What Just Happened?
November 04, 2018 | Randy Smith
What Just Happened?
Sunday, November 4, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
How many times in your life can you recall when your expectations took a sudden shift? Perhaps it was the anticipation of an exciting event, only to begin with a car accident on the way to your destination. Or just the opposite, dragging your feet to an activity that actually turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Have you ever experienced this in a conversation? Suddenly it changes to a topic that is awkward or unanticipated hurtful words come your way that immediately make a pleasant time very unpleasant. How about a debate with someone that unexpectedly shifts to the advantage of your opponent that starts to even make you doubt your convictions.
Life is full of the unexpected and so is the Bible – Paradise lost, deliverance through a sea, prophets killed, the last first and the first last, humility exalted, Jesus mad at the religious, a crucified Messiah, paradise found.
Parables, prophecies, poems and proverbs – all telling about one big story in the Bible centered on the theme of redemption. It goes against conventional thinking. It’s descending to greatness and true joy experienced in the opposite of what people advocate and grace over good works and a God who people from the beginning of time for the most part have misunderstood in their religious pursuits.
A great example is the passage from Luke 7 that we have before us this morning. It’s a conversation that begins between Jesus and a very religious person that is unexpectedly interrupted by a prostitute. A dramatic shift takes place. This sermon’s title is “What Just Happened?”
The Setting (verses 36–38)
According to verse 36, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for dinner. By verse 40 we’ll learn that his name is Simon. The Pharisees, as you know, were the top religious leaders of the day. They have already had many conflicts with Jesus and it is safe to assume this Pharisee had the intent to somehow trap Jesus in His words. After all, we learned last week they were calling Jesus a “gluttonous man and a drunkard” (Lk. 7:34) – not exactly the company that a man of high morals would choose to break bread with.
In verse 37 the third character in the story is introduced. The “woman” is simply referred to as “a sinner.” Her attire revealed her identity. Her reputation preceded her in the town. Most likely she was a prostitute. Clearly not on the invitation list of the Pharisee, but nevertheless she enters the dinner gathering when she learned that Jesus would be present.
Entering with no invitation seems awkward to us today. It’s rude and unacceptable. We call them “party crashers.” Yet back then, life was lived in the public. Houses were built with open courtyards for entertaining and the doors were left open. Hospitality, your love for strangers, was a high mark of honor and integrity. The goal for every good Jew would be to have guests enter as strangers and depart as friends.
Entering a house like this was not unusual. What was highly unusual was that a prostitute would have the nerve and courage to enter the house of a Pharisee. Such an action was unthinkable for both parties. This is Nancy Pelosi at a Trump rally!
Now before we get too far, let’s think about this for a minute.
Would this lady have walked in if Jesus were not present? It’s highly doubtful. And if that is the case, what does it say about “sinners” who are trying to find God? What does it say if they feel unwanted and unable to connect with the only ones who have the biblical answers? She is jailed in her sins and the ones who should be holding the keys for her freedom find her too dirty to be in their presence. We don’t want you, and by implication, God does not want you either. Could it be that they were the ones jailed in maximum confinement? (we’ll come back to that).
Also, why did this woman feel welcome in the presence of Jesus? How can someone as righteous as Jesus, God in the flesh, make sinners comfortable in His presence? The account is calling us to wrestle with these questions.
Well, the story takes an even greater dramatic shift. Not only does she enter the Pharisee’s home, but she also breaks many rules of acceptable behavior from that culture. Verse 38 – pouring out expensive perfume, uncontrollable weeping, handling feet and letting her hair down in the presence of a man not her husband. The tense of the verbs used conveys the message of a continuous action. While the Pharisees were staring in unbelief, shocked and speechless, this woman demonstrated an ongoing remarkable display of humility and devotion and adoration and gratitude.
So that is the setting.
The Responses (verses 39–43)
Point number two. So far both Jesus and the Pharisees are silent. Let’s look at their responses as to what they witnessed in this woman.
The Pharisee, the owner of the home speaks first, although the text says he spoke only to himself. In verse 39 he said, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Here is his thinking behind that statement: “It’s hard for me to believe what the people are saying about this Man, Jesus. Prophets are able to see people for who they really are. If He doesn’t realize who she is, He is definitely not a prophet. For if He did, He would never allow this woman to touch Him, moreover be in His presence like this. I’m not a prophet and it’s clear as day to me that this woman is a prostitute. The whole community knows she is a prostitute. Spiritual people avoid these women. Therefore, my conclusion is that Jesus is not a prophet and He is also not very spiritual either. If this Man were sent from God, He would rebuke her for her actions and dismiss her from His presence immediately!”
So some immediate observations at this point: We can conclude Jesus has compassion, not contempt for sinners. Jesus does see her heart and He likes what He sees in her heart. And ironically, Jesus sees the heart of Simon as well and what He sees there is repulsive.
So now Jesus responds. And how does He respond? Will He talk to the woman or Simon first? Who will receive His blessings – the moral and religious Pharisee or “the sinner”? And if Simon is off-base , in what kind of packaging will the rebuke be delivered? Beginning in verse 40, Jesus shares a parable for Simon to understand the truth He wants to present.
“And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty [a denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage]. When they were unable to repay, [the moneylender] graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:40-42).
So in this parable we have two people. The facts: Both are in debt unable to pay what they owe. Both deserve to be sent to the debtor’s prison. Both are forgiven of all they owe. Both owe different amounts. Both are “graced” (verse 42) by the moneylender. The question, which one will love the moneylender more?
Simon is given the opportunity to respond. I think he realizes he is walking into a trap! He says in verse 43, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And Jesus responds, “You have judged correctly.”
The Application (verses 44–47)
As we move to the third point, Jesus will drive home His point. Let’s first see between these opposing individuals who was more welcoming to Jesus. Who showed Jesus more love?
We’ll take these one point at a time. First, look at verse 44. “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.’”
The land was dry and the roads where you walked were dusty. Sandals were the customary footwear. When you entered a home in that culture it was expected of servants to wash your feet. If there were no servants at least a bowel of water and a towel were provided. Simon did neither of these anticipated customs for his guest. Today it’s like not offering someone a seat when they arrive or an unwillingness to take their coat or stand in the presence of a woman, only much more offensive. Maybe it’s at the level of seating an adult at the card table assembled in the kitchen with all the children.
It’s clear. Simon was rude and disrespectful to Jesus by deliberately slighting Jesus and failing to provide this common curtesy in the care for our Lord’s feet. He did nothing. But this woman not only washed Jesus’ feet, an incredible act of humility, but moreover washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Second, verse 45, “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.” A kiss was seen as a common sign of affection. Students and disciples would kiss the hand of their teacher. If people were of equal status there would be a kiss on the cheek.
You are beginning to realize that Jesus interprets the behavior of the woman as the hospitality that was expected from the host of the home toward any guest that walked through his door. But beyond that, it’s not only that she did what any guest would have expected, but she did over and above what was expected of a host in her treatment of Jesus. This was extravagant hospitality.
Finally, verse 46, “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.” Oil was often given to refresh the face. This woman poured her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.
Verse 47, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Jesus told a parable in verses 41-42. A parable is an early story with a spiritual meaning. Then He compares the actions of Simon with the actions of the woman in verses 44-46. Are you able to pick up on the spiritual meaning?
What Jesus is teaching is that like the parable we are all in debt to God because of our sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When we realize how far we fall short from God’s perfection, we can see how there is not much space that separates the “great sinner” and the “little sinner.” It’s like the distance between earth and Pluto (between people and God) and then the distance between two peaks in the Rocky Mountains (between person and person). What we need to see here is that God desires not a comparison with other sinners. That’s what gets us in trouble because we always compare ourselves with the really bad guys like Hitler and come out pretty good. It’s the attitude that I am a “little sinner” and grace is only needed for the “big sinners.” What God desires is a comparison with His perfect holiness and our total depravity. When we get that we then understand how much we all deserve God’s judgment.
You see, the temptation is to see the Pharisee as the one in the parable who owed fifty denarii and the prostitute as the one who owed five-hundred denarii. And with the standards as we judge sin that is a natural conclusion. But I submit to you that the sins of the Pharisee were more offensive. Though socially acceptable back then and still common in many religious communities, what Simon did not see was how offensive his self-righteousness, arrogance, hardheartedness and judgmentalism was to God. Yes, Jesus does eat with sinners, Simon, that’s why he entered your house! And yes, Jesus is a prophet and what He sees in your heart Simon, is wicked.
This woman was blessed in the sense that she was able to see her sins. The curse is on self-righteous people who believe they are acceptable before God and therefore will never come to Him for grace. Yet when we see our sins and the unacceptability we have before a holy God it then drives us to Jesus Christ, not for merit, but for His mercy.
Like most in our world today, Simon was expecting a pat on the back from Jesus. The woman demonstrated a heart that depended on Christ’s forgiveness. One was prideful and loveless. The other was humble and compassionate. One slighted Jesus. The other adored Jesus. One was self-condemned. The other was forgiven. And in the end, one was trying to regain his composure and the other was demonstrating God-honoring devotion.
The Conclusion (verses 48–50)
Last point, verse 48. “Then [Jesus] said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’”
Imagine this dear soul hearing those words from Jesus. Imagine the waves of guilt being released from her soul like a tsunami. Imagine the peace and hope and joy she experienced. Is there any doubt that when we understand how much God forgives us from a debt we can’t repay, from a consequence we deserve (like the parable), that we will love Him dearly and express it with righteous living and passionate devotion (like the woman)?
“You are forgiven!” That rang loud in her ears as it did to the Pharisees who were present.
Verse 49, “Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man who even forgives sins?’”
A fair question. A sin is doing something or not doing something contrary to God’s nature. When we sin, we sin against God. Therefore, only God can forgive our sins. Therefore, if Jesus is forgiving sins against God, the only conclusion is that He is God.
And that is the claim that infuriated the Pharisees more than anything else. That’s the claim that would lead Him up a hill called Calvary to be executed on a cross. And on that cross He would bear the sins of all those who will ever believe in Him. He will be their substitute. He will pay their penalty. He will take their punishment. Justice would be satisfied and all who come to Him on the basis of faith will be forgiven. Grace and mercy will be available. Forgiveness to all sinners will be available through Him.
Verse 50, “And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” It was not her courage or humility or worship or sacrifice that saved her, but Jesus says exclusively that it was her “faith” that “saved her.” Faith in Christ is salvation which then results in worship and good deeds.
Folks, we are all like the two people in this story. Perhaps our sin is the immoral filth – drunkenness, profanity, deception, fornication, greed . Perhaps our sin is the socially acceptable filth – selfishness, pride, self-righteousness, lovelessness . Either way we are all like the two men in the parable. We are in debt to God with a balance we will never be able to repay. Religion, good deeds, nothing will remove the burden. Only Christ because of His work provides complete forgiveness.
If you do not know Him, how long will you keep thinking (like the prostitute once thought) that you are too impure to be welcomed in His presence or how long will you keep thinking (like religious people keep thinking) that you are good enough already to be welcomed in His presence?
When we really see our sin against the backdrop of a holy God, we conclude with the Apostle Paul, “I am the foremost of sinners!” We run to Christ for grace and when forgiven of our debt we love Him greatly.