October 6, 2019
Conversations with Jesus – Luke 7
There’s a great difference between knowing about something and actually experiencing it, isn’t there? I remember as a little kid learning about Disneyworld-and studying the map of the Magic Kingdom that my friend brought back from his vacation-longing and planning for what rides looked most exciting-but that was a far cry from when my parents took me in 4th grade and I actually got experience the thrill of riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. Or you can say you know about France and it’s history and culture and food-but until you travel there and spend a week in Paris you haven’t actually experienced it. We all know that experiencing the reality of something is so much more impactful than just knowing about it. For example, who watches the Food Network? It’s got some great shows on there-Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins or Pioneer Woman’s show, or lately on Netflix our family’s enjoyed watching the Great British Baking Show. But the problem with all those shows is that they come up with these delicious plates of food they’ve been cooking-and then take a bite to confirm how good it is. Pioneer Woman will have some spicy fajitas she’s serving to her husband on the ranch, or Guy Fieri will have some kind of BBQ Pork sliders dripping with peppers and hot mojo sauce at a diner, or on the Great British Baking Show the judges will take a bite of a chocolate sponge cake with layers of raspberry jam and lemon buttercream icing-and then take a bite saying-this is delicious, amazing how the flavors work together, unbelievable! And I’m left thinking-how do I know it is? Why can’t I have a bite to actually taste these amazing flavors? I don’t want to just take the judge’s word for it and know about how good it is-I want to eat and experience it myself! So this is where someone needs to invent Taste-o-vision TV. We have TV’s in HD-now 4K TV-I want a tv where a little sample of what gets made on the show comes out at the bottom of the tv screen like a little vending machine. Then we’d all get to taste it and agree that-Yes-this is the winning cake! Wouldn’t that be great! But alas technology isn’t there yet-Taste-o-vision is just a dream-and so there’s a huge difference between knowing about something and actually experiencing it.
And this morning we’re going to encounter someone who doesn’t just know about something-but has actually experienced and understands what might be one of the most difficult-yet amazing things to experience-and that’s forgiveness. If there was someone who was furthest from the gospel this person would be it-and yet by experiencing and understanding forgiveness this person has a lot to teach us today. Open your Bibles to Luke 7 as we’re continuing our series-Conversations with Jesus. And as you’re turning there-this conversation involves Jesus and 2 other people. One person is someone who I said was about the furtherest from the gospel you could get-and the other is someone who ought to be very close and well-acquainted with it-but somehow in these conversations with Jesus we see how the tables get turned in a surprising way. So look at how this conversation begins-v. 36.
Now the Pharisees were one of the most religiously educated and spiritually minded groups in their day. Being well-acquainted with God’s Word was their main focus-yet they’re also very sneaky and prideful. Look below the surface and they’re rarely up to anything good, they’re motives and integrity are always to be questioned-things with them are never what they seem-and that’s certainly the case here in Luke 7. On the surface at face value, we’ve got a guy who’s invited Jesus over to eat dinner. What a great gesture of hospitality. Fire up the grill, get out some appetizers, and have Jesus over to hang out and visit. And yet as we’ll soon discover-it was quite the opposite. Back in those days, there were several common courtesies that would take place upon a person’s arrival that are strikingly absent here. Normally the host would place his hand on the guest’s shoulder and give him the kiss of peace-similar to how we do a handshake today. Then the guest’s sandals would be removed and his feet were washed to take off all the dirt and dust from the street-and finally dinner guests were anointed with a touch of olive oil on the head. But none of those things happened-as Jesus will later point out in the chapter. Instead the Pharisee’s lack of courtesy has revealed a coldness and anger right from the start of the meal. He hasn’t welcomed Jesus into his home with any sort of warmth or kindness-as the verse says-Jesus just took his place at the table. It would be like having someone over to your house to eat dinner-and you didn’t greet them at the door, or you didn’t offer to hang up their coat or shake their hand or even say hello-but just pointed and said-the table’s in the other room, find a chair and start eating! And you gave them a shove on the way there! Your guest would wonder-what sort of dinner party is this-why did you even invite me over? That’s the vibe Jesus is getting-and yet with the Pharisees we’ve already seen a glimpse of what’s going on in their minds. Look back at Luke 6:7-and it didn’t happen. They couldn’t find a reason to accuse Jesus-yet they sure became angry-v. 11. And most likely this dinner party is part of those plans-that this Pharisee said-I’ll have Jesus over in a few weeks and see if I can’t corner Him myself and get Him to slip up. So this Pharisee has plotted and calculated how the night should go-thinking about ways he can strategically accuse Jesus of something-when all of a sudden a very unexpected guest shows up.
Flip back to 7:37. And based on that description-a woman of the city who was a sinner-she’s most likely a prostitute. That’s the main consensus of most Bible scholars. If you have the NIV it says she had lived a sinful life in that town-meaning that she lived the sinful life of a prostitute which would have been widely known in that town. No doubt her reputation followed her. Obviously she wasn’t invited to this dinner party. The Pharisee never would have put her on the guest list-but homes back then of well-to-do people had central courtyards that were opened up and accessible. It wasn’t uncommon for other people and onlookers to wander by and sort of eavesdrop a bit. When I was in India on a missions trip our church had an orphanage we supported-and it was located in a house that had an open-air central courtyard-and when we were there spending the day with the kids teaching and playing games-lots of other kids, and even adults, wandered by and sort of looked in on what we were doing and hung around. We were a bit surprised by it-but homes in India aren’t all that closed off like they are here. Everything is far more public and open, onlookers are very common there, just like they are here in Luke 7. But what was uncommon, was for a woman like her to wander by-and then not just hang around or eavesdrop-but to make a big scene. Look at what she does-v. 37-38. In this outpouring of emotion, this woman wasn’t just crying or sniffling, but the text says weeping-her tears were flowing. In fact, she had so many tears they wet Jesus’ feet and she tried to dry them off with her hair. As one commentator said-she was a self-forgetful mess; crying unashamedly, her nose runny, her hair stringy with the muddy mixture of dirt and tears. Ask yourself-would you be embarrassed if someone was acting like that in front of you? Weeping uncontrollably and kissing your feet? I know I would. Okay, lady this is awkward-you can stop now!
But notice what she’s doing. She’s offering the customary greeting of a kiss, foot washing and anointing-the very thing the Pharisee didn’t offer. Jesus will make mention of this later. But it just so happens that she’s doing it in a state of utter brokenness and gratitude while the Pharisee refrained from doing it because of pride and self-righteousness. It’s such a fascinating comparison-and look at how Luke records the Pharisees assessment of it-v. 39a–What a woman of great repentance and humility! Look at her heart! No!-v. 39b. The Pharisee makes no observation about her heartfelt outpouring at Jesus’ feet. He doesn’t see her adoration or gratitude or the depth of her repentance-he only sees her past and all her sin. He can’t look beyond the label of who she was-a terrible sinner-and that forces him to actually judge Jesus. He’s already judged this woman-that she’s no good. As he says in the verse-if Jesus would have only known who and what sort of a woman she is-meaning someone of bad morals who’s done awful things-then Jesus would tell this woman to scram and get away from Him because she’s dirty and defiled. So he’s presuming to judge Jesus by the fact that in his mind of course godly, religious people wouldn’t dare get close to sinners. That’s just not how it works. Send her home, Jesus, kick her out of my house! So Pt1:Judgmentalism of the Self-Righteous-leads to disdain and distance. That’s how this Pharisee is operating. He feels self-righteous in his life and in the choices he’s made. I’ve done it all right-unlike this woman who’s done it all wrong. I wouldn’t have anything to do with her-and neither should Jesus. Get away lady. That’s his understanding. That there ought to be separation between godly people like himself and icky sinful people like her. That’s his religious framework and the lens through which he sees and interprets things. And he’s importing that onto Jesus, assuming that Jesus must not be who He claims to be otherwise He would stay away and create distance from people like this woman too who’s made lots of bad mistakes. In the Pharisee’s mind holiness doesn’t reach out to sinfulness. Sinners have already lost out, they’ve given themselves a bad reputation and rendered themselves undeserving by their poor lifestyle choices. Have you encountered thinking like that? Maybe that’s how you currently think. Disdain and distance is your default mode for people who’ve made too many bad choices. Stay away from them is how you operate. I don’t want them getting near me or my family!
Unfortunately it’s quite common. Good, religious, church-going people stay over here and keep their distance from bad, sinful, worldly people. Don’t mix, don’t interact lest their reputation rubs off-is the thinking. And obviously there needs to be wisdom and discernment-but what if those bad, sinful people show some remorse or repentance-like here in Luke 7-what happens then? Often the good, religious people are quick to question it or roll their eyes or say too little too late, you’ll always have that reputation; your past will follow you-we remember who you are and what you’ve done. Don’t think we’ve forgotten! And your label sticks-and almost becomes impossible to peal off. That was the thinking of the Pharisees and religious leaders during Jesus day and He quotes them-v. 34. They’re insulting Jesus because the Pharisees and religious leaders still viewed people with those old labels-and they thought Jesus must be one of them too if He’s hanging around them since in their minds people like that don’t change. Once a sinner, always a sinner. If you had a label stuck on you like glutton, drunkard, or tax-collector-then you’ll always have that label, your reputation will always be tarnished, your past never forgotten. Maybe there’s a label you’ve had for a long time that you can’t get rid of. People never seem to forget what you’ve done or how you’ve acted in the past. Unfortunately it’s what we do-and what the Pharisees couldn’t understand was the concept of forgiveness. They couldn’t get their heads around the fact that in Jesus those labels could be removed-repentant sinners could be changed, reputations could be restored and lives transformed. Just a couple of chapters back there was a great example-Luke 5:29-30. That’s what Jesus was just quoting. But their question wasn’t a why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? please tell us so we can know-it was a why would you ever do that? What in the world are you thinking? The Pharisees didn’t get it that repentant sinners could be forgiven-or that Jesus could reach out to them. It wasn’t part of their understanding. Yet that’s what this sinful woman here in chap 7 understands so well as she pours herself out in this heartfelt, authentic repentance to Jesus, washing His feet with her tears.
So Pt2:Forgiveness of the Redeemed-leads to devotion and delight. That’s the beautiful reality this woman is revealing. She understands how desperate she is for forgiveness; she realizes that without it she would be stuck in the shame of her reputation and constantly bearing the label of sinner and prostitute, but here in the presence of Jesus-the one who makes her forgiveness and restoration possible-she finds herself overcome with worship and devotion. She’s not constrained by social norms or societal pressures or the fear of looking awkward or being embarrassed. Instead, she is so moved by how much she’s been forgiven and changed by Jesus that she can’t hold back expressing her delight and gratitude to Him. Jesus has turned her life upside down. Everything is different now because of Him. I think her heart is communicated in a passage like-Ps 103:1-4, 8-12. This is what she’s feeling and communicating as she’s wiping Jesus’ feet with her tears. When was the last time His forgiveness sunk that deep in your heart? When was the last time you were that impacted or moved by it or overcome with devotion-realizing that the Lord doesn’t treat you as your sins and mistakes deserve-but has removed them as far as the east is from the west-and can anything be further separated than that? But that’s what His forgiveness does-and maybe it’s been a long time since you reflected on it, or maybe you never have. Unfortunately that was the case for the Pharisee. Understanding forgiveness was a foreign concept to him, something he hadn’t experienced. And Jesus doesn’t let it go unaddressed.
Look at 7:40-and Jesus responds with a 2 verse parable-v. 41. Now a denarii was worth about a day’s work-so the one guy owes about 2 months of wages, the other one close to nearly 2 years worth of wages. So both are substantial sums-nothing to brush aside-and clearly one has a much greater debt-but their inability to pay it back is the same-v. 42. Neither guy could come up with the funds or had any way to do so. They were both stuck-the guy who owed 2 years and the guy who owed 2 months. Other than the numerical value of the sums, their situations were identical. The guy with the lesser debt wasn’t in any better shape than the one with more. So I have that phrase they could not pay underlined in my Bible because that’s the situation you and I face too. That little phrase in where our lives intersect with this parable because it points out the reality we have to deal with as lost sinners. Our sin generates a debt that we cannot pay. Look at how clear this debt is described in Rom 3:19-20. God’s law isn’t the way we can pay off our debt-instead God’s law shows us how unpayable it actually is. But we think that by trying our hardest to obey-we can pay off our debt of sin to God. I’ve said before that we tend to think our lives as a scale or a ledger-and if there’s enough good stuff on the one side to outweigh the bad stuff we should be okay. That if God sees just a few more good decisions than bad ones, a few more good deeds than sinful blunders we’re in. But it doesn’t work that way. Notice how clearly the verse said it-No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight-no human is justified, no amount of good works is enough. Our sin is as unpayable as the national debt. What is it now? 22 trillion! We can’t fathom that number it’s so big. Unpayable seems to fit that number! Do we really think one day it will get paid back and the last check will be written? Where do we even begin? But have we considered our sin as something that big in God’s eyes? Have we recognized that we actually do have a better chance of paying 22 trillion dollars back as a nation than we do paying back the debt of our sin to God? But that’s what Jesus is communicating in this parable.
So Pt3:Indebtedness of Everybody-should lead to humility and healing. It certainly did for this woman. For the Pharisee-it’s a different story because he wanted to see her indebtedness-but not his. He wasn’t humble or broken enough-because in his mind, he and the sinful woman were in 2 separate categories. He was in the good, upstanding, spiritual category and she was in the bad, worldly sinful category-and those categories were totally opposite, nothing in common. Keep your distance. But Jesus is saying there’s something very much in common -you’re both in the same category. You’re both lost as sinners, you both have an unpayable debt staring you in the face. There’s an equal standing of everybody in the human race. Sure-one person may have 10X the amount of “outward” sins than somebody else like this parable demonstrates. Some people might be in the 500 denarii category for the consequences of what they’ve done and others might be in the 50 denarii category-but “inwardly” before God they’re both in debt, and for both it’s unpayable. So the task isn’t to judge someone-trying to say that person’s unpayable debt is higher than yours. It doesn’t matter-both are unpayable. So the task is to humbly accept the forgiveness and healing that’s offered. And that’s what Jesus is saying in the parable-v. 41-42a. God is the moneylender-and He isn’t in the business of looking for people who’ve adequately paid Him back because of all their good deeds. Let’s see-who’s paid me out there…? None of us have or ever could. Instead God is in the business of cancelling debts because there was one who could pay-and that’s the person telling this parable. It’s Jesus His Son. Jesus wasn’t just telling some random story about some benevolent money lender who willy-nilly cancels debts-as if we’d all say let’s borrow money from that guy-he cancels debts-best credit card company ever-your statement is zero every month! Rather-Jesus is foreshadowing the very thing He’s come to earth to do. Look at how this is described-Col 2:13-14. That’s where the cancellation occurs. He’s telling Simon the Pharisee and this sinful woman a story about a moneylender who cancels debts because He knows full well that it’s no story but the truth. God is going to cancel our debts-our unpayable debts-because Jesus was willing to give up His life on the cross to pay what we could never hope to pay. This parable is all about the gospel-and it’s what we’re called to believe in. This sinful woman looked to Jesus in faith-knowing that He would be able to forgive her. We look back to Jesus in faith knowing that He does forgive us because we see our record of unpayable debt nailed to the cross with Him! When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. And that’s the story of every believer in Christ. Your story, my story-we could not pay and yet our debt is cancelled because of Jesus.
So the task of the people in debt-which includes you and me-isn’t about proving ourselves to God or judging others as less deserving than we are because of their bad past and all their mistakes. It isn’t about putting ourselves in the good category and looking with disdain at all the others in the not-so-good category. Our task is responding to God’s grace and receiving His forgiveness by faith. Meaning-that we are to understand how deep our debt of sin truly goes, recognizing how desperate we are for His grace, how crucial His forgiveness is. That without it-without the cross-we’d still be lost, helplessly trying to pay back an unpayable debt. I like the insightful words of one commentator-Hughes, 288. And that’s exactly what it says in Col 2:13-14. Have you trusted in Jesus so that your record of debt was nailed to the cross? Back to Pt3. It certainly did for the sinful woman-she clearly knew how deep her debt of sin went. The big question is what about you? Do you understand how deep your debt goes?
And that’s how Jesus applies this parable. Remember how we said at the beginning that there’s a big difference between knowing about something and actually experiencing something? This woman experienced forgiveness-and where did it lead her-to a place of profound love and gratitude. What did Jesus say-v. 42-47a. Meaning therefore she loved much; that her great forgiveness by the Lord generated her great love for Him. She got it, she understood it-therefore she worshipped with all her heart and soul. And so notice how Jesus wraps this up-v. 47b. And on initial glance, we might think that’s a logical statement. The woman was forgiven much so she loved much, and I guess Simon the Pharisee was forgiven a smaller amount so he’ll just love Jesus in a smaller way. But Jesus isn’t presenting this statement as a viable option. He isn’t saying to Simon the Pharisee-it’s okay to love me little because you’ve only needed to be forgiven a little bit. Jesus is being ironic and this is meant to be a convicting statement-that any believer in Jesus who loves little has missed the whole point of what believing in Jesus and being forgiven by Him is all about. It’s anything but little! So Pt4:Much Forgiveness-always leads to much love for Jesus (and others). This is what Jesus is trying to get Simon the Pharisee to understand. When you realize how much you’ve been forgiven-not only will you love me much-but you will also love others much-because there won’t be disdain and distance. You won’t presume to be better than others or think you’re on higher moral ground-but realize that you’re in the same boat as everyone else, your story is no different. That as you’ve been forgiven much so you will love much! Where are you on that spectrum-do you love much or love little? I think it all depends on how much you think you’ve been forgiven.
If you’re someone like Simon the Pharisee and think that you’re a pretty good person on your own, that you’re not too bad, you’ve tried your best to live well and your sins are fairly little-than you’re going to respond to Jesus with that same minimal level of interest like he did. You’ll love Him little, if you even love Him at all. But if you’re someone like this woman and realize that your sins are an affront and an offense to God, that they’ve created an unpayable debt that you are helpless and incapable of doing anything about; if you’ve realized that your sins deserve to be punished and your only hope, your only chance is Jesus who’s come to forgive you and pay that debt for you, then you will love Him much and worship much! R Kent Huges, 289 Have you seen that? How sure and sweet and complete Christ’s forgiveness is for you? He has taken your great debt of sins-past, present and future-and forever erased it because He Himself has paid for it through His death. v. 48-49. I love their question-Who is this who even forgives sins? It’s the question each one of us should be asking-and the answer is the same Jesus who forgave her forgives us today. And that’s what brings us to a time of communion.