Jesus, Forgiveness, And YouErwin W. Lutzer | November 10, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
How is your soul? Have you been forgiven? Do you have the peace of God in your heart?
Do you think you’ve sinned too much to be forgiven? If you do, you need to realize that’s a lie. There is no sin, or accumulation of sins, that God’s grace can’t forgive.
Looking at the sinful woman in Luke 7, Pastor Lutzer shows us how she—a woman scorned and rejected because she led a “sinful life”—faced her painful past and determined to meet Jesus at any cost.
And Jesus, right in the middle of the Pharisees who would not have allowed her to touch them, says to her, “Your sins are forgiven… go in peace.”
Marilyn Monroe once said that in Hollywood they give you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul.
So I want to begin today by asking you the question, “How is your soul?” How would you characterize it? Is it full of guilt, remorse, powerlessness and self-condemnation, or peace and joy? How is the state of your soul?
As you know, we are in a series of messages titled Restoring the Soul. In the first message we spoke about shame and how that has to be overcome if the soul is to be restored, and we’ll be commenting on that again today. In the second message we spoke about the lies that we like to believe about sexuality, lies that hurt and ruin us. And then last time we talked about breaking soul ties.
You know, there was man who was in an adulterous relationship and when he was confronted he denied it, and even put his fist up to heaven and said, “If I am lying, let God smite me dead.” But God didn’t smite him dead, and so he felt emboldened to continue in his lie. But when it finally came unraveled, when the lie didn’t work anymore, he said these words: “I know I’m wrong. I’m helpless. I’m driven to be with her no matter the cost.” Now we commented on that last week, giving an explanation for that, but I need to tell you that the next message in this series is going to do with breaking the cycle.
But today we’re going to speak about grace and forgiveness in the presence of Jesus, because there’s a story in the New Testament that is a wonderful story. It’s one in which Jesus takes a woman who had greatly sinned, and He restores her, and not only does He forgive her, but He gives her back something that is desperately needed if you are to be restored, and that is your dignity, because if not, you’ll repeat the same sin. Like one woman said, “I thought I was scum so I lived like scum.” I want to tell you today that you can live differently in the presence of Jesus.
The story is found in Luke 7. In Luke 7 there is a Pharisee by the name of Simon who decides to throw a party for Jesus just to check Him out. That’s what the Bible says, and what he does is he throws this feast and Jesus is to be there, because he wants to meet Jesus for himself (this Pharisee does) and so he invites Christ to the feast. Now you need to understand that in those days uninvited guests could come into the courtyard. They could not come to the table, but if they wanted to crouch along the walls of the courtyard, they could do that. They were free to do that. And there is a woman in the town who is a sinner. We know from the text that she is a prostitute, and she comes and she cowers in the shadows.
Those of us who are interested in the cause of human behavior would be very interested to know how she got into prostitution. Was it that she was raised in a fine home but then decided to throw it all away, and to simply go into this lifestyle, and once she began that way she was despised and scorned, and so she stayed earning a living doing that? That’s a possibility, but it’s doubtful. More likely she was abused by a man. She may have been sexuality molested as a child. Those who have been sexually violated find it very difficult to put up boundaries. Sometimes they don’t even know where the boundaries are. They find it hard to say no because they have been so severely violated they don’t even know exactly where those boundaries should be, and so anyone can come along and they are willing to open up their lives and their bodies for them.
Maybe she’s like the prostitute whom someone once brought to me, who was tossed out on the street at the age of 14, having to fend alone. She was raped and then lived as a prostitute. Whatever! All that we know is that this woman was known in town as a sinner. Now everybody sins, but she especially was known as the sinner of the streets.
There’s something else that you have to know in terms of customs. In those days when you had a feast, the table was only about 18 inches from the floor, and the people would come and recline. Their feet were extended. The men then would lean on their left elbow, and eat with their right hand. And that’s the way also that we have to understand the Lord’s Supper. It makes no sense to try to understand what was going on there unless you understand that that was the custom of the day.
So Jesus is there and His feet are extended, and this woman comes, and notice what we read in verses 37 and 38: “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, 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.” Wow!
She said to herself, “I’m coming from the shadows, and I’m going to get to Jesus no matter what,” and openly, repeatedly and unashamedly she showed this affection to Jesus. This was too much for Simon, the Pharisee. You’ll notice it says in verse 39: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’” Jesus would know that he is being touched by this immoral woman of the streets.
Now what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to show you how this woman came to wholeness, because at the end of this passage we read from the words of Jesus Himself – from His lips: “Go in peace.” How does Jesus take an immoral woman, filled with all kinds of shame and remorse, and in the end, in just a few moments be able to say to her, “Go in peace”? How does that happen in the presence of Jesus? And I want you to know that it happens also today.
I’m going to give you five steps. I’m a little hesitant to call them steps, because when God works in our lives it isn’t in some kind of a neat pattern, step by step. Sometimes the steps are in a different order. Sometimes all of them happen at once, but I do believe that in all the processes of healing that basically there are these elements that are present, and I’d like to give them to you because there are some of you who are listening today who need to be brought from your own lifestyle and your own pain and your own memories to wholeness in the presence of Jesus. And I believe that that is going to happen. I really do.
The first step: She was honest and open. You say, “Well, how do you know that?” Well, the very fact that she was willing to come to this feast! She knew that everyone who would be at the feast, all of these Pharisees, would hold her in scorn and derision. She knew that she would elicit this kind of a response, but her desire to meet Jesus was more powerful than public scorn and rebuke and judgmentalism. All that she cared about was getting to Jesus so she came out from the shadows of the courtyard, and she came to Him. The insults on the street were nothing in comparison to what she would get in the house of the Pharisee, the self-righteous bigots who did not see their own sin.
And so this dear woman, bless her, overcame her natural desire to hide her shame. And there are some of you who are addicts, and we will be talking about that in another message, but there are some of you who are in a lifestyle of repeated sinful behavior, and what I need to tell you today is that the grace of God does not go behind closed doors. And what she had to do was what many have had to do – to die to natural inclination to live a lie, and to come into the presence of Jesus. And I invite you to do that today. And those of you who have been abused - perhaps it’s not your sin but the sin of others - you too have to come to Jesus because the same grace that this woman experienced, the grace of forgiveness and healing and dignity is what all of us need in the pilgrimage of life.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, can’t I do this on my own?” Yes, you can be forgiven in the presence of God on your own, but you cannot be restored. Your dignity cannot be reinstated, as we shall see, except to come out from the shadows, and come to the presence of Jesus, and not care who is looking or who knows.
God bless this woman! First of all, she was open and honest. Secondly, she faced her pain. You say, “Well, where is that in the text?” Back in verse 38 when it says that she was weeping and then she wipes the feet of Jesus with her hair and kisses them as her tears mingled with the perfume, in the Greek text it is present tense. What it means is that she kept on weeping. She kept on anointing. She kept on wiping. And the reason that I know that she faced her pain is because she was weeping. Why was she crying? Well, of course, we know. She was crying because she thinks of all of the men who betrayed her, all of the men who said those wonderful, beautiful seductive things. And then when they got what they wanted they tossed her away like the peeling of an orange. She thought also of the broken relationships. Maybe at one time she had a family. Maybe she was even scorned by her relatives and friends. Who knows? Maybe even by her own children! We do not know this story. We do not know all of the things that came about to have her in this condition, but either way, the simple fact is that here was a woman who was so filled with self-revulsion, so filled with shame and the degrading feeling of being used that there she was in the presence of Jesus, and she wept. She wept!
I want you to know today that tears are very important. You don’t have to cry to be forgiven, but many of you need to cry to be restored, and I’ll tell you why. She could have acted differently. She could have chosen not to cry. She could have said to herself, “You know, if these self-righteous Pharisees are going to treat me that way and scorn me, I’ll show them. I’ll take all of my feelings and my hurt and I will stuff those feelings into my soul. I will weld my soul shut so that no one will ever get to me. And then she would have been hard. She would have been angry. She would have been uncaring. She would have been defiant, and she would have been unhealed.
I want you to know today that God gave us tear ducts that we might cry. And some of you who are in denial ought to give yourself the privilege of crying. Maybe you want to weep even in this service today. I want you to know today that if you weep and the person next to you is finding it difficult to accept that, that person next to you needs more help possibly than you do. Feel free to weep in the presence of Jesus. That’s what this woman did.
And again I refer to abused children. Some of you know I wrote a book with Dorie Van Stone entitled Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved, but a second book was entitled, No Place to Cry. Why did we call it that? It’s because one of the problems with abused children oftentimes is these feelings are stuffed into their souls, and they have no place where they can cry their eyes out. Some of you, God bless you, would do well to cry. Tears are oftentimes a barometer of the soul, and this woman, in the presence of Jesus, wept. She did not hide her pain.
Third, she accepted Jesus Christ’s forgiveness. Now there’s a very interesting interchange that takes place here beginning at verse 41. Simon, of course, is incensed that Jesus would let a prostitute touch Him. And so Jesus, knowing this, says to Simon, “I’ve got something to say to you.” And Simon says, “Okay, tell it to me.” And Jesus said: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Verse 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
I hope someday in heaven we’ll see a video of this incident. What Jesus was saying is that those who are forgiven more, love more. The degree of our love oftentimes is dependent upon the extent of our forgiveness and what we’ve been forgiven for. I remember a woman at Moody Church who said, “Pastor Lutzer, I am the woman at the well. I am the woman who committed adultery. I am these women throughout the New Testament,” and she said, “I am wrapped all into one.” In other words, “I am all of these ladies.” And yet this woman had such a glow on her face, and such a love for Jesus that it was overwhelming because he who has been forgiven much loves much.
Now Jesus wasn’t saying, “Well, you know, Simon, you can’t love me very much because you don’t have very much that I have to forgive you for.” I want you to know today that Simon was in much greater need than this woman. Thank God at least she could see her sin. He couldn’t see his. As he looked down his judgmental, holier than thou nose, he couldn’t see that he needed the grace of God. But what I like is this: Jesus Christ is right in the presence of this bigoted Pharisee and his friends, and right in the midst of these people Jesus speaks these kind words to this woman who, perhaps, had not heard kind words for years from a man. And Jesus says to her tenderly, “Lady, you are forgiven.” It’s not only a restoration of forgiveness, but her dignity is restored because she is in the presence of the only one who can speak her clean. And if the man who is at the center of the universe, Jesus Christ, would not have spoken her clean… What if Jesus would have been a Pharisee? What if Jesus had said, “Well, you know, don’t touch me. Lady, don’t you understand I’m the Son of God? Don’t you understand how holy I am? Go back onto the streets where you belong. You don’t even belong in this place.” What would this dear lady have done? The only thing that she could have thought of maybe to do is to commit suicide, because if you are in the presence of the most holy God, and the only one who is able to speak you clean condemns you, where do you go from there? There is no other place to go. But I want you to know today that there is hope in the presence of Jesus.
I called my mother last night on the phone and she was talking about a 35-year old man up in Canada who committed suicide last week in despair, in despondency and in hopelessness. And I say to you today that in the presence of Jesus no one has to do that, because in the presence of Jesus you can be spoken clean by the God of the universe.
And listen to this carefully - those of you who cannot forgive yourselves. If Jesus has spoken you clean, who is there in the universe that can say that you are guilty? “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God…” And this dear lady accepted the forgiveness of God.
There’s a fourth step and that is that she had faith. Isn’t it wonderful that God birthed faith in her heart? In verse 50 it says that Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you.” It wasn’t her perfume that saved her. It wasn’t even coming out of the shadows that saved her, though that was certainly proof of her faith, because she wanted to get to Jesus no matter who was around. I want you to know today that really at the end of the day only Jesus really does matter. But none of those things were important to her, nor did they purchase salvation. What did she believe that saved her? She believed that there was more grace in God’s heart than there was sin in her past, and she believed.
I received a letter from a woman some time ago who said that she was working in an office, and an older woman encouraged her to begin a sexual relationship, which ended in a five-year struggle and involvement in lesbianism. But the woman writing to me said, “Oh, how I stink to the core of my being! I know God has forgiven me but I cannot forgive myself. Is there any hope for me? I cry a lot. God forbid that I should be a Judas who felt guilty but still chose the wrong direction.” Is there hope for her?
Let me ask you something. Why is it that a woman who has been forgiven by God still feels such condemnation? I’ll tell you why. Really it should be a separate part of another message, but I need to tell you that there are many people who mistake the conviction of the Holy Spirit with the accusation of the devil. And if you can’t tell the difference, you are in one vicious hopeless cycle, you see, because if you think that the accusations of the devil are God trying to get through to you, and that God is condemning you and telling you what an awful person you are – if you listen to that voice, it can destroy you.
The difference is this: It’s the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to point out our sins so that we can be cleansed and forgiven. That’s the work of the blessed Holy Spirit of God. And once we have confessed our sin and repented of it, the work of the Holy Spirit in that regard ends, and that’s where the devil takes over. And the devil begins to say, “Who are you really that you would do that? Oh, you think that God forgave you just because you repented of your sin. So you really think so, huh? Look at who you really are. Just think of it!” And then he begins his accusation, and some people begin to listen to that voice and they end up in despair.
I want to tell you something today. If a prostitute two thousand years ago was forgiven and cleansed in the presence of Jesus, so can a lesbian be forgiven and cleansed in the year 2002 or 2003, and all the way until Jesus returns. You’re not in the presence of just some ordinary person. You’re in the presence of God, a very God, who has the right to speak you clean. And today there are many of you who need to be spoken clean, even some of you, God bless you, who confessed and repented of your sins. You still need to hear the voice of Jesus say, “You are forgiven. Go in peace.” Wow!
Let me say also, and this is the fifth step now, that she accepted dignity from Jesus. You say, “Well where is that in the text?” Well, it’s not expressly stated, but I think that’s implied when Jesus said, “Go in peace.” He not only said, “You are forgiven,” but he says, “Here’s peace.” I mean, isn’t that awesome? Could a prostitute indeed expect more than that, hearing that from the Son of God – “Go in peace?” She needed to have her dignity back. It wasn’t enough that her sin be taken away, that she be forgiven, but that she’d have this sense of wholeness and healing that is epitomized by the word peace.
Her dignity needed to be restored, though her value was never affected by her lifestyle. Let me give you an example. I have in my pocket today a fifty-dollar bill. Somebody went, “Whew!” Yeah, quite a bit! Whoever you are out there, I want to tell you something. What if I wanted to give this bill to you? Would you accept it? You say, “Yes, give an invitation real soon, Pastor.” I’ll be up there. It’s fifty bucks!” Well, what if I were to take this fifty-dollar bill (which incidentally, I noticed last night, has the image of President Grant on it), and wrap it up real tight and make a wad out of it so that it’s just really in an ugly way? Would you still take it? You say, “Oh yeah, I’d still take it.”
What if I were to take it and to stomp on it? Would you still take it? “Oh yeah, I’d take it.” What about if I were take it and put it in a mud puddle and stomp on it? Would you still take it? “Yeah, yeah, I’d take it.” What about if I were to add some real grime to it? Would you still take it? “Yeah, Pastor! Test me! I’d still take it.” (laughter)
Why? It’s because you know that the dirt and the grime have not affected its value. It has affected its dignity because if this fifty-dollar bill could speak, do you know what it would say? If it were dirty like that it would say, “Oh, please, please take me out of circulation. Please, please don’t use me when you are paying your bill at Mitchell’s. Please?!?” And then it would say, “And above all, please, please don’t put me into an offering plate at The Moody Church (laughter) where we know that all of the money is so pure and so sanctified.” But after it would be washed off, it could be put into an offering plate. Its value was not affected by its dirt.
The value of this woman, created in the image of God, was not even affected by her immoral lifestyle. And what we need to do is to give people back their dignity. But I say to those of you today who are caught in various sexual sins, and even addictions, about which we shall still speak on another occasion, that as long as you recognize that you are a creation of God, made after God’s likeness, you have value as a person. What you need is your dignity back so that you can be put back into circulation, and know the sense of wholeness and peace that comes in the presence of Jesus, and in the presence of His people.
There’s another story in the New Testament about Jesus and a woman. It was a woman who was caught in adultery – in the very act. And they bring the woman to Jesus. Notice the double standard. Where was the man? But there’s always been a double standard, particularly in the Middle East, but all over the world, including in our culture as well. But they bring her to Jesus, and Jesus says, “Well, you know the Old Testament Law says you are to be stoned.” And Jesus said, “Fine, let’s stone her; let’s fulfill the law. But those of you who haven’t committed the same sin cast the first stone.” All of the men walk out, and Jesus is left alone with the woman. And He says to her, “Has no man condemned thee?” And she says, “No man, Lord.” He says, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” Change your lifestyle because I offer you the two things you need – forgiveness and dignity. Forgiveness and dignity, and they go together.
Do you remember that story of a man who had a messy office? It could be many men, but this one had stacks and stacks of paper, and his secretary always said, “Please get rid of them. You haven’t looked at them in 20 years. You won’t look at them in another 20 years.” And he always resisted until he finally said, “Okay, you win. Get rid of all of these stacks of paper, but I want you to make a photocopy of all of the pages for me.” (laughter)
Today I think I hear Jesus saying, “Let’s get rid of the junk, and let’s not even keep the photocopies. Go and sin no more.” You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, are you preaching today to Christians or to non-Christians?” I’m preaching to both. I’m preaching to those of you who have never received Christ as Savior to tell you that it is only by Him that you can be forgiven. And like this woman, God bless her, she would no longer be a woman of the streets. She would be a daughter now of the Son of God, so I’m preaching that to you. But I’m also preaching to those of you who are Christians, struggling with various sins. Some of you, thank God, as a result of these messages, have already made lifestyle changes. I have received reports of people who have broken relationships, and where they have begun to seek accountability. Why? It’s because what God wants to do is to purify us as a church, and all of us stand in need of His purification.
And today I’m going to ask you to do something that maybe we don’t very often do here at Moody Church. I wonder if there are those of you who would want to come forward and to say, “Today I want to take my stand in the presence of Jesus, and in the presence of others to receive His cleansing. I want to leave here today knowing that I hear the words of Jesus, ‘You are forgiven; go in peace.’”
Maybe it’s a decision that you made weeks ago, but you would like to confirm it this morning. Let us ask the blessed Holy Spirit of God, who has been poured out upon the church, to grant His people freedom and joy in His presence. Would you join me as we pray?
Our Father, we ask today that this message, delivered in so much weakness, might nonetheless be the very word of Jesus to troubled hearts. Oh Father, we pray. We ask, Lord Jesus, that many shall not only be forgiven but to be restored and to be in your blessed presence and to know that they are accepted not only by You, but also by us as your people. Father, it’s always all Your work, but at moments like this we are especially aware of it. Do in the lives of those to whom you have been speaking, and they know who they are, do in their lives, oh God, something special today. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.