Jesus used to describe her weeping in vs. 44 can mean “rain showers.” Tears were pouring out of her like rain. Deep emotion.
She is wiping his tear-soaked feet with her hair.
She is kissing his feet, an act that expresses deep reverence.
She is anointing his feet with an expensive perfume, an act of worship and gratitude.
This is no small moment. One way or another… this wordless scene surely left deep impressions on everyone in the house… whether for good or for bad.
In sharp contrast with the woman’s humble, worshipful actions are the harsh, critical thoughts of Simon. In his mind, he condemns Jesus as less than a prophet. For surely no holy prophet of God, he thinks, would ever content himself to be touched and hovered over by a woman of ill repute. We can feel his disdain for both Jesus and the woman.
Though Simon is just thinking these hateful thoughts, Jesus knows his mind.
(By the way, this is one of five times I have found in Luke that Jesus knows what people are thinking. He can read their minds.)
So Jesus offers Simon a parable.
(Parables are simply stories…whether actual events or not…that provide a lesson. Someone described parables as “Earthly stories with heavenly meaning.”)
It’s a very simple parable: A moneylender. Like a bank or a loan shark. Two borrowers: One owes 500 denarii, the other 50.
A denarius is about one day’s wage for a laborer. So the one debtor owes nearly two years’ worth of wages. The other debtor owes about two months’ of wages.
Let’s compare those debts to today, say school debts. Let’s say that you owe $100,000. And I owe $10,000. Think for a moment of the weight you feel. If you could give every penny you earned to pay it off, it would take two years. But you still need lots of money to live, so it’s going to take many, many years to pay this off. The weight of that is crushing. I have 1/10 of that debt, so while it’s a weight, it’s not nearly as heavy as yours.
But tomorrow afternoon, both of us will receive a snail mail from the bank president who tells both of us, “Your debt to the bank…is completely forgiven… effective immediately.
Which one of us would be more grateful and overjoyed?
Even Simon knew the answer to that: “Well, the one with the greater debt forgiven.” And he tacks on, “I suppose,” perhaps indicating a lack of enthusiasm.
Now Jesus connects this simple parable to the situation at hand with breathtaking brilliance.
First, no one present at that dinner would ever forget what this woman was doing.
Second, no one present would ever forget what Jesus was about to conclude from the parable. Some would remember it with growing hatred toward him. And at least one person would remember it with an even greater love in her heart for him.
Jesus is quite direct with Simon as he bluntly contrasts Simon with the woman.
Simon did not wash Jesus’ feet with water. But the woman washed them with her many tears and wiped his feet with her hair. Simon did not welcome him with a customary kiss on the cheeks. She kissed his feet. Simon did not anoint his head with oil, a mark of honor for a distinguished guest. She anointed his feet with an expensive perfume.
She was worshiping Jesus and loving him unabashedly because she had great sin. And that great sin was greatly forgiven.
Her huge debt was canceled, and so she loved Jesus with the great display.
If we step back and consider this, her behavior is shocking. Most people with the sinful reputation like her would never go public. They would never walk uninvited into a religious man’s house.
They would fear judgment and feel guilt and shame.
But she comes in boldly — apparently with no regard for anyone else in the room– weeping and wiping and anointing Jesus’ feet.
Many of us worry about simply raising our hands in worship in front of each other.
But she believed her forgiveness and Jesus’ love for her so deeply…that in return she expressed extraordinary love and gratitude in a highly public and demonstrative way.
Then Jesus uttered the most magnificent words a human could ever hear from Almighty, Holy God:
“Your sins are forgiven.”
The debt—the overwhelming debt you owed to God—has been washed away.
Some of you have heard financial guru Dave Ramsey on the radio. He loves to help people get out of debt, so he has people call in live to his financial talk show when they pay off their debts.
Some of them have $40,000 of debt. Some $80,000. Some $150,000. They’ve all worked very hard over several years, and paid it entirely off.
So Ramsey hears their stories, congratulates them, and then he has them count down “3-2-1” and scream with all their hearts on the radio, “We’re debt free!”
Over the years I have probably heard at least 50 people scream that on the radio. And every time, every time without fail, I smile with joy. I am so happy for them. This chains of financial debt that have enslaved them down has finally been unlocked, and they are now free.
But what’s better about the gospel—infinitely better—is that we don’t have to….in fact, we cannot ever ever…work off our debt with God. God himself does that through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus.
Slide I love these prophetic words from Isaiah the prophet, pointing to the coming Messiah:
Isaiah 53:5 ESV But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Jesus took our debt upon himself. He paid what we owed.
It’s an act of complete grace on God’s part. And a complete lack of merit on our part. We don’t deserve it. We cannot deserve it.
When Jesus forgives us, the angels in heaven can be heard screaming, “Your debt free!!!”
This woman— so long been imprisoned by her own sin and guilt and shame—was now debt free.
She was forgiven much, so now without a word from her, we know that she loved much.
Simon, on the other hand, had no love for Jesus. NOT because he had no sins to forgive. Rather, because he would not receive such forgiveness.
But Simon and his guests are wondering, “Who is this who forgives sins?” God alone can forgive since our sins and our debt are against God alone. So who is this?
It’s not crystal clear whether this is a genuine question, that is, they’re truly wondering….OR, whether they are despising him in anger. I suspect it’s the latter since back in Chapter 5 they considered Jesus’ same words as blasphemy against God.
This story closes with more beautiful words from Jesus: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Here salvation by faith is the equivalent of vs. 48, “Your sins are forgiven.”
And his last 3 words are so sweet: Go in peace. You are no longer in opposition to God. You are no longer in debt. You are now free. Go and be at peace.
What a glorious blessing from Jesus. What assurance would have overwhelmed her heart.
Vs. 50 reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words 30 years later to the church in Rome:
Romans 5:1 ESV Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are…as this sinful woman was…justified—declared righteous—saved—by faith in Jesus Christ. And so we have peace with God.
Let’s pause and consider the contrast presented in this story, where Jesus strongly contrasts this woman with this Pharisee. The outcome is SO unexpected. This woman of ill repute is saved but the religious man is rejected. She showed her love for Jesus, he was apathetic, at best. Hateful, at worst.
What are some themes in this passage:
Let’s look at four themes:
- This passage helps answer, “Who is Jesus?”
Throughout this Gospel, Luke answers this question, usually from Jesus’ own mouth.
Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven,” are more powerful than we realize. But the dinner guests at Simon’s house realized it. They understood at some level that Jesus was declaring himself Deity.
For only the One God of Israel can forgive sins.
You see, as we read this Gospel, we cannot legitimately call Jesus merely a moral example, a good teacher, or a holy prophet.
He is one of three things:
- Either He is the Lord….
Descended from heaven. Authority and power to command demons, heal diseases and raise people from the dead. And authority to forgive sins we commit against God.
- OR, He is a Liar.
Everything he does and says has a deceptive bent to it. Somehow he is crafting this scheme to hook us somehow.
- OR, He is a Lunatic.
He’s crazy. He has delusions of grandeur. He honestly thinks he’s something, but in reality he is nothing.
Jesus’ words and actions compel us to choose sides.
A second theme from this story:
- God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to the unexpected
We see once again that Jesus is quite comfortable with the societal, religious, and moral outcasts. Broken people, tax collectors, sinners, Gentiles, widows.
And the religious elite miss out.
Some have called this “The Great Reversal.” The ones the inside track are left out, while those with the outside track are welcomed in.
With Jesus, there is hope for anyone who comes to him.
A third theme from this story:
- Love for God springs from our forgiveness from God
The more we understand, the more grateful and loving we back to him.
If we want to love Jesus more, we must understand the depths we have sinned against God and grieved him.
And then likewise we must understand the depths of what Jesus undertook for us. The radical and thorough nature of his death and resurrection, that he completely paid our debt.
Decades later the Apostle John said it quite succinctly:
1 John 4:19 ESV We love because he first loved us.
God is the initiator of love and forgiveness. We are the responders.
A fourth theme:
- Humility and faith are life-giving (the woman) whileself-righteousness is death-giving (the Pharisee).
In humility and by faith, she believed that Jesus could cleanse her.
In contrast with her is Simon. He is proud. Harsh. Judgmental. He lifts himself up and puts others down.
Let’s read these final 3 verses. Chapter 8, vs. 1.
1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,
2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
This section is a brief insertion. After dinner at Simon’s, Jesus continued traveling around Palestine preaching and healing. The Twelve Apostles were with them.
Luke also points out the women who traveled with Jesus and helped minister to him.
Luke, in both this book and his Volume II, the Book of Acts, tells numerous stories of women. Their interaction with Jesus. The noble things they did. The service they provide to Jesus and later to the church in Acts.
That’s our text for this morning.
So now I want to ask: What do we do now? What is some significance and application for us today from Luke’s message??
Let’s think again about the scene at Simon’s house.
If you were there eating, and this woman of bad reputation comes in, weeping, wiping, kissing and anointing Jesus’ feet…
- Would you be irritated at her, disrupting this nice, quiet meal?
- Would you be aghast at her, such a sinful woman coming into this religious man’s home?
- OR…Would you find yourself longing to love Jesus like her with such freedom and such expression?
Do we long to love like she does?
Here’s what I want to call us to today:
Let us be like the sinful woman
Actually, let me rephrase this.
Let us be like the forgiven woman
Though she offers us not one single word, her life speaks 1000 words to us. She is a remarkable woman.
She shows us the heart that Jesus treasures.
What is her heart that we should imitate?
I see four things in her that we should seek.
Clear minded about sin.
Not denying it. Not ignoring it.
If Jesus is the merciful and forgiving Son of God that he reveals himself to be in Luke’s Gospel, we should never hesitate to admit our sin. In fact, the moment immediately after we sin is our best moment to know much more deeply how he loves us.
Second, we should humble ourselves before Jesus.
Meaning we raise him up, and we lower ourselves.
To humble ourselves means: We freely admit are NOT Masters of our own Destiny. We freely admit we are NOT Forgivers of our own Sin. We freely admit are NOT Declarers of our own brand of Righteousness.
All “Simon-the-Pharisee thinking” is rooted in self-centered pride. Self-righteousness. Arrogance. Harsh judgmentalism.
Are we more like Simon than we care to admit? Jesus calls us to humble ourselves. Yield our entire heart to him.
Third, we are Confident Jesus has the answers. Better, we are confident that Jesus IS the answer.
We have confidence…that is, we have FAITH that Jesus is the answer to the deepest needs of our souls, starting with forgiveness of our sins.
We have confidence he has the power and authority to forgive sins.
We have confidence that he is kind and merciful enough to receive us.
We have confidence that when we come to him to rain tears on him, he won’t send us away.
Fourth, we are Expressive with our gratitude and love.
We have felt the weight of our sin. We are humble and know he is great. We have been touched by the tenderness of his mercy. We are touched deep in our hearts by his love for us, and so we love him in return.
And we are expressive with gratefulness. We express with our voice, with our hearts, with our worship, with our obedience, with our songs.
So what does this look like?
Wednesday night I said some rude things to my wife. Thursday morning I was feeling guilty over it. I knew I needed to ask her forgiveness. But first I had to talk to God.
I was inspired by the woman in this story.
I decided not to hide it. I went straight to the Lord confessing all of it. I held none of it back.
“Lord, I offended you and I offended your daughter.” (My wife belongs to her heavenly Father. She is his daughter. I don’t want to tangle with my heavenly Father’s daughter.)
“I was wrong. It was evil. But oh Lord, thank you that the wrath I deserve was poured out on your Son. And now I am free. Thank you!”
I thought of Ephesians 2:3-4
Ephesians 2:3–5 ESV [We]were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…
I thought of Romans 8:1
Romans 8:1 ESV “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
I thought of Gal 2:20.
Galatians 2:20 ESV “…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus, the Son of God, loves me! He gave himself for me! This verse has been ringing in my ears for the past year.
In that short time that morning of confessing my sins and then remembering what Jesus has done for me, I was overjoyed at the forgiveness of God and the love of Christ.
I was so joyful that I actually thought, “Maybe I should make up some sins just to experience more forgiveness!” That’s ridiculous, of course. But if we truly understand the riches of Jesus, that thought may come to our minds.
Then I thought, “Why have I not spent more time on this story in Luke 7 over the years?” Why have I not spent more time considering this dear woman, her humility, her confident belief in the forgiveness of God, and her very outward expression of her love and gratitude toward Jesus??
The Apostle Paul reminds me of this woman. He had been a very religious man. But a very evil man. He was a blasphemer against God. He persecuted followers of Jesus, even to the point of their deaths.
But he had an encounter with Jesus one day. Paul repented, believed, and had his enormous debt to God completely wiped clean. 30 years later, here’s what he wrote:
1 Timothy 1:12–17 ESV “… though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Then Paul shouts this praise to God in vs. 17:
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I love Paul’s words. He is a man who should be crushed with guilt and shame for the evil against God and God’s people. But he could freely call to mind his terrible past… because he understood the present: That God through his Son has shown him an indescribable mercy.
And he was as grateful as our friend in Luke 7.
We don’t ever need to downplay or ignore our sin. Let it be as large as it really is.
Let it be 500 denarii’s worth of sin, because we can wheel all our sins right up to Jesus. Whether it’s in a wheelbarrow or a huge dump truck, bring it all. Then we remember the blood of Jesus that washes all of it, making us as pure as newly fallen snow.
Hebrews 7:25 ESV Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus, our Great High Priest in heaven, saves us to the uttermost—completely, thoroughly—for he is ever alive to defend us in heaven itself in the presence of God.
Let me close with this. Let us never forget this story in Luke 7.
May we not let the power of this holy moment Luke has recorded for us slip by us.
We have an opportunity to know in a deeper and deeper way how much we are loved by Jesus.
Let us gladly bring all of our sins before him. Hold nothing back. Humble ourselves.
All because we believe that God’s mercy to us is staggering, revealed through his Son.
Then let us imitate the sinful woman of the city who worshiped unabashedly with all her heart.
He who is forgiven much, loves much.