When Jesus accepted an invitation to dine with a Pharisee, it quickly became a meal few would forget! An uninvited, despised woman created a stir when she intruded upon the scene and offered an extravagant demonstration of devotion to Christ. Walking us through the extraordinary event, the various reactions, and Jesus’ intervention, Alistair Begg explains that love, not morality, is the measure of forgiveness. Only when we humbly acknowledge our sin and our need for a Savior do we discover true and lasting peace.
The following message by Alistair begg is made available by truth for life. For more information, visit us online. At truth For life dot org. I invite you to turn with me to the new testament and to the gospel of Luke and to follow along. As I read from the 36th verse of Luke, chapter seven through to the end of the chapter Luke chapter seven. and from verse 36 one of the Pharisees asked him, that is jesus to eat with him. And he went into the Pharisees house and reclined at table and behold the woman of the city who was a sinner when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisees 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 a hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment or perfume. 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’s a sinner, and jesus answered and 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 500 denarii and the other 50 when they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more, Simon answered the one I suppose for whom? He canceled the larger debt. And he said to him, You’ve 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 do 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 even forgive sins? And he said to the woman, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Amen our gracious God! We look to your word and we listen for your voice and we pray in jesus name, Amen! Well, we read it and we’re not going to reread it. But you will have your gaze. I hope on verse 36. Where? And I just have three words. I think this morning that I’m going to use the first word is obvious and straightforward. Here we have in verse 36 the invitation. The invitation And we are told by Luke that one of the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees have already featured in the opening chapters of Luke perhaps classically in Chapter five. If you want to turn back for just a moment on the occasion where another meal was taking place, not what we’re going to refer to this morning as this meal, a meal to remember. But it was a meal at the home of Levi. And on that occasion The Pharisees were grumbling on account of the fact that Jesus was inviting people like Levi and other tax collectors and sinners to be part of the celebration. And at the end of that little section, in verse 32, Jesus says to them listen, you need to know that my purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins. It is not to spend time with those who think themselves already good enough. So he’s stating his case very clearly. My purpose is to spend time with sinners who know themselves to be in need of forgiveness rather than to spend time with people who think they’re good enough already. When you get into Chapter six, the Pharisees were told we’re looking for an opportunity to catch him out. They were seeking to accuse him And they were looking for ways to see what they might do to Jesus. That’s as a result of what happened on the Sabbath. When a man with a withered hand had been restored and instead of them going, what a wonderful day this has been, how tremendous that this man has been so radically changed. No, no. And they were filled verse 11 of Chapter six. They were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. And now here we are in Chapter 71 of the Pharisees. We don’t know whether he has invited jesus here on account of the fact that the group from which he has come are looking for ways to trap him and accuse him. We don’t know whether that is true. We don’t know whether he is distinct from them in some measure. And instead of looking for a way to trap jesus, he is looking to see if there is a basis for him to trust jesus. He certainly extends to him a courtesy by way of the invitation. It is as we will see a limited courtesy or a controlled courtesy if you like. And luke wants us to understand the identity of this man. So in verse 36 twice, he’s referred to as the pharisee. The Pharisees House, in verse 37. Once again, he is the person of the Pharisees house. And in verse 39. Now, when the pharisee who had invited him. So again, by way of repetition, we recognize that luke is saying to us. Now, don’t miss the fact that this encounter is taking place in the Pharisees house. It is in the Pharisees house, that we are given this meal to remember. And we’re told that Jesus has accepted the invitation, reminding us as the readers of the Gospel, that the work of jesus in the lives of people transcends all the demographics. He was glad to be in the company of those who were aware of their need and now he takes the opportunity to be in the company of one who is not so clear. We mustn’t begin to think in terms of our homes and our dining rooms. The fact that jesus was reclining at the table is an indication of what was taking place. I think you can still buy what is called a trick lynnie um in contemporary furniture, but it dates to the early centuries where instead of sitting down to eat, then at a banquet, the people would lie down to eat. So they would lie down on one side if the right handed, they would lie down on their left side. That position was believed to aid digestion in the process. And so their feet and their legs would be out behind them. So the picture there is of jesus in a horizontal position. They’re not in a formal dining room. It may well be that they are in a courtyard that they are outdoors because it was not uncommon in this period of time. And indeed in roman culture beyond this time, for events like this to have, although by private invitation, a group, an extended group of people who may actually show up and they may show up for river variety of reasons, we know why this lady is showing up, but others may just have come because when someone of significance was going to a house like this, there may be an opportunity to hear what that person has to say. They maybe have an opportunity to ask a question or so. And so there would be bystanders, observers and actually probably what we refer to as respectable scavengers looking for the opportunity as the meal comes to a close to see if there’s some nice juicy leftover morsels. Allah the second day or the day after thanksgiving. There. There they are. And that is the picture, the invitation secondly, the intruder, the intruder verse 37. And behold a woman of the city who was a sinner. She arrives uninvited. She is unnamed. She is anonymous, presumably luke has determined not to include her name in order that he might protect as it were her life and her background and her story. She doesn’t have a speaking part at all. She never says a word. In fact, as you look from verse 36 all the way down to the end of verse 39. No one is saying anything. My wife and I watched a movie last week sometime and it was a war movie and I said to her, Is there any dialogue in this thing at all Because from the opening credits for about three or four minutes into it. Nobody said a word simply. The camera was panning. The scene was setting the scene and that’s what you have here. Actually, the camera pans the scene, there’s not a word, nobody’s saying anything. Now imagine this into this context. This woman arrives. Who is she? Well, she’s not named, but she is described as a woman of the city who was a sinner. How did she come to be there? Well, presumably she heard from whatever source, if you like the word on the street, because she was essentially a woman of the street. That the word on the street was that jesus was having a meal at the house of Simon the pharisee. It’s very important in reading this story and I’ve had to work on this quite hard during the week to come to the realization which I think is entirely justifiable that this is not the first occasion when this woman met jesus, that there had been a prior encounter. It may actually even have been, for example, in 5 29 at that great feast at Levi’s house, where it says there were a large number of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them, it may have been as J. C. Ryle suggests, uh leading us to Matthew chapter 11 on the occasion when jesus turns to the group and he says, come to me all, you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest somewhere along the line. She had met jesus and she had found forgiveness and a fresh start. I’ll explain why that is an accurate uh exposition the further we get into the story, but follow along with me for now that someplace along the line she had discovered who jesus is, what Jesus was coming to do and how jesus would give her an entire redo a completely new start. Therefore, I suggest to you that it was love that drew her to Simon’s house. It was love. There’s no defiance in the description with a woman here. It’s not like she shows up singing, you know, it’s your party and outcome if I want to as a sort of defiant gesture. But no, she comes in humility and notice verse 37. And behold a woman of the city. You don’t want to go through your bible. Look! Every time the word behold comes. But it often is like a big flashing light, the very beginning of the bible in genesis one. And behold God created everything. And behold it was very good. John the baptist on one side of the Jordan, he says, behold the lamb of God! Who takes away this another world. People don’t just routine. Your Children don’t say when they’re driving in the car. Oh, behold Mcdonald’s on the left hand side, if they do, you should probably have a little conversation with them. But the point is behold, look at this, get a look at this. That’s what’s being said. Behold a woman of the city who was a sinner. This is extraordinary. This doesn’t happen at the usual meals. This is a meal that’s going to be remembered forever. Notice that her appearance is purposeful. When she learned that he was reclining a table in the Pharisees house, she brought an alabaster flask of ointment. Ointment is not really very good. There. It should be perfume, it should be because what they used in oil was just olive oil and anointing people’s heads in this alabaster jar which may well have been a dowry. It was a very special thing. It wasn’t something that she picked up at the equivalent of CVS on the way to the meal. No, it may have been something that she wore around her neck a small alabaster vial. The very container was precious and the contents of it were not to be used willy nilly. It wasn’t just something that you would dispense with on any occasion, any and luke says to us. Now you better notice that when she shows up, she was, he was reclining at the table and she brought an alabaster flask containing this perfumed oil. So I suggest to you that her arrival was purposeful and it also, as we will see, was self forgetful. She wasn’t there to present herself, she is obviously prepared to endure the stares of contempt. She is prepared, obviously to accept the fight that she will be despised for her extravagant gesture. This is a courageous lady and notice what we’re told and standing behind him as soon as you remember again that he is reclining, that his legs are out behind him. That is how she would be able to be in that position. Standing behind him at his feet. She weeps. And this is not this is not Hollywood weeping. Now, this is weeping where your nose runs, this is weeping where you weep enough to actually create enough moisture to wet the feet of the person. You’re standing behind. This is significant. She weeps. She began to wet his feet with her tears and she wiped them with the hair of her head. Did she look around as people saw the scene unfold and wonder if anyone would pass her, if you like, even a napkin, even a towel, even something to see what she’s dealing with. Because remember when a woman took her hair up on the night of her wedding, she never took it down again in public. To take your hair down in public was akin to going topless at the pond. No, I say, do you look at this and she wiped them with the hair of her head. She kissed his feet. She anointed them with a perfumed ointment. What she did was socially taboo. But it’s not erotic. Her erotic days are in the past. Don’t miss this. She knew she knew what it was like to be what she was, but she knew that she was no longer what she was. She had looked for love in all the wrong faces and now she bows at his feet. Now all of this that I’ve just tried to describe for you is there in the text and there is nothing in the text that tells us why this is happening is simply a description. Jesus was invited. He went, he was reclining a lady showed up and she did all of this. So we’re not told why it’s happening, but we are told, you will notice in verse 39 what the pharisee is thinking, What is the fair is he thinking? When the pharisee had invited him, saw her, saw this, actually not saw her this display, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, now luke, chapter seven verse 11 and following, you need to back up to there where jesus raises the widow of names son. And in the drama of that great moment as the boy begins to come to life, the declaration of the people is verse 16 b, a great prophet has arisen among us and God has visited his people and this report about him spread throughout the whole of judea and all of the surrounding country. So the people said, if you were there and you saw that happen, you’ve got to know that a great prophet has arisen. God is present. Now, Simon looks at this and he says, I don’t think so, no. Now if you were a prophet, he would have known who and was sort of woman, this is who is touching him for she is a sinner. You see what he’s saying is, if he was a prophet of God, then it would have been apparent because when she started to do this, he would have pushed her away. He said, no, you make me ceremonially unclean, You can’t touch me, I don’t touch people like you and you don’t touch me. You see, the pharisee is horrified. He’s absolutely horrified. Incidentally, and in passing Pharisees will always have great difficulty with extravagant displays of affection on the part of people who really actually love, Jesus likely love jesus, If you’re just a moralist, if you have just decided that religion is a key kind of clean up act that it is external to your life, you will never understand why it is that people would say, my jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine for thee. All the follies of sin, I resign. You look at that and say, I don’t know what that’s about at all. I don’t know what that’s about. We didn’t get that in my church. No, we never did that. That’s what’s happening here. He didn’t understand this extravagant expression of love, this extravagant expression of thanksgiving. And you will notice jesus answering said to him, but he hadn’t said anything, he said to himself and jesus answered why, while he’s making it clear to him, not only do I know who and what this lady is, but Simon, I know who and what you are, mm. You see, sometimes we’re tempted to think that Jesus doesn’t actually know. Jesus knows everything about us. He knows all the good, all the bad, all the ugly, he knows us. And this man is going to make a great discovery on that. So the invitation, the intruder, we called to her, an intruder in not an unkind way, but she does intrude upon the proceedings. And then the intervention at least part one of the intervention and jesus answering, said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you. And he said, well go ahead say it, teacher. And then Jesus provides this little parable. You see it there in 41 a certain moneylender had two debtors, one or 500 the other fifties, so one was out 10 times in a greater predicament than the other. And when they couldn’t pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now the picture here is very clear, isn’t it? Uh debtor here is if you like, just code language for sinner for sinner, we know that when we say the Lord’s prayer together, don’t we forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors or forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Now, the point here is that neither of these two individuals could pay. They’re both in the exact same category, they are indebted and jesus is about to establish very clearly the significance of the response of the woman And he does. So in light of the fact that Simon is actually forced. I take it reluctantly to answer the question which of them will love him more? Who will love him more if the if one guy still had 280,000 on his mortgage and another guy had 280 divided by 10, had 28,000 100 whatever. He had a car payment left of that of 2800 and the guy had 280 grand on his house and he forgave him. The entire mortgage is cleared. And and your car payment is gone, who would give him the biggest hug? Well, I suppose, what do you mean? You suppose? What’s your problem here? Simon? The one I suppose for whom? He canceled the larger debt? And he said to him, Jesus said to him, while you have judged rightly. Now let me let me pause here, as it were for a moment. And let’s get this clear in our mind about what is happening Pharisees, where like fairly normal people, Pharisees were moral people, Pharisees were upright people Pharisees were rule keepers, Pharisees knew that if they were really on their game, they would make sure that they steered clear of any of the sinners, the tax collectors and this kind of woman Pharisees were blind to their own sinfulness and blind to their need of forgiveness. In fact, Simon’s commitment as a pharisee to moral tidiness, had no capacity for dealing with this kind of woman because his whole life was about, I am thinking correctly, I am living correctly, I am doing this and I am steering clear of that. Now, if you’re listening to me, you will realize The 24th Century Pharisees can be found in all congregations. In fact, the spirit of the pharisee looms large. When we look at our own lives, when we say to ourselves, now, wait a minute. It’s akin if you like to the parable that jesus is going to tell later on of the two brothers who were lost. One was lost running away and making a hash of things and the other was lost still back in his house. He didn’t think he was lost. Why would you give a party to my brother? Why would you do that whole new outfit, killing a calf, doing this? And I’ve been slaving here for you the whole jolly time. You see, he was a moralist. He was a pharisee. He had an external religion. He had to say, well, I suppose you see it wasn’t the Pharisees thought they were sinless, They knew they weren’t sinless, but they figured that God graded on the curve. So as long as there were others worse than them, then they could take pride in the fact that they were not like them. Now you have this again in the story in Luke 18 of the publican and the and the and the tax collector? Um not not the public in the collector, but the fellow who the pharisee and the tax collector was pharisee and tax collector, remember, he said and and the pharisee um was standing beside the tax collector and the pharisee standing by himself. Of course he was. I’m not gonna stand next to you. I don’t understand these two people like you. First, he’s standing by himself, prayed God thus to God God, I thank you that I’m not like other men, I’m different. I’m special. I don’t do the things they do and I do things that they don’t do. And that was it. That was it. Now, when that is pervasive in a mind, the arrival of somebody like this is going to create chaos. When he saw this, he said to himself, no, this can’t be right now. What jesus does, of course, is in one sense, he traps him. He traps him because he Simon is a student of to recognize that he knows where jesus is going with the question. So, intervention, part one, the little parable followed by the question and the response, intervention part to this pushes us towards the conclusion. What a question do you see this woman? It’s almost funny, isn’t it? The whole focus of the event has become transfixed. That the attention has become transfixed on this woman and jesus is do you see this woman? But I, I don’t know, turning towards a woman, he says to Simon, do you see this woman? I wonder does he mean, I wonder is he saying to Simon? You know, you can’t really see her as she is because you can’t stop thinking about her as she was. That’s the pharisee, always. You can’t enjoy the transformation. Even your friends down below, look at them, sitting at the table, the rest of them, what are they doing? They’re not going, this is amazing, look what God has done in the life of this lady, know, they’re having a question about the identity of jesus christ weather, Let’s have a discussion. That kind of hypothetical discussion. It’s a good question, it’s an important question, but their timing is horrible. What they’re really showing is they don’t get it either here in this meal to remember. So jesus says to me, well let me, let me just rehearse this with you, I entered your house, you were courteous enough to invite me, but actually you neglected the routine of basic hospitality and then he just works his way through it. You didn’t give me any water for my feet, She has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. There was no kiss of welcome, Ala Italy or Allah, the Islamic world or kiss on one side to the other by this time I came in, she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You didn’t anoint my head with oil. She’s anointed my feet with ointment. So let me tell you, let me tell you this. Her sins which are many are forgiven for. She loved much. Now this is the danger point in the story. And this is why I said, what I said earlier, you notice that the final sentence in the chapter, your faith has saved you go in peace. This would be to turn the gospel upside down by suggesting that the love of the woman in its extravagance, earned forgiveness. She can’t earn forgiveness. No one can earn forgiveness the story. So it’s so amazing. The money lender said, You’re clear that doesn’t happen. What, what was it in the people that caused him to do that? Nothing in the people save their need. You’re free and clear, he said. Now, the love of this woman was not the cause of her forgiveness. It was the evidence of it. Or if you like. It was not the condition of forgiveness. It was the consequence of forgiveness, or if you like. It was the result of forgiveness. Not the reason for forgiveness, or if you like. It was the fruit. It was not the root choose whichever one you want to fascinate in your mind. It’s vitally important. Her actions were the overflow of God’s mercy and grace, which she had discovered in this man, jesus. And that’s why Simon could only wonder at this because he himself loved a wee bit. But he had no real consciousness of needing forgiveness. He had no sense of a debt to jesus because after all, think about him. He read the law, he attended the services, he kept his distance from sinners. You don’t need you don’t need to be a christian to do that. He read the law, he attended the services and he kept his distance from sinners. He read the bible, he attended Parkside and he kept his distance from sinners. You see what had happened to him was that his morality had blinded him from his own need of forgiveness. His morality. The fact that he was an upstanding member of the community. The fact that he paid his taxes. The fact that he was the kind of person who at least in the extension of religious circles would have been regarded with respect. He was distinctly unlike this woman. It makes me think of the line, I often quote, and I’m about to quote it to you again. And that is where C. S. Lewis talks about nice men, lost in their niceness. Nice men, lost in their niceness. He describes them in their corner offices with cufflinks and put together, lost that we need to finish. So let me try and end in this way. Therefore, I tell you her sins which are many are forgiven for she loved much, but he was forgiven little loves little. And he said to her, your sins are forgiven. People said, well there you are, she did that. And then he said, your sins are forgiven. I don’t think he said it so that she would no, I think he said it so that everybody else would know that all the people are looking at her going, hey you can’t you’re not gonna get away with this. Oh yeah, he says, you know, hey your sins are forgiven, you know that, don’t you? Oh yes, she knew it, Yes, she knew it. And then in 49 around the table, as I say, they’re discussing the identity of Jesus. It’s a mechanism very often isn’t it, shielding ourselves from the challenge that is presented by the woman’s extravagant gesture. So instead of going, oh wait a minute, I think I’m on the wrong side of this equation, I’ll go out and I’ll have a discussion about some other piece of important theology, just talk about anything, but just don’t face up to the fact of what Jesus says and jesus said to the woman, your faith has saved you go in peace, shalom shalom peace, peace. The peace whereby God in his mercy brings broken bits and pieces back together again. The peace whereby God in his wonderful providence and care, seeks out people like this and seeks to put them back together again so that a piece that they have never known. They now know and a piece that the pharisee cannot know because that piece is only discovered when we are humbled enough to recognize that we are in need of the forgiveness that jesus provides. Imagine if we’d been present at the meal at the meal, to remember a kind of form of our own thanksgiving meal and we went around the table and did what you have to do Simon? What are you thankful for today? I’m thankful for the law. I’m thankful for the synagogue. I’m thankful for separation and you and you, ma’am, I’m sorry, I can’t I can’t give you your name. How about you? Well, I’m thankful thankful that my sins, though they were many. His mercy is more. I’m thankful for forgiveness. I’m thankful for jesus. I love jesus so much. I’m thankful that with jesus, failure is never final. Simon, you see, wasn’t even conscious of his need of forgiveness. She, by contrast, could not explain her life apart from forgiveness. I wonder did the woman become part of the company that followed Jesus. Did you allow your eyes to to run on into the beginning of Chapter 8? It’s actually is. It’s easily overlooked if I can’t even find it. It’s uh it’s right there after chapter seven, beginning of chapter eight. And did you notice this? That’s what I’m saying is I wonder did she become part of this company. Chapter eight verse one. Soon afterward, Jesus went on through the cities and villages proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God and the 12 were with him. And also some women. Now, what kind of women were with him? Well, some have been healed of evil spirits and infirmities mary called Magdalene from whom seven demons had gone out. Joanna, the wife of Susa heralds, household manager and Susanna and many others who provided for them out of their means. Look at the group that’s with this guy, the Pharisees had gone, this is, he can’t be the prophet of God. He’s got the wrong people with him. Look at them. A bunch of misfits. Their lives are shambles. Chaos. She loved much love is the measure of forgiveness. Morality is not the measure of forgiveness. Love is the measure of forgiveness. This is a meal to remember. It would be great if we could bring her back have her with us. I think she would have loved these songs. My sins there many his mercy is more. What a friend I have in jesus, all my sins and griefs to bear, see what this actually does. This meal to remember is force each of us to ask this question not. Do I go to church, read the bible and try and steer away from sin so good. But do I love jesus? Do I love his people do. I love much. Do I love at all. Let us pray thank you Lord jesus for the way in which you moved amongst men and women calling them to you, embracing them in their need, setting them free from the things that chained and held them and spoil their lives. Thank you that this is the story Of the Gospel. This is why Paul wasn’t ashamed of it in Romans one. I’m not ashamed of. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. For everyone who believes God grant that salvation maybe hours this day. For jesus sake. Amen. This message was brought to you from truth. For life where the learning is for living. To learn more about truth. For life with Alistair begg visit us online at truth for life dot org.