Love & Forgiveness (Shocking, part 4) (Luke 7:36-50)
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The Shocking Christ–Love and Forgiveness
Luke 7:36 to 50
Please remain standing for the reading of God’s Word–turn in your Bibles to Luke 7:36 to 50. In our “Shocking Christ” series, we have looked at the Jesus you may not know. We saw His incredible humility washing the feet of His disciples, we saw His perfect standard showing us our need for grace from the Sermon on the Mount. Then last week we were challenged by His example of tireless service. And today, we look at His love and forgiveness in the story of Jesus, Simon, and the sinful woman. This narrative is so powerful and so helpful just to read, so I thought we would start there.
“Now one of the Pharisees were requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.
39Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’ 40And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’
41‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’ 44Turning 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. 45You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’
48Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’ 49Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man who even forgives sins?’ 50And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
For about three years, while helping to plant a church in Hollywood, CA, I worked as a counselor, ministering to homeless drug addicts on Sunset Blvd. (sounds way cooler–but it fit me). They needed a compassionate man who had good theology, and was willing to listen to people cry, scream, or grumble and get paid $10 an hour for it. I loved it–but I saw a lot of hurt. I remember driving home some days and just weeping as I went through the stories of people I had spoken to throughout the day. Lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, all forms of abuse, homelessness, illnesses–people that were the least loved.
Success was difficult to evaluate–so rare that a person in the cycle of homelessness or steeped in an addiction would break free. But the one undeniable factor that would bring about lasting change was when God saved, when they experienced the love and forgiveness of Jesus and got immersed into the local church. When that took place, you saw real transformation. And one of the main indicators that would burst out of that transformed life was a love unmatched by anyone around them–a love for others and a love for the things of God. Why?!
Need–because of the truth Jesus declares in Luke 7, that those who have been forgiven much love much. And while this story of the sinful woman demonstrates that someone who’s lived an extravagantly immoral life has a bit of a leg-up on those who have not, there is no redeemed sinner who should not be blown away by the forgiveness they have received in Christ.
So what’s the temp on the thermometer of your love? Is it burning hot, a little below average, or has it grown cold? Does your affection for Christ and your love for those around you look like it flows from a deep thankfulness that your sins (past, present, future) have been forgiven? If you’re like me, then you may need to admit that your love for Christ and others sometimes grows dim and is often distracted. Impatience with my children, greater interest in my own comforts, weariness in the busyness that leads to complacency. Can you relate?
So this morning, while we look at this shocking display of Christ’s love and forgiveness, let Christ and His Word stoke the flame of your love, kindle afresh your deep gratitude for His forgiveness. My main challenge to set your heart toward is to love like you’ve been forgiven much. I offer four actions that you can begin applying today to pursue the kind of love for Christ and others that is consistent with the incredible forgiveness we’ve received.
1. Revere above all the Person of Christ Verses 36 to 38
Now this story has similarities to another story in the gospels (Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12) which are not the same story. There’s a guy named Simon, but he’s a leper not a Pharisee, the other story is in Judea and this one is Galilee, and the other is right before the cross–ours is still a ways off. So there are some similarities, but this one is unique.
We’re right between John’s message and Nigel’s—the Sermon on the Mount is behind us, and after this Jesus goes into that long day of service. So set yourself into that context–ministry non-stop, the crowds just keep coming, and there is a growing desire by the religious to catch Jesus in a trap and take him off the map. And that is most likely the motive of our guy, Simon. Still, verse 36, Jesus comes to dinner.
It was customary in that time for religious leaders to allow for others to enter and hang on the outskirts, especially the poor who could collect scraps of food. So an uninvited guest is not necessarily an issue–but in this case, it’s who she is and what she does. Verse 37, “There was a woman in the city who was a sinner”–named and known by her sin. It’s speculated she’s a prostitute—whatever the type of sin, her reputation is now characterized by it. But at some point in recent days, she found herself in one of those crowds listening to Jesus preach, she repented of her sin, and has been transformed by the love and forgiveness of Christ. And when she hears that Jesus is going to be accessible at this dinner, though it will mean absolute ridicule and humiliation, she has one thought on her mind–worship.
She runs to Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume and falls at His feet. Verse 38, “weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.” Like the desperation you would have, to hold onto a piece of floating driftwood lost in a stormy sea–so is this woman’s desperate clinging to Jesus, her only source of rescue. Like my friends in Hollywood, this is a person whose past was filled with a massive amount of immorality and no concept of being loved without strings attached–she comes to the One who loves her with an unconditional love, who forgives every sin.
It’s like the Apostle Peter’s response to Jesus in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” If sin is my greatest problem, and the only answer is forgiveness, and the only one who can grant that is Jesus–then He’s all I want. “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!” Ever been in the middle of singing a worship song, and the Gospel hits you afresh, and you just can’t make it through without tears of joy running down your face? (So you wipe them when no one is looking?)
She doesn’t care what she looks like. She’s using her tears and hair to clean his feet. You’d think, “how embarrassing” –and yet, probably for the first time in her life, she is unashamed, having been forgiven, treasuring more than anything the One who granted it.
Later in Luke, Martha is all worked up about Mary sitting at Jesus feet! And Jesus says in Luke 10:41, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” In your love for many things, do you choose, at the top of the list, the best thing? Do you revere above all the person of Christ?
Can you recall the passion you had in the first year God saved you? Don’t you want to maintain that always? It doesn’t have to go away—you still have the same Christ and the same Gospel. So how do we stir those affections in the menial day-to-day? For me, it’s less a matter of having what I need, and more of using what I have . . .
The gathering of the saints–corporate worship
Time in the Bible–but reading to see the face of Christ
Making a habit of speaking highly of Christ
Acknowledging regularly that you live always in His presence
Talk about God’s Word with those around you—Deuteronomy 6 says when you sit, walk, lie down and get up
The same with prayer–we always prayed at meals, and there was a time I felt it was too rote. Now I think, attach prayer to everything–meals, mirrors, commutes, bedtime, bathroom, boogie boarding, phone charging, FaceTime
Put reverence for Christ in every great and small task. If we’re going to be a people whose love matches the depth with which we are forgiven, like the woman clinging to Christ, we must revere above all the person of Christ, verses 36 to 38 and . . .
2. Refrain from judging in the place of Christ Verses 39 to 40
Simon and the other religious elite are looking at this scene aghast. Pharisees were self-righteous, self-declared authorities on who was and was not righteous. And surely this woman was not! And Simon’s judgment goes beyond the woman. Verse 39, he thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” These were all thoughts in his head. He’s judging Jesus.
And then verse 40 Jesus answers his thoughts–He says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” It’s like catching a kid in their thoughts, in their own world, scheming some mischievous plan, and you happen to say their name. James 4:12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy.” Only one judge, and that one judge alone has the authority. And Simon has placed himself in the role of judge, unknowingly judging the true Judge as he judges others–bad decision.
Our dear friends, Jim and Peggie Evans, babysit our kids from time to time. They’re seasoned parents, grandparents, and retired teachers, so they handle it–which made it a little easier to hear this story from Jim upon my arrival home. One of our younger daughters apparently had perched herself on top of a large trash container. Jim had asked her several times to get down, and she refused. He says to her, “Your Mom and Dad would want you to obey.” Now there’s a 73-year gap between these two–and she leans in, looks him in the eyes and says, “You’re not the boss of me.”
There is one Judge, and I like to tell my kids, “It is not you; and if you think otherwise, your structure of authority is off.” Same with Simon–he had not placed Jesus in His rightful position of authority. This is the big irony–the Pharisee who boasts of being the most knowledgeable about God has missed the fact that he’s having dinner with Him. And the sinful woman, known for her godless living, knows exactly who He is! It’s why she’s kissing His feet, while Simon looks with judgment out of the corner of his eye. There’s nothing that hinders your ability and freedom to love more than making negative assumptions and judging others.
Let’s get uncomfortable for a second–aren’t we like Simon sometimes? Where in your life do you subtly, or overtly, judge those around you? It starts with pride–like Simon, thinking too highly of ourselves. Do you ever think, “I’m better than them . . . a better parent, a better leader, a better servant, better at the Christian life”? Cause not only is it sinful–it’s a waste of your time.
I’ve had moments where I’m talking to Natalie, judging the poor choices of others or uncharitably critiquing even our friends, and the Spirit of God [BOOM]–and I’m reminded life is just too short for me to focus on all the wrongs of others. I could spend a lifetime on my issues and not get to the bottom of them. Don’t waste your time judging others–let God do that perfectly. You spend your energy on loving–that’s the attitude of someone who’s been forgiven much. They revere Jesus more than anything else. They refrain from judging. And now . . .
3. Remember your debt paid by Christ Verses 41 to 47
Let’s look at the parable in verses 41 to 43, “’A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’”
Two debtors representing two sinners, with two different debt amounts–one owed about two months’ wages, the other owed almost two years’ wages. Neither one can pay, and both are forgiven. The two debt amounts don’t mean that the two sinners are at different levels of depravity–it’s the quantity of actual sins in their lives that’s greater or less and it’s a spectrum that we all exist on.
There are those of you who have, on the surface, been spared much wayward running. You grew up in a moral environment with a mom and dad who laid good boundaries–by God’s grace your flesh has had less opportunity to sink its teeth into the world. There are also in this room, those who before Christ saved you saw what the world had to offer and you took a big bite. Maybe you ran for a long time, and you carry deep scars from a past filled with vivid, ugly memories of your sin. Both are sinners saved by grace–let me know you’re clear on that by a nice strong, “Amen.” Both debtors could not afford their debt. One commentator said, “No difference between a man drowning in 50 feet of water versus a man drowning in 500.”
But then you get to Jesus’ punchline, bringing the story into real life. Verse 47, “Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little.” How do we pull application from this? We could say, more sin committed will be more sin forgiven, and that would be the path to love more. Paul rejects that in Romans 6, “Shall we sin all the more that grace may abound? May it never be!”
Instead, focus your attention on the major contrast between the way Simon and the woman view their own sin. Simon all but thinks he’s reached perfection—the woman is wrecked, but joyful, because now redeemed, she sees everything through a Gospel lens. That’s why this third point has two emphases–remember your debt, paid by Christ! We must keep a Gospel perspective.
Gospel–what the unrepentant sinner must respond to, and what the redeemed sinner must regularly remember. Every one of us, regardless of the number of sins, stood before God bankrupt, unable to pay the debt–the penalty, death. God, like the moneylender, forgave us–He incurred the cost, His Son died in our place, but raised from the grave and offers us forgiveness. Remembering (setting your mind to) this is one of the most practical helps to enhance our love for Christ and others.
When our church in Hollywood did street evangelism, we had a little phrase, “Take the pill of your own depravity.” Before you tell someone they’re a sinner and need Jesus, stop and remember your own debt paid by Christ, so that there’s humility and love, knowing that, were it not for grace, you too would be lost.
Now, can I encourage you who feel the weight of a greater debt? Don’t resist the forgiveness that Christ purchased for you. Remember your debt was paid-in-full. The work He accomplished is complete–not one sin that needed payment was left out. I say this to you, not thinking you a greater sinner, but knowing that you may build reasons in your mind to condemn yourself. And God says there is now “No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you have repented and placed your faith in Christ, you have been forgiven and you must live in light of that.
Listen to a very similar lesson to this one in Luke chapter 18, that Jesus gives in another parable—you can follow along in your outline. “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week: I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’” (Luke 18:9-13).
Both are despicable sinners–only one is willing to admit it. That’s the one, Jesus says, that has been forgiven. So how are we going to go after a love that is in line with the forgiveness we’ve received? Revere above all the person of Christ—verses 36 to 38. Refrain from judging in place of Christ, verses 39 to 40. Remember your debt paid by Christ, verses 41 to 47. And lastly . . .
4. Rest in the saving work of Christ Verses 48 to 50
Jesus speaks directly to the woman—verse 48, “Your sins have been forgiven.” She didn’t necessarily need a confidence boost–she just walked into a party and laid it all on the line. But what a moment–her very sinful, public reputation is now publicly declared by her Savior as forgiven. The room erupts with murmurs of confusion and disapproval, and Jesus keeps His gaze on her, as if to say, “Their opinions don’t matter, your salvation is secure, carry the guilt no more.”
In verse 50 He adds, “You’re faith has saved you, go in peace.” Forgiveness is always by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone–nothing we can do to earn it, all a work of Him. And for the sinner, who knows and feels deeply their own depravity, this is the exact message you rejoice over. I’m not saved on my own merit. My deeds aren’t weighed in the scales. My salvation is based on the perfect righteousness of another.
In his “Confessions,” the Church father Augustine, who ran in sin for many years of his life, writes as a prayer to God–“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in You.” The totally cleared conscience that a believer receives in the forgiveness that Christ alone gives is true peace, and the sinner’s only response is to rest in that salvation.
Paul gives that gnarly list of sins in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 6, and then he says in verse 11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Simon shows us the danger of a self-righteous, judgmental, unloving approach to Christ–the sinful woman shows us what true forgiveness looks like. And Jesus, who loves sinners, has granted us that same glorious forgiveness.
And so love (and live) like you’ve been forgiven much. Let it drive you to love all that God loves. Love Christ, love your spouse, love your kids, love the Church, love your neighbors, your co-workers, the lost, the broken, love those no one else loves. This is the heart of Christ. Just think–He chose to love you! A love in response to Christ’s shocking forgiveness will be characterized by unashamed, reverential adoration of Him. It will be a love that is unwilling to discriminate between who we think is deserving or not. It will have in mind the paid-in-full debt that we owed. It’s the love with which He loved us, to the point of death, sacrificing all, so that we, through faith, could rest in Him.
If you’ve yet to taste of this forgiveness, let this be the day you do not lay your head on your pillow before surrendering all to Him, and experience today the love and forgiveness of Christ. To my fellow-debtors, who owed $50, $500 or $5 million, if your debt has been wiped away, love like you’ve been forgiven much.
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