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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God's great forgiveness leads to the sinner's great love
Text:Luke 7:36-50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2015
Added:2015-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 75

Psalm 143:1,6,7

Psalm 18:1,2

Hymn 26

Psalm 107:1-4

Scripture reading:  Luke 7:1-35

Text:  Luke 7:36-50

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

We just sang from Psalm 18.  Together we all sang the first words, “I love you, LORD; you are my strength and power.”  Together we said that we love the Triune God.  But what if I asked how much you love him.  If you were to put your love on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the greatest love there could be, where would your love fall?  If we’re honest, nobody would have a 10.  We would all fall less than 10.  But don’t you wish it could be different?  Someday it will be different.  In the age to come, our love for God will soar to 10 and consistently stay there into eternity.  But what about right now?  Should you settle for where your love for God is right now?  No, a Christian wants to love God more.  That’s because a Christian understands that love for God is the fuel that drives the engine of a Christian life.  When you love God, you want to live for him and follow his ways, you want to please him and thank him for his mercies.  Love for God motivates you to want to live for God’s glory.

That’s what our text is about this morning.  The point of this passage is to show believers the way to greater love for our Saviour.  It does this by showing a contrast between two people.  One was a super-religious Pharisee, a man focussed on keeping all the right rules.  The other was a woman who’d gotten a reputation for her immoral life.  Both heard Jesus’ preaching.  Both met Jesus.  But how they respond to Jesus and what happens to them spiritually speaking could not be more different.  Moreover, the different responses also lead to a great difference in how much they love the Saviour.  As we’ll see, this gives us a clear understanding of how we may grow in love for our God and Saviour.

I preach to you God’s Word.  We’ll see that God’s great forgiveness leads to the sinner’s great love.

We’ll consider:

  1. The “sinful” woman and her actions
  2. The “righteous” Pharisee and his response
  3. The gracious Jesus and his reaction to both

Our passage takes place somewhere in Galilee – the exact location isn’t mentioned, nor is it important.  What is important is what our Saviour has been doing prior to this.  As we saw in what we read from the beginning of Luke 7, he healed the sick and raised the dead.  But he also preached and taught the people.  His ministry drew attention.  In verse 16 of chapter 7, we hear the people saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us.”  At some level they were impressed with what Jesus was saying and doing, so impressed that they thought he must be a great prophet. 

As we come to our text, we meet a Pharisee named Simon.  The Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders who had a reputation for their law-keeping.  Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for a meal – why he did this, the text doesn’t say.  Perhaps he wanted to assess Jesus for himself and what better way to do that than to spend some time having a meal with him.  Right before this in Luke 7, our Saviour mentions how he was accused of being a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  He was mocked because he associated with those the Pharisees looked down on.  Yet for all that he didn’t refuse Simon’s invitation.  No, he graciously accepted.  In fact, elsewhere in Luke we find that Jesus dined with Pharisees on at least two other occasions.  

As he entered the house, Christ would have removed his sandals at the door and made his way over to the dinner table that was low to the ground.  They didn’t have tables and chairs like we do today.  Nobody sat on chairs to eat a meal.  Instead, you would lay on the ground, feet at an angle, resting on one arm and using the other arm to eat.  It might sound uncomfortable, but there would usually be pillows to make it nicer.  So that’s the picture we have at the beginning of our text.  Jesus is in the house of Simon, reclining at the table and enjoying a meal.  To add another element to the picture, we have to understand that this was not a private meal.  The door of the house would have been open and all sorts of people would be milling around and listening in.  That was quite normal if someone hosted an important guest.  People wanted to hear the conversation between Simon the Pharisee and Jesus the Prophet.

Among those who came into Simon’s house was a woman from that town or city.  Luke doesn’t tell us her name and there’s no parallel in the other gospels to fill us in either.  While she remains anonymous, she was also notorious.  She had a reputation as a “sinner.”  What does that mean?  Traditionally many interpreters have understood that to say that she had been a prostitute.  However, the word “sinner” can mean far more than that.  She might have been a prostitute, but she could also have been notoriously immoral in other ways.  All we can say for sure is that she was well known as having lived a wicked life.  Though she was part of God’s covenant people, she had spent much of her life rebelling against God.

The end of verse 37 says that she came in the house carrying an alabaster flask of perfume.  With a reputation like hers, undoubtedly some would have wondered where the money came from to purchase this expensive item.  Then what she does with it really gets everyone’s attention.  Remember Christ is laying at the table.  His feet are angled off to one side.  If he was right-handed, he was probably resting on his left arm.  She’s standing behind him and weeping.  It literally says that she was raining tears down on his feet.  Now let’s stop there and ask why.  What was it about being in Jesus’ presence that brought her to tears? 

To answer that, we need to skip ahead in our text to the end and what our Lord Jesus says about her.  He tells Simon that this woman had been forgiven.  This is a place where it really helps to know exactly how the original Greek text puts it.  The grammar tells us that this forgiveness took place before she even entered the house.  She had been changed by God’s grace before walking through Simon’s door.  It’s fair to conclude that she’d heard Jesus preaching and the Holy Spirit used that to bring her to believe in him as her Saviour.  When she comes in the door, it’s not to be converted, but because she had been converted.  She had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  That brings the right perspective to her tears.  These are tears of repentance.  These are tears that say, “I lived a life of sin and I hate it.  I grieve over the way I rebelled against God.  I turn from that and turn to this Saviour Jesus.”  That’s what it means to repent – to repent means to turn from sin, to repent means to feel differently about sin and about the Saviour, and her tears are all about that. 

As the tears of repentance rained down on Jesus’ bare feet, she let her hair down and used it as a towel to dry them.  She then kissed his feet.  That might sound strange, but in that culture it was a sign of love and respect.  If you really looked up to a rabbi, you might kiss his feet to show your love and respect for him.  That’s what she was doing.  Again, we have to notice that this is a sign of repentance.  People who live in sin don’t love Jesus and don’t respect him.  People who are enslaved to sin don’t want to honour the Saviour.  They don’t care about him and if they feel anything about him, it would be hostility, not this kind of affection.  And then she went one step further.  She took the expensive ointment or perfume and then used it to anoint Jesus’ feet.  Who takes an expensive jar of perfume and pours it over the feet of someone they’re indifferent about or hostile towards?  No, again, she shows that her heart has been changed.  She’s a different person because the Holy Spirit has worked repentance and faith in her heart.  She has been touched by God’s grace and received forgiveness of all her sins through Jesus.

From this we see that God’s grace radically changes the lives of believers.  When the Holy Spirit turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, there’s a turn-around in the way that heart feels about sin and about the Saviour.  Sin is hated and grieved.  The Saviour is loved and respected.  Loved ones, do you hate and grieve over sin?  Do you love and respect the Saviour?  Even if it’s in small measures, even if you wish it could be more, that’s evidence that the Holy Spirit has been doing his work in your life.  You can be thankful for that, praise God for that.  And as we move through our text, we’ll see how this can grow and develop the way it should.

The Pharisee Simon watched what this woman did.  Now remember that he was a “righteous” man, at least in his own eyes.  He made every effort to live a pure life according to all the rules.  Simon was a rigorously religious man.  He would never allow an impure or unclean person to touch him.  After all, such a person would make him unclean too.  No, if you were a Pharisee you had to keep your distance from people like this woman. 

So it was shocking for him to see this scene unfold.  First, this sinner dares to approach Jesus.  What nerve!  But second, and even more shocking, Jesus doesn’t push her away.  That’s what you would expect a religious person to do.  To meet their expectations, Jesus should have said, “Get away from me, you dirty sinner!  I don’t have anything to do with people like you.”  But instead he received the tears, the kissing and the anointing without any such protest.

That makes Simon think some dark thoughts.  He doesn’t say it out loud.  He restrains himself from that.  But he thinks, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what’s going on here, he would know what this woman is like and he would never let her do this.”  Now you have to see that when he says, “If this man were a prophet…” what he means is, “If this man were a prophet (and obviously he’s not)....”  You see, he’s not neutral on the question of whether Jesus is a prophet.  We saw earlier that the people acclaimed him as a great prophet.    But Simon has his mind made up:  Jesus is not a prophet or anything close.  If he were, he would not have allowed this woman to carry on the way she did.  So the Pharisee, the “righteous” religious person has these evil, dark thoughts about who our Saviour is.  He doesn’t love Christ.  He doesn’t respect him.  Instead, he scoffs at him in his heart.  On the outside, he might look like a faithful covenant keeper, following all the rules, but on the inside, in his heart, he despises the Messiah God sent.

Now I want you to look at verse 40 and notice something interesting.  Notice the first three words, “And Jesus answering…”  Remember, Simon didn’t say the words in verse 39 out loud.  He thought them in his head.  But our Saviour heard them and he answers them.  The thoughts of Simon were laid bare to our Lord Jesus.  You see, our Saviour knew what was going on in this woman’s heart, and he also knew what was going on in Simon’s heart. 

Brothers and sisters, he also knows what’s going on in your heart.  The thoughts of your heart are laid bare to Christ too.  He knows whether you love him or not.  He knows whether you respect him and want to learn from him.  He is not oblivious to you.  If your heart is inclined to him, he wants to bring you closer.  He wants you to hear what follows and learn from it.  But if your heart is inclined away from him, if you have no love for him, he says, “Listen, I know you inside and out.  I claimed you publically at your baptism.  I’m calling you right now to hear me.  I’m calling you to turn from your sin and believe in me, love me and follow me.  You have to do that now before it’s too late.  Because I not only know you, I know what awaits those who don’t repent and believe.”  In his grace, our Saviour calls those who don’t love him to reconsider where their heart is.    

In his grace, our Saviour confronts Simon with his hard heart and lack of love.  He does it boldly, but also with some gentle patience.  He doesn’t right away lash out at Simon.  Instead, notice how he starts in verse 40, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”  That kind of response allows Simon to open the door for further discussion.  Simon agrees to allow Jesus to address him.  There’s a model here that we can follow in conversations with unbelievers.  We show that we respect them by having them open the door to continue. 

Our Saviour then tells a sort of brief parable.   It involved a moneylender and two people who owed him money.  The amounts owed varied by a factor of 10.  One owed 500 denarii – a denarius was a day’s wages, so this was about a year and a half’s worth of wages.  The other owed 1/10 of that – 50 denarii.   This moneylender was an unusually generous man and, when they couldn’t pay him back, in his generosity, he forgave the debts of both.  The story is straightforward.  Then comes the point:  Jesus asks in verse 42, “Now which one of them will love him more?”  Which one will have more feelings of gratitude and affection towards the moneylender? 

The way Simon begins his answer shows a bit of hesitation.  He’s probably thinking, “What am I getting myself into by answering Jesus?”  That seems to be implied with his “I suppose.”  But Jesus notes that he gets the correct answer:  it’s the one who had the larger debt cancelled, he’s going to love more. 

Then our Saviour turns to the woman who loved him and shows Simon how she has responded and acted in the most appropriate way for someone in her situation.  When Jesus came into Simon’s house, Simon didn’t wash his feet or perhaps have a servant wash Jesus’ feet.  It wasn’t required to do that, but if you honoured a guest, you would do that.  But the woman washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  When Jesus came into Simon’s house, Simon didn’t give him a kiss of greeting.  That would be customary if you had some affection for someone – it was common practice in the Ancient Near East for men to greet each other with a kiss.  The woman went to greater lengths and kissed his feet, showing an even deeper level of respect than Simon would have if he had just kissed Jesus on the cheek.  When you had an honoured guest, you would anoint their head with olive oil.  Olive oil was relatively inexpensive, but anointing your guest with it was still a sign of love and respect.  In Psalm 23, David speaks of how the LORD welcomes him into his house and then he says, “you anoint my head with oil.”  Simon did no such thing for the most honoured guest he could have had in his home.  But the woman didn’t merely take oil to anoint Jesus’ head, she took expensive perfume and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it.  Notice the progression here.  Simon should have honoured Jesus from his feet to his head – instead, he showed him no honours.  This “sinful” woman outdid the “righteous” Pharisee with every love and honour she showed to our Lord Jesus humbly at his feet.                                   

That brings Christ to his main point to Simon in verse 47, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Our Lord acknowledges that this woman was a great sinner – her sins have been many.  Anyone looking on would conclude that her debt was enormous.  But she had been forgiven.  As we noted earlier, that happened before she even came through Simon’s door and into his house.  Because she knew she had been forgiven such an enormous debt, she showed her Saviour enormous love and respect.  The awareness of God’s great forgiveness for her led this sinner to a great love.  But contrasted with that is the one who has been forgiven little.  He loves little.  This is so very smartly said.  What Jesus just pointed out was that Simon really showed him no love and respect with the way he received him in his home and the way he scoffed at him being a prophet.  Do you get it now?  If not, let me lay it out for you.  Listen carefully.  Much love means there has been an awareness of much forgiveness.  Little love means there has been an awareness of little forgiveness.  So what does no love mean?  No love means there’s no awareness of any forgiveness.   No love means no awareness of sin and the need for forgiveness.  Zero love really gives a diagnosis of stone cold spiritual death.  The “righteous” Pharisee was dead in his sins.

That teaches us about the way to greater love for our God and Saviour.  The way to greater love is to have a greater awareness of how great sinners we are, how much we need forgiveness, and how much we have been forgiven through Jesus Christ.  How do we get all that?  It begins with prayer – it begins with asking God to teach us and show us how much we’ve been forgiven so that we might love him all the more.  We then also have to use the means available to help us see how much we’ve been forgiven.  The forgiven woman had the preaching of Jesus.  We have his Word.  We have to use his Word as we read and study it, as we hear it preached each Sunday.  We have to take that Word and apply it to ourselves.  Brothers and sisters, the Scriptures will show us how much we have been forgiven so that we may love our God all the more.  His Word will remind us again and again that our every sin, past, present, and future has been covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.  God will no longer remember any of our sins – he will never hold them against us.  When he forgives our sins, he promises to throw them into the depths of the sea – out of sight and out of mind.  The good news assures us that God’s forgiveness is very great indeed – and that leaves us praising our God, and being filled with love towards him.    

Our Saviour not only spoke to Simon, but also to the woman who loved him greatly.  In verse 48, he turns to her and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  More accurately, “Your sins have been forgiven.”  Jesus is not forgiving her sins at this very moment, as if she wasn’t forgiven up to this point.  No, as I mentioned, she was already forgiven before even setting foot in the house.  Jesus is reassuring her of her forgiveness from God – declaring her forgiveness to her and also announcing it to everyone else in the house.  Wouldn’t it be so encouraging to hear those words from the lips of Jesus himself?  “You have been forgiven.”  We actually hear that each Sunday with the preaching of the gospel.  We don’t hear it directly from Christ himself, but we do hear it from one of his servants, bringing his Word of forgiveness to us.  But this woman had the blessing of hearing it straight from the lips of Christ himself and that must have been enormously encouraging to her.

But for those in the house sitting around the table, it was scandalous.  The text doesn’t say that they were Simon’s fellow Pharisees, but elsewhere in the gospels we do hear Pharisees reacting this same way when Jesus announces the forgiveness of sins for someone.  They think to themselves, “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins like that?”  Again, this is not a reaction of love and respect for our Saviour.  Instead, they’re indignant and unbelieving, remaining in their own sins.

Finally, in verse 50, he had one last encouraging word for the woman who believed in him.  He reassured her of her salvation.  By having faith in Jesus Christ, she was saved from her sins and from God’s wrath against her sins.  Her debt to God’s justice was fully paid.  She had been pardoned and released.  Therefore, he could send her away with a blessing:  ‘Go in peace.’  She could go away with the knowledge that she was restored to a whole and right relationship with God in heaven.  That kind of encouragement would lead her to even more love for her Redeemer. 

Brothers and sisters, that’s the kind of encouragement that we receive every Sunday as we leave our God’s presence.  Every Sunday we are assured of forgiveness.  Every Sunday we hear the gracious gospel message, “Your faith has saved you.  By resting and trusting in Jesus, you have salvation from your sins.”  Then at the end of every worship service, our God graciously says, “Go in peace.  Go from here knowing that you are right with me, go from here knowing that you are reconciled to me, go from here knowing that I am your loving Father and you are my precious child.”  When we take that benediction seriously, and reflect on it, we will be going on to more love.  We will come from our meeting with our Saviour God with a greater desire in our hearts to love him and live for him.

From Jesus’ words to this woman, we can know for sure that she was a child of God.  Today she’s rejoicing in the presence of our Saviour.  We don’t know what happened to Simon.  Did he repent and believe in Jesus at some future point in his life?  Was he ultimately forgiven much so that he loved much?  Scripture doesn’t say.  The point of our text is not to have us speculate on what happened to Simon.  Instead, this passage puts the question to our hearts:  have you been forgiven much so that you would love much?  Are you aware of how much grace you’ve been shown, so that your heart would be more filled with love and devotion to the Saviour?  Brothers and sisters, let’s pray that God would help us grow in that awareness, so that we can and will keep growing in love, until that glorious day when our love is perfected.  AMEN. 

PRAYER:

Our gracious God and Father,

From your Word, we know that we are all great sinners.  With our many sins we have incurred a great debt to you.  Thank you for your great forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Father, with your Holy Spirit, please open our eyes more and more to exactly how much we have been forgiven.  In so doing, we pray for you to stir up our hearts to greater love for you.  We want to love you more so that we can serve you better and more faithfully.  We want to love you more so that we can honour you more consistently in our lives.  Father, love for you doesn’t come naturally to us.  We need your Spirit to work that in our hearts.  Please let him do that with your Word.  Let your Word teach us our true condition apart from Jesus, so that we see how rich we are in Jesus and love him and you accordingly.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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