It’s a brand New Year! I’m sure you have grown weary of getting emails from me over the past few weeks urging you to take some time to pray and seek some God-inspired goals that you can pursue this year. I know that most of us don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” any longer because we’ve failed at them so many times that we’ve thrown up our hands and said, “What’s the use!” My emails haven’t been intended to spark some thoughts of what you would like to see happen in your life, but to encourage you to pray and ask God what changes He would like to make in your life. If you’ve done this then go get it. Stick with it. When you fall off track then hit your knees and ask the Lord to give you the courage to get back on track. Let me, and other friends, know what God-inspired goals you have set so that we can pray with you throughout the year. Stick with it. If you haven’t done it, then there is still time.
I can’t stress to you enough how important prayer is for us as we look ahead to the future. I’m not talking about sitting down for a minute with a pen in our hand and saying, “Ok Lord, what is it that You want me to do, what changes are You desiring to make in my life?” After a brief one-sided conversation we brainstorm what we think God would want us to do or pursue. The kind of prayer I’m talking about is being attentive to what God is doing as we go about the day, being willing to adapt to His work as we live this life, living each day with our eyes wide open, and listening with intent as we read God’s Word knowing that He is speaking to us.
I’ve been praying for some time about some new goals for 2013. I’ve come up with a list that I’m excited about, goals that will stretch me in many ways, but then I read some Scripture this past weekend that trumped them all. The overarching goal that I feel the Lord has set before me, for each day of 2013, is to be filled to overflowing with gratitude. I want to be filled to such an extent that I am willing to be bold about my love for Jesus regardless of the setting. I want to be filled to such an extent that my love for Jesus spills over into the way I love those He leads into my life. I want to be filled with gratitude to such a degree that I long to be more and more like Him. God has used a very unlikely woman, a nameless woman in Luke’s Gospel, to speak to my heart in such a powerful way and set this goal in place. This morning I want to share her story with you.
Growing up in a small town can be tough when you ruin your reputation. She didn’t do it intentionally, but one decision led to another and…well, you know how the story goes. Some of you know where this story is heading before I say another word because you’ve lived it to one degree or another. I don’t have time to share the details of her twisted, sordid, heartbreaking story so I’ll fast forward to the present. By the time she got out of high school nobody remembered her as the cute little kid with the million dollar smile, now they turned the other way when they saw her walking down the street. Moms pointed her out as they drove down the street and used her as an illustration with their own daughters of what can happen when you make bad decisions in life. The men of the town didn’t acknowledge her in public, but they sought her company in out-of-the-way places like seedy hotels or dimly lit alleys.
Back in the day, it use to eat at her. She would hear the remarks and recognize the disgust in the looks of others as they quickly turned their heads so as not to make eye contact. She would cry herself to sleep at night, pray for God’s help to break free from the nightmare of a life she had created, and swear that she was never going to do “it” again, but somewhere along the way the tender, crushed heart turned calloused and cold. She despised them as much as they despised her. She was living her life and nobody could tell her what to do.
The only people in town who desired her company were the men who were using her to gratify their own selfish, sensual desires. She would put on her smile, take off her clothes, and pretend that each of them was special, but deep down inside she despised them even more than she despised the people who reminded her that she was a sinner, no good, and a cancer on their small town. And then He came into her life.
What I’ve just shared with you, if we were talking about movies or novels, would be a modern-day adaptation of an old story shared by Luke. When Luke tells the story it is much, much more powerful so let’s read what he has written from Luke 7:36-50.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 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. 39 When the Pharisee who had 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.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 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 wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50 NIV)
Some of you may remember reading a story of a woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. It is a beautiful story that we find in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12, but it’s not the story we’re taking a look at this morning. In the story that Matthew, Mark, and John tell the incident took place in Bethany, near Jerusalem, at the house of a man named “Simon the leper.” The woman who anointed Jesus was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. When she broke the jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus, Judas was indignant because the perfume could have been sold and the money used to take care of the poor…or better yet, his own needs. As John tells the story, after Judas spoke his mind, Jesus spoke up. Look at John 12:7-8 with me.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8 NIV)
The anointing by Mary took place at the end of Jesus’ ministry, just as He was preparing to go to the Cross. In our story found in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ anointing took place much earlier in His ministry. It wasn’t for the purpose of preparing Him for the day of His burial, but it was an outpouring of deep, deep gratitude. There are some similarities in the story that Luke tells with Matthew, Mark, and John’s story, but there are also differences. The meal was served in a house owned by a man named Simon, but this Simon was no leper, he was a Pharisee. Jesus was anointed by women in both stories, but the two women were very different. Mary was an invited guest; no mention is made of her sin. The nameless woman of Luke’s story was not invited; nobody would invite her to a dinner party where such fine upstanding religious leaders were gathered. Luke’s story doesn’t take place in Bethany, but in Galilee. Luke’s story is not at the end of Jesus’ ministry, but much earlier.
Now, let’s spend the rest of our time focusing on the story found in Luke 7. Jesus had been speaking to the people when a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to his house for dinner. Why would he do such a thing? We know what the Pharisees thought about Jesus. They were constantly trying to trap Him, they accused Him of blasphemy because He was forgiving people of their sins, He irritated them with His teaching, and they were jealous that the people were so captivated by Him wherever He went.
Why would Simon invite Jesus to His house? Was he a Pharisee like Nicodemus? You remember Nicodemus don’t you? He was the Pharisee, in John 3, that came to Jesus at night, when nobody would see him. Let me show you. Turn to John 3:1-2 with me. Let’s read together.
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2 NIV)
Jesus taught Nicodemus about what it means to be “born again,” but Nicodemus just didn’t get it. Nicodemus was so entrenched in the details of the morality of the Law that he missed the Messiah. Was Simon a man after Nicodemus’ own heart? A sympathizer of Jesus? We can’t know the answer to that question simply by reading the first verse, but if we take the whole story into consideration then we’ll know that Simon was no sympathizer, he was more of a spy than a sympathizer. The Pharisees were constantly trying to trap Jesus, to catch Him slipping up so they could get rid of Him. After Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, Matthew tells us,
14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:14 NIV)
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people were ecstatic and the religious leaders were indignant. Matthew tells us,
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (Matthew 21:14-15 NIV)
Again and again the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus and I believe that Simon was a card carrying Pharisee who had bought fully into the plot to expose Jesus for who they thought Him to be…a fraud, a blasphemer, and an enemy of the people of God.
Jesus was well aware of this and yet He went to Simon’s house anyway. He had nothing to hide; He knew who He was and why He had come, so Jesus went to Simon’s house. As we study God’s Word we have to keep in mind the differences of the times and practices of the people and the culture in which we are learning about and our own time. In Jesus’ day it was common for rabbis to be invited to the homes of people in the community and the doors left open for people to come in, listen, ask questions, and learn. They didn’t have malls and movie theaters so it was kind of small town entertainment for the people. It’s not until we get to verse 49 that we learn that there was anyone in Simon’s house other than Simon, Jesus, and this unnamed sinful woman.
We don’t know how many folks were there, but you can bet that since Jesus was the guest of honor that a crowd had come in off the street to hear Him. The Mayor would have probably been there. The dignitaries and debutantes of the town would have canceled the events on their social calendar when the word got out that Jesus would be at Simon’s house. Anybody who was “somebody” wouldn’t have missed it, but there is no way they would’ve believed their eyes when she walked in. Read Luke 7:37-38 with me.
37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 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. (Luke 7:37-38 NIV)
The word that Luke uses to describe the woman who caught everyone’s attention is the word, “ἁμαρτωλός” (hamartolos). The word means, “devoted to sin, pre-eminently sinful,” or “especially wicked.” The word was used to describe those who were living in conscious opposition to God’s will. She was most probably a prostitute and that is why the people who were gathered in the room surrounding Jesus as He reclined at the dinner table eating His meal were shocked and stunned at the gall of the woman to come near Simon’s house, a respectable Pharisee, and Jesus.
The roads in the Galilee were dusty and dirty so it was a common courtesy for homeowners to provide either one of their hired hands to wash the feet of guests as they arrived or at least to provide a basin of water for the guests to clean their own feet. Simon’s quiet hostility towards Jesus must have preoccupied him because as Jesus was reclining at the table the woman noticed that His feet were still dirty and dusty. Some of you are probably wondering why I keep saying that Jesus was “reclining” at the table. Well, this is another reason why we need to understand the cultural practices of the people of the Bible. In Jesus’ day, when folks would come to the dinner table, they didn’t sit in chairs, they would lay on the ground on mats or pillows, resting, most of the time, on their left elbow, eating with their right hand, and their feet were curled back behind them.
The scandalous woman was drawn to Jesus’ dirty feet. She was weeping and her tears fell on His feet. Luke tells us that she began to wet His feet with her tears. The word that Luke uses here for “wet” is a very descriptive word for us. They say a “picture paints a thousand words.” Well, the Greek word, “βρέχω” (brecho) paints a vivid picture of the emotion that was pouring out of the woman. In every other place in the New Testament where this word is used it is translated, “rain.” She was so overcome with emotion that she was crying her eyes out. Her tears were falling on Jesus’ feet and mixing with the dirt. She didn’t have a towel to wipe them off so she let down her hair and began to wipe Jesus’ feet.
You need to know that all Jewish women had to wear their hair up when they were in public. For a woman to let her hair down was scandalous, some rabbis said that it was an offense that was grounds for her husband to divorce her. She didn’t have a towel so she used what she had, not giving any thought to the Law or what others thought.
After she finished cleaning Jesus’ feet with her hair she took them in her hands and began kissing them over and over again, still with her tears spilling down onto Jesus’ feet. They were not the deceitful kisses that she was use to giving to twisted, perverted men; they were the kisses of a woman overcome with gratitude. You may wonder how I know that? Well, the word that Luke uses, “καταφιλέω” (kataphileo) means, “to kiss much, to kiss again and again, and to kiss tenderly.” Even more telling than a definition is the way that Luke uses the word in another story that Jesus told. Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Well, you know the mess the boy made of his life and how, when he was sitting in the mess he had made, he came to his senses and decided to go home to his dad and volunteer to work as a hired hand…if his dad would just take him back. Jesus tells us,
18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:18-20 NIV)
The kisses of the father were the same kisses of scandalous woman who knelt over Jesus’ feet. Same word. Now, can you understand the nature of the kisses of this shameful, sinful woman? She didn’t stop with cleaning Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and kissing His feet in gratitude—she took that alabaster jar of perfume around her neck and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. I don’t know about you, but as I’ve read this story over and over again this past week it has touched me so deeply. What love! What gratitude! What boldness to walk right in where she knew people knew all about her past, but her gratitude forced her to subject herself to their ridicule just so she could see Jesus…so she could honor the One who had changed her life.
Simon wasn’t moved. While the woman was knelt down at Jesus’ feet weeping and wiping, kissing and anointing his feet with her tears as well as her perfume, Simon was thinking to himself. Luke tells us,
39 When the Pharisee who had 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 7:39 NIV)
Simon was thinking to himself, but Jesus knew what he was thinking. Jesus said, “Simon, let me tell you something.”
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 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 wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 NIV)
In the story that Jesus told there were two people who owed money—one owed a little and the other owed a lot. The amount really didn’t matter because neither had the money to pay back their debt. Both of the people were forgiven the debt they owed. Jesus asked Simon, “Which of them will love him more?” Simon said, “Well, I guess the person who owed the most.” Jesus looked Simon straight in the eyes and said, “You got it!”
Then Jesus turned and looked at the woman whose hair was matted with the dirt of Jesus’ feet, her eyes were red and swollen from her tears, and she cowered as the eyes of everyone in the room were staring at her. Jesus said, “Simon, do you see this woman?” The truth of the matter is that Simon, and all of the other folks gathered at his house, saw her for what he and others had known her to be, but she had changed.
Jesus pointed out to Simon that when He came into his house Simon hadn’t given Him any water for His feet, but the woman had washed His feet with her tears. Simon hadn’t greeted Jesus with a familiar Middle Eastern kiss, but the woman hadn’t stopped kissing Jesus’ feet. Simon hadn’t anointed Jesus’ head with oil, but the woman had poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. What a contrast! The woman was the 500 denarii debtor whose sin had been forgiven and she was filled with gratitude! Jesus had one more thing to say to Simon.
47 “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47 NIV)
I want to make something very clear. The bold demonstration of love and gratitude wasn’t what gained forgiveness for the woman—it was the forgiveness that she had found in Jesus that produced the acts of gratitude. This wasn’t the woman’s first encounter with Jesus. You could always find Jesus among the people. You could always hear Him teaching, sharing the truths of the Kingdom. Was she there when Jesus told the crowd,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
The stories of what Jesus did and the things He said circulated throughout the region. Do you think the story of how Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery might have touched the woman’s heart? Somehow, some way, she heard Jesus speaking of God’s love and forgiveness, she saw Him changing lives, and her own life was changed. That’s why she went to Simon’s house. That’s why she subjected herself to the snide remarks and stares of disgust.
There’s someone here today or reading this lesson and you need to know that the same grace and mercy that changed this woman’s life is available to change yours also. Religious people may have marginalized you, church people may make you uncomfortable, but let me assure you of this—you will find everything you’ve been longing for in life in the arms of Jesus. He will forgive you, He will wipe your tears, and give you a confidence to live the life He has given you with no concern for what others have to say about your past.
There are far more of us here in this sanctuary this morning who are like Simon. We are not in touch with the depth of our sin, we’ve lost sight of just how lost we were before Jesus came into our lives, we’ve deceived ourselves into believing that we aren’t as bad as some others, and we’ve become religious…coldly religious. We need to become more than familiar with the sinfulness of our hearts, the waywardness of our thoughts, and the coldness of our love for our Savior.
The more familiar we become with our own destitute situation the more we will welcome the “sinners” of this community and city into our midst. We won’t look at them as Simon looked at the woman, we will see them as people desperately in need of God’s grace and reconciliation, and we will recognize that God may very well be calling us to be His instrument of grace and reconciliation.
The Lord brought all of us here this morning to hear this powerful story so that we might see ourselves in the story. Where do you find yourself? In your mind you may have committed the unpardonable sin and there’s no hope for you. You need more than “hope” my friend, you need Jesus and He is so glad you are here. Won’t you fall into His arms of mercy this very morning? Maybe you’ve been sitting in pews so long, going to Bible studies for years, and your heart has grown cold to the notorious, the scandalous, the sinners that you know. You need a fresh touch from the Lord of mercy to give you new eyes to see and a heart filled with compassion. If that is you then you need to know that Jesus is so glad you are here. He’s here to give you eyes to see and break your heart with the sin and sorrows of those who need Him. Won’t you come and let us pray with you?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 6, 2013