July 5, 2020
INTRODUCTION – Last week Joshua helped us understand the greatness of John the Baptist from Jesus’s perspective; and what was behind Jesus’s rebuke of the many critics of John the Baptist in Luke ch. 7.
John the Baptist was not perfect. But he is the one person God the Father chose to prepare the way for the earthly ministry of His Son – Jesus. John fulfilled that calling faithfully, zealously, and selflessly. And yet some refused to respond to his earnest warnings and exhortations regarding their need to repent of their sins, and to embrace their long awaited Messiah – Jesus.
This ungodly resistance towards the ministry of John the Baptist sadly was led by the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of that day. As Josh quoted from Luke 7:30 “…the Pharisees ….. rejected God’s purpose for themselves…”
In our passage for today we are going to look at two individuals. One – a Pharisee - who seemed to have an interest in Jesus, but who in fact rejected Him; and then one perhaps very unlikely individual who grew to love Him deeply. We are going to learn some important lessons from both of them.
Allow me to introduce you first to a guy named Simon. Let’s read vs. 36 of Luke chapter 7: “Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” Vs. 49 btw clues us in to the fact that others were invited besides Jesus, “Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves…”
Simon was one of these Pharisees that I spoke of earlier in my introduction. Simon was probably fairly well to do; probably had a sizable house; and he was a man who knew how to work the angles – probably leaning on his wife heavily to pamper his guests with various delicacies of the day, and vintage wines so he could better smooth over his agenda. So Simon invited Jesus over to his house for a meal along with some other guests, whom were most likely also Pharisees or perhaps some of those lawyers mentioned in vs. 30.
Had it just been Simon and Jesus, we might suspect Simon had an interest in establishing a relationship with Jesus and in responding to His claims on his life. But it is more likely that Simon didn’t invite Jesus for the purpose of knowing and understanding and responding to Jesus’s kingdom message. Rather I suspect he invited Jesus to try to get Jesus to buy into his agenda or the agenda of the Pharisees. The amazing thing to me is that after giving this in your face rebuke of the Pharisees and lawyers for rejecting John the Baptist and for rejecting Him as seen in vs. 24-34, Jesus readily accepted Simon’s invitation. You see Jesus never rebukes someone for the joy of spewing venom and letting off built up steam. His rebukes are always meant to help us see our foolishness and turn from it while there is still time. He was fully aware of Simon’s duplicity in inviting Him over. But He went anyways because He is an amazingly merciful and forbearing Savior!
Well that’s a little bit about Simon. Are you ready to meet the second individual or character in this story? Let’s read vs. 37 and 38. “And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He (Jesus) was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and 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.”
As Josh stated last week – Jesus was the talk of every town He visited because of His character as well as His teaching, and His wonderful works. Simon was also well known because as Jesus made clear in a different setting - - the Pharisees were experts at practicing their religion to be seen and noticed and admired by men. Or at least to be seen and noticed. When Jesus was seen walking with Simon and his entourage to Simon’s house the word spread like wildfire – even to the circles that this lady walked in.
Both Luke – the author of this historical account in vs. 37, and Simon later in vs. 39 identified this lady as a “sinner”. Most likely she was a prostitute. It might surprise you that such a person would walk in uninvited to a religious leader’s house, but you need to know two things. First in that culture a much more free expression of hospitality was practiced, though the expectation was that the invited guests would all be reclining together around the table with their heads close to the table and their feet away from the table for obvious reasons. And uninvited guests would be standing away from the table just beyond the feet of the invited guests. Second, while that is generally true of that particular culture and era, for this particular lady to not only enter this home but carry on like she did, something very significant was happening in her heart towards Jesus, something that so impacted her - her compulsion to express her devotion to Jesus far outweighed her fear of what these men might think of her, or of what they might say about her.
Had she just quietly walked up to Jesus’s feet and wiped them quietly with her hair, that would have been one thing. Perhaps Simon and his guests would have noticed, but quickly ignored her, and gone on with their agenda filled conversation. But this woman did several things of note that spoke to the intensity of her devotion to and love for Jesus. First she poured expensive and smelly perfume on his feet that would have filled the room with its uninvited aroma. Then she wept to such an extent that her tears provided enough moisture to effectively wipe His feet. That word “kept” tells us that this went on for a while. Which means the Pharisees’ agenda filled conversation was probably interrupted repeatedly by her display of devotion. Vs. 45 confirms the length of her display of affection.
Would you have done this as an already despised woman in a man’s world far exceeding anything the average woman experiences in America today?
I find it interesting that Luke chose not to refer to Simon by name in vs. 39 when he clues us in to Simon’s heart response to this lady, but rather he refers to him as a Pharisee. Vs. 39, “Now 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.” Probably every man in the room knew who this lady was and what she did for a living. And they were probably all shocked that Jesus allowed such an unclean woman to touch Him repeatedly. For you see the Pharisees were all over staying clean from things or people that they considered unclean – either ignoring or being oblivious to Jesus’s teaching that uncleanness actually comes from within. Listen to His words from Mark ch. 7, which was also aimed at the Pharisees: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Jesus was far more passionate about being clean and pure than any of these Pharisees were. But He wanted to make sure they knew that all uncleanness originates in the heart or the inner man – not from something that we eat or drink or touch or hear or brush up against.
This woman didn’t just brush up against Jesus or reach out and touch Him with her finger when she thought no one was looking. She was all over His feet with her hair and her hands and her lips for what had to be five to 10 minutes – maybe longer.
So what are our options here in understanding why Jesus allowed this to happen - seemingly unfazed by it? Well let me suggest a few: First, maybe Jesus didn’t have a problem with prostitution. Maybe He understood how difficult her upbringing and economic circumstances had been over many years, and well people have to do what they have to do! The problem with that line of thinking is Jesus stated very clearly in the Mark 7 passage that I just read that “fornication, adulteries and sensuality” are all “evil things”. And elsewhere He was very clear that only a husband and a wife are to cleave together and become one flesh. So that option doesn’t work.
Second option - Maybe Jesus was so focused on the spiritually exhilarating conversation with the Pharisees and lawyers that He was oblivious to what the sinner lady was doing to His feet. We know that is not true from the passage that follows. Jesus was very alert to who this lady was and what she was about, and what she had just done to Him.
Finally – third option - Maybe there is something about a person’s heart response to Jesus that eclipses who and what sort of a person they have been, and they are in the eyes of their fellow citizens. Maybe mercy really does triumph over judgment when someone sees and admits their need for God’s mercy.
Sadly Simon, though a religious leader, had no ability to see into this lady’s heart. Sadly Simon, the Pharisee had long developed the practice of judging people by their symptoms and outer practices, rather than mercifully discerning the roots of their misery, and helping them come to the only One who could free them from their bondages. Sadly Simon the Pharisee was blind to his own sins and the severity of them, and thus wrongly focused on the sins of others.
Well Jesus could have really lit into this proud judgmental Pharisee at this point in the evening. But instead He mercifully told a story to try to help Simon (and the others listening in), and you and I - understand what really matters; and what more than perhaps anything else in life causes a person to love Jesus like He is so worthy to be loved.
Let’s listen in to the story or parable in vs. 40-43. “And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii (BTW – a denarius was equivalent to a day’s wages), and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.”
I love how Jesus respectfully waited for Simon’s permission to speak. Simon, not knowing that Jesus had just read his thoughts, granted him permission. Simon then somewhat grudgingly, without a whole lot of conviction answered Jesus’s question re: the point of the parable.
Jesus, knowing that Simon didn’t yet get it, drove His point home. Let’s read the rest of the story: “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. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For 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.”
Jesus didn’t whitewash this woman’s sins. But His focus was not on her past sins. Rather it was on her present repentance. This woman was no stranger to Jesus. She had very likely slid into the fringes of some of the crowds that gathered every time Jesus taught. She probably had seen Him heal the sick and free people of demonic oppression in past days and weeks. She had hung on every word that came out of His mouth. She didn’t have to be convinced that she was a sinner. Getting close to Jesus and gazing on His holiness and purity and moral perfection tended to bring to light one’s lack of those things. Nor did she have to be convinced that Jesus alone could forgive and cleanse her from her sins. No one had ever spoken words of life like this Man did. Simon only knew of her obvious sins – the ones that were the talk of the town. Jesus knew of every one. But there was no judgment or condemnation in His eyes when He saw the genuineness of her faith.- only Mercy.
Thus her love for Him knew no bounds.
Simon on the other hand was not aware of his own sins. Only the sins of others like this sinner woman. Yes Jesus spoke of her sins as “many”. But only to illustrate the greatness of His forgiveness, and thus the greatness of her gratitude.
Simon’s sins were no less in number or severity. He just was not aware of them. And thus he saw no need for forgiveness. And thus he felt no gratitude for being forgiven. Nor did he have that unexplainable joy of knowing I am finally clean on the inside because of having encountered the one true God and Savior of the World.
Jesus had given Simon plenty to think about. But His main concern is now completing the work He had begun in this lady. So He fixes His heart melting gaze on her, and here is what He said, “…Your sins have been forgiven.” While that was music to her ears, Simon’s cohorts began to murmur to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”
Jesus ignored their unbelief, and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
So how should we respond to this passage? Well allow me to suggest a few things for your consideration:
1. It is possible to have the Creator of the Universe and Savior of the world in your dining room, and be absolutely unfazed and unaffected by His presence. It is possible to be sitting here today in this parking lot, where the risen Christ is very present, and be absolutely unfazed and unaffected by His wonderful presence. Especially if you are walking in the two deadly sins of pride and unrighteous judging of others that Simon walked in.
When the Bible says, “There are six things which the Lord hates; Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him;…” Do you know what the first one listed is? “Haughty eyes”, which is another term for pride. C.J. Mahaney once went as far as to say this regarding the seriousness of pride,”…bliblical evidence abounds for the conclusion that there’s no sin more offensive to God than pride.”
Pride blinds us from knowing and seeing God as He is. Pride blinds us from seeing the stench and seriousness of our sins as they are. And pride causes us to scorn and detest others whose sin may be more obvious than ours, but certainly is no worse.
Thomas A Kempis – the author of The Imitation of Christ put it this way, “ He that well and rightly considereth his own works, will find little cause to judge hardly of another.”
Here’s a second consideration:
2. It is possible to be born again, and to have become a child of God, and to have experienced that initial forgiveness of sins that we experience at conversion, and yet months or years or even decades later, not think that much of it. Sadly many believers take the miracle of forgiveness of sins for granted. No wonder our love for and devotion to Jesus is so weak. Paul Claudel once said, “The greatest sin is to lose the sense of sin.” Personally I think the greatest sin is to break the greatest commandment, which is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind.” But surely losing the sense of the depths of our sin, and the greatness of His mercy and forgiveness of our sins ranks close behind. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, now knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
Third and final consideration:
3. It is possible to grow every day in our love for and devotion to Jesus; and the one practice perhaps more than any other that will help us achieve that is that of daily rehearsing in His presence (and perhaps testifying to others) of how great His forgiveness of our sins has been and is on a daily basis, and how great His mercy toward us has been and is on a daily basis. When Jesus says, “He or she who is forgiven much loves much.” He is not saying only people who have committed the most sins or the most horrible sins love Him the most. That is not necessarily true. Rather He is saying those who make it a practice to daily confess their sins and who daily reflect on how wonderful it is to be forgiven and clean before Him - - those are the ones who love Him the most.
That’s why the Psalmist in Psalm 103 exhorted or reminded himself (and thus us) to, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; (and then he lists some of them, the first of which is) “Who pardons all your iniquities”.
That’s why the apostle Paul often reminded the churches he wrote of how great their sin was and thus how great His forgiveness and salvation is. You can never know the latter without reflecting on the former. Listen to one example from his letter to the church in Ephesus, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now working in the sons of disobedience, Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved, us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ….” Ephesians 2:1-5
Please know brothers and sisters the enemy does not want you to give daily time and attention to this. He knows what devotion to and affection for Christ this daily practice produces in the lives of children, young people and men and women.
Jesus knew the enemy would try to divert us from this, so one of the practices He gave us to help us keep His forgiveness of our sins front and center is that of partaking of communion together. If you have placed your trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation, I’d like to invite you to prepare your heart to commune with Him around the wonderful work He has done for you on the cross.
(At this point I encouraged our people to give thanks and praise for all Christ has done for us on the cross - - several did then we partook of the bread; a handful more did then we partook of the cup. Then I closed in prayer).