The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful (2): What Good and Bad Have in Common
Intro – The prosecuting attorney asked his first witness, an elderly woman, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” “Yes, I do, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy and you’re a big disappointment. You lie, cheat on your wife, gossip, and think you’re a big shot when you’re just a two-bit paper-pusher. Yes, I know you.” Stunned, he asked, “Well, Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?” She replied, “Yes, I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, drinks too much, has the worst law practice in the state and has cheated on his wife with 3 different women, one of them being your wife. Yes, I know him.” With that, the judge called both attorneys to the bench and said in a very quiet voice, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you to the electric chair.”
I. The Good That’s Bad -- Appearances are deceiving, aren’t they? We have seen saw Simon’s outward good covered a black, rebellious heart. Good is bad when it is not good enough. Simon’s good was really bad. It led him to judge Jesus. But Jesus did not come to be judged; He came to be believed.
Today we’ll learn from Jesus’ perspective that good and bad have a lot in common. Simon was a man of class distinctions. He and his Pharisee friends were at the top of the heap, the crème de la crème, the standard. At rock bottom was the woman – a notorious sinner who appalled Simon by her very presence, let alone by her outrageous display of affection for this country bumpkin itinerate preacher. Simon’s world divided into neat little categories – him on top, the woman on the bottom. Jesus turns that world upside down.
Simon judges if Jesus were a prophet He’d reject this sinful woman. His first surprise is when Jesus’ knows his inner thoughts. But Jesus is just beginning. Lu 7:40, “And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” [Wops! Caution flags up!] And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [Simon’s caught. You can sense his reluctance] 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Simon thought he was judging Jesus – but in a few brief words, Jesus has turned the tables completely. “You have judged rightly, Simon. You get “A” for the day.” Then Jesus gives His devastating application of this parable.
By this powerful parable, Jesus has established His authority. This short illustration turned Simon’s worldview on its ear by showing that good and bad – far from being the great discriminators that Simon made them to be all in his favor – actually have a lot in common. Both fall short of the glory of God. Neither reaches the perfection demanded by a holy Master. Jesus has replaced Simon’s pyramid scheme with a view of reality that puts Simon and the woman on an equal footing. What do good and bad have in common?
II. What Good and Bad Have in Common (Jesus)
A. A Common Debt
There two debtors. One owes 500 denarii, the other 50. One owes 10 times as much as the other – but the point is – both are in debt. The debt represents sin’s debt, of course. To Simon the woman was a “500 sinner” while Simon was only a “50 sinner.” For sake of argument, Jesus concurs: “Okay, Simon, let’s assume that you are a far better than this prostitute. She’s dirty. She’s defiled. She’s wallowed in sin while you’ve been circumspect. Let’s say she’s 10 times worse than you. The important point is – you’re both in debt!” The “high-class” moralist and the “low-class” have this is common. They have a debt. What she did outwardly Simon only contemplated inwardly – but God looks on the heart, and they have in common an unpayable debt.
God says, “For the wages of sin is death”? Amount doesn’t matter. Sin is our common denominator. Thought you’d left that behind with your last math class? Remember the concept, right? You have to add 23 plus ¾, but you can’t do that without finding a common denominator. You have to convert to 12ths before you know that 23 plus ¾ = 812 plus 912 = 1712 = 1-512. That one’s easy, but it turns out that no matter what fractions you have, how unlike they looked, you could always find a common denominator. Always. One fraction might be very large and the other very small, but they had a common denominator. That’s what Jesus is pointing out in this parable. Every person who ever lived has this in common with every other person – we owe God. It may be a lot; it may be a little; but we are all in debt.
The Bible says in I John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The common denominator. Sin dogs every heart and clings like lint to every life. Jer 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (literally, terminally ill); who can understand it?” David said in Psa 51: 5) “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We have a common debt. Imagine I go to the local bank: “Do you have any debtors from our church? No names, but anyone owe you?” He says, “Yes, two.” “How much do they owe?” “Well, one owes $100,000.” I’d say, “Well, you are right. He is a debtor for sure. How about the other?” “Well, the other owes $10 for lunch last week?” “Ten dollars!? You call him a debtor? In comparison to $100,000, what’s $10?” But you know bankers. He’s a debtor no matter amt.
The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isa 53:6). Not some. All. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). One man came up to a preacher after the sermon and said, “I can’t swallow what you had to say about depravity.” The pastor answer, “That’s all right – it’s already inside you!” Sin is the great leveler of class distinctions – the common denominator. The woman was a sinner, but so was Simon. They had a common debt to God.
B. A Common Insolvency
Now – a common debt is one thing – but there is more. Neither one could pay up. Suppose one person owed you $100 and another $1000. Now suppose the one who owed $100 had enough resources to pay up. Then there would be a common debt, but only one would be insolvent. But not in Jesus’ story. Note vv. 41-42, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay,” What is that? Common insolvency! The amount didn’t matter; neither could pay!
Jesus is saying, “Simon, I know you think you’re good and she’s bad. But I tell you that you have a common debt – and worse, neither of you can pay!” Jesus squeezes Simon’s pyramid until he and the woman are on an equal footing before God despite her outward sinfulness and his outward rectitude. Before God, both are bankrupt! Believe me, that thought had NEVER entered Simon’s mind. He never got that his goodness was not good enough. He should have known. God said in Isa 64: 6) “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Good is not good enough – it never is. It can never meet God’s standards.
Simon had categories. He was at worst a “50 sinner”, the woman was at best a “500 sinner.” Big difference. And it produced a false security. We all have such rankings! Very few people reside above us on our personal moral scale; we feel secure. God says in James 2:8-10, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality [Simon had a slight case!] you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. [That’s bad enough, but it gets worse – far worse] 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James nails us all. Common debt – all sinners. Common insolvency – can’t buy our way out.
Most of us can’t believe we’re that bad. We have good intentions! We owe, but we are not insolvent. It is our natural disposition. God is like the help-wanted ad in the Miami, OK News-Record: “Wanted. Bartender-Waitress. We need honest, sober, reliable help. Would take any two of the three above-named requirements.” God can’t be more demanding than that!
R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier org questioned some college students: “If you were to die tonight, and God said to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say to God?” How would you answer? One said: “Like, well, you looked over me all my seventeen years, and I’ve been nothing but good, so I have every right to be in there.” God as Santa Claus. Can’t you just see that student? He always got his gifts at Christmas, and if he’s good enough for Santa, he must be good enough for God. Incredible naivete! How about this: “I’ve probably disobeyed many, many commandments, but I don’t really think that that should influence my behavior as a good person.” Okay, I owe – but I can pay. I’m good enough. No one ever told him about James 2. How about this one? “But there are people out there that are worse than me. I mean that might be the basis of my belief. [making it up as he goes along!] There is always someone worse. He can’t keep everyone out. If there is a heaven, you know—he will let me in.” Wow. I make the rules; God will abide by them. Soon that question will be real, not hypothetical. Are you sure you can convince God you’re good enough?
Ever hear of Sham? A racehorse who ran the 1973 Kentucky Derby in a record time of 1:59-45 – one of only 4 horses in history to this day to run the Derby in under 2:00. Only one problem; he lost by 2-12 lengths to Secretariat. A week later, Sham ran the Preakness – 2nd leg of the triple crown – lost by 2-1/2 lengths to Secretariat again. Good! – but not quite good enough. Two weeks on he led through the first half of the Belmont Stakes before Secretariat ran him into the ground finishing 31 lengths ahead of the field. Sham came last. Good wasn’t good enough -- when it met perfection, That’s our problem. We have a common bankruptcy before God’s perfection. That’s the bad news – but it’s not the end of Jesus’ story.
C. A Common Forgiveness Available
V. 42: “When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both.” NASB says: “graciously forgave.” Unexpected; unmerited; out of the blue, Grace! They could not pay -- so he cancelled the debt. Imagine being unable to pay your mortgage, so the bank pays itself and cancels the debt! Dream on, right?! Well, here God cancels the debt of both the 50 and the 500 sinner. Neither can pay, so the Father pays Himself and cancels the debt. That’s good news, Beloved. That is the gospel of Rom 3:23-25, “for all have sinned (common debt) and fall short of the glory of God, (common insolvency) 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation (common forgiveness) by his blood, to be received by faith” What we can’t do, He has done for us. His gift to every insolvent sinner who will believe -- whether we are a 50, a 500 or a 5M sinner.
But – we have to accept the gift! Notice Rom 3:25 – the propitiation (canceled debt) must be received by faith. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God.” In 1915 the New York Tribune published Treasury Department secrets. A grand jury investigated; George Burdick, Tribune editor, was ordered to reveal sources. Burdick refused and was jailed. President Woodrow Wilson pardoned him. But Burdick refused the pardon. The Supreme Court in Burdick v. US ruled that to effect the pardon, it had to be accepted by the condemned person. A pardon cannot be forced upon an individual. It further ruled that to accept a pardon carries an imputation of guilt. Years later a young man convicted of murder was sentenced to die. His parents got a governor’s pardon, but to everyone’s surprise the young man refused the pardon saying that he was guilty and deserved to die which he did. This is precisely the Bible’s teaching on forgiveness. To receive God’s pardon we must own our guilt but then we must accept the pardon by faith. Failing that, we must are condemned!
Most people refuse pardon because they don’t believe they have a debt. James Mill said, “I will call no being good, who is not what I mean by good when I use that word of my fellow creatures; and if there be a Being who can send me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.” In other words: “If I cannot have a God who honors my definition (meaning “well-intentioned”) then I refuse Him. I will define good, not God.” But what makes my definition any better than that of Hitler – or Stalin, or Charlie Manson or Osama bin Laden? Who but God can define good? Mill also missed that God paid the debt Himself to keep anyone from hell. He refused grace, wouldn’t believe. Jesus even reminds the woman in v. 50, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” It’s a forgiveness common to all – made effective by faith.
D. A Common Test of Forgiveness
Jesus closes His parable with a test. With both debts canceled, Jesus asks in 42-43, “Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Simon answered reluctantly, but honestly. Much love shows recognition of a great debt canceled; little love shows recognition of a small debt canceled. This woman’s love knew no bounds and cared nothing for the disapproval of others so long as she could show her love and gratitude. But what about Simon? Jesus isn’t quite done with him yet.
V. 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. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Simon hadn’t even shown the common courtesies of the day. And if much love evidences much forgiveness; little love little forgiveness; then no love shows no forgiveness. Jesus is urging Simon to judge his own life rather than Jesus’ life. Simon topped his own scale, but he bottomed out on God’s. He was weighed and found wanting. Did he repent and come to forgiveness? We don’t know.
But how about us? I found my love a lot more like Simon’s than the woman. When did I last throw aside all societal and moral convention to show my love for Him? I am far more likely to clam up and say nothing. How about you? The woman “wasted” her most valuable possession to anoint feet that would soon be dusty all over again. How deep into my pockets have I dug because I love Him and want others to hear of Him? How about you? I think I’m a pretty good guy – until I examine the sorry state of my selfish heart, dominated by greed, pleasure-seeking, titillation, vengefulness, and self-righteousness. When did I last shed tears at the grace of God that cancels every last iota of debt I owe. I had to ask, am I really saved? How about you?
Someone asked R. C Sproul, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Sproul’s classic answer was, "I haven't met any good people yet, so I don't know." That’s what Jesus’ parable is teaching. While some are better than others measured on a human scale, on God’s scale we have a common debt, and a common insolvency. But praise God, He’s made a common pardon for anyone who will accept it by faith. Charitie Bancroft said it this way:
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
Let’s stand as our Praise Team comes to lead us in the whole song: “Before the Throne of God Above.” Let’s pray.