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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:Forgiven Much
Text:Luke 7:36-50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2010
Added:2013-08-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 123:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 6:1,2                                                                                                          

Reading – Luke 7:1-50

Ps 85:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Luke 7:36-50

Ps 32:1,2,3

Hy 6:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, we start this sermon with a serious question. The question is this: How does the LORD God look at sinners? How does He feel about those who break his law? It’s a serious question, because we all understand we’re a wicked people. All of us are sinners—not just in our words and deeds, but in our thoughts and attitudes and feelings.

            So how does God look at us? What will He about all our rottenness and rebellion? The potential is terrible. God could punish us. He could destroy us, and justifiably so. He could imprison us forever and ever.

            Yet we all know the blessed truth—we’ve heard it from the time we were young—the gospel that God forgives our sins. It’s one of the articles of our faith, something we confess every Sunday afternoon, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Someone else might say it as a matter of fact, “God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner.”

            As I said, this is a familiar truth. But beloved, there’s a lurking danger: We might stop appreciating its beauty. We might begin giving it as a token answer, as something we’re just expected to say as Christians: “Of course God forgives our sin!” But when we do that, then we’ve started to lose hold of something precious.

            God forgives. That’s something we need to think about carefully. That’s something we need to meditate upon continually, as individuals, as families, and as church community. We need to do so, because sin is still very much an ugly part of our life. We battle it. We give in to it. We feel its effects and have to deal with its results.

This morning then, we’ll look at a passage that has sin and forgiveness as its central theme. And we think about these questions: How can God forgive us? How far does God’s forgiveness go? And do we also look at one another as forgiven by God? I preach the gospel to you from Luke 7,

 

            “One who was forgiven much…” We consider:

1)     a study in contrasts

2)     a parable about forgiveness

3)     a declaration of grace

 

1)     a study in contrasts: There’s a whole bunch of things going on in our passage. Luke has put his story together in a fairly complex way—for Jesus is essentially dealing with two people at the same time, but in a very different manner.
The first person we meet is Simon. He’s called “one of the Pharisees” (v 36). He’s introduced this way, because the Pharisees have been a regular fixture on the scene in Luke’s gospel. Almost from Day One of Jesus’ ministry, they’ve been interacting with the Lord: testing Him, challenging Him—and soon they’ll be opposing Him.

            The Pharisees, we all know, were part of the religious leadership in Israel. They, together with the Sadducees, made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. But more than simply being politicians or judges, the Pharisees were also teachers. They were interested in everything to do with the law of Moses, and they were concerned with how to best apply it.

We’re suspicious whenever we meet a Pharisee in the four gospels. But even Jesus recognized that they had God-given authority in Israel. They had an important role to play among God’s people, and so if Jesus could sway at least some of them to his side, his ministry would make gains.

It’s probably for this reason that Jesus accepts Simon’s invitation to dinner at his house. Maybe this Pharisee was hoping to trip Jesus up in his words, or hoping to convince this Nazarene to quit while He was ahead. Whatever Simon’s motive, Jesus saw this as another opportunity to engage with one of Israel’s leaders.

We imagine the discussion progressing well, but it really heats up when a certain woman enters. Because Jesus was already a well-known figure at this time, the door to Simon’s house probably would’ve remained open on purpose. This way, interested passersby could enter, sit on the edge of the room, and listen in on the conversation.

Let’s notice a couple things about this woman. She comes in, but unlike for the Pharisee, we don’t know her name. Second, we don’t hear a single word from her lips, the whole time she’s there. So why has she come? There’s this important detail: this woman “had lived a sinful life” (v 37). No, we’re not told about the precise manner of her sin, and it’s not really important for us to know. Certainly Simon knew a bit of her story; for we hear him thinking, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (v 39).

Who is she? She’s a sinner. In that town, she’s even well-known in her sin. She was probably the kind of person that made a room go silent when she entered. People looked the other way, avoided eye contact. But this nameless, voiceless woman also seems to have been fearless! Think of it: that she, a woman in the culture, even a notorious woman, was prepared to enter this well-appointed home of the Pharisee—that she was ready to crash Simon’s high-class dinner party. She thought not of the scene she would make. She thought only of whom she wanted to see.

For this is why she has come: she “learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house” (v 37). Questions fill our minds: Who was this Jesus to her? What exactly did she know of Him? Had she heard Him preach once or twice? Was she a secret admirer, one of those many women who followed the Lord?

It’s clear she knew at least a little something about Christ. For she has faith, Jesus will later say (v 50). Maybe it wasn’t much for this woman. Next to Simon’s great storehouse of Bible knowledge and rabbinic theology, this woman probably knew very little. But this is what she knew, and this is what she believed: that sinners can go to Jesus! Even notorious sinners, sinners who are desperate, sinners who’ve reached the end of their rope—even these can receive from Jesus relief from their oppressive burden of guilt.

And now that she’s found Him, she lets her actions do all the talking. Coming up behind Him as Jesus reclines at the table, she stands there weeping. She begins to wet his feet with her tears, and dry them with her hair, and cover them with her kisses. She is humbling herself to the lowest earthly place that she can imagine. These are the actions of a lowly servant, a helpless slave, one who is looking to the Master for grace, pure and simple.

To strengthen her pleading, the woman takes an alabaster jar of perfume, and pours it over Jesus’ feet. Maybe she’d intended to anoint his head with it: that’d be a more expected use. But that might’ve seemed too bold, too presumptuous. So she will stay low. She will make no claims. She will put herself entirely in submission to the Lord.

It’s as the woman carries out her acts of remorse that we’re allowed to listen in on those thoughts of Simon. He can’t believe it! He can’t believe Jesus would let this woman touch Him. Why doesn’t He recoil in disgust, and push her away? Why doesn’t He tell her to stop embarrassing Him like this? If He was a prophet, He would know her heart, and He would know all the evil things that she’d done. Then surely He’d send this sinner back outside, back where she belonged!

These are terrible thoughts. Yet Simon’s reaction isn’t so strange, is it? For we will all confess that God forgives our sin. But when push comes to shove, we wonder, doesn’t this forgiveness have its limits? Aren’t there some sins that are worse than others, some sins that fall outside of God’s grace? Aren’t there some sinners whom the Lord wouldn’t want in his presence? Sometimes God’s own people are less merciful than God Himself.

We’re a bit like that Pharisee—well-established in our religion, comfortable in the things we know, respectable and decent folk. But then something startles us, jars us awake. Maybe a shocking sin… Maybe it’s our own sin, or maybe it’s the sin of someone else. And suddenly we have a hard time with it. We think maybe this sin is too much, goes over the line. We think that maybe this person, or maybe we ourselves, somehow don’t qualify for God’s forgiveness. What’s been done is too embarrassing, it’s too ugly, it’s beyond repair. Simon’s way of looking at this sinner is the human way! It’s the way that doesn’t know grace.

            Well, Jesus shows He’s a prophet all right. For Jesus knows that this visitor is a sinful woman. And He knows that, not just in some superficial way. No, Jesus knows all the terrible details. He knows the shameful truth about this woman before Him.

            But Jesus also knows the heart of Simon. He sees the pride. He sees the hypocrisy. And so Jesus admonishes his host. He goes a step further, and dares to contrast the Pharisee with this sinful woman. And Simon comes out, not looking very good at all! For next to everything the woman had done to welcome Jesus, what had Simon done for Him? He’d neglected even the most basic duties of hospitality: no foot-washing, no greeting with a kiss, no anointing with oil.

            And why did Simon fail so miserably in his duties? Because he didn’t really know his guest! He didn’t know in whose presence he sat. Simon just saw Jesus as an amateur theologian, a young upstart, someone to debate with. But that’s not why Jesus came. He didn’t come for fancy dinner parties. He didn’t come to hob-knob with the big-wigs. He didn’t come to be seen and to be admired.

He came for this woman. He came for all sinners. He came to relieve the burdens of the weary, to show mercy to the hopeless, and to receive the tears of the repentant. Simon, for all his smarts, didn’t get it. He didn’t see the true mission of the promised Messiah. He didn’t see that he, the noble Pharisee, needed God’s grace just as much as the next person, just as much as this lowly woman! “I tell you,” Jesus says to him, “her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (v 47).

 

2)     a parable about forgiveness: “Simon, I have something to tell you” (v 40). Jesus  

wants to involve this Pharisee in a little discussion about forgiveness, and He begins with a simple story. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty” (v 41). The NIV footnote tells us a denarius was about a day’s wages.

So both of these men were in debt. To be in debt fifty denarii was significant—you could maybe handle that, but it’d be pretty hard to dig yourself out. Five-hundred? This was an unthinkably high amount for the average first-century Palestinian, more than a year’s wages! And neither of these men had the means to pay back their debt. This meant serious trouble. In that time, such people would be put in prison, or their children would be sold into slavery. Debt could spell the end of a normal, free and happy life.

In this case however, the moneylender was gracious. He was willing to cancel both debts, both the big and the small. Obviously, this saved the two men a great deal of grief and suffering. And so both debtors would be very grateful to the moneylender. But there’s more to say. For Jesus asks this question: “Which of them will love him more?” (v 42).

Forgiven five hundred denarii, or just fifty? Spared thirty years in jail, or only three? Before that unexpected mercy was shown, which man stood to lose more? Who had tasted more deeply the misery of being in debt? And which debtor had tasted more deeply the sweetness of being forgiven?

No, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer Jesus’ question. Simon answers correctly: “The one who had the bigger debt cancelled” would love the moneylender more (v 43). Nor is it hard to figure out who the characters in the parable represent.

That woman from town, the one known far and wide as a “sinner,” she was the one who owed so much to God. She owed it because of her grievous sin: she owed God the penalty for all her transgressions, and she owed God the obedience she’d failed to give. Hers was a whole life of racking up the bills! She was impossibly in debt, faced with a burden she had no conceivable way of paying back.

And Simon? Was he really one who owed God only a little? Could he have spent a few years at it, and manage to cover his debts? That’s not the conclusion Jesus wants us to draw. The lesson is about awareness. That broken woman was aware of her sin, aware of the life she had led. That’s why she came; that’s why she cried bitterly and humbled herself before the Lord. She knew her sins were countless, that her condemnation was deserved. And she knew, even if only in a basic way, that this Jesus could help her. And for that, she sought Him out, she worshiped Him, she loved Him.

“Just look at her, Simon,” Jesus says. “Don’t dwell on her past. Don’t think about what she’s done. But see her potential, her position as a child of God. See already now how much she loves me—and that she will love me even more. See how she believes that I’m the one who can restore her. That’s the kind of awareness you need, Simon. That’s the kind of awareness that every sinner needs.”

Simon looked at his life, and sure, he saw sin. But not too badly; not too many. He needed to be forgiven, but just a little—maybe a simple prayer at the end of every day would do the trick. The rest was covered by his studies, and his sacrifices, and his synagogue attendance, He was sinful, he admitted, but that didn’t mean he had to fall at Jesus’ feet! Let’s not overdo it with these shows of repentance and remorse!

Beloved, here is always the central factor in our response to the Lord Jesus: Are we aware? Have we considered our own sinfulness? Have we done so truly? Have we tasted the bitterness of what God could do to us? Have we found ourselves broken in our sin, and shattered in our misery? Have we found in Christ our only hope and comfort and salvation?

It’s easy to have Jesus over like Simon did, and give Him a comfortable place in our life. It’s easy to respect Him, to engage Him in harmless conversation. But Jesus is more than a Teacher, and He’s more than a Friend. He’s a Saviour. He’s one who rescues us from death, who saves us from eternal judgment!

That means our response to Jesus needs to be much more than dinner-party politeness. We need to fall at his feet: embarrassed and ashamed. We are not respectable folk! Despite our best works, we have absolutely nothing to offer. We have only our tears of repentance, our prayers for forgiveness, our appeal to his promises. We can depend solely on his grace.

We only have a small idea of how much we owe, and still we understand that we’re hardened sinners. And in that awareness—in that humility—we should point no fingers. We’re part of a church that’s full of sinful people, but we ought to whisper about no one. We should share nasty stories and gossip and innuendo about no one. We ought to chase no one away, but rather we must welcome the broken, and restore the guilty. We do so, just as our Lord always did, and as He always does. We must not see sinners for who they have been or what they have done; no, we must see who they, by God’s grace, can become.

            In modern-day terms, Jesus’ parable is like this. It’s like a banker walking up to us when we cannot pay our mortgage. And it’s not just any mortgage we have—it’s way out of our league; we’ve bitten off way more than we can chew. But instead of foreclosing, instead of evicting us onto the street, this banker writes us a check that pays off the debt completely. In the blink of an eye, we’re home-free! In a moment, all that anxiety has disappeared, and in its place is security and serenity.

Well, if you met a banker like that, I hope you’d be forever grateful to him. You’d love him, and you’d tell your friends about him. And you’d always be merciful to others in financial trouble, for you’d remember the mercy that you received yourself.

So it is for us before God. Though we owed God an impossible amount, He released us. Though eternal imprisonment was our destiny, He set us free. Jesus paid it all Himself, signed his Name over ours, and secured our inheritance forever. He gave us every spiritual blessing, even a treasure that can’t be counted. 

            And so it’s only fitting: Those who are forgiven much, must also love much! We must love Him and worship Him, as our humble response to what He’s done. And in the same spirit, we must love one another, and we must forgive one another. Those who have received mercy, must show mercy in return.

 

3)     a declaration of grace: This was the lesson Simon the Pharisee needed to learn.

Whether he got it or not, we don’t know. But with the lesson complete, Jesus finally addresses the woman who’d interrupted so dramatically. And Jesus adds a little drama of his own to this scene. For He says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven” (v 48).

If we’re not careful, we might read right over these simple words. For didn’t He say this almost every day of his three-year ministry? Doesn’t He still say this today, sitting at God’s right hand in heaven: “Your sins are forgiven”? We just might take such a declaration for granted.

            Yet this forgiveness—properly understood—is a scandal, it’s a miracle, it’s a marvel! God looks at us, and He sees every last transgression we’ve committed. He sees every ugly failure. He’s well aware of just how much we owe. But in Jesus, God forgives our debt. He takes our sins away. He won’t hold them against us any longer!

To see how amazing this, just consider the reaction of the other dinner guests: “[They] began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’” (v 49). They all knew that only God Himself can forgive sins. So what’s this teacher doing? How dare this Nazarene take this prerogative? Jesus hears what the others are saying, and as if to silence them, He underlines his declaration of grace. For He again addresses the woman directly: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v 50).

This sinful woman had come in quiet expectation. She had trusted that He could help her. She made no eloquent confession or plea for forgiveness. She couldn’t match the outward piety of Simon. But her heart was open. Her spirit was lowly. Her faith was true.

            For God, that is enough. That we believe; that we earnestly hold on to the truth of his Son; that we come to Him in utter reliance on his grace. No matter what we have done, no matter where we have been, no matter how long we’ve kept things hidden away, there is mercy for the contrite. There is forgiveness for those who repent.

And when we do, it’s then that we can start moving forward. “Go in peace,” Jesus said to the woman. She came to this house, tormented by her guilt. She came, crushed by the enmity between her and the LORD. But now she goes on her way in peace. She leaves with a heart that is unburdened. She can carry on with her life, and she can start living it to God’s glory!

            Such is the hope of all who come to Christ in true faith. To those who are heavily burdened, Jesus will always give his rest. To those who are tormented, Jesus will always give his peace. As the Spirit says elsewhere, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Mt 12:20). But having received us, He will send us on our way, restored and strengthened! That’s his promise. That’s his invitation. That’s how God looks at us, when we’re united to Jesus his Son by faith.

“Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you. Now go in peace.” Amen.

 

 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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