Jesus, Friend of Sinners
April 9, 2000 Luke 7:36-8:3
In last week's message (Lk. 7:18-35) we learned that:
Jesus is the power of God that is applied differently than our expectations.
Jesus is the grace of God that gives us a message greater than John the Baptist.
Jesus is the promise of God that sets those who believe in him above those who do not.
And now in this morning's passage (Lk. 7:36-8:3) we will see a marvelous enactment of these three great truths in an actual event, and in the opportunity for instruction that follows it.
We see yet another aspect of who Jesus is.
He is the friend of sinners (Lk. 7:34).
And it is sinners who will be called his children and will vindicate his wisdom Lk. 7:35).
What is the Subject: The Big Question of the passage?
How is it possible to become friends with Jesus?
Have you ever felt like you didn't have any friends?
Have you ever felt forsaken and alone, even when surrounded by the members of your own family?
Have you ever felt so misunderstood that you wondered if real communication would ever be possible with anyone?
Have friends and family either abandoned you or passed away?
Perhaps you feel like you've messed up so bad that no one could ever truly accept you again. You feel judged and condemned and you can't even accept yourself.
Listen on! There is hope!
There is a friend who will never leave you nor forsake you.
I. Cycle One – The Dinner
A. Narrative (7:36-38)
1. The Pharisee
This event is strikingly similar to an event recorded in Mt. 26, Mk. 14, and Jn. 12 that takes place in Bethany later in Jesus' ministry.
In that event, a woman pours costly perfume over Jesus' head in preparation for his burial, and the question of wasting the value of the perfume on such a use rather than giving the money to the poor becomes primary.
This event probably takes place in the vicinity of Nain, since that is the last location that Luke gives us where Jesus raised the widow's son.
A Pharisee invites Jesus to his home for dinner.
Now this Pharisee may be one that had heard the convicting message that Jesus had just given about John the Baptist.
Jesus concluded that message by essentially condemning those like the Pharisees who would not come to God either through the way John presented his message or the way he presented his.
The Pharisees found fault with both judgment and grace since they did not want to be accountable to God.
But this Pharisee was seeking, although somewhat tentatively.
At least he invited this one, Jesus, who was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard to dinner to find out.
It remained to be seen by him whether wisdom would be "proved right by her children."
The Pharisee, named Simon, had not yet formed a fully negative opinion of Jesus.
And so they reclined at the table, talking and eating.
Presumably the discussion was well in hand.
2. The Prostitute
But then a woman comes to the house. She is on a mission.
This dining situation must have been relatively open because she was free to enter.
But considering the events that follow, I doubt that would normally have been the case.
You see, she was a prostitute.
And that is how the Pharisee saw her.
She had a reputation in that town.
She was impure and unholy and filled with sin.
She was likely a victim of social degeneration - not unlike many today.
But she had choices to make.
That is the beauty of Jesus. He gives us choices to make.
He is both pro-choice and pro-life because he gives us the opportunity to choose life where seemingly little choice existed before.
She is one of the "poor" to whom Jesus has been anointed to bring the good news.
But how do people get into these situations that we might call "social realities" both then and now?
She may have been forced into the sexual marketplace by lack of attachment to, or identification with, a man.
She had no other source or prospect of income.
She may have been sold into sexual slavery by her parents to pay the debts that they had fallen into either from bad choices or circumstances.
She was one of the "poor" that Luke so pointedly upholds in the ministry of his gospel.
But note in verse 37 that she had lived a sinful life in that town.
Something was in process here.
Perhaps she had seen Jesus in his powerful compassion raise the widow's son.
Perhaps she had heard his message that those who were least in the kingdom of God were greater than John the Baptist.
Perhaps she had heard him say that he was a friend of sinners and that wisdom would be proved right by her children.
She was one of those who acknowledged that God's way was right.
She was convicted and repentant. She had found hope and came in utter devotion.
Nothing could deter her – not even the judgmental prospect of entering the Pharisee's house – this one who disdained her as unclean and a consort with Gentiles.
She has confidence that Jesus will not reject her.
And the genuine attraction of his friendship overcomes all obstacles.
3. The Outpouring
She comes with an alabaster jar of perfume. And she knows now what she wants to do with it.
This is the sum of her wealth.
It is the fruit of all her labors in pedaling the deceitfulness of pleasure.
It was what she used to attract her lovers like a moth around the firelight.
It is the wages of sin. It is her capital investment.
She had been a successful prostitute.
But now she spends it all on the love of her life as she kneels behind Jesus and pours it on his feet.
And why on his feet? Because in the humility that comes with repentance and devotion and worship, it is where we all belong.
She is so overcome with him and his genuine love for her that her emotions bring forth a flood of tears that also fall at his feet.
They are the tears of joy, the tears of remorse, the tears of repentance.
Her faith is expressed by action- it is a faith response.
Faith in Jesus prompts acts of love toward Jesus.
What a beautiful offering this is indeed.
Perfume, yes, but with the heavenly fragrance of personal worship.
It is a fragrance compounded. It is heaven scent.
But it is outrageous when seen from the perspective of the Pharisee.
She is touching him – Jesus, her new lover - her eternal lover.
She will never need another, and she knows it.
And he permissively receives her devotion.
All her life she has longed to give herself in this way without reservation or fear.
She has found life – new life.
She has found what no other man can give her.
She has found her true source of strength and protection.
And she lets down her hair for him – this long, beautiful hair that God has given her for a natural covering.
And she wipes up the mess she just couldn't help making.
And she uses her very self to wipe him clean.
And she kisses his feet.
She cannot kiss his feet without bowing as low as she can get.
And that is her heart's desire.
She is his and his alone without ever a need for another.
It is possible to become friends with Jesus when we trust the genuineness of his friendship to attract us.
Robert Falconer tells the story of his witnessing among destitute people in a certain city and of reading them the story of the woman who wiped Jesus' feet with her tears. While he was reading he heard a loud sob and looked up at a young, thin girl whose face was disfigured by smallpox. After he spoke a few words of encouragement to her, she said, "Will He ever come again, the One who forgave the woman? I have heard that He will come again. Will it be soon?" After Falconer replied, and after sobbing again uncontrollably, she said, "Sir, can't He wait a little while? My hair ain't long enough yet to wipe His feet."
A young woman in England many years ago always wore a golden locket that she would not allow anyone to open or look into, and everyone thought there must be some romance connected with that locket and that in that locket must be the picture of the one she loved. The young woman died at an early age, and after her death the locket was opened, everyone wondering whose face would be found within. And in the locket was found simply a little slip of paper with these words written upon it, "Whom having not seen, I love." Her Lord Jesus was the only lover she ever knew and the only lover she ever longed for.
-- R.A. Torrey in a sermon, "How to Be Saved" (The Best of R.A. Torrey, comp. by George B.T. Davis). Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 4.
You too can know this kind of heartfelt and genuine friendship with Jesus, no matter who you are, what you have done, where you come from, or what you think of yourself.
That is why he came.
He came for you.
Are you irresistibly drawn to him?
You there, sitting in the pew – are you weeping now at his feet?
II. Cycle Two – The Instruction
A. Narrative (7:39-43)
The Pharisee's reaction to all of this is somewhat predictable.
This "seeker" now seems to have the evidence he needed to make his case.
This 'Jesus' can be no prophet because if he were, he could tell who it is that was touching him.
And if he knew who was touching him, he could be no prophet to let "her" touch him.
Certainly there can be no social interaction between a man of God and a prostitute.
Jesus' action of allowing her to touch him was at great potential cost to himself in the eyes of his host – and of the message he would leave with his host.
But Jesus proves himself a prophet by understanding and confronting the Pharisee's thoughts.
Jesus has a different vantage point from which to make sense of this encounter.
And he enters into a personal dialogue with this Pharisee called Simon.
Simon addresses Jesus as "teacher" which was commonly used by those outside his circle of followers, but is was by those outside who were open to learning.
So Jesus enters into the dialogue, refusing to discount him as a member of a sect but considering him as a person with real needs just like the woman.
Jesus has had enough of labels (i.e. glutton, drunkard, whore).
He calls the Pharisee by his name, Simon.
Jesus tells him a story – a parable that will illustrate a point he must make for the Simon to become his friend like the woman was – and perhaps also a friend of the woman herself.
Simon is a wealthy man or he wouldn't have been able to host this dinner.
He would be able to understand this parable about debts owed.
But the idea of the parable is not about repayment of debt.
It is about the expression of love that comes from having debt cancelled.
The implied invitation is to Simon to reconsider the basis of his own interaction and the possibility that he too could not only be able to forgive debt, but also be able to have his own debt forgiven.
He seems to get the point of the parable.
The hope is that he will apply it.
The woman had nothing to fear from Simon.
She had nothing to fear from the past.
She had nothing to fear from the present or even the future.
Jesus has upheld her cause and his.
She is his cause. She is safe in his care.
The power of his friendship overcomes all opposition.
He has interceded for her successfully.
That, too, is what he came to do.
It is possible to become friends with Jesus when we trust the power of his friendship to protect us.
We must never be self-righteous in goodness. How harmful is the so-called Christian who harps on about his goodness. How little does he realise that the man who is furthest from God is the man who thanks God he is not like others.
-- William Barclay, Daily Celebration. Christianity Today, Vol. 42, no. 1.
Not only does the woman need the protection of Jesus.
Simon himself needs to be protected from himself.
He is in greater need of a friend in his hardness than the woman is in need of a friend in her fallenness.
Jesus longs to be the friend of both.
Isn't it strange that the sinner here is closer to Jesus than the righteous?
It is she who has kissed his feet.
It is the sinner who finds a friend in Jesus.
It is the sinner who sees and experiences his power to save and intercede.
III. Cycle Three – The Object Lesson
A. Narrative (7:44-50)
Now Jesus purposefully turns toward the woman to invite her as an object lesson of extravagant love.
The woman was a better host than Simon.
The woman fulfills the role expected of Simon.
In Simon's concern about her, he failed his own proper concern for Jesus.
Simon was concerned with Jesus' status regarding the woman, but not as his guest.
Simon should have protected the honor of his guest by properly caring for him – like washing his feet.
We note that Jesus has indeed protected the honor of his own guest – the woman.
This woman may have had a previous encounter with Jesus and been forgiven.
Now most certainly she needs reassurance of it.
But we note here also that Jesus gladly receives her extreme devotion as one to whom it is due.
He is eternal God and King.
Would Simon and his guests receive his authority like this woman did?
If they came seeking repentance, worship, and forgiveness, they too would receive.
And they too would discover the love of their lives.
And the outpouring of their love, like the woman, would be undeniable proof of their having been forgiven because of their faith.
Jesus now desires to present the woman to the community as one behaving in ways consistent with her new life.
The forgiveness of his friendship has transformed her.
He addresses her with words of conclusion, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
He wants to bring her into the full social context from which she has been excluded.
Will they accept her?
Do you accept her?
Would they accept you?
We must accept one another with love unfettered by constraint of past behavior and reputation.
Have we accepted his common forgiveness?
It is possible to become friends with Jesus when we trust the forgiveness of his friendship to transform us.
Jesus never attacked the sinner. He simply said, "I forgive you." Meanwhile, he attacked the self-righteous with a vengeance, because he knew that until they felt guilty, they couldn't be forgiven.
-- Jerry Cook, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 2.
Simon sees a sinner, but Jesus sees a saint.
Do we see sinners for who they have been or for what God can make of them?
We want cleanup before getting close up, but Jesus offers us close up so we can clean up by contact with him.
We clean up by contact with grace.
No one is beyond his reach.
All can be confident to come within his reach.
Would we be as bold as this woman to risk public rejection to come forward and identify with him?
She came and expressed herself not with loud voice but with speechless emotion and quiet action.
Our churches need such heartfelt devotion and service beyond words like this woman expressed.
Some of us need to be transformed by his grace.
IV. Cycle Four – The Incorporation
A. Narrative (8:1-3)
Now after this in Luke's gospel we see that many indeed from upper to lower social strata have become part of a new community that spans gender and economic diversity.
They receive the good news.
They become part of the kingdom of God.
They have found release from the world.
They have become strangers to it, but not to each other.
They have found their life's calling in serving Jesus.
It involves both personal commitment and contribution of resources.
There is, besides the Twelve, some women like this former prostitute who risked all and wept at his feet.
There was Mary Magdalene whom Jesus delivered from a host of demons.
There was Joanna, the wife of Herod's household manager, whom Jesus delivered from the host of Herod.
And there was Susanna and many others who came to serve him as the love of their lives.
Like this former prostitute who was probably among them, this was their response of gratitude and generosity toward Jesus' generosity toward them.
Their graciousness mirrors his.
This is ministry in response to his grace.
Here is a biblical standard of service rather than power.
But it has been in response to his power that we have been set free to serve him with acceptability and awe.
We know that we have become friends with Jesus when he allows us to go in the peace of faith that enables our service as part of his kingdom.
It's worth noting that Jesus didn't condemn bad people. He condemned "stiff" people. We condemn the bad ones and affirm the stiff ones. Whether it was a prostitute or a tax collector or an outcast ... Jesus reached out to them. It was a motley crew of riffraff that followed Him around, and it never embarrassed Him or made Him feel uncomfortable. One of the most radical statements Jesus ever made is found in Matthew 9: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (vv. 12-13).
-- Steve Brown in Key Life (Mar.-Apr. 1994). Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 9.
Women were prominent in the New Testament. Luke is called "the women's gospel." Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdala, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Joanna, Philip's daughters who were inspired preachers, Lydia, and Phoebe. It is noteworthy that women were the first at Jesus' cradle, the last at His cross, and the first to discover His resurrection.
-- T.T. Crabtree, 1985 Pastors Manual, (Zondervan, 1985), p. 121
We are all in the position of the women at Jesus' feet.
We must show others the way to his feet.
The greater our sense of mercy, the greater our love for God.
If our love is cold, it is because we have come to think that he owes us, not that he paid our debt.
We are all in debt to the friendship of Christ.
What is the Big Idea: Subject plus Complement of the passage?
We know it is possible to become friends with Jesus when we trust the genuineness of his friendship to attract us, the power of his friendship to protect us, and the forgiveness of his friendship to transform us.
Then we will go with him in the peace of faith that enables our service as part of his kingdom.
Timeless Truth: He who forgives sins fosters friendship and multiplies love – just like Jesus did – just like he wanted Simon to do – just like he wants you to do.
Have you befriended Jesus?
Have you wept lately at his feet?
Have you found rest for your soul?
Have you found a place of service in his kingdom?
And are you a friend of sinners like Jesus is to you?
You can rest secure in his friendship.
He is the friend of sinners.
Hymn: #435, What a Friend We Have in Jesus