Luke 7:36-50 – Preached @ Ebenezer Church on 31 May 2009
Let me begin with a short story.
James and John met a hungry tiger in the jungle.
They knew they were in serious trouble.
They knew that they could not fight the tiger.
So the best chance for survival would be to run away.
James said to John: but we can’t run faster than the tiger; what shall we do?
John looked at James and said:
I need not run faster than the tiger.
I only need to run faster than you.
What I wanted to illustrate in this story is the mentality of most people in this world.
I am ok as long as I am better than you.
And when it comes to going to heaven, I’ll probably make it if I am better than you.
But this is not the teaching of Jesus as we will see in our passage Luk 7: 36-50 today.
I want you to keep this story in your mind as I will refer to it again later.
Today, we shall consider this passage under 2 headings as follows:
1) we will look at the pride of the Pharisee and Jesus’ assessment of his behaviour
2) we will examine the humility of the sinful woman and the verdict of Jesus on this matter
Most importantly, we want to learn lessons from this passage to apply into our lives today.
So, let us begin with our first heading – the pride of the Pharisee.
Our passage tells us that this Pharisee was called Simon.
And he invited Jesus to his house for dinner.
Obviously, Simon must be quite well to do in order to host a dinner like that.
We do not know his exact motive for inviting Jesus.
He could have genuinely wanted to get to know Jesus better.
Or perhaps he had intentions to find fault with Jesus.
Whatever it is, this we know – Simon was the host and Jesus was the guest.
And as the host, you would normally treat your guest with respect and want to ensure his well-being.
But for some reason, Simon did not regard Jesus as an honoured guest.
And this is seen in how Jesus was received into Simon’s home.
Usually, in those days, they would welcome their guests with hugs and kisses.
But this was not done for Jesus.
So the reception appeared to be a little unfriendly.
And in those days, the roads were all dirt tracks.
And the people wore shoes that were like sandals such that their feet were exposed to dust and dirt.
So it is common for the host to provide a facility to let their guests wash their feet.
And especially so before they sat down for dinner.
But for whatever reason, this was not provided for Jesus.
So the reception provided for Jesus really appeared a little hostile.
It seems that Simon harboured an air of superiority.
Perhaps he was thinking in his heart: “Jesus was regarded as a good teacher by the others.
But I am also someone of high standing in society.
Nonetheless, let me have Him in my house to get to know Him.
Perhaps I can influence him with my opinions.
Perhaps He will realize that I have answers to the world’s problems.
Let me show Him what I know and tell Him what I have achieved so that He thinks highly of me.
In 2 Kings 20:12-19, King Hezekiah was also very proud of what he had accomplished.
A delegation from Babylon came to visit him when he was sick.
And Hezekiah was quick to show them all the treasures he had in his house and kingdom.
It was probably out of pride that he did this.
Perhaps he felt good about his accomplishments.
Perhaps he wanted to show the Babylonians that his kingdom was more advanced or prosperous than Babylon.
You see, we like think that our accomplishments are worth something.
We like to think that our accomplishments put us in better positions than the people around us.
We like to think that our accomplishments can gain us some favour in the eyes of God.
Listen to what the prophet Isaiah said to Hezekiah in 2Kings 20:16-17:
“Hear the word of the LORD:
Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the LORD.
Are we proud of what we have achieved so far?
Perhaps we are good students and have accomplished very good results.
Perhaps we are very successful in our careers and have attained great status in society.
Or perhaps we think we are wise in our perception and understanding of things.
Perhaps we have more experience in life than most people in our Church.
Or perhaps we feel we have sacrificed more than anyone else for the Kingdom of God.
The point is this: the moment you feel this way, you will think you owe God less than the people around you.
And this is the kind of pride that the Pharisee Simon had.
This is the kind of pride that will deny him from coming to faith in Jesus.
And Jesus told Simon the Pharisee about his pride using the following story.
Two men who borrowed different amounts of money from someone (let’s call him Mr Generous).
The first man (let’s call him James) borrowed 500 denarii, while the 2nd (let’s call him John) borrowed 50 – if you have been listening, these are the same names used in the story that we started with.
In other words, Jame’s debt was 10 times that of John.
And it came to pass that both James and John could not repay the loan.
But out of the goodness of his heart, Mr Generous decided to cancel the debts of both James & John.
The question is this – who would love the Mr Generous more?
And Simon the Pharisee correctly answered this question saying that it would be James.
James was the one who owed Mr Generous more money.
James was the one who was forgiven more.
But more importantly, James would be the one who will not think he is better than others and therefore deserve to be forgiven.
Now although Simon the Pharisee gave the right answer, I do not know if he really understands the point that Jesus is driving home to him.
You see, Pharisees were proud of their knowledge and good works in those days.
But if there is a Pharisee who had much to boast about and consider that his achievements can bring him to heaven, it would probably be the Apostle Paul.
Theologians assessed that he had the equivalent of what we would deem as 2 doctorate degrees, knowledge of more than 3 languages, good parentage, taught by the best teachers, strict in practices as a Pharisee, etc.
But the Apostle Paul says in Gal 6:14 “God forbid that I should glory, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified unto me and I unto the world”.
What does he mean?
If I should have anything to be proud about, it would be the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Cross reminds me that all that I have gained in this world is not worthy of heaven.
The Cross reminds me that if I am deserving of heaven, Jesus need not have died on the Cross.
The Cross reminds me that by faith in Jesus, I am done with counting my accomplishments in this world.
The debt that I owe God is too much, I’m just glad that He would forgive me.
I am just glad that God provided the only way to heaven – by believing that Jesus died for the sins of His people.
Now, the sad thing is this: our passage does not tell us whether Simon the Pharisee understood the lesson and repented.
And I hope you will not leave this place with the same ambiguity today.
The pride of the Pharisee was the greatest stumbling block to believing in Jesus.
I hope it will not be for you.
We will now come to our second heading which we will see is a complete contrast to the first.
We shall examine the humility of the sinful woman in this passage.
The scriptures did not tell us the name of this woman.
She was probably one of those who heard and was greatly moved by Jesus’ preaching.
And she was in a state where she was just overwhelmed by sorrow because of her sin.
The Pharisee Simon regarded her as a sinful woman.
And unlike the Pharisee, she felt she could offer nothing to Jesus to pay for her sins.
All she could do was to cry for her sins and indeed she was crying non-stop.
It was clear that she had no peace in her heart.
Her sin was weighing heavily on her.
It was like what the Psalmist says in Psalm 42:3 – “my tears have been my food day and night..”
Have you ever had such an experience for the weight of your sin?
When they feel the weight of their sin, many people try to put their efforts into doing good works.
For example, the Roman Catholics carry out something call penance.
This is a system where they have to do something as a “punishment” for any sin they commit.
So when Martin Luther lived in the monastery, he did a lot of penance because he felt exceedingly sinful.
For example, he would be hopping up a flight of stairs and at every step saying “God forgive me”.
But no amount of penance that Martin Luther did could silence his conscience.
And I will tell you that many people do all kinds of different things to try to pay for their sins.
A story was told about the Founder of Hyundai Corporation – the largest Conglomerate in Korea.
His name was Chung Ju-yung and he used to live in what is now called North Korea.
As farmers, his family was very poor.
When he was a teenager, JuYung stole a cow from his family and ran away from home to the South.
He sold the cow for a small sum of money and used that to start a small business.
His business did well and he prospered but JuYung could not find peace in his heart.
Then the Korean war separated Korea into North and South Korea.
And JuYung was constantly bothered by the fact that he prospered because of the cow he stole from his family.
And when North Korea opened its borders, he took the first opportunity to pay for his sin.
He bought 1,000 cows and brought it to North Korea as a compensation for that 1 cow he stole.
You see the kind of things that people would do to try to pay for their sins?
My friends, let me tell you that no amount of good work can pay for the sins we have committed.
Not 1,000 cows or a million cows.
Look at the woman in our passage today.
The weight of her sin led her to channel her energies to positive actions.
She was trying to gain peace by doing a good work of washing Jesus’ feet.
But let me tell you that even those positive actions could not remove the burden of her sin.
That is why she kept crying even as she continued to wash Jesus’ feet.
Yes, it was a positive action of washing Jesus’ feet, but she still found no peace.
She tried even harder and now she used her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet.
But it still did not help….until she heard the words of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven” – verse 48.
O What a wonderful thing it is to hear this from the Son of God!
I can imagine that her heart was just simply lifted up.
And she must have been so thankful for those sweet words: “Your sins are forgiven”.
Friends, have you been bothered by the weight of your sins?
If you have, I will tell you that it is a good thing.
But then what should I do if I feel the burden of my sin? I can’t be washing Jesus’ feet now?
There was an evangelist from China who lived in the early 1900s by the name of John Sung.
Before he became a Christian, he was heavily burdened by his sin.
And that burden led him to read his bible rigorously, fast, as well as pray.
While such actions could not pay for his sins, they were the means of grace to him.
The Holy Spirit used God’s word in the Bible and gave peace to John Sung in his heart.
So, if God has placed a burden of sin in your hearts, do not stop reading His word.
Do not stop praying; do not stop fellowshipping with His people.
Because these are the appointed means by which He can minister to you.
These are the means by which God has appointed so that His Holy Spirit can apply His truth to us.
When you confess your sins to Jesus and the Holy Spirit applies the truth from His word to you in your heart, you will experience the release from the weight of your sins.
In another parable that Jesus told in Luk 18:9-17, a Pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee boasted about how he fasted, gave tithes and was not like other sinners.
The tax collector simply cried for mercy from God.
Jesus says that this tax collector went home justified, rather than the Pharisee.
Why? Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Friends, do not think that you can get to heaven because you can run faster than the person beside you.
You can only get to heaven if you acknowledge your sin before God and seek His way of salvation for you.
You can only get to heaven if you, like this sinful woman, seek God’s mercy without presenting your credentials.
This morning, may you find the same forgiveness that Jesus has granted to this sinful woman.
May you find comfort in the very words that Jesus said to her.
Oh what a wonderful experience it is if Jesus says to you “Your sins are forgiven”.
If you have not experienced it yet, seek Jesus today.
And just like this woman who sought Him, you will find Him.
I want to leave you with 1 thought before we end today’s meditation.
Jesus knows the thoughts that you are having right now.
He knew what was in the Pharisee’s mind even though the Pharisee did not verbalise it.
He knew the burden on the woman’s heart even as she desperately washed His feet.
He knows the thoughts you are having right now.
Whether you are totally indifferent, whether you are habouring unconfessed sin in your heart, whether you are thinking too highly of yourself, whether you are burdened by worry, Jesus knows your exact thoughts right now.
And unless you sort these matters with Him, you will find no peace in your heart.
So seek Him right now as we close today’s meditation.
Seek Him so that you can hear His wonderful words just as He said to the woman “Your sins are forgiven”.
What a wonderful Saviour we have; I pray that you will seek Him and find Him today.