Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 6, 2017
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 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, 38 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. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said 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.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 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. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
— Luke 7:36-50, ESV
Have you ever wanted a change, a fresh start, a new life?
Maybe you are unhappy with your looks, and you dream of a change that will make you look like a fabulous movie star. Maybe you have messed up at school or work, your GPA is so low or your work is so poor that you are about to be kicked out, and you long to just start over and do it right. Maybe you are a mobster who has just ratted out your gang and you desperately need a new identity, a new home, and a new life.
Such scenes play out in fiction, real life, and Holy Scripture. We meet a person in desperate need of a new life in this passage. She has an old life that is not worth living. She meets someone who is the way, tells the truth, and in Himself offers new life. A new life she needs and a new life she gets, but is she the only one in this story who needs a genuine conversion?
The Old Life
We actually know very little about this woman and her old life, except that it was not a good one. Her name is not mentioned (unlike Mary in the other, late perfume-laden anointing of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, and John 12:3). She is simply referred to as a “sinner” (not the mayor or the doctor or the coach). First century sensibilities were similar to twenty-first century sensibilities, in the sense that we seldom see ourselves as sinners, only certain other people. And when we call them the “s” word, it means they’ve done something, to use another “s” word, scandalous.
This woman’s sin was almost certainly sexual. If she had been a thief or a killer, I doubt she would have been running around loose. But she was a loose woman, in more ways than one. Maybe she was abused or neglected as a child, and the psychological effects affected her sexuality. Maybe she succumbed to temptation as a teenager and a promiscuous pattern played out. Maybe as a single, female adult in a totally patriarchal world (note that no one ever calls a man a loose man), the world’s oldest profession was the only way she could make a living.
But her life was not right. She knew it, and hated herself for it. Furthermore, everybody else knew it, and scorned her, too. “Oh, God,” she must have often thought to preface a prayer for a new life. Then one day, in her town, God showed up in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
Jesus is in the early to middle part of His Galilean ministry (the other anointing, Mary’s, took place late in His ministry in Judea). He is busy crossing over a collection of barriers. Racial barriers have been broken by helping a Roman and his sick servant. Gender barriers have been tossed by helping a woman by restoring her dead son. Now moral barriers are cast aside when Jesus, and Jesus alone, cares for this castaway, sinful woman.
On the eve of this episode Jesus had preached a sermon with familiar words recorded in another Gospel:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (ref. Matthew 11:28-30).
This woman was exhausted by the heavy burden and hard labor of sin. She was a slave to her passions or her paramours, perhaps both. She’d had enough of the turned up noses, pointed fingers, and raunchy nicknames. It was time to find a new way, it was time to embrace new truth, it was time to embrace a brand new life.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (ref. John 14:6)
I think when she first heard that this preacher, who actually is more than a prophet, who in reality is the Messiah, she probably hid. But something or someone drew her out. The something is called grace and the someone is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brought her to the Son so that the Father could give her what she needed more than anything else, a brand new life.
As her heart changed, she brought her sin and shame to Jesus, who, unlike the other men at the table, was not ashamed of her. She took her life savings, which had been poured into this perfume, and poured it out upon Jesus. It was a sweet-smelling sacrifice of repentance and faith. She humbly worshiped the Lord and did not care what other people thought, said, or did. She had found the way. She had come to the truth. She had a brand new life.
The New Life
Christ’s words confirmed she was born again into a brand new life. Jesus recognized faith in the heart of that formerly sinful woman. I say formally, for the Lord pronounced that her sins were forgiven. He did not call her names, like “sinner,” but called her “saved,” and bid her to “go in peace.”
New life begins with conviction of sin. It must be deep, beyond shame and the scandal of getting caught. It must be wide, not only grieving over harm done to self, or to others, but to God. It must result in repentance, a turning away from sin and sinful habits.
New life turns away from sin and turns to God. Turning to God is called faith. It also must be deep and wide, an abiding trust, a radical pledge of obedience. Faith gives to God everything and is willing to do for God anything His word and Spirit commands.
Repentance and faith result in new life, and new life itself is a gift from God. God is holy, and He never condones sin and is bound by His nature to punish sinners. Yet, God is love, and He never condemns sinners who come to him for grace and mercy, in repentance and faith, to the Lord Jesus Christ. This woman received the gift of salvation, and her new home is now in Heaven, far away from the pointing fingers of Pharisees.
Speaking of the Pharisees, let’s not leave them out of the story, for they are central. The meeting between Jesus and the woman happens in a Pharisee’s house. The parable that pulls this whole plot together is told to the Pharisees. And, you and I in the church today are probably best represented in this story not by Jesus, not by the woman, but by the Pharisees.
I say this because none of us would dare claim we are as good as Jesus, and few of us would admit we are as bad as the woman. We are the more like middle men, sinning just a little, loving just a little. If so, we’re safe, right? Are Pharisees ever safe in the Gospels?
The parable Jesus punched into this dinner party was razor sharp and rich with sarcasm, apropos for a sermon spoken to the Pharisees. The sharp edge cuts first, then the sarcasm is poured in. Let me explain.
Here is the sharp part: “They could not pay,” Jesus said in verse 42. It does not matter if you are the town prostitute or the town pastor, you have a sin debt before God that you cannot pay. The punishment for non-payment is divine wrath and eternal separation from God. But, a pardon is possible by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The penalty is for those who do not believe they need a pardon, and the pardon is for those who come to God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Here is the sarcastic part: “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47). If you think you just need a “little” forgiveness, if your life reflects a “little” love for the Lord, then you are deceiving yourself a lot. The sinful woman in this passage came clean. The smug, self-righteous Pharisees seemed to not know the first thing about sin and salvation, grace and mercy, forgiveness and eternal life.
So, who was saved in this passage, the woman or the Pharisee? Who had faith in this passage, the woman or the Pharisee? Who walked away in “peace” in this passage the woman or the Pharisee?
So who’s life is your life, the woman’s or the Pharisee’s?
Some of you may have been genuinely converted to Christ as a young age, before you had an opportunity to live out on the streets or engage in organized crime. But did sin, does sin, make you ashamed, convicted, disdainful of it? Is your love for Christ sincere, consistent, passionate? Would you give to Him your last dime or drop of perfume? Is your love little or much? Some of you may be genuinely religious, but not converted, like the Pharisees. They were bad but not all bad. They were lost, but as Jesus once told one of them, not far from the kingdom of God. They did have a disdain for sin, albeit other people’s, and they did have a little love for God. Their biggest problem is that they loved themselves the most and were satisfied with the old life. Get, or make sure you’ve got, a new life in Jesus Christ. Confess your sins, commit your ways and means, come to the Savior. For a new life is the only life worth living, and the only life that lasts.
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