A Lesson On Devotion
The story in Luke 7:36–50 which we are now to consider, is quite unique in all the four Gospels. There is one very much like it which is recounted by Matthew and Mark which took place much later in the ministry of our Lord, when a woman poured a box of precious ointment upon His head, and then broke the box. In John 11 she is identified as Mary of Bethany.
Here we meet in this chapter two people—Simon a Pharisee, and a woman which is called a sinner, as Luke describes her. They are in the same house, but they are from the opposite ends of society. One who might live on a nice boulevard and the other on skid row meet, and the only reason for their meeting is that the Lord is there. All sorts of people meet together when God is present, who would never otherwise meet. That is our prayer constantly for our Sunday by Sunday ministry.
On the one hand you have this complacent, respected, self-righteous Pharisee who would be very careful never to be seen in the company of a woman like this; and on the other hand here is a woman of notorious character. Somehow or other she had already come in touch with the Lord Jesus. She had met Him, been delivered from her sin, and now in repentance and faith, with a great burst of love just flowing out of her heart, she came to express her devotion to Him. But above them all, alongside them and with them, loving them both (equally, not one more than the other), stands the Saviour Himself. He is on His way to the Cross in order that He might save both of them. He is as concerned for Simon as He is for the woman. He is as concerned to teach His people today as He was to teach Simon then.
To know the Lord Jesus Christ is not only to be forgiven, but it is from that moment to live our lives for Him, and to love Him with all our hearts. I believe that when the forgiving grace of God enters a human heart it comes in at about as wide a door as the love of God goes out on the other side. For you see, our devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ is expressed in service, and measured by what our hearts have felt of His forgiveness. That is the lesson I believe the Holy Spirit wants us to learn today in His presence.
Let us look therefore in the first place at the proud Pharisee. He desired Jesus to eat with him, but quite evidently that desire was not for hospitality’s sake, because he denied the Lord every recognized Eastern act of courtesy. It was the custom to meet a guest with water for his feet, to greet him with a kiss, and pour oil upon his head, but Simon denied the Lord Jesus each one of these tokens of hospitality.
This man, having asked Christ possibly out of curiosity or maybe even in hostility to trap Him, was respectable in life, orthodox in his creed, but with a religion of just so many dry words in which there was neither life nor love. Why was he like that? Simply for that reason—there was no love in his heart at all. Therefore, his religion was only a matter of creed and doctrine, the kind of thing that never gives life to anybody and never brings blessing to a heart, or puts a bit of strength into a soul for the battle of life. Beloved, there is nothing so contemptible as religion like that.
It is pointless condemning Simon—he has been in his grave nineteen hundred years—but I feel that the same peril besets you and me constantly. He was content with himself, with no sense of sin or recognition of Christ’s forgiveness, and therefore no devotion to the Lord. Because there was no love, no light, no warmth in his heart, and because all he knew about God and religion was merely theory, the result was that all his activity was simply self-destroying, soul-destroying self-righteousness. May the Lord have mercy upon us and spare us from that awful deadly peril—the letter which kills—but grant us the Spirit that gives life!
Simon saw this woman as she entered the room and passed round till she stood behind the Saviour. He watched the tears flow down her cheeks upon His feet, he saw her stoop down and wipe the Lord’s feet with her hair, and then smother His feet with her kisses and pour her costly ointment on Him. What did Simon see? I will tell you what he thought he saw: he thought he saw a woman of the street fondling Jesus. As he did so he began thinking to himself, paraphrasing v. 39, “If this man were really a prophet, He would have known what sort of person this is, and He would have kicked her away. She is only a sinner.”
“Simon, you’re wrong. You are utterly wrong. She was a sinner, but now she is a believer. She has repented, has been forgiven, and is on the road to being a saint. She has been cleansed from her sin, and is a great deal cleaner, Simon, than you are. You have been whitewashed; she has been cleansed in her heart. Simon, you are not only wrong about her, you are wrong about God. Do you really mean that no man of God, and therefore even God Himself, would have anything to do with a woman like this? Is that how you think of God? You want us to believe in a God who would share your contempt for a person like this and just kick her out of sight? Simon, with all your religion, with all your belief, with all your creed, with all your understanding, your need is infinitely more desperate than the need of that woman.” The proud Pharisee!
Now see, in the second place, the penitent woman. When Luke describes her as a woman who was a sinner, there is no doubt what he meant. At the back of this life there has been a tragedy, all too common even today.
She has been somebody’s precious little child, some mother’s little sweetheart, the light and joy in some home at one time, but maybe her loving parents had watched things go wrong until now this little girl was just a plaything of the devil. How heartbroken was that home! No one ever thought that it would end like that! Nobody ever does think it will end like that when they begin playing with sin, and they always say, “I can stop it when I like.” Then there comes a day when it is too much for them.
But it didn’t end like that. She had met Christ, and oh, the tremendous contrast between the way He treated her and everybody else had treated her! He knew all about her and had said to her in effect, “Daughter, I know all about your transgression—this tragedy. I know about the agony, the frustration, the sense of grief, the heartbreak, the isolation, the shame, the loneliness, the awful sense of the frowning of the religious public. I know all about it, and I want to tell you that my love is greater than it all. Your sins may seem to you like a great big ocean with no answer to them; they just overwhelm you, and there seems to be no way through; but, my child, I want to tell you that my love is just like a great big mountain, and the roots of that mountain go deep, deeper down than the ocean beds, and the peak of that mountain goes far higher than the highest wave. My love encompasses it all. That love of mine can never be quenched by your sin no matter how great it may be.”
This woman had heard about that love. She had met the Lord Jesus and had received His pardon, and now violated all the tradition of the Pharisee by crossing the threshold of Simon’s house, for knowing his attitude toward her, she would have been just as eager to keep out of his way as he was to keep out of hers. When people live that way and get in a mess like she did, our cold, fundamental letter-of-the-law religion just poisons them.
Ah, but she forgot all about the scorn and derision of other people, and never even looked at Simon or at any of his guests. If only by her falling tears and that fragrant ointment and the kisses she rained upon the feet of the Lord Jesus, she could tell Him how much she loved Him. Once a sinner, yes, but now a sinner mastered by the love of the Lord Jesus which unashamedly she betrayed before everybody.
I think it is a very wonderful thing. There are only two people in the New Testament of whom it is said, “They kissed the Saviour.” One was the man who betrayed Him—Judas, and the other this woman from the street—a penitent, forgiven soul.
Perhaps a word by way of exposition is needed at this point. If you read verse 47 you might get confused. “Wherefore, I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
I think we need to be careful that we recognize that the Lord Jesus was not saying that her love to Him was the cause of His forgiving her; rather, her love was the proof that she had already been forgiven. Her love did not go before His forgiveness, but His forgiveness came to her before she ever knew how to love.
I think that is clearly seen in the parable which Jesus told them both, in verse 42, “…he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?”
I cannot love God from my sinful heart until I have seen something of the infinite marvel and grace of God which has reached me right where I am and saved my soul. Forgiveness came first; love followed.
Now the question that intrigues me in this lesson on devotion is: why is it that one was so different from the other? Pour Pharisee, a penitent woman. I think the answer to that question is in the tremendous revelation in the little parable which our Lord Jesus told to them both in this story concerning the pardoning God.
Jesus went into that house. He accepted the invitation in spite of Simon’s attitude, and remained in that house in spite of being insulted by the neglect of ordinary hospitality. He missed that hospitality, and said so, but that did not prevent His sitting down alongside Simon.
If you want to win a soul for Jesus, how far can you take an insult? Have you learned that lesson from our Lord? He was insulted, refused the ordinary courtesies of Eastern hospitality, yet He did not walk out the door, but stayed where He was, and sat down beside the man. There was never a moment when the Lord Jesus was more anxious to save than He was right then.
“Jesus answering said unto him, Simon…” (v. 40).
But Simon hadn’t opened his mouth! No, he had not spoken a word, but Jesus answered. How could Jesus answer the man when he had never spoken? For the simple reason that Jesus knew him better than he knew himself. Simon thought he knew the woman. He knew the woman as she used to be, and could not see the woman as she is now for looking at what she used to be. That is the trouble with most of us who are religious like that.
Jesus saw her and He saw him, and He answered. He knew his thinking and He told them both a very simple story, almost childish in its simplicity. “Here is a man,” said the Lord Jesus, “and he had two debtors. One owed him fifty pence and the other five hundred. Neither had anything with which to pay, and so frankly he forgave them both.”
“Now,” said Jesus to Simon, “which do you think would love him most?”
Simon gave the inevitable answer. He was getting cornered by this time, of course. I think he gave it very reluctantly, and almost a bit superciliously when he said, “Well, I suppose he to whom he had forgiven most.” Very obliging of him to say that!
And then Jesus turned on him firmly and applied the truth. “Seest thou this woman, Simon? No, you don’t see her at all. You don’t understand the whole amazing marvel of grace, forgiveness, repentance, and therefore you cannot see that she is utterly different.”
Here in this precious little parable, in the understanding of it in our hearts, is the thing that makes all the difference between a man whose religion is cold and dead and lifeless and orthodox, and the man whose religion is on fire.
What does Jesus say? Here in this story is the key to the whole question of our life and devotion. There are two people with what I would call a common indebtedness: one owed fifty pence, the other five hundred. Of course they owed a different amount, but there was no difference in the fact that they were both debtors.
Sin is debt. It is a debt to God, and every time we pray and speak to Him in the family prayer we ask Him to forgive our debts. We acknowledge that sin is debt. It is an obligation, and therefore it can only be met by the payment of a penalty.
Everyone of us today stands in the same relationship to God, for all have sinned; though one may be blacker than the other. I may be much worse a sinner than you, but there is no difference in the fact that we are all in debt to a holy God. Perhaps we should remember that some things that are done by the self-righteous man because of their motive, may be a great deal blacker than some of the things that are done in skid row. Sin is not simply to be found in ugly crime. Sin in essence is ugly selfish motives. That is sin, and everybody reading this message is in debt to God. We owe Him this obligation, for we have all sinned. There is a common indebtedness and everyone of us meets and stands before God at exactly the same level.
But notice something else—there is a common bankruptcy too: “They had nothing to pay.” Simon thought he was so different. He had his nice home on the boulevard, and she was from skid row—such a tremendous difference that he wouldn’t go near her. But here is the Lord putting those two people that are socially miles apart on the same level. He is bringing them spiritually to the same place, and until Simon finds to his humiliation that he is actually in exactly the same state—it is a common bankruptcy. “They had nothing to pay,” and that fact makes the difference in the amount of their debt quote a matter of detail. Whether it is fifty or five hundred doesn’t make much difference if neither of them has a penny to meet his obligation.
That is exactly our position before God. What can you do to diminish the load of sin in your heart? When you recognize sin is debt to God, what can you do to lighten the burden of that obligation? What is written is written: tears won’t wash it out; cleaning up our lives will not deal with the awful sense of shame and guilt of the past that just glares at us and mocks us, and constantly brings to our remembrance the hideousness of the things we have done. The only one who can take away the burden is the one against whom I have sinned; the only one who can pay the obligation of my debt is the one to whom I owe it—God Himself. Who else can do that for me? I am in debt to God, I have an obligation to Him, I am under the guilt of it all, and I am owing Him something because I am a sinner. Who on Earth can ever meet that payment but the God to whom I owe it?
Furthermore, we have nothing to pay, literally nothing. Mending our ways does not touch the past; and hating our sin does not deal with our responsibility, and every transgression and disobedience, says the Scripture, shall receive its just recompense of reward.
I speak to you like this because I believe that to recognize this fact is an absolute essential preparation for the receiving of God’s forgiveness. Quite clearly these two men in the parable held out a couple of pairs of empty hands and said, “But we have nothing with which to pay.” And you and I must come to God with empty hands and say to Him, “Lord, I have nothing with which I can begin to meet my obligation. I come to you bankrupt, and recognize my absolute bankruptcy.” If I would expect His forgiveness then I must come to Him literally down-and-out on a spiritual skid row from which there is no recovery.
God is not going to accept my dividends in part payment of this debt, and let me off with a few cents per dollar. If I really think I want to pay back in obligation to God the failure of my life, then God says, “All right, you will not be released until you have paid the uttermost farthing. If you think you can pay anything to redeem your soul, pay everything.” But if God is going to hold out His loving arms in forgiving grace, then He says, “I must forgive everything.”
In these days of cheap evangelicalism, when decisions for Christ by the mass are so popular, this kind of teaching is very unpopular, but I want to say to you with all the authority of this precious Word, that if I would face God’s forgiving grace I have to come to Him with empty hands, and recognize that I can do simply nothing to earn what He gives, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not leave pride with one leg to stand on.
Poor old Simon! Did he see it? I sometimes wonder if one day I might meet that man in heaven. He would have to come down from his pedestal with an awful crash! He would have to get delivered from his faith in creeds, and his cold, logical mental religion until the fire of God just burned in his heart and burned it all out, and implanted God’s saving grace.
There was common bankruptcy, but now notice something very wonderful that follows—a full forgiveness for both of them. Our text says, “He frankly forgave them both.” That creditor forgave those two debtors irrespective of anything of good or bad in either of them. If you want to find the reason why God should forgive your sin, you have to climb right up the mountain and into the glory itself, and you will see that “God is love” and His only motive for forgiving us is not out of pity for the mess we are in, or out of a sense of burden for our need, but because He is love, and the motive for His forgiveness just wells up within His own heart. It is not aroused because I am a poor guilty soul. It has been there from all eternity, and therefore no sin of mine nor of yours, no matter how black, how frequent, how constant, can ever quench the love of God. That love is revealed in a pardon that is absolutely free and absolutely complete, for the only terms upon which there can be a union between my sinful, poor, beaten, bankrupt heart and His mighty power to deliver and save me in all His fulness, is that all the ocean of sin is cancelled and put out of the way forevermore. The grace of God does not smuggle people into heaven as if He were ashamed of us. Oh, ho! The grace of God in Jesus Christ comes right down to the Cross and shatters every bit of our sin, puts it under the blood, removes it as far as the east is from the west, and takes a cleansed soul into the glory for all heaven to wonder and marvel at the beauty and loveliness of the grace of God in redemption. That is grace.
Do you think that you are going to be brought into heaven by a back door and hidden from the view of everybody because you’re such a miserable sinner? No, a thousand times no! At Calvary He slew it all, every bit of it, every wretched foul thing, and do you know what the grace of God does? Isn’t it wonderful! Far from being ashamed of us and hiding us, the grace of God in Jesus Christ cancels sin out at the Cross and then makes us fit to obey the standards of heaven by the power of God the Holy Ghost within us, and by the cleansing of the blood. That is what grace does.
“Thou gavest me,” says the Lord, “no water for my feet. I expect that from my children. Thou gavest me no kiss. I expect that from those who are mine. Thou didst not anoint my head with oil. I look for that from those who love me.”
Grace expects it. Oh, it is so wonderful to preach grace…not a cheap, easy grace, that when I get to heaven I’m going to be awfully ashamed of the past. The Cross and the blood, and the Holy Ghost have cancelled the past, empowered the present, and presented me faultless before the presence of God. Isn’t that marvelous salvation?
You see, grace comes and just offers all that free, but also expects a return. There is in this passage not only a proud Pharisee, a penitent soul and a pardoning God, but also a passionate love. It is the only way I can describe this woman’s attitude to Jesus. She loved much. Why? Well, she had been forgiven much, Jesus said. Do you know what had happened to her? Oh, that this may ever happen to you and to me! She had felt herself sinking in the mess of life and in the mistakes she had made, and she cried out, but there was no mercy, no hope and no deliverance. Then she saw a hand, may I say metaphorically, pierced and holed with nails going right down to where she was and lifting her up, putting her feet upon a rock, establishing her goings and putting a song in her mouth. She had a deep, deep consciousness of her sin and therefore a deep, deep love for the Lord Jesus because He had so freely forgiven her.
Let me just ask you the two questions which are inevitable as I finish. Are you like that woman? I wonder if you understand me when I ask you, have you ever been struck absolutely dumb, awestruck as it were, at the sense of His awful holiness? Have you ever felt yourself sinking down into this pit like this woman did, and you say to yourself, “But, God, this should never have happened to me. I never meant it to be like this. It should never have happened. Look at the people who prayed for me. Look at my home and my background, and yet I have been down like this.” Somehow the blackness had come, and the clouds are all around you, and God’s throne seems to be saying, “Holy, holy, holy, without holiness shall no man see the Lord.” Then there is a little shaft of light as you cry and you see a nail-pierced hand, and against the darkness of the cloud there is a silver lining: you see a Cross that is empty and a throne that is occupied, and you hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Just fling yourself at the feet of our precious Lord and say, “Oh, God, forgive me, poor sinful creature that I am; for the sake of Thy beloved Son, forgive me.”
Friend, I don’t know of any other road that leads to glory than that—the road to a passionate devotion to Christ. There is no love without pardon, there is no fellowship or sonship without confession of all the foul ugly mess of which I have been guilty. Ah, but to such a one who comes, Jesus says, “Go in peace.” What a statement! What a promise!
Are you like her? Have you been through all that? Do you know what I am talking about? I’m not talking about theory. I am talking about things that have been so real in my own sinful life. Or tell me, are you like Simon? You ask Jesus to dinner, you do the conventional, the polite, the necessary, but there isn’t one spark of love. You observe the duties of religion, but you just are an iceberg spiritually. You see, the depth and reality of our Christian experience are measured by our devotion to the Lord Jesus Himself, and that devotion depends on a clear insight into the character of sin and its ugliness, and into the marvelous overwhelming power of the grace of God in forgiveness.
So I preach to you a love that you do not have to buy, a mercy that you do not have to bribe; I preach to you a grace that is independent of your character be it good or bad, and it is all for you to take as a helpless, bankrupt, poor sinner from Him who died for you and paid the debt and who comes to give you His pardoning mercy. Will you take it? Will you take Him? Will you come as a poor sinful man or woman and just fling yourself upon the mercy of God?
So shall the peace of God flood your heart today, and the love of God shall be shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, and somehow your life will be inevitably blazed out in a devotion to Jesus Christ.