Believing the Gospel
Passage: Luke 7:36–7:50
What kind of people love Jesus the most? Those who believe the gospel.
For most people, buying a house means taking out a mortgage - a loan for a house. Katie and I are no exception. We took out a 30 year mortgage a year and a half ago when we bought our house.
Since we have only been homeowners for a year and a half, we have a long way to go in paying off our loan. So if someone told us that they want to write a check to pay off our mortgage right now, it would be amazing! They would be clearing us of almost 30 years of debt. We’d have 336 less payments to make!
Now, imagine we made our mortgage payments year after year for 29 years and 11 months on our 30 year mortgage. We only have one payment left before our whole house is paid off. But before we write that final check, someone comes and offers to make the last payment for us. It would be an act of great generosity and we would certainly be grateful. But at the same time, we would also know that we had done most of the work ourselves. We paid off almost all of it and then someone helped us just a little bit.
We would be way more excited if someone paid off 30 years worth of debt versus one month worth of debt. We would have gratitude for both, but much different levels of gratitude.
Today, we are continuing our series called “Living the Good News Together.” As a church, we are learning how we can live in light of the good news about Jesus together.
Take a moment to flip to the graphic on the last page of your song book (the same graphic is on our What Are We All About page). Every church has something that defines what they are all about - that defines who they are and what they are going to do. For us, the good news about Jesus defines us. And this graphic shows how our church lives in light of that good news. The very first thing is our mission, which we covered last week. As a community, we are surrendering all of life to Jesus and inviting others to do the same. We are disciples who make disciples.
But to that we may ask the question: how? How do we surrender all of life to Jesus? How do we invite others to do the same? That question is answered by our community practices. We surrender all of life to Jesus and invite others to do the same by practicing believing the gospel, living as family, loving as servants, going as messengers, and relying on the Spirit. We call them community practices because being a disciple of Jesus requires other people. Surrendering all of life to Jesus and inviting others to do the same is a mission God calls us to live out together. That’s why if you look at our logo on the front of the song book, Jesus’ crown is in the center surrounded by the dots representing community. We are a community with Jesus at the center.
And why do we do all of this? Our vision at the bottom tells us so that as the family of God we can show and tell the good news of Jesus to every man, woman, and child. Today, we are focusing on our first Community Practice: Believing the Gospel.
In both of our Scripture readings for today, we see a picture of the gospel. In the first, a son blows his inheritance living foolishly but is embraced and forgiven by his father. In our second Scripture reading from Luke 7, we see two characters similar to the two sons in the first. That is where we are going to focus.
The big question this passage answers is: What kind of people love Jesus the most? What kind of people love Jesus the most?
Let’s walk through the story in Luke chapter 7 verses 36 through 50 again.
A Pharisee and a Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50)
The scene we walk into is a dinner party hosted by a Pharisee to which Jesus is invited. For Pharisees, life was all about teaching and obeying the Law of Moses in the Old Testament. Jesus and the Pharisees don’t see eye to eye on how to live for God or even on what God is like, as we will see in our passage today.
In those days, people would sometimes throw a public dinner party where those invited would have a spot reserved for them but the door would be open for others to come in and sit or stand at the edge of the room and listen to the conversation. For normal family meals, people would be sitting at the table, but at dinner parties like these the guests would recline at the table. The table would be lower, they’d take off their sandals, get on the floor, and lean on their arm while eating and talking.
Imagine we are guests as this dinner party held by a religious leader. We’ve been hearing about Jesus who some say is a prophet and now he is a special guest at this dinner party. The invited guests are reclining at the table, eating and talking, while we are at the edge of the room listening in. Suddenly, verses 37 tells us:
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. (Luke 7:37-38)
Whatever this woman has done, the public knows about it. Some scholars suggest she was a prostitute. Whatever the case, she must have heard Jesus’ teaching while he was in town and it has had an obvious effect on her life. Upon hearing where Jesus is eating, she comes into the room and goes straight to him. She goes to his bare, dirty feet and as tears stream down her face, they land on his feet and she begins using her tears and her hair to wash the dirt from them. Then she kisses them and puts ointment or perfume on them. This was probably the most expensive thing she owned.
Imagine we are guests at this dinner party standing at the edge of the room watching all this unfold. We all stop what we are talking about and watch to see what will happen. To our surprise, Jesus doesn’t stop her. Jesus, someone who some say is a messenger from God, allows a publicly known sinner, possibly a prostitute, touch and wash and kiss and anoint his feet with her perfume.
Simon the Pharisee, the host, thinks to himself, “Surely if what people are saying about Jesus is true, that he is a prophet, he would know the sort of woman this is and not let her touch him because she is a sinner.” Do you see his attitude? Do you see what he thinks God is like? Sinners are dirty. And if you associate with them, you’ll be dirty too. If Jesus really was a messenger of God, he wouldn’t associate with a dirty sinner because God doesn’t associate with dirty sinners.
Jesus knows what Simon is thinking and gets his attention. “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And Simon answered, “Say it, Teacher.” Then Jesus tells a very short story. There’s a guy who gives out loans and he has two people who owe him money. One owes five hundred denarii, which would be about a year and nine months worth of pay. The other owes fifty, which would be two month’s worth of pay. But neither of them could pay what they owe, so the moneylender cancelled the debt of both. Now after this act, which of them will love him more? This is the question Jesus poses to Simon.
Simon responds, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Now Jesus draws Simon’s attention and everyone else’s attention back to the woman. Verse 44 says:
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.” (Luke 7:44-46)
Jesus draws a comparison between Simon and the woman. He holds her up as an example instead of dismissing her like Simon thought he should do. In that culture, people wore sandals and it was dusty so their feet would get caked with dirt. You’ve all probably ran around without shoes and socks or seen kids with bottoms of their feet that are just caked with dirt. That is what Jesus’ feet would have been like. Washing someone’s feet was considered one of the lowest tasks you could do. It was gross. It was a job for slaves to do. It would be polite to provide water for foot washing at a dinner and would be even better to have a servant do it. Simon did neither, but in comparison this woman does the job of a servant by washing Jesus’ feet with her own tears and hair.
Next Jesus points out how Simon did not greet him with a kiss. A kiss would have been a normal expression of respect and friendship. In comparison, the woman has not ceased kissing Jesus’ feet.
Lastly, Jesus tells Simon that he didn’t anoint Jesus’ head with oil. This would have been olive oil which could moisturize someone’s scalp and would have been a special courtesy but not expected. In comparison, the woman doesn’t just use common, inexpensive olive oil to anoint Jesus but uses expensive perfume to anoint his feet.
In every way, the woman goes above and beyond what Simon has done for Jesus. Jesus is Simon’s honored guest, but who really shows Jesus honor? Jesus’ conclusion in verse 47 is:
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
The woman’s acts do not earn her forgiveness. But Jesus knows she has received forgiveness because of the great love she is showing to him. That’s how the story of the moneylender and two debtors is told. She is the one who had a great debt forgiven and so she loved much. On the other hand, Simon is compared to the one who has been forgiven little, so he loves little.
Next Jesus speaks directly to the woman and assures her with, “Your sins are forgiven.” At this, all those eating at the table are taken aback and start asking, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Everyone knows that sins are against God and only he can forgive them. If you owe the bank money, I can’t cancel your debt. Only the bank can. When it comes to sin, God is the offended party so he must be the one to offer forgiveness. Does Jesus think he can stand in the place of God and forgive people of their sins?
Jesus pays no attention to this question. But instead keeps talking with the woman, telling her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” We see that it isn’t her acts of love that saved her but her faith. She heard Jesus’ message, she believed it, and she showed her love for him because she knows she has been forgiven much. She had a burden of many sins on her back. But she can now walk away in peace. The burden is gone. The weight is off her. She no longer carries those sins with her. Her debt has been canceled.
The big question this passage answers is: What kind of people love Jesus the most?
The simple answer is: Those who believe the gospel. The kind of people who love Jesus the most are those who believe the gospel. God said he would send a King who would take care of our sin problem - King who would bring salvation, who would bring forgiveness and peace, who would bring a canceling of debts. He would lift the burden of sin off our backs.
And as we heard last week, Jesus lifts it off our backs and puts it on himself. Everyone has sinned. All of us have made someone or something more important to us than God. And because of that, we have a debt to pay. Jesus paid that debt for our sin. Jesus, on the cross, went through much more than physical pain and death. He was forsaken by God. He bore the curse and death for our sin that we deserve. And because he did that, through faith in him, we can hear the words, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” That is the gospel - the good news.
What kind of people love Jesus the most? The answer is: Those who believe the gospel. Let’s add some detail from this passage. Another way you could say it is: those who believe they are forgiven much, love much. What kind of people love Jesus the most? Those who believe they are forgiven much, love much.
The sinful woman knows she has much for which to be forgiven. She has a huge debt and it has all been paid off. She believes Jesus’ message of good news. There are no barriers between her and God anymore. And because of the forgiveness she has received, she loves much. It’s shown by her actions, her emotions, her disregard for what others think of her, and her sacrifice. She doesn’t hold anything back from Jesus.
This is why our first Community Practice is Believing the Gospel. Our mission is to surrender all of life to Jesus and invite others to do the same. But why would we ever give our life to someone else? Why would we stick our nose in other people’s business and invite them to give their life to someone else? How do we come to that place? It’s by believing the gospel. When we believe we have been forgiven of all our sins, we will love Jesus so much that we want to give him everything and we will want others to know him too.
The big question this passage answers is: What kind of people love Jesus the most? The answer is: Those who believe they are forgiven much, love much. But on the flip side, what kind of people love Jesus the least? Those who believe they are forgiven little, love little. The kind of people who love Jesus the least are those who believe they are forgiven little.
In this passage, Simon doesn’t believe he has much for which to be forgiven. Or at least, not as much as this woman has. In house loan terms, the woman has a 30 year mortgage and hasn’t paid any of it. She knows she has sinned against God and that she owes him. The debt is a huge burden. But Jesus has paid the whole thing off. She is free and full of love for him!
Simon also has a 30 year mortgage but he believes he has been paying it off for 29 years and 11 months. Even if Jesus forgives him the remainder, he knows that he has done most of the work himself. He doesn’t believe he has much of a debt to be forgiven so he isn’t going to love that much.
Just like the woman, Simon’s actions flow out of his beliefs. She believes she is forgiven much, so she loves much. He believes he is forgiven little if anything at all, so he loves little. Our actions - what we do, how we behave - are directly connected to what we believe. The way we like to say this is the fruit in your life grows out of the beliefs you are rooted in.
Many people say, “I believe Jesus died for my sins and rose again” but don’t live any differently. But as we see in this story, this woman’s beliefs changed everything for her. The fruit in her life grew out of the beliefs she was rooted in.
If you are a note taker, here’s a definition of the gospel to write down: the gospel is the good news of who God is and what he has done through Jesus. The gospel is the good news of who God is and what he has done through Jesus. Now imagine a tree with fruit on the top and roots down below. The gospel is like fertilizer that gets poured at the roots that grows healthy fruit at the top.
What does the woman in the story believe about who God is? She believes that God is gracious. Grace means we get what we don’t deserve. She has a huge debt for her sins and deserves to pay it all back, but she believes God gave her what she didn’t deserve. He paid it off.
She believes God is compassionate. He sees people in a helpless state and comes to their aid. She could do nothing to get rid of her sins but God stepped in to free her of them.
What does she believe God does? She believes God forgives sins. She believes God saves from our sins. She believes God helps those in need. This is the good news. The good news is that because God is gracious, he forgives. Because God is compassionate, he helps and saves the helpless.
Now, because of this, she has been transformed. What was once true of her is no longer true of her. She was once a sinner. That’s who she was. But what is now true about who she is? She is forgiven. She is loved. She is free.
She believes the gospel and that means she has been changed. What fruit does this grow in her life? What do these beliefs lead her to do? She loves Jesus. She gives thanks to him. She is not afraid of what other people think of her because she knows what God thinks of her.
You can trace this backward too, starting at the fruit to see what beliefs are at the root. Let’s trace it for Simon the Pharisee. What’s the fruit in his life? He’s judgmental, harsh, and lacks love for others. He’s dismissive and prideful and concerned with appearances. He doesn’t love Jesus and he doesn’t love sinners.
So what does he believe about who he is? He would maybe say, “I am not in need of forgiveness. I am better than others. I am a rule follower - I keep the law.”
What does he believe about what God is doing? Remember, Pharisees are concerned with obeying the Law. That’s their number one focus - keeping all the commands. So for Simon, what God is doing is expecting him to obey and for everyone else to obey. God is making demands and expecting people to be perfect. And God doesn’t help people when they are down. He doesn’t help sinners.
So what does Simon believe about who God is? God is a Law-enforcer. God is not gracious and not compassionate. Simon thinks this sinful woman shouldn’t be near God and that she shouldn’t have any mercy shown toward her. She has broken God’s commands so she is unworthy. It is true that God upholds the Law and that this woman is unworthy of being near God, but that isn’t all he is.
Simon is missing the belief that he is a sinner too and that he needs God’s grace and compassion just as much as this woman. As you think about these beliefs and the fruit that comes out of them, do you see Simon’s beliefs and actions in your life? Or do you see the woman’s beliefs and actions in your life?
An important truth we need to take from this passage is this: Know that God graciously forgives all of your sin if you trust in Jesus. All of it. Past, present, future. If you trust in Jesus, your sin has been totally dealt with. There was a record of debt standing against you, condemning you for all of your selfishness, all of your pride, all of your sin. God took that and nailed it to the cross. Jesus paid for every sin you have ever committed and ever will commit. Jesus paid it all.
Even though this is the truth, we still convince ourselves that we don’t need forgiveness - that we aren’t that bad and our debt isn’t that big. The truth is, our debt is far greater than we realize, our sin far worse than we are aware, and our need for forgiveness far more desperate than we can imagine.
So how do we convince ourselves that we don’t need forgiveness? First, we hide our sin behind good works. We say “look at me, I’m good enough.” We work hard to convince God and other people that we have it all together. We try to get the attention off our sin and onto our good works. This leads to thinking we are better than other people.
Second, we hide our sin behind other people. We say “look at them, I’m better.” We know we have flaws even though we are working hard and if God or anybody accuses us of sin, we point to other people and say, “I’m not as bad as them.” We try to get the attention off our sin and onto other people. This leads to comparing ourselves to other people.
Or third, we hide our sin under the rug. We say “look, there’s no sin here.” We know we have sin in our lives, but we hide it. We don’t let anyone see it. If they don’t see our sin, we can’t get in trouble for it. We practice image management, always making sure people don’t see our rough spots. But this leads to being terrified that God and other people will find out we aren’t perfect.
None of these tactics gets rid of the sin. None of these get rid of the debt. None of these get rid of the burden of sin. We can’t hide behind good works or other people or under the rug. We can’t hide our sin from God. In fact, God is more aware of your sin than you are!
But the good news is that even though this is true, we can stand before him without fear, without condemnation, fully loved, fully embraced, fully adopted as his children, fully protected, looking forward to a blessed inheritance from him because through Jesus our record is wiped clean. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to compare, you don’t have to blame. You don’t have to make excuses or justify yourself. When you trust in Jesus, you can stand before the holy God of the universe without a spot on your record because he paid it all.
So often, we live afraid of other people. We are afraid other people will think we are weird for loving Jesus or we are afraid they will find out we are sinners just like them - that we do things wrong, that we need help, that we need Jesus, that we don’t have it all together. But look at the freedom the woman in this story felt. Forgiveness from God led to freedom from fear of others. Wouldn’t it be freeing to not be afraid if other people know you are sinner? Wouldn’t it be freeing to not be afraid if other people know you aren’t perfect and that you need help and that you need Jesus? We need to believe that God’s opinion is what matters the most and if you have Jesus, you are loved, forgiven, and embraced by the God of the universe.
As I’ve reflected on where God wants me to grow this year, one big area is my awareness of my need for his grace and forgiveness. I need this because honestly I am often more like Simon than like this woman. What I am doing to become more aware of my need for forgiveness may also be helpful to you. Everyday, I am trying to get into the habit of confessing my sin to God daily. That has two steps to it.
- Breathe out by confessing to God what did I do and what I deserve for it.
- Breathe in the gospel by thanking God for Jesus taking what I deserve.
Whether you do this or not, find some way to be aware of how much you have been forgiven.
The big question this passage answers is: what kind of people love Jesus the most? The answer is: Those who believe the gospel. Specifically, those who believe they are forgiven much, love much. On the flip side, what kind of people love Jesus the least? Those who believe they are forgiven little, love little.
Believing the gospel changes everything about us. When we believe the good news that God is gracious and loving and merciful and he has acted to save us through Jesus, we are changed. We are given a new identity. That’s why our next three community practices all have to do with identity. After we believe the gospel, we become family, servants, and messengers.
This week, breathe in the fresh air of the gospel. Breathe in the forgiveness. Breathe in the freedom. Breathe in the good news of who God is and what he has done through Jesus.