Your Sins Are Forgiven. They Always Have Been, So You Can Stop Worrying Now
(Luke chapter 7, verses 24-50)
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
For this week's study we'll be covering the second half of Luke chapter 7. When we left off last week, John the Baptist had sent 2 of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the true Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus was telling John's disciples they should be certain about Jesus' true identity by his actions and not his words. Today as we take up where we left off last week, we find out what happens afterwards as Jesus addresses the ever-present crowds of admirers, followers and hangers-on, beginning at verse 24.
“After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: 'What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? This is the one about whom it is written, 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'. I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.' (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” (Luke 7, verses 24-30)
The quote Jesus used from the Old Testament, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you”, comes from Malachi chapter 3, verse 1. Jesus knew the Bible as it existed back then better than anyone who ever lived, as you can see from this relatively obscure scriptural quotation. “'What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” I can almost hear the nervous laughter rippling through the crowd. “But what did you go out to see? A prophet?” 'You went to see a real prophet, didn't you', Jesus was saying. Our Savior then answers his own question, “I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” To receive a compliment like this from the Lord Christ Jesus was nothing short of superlative from John's standpoint. It sure would be to myself. I'd be happy just to be John the Baptist's maintenance man at his mansion in the sky…..
“... yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There is unconditional equality in God's kingdom! The least in God's kingdom to come are still greater than John the Baptist. How can this be? Is this because no one is considered to have any superiority over anyone else, or great authority? That's partly true, but I think the main reason is that no one who made it to God's kingdom did so by their own efforts. Only the shed blood of Christ qualifies any of us to be there in New Jerusalem (heaven) with him. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right”. They embraced Jesus' teachings because they had embraced John's, who had told them in advance of Jesus' coming. There's something to be said in favor of faith right here. When these people came to hear Jesus, that was the proof of the pudding as far as they were concerned. This was a confirmation of their faith, and of the teachings and prophecies of John the Baptist. The Pharisees and “experts” in the Old Law, on the other hand, rejected Christ, much to their own condemnation. And now let's move on to the second part of our study, starting at verse 31, as Jesus continues to speak.
“'To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry'. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.' Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, '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.” (Luke 7, verses 31-39)
Jesus compared the religious establishment of his day, the Pharisees and Saducee's, to children playing who, when no one would join in their games, sat around pouting and sulking because they didn't get their way. “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.'” John the Baptist lived by himself in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey for his main diet. This gentleman was evidently a hermit of sorts who would go out and preach sporadically but frequently in the desert areas of Judea, in what is now called the West Bank area of Israel. One thing is for sure – John was not a normal, everyday kind of guy. But since the religious establishment didn't understand him or believe what he preached, they said John was some kind of demon-possessed individual. Jesus then told his critics that day, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” The Pharisees and Rabbi's were so arrogant that they passed judgment against both John the Baptist and Jesus without so much as a second thought. The religious establishment of today hasn't changed a bit, no matter which denomination it may be.
Then, the text does a 1st century version of 'fast forward' as it jumps over to the dinner at the Pharisee's house. As the “sinful woman” weeps at the feet of Jesus, “….she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, '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.'” So it's plain to see that the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner was judging this woman, possibly someone involved in the sex trade, and he assumed he could hide his thoughts from our Lord. But he assumed incorrectly, as we will now find out, beginning at verse 40.
“Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.' 'Tell me, teacher', he said. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, the other one 50. Neither of them had the money to pay them back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?' Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.' 'You have judged correctly', Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'.” (Luke 7, verses 40-50)
Here again we find ourselves being confronted by Jesus who granted unconditional equality to everyone no matter who they were. As you can see, our Savior took great exception to anyone who considered themselves better than others, no matter what the reason. He was reprimanding Simon the Pharisee in a diplomatic sort of way. Simon had provided Jesus with a nice dinner in comfortable surroundings, that is true. Did Simon the Pharisee reap an eternal reward for that? I would think so, but Jesus was gently telling him that he shouldn't think so highly of himself. The woman who wept at the feet of Jesus, although described by the apostle Luke as “sinful”, she was evidently shedding some tears of repentance. 'You didn't wash my feet, but she did. You didn't greet me with a kiss, but she has kissed my feet nonstop since I've been here. You didn't anoint me with oil, but she has doused my feet with perfume. Your dinner has been nice, Simon – very nice! But she has done more – much more!' Jesus regarded the acts of the sinful woman as being more noble than all the religiosity that Simon could muster.
“.... her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'.” For she loved much? But he who has been forgiven little loves little? Yes, the (previously) sinful woman had been forgiven many sins, so she loved Jesus more than all the others, particularly Simon. Simon loved Jesus the least of everyone at the dinner because he held himself in high regard and probably had a 'holier than thou' attitude to boot. But it's not our own efforts that can save our souls, but faith combined with our acts most definitely can. If that formerly sinful woman's faith saved her, so can ours. Only, let's similarly be formerly sinful like she was after she met Jesus, and let's all do our level best to live the rest of our lives in this way. And next time we meet, we’ll start on part 1 of Luke chapter 8.