The Lord's Day Morning
November 8, 2009
“She Loved Much”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 7 as we make our way through the gospel. I need to tell you that this is one of my favorite passages in all of the gospels. It is like other stories that Jesus tells. The story of the two debtors that He tells in this passage is not unlike the story that He tells of the prodigal son. Some of you are studying that story and you have been focused rightly on the prodigality, the lavishness, of God's love and forgiveness in the story of the prodigal son. You've also been focused on the hardness of heart of the elder brother as you have studied that story. And you've learned a principle that, very often, when Jesus tells a story in which there are two main characters, Jesus is always the main point, as He is in this passage. At the end of this passage you’re going to see people saying, “Who is this that can forgive sins?” It's all about Jesus. It's testifying to who Jesus is. But when He has two characters, He is interested in revealing what is in the human heart. And in this story there is going to be a man who is of impeccable reputation, religious reputation, in his town. And he is going to be revealed to have a shriveled heart. And there is going to be a woman who has no reputation in her town and she is going to be revealed to have, by God's grace, had a heart that is so transformed and full of love that it is hard to comprehend.
And in showing you that contrast, Jesus is inviting you to ask, “Who am I in this story? How do I relate to Jesus Christ? Am I like the one, or am I like the other?” The point's Jesus. The main focus is on Jesus, but even in putting these two characters side by side, Jesus is inviting you to ask, “What do you think of Me? What is your attitude to Me? Where do you fit in this story?”
Now the reason that I love this story so much is that it is not just Jesus telling a parable about this principle like He does in the prodigal son. There is a real life flesh and blood woman here that has endured things that most of us cannot even imagine. And Jesus displays the lavish love of the story of the prodigal son to her. And one day, if you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’ll be able to meet her. She's not just a character in a story; she's a real person. And that's just one of a million reasons that I love this story.
So before we read it, let's look to the Lord in prayer and ask for His help in blessing.
Father, the depiction of our Savior in this passage boggles our minds. No human being could have invented this Jesus, out of the imaginations, out of the figments of their heart. This story has the ring of truth about it – a truth that defies all skepticism, because frankly, we don't know anybody like this. There's never been anyone like this. And we need Him more than we can possibly imagine. So break through, even in the reading of Your Word, to our hard, stony, distracted, cold hearts, and show us Jesus and show us our sin and show us our guilt and show us our need of forgiveness. And then turn our eyes back to Him again and show us what He's like, because we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word. Luke 7, beginning in verse 36:
“One of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee's house, and took His place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that He was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, (not out loud to Jesus, but to himself) ‘If this Man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’
‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of f both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then 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. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with Him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who ever forgives sins?’ And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write it's eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I wonder what you would do today if every person in this room knew the sin or sins that you hope no one ever knows that you have committed. I wonder if you would come here to this place today if everyone in this room knew that thing, that worst thing, that you have ever done — that thing that you hope those closest to you will never ever know. You embezzled. You cheated. The credentials you claimed for yourself are not true. You’re in love — the problem is you’re married and you’re not in love with the one you are married to. Before you were married you had an abortion and you've never told your husband. You have homosexual desires and the list goes on. I wonder. I wonder what you would do and I wonder if you would be here if everyone here knew what that sin, what those sins, are.
Well my friends, this woman's worst sins were known to her whole town, and yet she came to the house of the man with the most impeccable religious reputation in his community, in the company of his most valued and trusted friends, a company from which undoubtedly she was an outcast and she was looked upon with condescending contempt. And you've got to ask yourself a question, “What is that woman doing there?” or you will not understand this story. You need to understand that in the culture of the Middle East today, and it's not just in Islam, it's crossed lines of religion – in the culture of the Middle East, all a woman has is her reputation. That's all she has. If she has that reputation, no matter what else she doesn't have, she's got a chance of making it. But if she doesn't have that reputation, she doesn't have a chance at all. In fact, she's got a good chance of not living very long.
Just this last week, a twelve year old girl in Somalia was accused of adultery. Human rights workers there are telling the public that she was assaulted, but without trial or jury, she was stoned to death this week — twelve years old. And my friends, this woman lived in a much more unforgiving time 2,000 years ago. And you've got to ask yourself a question — “What is this woman doing here?” or you won't understand this story.
This Pharisee was throwing a party. It would not have been uncommon, when a respected religious teacher from out of town was in your home town, to throw a celebration for him. And it wasn't like an intimate dinner party that you would have given at your home. It's more like a block party. Yes, there would have been special guests on the invitation list and they would have been invited to recline around the table, but they would have probably done this in the courtyard so that uninvited guests from the town could actually come and listen in. I mean, you would have heard lots of interesting conversation around that table as the invited guests reclined and ate and spoke to one another and questioned one another and shared news that you hadn't heard about from the outlying areas. And uninvited guests would have come and they would have gathered around the edges of that courtyard and they would have listened in. And this woman came to that meeting.
Now it is clear in this passage that the Pharisee who had invited Jesus in was sizing Him up. He wasn't so sure about Jesus. This is clear because of the courtesies and the etiquette that he did not show towards Jesus. For instance, Jesus later in the passage will tell you, that He was not greeted with a customary kiss at the door. Our version of a robust handshake and a big hug — He did not receive that from His host. Nor did the host provide someone to wash His dirty feet which would have been customary. Nor did the host anoint Him with some kind of an oil as a gesture of respect and hospitality and welcome Him in. No, this Pharisee was sizing Him up — “What kind of a Man is this Jesus, really? He's got the reputation of being a great prophet, but I'm not so sure. I want to check Him out.”
This woman did not come to that place that night sizing Jesus up. This woman already knew something very, very important about Jesus. You need to understand this. I don't know because Luke doesn't tell us, but somehow this woman has encountered Jesus. She has either been there in the crowds as He has taught in this town and she has heard His message, or maybe there's been some sort of a personal encounter when He has convicted her of her sins but also preached the Gospel to her like He did to the woman at the well. But somehow she knows who this Man is and she knows His message and He has already changed her life. This man has given to her something that she has never ever received in her life, and that is forgiveness of her sins. And she is there with what is most likely the most precious possession that she owns. She is there in a company of people who have no respect for her whatsoever, only contempt. But she is there because of one Man, and because of the grace and the forgiveness and yes, the acceptance, that He has shown to her. And it is her intention to show to Him her undying gratitude and love because of the grace and mercy and forgiveness that He has revealed to her.
Now in these events around the table, you would have reclined with your head in towards the table and your feet out from the table. And Luke tells you, “She came up behind Jesus” — in other words, she comes up to the point on the couch or the chair that He is reclining on, and she comes up right on His feet. And then she looses control and she begins to weep. The tears are both tears of contrition over who she was, what she had done, the sin that she had committed against God, but also over the fact that this Man had changed her life by showing her grace and forgiving her through God's mercy. And she begins to weep. She catches herself and she looks down and she realizes that she is crying on Jesus’ feet. And she does something astounding. She lets her hair down and she goes down to her knees and she begins to try Jesus’ feet with her hair while weeping.
Do you know that some rabbis in Jesus’ time told husbands that they had the right to divorce their wives if their wives ever let their hair down in front of another man? Do you understand that this woman doesn't see anybody else in this room? She does not care what anybody thinks about her! She doesn't care what they know about her; she doesn't care what she once was, because this Man knew her heart and saw her sin and saw her need and He forgave her. And all she wants to do is thank Him and praise Him and express her gratitude and her love. And she doesn't know that there's anybody else in this room. She doesn't care what Simon thinks about her. She doesn't care what the other guests think about her. All she cares about is Jesus, so she's there wiping His feet off with her own hair.
And then she breaks open this alabaster perfume and she pours is not on His head or on His shoulders, but she wastes it on His feet. It's a picture of humility. You understand that this is the post precious possession she had. These sort of perfume bottles, we know from the rabbis and from Josephus, were very, very important to Jewish women. In fact, they were so important that the rabbis had made specific allowance for the women to wear these on the Sabbath day. They were so much a part of who a woman was they were allowed to wear them on the Sabbath day. And here she is taking her most precious possession and pouring them on a Man's feet.
And all the while, Simon is looking at her with contempt. And what's worse, he is looking at Jesus with contempt. And he's saying to himself, “If this Man were really a prophet, He would know that this is an immoral woman. This woman is a call girl. This woman is a prostitute. This woman has no reputation, and if He were really a prophet, He wouldn't even allow her to touch Him.” And Jesus hears his heart and say, “Simon, I have something I want to tell you. — if there were two men, one who owed a man two months salary and one who owned a man two hears salary, and the man forgave them both, which of them would love him more?” Now it's kind of obvious what the answer to that question is. And Simon is insulted that he would even be asked such a question. “Who do you think you are, Jesus, to ask such a blatantly obvious question? Why, it is insulting even to be asked to answer such a blatantly obvious question. I suppose it's the man who owed him more that loved him more.”
Do you see the irony? Simon didn't get it. He could answer the question right, but if you’re asking me to put my money on a theologian in that room other than Jesus, it's the woman who's on her knees, because Simon can answer the question right, but he's not been forgiven and he doesn't love because he doesn't think he needs to be forgiven. It is always dangerous, my friends, when you look with greater contempt on the sins of others than you look on the wickedness of your own heart. And that is exactly where Simon was.
You see, Jesus in that parable is not saying that Simon didn't need to be forgiven as much as that woman did. The fact of the matter is Simon needed to be forgiven more than that woman did, but Simon didn't know it.
I love what one commentator said – Isn't it interesting, Jesus says to Simon, “Simon, do you see that woman?” He's saying, “Simon, you have missed the biggest thing going on here.” One commentator says, “Simon couldn't see what she had become because all he could see was what she once was.” But Jesus saw her heart and Simon's. And don't you love this? He turns to her and He says to Simon, “Her sins are forgiven.” And then Jesus says, “You know what the evidence is? Look at her tears. Look at her love for Me. Look at her focus on Me, her joy in Me. This woman's love has been evoked because I've forgiven her.”
It's very important for you to understand that Jesus is not saying she was forgiven because she wept tears, she was not forgiven because she wiped His feet with her hair, she was not forgiven because she anointed Him with oil. Luke tells you in the last verse that is not why she was forgiven. What does Jesus say? “Your faith has saved you.” In other words, “It's not your love to Me which has saved you, it is because you trusted in Me. You knew that I was the only Man that could forgive you, and therefore, you loved Me.”
If our justification is by love, we're all going to hell. But Jesus is saying, “The fact that this woman trusts Me, believes in Me, has put her faith in Me, is evidenced by her love. And Simon, very frankly, your lack of love to Me shows Me that you don't know who I am and you don't know your own heart.” And so I want to ask you today my friends, how do you deal with that sin, with those sins, that you don't want anyone else to know about? Do you try to cover them up because you fear that if you came to this place, and maybe you fear rightly, that if you came to this place you would not be accepted? You would be judged. You would be condemned. You would be looked down upon.
My friends, if that's where you are, then this woman has something to teach you because she didn't care what anybody else in that room thought of her. She didn't care if she was weighed in their balances and found wanting, because she had already been weighed in the balances of the only One that matters and she had been found wanting. And then to her utter astonishment, the One who knew sins in her that she did not know about herself said, “My child, I love you. Your sins are forgiven.” And that was such a liberating experience that she did not care what anybody else thought of her, because the only One that mattered had said, “You’re forgiven. You’re My child. I love you.”
And I would urge you today my friends, please, please do not let the fear of what anybody else in this room or in this world thinks of you keep you from coming to Jesus and saying, “This is what I am. Here I am. I don't have a plea. I don't have an argument. I don't have a case. I'm guilty. I deserve to have no reputation. I deserve to be condemned. I deserve to be friendless, but here I am.” And if you will do so, you will find that He is more ready to forgive than you are to believe it.
That's the other beautiful thing about this passage. After Jesus turns to Simon and says, “Her sins are already forgiven,” He turns back to her and He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why? Why does he say that? Because when we have seen what we are in the mirror, it is very difficult to believe that we can be forgiven and that God can still love us. And here's Jesus saying, “Just in case you were wondering dear woman, you have been forgiven.”
My friends, this congregation needs to learn this truth. Oh, we need to learn this truth because we want to protect our reputations and we want to look good and we want to be thought highly of. And my friends, that will be a very thin fig leaf on the last day. If that's what we're hanging on to, then we’ll be sitting with Simon on the last day while that woman will be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and she will shine like the stars of heaven. And then it will all come clear, but then it will be too late. Don't try and justify yourself through your reputation. Throw yourself on His mercy and He will teach you the meaning of mercy in ways that you cannot imagine. No wonder she loved Him. The only question is, “Do you?”
Lord, our only hope is in Christ alone. Grant that we would find it and Him there. We pray in His name. Amen.