Turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter or you can look on your bulletin there; you can find it there as well. We’re in the third part of our series, “Scandalous Grace: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners,” and we’re here where Jesus encounters a sinful woman. F. W. Boreham, he was a 19th century pastor and writer, he once wrote that “life is largely a matter of luggage.” He recounts how a toddler, from the earliest days of them walking, has an insatiable desire to carry things, to load themselves up or to pull things behind them. He goes on to relate that to man’s experience of being burdened under the weight of some load. It’s an experience that is common to every man. The woman in our passage tonight is feeling the weight of her baggage, the burden of past failures and disappointments. Maybe you can relate to her – a besetting sin, a scar from the past, maybe regret or a disappointment about the way life has gone up to this point. What we find in Luke chapter 7 is that with Jesus there is forgiveness and that forgiveness should stir us up in love to Jesus and should lead us out in peace. Let’s pray and then we’ll read our passage.
Our Father, we thank You for bringing us to this time in Your Word. We ask that You would open our hearts and our ears and our minds to hear Your Word, to apply it to our lives, to stir up our love, to stir up our praise and our prayers to You and that we would glorify You in all that we do. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
Luke 7 verse 36. We’ll read to the end of the chapter:
“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, 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, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this was 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 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.’”
The Word of God.
I. Jesus Forgives Much
The first thing I want us to see in these verses is that Jesus forgives much. There are three main characters in this passage. You have Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and then there’s this woman from the city. Perhaps the most obvious component from the story is that this woman is a sinner. She has sinned much. We see it three times in this passage. We’re told that she is a sinner. If you look in verse 37 Luke tells us that she was a sinner and then in verse 39, Simon, thinking to himself, says that she was a sinner. And then Jesus Himself in verse 47 acknowledges that her sins are many. It’s quite obvious that this woman was a sinner. We don’t really know anything else about her. We don’t know her name, we don’t have recorded here anything that she said in this encounter, we don’t really know what it is that she has done to gain her such notoriety as an obvious sinner. It’s been thought that she was a prostitute, although commentators go back and forth and are not quite sure about that theory. But whatever it was, her past lifestyle and experiences had left her burdened, deeply weighed down by the guilt of her sin. She was battered and broken, obviously helpless and needy, in need of mercy and of grace.
If you know the story of Les Miserables you may remember the depth of misery that Fantine, one of the main characters, felt in that story. This is how Victor Hugo describes her situation in the novel. He says, “There is nothing left in Fantine of her former self. She became marble when she became mud. Whoever touches her is chilled. Life and social order have said to her their last words. Everything that can happen to her has already happened. She is resigned with a resignation which is like indifferent as death is like sleep.” That’s a picture of this woman in this passage, of what she had once been – a desperate sinner.
A Picture of Forgiveness and Grace
But here’s the thing. When we come to her in this passage, when we’re introduced to her, she’s not still in that bottomed-out condition because at some point she had come to Jesus and had found forgiveness. We’re not told when that takes place, what had happened to lead her to Jesus and to find forgiveness from Him. Perhaps it was His teaching, His teaching about the kingdom of God. Maybe it was His display of compassion and the power that He showed as He healed many throughout that area. Maybe she had seen Him and she needed healing. She trusted Him, she came to Him, looked to Him for help to be made whole and Jesus saw her, much like He did when He healed the paralytic who came in through the roof and He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Maybe that’s what happened with her. We don’t really know, but at some point her sins had been forgiven. We know that because Jesus, He uses this parable that, when He talks to Simon, He defends her action. The parable illustrates that she was responding to previously shown grace. And then in verse 47 He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” It was a past event but it had a continuing impact in her life.
For All People: Sinners taking the Good News to Other Sinners
Jesus had already forgiven her at some point in the past, and that’s what Luke wants us to see in this passage. It’s that first of all, Jesus forgives much. Jesus forgives sin. That’s the message about which we need to be very clear – that all men are born sinners, that we’re born helpless and needy, and that only Jesus forgives. Only Jesus can deal with the stain of sin. Only Jesus can deal with and forgive a guilty conscience. It’s that message that we need to proclaim as God’s people. Are we doing that? Do we proclaim that message as God’s people, as the church? Are we Christ-like in our interactions with other people so that those who are obviously broken and burdened and needy, those who are the criminal, the adulterer, the ones who are addicted to alcohol and pornography, the woman who has had an abortion, the homosexual, those who are burdened with obvious sins in our community, do they see in us and in our interactions with them a Christ-likeness that they are attracted to Him, that they would come to Him, see their need for Him and go to Him for forgiveness? Shouldn’t that significantly impact the way we deal with those who are unbelievers in need of forgiveness, to those who are hostile to the church even? That we don’t interact with them with an “us vs. them” mentality, that we don’t set up our agenda against their agenda but we see them as sinners in need of forgiveness. We come to them in kindness and mercy and praying for their forgiveness. Of course we have to be shrewd and discerning but we also need to be sympathetic and loving and praying that God would forgive them.
Realizing our Desperation
Other people in our congregation, in our community, may not have as obvious sins as this woman. We may face the tendency to let our busyness and our thirst for one recreation after another to blunt the effects of sin in our lives, to cover that condition of our souls. J. C. Ryle likens this situation to the bell, the church bell, at the cathedral at St. Paul’s in London. He says that “during the daytime that bell rings. People are going about their business and in the traffic of the day they can’t hear that bell ringing. But at nighttime, when all is quiet, that bell is heard and clear as can be.” He says that “someday the time may come when laid aside in quietness and obliged to sit still, you may be forced to look within and consider your soul’s concerns. And then when the great bell of conscience is sounding in your ears I trust that many a man may hear the voice of God and repent and learn to come to Christ for relief.” That will happen one day and we need to have the message always before us, always on our lips and in our lives, that Christ is the only way of forgiveness, that Jesus forgives much. And for those of us who have found that relief in Christ, nothing, we understand that nothing we have done can earn that forgiveness; nothing we did deserved Christ’s mercy. And that’s really the basis for when we see this woman coming to Jesus because she realizes that nothing she has done has deserved her forgiveness. She was in utter need and needing His mercy and He came to her and showed her that forgiveness.
II. He Who is Forgiven Much Loves Much
And so Jesus tells us the second thing I want us to see – he who is forgiven much loves much. I imagine for many of us this story would make us a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve been in a situation like that. You’ve been invited to a party or to a dinner at someone’s house – maybe it’s a prominent person in the community. Their house is well-appointed, it’s carefully decorated, everything is done in order with much decorum, and you come in there and the last thing you want to do is make a scene. The last thing you want to do is break something or cause undue attention to come to yourself. If you’ve ever been in that situation and you have caused a scene it probably sticks with you and it even causes you to wince a little bit as you think about it.
That’s the scene that’s set up here in this passage at the Pharisee’s house. Here’s a man who is held in honor in the community. He’s a very strict religious leader of the day; he’s a righteous man. That’s how he would have been viewed by most of the people around him. And Jesus comes in, He reclines at the table with him, and all eyes are on Him. Why had they invited Jesus to this banquet? Why had they invited Jesus to eat with them? It likely would have been that they were testing Him. They were looking for a place for Him to stumble, a place that He might have fallen. And as soon as Jesus comes and sits down at the table this woman comes in. She begins to pour out this overwhelming affection and adoration towards Him. She’s wetting His feet with her tears, she’s wiping them with her hair, kissing His feet, and anointing Him with this expensive ointment, breaking this alabaster jar and spreading it on His feet. One commentator suggests that the price per pound of this ointment could have been as much as the average person’s yearly salary. This woman doesn’t hold anything back. She’s pouring everything out. She’s giving everything up in humility to Christ. She’s letting nothing come between her and Jesus – not class or gender distinction, not the risk of embarrassing, not the shame of her previous life, not the judgment of the Pharisees or the guests in front of her. She doesn’t let anything get between her and Jesus and showing Him the love that she feels towards Him. She’s firmly committed in her love to Jesus. That’s what we see this woman doing.
A Stark Contrast
And her actions are all the more accentuated when we see the actions of Simon. Simon sees nothing in Jesus that he thinks deserves special attention. Look at what he says there. He dismisses Jesus as even having the possibility of being a prophet. Verse 39 – “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.” He thinks there’s no way He can be a prophet. He would never let this woman get anywhere near Him if He realized that. And then he also neglected to show Jesus the proper hospitality of that day. He doesn’t give Him any water to wash His dusty and tired feet; he doesn’t give Him a greeting kiss. He doesn’t give Him any oil to refresh His dry skin and face. The actions of Simon and this woman are in stark contrast to one another. Here is this woman pouring out affection and love and adoration on Jesus and here is Simon with this cold indifference, reserved, staying away from Him and not wanting to get too close, and looking on Jesus with this suspicion, testing Him, trying Him.
Jesus illustrates the heart of the issue first with a parable and then with a question. He gives this parable of a moneylender who had two debtors. One debtor has a great debt and the other debtor has a much smaller debt. But because neither of them can pay the moneylender forgives both of them. And He asks Simon, “Which one of them will love him most? Which one of them will love the moneylender the most?” And Simon answers rightly. He says, “The one who owed the most money.” Well that’s exactly what’s taken place at this meal. Jesus says there, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” That’s the difference between these two characters. You have one who is broken, battered, and understands her desperate need of forgiveness. You have another who is hardened; he’s a self-righteous Pharisee. He doesn’t see his need for forgiveness. You have one who literally pours out her love and adoration on Jesus and another one who stands at a distance and is coldly indifferent.
Keeping the Savior at a Distance
Do you see what’s going on there? Notice that Simon never criticizes what the woman does. He only criticizes that Jesus accepted her. I think the attitude that Simon takes is, is that he thinks that adoration should be directed towards him. He thinks that he deserves that kind of respect and reverence. And Jesus stood in the way of His prominence. Jesus stood in the way of his position as a leader in the society, of his position of honor. How often are we guilty of the very same thing? We have invited Jesus to the party and yet maybe we’ve just gone through the motions. We’ve kept Him at a distance. We don’t want to let Him get too close because it might get uncomfortable. We may have to deal with our greed and our apathy and our anxiety. We may have to put aside some of our dreams and aspirations but it’s not until we recognize the sinfulness of our sin and our need for mercy and the forgiveness that He shows to us, the abundance of His mercy and grace, that will ever love Him and adore Him as we ought to.
Loving Much: Letting Nothing get Between Us and Our Love for Jesus
I had lunch yesterday with Sidney Robinson. He was telling me about the time when he first met his wife. They were fourteen years old and they were getting introduced to one another. She had grown up in a Roman Catholic background and she was explaining to him her beliefs. And she said she had told her mother that, “I don’t want to ever let anything get between me and Jesus.” And she didn’t want to let any priest, any tradition, any ceremony get between her and her love for Jesus. And Mr. Robinson kind of took that and he gave me that exhortation, that encouragement, for that to be my prayer that nothing get between me and my love for Jesus. I turn that to you and make that encouragement to you, even as we pray tonight, that we would not let anything get between us and Jesus. That we wouldn’t let shame or embarrassment or pride or self-righteousness, that we wouldn’t let our comfort and our success, nothing get between us and our love for Jesus. That we would love Him above all things and that it would be obvious that as people look to us, look at us and interact with us and speak with us that it would be obvious to them that we love Jesus. If they could say one thing about us that they would say, “That man, that woman, loves Jesus.” Would that be our testimony to those around us?
That’s the testimony that this woman shows us in this passage. And think about this. She knew, she knew a great deal about Jesus’ greatness. She knew a great deal about how much Jesus had humbled Himself by coming into her world and showing her mercy, but she didn’t even know about the cross yet. She didn’t know how far Jesus would go to secure the forgiveness of sin, how great He could demonstrate His power and His deity. We know that. We know the cross. Jesus went that far for us; He went that far for our sins. He demonstrated greatness in His power so much so that He was resurrected from the dead on the third day. We know His mercy and His grace and His power. And when we see that and we pour out our love and adoration we have a radical love for Christ.
III. From Forgiveness to Peace
The last thing I want us to see is that this passage goes from forgiveness to peace. Look back there at verse 38. I want you to notice how it was that we’re introduced to this woman, how we first see her approach Jesus. It says she was “standing behind him at his feet, weeping.” So here we are. Jesus tells us in this passage that her expression of love is due to her forgiveness, that He has forgiven her sin. And yet when she comes to Him, when she approaches Jesus, she comes to Him in this humility. She’s standing at His feet and she’s weeping. You see, when we’re introduced to her she’s emotionally fragile. She’s still carrying the luggage of life. She’s still carrying the baggage of her past experiences. She was still to some extent marginalized. She was broken. It still had an effect on her. She was burdened and weighed down. She had this reputation. She was still an outsider as she came to this party. But she goes to Jesus and she gives Him praise and adoration.
And at the end of the account, if you look down at the end of the passage, Jesus says that her sins are forgiven. He openly declares it before all the guests that she was forgiven so that they see that she was forgiven. It shocks them. They said, “Who is this who even forgives sin?” And then He sends her away with a blessing. He says, “Go in peace. Go in peace.” It’s a peace that only comes from Jesus. It’s a peace that is a wholeness, a fullness, of being made right with God in a secure and loving relationship with God as our heavenly Father.
A Pattern of the Christian Life
What we have in this passage is a picture of the pattern of the Christian life. The pattern of the Christian life is faith and repentance, repentance and faith. That’s what we see this woman doing, that even as she has an awareness of her sin, the sinfulness of her sin, she went to Jesus and she poured out her love and her adoration to Him and she received the blessing of peace. That’s a good word for us when we’re struggling with temptations or when we’re going through trails we’re facing and dealing with anxieties and worries and all those sorts of things – to remember how great is our forgiveness in Christ, how much He has loved us.
Our Verdict: At Peace with God
The verdict that He has declared on us is secure. That we are as right with God now as we will be at His return. He has dealt with our sin finally and ultimately on the cross. He has paid the penalty. We do not have to pay one drop of the penalty. Not one drop of God’s wrath will come on us because Jesus has forgiven every one of our sins – past, present, and future – and because of that we can give Him our love. We can love Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, all of our strength. And when we come to Him, even as this woman, weary and heavy-laden, we know that He promises to give us rest. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. Go to Him and give Him that love.
Father, we thank You for this picture of this woman. We’re convicted by the extent of her love for You. We’re convicted of our own indifference and apathy at times. We ask that You would, through her testimony, stir us up to love You, to recognize our great need and the forgiveness that You have given to us. Show us places where we can proclaim Your love. Open up opportunities to love You and to praise You, here in worship, but wherever You’ve placed us in our neighborhoods and in our jobs, in our schools. And that out of that forgiveness that You have shown to us that we would be loving and forgiving to others. Give us that peace. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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.