Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 20, 2010

Sermon on Luke 7:36-50

JESUS INSPIRES OUR GREATEST DEVOTION

  1. Devotion inspired by his generous forgiveness
  2. Devotion that inspires our generous gratitude

Text: Luke 7:36-50

Note: The link to the text for this sermon takes you to the 1984 translation of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  The Bible Gateway website recently changed its default translation to the newly updated NIV 2011 translation.  Due to the change in Bible Gateway’s default translation, previous sermons on this blog will link to the updated translation.  Future sermons on this blog will be linked to the 1984 NIV for the time being.

Introduction

As an eight-year-old boy, his father took him to his first professional football game, and he has been a devoted fan ever since. … Years, maybe decades earlier, a couple went out to dinner at a particular fancy restaurant in town, where he first popped the question and she said “Yes!”  Ever since then, it’s the restaurant they go to when they celebrate their anniversary. … One customer service horror story after another, the business traveler finally found an airline that gives him good service and treats him like a valued customer.  Once he found his airline, he became a loyal frequent flyer, logging tens of thousands of miles a year.

Loyalty and devotion are valuable commodities—whether it’s loyalty to a business or devotion to a person.  You may have loyalty and devotion to a number of things, but there is no devotion that is as important as your devotion to God Almighty and his Son, Jesus, our Savior.  Today’s final Sunday of the church year, “Christ the King” Sunday, reminds us that Jesus is Lord over all creation and will be Lord over everything for all eternity.  Today’s final stewardship Sunday reminds us that there is no loyalty and devotion more important that our commitment to Christ the King.  Today’s sermon reveals just what Jesus has done to keep us devoted to him.  Jesus does not force or coerce us to be his disciples.  Jesus inspires us.  He inspires our greatest devotion—devotion inspired by his generous forgiveness, and devotion that inspires our generous gratitude.  Listen to the following account of our devotion-inspiring Lord in chapter seven of Luke’s Gospel. 

36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and 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 men 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 canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“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—for she loved much. But he who 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.”

 I.

This Scripture reading takes us to a banquet that a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to attend.  You have heard many times that the Pharisees were not exactly members of Jesus’ fan club.  So what occasion would have led Simon the Pharisee to invite Jesus to dine with him and several others?  Since this account still occurs relatively early in Jesus’ ministry, it could be that some of the Pharisees hadn’t totally written off Jesus yet.  Perhaps they wanted to hear more from the miracle-working rabbi from Nazareth.  But it is also possible that Simon the Pharisee was up to no good.  Just one chapter earlier, Luke tells us, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus” (Luke 6:7).

If Simon has been looking for a reason to find fault with Jesus, the scene couldn’t have played out any better if he had planned it.  An unnamed woman walked into the house as the banquet took place.  All Luke tells us is that “she had lived a sinful life”—in other words, her past was shaded with less-than-respectable moral behavior.  As odd as it sounds to us for a stranger to enter someone’s house during dinner, this was not an odd occurrence in Jesus’ day.  Other ancient writers have described situations in which people entered a house where a well-known teacher was dining, perhaps with the hope of hearing what he had to say.  What was odd was the woman’s behavior—showering tears on Jesus’ feet, breaking Jewish social norms by letting down her hair to dry Jesus’ tear-washed feet, and pouring an expensive perfume on Jesus that was sold at the rate of a year’s salary per pound!

If Simon had been looking for a reason to find fault with Jesus, he thought he had it.  Luke reveals his personal thoughts.  If Jesus actually were a prophet—and now he is convinced that Jesus is not!—he would know better than to let a woman from the shady side of town behave in such a scandalous way in front of all these dignified guests!

Simon thought this incident proved Jesus wasn’t a prophet.  Jesus proved otherwise.  Simon hadn’t uttered a word but to himself.  Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking, and his brief parable gets at the heart of the problem in his heart.  “Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’  ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.  ‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?’  Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’  ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.”

Can’t you hear Simon force out the obvious, incriminating answer: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”  The greater the debt forgiven, the more appreciation there is for forgiveness.  Jesus’ story pointed out a fundamental flaw in Simon’s heart.  Simon hardly thought of himself as a sinful person.  No wonder he had such little need or appreciation for God’s forgiveness.  But the woman had far greater appreciation for Jesus’ forgiveness!  Jesus’ forgiveness inspired her acts of devotion, for she knew just how valuable his forgiveness was!

A pastor once visited a long-time member of his church who was dying.  During his visit, the dying man made a statement that shocked the pastor.  He said that he wasn’t a sinner.  “Then why did you go to church all these years?” the pastor asked.  The man said that he wanted to support the church’s work to reach out to people who were sinners.  The pastor’s patient explanations didn’t get through to this man who had now surprised the pastor with his apparent lack of need for Christ.  Finally, the frustrated pastor stormed out of the house and said, “Fine.  You think you’re not a sinner?  Greet the devil for me!”

The label “sinner” didn’t sit well with that man, and it doesn’t sit much better with anyone else.  I’ve heard complaints from visitors at funerals who didn’t like the label applied to the deceased in the sermon.  I’ve heard complaints from visitors at regular church services who didn’t like the word applied to them in the confession of sins.  But like it or not, “sinner” is still a label that applies to each one of us.  The only question is will we acknowledge it.  Will we acknowledge that the lust or longing for another in our hearts is adultery in the mind, or will we just write it off as innocent thoughts?  Will we acknowledge our discontent attitudes about our life’s situation as ingratitude for God’s blessings, or will we shrug it off as the American drive to keep up with the Joneses?  Will we acknowledge our “coolness” toward God’s Word and worship as damnable idolatry, or will we come up with the same old excuse that we just have so much to do that church has to take a back seat right now?  Will we be Simon the Pharisee, who really didn’t see his need for Jesus?  Will we be the sinner who fails to take sin seriously and find our souls heading for hell as a result?

Now look at Jesus.  Look at Jesus as a woman who cannot hide or evade her sin approaches him with tears of gratitude.  Look and see how Jesus’ forgiveness for the greatest of sinners inspires the woman’s devotion—and ours.  For Jesus picked up our lust and discontentment and apathy and the rest of our sin’s awful baggage and carried it with him all the way to Calvary’s cross.  And with our guilt and sin buried in Jesus’ tomb, he has risen in kingly victory to declare to you the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.  The pardon he won by his death has become yours through faith in his saving work.  He has taken your sin away and made you an integral member of his holy family, the holy Christian Church.  He has filled your heart with his gracious forgiveness!  He has filled your future with heavenly bliss!  How can we not also be filled with gratitude and devotion for Christ’s generous forgiveness?

II.

The second half of our reading gives us a case study in gratitude.  First there is Simon.  He does not offer Jesus the common courtesy of water to wash his feet with after traveling on dusty roads in sandals.  He does not greet his guess with a kiss, the equivalent of today’s handshake.  He does not anoint Jesus’ head with oil, the socially appropriate gesture for a guest of honor.  But the unnamed “sinful” woman is willing to overstep all social norms to express her devotion to Jesus.  She washes his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.  She kisses him with appreciative affections.  She anoints his feet with expensive perfume.

Jesus came to a definitive conclusion in this case study in gratitude.  “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”  The woman’s faith-filled devotion inspired her to show these outward acts of generous gratitude.  It is important that we get the sequence right.  Jesus is not suggesting that the woman’s love led to her forgiveness.  Rather, he is saying that the woman’s love and gratitude leads an observer to conclude that she must have been generously forgiven by God—and she was.  And so Jesus concludes, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  His forgiveness for her led her to believe in him as her Savior and to receive his gracious salvation.  Her God-given faith inspired her to express her generous gratitude for his grace!

We don’t come to church Sunday after Sunday to do God a favor or to feed his ego with our praise.  We come to church to receive his forgiveness.  From start to finish, from invocation to blessing, worship is filled with Christ’s forgiveness.  There are no empty words in absolution!  When forgiveness is proclaimed at the start of worship, the treasure house of God’s forgiveness is opened to you!  There is no empty ritual in Holy Communion!  When you receive the body and blood of Jesus, his sacrifice feeds your soul and forgives you yet again!

People search high and low for spiritual peace and a clear conscience before God—and we have it all right here!  Perhaps we know this forgiveness so well that we almost take it for granted.  But how can we?  How can we take Christ’s generous forgiveness for granted?  For it is his forgiveness that fosters faith and inspires our generous gratitude!  Is there any doubt that coming to his house and receiving his gracious gifts will be our new number one priority?  Is there any doubt that I will be proud to share the message of Christ’s rich grace to others?  Is there any doubt that I will give my offerings gladly and generously, knowing that they are the greatest eternal investment of my wealth?  Is there any doubt that hearts of faith will produce lives of generous gratitude for God?

Conclusion

Earlier I told you the true story about a pastor who visited his dying parishioner only to discover that the man didn’t think of himself as a sinner.  The pastor’s final words as he stormed out were, “Greet the devil for me!”  There is more to that story.  The man could hardly sleep that night, wondering if his pastor was really correct.  In the middle of the night, he asked his wife to call the pastor, who came over to speak to the dying man.  The pastor’s words cut through to his heart.  He confessed that he was a sinner who needed Christ’s forgiveness.  The pastor gave him communion, and a day later the Lord called that man’s soul home to heaven.  In 24 hours, the dying man basically changed from Simon the Pharisee into the sinful-but-repentant woman.

Which one are you?  Will you walk away from God’s grace, thinking that your way of life does not need the flood of Jesus’ blood?  I pray not!  Let it be said of us that we recognize our sin, that we see our need for Jesus’ blood to cleanse us from sin, and that his devotion for us inspires our devotion to him.  That’s not just the way to end our stewardship program.  That’s the way to begin eternal life with our Lord and King forever!  Amen.

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