The Lord's Day MorningAugust 3, 2008
“Extravagant Love for Jesus #2”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Amen. Now turn with me if you would to Luke's Gospel, chapter 7, and we're going to read from verse 36 to the end of the chapter…Luke 7, beginning at verse 36. And before we read this passage, we need once again the help of the Holy Spirit. Let's pray.
Lord our God, we thank You for the Scriptures. Thank You for every word given as the product of Your out-breathing, and profitable for doctrine, and correction, and rebuke, and instruction in the way of righteousness, that we may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. So, Lord, instruct us now, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's word:
“One of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee's house and took His place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner…”
[And the consensus of opinion is that that is a euphemism for the fact that she was in fact a prostitute.]
“…when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 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. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself…”
[And beware when you’re talking to yourselves, because Jesus always hears it.]
“…‘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.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’
“’A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom He cancelled the larger debt.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she has loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with Him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
We have been looking, these last couple of weeks together while Ligon has been away on vacation, at a theme: extravagant love for Jesus. Last week we were looking at a very similar story. It's not the same story. Last week's story took place in Bethany; it took place after the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead; it was Mary of Bethany (Mary, Martha, Lazarus…Bethany two miles or so outside of Jerusalem). This incident takes place in Galilee. It takes place probably in Capernaum. It was Simon the leper in last week's story; this is Simon the Pharisee — two quite distinct stories.
There's a woman, and she is a “sinner.” All the commentators agree this is a euphemism for the fact that she was a notorious sinner, a well-known sinner…in fact, a prostitute. It might strike us as odd (it strikes me as odd) that she was there — that she would be allowed into Simon the Pharisee's house; but you understand this was probably an open invitation to all who had attended synagogue to come for dinner, and she may well have been at synagogue. She would have been in the court of the women, you understand; in synagogue male and female would have been separated. She has led an indescribably profligate, awful, drudgery of a life. We need not go there. Her life was awful. She is a sinner. But she has heard of Jesus. She perhaps has been listening to Him for some time. If this is indeed Capernaum, Jesus had frequented Capernaum for some time. He had attended synagogue in Capernaum. He had performed acts of miraculous healing in Capernaum. She has heard Him preach and proclaim the kingdom of God in Capernaum and perhaps the surrounding districts. She has come with perhaps a premeditated act. We can't be sure about this. It may be the same kind of perfume as we were thinking about last week (the anointing oil, the spikenard that Mary of Bethany had), or it may not be. She has it in her purse. She's bought it from the proceeds of her profligate life.
Jesus is sitting at the table in Eastern fashion, head toward the center, feet outwards. He's leaning perhaps on His elbow, reclining on the floor. She's at His feet on the outside, as it were, of the circle…among many others, perhaps. She has looked at Him. She has listened to Him speak. And she falls down beside His feet and tears are welling up in her eyes and they trickle down her face. She's overcome with emotion. Her shoulders are beginning heave at the weight and burden of her emotional response to Jesus. The tears now are dripping down on Jesus’ feet. As each one drops on His feet, she unties her hair. She does something that in that setting would have been socially a faux pas. Now with her hair she wipes His feet, and with each wipe she kisses His feet, and another tear falls. She wipes it, she kisses His feet. People are looking and they’re pretending not to see. They’re looking away. They’re nudging each other: “Imagine that woman! What is she doing here? In fact…why doesn't Simon say something? And why does Jesus allow this? Look at Him! He's not even moving His feet!”
And Simon the Pharisee, he's come to understand something about Jesus. He's come to understand that He's a prophet — someone in whom resides the word of God, someone who could speak for God. (‘But you know, if Jesus were a real prophet, He’d understand who this woman is. He’d know what this woman is. He’d know that if she touched Him, He’d be ceremonially unclean. He couldn't attend synagogue for a week. He’d have to go through a ritual of cleansing because He's been touched by someone who is a sinner. How can He be a prophet?’)
And there's Jesus. Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face for a minute. He tells a parable. (Beware when Jesus tells parables in the presence of others, because someone is being set up! Simon is being set up.) Two men owe money to a moneylender. (This story was written yesterday!) One owes five hundred denarii. A denarius was what an average man would earn in one day. This was a year and a half's salary. This is a lot of money. This is $40,000-$50,000, maybe more. That's a lot of money. The other owes fifty. Neither of them can pay, so the moneylender wipes their slates clean, both of them. Which one would love him more? And Simon somewhat begrudgingly says, ‘Well, I suppose the one who owed the more.’ “You understand,” Jesus says, “he who is forgiven little loves little; but he who is forgiven much, loves much.”
What are the lessons? Well, three of them.
I. We need a fresh glimpse of the gospel.
First of all, we need — you and I — we need a fresh glimpse of the gospel. This is about the gospel. Jesus is talking here about the gospel. This whole story is about the gospel.
How can a woman who is a prostitute be considered in the same league as the likes of you and me? That's it, isn't it? They both owe, and neither can pay, and both are forgiven. And you inherently think — I mean, tell me this is not so! — we have an instinct for self-justification. It's in the genes. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if it is in the genes…not one bit. We are linked that way to Adam. We are genetically predisposed, we are hard-wired to think that that is inherently not fair. Jesus is talking here about grace-based ministry. He's talking here about grace-based lives. And it begins, you see, it begins with an appreciation of what God has done for us, and it begins with an appreciation of what we are by nature.
Jesus’ love, my friends, is not a tool to meet a need of self-esteem for people who think themselves to be failures. That's not the gospel. That's not the gospel. That is not the gospel! We need to think of the human heart. We need to think of the human heart as depraved rather than deprived. John Owen says he who has slight thoughts of sin never had great thoughts of God. She has great thoughts of Jesus. It's overwhelmed her. It's engulfed her in emotion as she thinks about Jesus and she sees Him. She can't help it. She just breaks down in tears. But it begins, my friends, with an understanding of who she is.
Do you notice in verse 47 when Jesus is speaking to Simon: “I tell you, her sins, which are many…” ? You see, the way to justification, the way to an appreciation of grace is not to play down the reality of our native sinfulness. Her sins were many. Her sins were great. And the gospel is not a scheme for making us feel good about ourselves.
I heard this woman on TV yesterday — I just about broke the TV! — she said all you need to do is say three times, “I feel good about myself.” Did you hear her? Some of you might have heard her. That is such unadulterated nonsense! The gospel is not a self-help scheme. The gospel says that we can feel good about ourselves only — only — as we are in union and communion with Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, and rose again for our justification.
You know we sometimes talk about unconditional love. And forgive me in advance, if I may beg your indulgence, if I don't warm with wondrous glow when I hear that phrase “unconditional love,” because I'm never quite sure what it means. Because in one sense it's true, but in another sense, my friends, it is not. It is not. Because Jesus wasn't saying ‘I accept this woman unconditionally.’ That's not the gospel. He would lay down His life for this woman. He would bear in His own body upon the tree the unmitigated wrath of His holy Father in heaven for this woman. For this woman to be forgiven, oh, yes! Believe me, there were conditions written into a covenant that the Mediator had entered into with His Father in heaven. John Stott says when we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge that we are namely hell-deserving sinners, then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished that we never saw it before. We need a fresh glimpse of the gospel.
II. We need a fresh experience of gratitude.
We need, secondly, a fresh experience of gratitude. Oh, in verses 47-48, don't think that Jesus is saying that she is forgiven because she loves; that the basis of her forgiveness is the fact that she loved. That's turning the gospel on its head. Love is the response of her heart to the gospel that she has experienced. When this woman understood (and she had understood that Jesus was going to die for her…for her, whom society had used, whom society had abused, and whose heart was desperately wicked), she could not but respond in emotional outpouring of gratitude…of gratitude that there is salvation. Oh, can I say it this morning? Yes, because it's true: There's salvation for prostitutes; there's salvation for murderers.
I met…I've actually met several, but I met one who had murdered and had paid an inadequate price in terms of the state's retribution, and he was the first to acknowledge that. And he had by this time been set free. But in prison, he had been converted–genuinely, truly converted. But he had murdered. But he had also been forgiven. And tell me…tell me that every instinct in your body doesn't respond with the thought that that isn't fair. Tell me so! And, my friend, if it does, you need a fresh glimpse of the gospel, and you need a fresh experience of gratitude.
“I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me:
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free.
“Sing, O sing, of my Redeemer!
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon;
Paid the debt, and set me free.”
We need a fresh glimpse of the gospel. We need a fresh experience of gratitude. When did you last feel so overwhelmingly emotional at the thought that Jesus gave His life and shed His blood, and endured the agony of the wrath of God? And, in the words of The Apostles’ Creed, descended into hell for us? Because that's what it cost to save a wretch like me.
Simon didn't get it, you see. He didn't get it. There was no place for sinners in the kingdom of God. And, my friend, every single individual in the kingdom of God is a sinner saved by grace.
III. We need a fresh glimpse of Jesus.
But there's a third thing. We need a fresh glimpse of Jesus, because, you know, in the end that's what this story is really about. It's not about this woman: we don't even know her name. It's not even about Simon the Pharisee. It's about Jesus.
You notice back in verse 34 (this is the segue that introduces the story), it's the accusation that the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard! A friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ What kind of Jesus do we have this morning?
Well, He's the kind of Jesus who goes to the other side of the tracks and rescues a prostitute and brings her into His kingdom. That's the Jesus we have this morning. He's the kind of Jesus who, though He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made himself of no reputation. They said He was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. We need a fresh glimpse of Jesus: the Jesus who veiled His glory and became incarnate, and took upon himself flesh and blood; of whom it was said that the birds of the air have their nests and the foxes have their holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. And He did it for the likes of you, and He did it for the likes of me.
My friends, we can go about our ministries, we can go about our lives, we can go about our public professions of being the Lord's people, and we can lose sight of all of those things. We can lose sight of the gospel, and we can lose sight of the need for gratitude, and we can lose sight of Jesus. If you are discouraged this morning, it's because you have lost sight of Jesus.
Oh, may God by His Spirit so grant to each one of us a fresh glimpse of the sheer beauty and wonder of Jesus, and that we might — yes, for a moment or two — even lose our composure at such wondrous love.
Let's sing together, shall we, the words of hymn No. 645, Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.