The Lord of Forgiveness
Passage: Luke 7:36–7:50
The Lord of Forgiveness
Imagine walking into a room where everyone knows the worst thing you’ve ever done. Imagine knowing that all eyes are fixed on you, and that silently all those people are saying, “You should be ashamed of yourself. We know about your past. We know that scandalous thing you did. We know the disgraceful way you’ve lived.” Imagine the terror you would feel in that situation. Imagine the tangible sense of unworthiness. You would do everything to avoid that room, wouldn’t you? That would be the last place on earth you would ever want to go. Imagine such a moment.
In our passage today we meet a woman who did not merely imagine such a moment. She actually experienced it. The woman in Luke 7 walks into a room full of distinguished people, where everyone knows her reputation. Luke tells us this woman is a sinner. He doesn’t tell us exactly what her sin was, but it was notorious enough that she couldn’t keep it secret. Perhaps she didn’t want to. Perhaps she had lived an outwardly immoral life, without caring what people thought. Whatever the specifics, this woman is marked by sin, and as she walks into that room full of well-to-do dinner guests, everyone knows the baggage she brings with her.
And yet, the woman walks in willingly, Luke tells us. She doesn’t even hesitate, it seems. What’s more, she’s visibly moved as she interrupts this dinner party. In other words, the woman wants to be in that room. Something has compelled her to come. Something enables her to endure the looks and the whispers and the judgment.
And that raises one of the key questions of the passage – a question that helps us get to the heart of what Luke intends to teach us this morning. What is it that compels this woman to walk into this room? What is it that enables her to do what she does – to endure the looks, to display the emotion, to display the affection? What compels this woman to come?
The answer is one of the most powerful realities in human life – the reality of forgiveness. The woman in Luke 7 has experienced forgiveness, and that forgiveness is what compels her to walk into a room where everyone knows what she has done. The woman walks in because she’s tasted the sweetest thing sinners like us can ever experience – the freedom of our slates being wiped clean, the good news of sins pardoned and no longer held against us.
But at the same time, this emphasis on forgiveness is only part of the point. We must not miss the theme of forgiveness – that’s essential. But even more so, we must not miss where this forgiveness is found. It’s found with Jesus. Do you see it? The woman walks into that room to get to Jesus. She walks into that room because somewhere along the way, she’s believed what this man Jesus has to say. This is incredibly significant, and we’ll work this point out in the sermon. But I want to stress it up front. The woman in Luke 7 does not walk into that room in order to be forgiven. She walks into that room because she is forgiven. And compelled by that forgiveness, she goes straight to the man who has done it. She goes straight to Jesus.
And so, the woman’s example in this passage is a real-life illustration of the truth we’re meant to see. Forgiveness is a powerful reality that can change the life of a sinner, and that powerful reality is found only with the Lord Jesus. That’s the theme here. The theme is Jesus and the forgiveness he gives to sinners who trust him.
Now, in terms of structure, it helps to think of this passage in three parts. Vv36-39 describe the woman’s approach to Jesus. Vv40-47 describe Jesus’ conversation with Simon the Pharisee. And then vv48-50 describe Jesus’ words to the woman, as well as the crowd’s response to Jesus. Three parts to the passage, and what I’d like to do is draw your attention to what each part teaches us about forgiveness and Jesus.
Forgiveness Frees Us to Honor Jesus
Let’s start in vv36-39, where we see that Forgiveness Frees Us to Honor Jesus. We learn in v36 that Jesus has been invited to a dinner party hosted by a local Pharisee. That may surprise us, considering that the Jewish religious leaders are increasingly hostile to Jesus. And perhaps this particularly Pharisee is skeptical about Jesus. Perhaps this invitation is less friendly than what it seems. Who knows? It is somewhat surprising that a Pharisee would invite Jesus to dinner.
But what isn’t surprising, is the fact that Jesus accepts the invitation. I love this piece to the story. Notice the patience of the Lord Jesus as this point. The Pharisees have been nothing but trouble for a while now, and still, the Lord goes to this dinner party. He doesn’t write this Pharisee off. Instead, Jesus goes, understanding that everyone – both tax collectors and Pharisees – everyone needs to hear the good news of the gospel. That’s the Lord Jesus – he’s patient and willing to bear with people, even those who oppose him.
Now, it appears this dinner party is a special occasion. Perhaps it’s a Sabbath day meal. And that means the guests are distinguished men of good social standing. This is more than a backyard barbeque, in other words. This is a gathering of high culture. But into this gathering of high culture walks the woman with a sinful reputation. We’ve already noted her notorious life, which means this is not the place you would expect to find such a woman. And yet, here she is, v37, walking among these distinguished men of Jewish culture. What is she doing here?
V38 tells us. The woman has come to shower Jesus with an excessive display of affection. And it is excessive. What the woman does is extravagant, lavish, and unrestrained. She is overcome with emotion for Jesus, and she relates to him as if there is no one else in the room. In fact, notice how detailed and vivid Luke’s description is in v38. The woman’s every move is narrated. She stands behind Jesus at his feet. You reclined at meals in Jesus’ day, so your feet were away from the table. The woman stands at Jesus’ feet. She’s weeping – not a small, whimpering cry. This is a flood of tears that stream down and soak Jesus’ feet.
And so, the woman lets down her hair to dry Jesus’ feet from the flood of her weeping. Understand that a woman in Jesus’ day wouldn’t let down her hair in public. It was disgraceful according to custom. But this woman is unreserved, unashamed even. She uses her hair to dry Jesus’ feet.
Then she kisses his feet and anoints them with her bottle of perfume. Her kiss is not a passing thing either. This is a kiss of unbridled gratitude. It’s the same word used in Luke 15 to describe how the father kissed his prodigal son when returned home. The woman is overcome with joy. Coming to Jesus is like coming home, and she showers him with affection even as she washes his feet.
It’s moving, isn’t it? But we should also understand that this is a profoundly humble thing to do. Washing feet was a menial task, fit only for a servant. Jesus’ feet would have been dusty from the day’s travel, but the woman doesn’t care. Her heart is overflowing with love, so she gladly humbles herself to perform such a humble task.
And her humility is a sign of her devotion. It is very clear that Jesus is the central person in her affections. Jesus is the one worthy of honor. In fact, that’s the key point of these opening verses. The woman gladly endures the social dishonor in order to show Jesus the honor he deserves. Please don’t overlook that, brothers and sisters. The woman understands that people will look down on her for this, but her love for Christ – her devotion to Jesus – overcomes any fear associated with that. She willingly endures their looks and whisper if it means that Jesus receives the honor he deserves.
Now, the Pharisee hosting the party understands nothing of what the woman does. He doesn’t understand much about Jesus either. Notice v39. The Pharisee, whose name is Simon, assumes that Jesus can’t be a prophet, for no self-respecting prophet would let such a sinful woman get so close to him. The Pharisee is offended by Jesus. He’s offended that Jesus is the friend of tax collectors and sinners. In the Pharisee’s mind, Jesus should be above associating with such people because that’s how a mighty prophet would act. That’s how a wise religious teacher would conduct himself. He would shun the unclean, the sinful, and the lowly. And so, the Pharisee is offended by Jesus. It’s so sad. The Pharisee misses the truth on display at his own dinner table. And the Pharisee misses that truth because he can’t see past his own self-righteous assumptions.
The woman, on the other hand – she’s the commendable person at this point. She is free to love Jesus. She is free to honor Jesus as he deserves. Do you see the contrast? The Pharisee is still enslaved to his self-righteous attitude. Because he hasn’t tasted the freedom of forgiveness, he can’t bear to humble himself before the Lord. It’s not immorality that keeps the Pharisee from honoring Jesus. It’s pride. And while pride might seem less shameful than immorality, it’s just as deadly. And that’s what keeps the Pharisee rooted to his seat. All he can do is judge the woman and dismiss Jesus.
Forgiveness Fuels Love for Jesus
But that takes us right into the second truth from text. Forgiveness frees us to honor Jesus, and in vv40-47, we see that Forgiveness also Fuels Love for Jesus. Remember, Simon the Pharisee has just thought to himself that Jesus cannot possibly be a prophet. What does Jesus do? He proceeds to read Simon’s thoughts and engage him in conversation. How’s that for prophetic foresight? Notice v40 – “And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you,’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’” Now, in Luke’s Gospel, whenever Jesus reads someone’s thoughts, a rebuke typically follows. And that is what will happen here, but notice the way Jesus draws Simon out. He doesn’t confront Simon with a fiery rebuke. Instead, Jesus tells Simon a parable, v41 – “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now, which of them will love him more?”
Jesus’ parable is about forgiveness, isn’t it? The two men are in debt, though their amounts differ. The one man owes the equivalent of about twenty months salary, while the second man owes the equivalent of two months. And yet, despite the difference, the moneylender forgives both debts. He graciously wipes them out. But then, Jesus asks the question – the one that Simon needs to consider, “Which of the debtors will love him more?” And Simon, for his part, answers correctly, v43 – “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.”
But Jesus is not finished. It’s not enough for Simon to answer correctly. Beginning in v44, Jesus goes on to apply this parable to Simon and the sinful woman. Jesus contrasts the two, and surprisingly, it is the sinful woman who fares better in Jesus’ contrast. Notice what he says, v44 – “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 did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
This is what you might call a plot twist. The woman has been a better host than Simon! The sinful woman has shown more hospitality than the self-righteous Pharisee! Simon didn’t warmly greet Jesus with a kiss, but the woman hasn’t stopped kissing Jesus’ feet. Simon didn’t ensure that Jesus’ feet were washed, but the woman has washed them with her own hair. And Simon didn’t take any steps to publicly honor Jesus, but this woman has gone out of her way to anoint and honor him. Do you see the great difference here? The woman, Jesus says, shows the greater love. For all his religious training, Simon is in danger of missing the truth. This woman – who doesn’t have Simon’s background, who has her own baggage, who kneels there weeping and wiping Jesus’ feet – this sinful, forgiven woman understands more than the Pharisee.
And that’s what Jesus’ presses home to Simon, v47. Here’s the rebuke, but again, note the Lord’s kindness in how he delivers it. V47 – “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” I love how Jesus doesn’t paper over the truth. He acknowledges this woman is a sinner. He even recognizes that her sins are many. But instead of seeing the woman only in light of her sin, Jesus now sees her in light of God’s mercy. And that’s the difference. Simon can see only her past sin, but in obsessing over her past, Simon misses what God is doing in the present. Simon misses what God is doing in and through Jesus – how he’s calling sinners to himself, how he’s mercifully providing forgiveness to those who have no hope on their own. That’s the tragedy of this passage. In trying to protect his self-righteous little kingdom, Simon misses the beauty and the mercy of God’s kingdom that is now coming with Jesus.
And that mercy is beautiful, brothers and sisters. V47 – Jesus says the woman is forgiven. Think about that. No more guilt. No more shame. You know, guilt and shame are the twin terrors of a sinful conscience, and the only remedy for those terrors is forgiveness. The only way to escape guilt and shame is hear those glorious words, “Your sins are pardoned, forgiven, wiped clean.” And that’s what this woman has received from Jesus. She is forgiven.
And the form of the verb here in v47 indicates that the woman has come to Jesus in a state of forgiveness, and she will go forward from this day in that same state. In other words, her forgiveness is not earned in this moment, and her forgiveness will not fade after this moment. That’s why she’s so excessive in her love for Jesus. Her love is fueled by the forgiveness she’s received. This is really important. This is the difference between getting the gospel right and completely distorting the good news, so I want you to see this in the passage. Notice back in Jesus’ parable, v42, how love followed forgiveness. Do you see it? The moneylender first forgives the debts, and then the debtors love him. That is Jesus telling us how to understand the woman’s situation. She does not earn forgiveness by loving Jesus. Rather, she loves Jesus because she is forgiven.
And brothers and sisters, that is one of the takeaways for us from this passage. I trust we all want to grow in love for Christ, and what we learn here is that one way we grow is by seeing how deeply we needed Christ’s forgiveness. This is counter-intuitive, I think, for most people. We prefer to downplay or deny how bad off we are. We like to favorably compare ourselves to others, and then use that comparison to assuage our minds that our situation really wasn’t that dire. Sure, we needed forgiveness, but our debt wasn’t that big. My sin wasn’t that bad, or at least we don’t want people to think it was that bad.
But if this woman in Luke 7 teaches us anything, it’s that our love for Christ grows the more aware we are of how desperately we need his forgiveness. It’s only when I recognize my sin for what it is that I truly begin to appreciate the grace and glory of forgiveness. Listen, this is why confession of sin should be a regular part of your life as a believer. It’s why we make it a regular part of our worship together as a church. It’s not because we want to morbidly think about how bad we are. It’s not that all. We’re actually trying to love Christ more. We want to take to heart what Jesus says here – the one is forgiven much loves much. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s also glorious, brothers and sisters. The end result of seeing how deeply I need forgiveness is greater love for the Savior.
But at the same time, there is another side to this takeaway, and perhaps this something we also need to remember this morning. One of the reasons self-righteousness is so dangerous is that it undercuts love for Christ. Think about it. If I’m convinced that I’m not as bad as other sinners, or that my sin is not really that serious, then why would I be moved with gratitude for Jesus? Why should I humble myself in devotion to him? Sure, he forgives sinners, but I’m not as bad as those people who really need him.
Do you see how dangerous that is? Far too often, our love for Christ is weakened not by the things we’ve done wrong against God, but by the things we believe we doing just fine without him. Don’t give that self-righteous spirit one inch, brothers and sisters. Own up to your sin. Confess it before the Lord. Don’t hide. Don’t deny. Confess and bring it to Jesus. And when you do, you’ll find that his mercy is so great, he takes a hold of your life like he did for this woman in Luke 7. And everything changes from there.
Forgiveness Follows Faith in Jesus
That’s the second truth from this text – Forgiveness Fuels Love for Jesus. Let’s look at the final truth, from vv48-50: Forgiveness Follows Faith in Jesus. In v48, Jesus speaks directly to the woman for the first time, and his words are an expression of assurance. Notice what the Lord says, v48 – “And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” Again, Jesus leaves no room for misunderstanding. The woman’s sins are completely and fully forgiven. She will leave this room knowing that her need has been met, and it has been met by Jesus.
And this put Jesus’ identity in central focus. If only God can forgiven sin, then here we have Jesus doing what only God can do. He’s connecting himself with God. Understand, Luke has been driving at this for the entire chapter. When Jesus raised the widow’s son, back in v14, the crowd wondered about Jesus’ identity. When John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus, back in v20, they asked about Jesus’ identity. And now, this scene makes the question inescapable. This is why, in v49, the dinner guests begin to ask the necessary question. Look at v49 – “Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’”
That’s the right thing to ask at this point. This is the central question of human life. Who do you say Jesus is? In fact, Luke writes this to impress upon us the urgency of this question. There is no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. You either reject him, like Simon the Pharisee does, and face the reality of your sin on your own. Or, you can trust him, as this woman does, and receive forgiveness through his name. All of human life truly does come down to this question in v49 – Who is this man, Jesus?
And in his kindness, Jesus calls us to the right response. V50 is addressed to the woman, but it is also a call to all who hear God’s Word. Notice the gospel clarity of v50 – “And [Jesus] said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Now we see very clearly that the woman is not forgiven because she loves Jesus. No, she is forgiven because she trusts Jesus. Her love for Jesus flows from the forgiveness she has received by faith alone. And through faith, the woman has received forgiveness and peace. Imagine how sweet those words must have sounded to the woman. She can go in peace. She doesn’t have to carry the guilt and shame of whatever she has done. She doesn’t have to be subject to the whispers and the stares of the crowds. This woman can go out in peace. It’s the peace of a clean conscience, which is an invaluable gift, isn’t it? It’s the peace of knowing that she is in good standing with Jesus.
That’s the gospel truth that closes this marvelous scene. I hope you hear how Jesus’ exchange with the woman is a picture of what we have received through the gospel. Salvation – the forgiveness of sins – comes through faith alone. We cannot work off our sins. We cannot perform enough righteous deeds that will somehow erase the sin we have committed. We cannot even love Jesus enough to earn a new start. None of that. Jesus is telling us, very clearly, that forgiveness is found through faith alone in him alone.
And when we trust Jesus our sins are completely and totally forgiven. You may need to hear that reminder this morning. I need to hear it. Over these long and difficult days, you may have fallen again in to some sin, and you’re listening this morning under the weight of guilt and shame. If so, hear the good news, and believe, my friends. When we trust Jesus, our sins our completely and totally forgiven. Even the worst sin we’ve ever committed. Even the sins no one knows about but you. Even the ones you’ve been waging war against for years now. Even the ones you’ve struggled against this past week. Through faith in Christ, there is complete and lasting forgiveness for every sin of every believer. Believe it, brothers and sisters. Your salvation began by faith alone, it continues by faith alone, and that lasting salvation will comfort you today by faith alone.
And so, as Luke 7 comes to a close, the main question we’ve been considering is the question of Jesus’ identity. Who is Jesus? That’s always the main point when you read the Gospels. Every passage is telling us more about Jesus Christ – revealing more of his identity, teaching us more about his work, calling us again to faith in his name. Jesus is always the focus in the Gospels.
But one of the unique aspects of this passage is that it also causes us to ask, “Who am I?” Who am I in this incredibly moving scene? We began this morning by noting the sinful woman who walks into this room with a notorious reputation. She easily gets your attention. But there is another sinner in that room, one who is in a much worse position than the woman. It’s Simon the Pharisee, isn’t it? Remember there are two debtors in Jesus’ parable, and both need forgiveness. The woman may have the more notorious reputation for sin, but Simon the self-righteous needs forgiveness too. He’s just as needy, though he doesn’t see it.
And so, that’s where Luke 7 ends. God’s Word is always brings us to a response. It always brings us face to face with the truth. Luke 7 is asking you this morning, “Who are you?” Are you like the sinful woman who received forgiveness through faith and now devotes herself to loving Jesus? Or are you like Simon the Pharisee who stands on his supposed righteousness, his heart unmoved by the grace of God’s forgiveness?
Oh how I pray you are like the woman this morning – aware of your sin but rejoicing in the forgiveness Jesus gives to those who trust him. Cast yourself on his mercy. Whether for the first time or with renewed faith, cast yourself on the Savior. And when you do, you’ll find that love flows from a heart that is forgiven. Amen.