Forgiving Much, Loving Much

Luke 7:36-50

If you want people to really listen to what you have to say, tell them a story. People love stories. Jesus knew this well, and so He told parables to puzzle people, to get them to think, to convict, encourage, and awaken them to kingdom truths. Each of His stories had a purpose and an intent.

It can be said that Jesus’ parables are an earthly story with a heavenly truth. Today’s parable, which has one of those heavenly truths, was told as a result of something that occurred at the dinner table at a home in the city of Nain. Earlier that day, Jesus had raised a young man back to life. He had also done quite a bit of teaching.

Simon, a Pharisee, was considered holy and very religious – a leader in his community. He invited Jesus to have dinner with him and his friends in his home. He had obviously heard talk around town about Jesus being called the prophet of God after raising a dead boy back to life. Simon may have gone out to hear Jesus teach that day and wanted to know more about Him.

Most likely, Simon probably wanted to test Jesus by asking Him some difficult questions. He was a bit skeptical of Jesus, and, in all likelihood, was probably threatened by Him as were the other Pharisees. Jesus did not teach like they did. Therefore His popularity and His teachings could erode the Pharisees’ influence and leadership.

In those days, people ate in a reclining position at the dinner table. Jesus would have positioned Himself on His side in front of a low-sitting table with His feet sticking out behind.

Typically, with a celebrity like this, the front door was left open so observers could listen to the conversation. One of these observers caused quite a stir. It was a woman from the community who had a soiled reputation. As she came up behind Jesus, she knelt down and, with tears rolling down her face, she washed His feet with her tears. Next she let down her hair, which was considered very inappropriate public behavior in those days, and dried his feet with her hair. She had brought an alabaster jar of expensive ointment and put the ointment on Jesus’ feet and kissed them without saying a word.

To the shock of others, Jesus let her do this. In fact, He even looked pleased about it. Simon, though, was horrified and critical toward Jesus. He thought to himself, Now I know, He can’t be a prophet. Otherwise, He would know her sinfulness and refuse to let someone like her even touch Him. She is a sinner with a capital “S”! He definitely is not a prophet from God.

Ironically, Jesus read Simon’s mind, which must’ve startled him. ‘Simon, I have something to say you.’

Simon replies, “Teacher, speak.” (Calling Jesus, ‘teacher’ might have been a bit of a put down, for it implies that Jesus is only a teacher in Simon’s mind, an equal at best.)

Jesus tells him a short parable. A certain moneylender had two debtors. One man owed him a little – a couple months’ wages; another one owed him a lot – 10 times that amount. When they could not pay, the lender canceled the debt of both of these men.

Jesus paused and then asked Simon, “Which one of them would love the moneylender more?” Simon said, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly. Do you see this woman? You didn’t even do me the small common courtesy of washing my feet when I came in; she washed my feet with her tears. You gave me no kiss to welcome me as you would any other guests, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil as any hospitable host would do, yet she anointed my feet with her ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loves much, just like the greater debtor in the parable.”

Then Jesus added, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Perhaps this was a jab at Simon. She recognized Jesus for who He was – the Son of God who has authority to forgive sins. She obviously had an earlier encounter with Him, heard His call to repentance, the promise of forgiveness of sins, and a fresh start. She maybe even had a private conversation with Him before He came to the dinner. Jesus was well aware of her background, yet He received her and told her she was forgiven. So, like the debt-ridden man in the parable who owed so much, we see her responding with a lot of love toward Jesus, an extravagant, worshipful love.

Why? Because she had been forgiven much. She now belongs to the “forgiven-much crowd”, and she is showing it. She believes she’s forgiven. She has faith in Jesus, so Jesus said to her in front of everyone, affirming her faith, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”

Jesus’ grace led to inner peace in her life, and peace with God, which is something Simon does not have or understand. He kept Jesus and His message at arm’s length. He has his legalistic religious background telling him that as long as he keeps doing good things, he is okay in God’s sight. He’s a good, righteous man.

We see Simon’s true colors showing. He believes Jesus has it all wrong. Simon has shown little love and no faith toward Jesus. He serves as kind of a foil, as we say in literary talk, meaning one whose critical thinking allows us to see and hear God’s message of forgiveness, which Jesus has for each of us and His authority to give it. Jesus is the Son of God. This woman’s sinful debt has been canceled by Jesus, and she responds in faith-filled love, which is pleasing to the Son of God, Jesus our Savior, our Lord.

Luke doesn’t tell us how the meal ends. It must have been a little awkward. I can imagine red-faced Simon breaking the silence by saying something like, “Please pass the bread.”

Dear friends, this parable holds an important teaching for us. Jesus points out that we are all debtors in need of God’s forgiveness. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God with our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our inactions. Like in the parable, we are the debtors, helplessly, hopelessly unable to make things right with God, unable to pay our debt. God has every reason to throw the book at us – like the moneylender – and send us off to jail (to hell). Instead He is merciful. He shows mercy toward us and offers mercy and grace.

I’m afraid we sometimes forget God’s greatness and holiness. We kind of shrink Him in our minds, and we may sometimes forget about the depths of our sinfulness. We downplay it and leave out our wretchedness in His sight. We forget our debt before Him. We’re even prone to think God owes us something. But God owes us nothing! We are beggars in His sight, in need of His mercy. We need to pay attention to the words in John Newton’s old, familiar hymn,

♬ Amazing Grace,
how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me . . . ♪

I’m not okay, and neither are you. We’re not mistakers who need more self-help; we’re sinners in need of a Savior. I’m a self-centered wretch, spiritually bankrupt, unable to make things right with God. My good deeds are nothing more than filthy rags before this holy God. I break His commandments regularly, and I deserve punishment. I need help.

The good news for beggars like me is that, though we are sinful, God forgives our sins. He cancels our debt, but not without great cost to Himself. The cost is the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. On a cross, He paid the debt for our sins – for my sins and yours.

When Jesus took His last breath on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” which means literally, “Paid in full!” Someone has said the Gospel is like a banker walking up to us when we cannot pay our mortgage. Rather than foreclosing, he writes a check to pay off our debt. God is a spiritual banker who has paid our debt through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven in Christ. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!”

The Pharisees at the table question the authority of Jesus to forgive sins, because only God can do that. They said amongst themselves, Who does Jesus think he is? They will soon learn the answer as Christ’s authority to forgive sins is affirmed on Easter morning when God raises Him from the dead, thus endorsing His authority and His Word.

I want to stop for just a minute and ask, Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you? Have you joined the “forgiven-much” crowd? Because, friend, if you have been keeping Jesus at arm’s length, living with your own made-up theology about being good enough for God, I appeal to you today to give that kind of thinking up. It’s a dead end! Lay down those trophies you’ve been depending on and clinging to. Come to Jesus Christ who stands ready to forgive you and give you a new start and a place in His heaven. He knows your sin. No sin is too great for Him to forgive.

Christ’s grace is available to the debtor. A new life, which never ends, is what He is offering you. Come to Him and trust Him with your life.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus and what He did for you, you are part of the “forgiven-much” crowd – just like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

The story is teaching us how to say, “I love you” to Jesus for the rest of your life in response to His grace and mercy. It’s really quite simple.

How do you say “I love you” to Jesus?

First, you say it as you serve Jesus. The woman served Him as she washed His feet. It was servants’ work. Jesus Himself would wash the feet of His disciples and say, “I’ve given you an example. If I your Lord and master have washed your feet, I want you to wash one another’s feet.” Serving others pleases Him.

We say “I love you” to Jesus as we serve others in His name. We remember His words, “As you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.”

We say it with our giving. The woman in our story gave her ointment. She gave sacrificially. The perfume was expensive. Does your giving reflect your love for Jesus? Is it sacrificial or simply a non-thinking type of gift, a tip.

In my church at stewardship time, I have always taught my folks, we give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. The giving of my time, my finances, my skills for the cause of the kingdom of God in response to Christ’s love for me – like the woman in our story. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker, which says,

Tithe if you love Jesus.
Anyone can honk.

There’s some truth to this.

Finally, we tell Jesus we love Him with bold witnessing. The woman’s actions were public, bold, courageous, a testimony for Jesus Christ. She was in hostile territory, and yet, without a word, she boldly testified as to how wonderful it is to have Jesus forgive her and take over her life. This, my friends, is how one says, “I love you” to Jesus.

My fellow debtors and beggars in Christ who have been forgiven, this is our encouragement today from God’s word. We’ve been forgiven much. Hallelujah! Let us love Him much in grateful response today and every day. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Positive Stories for Christian Pessimists

Luke 13:18-21

This looks like a lost cause! Have you ever made or thought this statement? Maybe it was in the middle of a home project like remodeling or landscaping that wasn’t going well. Perhaps you decided to fix something around the house and now you’re in a fix. O, this looks like a lost cause, we think.

Maybe a project or a situation at work isn’t going well. It’s giving you fits and not coming together. I have that experience now and then in my line of work. Most pastors will tell you they can experience a sermon block – like a writer’s block. It sets in and the sermon just cannot get going or will not come together like you want. You feel like quitting and finding something else to preach. This sermon is a lost cause! Trust me; it happens to most preachers.

Perhaps you are struggling with a difficult relationship. No matter what you try, it is painful and does not work. So you sigh and think to yourself, This looks like a lost cause.

I’m sure you could add a few more ideas to my list, because we’ve all been there. When this happens, it brings on a sinking feeling of discouragement and makes you want to just give up and say, This is a lost cause. I quit! Jesus addresses this kind of thinking in today’s parable. Perhaps His twelve disciples look discouraged about this mission they’re on with Him, feeling it is a lost cause.

They have been on the road with Jesus for some time now and had bought into His message that the kingdom of God – God’s rule and reign over the world – was present and He was the bringer of the kingdom. They had left behind their professions to follow Jesus and were expecting some great things – maybe a political take over or a major movement of some sort, but it’s not happening. As they observe Jesus teaching and healing, the little faith they had in Him gets shaky. The disappointing results were not meeting their expectations, and it was looking more like Jesus’ ministry was a smalltime operation.

There were no fireworks except those from the rejection and hostility of the religious establishment as they criticized Him and His message. They didn’t like Him and even accused Him even of being of the devil when he did a miracle. He was misunderstood and rejected by outsiders like the Samaritans. Politicians were suspicious of Him and didn’t like Him. Threats against Jesus were made. Crowds showed up to listen to Him, but no one dropped everything and followed Him like they had done.

Some small steps were being made in the villages they visited – like healing miracles and casting out evil spirits, which brought a lot of speculation, amazement, and quite a following. But they seemed so insignificant in comparison to what they had in mind when it comes to kingdom building. They must’ve been wondering, What is going on here? What have I got myself into? We’re not doing so hot. This kingdom stuff isn’t happening like I thought it would. It’s not taking off. Very few of our hearers are repenting and few are following us. If God’s kingdom has come, why does it feel like we’re moving two steps forward and three steps back?

And where’s God in all of this? God, don’t you see what’s going on? Have I been on the wrong horse? Maybe I ought to just pack up my stuff, quit following, and go home. These thoughts had to have been running through the minds of the disciples.

If you are a follower of Jesus, maybe you’ve even fallen prey to this kind of thinking yourself. You look around at the condition of the world today, and it looks like things are getting any better. Or you observe the church of Christ – its workings and its failings. The news can sometimes be so dark and frightening that it can cause us, as Christ’s followers, to shrug our shoulders and despairingly say, Christianity appears to be a lost cause. Evil seems to be winning over good. Morality, mercy, and righteousness seem to be ignored or lost these days.

We see bad things happening to innocent people in general. The world looks dark, scary, and out-of-control some days. God’s people are experiencing bombings, cultural hostility, rejection, ridicule, criticism – even persecution – in parts of the world. The Church seems to be ineffective in bringing people into God’s kingdom. Those outside the kingdom seemed disinterested – even hostile – toward it. We hear few conversations about it in our little corner of the world. Some days, it feels like we are losing ground. All of this can cause us deep uncertainty. It can cause a faith crisis and cause us to wonder (along with the first disciples of Jesus) if it is a lost cause. It sure seems like it!

We may be tempted to quit serving Jesus in this world all together or even to change the Gospel message to attract people and keep the ones that we have all.

In response to this kind of wondering and discouragement, Jesus offers a reassuring word in these parables, which we read earlier. It is a pep talk, a positive picture for pessimistic Jesus followers. It’s about the kingdom of God.

We need to remind ourselves that when Jesus talks of the kingdom of God, he’s not talking about a geographic place. He is not talking about going to heaven so much. The kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign in this world, where His will is being done. People’s lives are being changed by the Good News of Jesus, and they’re loving God with their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves. His will is getting done.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God movement to a tiny mustard seed, and a tiny bit of yeast. He makes the comparison to reassure and encourage Jesus followers to trust. He tells us, Look at the mustard seed when you’re thinking about the kingdom of God, because it’s the tiniest of seeds. It looks so insignificant! Yet when it’s planted, it eventually becomes a tree with branches that offers refuge to the birds of the air. This is what I want you to keep in mind! When you are feeling discouraged because things look bad and it seems like we’re stuck and losing, just think of the mustard seed and the tree that eventually happens. God’s kingdom will prevail! This is not a losing cause.

Jesus continues, Keep the big picture in mind as well. The kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast in a big batch of flour. It soon penetrates the whole batch. So, too, will God’s reign and rule penetrate this whole world. Don’t give up! Don’t quit following and serving. The kingdom project looks small, unpromising, and powerless now, but it is just getting started. God’s rule will come. You are on the winning side!

Recently my favorite baseball team was getting trounced by another team. I turned on the TV to watch and looked at the scoreboard and said, “This looks like a lost cause.” Then I turned the TV off. Sometimes, like those first disciples, we look at the scoreboard of this world with all its problems and darkness, and it looks like evil is winning 12 to 0. All is lost, and like we want to just turn things off.

But Jesus tells us to not let the scoreboard fool us. The game is not over and God will win. Don’t quit. Keep serving Him and witnessing for Him in this world. God is at work. It may not appear so some days, but the kingdom of God is happening and will come in its fullness someday. Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, and all who have placed their trust in Him will live forever with Him. Don’t lose your hope and your confidence. This is the point of these parables today.

Even as we speak, friend, God is working in this world through His Holy Spirit, and amazing things are happening. Lives are being changed. This is the message for today, children of God, followers of Jesus. You saints of God who might be getting discouraged, don’t give into despair and pessimism. Take courage. Be confident! God has this! It is not a lost cause that you are a part of. Remember, in the end God wins.

By the way, we have already witnessed the truth Jesus shared with the disciples. It is not pollyannaish thinking about someday. Lest we forget, millions upon millions of people, since the day Jesus told these parables, have entered the kingdom of God by trusting in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Lives are impacted and transformed by a relationship with Jesus. The impact of the Christian faith upon the world is unmeasurable, e.g., educational institutions, hospitals, Christian aid organizations serving in Christ’s name, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, racism in America. The impact goes on and on all around the globe. Thousands of people are entering the kingdom of God right now as the Gospel is proclaimed in parts of the world.

Lest we forget, remember the cross of Jesus Christ. His crucifixion was followed by an empty tomb and a resurrection. Jesus is alive! He has already won the battle. Sin, death, and the devil himself were conquered by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. God has had the last word!

Don’t forget what happened since Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is on the loose with His convicting and converting power all over this planet. He is working in people’s lives even before we have the opportunity to share the Gospel. God’s will, His plan for the sin-sick planet that He loves is still getting done. In the end, it will be done once and for all for eternity. And you are part of it.

I’d like to finish this message off with a word of encouragement today, you saints, you followers of Jesus. Yes, the world is full of problems. Many people need to be brought into the kingdom of God. It looks almost impossible and overwhelming to get the job done. It looks just like madness some days.

Instead of being overwhelmed by all the problems and the needs of others for Christ, why not step up and be a part of the solution in confident faith and hope. Continue to give yourself over to God’s purposes for your life. Let your light keep shining as you serve Jesus so people around you will give God glory and praise.

Or, let me put it another way: Instead of complaining about the darkness, light a candle and get in the game. Don’t quit. Servants of Christ, keep serving Jesus in your corner of the world, and remember: God is in control. History is ‘His story.’ God wins. Remember the end of our Lord’s prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Pastor Steve Kramer