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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/
 
Title:Forgiven Much
Text:Luke 7:36-50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-06-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 122:1,2                                                                                            

Ps 130:1,2                                                                                                      

Reading – Luke 7:36-50

Ps 123:1,2

Sermon – Luke 7:36-50

Ps 32:1,2,3

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

* 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 Christ, how does God look at sinners? How does He feel about those who break his law? It’s a crucial question, because all of us are sinners—not just in words and deeds, but in our thoughts, attitudes and our very nature. So how does God look at us, and what will He do about our rebellion? The potential is terrible. God could destroy us, and justifiably so. With good reason He could condemn us for eternity.

Yet we all know the blessed truth, the gospel that God forgives our sins. We’re thankful that it is even one of the articles of our faith, something we confess every Sunday, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

It’s a familiar truth. But that means there’s also a lurking danger that we stop noticing its beauty. We can start to give it as a token answer, something we’re just expected to say as Christians: “Of course God forgives our sin!” Like a German poet once claimed, “God will forgive me. It’s his job.” But then we’ve started to lose hold of something precious.

Forgiveness is something to think about carefully, to meditate on, as individuals, as families, and as church. We need to do so, because sin is still very much a part of our life. We battle with it every day. We give in to it every day. We feel its effects and deal with its results.

So this morning we look at a passage that has sin and forgiveness as its central theme. And as we do so, 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 7:36-50,

Jesus forgives a woman who has sinned much:

  1. a remarkable contrast
  2. a parable about forgiveness
  3. a gracious declaration

 

1) a remarkable contrast: You’ve got to pay attention in our passage, for Jesus is dealing with two people at the same time, but speaking to them in very different ways. The first person we meet is Simon. He’s called “one of the Pharisees” (v 36). The Pharisees were part of the religious leadership in Israel. They, together with the Sadducees, made up the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council. But more than simply being a kind of politician, the Pharisees were teachers and theologians. They were interested in everything to do with the law of Moses, deeply concerned with how to best apply it.

Almost from Day One of Jesus’ ministry, they have been interacting with the Lord: often testing him, challenging him—and soon they’ll be opposing him. So naturally we’re suspicious whenever we meet a Pharisee in the four gospels. But even Jesus recognized that they had God-given authority. He accepted that they had an important role among God’s people. This is surely why Jesus wanted to persuade at least some of them that He was sent from God.

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

At first the discussion might have unfolded in a friendly way, but it takes a turn when a certain woman enters. Because Jesus was already a well-known figure at this time, the door to Simon’s house probably would have remained open. Passersby who were interested could then enter, sit on the edge of the room, and listen in on the discussion.

So this woman comes in. Let’s notice a couple things about her. Unlike for the Pharisee, we don’t know her name; she’s just a lowly and anonymous member of the crowd. Second, we don’t hear a single word from her lips for the whole time she’s there.

Why has she come? There is this important detail: this woman “was a sinner” (v 37). We’re not told what exactly her sin was, so it’s not important for us to know. Certainly Simon knew a bit of her shady background, for we’re allowed to overhear his inner thoughts, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (v 39).

Who is she? She’s a sinner. In that town, she is even well-known for her sin. She was probably the kind of person that made a room go quiet when she entered. When she was near, people looked the other way.

But this nameless and voiceless woman also seems to have been fearless! Think of it: that she, a woman in a male-dominated society, even a notorious woman, was prepared to enter this well-appointed home of the Pharisee, one of the elite—and she was ready to disturb his dinner party by her actions. She doesn’t seem to consider the uncomfortable scene that she was going to make. She thought only of whom she wanted to see.

For this is why she has come: she “knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house” (v 37). Who was Jesus to her? What did she know of him? Had she heard him preach once or twice? Was she one of the many women who followed the Lord during his ministry?

It is clear that she knew at least a little something about Christ. For she has faith, Jesus will later say (v 50). Maybe it wasn’t much faith at all. Next to Simon’s great supply 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 have come to end of human hope—even these can find in Jesus blessed relief from their burden of guilt.

And now that she has found him, she lets her actions do all the talking. Coming up behind Jesus as He reclines at the table, she stands, crying. Then she bends down and begins to wet his feet with her tears, and then to dry them with her hair. And she stoops to cover his feet with kisses. It all seems highly uncomfortable to us, but what does it say about this woman? At this moment she is an open book, and she’s humbling herself to the lowest place she can imagine. They’re the actions of a lowly servant, a helpless slave, one looking for grace.

To put an exclamation mark on her pleading, the woman takes a jar of perfume, and then she pours it over Jesus’ feet. Maybe she had intended to anoint his head with it—that would’ve been a more expected use: perfume is for heads, not feet. But to her it probably seemed too bold, so she will stay low.

As the woman humbles herself and carries out these public acts of remorse, we’re allowed to listen to the thoughts of Simon the Pharisee. He can’t believe it, that Jesus will let this woman touch him. Why doesn’t He push her away, and tell her to stop embarrassing him? If Jesus was a prophet, then He would know her heart, and all the evil things that she has done. He should send this sinner back outside, back where she belonged!

Simon’s reaction actually isn’t so strange. For we all confess that God forgives our sin. But when it really comes down to it, we may wonder whether his forgiveness has limits. Aren’t some sins worse than others, sins that fall outside of God’s grace? Aren’t there some horrid people whom the Lord wouldn’t want to have near him?

We’re not Pharisees, but we’ve got quite a few things in common with Simon. We’re well-established in the church. We’re well-versed in the many things we know. We appear to be respectable people who’ve done a lot of things right.

But then something startles us. Maybe a shocking sin: perhaps our own sin, or maybe it’s the sin of someone else. And suddenly we have a hard time with it. We think that maybe this sin is too much, that it goes over the line. Maybe this person, or perhaps we ourselves, no longer  qualify for God’s forgiveness. What happened in the past is too ugly and is beyond repair and pardon. We can’t let it go. Sometimes God’s own people are less merciful than God himself.

Simon’s way of looking at this woman isn’t out of the ordinary. This is the human way of regarding a sinner. It’s the way that doesn’t know grace. Essentially, it still expects human contribution, that you need to have a sense of personal worthiness before you can enter before God. But it is completely wrong.

And then Jesus shows He is in fact a prophet. For Jesus knows her to be a sinful woman. And He knows that, not in a superficial way, for He knows all the terrible details, all the shameful truth about this woman. But Jesus also knows the heart of Simon. He sees the terrible pride. He sees the hypocrisy.

So Jesus admonishes him. He goes further and He dares to contrast the Pharisee with this sinful woman. And in the contrast Simon doesn’t look very good at all! For next to everything the woman had done to welcome Jesus, what had Simon done? Jesus says that he’d neglected to give a foot-washing, a greeting with a kiss, and an anointing with oil. These were the most basic duties of hospitality, and he’d failed to perform them.

Why was it that Simon failed so miserably? Because he didn’t really know his guest. He didn’t know in whose glorious presence he sat. Simon saw Jesus as an amateur theologian, a young upstart to debate with. But that’s not why Jesus came. He didn’t come for fancy dinner parties. He didn’t come to rub shoulders with the important people. He didn’t come to be seen and admired.

He came for this woman, and He came for all sinners. He came to lift the burdens of the weary, to show mercy to the hopeless, and dry the tears of the repentant. Simon, for all his smarts, didn’t get it. He needed God’s grace just as much as the next person, just as much as this lowly woman! “I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (v 47).

 

2) a parable about forgiveness: “Simon, I have something to say to you” (v 40). Jesus wants to teach this Pharisee about forgiveness, and He tells a simple story: “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty” (v 41). Both of these men were in debt. In that time, a denarius was about a day’s wages.

To be in debt fifty denarii was significant—you could maybe handle that, but with a big effort. Five hundred? This was a painfully high amount, more than a year’s wages! And in fact neither of these men has the means to pay back their debt. Which meant serious trouble for them. Debtors could be put in prison, or their children could be sold into slavery. A big debt could spell the end of a normal, free and happy life.

But in this case, the moneylender was a gracious man. He was willing to cancel both debts, both the big and the small. This obviously saved the two men a great deal of grief and suffering. And so both debtors will be grateful to the moneylender. But then Jesus asks this question: “Which of them will love him more?” (v 42).

Forgiven five hundred denarii, or 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 terrible misery of being in debt? And which of the two debtors had tasted more deeply the sweetness of being forgiven?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to answer Jesus’ question. Simon answers well: the one who had the bigger debt cancelled would love the creditor more. Not a hard question to answer, nor is it hard to figure out who the characters in the parable represent.

The “sinful” woman from bad side of town, the one whose reputation preceded her, 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 also owed God the obedience that she had always failed to give. Hers was a whole life of sinking into debt! She was impossibly in the red, faced with a burden she had no conceivable way of paying back.

And Simon? Was he really a man who owed God only “a little?” As an upstanding Pharisee, does Jesus means that he could have spent a few years working extra hard for God and still manage to cover his debts? That’s not the conclusion Jesus wants us to draw. No, a big part of his lesson is about awareness.

The broken woman was aware of her sin, aware of the condemnation that she deserved. That is why she cried bitterly and humbled herself before the Lord. She knew that you can only get into God’s kingdom on your hands and knees. And she knew, even if only in a basic way, that Jesus could help her. For that, she looked for him, worshiped him, and loved him.

“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks (v 44). “Look at her, Simon,” Jesus says. “Don’t dwell on her past or what she’s done. But see her as a child of God. See how much she loves me—and she will love me even more when I forgive her. She believes in me as the one who can restore her. And this is the kind of awareness that you need, Simon.” This is the kind of awareness that every sinner needs.

When Simon looked at his life, of course he saw sin. But it wasn’t too bad. He needed to be forgiven by God, but just a little—maybe a simple prayer at the end of every day would suffice. The rest was basically covered by his orthodox beliefs, and his temple sacrifices, and his synagogue attendance. He was sinful, but that surely didn’t mean he had to fall down at Jesus’ feet and embarrass himself. Let’s not overdo it with repentance and remorse!

Beloved, what about us? Are we properly aware of our sinfulness? Have we tasted the bitterness and horror of what God could do to us? Have we found ourselves broken in our sin, and shattered in our misery? And have we, in turn, embraced and loved Jesus Christ as our only hope and comfort and salvation?

It is easy act like Simon and invite Jesus over on Sundays, and dress him up, and give him a comfortable place in our life. It is easy to respect Jesus. But Jesus is more than a Teacher, more than a Friend, and more than a Therapist. He’s a mighty Saviour and eternal Lord. He is one who rescues us from death, saves us from the wrath to come!

This means that our response to Jesus needs to be more than dinner party politeness. We ought to fall at his feet, embarrassed and ashamed. We’re not respectable or righteous! Despite our best works and our proper beliefs, we have nothing to offer. We really have only tears of repentance, prayers for forgiveness, an appeal to his promises. We depend on his grace alone.

Think of Jesus’ parable in modern-day terms. 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. But instead of foreclosing and evicting us, this banker agrees to write off the debt completely. In a moment, all that anxiety has disappeared, and in its place is security and serenity.

There’s probably not a banker in the world who would do that. But if you met one, you’d be really grateful. You would love him, and you’d tell your friends about him. And hopefully from that day onward you would show a similar mercy to others when they owed you a bit, when you lent them money and they couldn’t pay you back. Hopefully you would be merciful, because you remembered the mercy that you received yourself.

So for us before God. Though we owed God an impossible amount, He chose to let it go. Though eternal imprisonment was our destiny, He set us free. For at the cross, Jesus paid it all himself. He signed his name over ours and secured our inheritance forever.

We need to know that we’re sinners, totally guilty apart from God’s grace. In humility we should approach God, and in humility we should approach one another. We’re part of a church that is full of sinful people—brothers and sisters who are just as broken as we are. Which means that we ought to judge no one unfairly, and keep no record of their wrongs, but must welcome the weak and restore the guilty. Even for those who are outside the church right now, strangers and neighbours—we must not see sinners for who they have been, and all the bad they have committed, but we must see who they can become, by God’s grace.

It is only right and fitting that those who are forgiven much will also love much! We love Christ and worship Christ in response to what He’s done. And in the same spirit, we ought to love one another and forgive one another. Those who have received great mercy will show mercy in return.

 

3) a gracious declaration of grace: This was the lesson that Simon the Pharisee needed to learn. Whether he accepted it or not, we don’t know. But then Jesus addresses the woman who had interrupted so dramatically. And Jesus says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven” (v 48).

Don’t read these simple words too quickly, even though He said this almost every day of his ministry, even though Christ still says it today at God’s right hand: “Your sins are forgiven” As we said, we might such a gift for granted.

Yet this forgiveness is truly earth-shaking and life-changing! God looks at us, and He sees every transgression we’ve committed, and knows every ugly failure. He has seen the books, so He’s well aware of just how much we owe. But in Jesus, God freely forgives our debt.

To see how amazing this is, 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 can forgive sins. So what is Jesus doing? How dare He take this authority unto himself? Jesus hears this, and as if to silence them, He repeats his declaration of grace, addressing the woman directly: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v 50).

Think of that sinful woman for a moment. She had come in quiet expectation, simply trusting that Jesus could help her. She made no eloquent confession, made no plea for forgiveness. She could never match the religious credentials of Simon. But her heart was open. Her spirit was lowly. Her faith was true.

For God, that’s enough: that we believe and hold earnestly to his Son in utter reliance on his grace. No matter what we have done, no matter how long we have kept things hidden, there is mercy for those who are broken in spirit. There is full forgiveness for those who repent, when we turn from our sins and we turn toward God with a new resolve to do his will.

“Go in peace,” Jesus says to the woman. She had come, tormented by her guilt. But now she goes on her way in peace. She leaves with a heart that is unburdened and a heart that loves the one who forgave her.

And this is the hope of all who come to Christ. If we are burdened, Jesus will give rest. If we are tormented, He’ll give peace. And when we have received his mercy, Jesus gives new strength for doing his will! That’s his promise, and his command. This is how God looks at us when we are 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 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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