Well, let me add my own welcome, especially if you are visiting with us this morning. We are really pleased to have the Belhaven football team with us. We're so glad to be able to host you guys today and for lunch afterwards. I hope you can stay for that. And if we can serve you in any other way, we really do want us to let us know. We're thrilled you're here. As an expression of hospitality, I thought it would be helpful to you, rather than trying to have you catch up – we are working through the book of 1 Corinthians together and rather than try to explain where we've come and where we're going, I thought it’d be better simply to do a stand alone sermon today. So for the folks who are regularly here, we'll come back to 1 Corinthians next week. This week, I want to invite you if you would, to take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to Luke's gospel, chapter 7; Luke chapter 7. You'll find that on page 864 in the church Bibles. Luke 7; page 864. We're going to read verses 36 through 50. Some of you already thought you had the sermon, didn't you? I can tell! No, there's another one! Luke 7:36-50; page 864.
The action all takes place – a rather familiar story – it all takes place at a dinner party in the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader of the time, a Pharisee by the name of Simon. It was customary among Pharisees, especially on the Sabbath Day after Sabbath worship, to bring a guest of honor home and have a large Sabbath meal with your Pharisee friends. And that's what's happening here. Jesus is the guest of honor. They've heard that He may be a prophet, perhaps, and so they're interested. They want to know more about Him. They may even be trying to recruit Him to their party's own agenda. But things don't go at all according to plan. At some point in the middle of the afternoon, a woman bursts into the room while they're all enjoying their meal and they all know exactly who she is. She is notorious in this city; she has a terrible reputation. Pretty immoral person. And they've all been avoiding her for years now, but here she is suddenly in Simon's home. And what happens next really flips everything that Simon and his Pharisee buddies believed; it flips it all on its head.
If you are familiar at all with the Gospel stories, you will have noticed that Jesus has this interesting habit of taking everything you thought you knew and turning it upside down and inside out and showing you the truth. And that’s exactly what He does in our passage. Let me invite you to look at it with me. Before we read it, we’re going to bow our heads and ask God to help us understand it as we pray. Let’s pray together.
Father, we do need now Your help, please, to understand Your holy Word, to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us in it, and to respond to it in repentance and faith and a life of joyful obedience toward our Savior. So we pray You would come to us and give us the Holy Spirit anew to open Your Word and open our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Luke 7 at verse 36. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“One of the Pharisees asked him [that is, Jesus] to eat with him,” that is, Jesus “and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at 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 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 canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled 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.’”
Amen, and thanks be to God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.
When I was in college back in Scotland, I remember one occasion we visited with some friends the small town of St. Andrews and the east coast of the country. It was a rainy, overcast, cold, windy day, which is to say it was an afternoon in Scotland! And as we walked down the high street, I saw out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older man who was filthy. He was dirty, disheveled, torn clothing, hiding, you know, taking shelter in a doorway from the elements. And as I walked past, my conscience began to prick and so I turned around and walked back to him – my friends kept going – dug in my pocket for some cash and I pressed some money into his hand. And I said, “You know, it’s cold. Go get yourself something warm to eat.” And he looked at me with a look I’ll never forget. And he said, “Are you sure about this?” I said, “Sure, absolutely.” “You’re just giving your money away?” “Yep!” “Well, okay.” He pocketed the money and looked at me like I had lost my marbles, and sort of shook his head as I caught back up with my friends. And when I did, one of them turned to me and said, “You do know that man you thought was homeless is actually a very wealthy local farmer?” Apparently, he had been working in the fields, popped into town to do some business, and was taking shelter from the rain! Yeah, it was a pretty embarrassing moment altogether, to be honest!
The fact is, it’s easy to make assumptions and come to all sorts of wrong conclusions about people based on what we think we know about them. Isn’t it? Simon is about to learn that uncomfortable lesson for himself in our story. It turns out, he misjudges just about everybody that Luke talks to us about in this passage. He misjudges the woman who interrupts the meal. He misjudges Jesus, whose behavior frankly shocks him. And as we’re going to see, he’s even been misjudging himself for years. And here in this story, as we’ve said, Jesus seems to love to do, Jesus is going to explode each of those misunderstandings for Simon.
The True Host
He does it in three ways. I want you to think with me about the first of them. He teaches who the real host of the meal is, first of all. He teaches Simon who the true host is. Look at verses 36 through 38. I want you to try and picture the scene because a dinner party then and a dinner party today would have looked a little differently. They’re all gathered around the table, but they’re not sitting upright on chairs with their feet under them as we ordinarily would. In those days, as verse 36 points out, you recline at the table. There would be a low table. You would lean on one elbow; probably your left elbow propped up on some cushions or maybe a low couch with your head toward the table, your right hand free to lift things from the table to eat. And your dirty feet, politely stretched out behind you, away from the table. And everybody is lying around the table like that so that their heads are all close together making conversation intimate and close. And so that’s what’s happening. You’ve got the scene in your mind? Can you picture it?
And into the middle of all of that, we don’t really know exactly when, at some point, maybe after the small talk is over but before the meal really gets underway or maybe right toward the end, but at some point this woman elbows her way into the middle of Simon’s dining room and takes her place standing behind Jesus, at His feet stretched out behind Him. And she’s weeping. Luke himself actually registers just how shocking this moment was in verse 37. The Greek word is translated in our version, “Behold.” When you see that, attention is being drawn. This is not normal. This is pretty shocking. And Luke is amazed and everyone else was too. “Behold,” he says, “a woman of the city who was a sinner,” when she learned that Jesus was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, she came and barged her way in and took her place at Jesus’ feet. It’s an amazing moment; stunning. Not only is she uninvited, which makes this moment pretty audacious on her part – uninvited, bursts her way into Simon’s home – but she is a notorious sinner in the city. Everybody knows her. She’s “that woman.” And Simon and his friends would have nothing to do with her. And here she is, bold as brass, completely unselfconscious standing at Jesus’ feet.
And Luke is a great storyteller, so he’s sort of told the story thus far pretty quickly, but now when he begins to describe what this woman does, he slows the storytelling right down. There’s a series of verbs, one after another, describing her action. It’s like we see it now in slow motion. So you’ve got the scene of the dinner party, Jesus reclining there, everyone else is there. She comes in, quite suddenly, she’s standing at Jesus’ feet, and Luke says she is weeping. And as her tears fall, they fall on Jesus’ feet. And so she automatically kneels down to try and wipe them clean. There’s nothing to wipe them with but her long, loose hair, which in the normal conventions of the time was a pretty shocking thing in its own right. Women did not wear their hair loose like this. This is a risqué, shocking moment. She wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. And so overcome is she with gratitude and love to this man, whom she has trusted in and found mercy and forgiveness from, she’s kissing His feet as she wipes them and as she weeps.
Apparently, when she heard that Jesus was going to be there, she dug out probably what would have been her most expensive and one of her prized possessions – this alabaster flask of ointment; an extremely costly thing. And maybe she intended to give it as an expression of gratitude and thanks. But when she got there, events seemed to take on a life of their own. One thing led to another, and before she knows it she's broken the seal on the flask and poured out the ointment not on Jesus' head, as was the custom, but because she couldn't get to His head she pours it out on His feet and the place is filled with the aroma of the perfume as she expresses her thanks and her gratitude to her Savior.
And if you look at verse 39, you’ll see exactly what Simon is thinking the whole time. Here’s what he thinks of both Jesus and this woman. Verse 39, look at 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. She is a sinner. What kind of prophet has no real idea of what’s going on here? Jesus isn’t disturbed at all by this! He ought to be scandalized! He ought to shrink back from the touch of this filthy, unclean woman! And who does she think she is, barging her way into my home like this?” He really doesn’t think much of Jesus; he certainly doesn’t think much of this woman at all. The one person he does think much of is Simon. She’s a sinner and Jesus is a fraud, but Simon, you know, Simon, at least in his own eyes, Simon is neither fraud nor sinner. He’s respectable, religious, above reproach. Better, certainly, than the charlatan he may now be regretting ever having invited to be guest of honor in his home. And surely far better than this wretched woman who doesn’t even have enough sense to respect the socially acceptable norms of behavior. That’s Simon’s perspective.
If you’ll look down at verses 44 to 46, however, you get to see Jesus’ perspective. “Do you see this woman?” He asked Simon. “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.” Water to bathe his feet, a kiss of greeting, oil to anoint His head – those were not compulsory but certainly customary ways to greet a guest of honor in a home like Simon’s. But none of it was forthcoming from Simon. But this woman, who is altogether at the opposite end of the social spectrum from Simon, this outcast, guilty, sinful, immoral woman, she’s a much better host than Simon ever was. She does with an extravagance what Simon cannot even manage at all as she welcomes Jesus fully, unconditionally, and with genuine heart-felt love. Simon is guarded, standoffish, judgmental. He doesn’t welcome Jesus; he judges Jesus.
I wonder which best mirrors your heart, your attitude to Jesus. Are you standoffish? Skeptical, maybe, like Simon’s friends, wondering, “Is this Jesus the real deal?” Or disdainful, perhaps, of both Jesus and those who follow Him? “What a foolish thing to follow this, this Jesus!” As we interrogate our own hearts with some of those questions, I want you to look again at the passage because Jesus really doesn’t leave it there. As Simon is beginning to wonder about this woman and Jesus’ praise of her for being the real host at the dinner party, He presses on. Jesus presses deeper to try to get at the reason that Simon has failed to be a good host after all. So, first of all, we're taught here about the true host. Now he teaches us about the true sinner. The true sinner.
The True Sinner
Look at verses 40 to 48. Simon is grumbling about the sinful woman touching Jesus, and so Jesus tells this powerful little parable. Do you see it in the text? To try and get through to Simon. Look at the passage again. A money lender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii. That’s just short of the equivalent of about two years’ wages so that’s a lot of money. One owes five hundred denarii, just short of two years’ of wages. The other owes fifty. So about six months’ worth of paychecks. Either way, it’s a whole lot of money. And when neither debtor could pay, the creditor, the lender cancels both debts freely. And then Jesus asks the stinging question – which of them, which of the two, will love the creditor more? And Simon’s right on target, isn’t he? Jesus agrees, “You’ve judged correctly,” when Simon says, “Well, I suppose the one who was forgiven the greater debt. That’s the one who is going to love more.” “You’re quite right, Simon. Now let’s talk about this woman. This woman, she does what you haven’t done at all. She’s pouring out her love to Me because she has been forgiven much and she knows it. She’s been forgiven much and she knows it. I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven,” Jesus says, “for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Great love for Jesus is the response of the heart to having been forgiven by the great grace of Jesus. Great love for Jesus is the response of the heart to having been forgiven by the great grace of Jesus. That’s what’s happening in this woman’s life that Simon does not understand at all.
Can the Sin Problem Be ‘Fixed?’
Now, where does that leave Simon? We love because we are forgiven, because we've been loved first, because our debt has been canceled. Simon doesn't love at all, does he? Not at all. He stands at a distance in cold, judgmental superiority, disdaining the woman, dismissing Jesus, justifying himself. He doesn't love at all, because he still knows nothing of his need to be forgiven. He doesn't think he's a sinner at all! And what sin he might acknowledge in his life, he thinks he can remedy with a bit of elbow grease. You know, "Do better. Try harder. A thin veneer of religion on top and I'm good!" That's Simon's attitude; it might be yours. "Do better. Try harder. If I have a sin problem, it's not a big deal. I can fix it. I can fix it." We're like the gambler, you know, who's in horrible debt who keeps believing, keeps persuading himself that one big win on the horses will cover the debt and he will stop after that. And so he keeps betting and he keeps losing. He keeps betting and he keeps losing and digs a hole worse and worse, deeper and deeper for himself.
That's just like us. We think our sin problem is not so bad and we can fix it on our own and we just keep digging a deeper and deeper hole. No, you see, the only hope, the only hope for both debtors in the story, the only hope for big sinners and people who don't think their sin is so very big after all, the only hope is to have your sin canceled in full. You can't fix it! You can't fix it! You're in the hole deep and there's no way out! You need to be rescued. You can't fix it. Simon doesn't understand that at all.
The Irony of Simon’s Spiritual Problem
You see, the irony of the story – it’s extraordinary, isn’t it? – the irony of the story is that Simon, the professional religious elite, judging this wicked woman, Simon is the one with the real spiritual problem. He’s the one who’s debt remains to be paid. She has no debt! Hers have all been forgiven. Her sin is forgiven. That’s what Jesus says to her. He assures her of what she has already come to know and so as she pours out her love for Him, He announces it publicly. “Your sin is forgiven. Your sin is forgiven.” The real sinner in the room is Simon.
Friends, if you think you can deal with your sin problem, or if you think you don’t really have a sin problem at all, you are in Simon’s situation precisely. There is no hope for you. There is no hope for you unless, instead of trying to dig your way out of the mess you are in, you give up and go to the only one who can cancel your debt. Well, Jesus cancels this woman’s debt, and when He does, everybody in the room is scandalized. If the woman was shocking, Jesus’ words at the end of our section of Scripture is even more so to the people in the room. They’re horrified. When He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” they all start talking among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sin? Who does He think He is? Nobody forgives sin but God!” Which is, after all, precisely the point, isn’t it? In the parable, the creditor who cancels the debts is God! At the dinner table, the one who forgives sin is Jesus Christ. If you want to be clean, if you want to be right with God, if you want your debt canceled, there’s nowhere else to turn but to Jesus Christ.
The True Savior
But what is it that makes the great difference between Simon and this woman? Look at verse 50. You’ll see it there. Jesus tells us the difference between them. “Your faith has saved you,” He says to her. It is really that easy. Simon has been working hard at religious performance all these years seeking to curry favor with God. And Jesus cuts right through it all and says, “There’s one thing to do. Only one. Just trust Me. Just come to Me. Quit trying to fix it yourself. Give up. It’s a fool’s errand. You can’t do it. Your debt is far too great. I can forgive your debt. I can deal with your sin.” You know how He did, of course. You know how He paid your debts? At the cross with His lifeblood. And with His last breath, you remember what He said? He said, “It is finished.” “Tetelestai.” Paid in full. That’s what He said. Paid in full. No debt remaining! No wonder this woman is pouring out her love with such extravagance that day! She can’t hold it in! She realizes the enormity of what has happened to her, what Jesus has done for her. She is clean at last; forgiven at last. Right with God at last. She knows something Simon knows nothing about, and it fills her heart with gratitude and love and joy. So she takes the most expensive thing she has; she pours it out on Jesus’ feet. There’s nothing that she has too precious to her that she would not surrender it for Him who gives all for her.
Let me ask you, do you know what it is to be clean? To have your sin forgiven? Your debt canceled? And let me tell you, there is one ready here today, this morning, right now in our midst, ready to wipe the slate clean, as it were, because He has paid in full with His blood at the cross. Sin atoned for. Forgiveness won. Your debt canceled. And you get it by simply trusting in Christ. "Your faith has saved you." Will you trust in Jesus and receive the mercy and grace He offers?
The true host – the woman and not Simon is the one who welcomes Jesus so wonderfully. The true sinner – Simon, and not the woman, is the guilty one. And the true Savior – Jesus Christ, able to make the foulest clean. Trust Him. Let’s pray together.
O God our Father, we do confess to You that sometimes we take Simon’s posture and sit in judgment on others, even keeping Jesus at arm’s length. Sometimes we think we can deal with our sin problem, the debt of sin on our own. We do better and try harder, but the truth is we’ve only made the debt worse; we’ve only made the hole into which we have fallen, deeper. So together, today, maybe for the very first time in our lives, certainly for many of us anew, but together today we come back to Jesus and we ask You, Lord Jesus, will You please forgive us? We praise You that at the cross You paid in full for sinners. We ask You, O Lord, to make us clean, for we ask it that You may have glory and praise and honor. And we ask it in Your name, amen.
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