Pastor David B. Curtis


A Lesson In Forgiveness

Luke 7:36-50

Delivered 01/23/2000

Luke 7:36-50 (NKJV) Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." 41 "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 "And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 "You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 "You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 "Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." 48 Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

In Jesus' day, there was a religious Jewish group called the Pharisees. They were a strict group of fundamentalists who believed in keeping the letter of the law in minute detail. Generally speaking, you could say that Pharisees were religious, but not spiritual. From what we read about them in the New Testament, it is obvious that many thought they were better than everyone else. The Pharisees were also the most outspoken enemies of Jesus, and they played a major role in bringing him to death. This is not to say that all Pharisees were enemies of Christ, or that they were all bad, or that their theology was all wrong. In fact, Jesus never challenged their theology, he challenged their legalistic way of applying it. Some Pharisees were followers of Christ; most viewed him with either suspicion or hostility.

One evening a Pharisee, named Simon, invited Jesus to dinner. We don't know for certain what his motives were; based on this story, it is obvious that he was neither openly hostile or openly devoted to Jesus. He just observed Jesus with a critical eye.

During the course of the meal, a woman approached Jesus. Now, she was not on the guest list, but she was present at the meal. This is because in those days, affluent people often had a large dining area in the courtyard of their home. Whenever they had a rabbi or some such special guest for dinner, people in the community would come to the court yard area and listen to the conversation of the dinner guests. They weren't invited to eat, they weren't allowed to take part in the discussion, and they weren't supposed to participate in any way, except to listen to the conversation of the invited dinner guests - especially that of the guest of honor. This is why the woman was present during this meal.

The Bible says that Jesus was reclining at the table. This is how they ate their meals. They didn't sit on chairs with their feet under the table. The dinner table was low to the ground and the guests would lay on mats, with their head near the table and their feet away from the table. They would prop themselves up with their left elbow, and eat with their right hand - kind of like your kids do when they eat in front of the TV. (Next time you tell them to quit eating on the floor, they'll say "I'm just trying to preserve a Biblical tradition.) This is how all meals were eaten.

While Jesus was lying at the table, eating and talking with the other guests, the woman approached him. The Bible describes her as a "sinful" woman, and doesn't go in to more detail than that. Of course, in that patriarchal society, there was only one way a woman could get a reputation for being sinful. If you said a man was a "sinful man," that might mean he was a liar, or a cheat, or violent, or cruel, or unfair, or immoral - it could mean any number of things. But when a woman was called a sinful woman, it meant only one thing--she had lived a promiscuous life.

This woman was so drawn to Jesus that she broke social custom and approached him. As she listened to him speak she began to cry, and her tears spilled onto Jesus' feet. She washed his feet with her tears. This was an important symbol in Jewish culture. Since people wore sandals and since the streets were dusty, people's feet were always dirty. Some had slaves whose job it was to wash their feet--obviously this was not a prestigious position among slaves. People who didn't have slaves would at least offer guests a bowl of water and a towel when they entered their home so they could wash their own feet. A similar custom today is that we offer to take a guest's coat when he enters our home. Simon didn't offer water for Jesus' feet, so this woman washed his feet with her tears, then dried his feet with her hair.

Jewish women did not appear in public with their hair unbound, so this woman broke another custom by doing this. In fact, her overall behavior was, according to the standards of the day, rather scandalous.

While she was washing his feet with her own tears, she also kissed his feet repeatedly. Today, in the Western world, we interpret a kiss as a gesture of romance. In the days of Jesus, in the Eastern world, the kiss was also a gesture of friendship and devotion. When a guest entered a house, the host placed his hand on the guest's shoulder and gave him the kiss of peace. This was a mark of respect that Jewish custom allowed - never to be omitted in the case of a distinguished rabbi. However, when Jesus entered Simon's house, no kiss was offered.

After the woman washed and dried Jesus feet, she opened an expensive alabaster vial - it was common for women to carry such a vial around their neck - and she began to anoint Jesus' feet with the costly perfume. This, too, was a sign of devotion. Whenever a special guest entered the home, the host would show his welcome by burning special incense upon their arrival, or by anointing the forehead with a small amount of rose oil. Simon didn't do this when Jesus entered his home, but the woman anointed Jesus' feet with oil.

As all this happened, Simon watched with a critical, judgmental eye. He thought to himself, "If this man were really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him--that she is a sinner." He thought this, but rather than discuss the matter with Jesus - who always welcomed sincere inquiry - Simon kept his judgmental, critical thoughts to himself. Now, I'm straying from the passage just a little bit here when I say that it wouldn't surprise me at all if Simon was the type who, on the following day, would take great delight in telling all of his Pharisee friends, "I had him over for dinner, and you wouldn't believe who he let wash his feet. And this man claims to be a prophet!" Whether or not that is the case, it is obvious that Simon didn't view Jesus with the respect that he deserved.

Simon was like many church attenders in our day. He went through the motions of doing what he was supposed to do--he invited Jesus into his home--but he didn't treat Jesus with respect, he didn't treat him as a spiritual leader, he didn't even treat him as an equal. He just observed Jesus with a judgmental eye. Simon was not openly hostile to Jesus, but neither was he openly devoted. He didn't recognize his own spiritual bankruptcy; he was too sidetracked by the spectacle that was taking place in his dining room. A sinful woman was kissing and anointing with oil the feet of a man who was supposed to be a prophet. In Simon's opinion, this just wasn't proper.

Luke 7:39-40 (NKJV) Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." 40 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it."

Notice that Simon never said a word, but in verse 40 it says, "Jesus answered." Jesus read Simon's thoughts - this is supernatural. In response to what Simon was thinking, Jesus said to him:

"Two men owed money to a certain money lender. One owed him [the equivalent of] $5,000, and the other $50,000. 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."

Jesus said, "You have judged correctly."

Then Jesus said to his host, "When I came into your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet."

Jesus finished by saying, "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little, loves little."

We don't know how Simon responded to this; the Bible doesn't say. It just tells us that the other guests were surprised that Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins. Pharisees believed that only God could forgive sins and no one--not even a Rabbi--had the right or authority to tell anyone that they were forgiven. Yet, Jesus said this on more than one occasion, and every time it led to trouble. Jesus then told the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

I don't know if Simon learned the lesson that Jesus was teaching that evening; we never hear from him again. But this is a lesson that Jesus continues to teach us today - one of the most important aspects of a relationship with God: The more you understand forgiveness, the more you are able to love.

There are four aspects of forgiveness that are seen in this story; let's take a brief look at them. First...

1. We all have much to be forgiven.

Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much."

Now, obviously, Jesus doesn't mean that we should go out and commit many sins so we can love God a lot. He is hinting to Simon that we all have much to be forgiven, only Simon didn't get it. He made the worst mistake a human can possibly make: he graded himself on the curve. He compared himself to others, and came to the conclusion that the woman at the feet of Jesus was a sinner, but he wasn't. If Simon had been truly perceptive, instead of judging Jesus and condemning this woman, he would have been asking himself, "Why is this prophet in my home? I am not worthy of his presence."

This was Peter's attitude when he realized that Jesus was the Messiah. He said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Luke 5:8)

Understand this: God doesn't grade on the curve. You don't score points with him by being better than the worst people. You need his forgiveness as much as anyone else. The greatest mistake that you can make is to think that you need his grace less than someone else. Just like this sinful woman, Simon had much to be forgiven, but he was too smug to acknowledge it.

Do you remember Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets? He died unexpectedly a few years ago. He was sick, but he didn't know it. He thought he had a cold. He thought it was a touch of the flu. He had no idea that he had a life-threatening illness. He could have saved his own life with a trip to the doctor, but he didn't know how sick he was.

In the very same way, there are millions of people on this planet who think that because, in their own opinion, they are basically good, that that is good enough. They will never be able to receive God's forgiveness because they will never bring themselves to acknowledge their own sinfulness. "After all," they will say, "I've never killed anybody. I do my job, pay my bills, try to help my fellow man, and I'm a productive member of society. At least I'm not a drug addict or prostitute." They say this, but they don't see how their lives are filled with bitterness, or envy, or gossip, or resentment, or self-righteousness, or pride, or hate, or jealousy - they don't see how sin has corrupted them and driven a wedge between themselves and a holy God. As a result, they go through life thinking, "I'm not that bad; in fact, I'm better than most."

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he began by saying:

Matthew 5:3 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The majority of people today who think they are going to heaven, think they are going there because of something they do, or don't do. Men think that they can earn their way into heaven. But Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. We don't like to think of ourselves as needy people. We tend to see ourselves as self-sufficient, independent, and not needing anyone. But the Bible clearly declares that we are not only needy, we are spiritually bankrupt.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The word that Jesus used for "poor" is the Greek word ptochos. The verb form in the Greek text means: "to cower and cringe like a beggar." In classical Greek, that word referred to someone who was reduced to begging in a dark corner for alms. It doesn't just refer to someone who is poor, but to someone who is reduced to begging. The Greek word penes was used when talking about normal poverty; It referred to a person who was so poor that he could barely maintain a living from his wages. Ptokos means that a person was totally dependent on the gifts of other people. Beggars were usually crippled, blind, or deaf. They couldn't function in society and had to plead for grace and mercy from others. They had no resource in themselves.

Man is not penes, he is ptokos. He is absolutely incapable of improving his spiritual condition, and is totally dependent on God's grace.

Christ begins the Beatitudes with the need we have to recognize that we are poor in spirit. No one can enter the Kingdom of God on the basis of what he has done. Poverty of spirit is the only way in. As long as you are not poor in spirit, you can't receive grace. You can't become a Christian unless you are poor in spirit.

Proverbs 16:5 (NKJV) Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

The only way to enter God's Kingdom is to confess your unrighteousness and your inability to meet God's standards. You must see your need before you can receive His grace.

It is only when we recognize our own spiritual poverty that we can experience the riches of God's forgiveness. Simon didn't get it. The sinful woman did--and she experienced the forgiveness of God. Simon didn't. We all have much to be forgiven, and...

2. If you want to be forgiven, you can be.

God 's forgiveness is not based on how much we deserve forgiveness, it's based on His love for us. Forgiveness is a free gift of God's grace to all who by faith ask for it. Do you want to be forgiven? If you go to God, in sincerity, asking to be forgiven of your sins, he will forgive you--every time, without fail.
1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is a sin that you probably struggle with from time to time. Maybe it's "big," maybe it isn't--but you've given in to it in the past, and maybe you'll do it again in the future. It could be gossip, or anger, or lust, or pride, or any number of things--but you have a problem with it. For the sake of this example, let's say you have a problem with speaking hatefully to people. And one day, you fly off the handle, as you have so many times before, and let someone have it - up one side and down the other. When that happens, you can have one of two attitudes. You can take the attitude that says, "Well, he had it coming. I sure set him straight." If that's your attitude, there's not much God can do for you. That's concealing your sin. If you don't think you did anything wrong, how can he forgive you?

Proverbs 28:13 (NKJV) He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

On the other hand, if your attitude is "Lord, I am sorry that I said what I said. It is wrong and I don't want that kind of talk to be part of my life ever again. Please forgive me." Guess what happens - God forgives you. If you want to be forgiven--if you ask him for forgiveness - he forgives you. But then, what if you do it again the next day? What then? Well, God forgives you again. And what if the next day, it happens again, and you ask forgiveness again? God forgives you again. Now, how many times do you think this can happen before you reach the saturation point and he no longer forgives you? 10 times? 20 times? 100 times? The truth is, the Bible teaches that God will forgive you as many times as it takes until you get victory. That's what Jesus told Peter about forgiveness -

Luke 17:4 (NKJV) "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."

God expects you to forgive others without limit, because he forgives you without limit. Now, that's not a license to go out and sin. People who think that are simply missing the point. Sin causes pain. It breaks the heart of God, and it wrecks lives. Part of wanting to be forgiven is wanting to be free from sin forever--even if you lose the battle from time to time. If you seek to be forgiven, you will be forgiven.

I've heard people say, "Well, if you're sincere when you repent of you sin, you won't do it again." Every time I hear that, I ask a question: Have you ever said hateful or slanderous things about someone? "Yes." Did you repent? "Yes." Were you sincere? "Yes." So you will never again say hateful or slanderous things again, right? Never ever? At this point, if the person is hard-hearted enough to say, "No", I move on to another sin and ask them again. Eventually, they have to admit that they're not perfect.

God's forgiveness is not based on how much you deserve it - because you don't deserve it all. Why should he forgive you for gossip, or lying, or lust, or anger, when you're going to go out and do it again? It's not a question of whether you deserve God's forgiveness, it's a question of whether you want God's forgiveness. If you want to be forgiven, you can be. The third lesson this story teaches is -

3. Accepting forgiveness is an act of faith.

Jesus said to the woman, "Go in peace. Your faith has saved you." An Aramaic translation of this verse reads, "Your trust has made you alive."

Receiving forgiveness is an act of faith. You don't wait for a feeling to confirm it; you ask forgiveness, and, by faith, you accept it. Trust God to keep his promise. You may immediately feel a weight being lifted from your shoulders - or you may not. How you feel doesn't change the fact that God has promised to forgive you, and he will.

The sinful woman was saved because she put her faith in Jesus, not in her own goodness. Simon missed out because he trusted in himself. If you will put your faith in Jesus, your faith will make you alive. It will, literally, save your life.

A fourth point that I want us to consider is:

4. Understanding forgiveness increases our capacity to love.

Luke 7:47 (NKJV) "Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."

Let me ask you a question, "Does any Christian just need a little forgiveness?" If you answered, "Yes" then you don't understand the depth of man's sinfulness. We are all sinners, deserving of Hell.

I think that what Jesus is saying here is the person who thinks he doesn't need much forgiveness will not live a life of self-sacrificing love toward God. He doesn't live a life of love out of gratitude because he really isn't grateful. He doesn't realize how much he has to be grateful for.

When I was a youth pastor, Cathy and I would frequently talk about the fact that the kids in the youth group who really loved Christ and were committed to living for Him were the kids who came to Christ out of bad background. The kids who were raised in Christian homes most often were very complacent in their Christianity. This caused us to fear for our own children. I always wondered why the kids from the Christian homes were so cold to the things of Christ. Then one day, while reading through Luke, I came across this verse. As I thought about it, it came to me that maybe the children raised in a Christian home didn't really feel much of a need for forgiveness - they really hadn't been involved in any gross sin - so they thought.

What we all need to realize is that we are all sinners of the worst kind. We turned our backs on our Creator, and went our own way.

Isaiah 53:6 (NKJV) All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

As we look at Calvary and ponder the death of the Son of God upon the cross for our sins, maybe we will realize just how sinful we are and just how much we have been forgiven.

1 Peter 2:24 (NKJV) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed.

Jesus Christ, God's Son, was separated from His Father because of our sins, He was tortured and died for our sins.

To picture the great debt that our sins have caused us, Jesus gave this parable describing man as having an unpayable debt.

Matthew 18:23 (NKJV) "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

The King, in this parable, represents God the Father. The servant is a picture of unsaved man. The king is settling his accounts. The servant is called before the king to give an account, to settle up financially. This pictures God calling into account unsaved man.

Matthew 18:24 (NKJV) "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

The 10,000 talents that he owed is an incredible debt. Ten thousand talents would be the equivalent of 190,000 years work. This pictures the bankrupt sinner before God with nothing to pay. He has offended an infinitely Holy God. The point of the parable is that the amount of this debt is unpayable.

If your life is not characterized by a deep and abiding love for God, maybe the problem is that you don't understand how much God has forgiven you, maybe you just don't understand the depth of your forgiveness. "But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."


The more you understand about forgiveness, the more you are able to love. That's what this passage teaches us. If Simon had only known. If he had only recognized that he, too, had much to be forgiven, and all he had to do was ask and receive by faith God's forgiveness, he too could have been saved.

This is what God wants. The more you understand forgiveness, the more you are able to love, and that is the response God is looking for. He wants your love.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NKJV) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment.

The more you understand forgiveness, the more you are able to love.

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