Date: November 4, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
Matthew 22:37 – You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.
Friends, Jesus says that is the first and greatest commandment of all. Yet, how do we do that?
How do you develop a deep passion and affection for God? How do you get to the point that when you read the Bible you want to hang on to every word and read them over and over again because these are words from the one you love? How do you become someone who has a hard time sleeping on Saturday night because you are so excited about going to church on Sunday to worship the Lord with other believers?
Some of you are thinking, “Wow, Pastor Dan, I don’t know if I want to be like that! That seems a little extreme and weird! I like my sleep on Saturday night.”
OK, maybe we can lower the bar a bit, but I do wish my love for the Lord was stronger and deeper. I think most of you do as well. I suspect many of us agree with the hymn writers who said our love for God rises and falls like the tide. I find great encouragement in the fact that the gospel is about God’s love for us, not my love for Him.
Yet, it seems a bit sad that our love for the Lord is so inconsistent. How can we grow to love God more?
At age 61, I can tell you that it doesn’t seem to happen with age. A couple of Master’s degrees from seminary didn’t necessary increase my love for the Lord. Faithfully serving in the church for decades doesn’t even seem to do it. Perhaps there are just a handful of super-star Christians who truly love God with their entire being, and the rest of us are consigned to spiritual mediocrity, where our love for God just continues to ebb and flow.
Yet, I think our text today provides another answer. Friends, our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 7:36-50 (page 864). Let’s pray the Lord will use this portion of His Word to help us grow in our love for Him.
Luke 7:36 – Then one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
A Pharisee is a devout Jewish religious leader. In verse 40, we learn the man’s name is Simon. He is not a believer in or follower of Jesus, but apparently is at least curious.
Luke 7:37a – And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house.
Now, we are all sinners, but this woman was an obvious one. She was a prostitute.
Luke 7:37b-38 – She brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume.
Now, the other three gospels report a similar event that happened during the last week of Jesus’ life. There it is Simon the leper who invites Jesus to his home. According to John, it was Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus with perfume. Luke apparently is telling us about a different incident which occurred a couple of years earlier.
Luke doesn’t give us the woman’s name. Many have speculated this is Mary Magdalene, but there is really no evidence that is the case. As I mentioned, she was a prostitute.
First century dinner parties were pretty much public events. The poor would often “watch” the party and receive the table scraps. Since Simon is a Pharisee, a respectable religious leader, he is not real pleased to have a prostitute show up at his house.
Then she makes a public scene by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair and dumping expensive perfume on him. People were certainly wondering, “So, what is the connection between this prostitute and Simon?” Simon has a question about Jesus:
Luke 7:39b – He said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – she’s a sinner!”
The implication is that if Jesus doesn’t know who this woman is, he is not much of a prophet; and if he does know who she is, then his conduct is a bit scandalous.
Yet, Jesus not only knows everything about this woman, he also knows what Simon is thinking.
Luke 7:40 – Jesus told him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He said, “Say it, teacher.”
And then Jesus tells this powerful story:
Luke 7:41 – “A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.”
A denarii is a day’s wage, so in today’s currency, the debts are $50,000 and $5,000.
Luke 7:42 – “Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”
That is an interesting question!
Luke 7:43a – Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.”
Simon doesn’t seem to like that answer maybe because he already sees the point Jesus is going to make. Jesus responds:
Luke 7:43b – “You have judged correctly,” he told him.
Luke 7:44-46 – Turning to 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, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume.”
Simon had not treated Jesus as an honored guest. He had not even had anyone wash Jesus’ feet, a basic courtesy in that culture. Jesus was controversial. Simon wants to keep a safe distance from Jesus, but this sinful woman fully embraces Him. Jesus then makes his point:
Luke 7:47 – Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now, it would be easy to think Jesus forgives this woman because of her expression of love. I don’t think that is the case. Rather, her experience of God’s grace and forgiveness is why this woman has such great love for Jesus.
1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us.
I don’t know whether this woman had already met Jesus or heard him preach before, but she knows he will forgive her sins. So when he says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is simply affirming that she is a recipient of God’s grace.
In contrast, Simon, this very religious and respectable man, really doesn’t love Jesus because he really has not experienced that gracious forgiveness.
Friends, I think this story provides an important lesson for us as to how our love for God can grow. Jesus reminds us that the more we benefit from someone’s action, the more gratitude we will naturally feel.
See if this analogy makes sense: Before leaving office in January, Governor Dayton announces he is giving a complete pardon to anyone who committed a crime in Minnesota during his time as governor, the past eight years.
Those of you in this room who received a couple of speeding tickets over the past few years are happy. Those violations are removed from your record. Maybe your insurance rates will go down.
However, there are people in Stillwater State Prison much happier than you. They had 40 more years to serve on their sentence, and now they are completely free! The gratitude they feel is huge!
The more we benefit from someone’s action, the more gratitude we naturally feel.
Here is another analogy: I am sitting in my office, and I am thirsty. Pastor Mark goes over to McDonalds and comes back with a glass of ice water for me. I am grateful. A couple of months from now, I somehow end up stranded in the Mojave Desert. I am literally dying of thirst. But Pastor Ron just happens to come along and gives me a jug of water. It is lukewarm, but the gratitude I feel toward him is overwhelming. I am far more grateful for that jug of lukewarm water than I was for that glass of ice water.
The degree of gratitude is often determined by the degree of need someone has. The greater the need, the more we can benefit from someone’s action, and the more we benefit, the more grateful we tend to be, and that gratitude naturally grows into love.
That is why (verse 47), Jesus says the woman whose many, many sins had been forgiven, loves him more than those who only had a few sins for which they needed forgiveness.
“OK, Pastor Dan, that makes sense. But there is a problem. I never want to be facing a 40+ year sentence in Stillwater. I never want to be stuck in the desert without water. Are you saying that the key to loving God more is to commit more sins? That just doesn’t seem right.” Well, you are correct. That is not right!
Romans 6:1 – What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?
We might think, “Maybe, because the more grace we experience, the more gratitude we will feel, and our love for God will grow.” Yet, Paul says:
Luke 6:21 – “Absolutely not!”
If someone wants to love God more, the last thing he/she wants to do is sin more!
However, I don’t think how many sins someone commits or the supposed severity of those sins is what necessarily determines the degree of gratitude when his/her sins are forgiven. Rather, it is the awareness of our sin, a realization of the extent and depth of our sin, which will likely produce the greatest gratitude when those sins are forgiven.
The sinful woman was very much aware of the extent and depth of her sin. She knew she was a sinner, totally undeserving of the forgiveness Jesus provided for her. However, others at that dinner party didn’t see their sin so clearly.
Simon, for example, was a Pharisee, a very religious man. Oh, he certainly knew he was not perfect, but he didn’t see himself as a great sinner. Why would he? He was very diligent in trying to follow all the rules of the Old Testament law. The thought of Jesus forgiving his sins was a pleasant one, but not something that was a huge priority. After all, he was a good person.
The woman realized she was facing a 40-year sentence and was dying of thirst in the desert. Simon thought he had maybe gotten a couple of speeding tickets or maybe wanted a glass of water.
Yet, Simon was wrong. He, too, was facing a 40-year sentence. He, too, was dying of thirst. He needed the grace and forgiveness Jesus could provide just as much as the prostitute did, and the reality is – so does every single human being – including me, including you.
Almost all of us come up with ideas about what sins are worse than others. We often use this moral grid to determine who the good people are and who the bad people are.
For example, in our circles, we usually think of those involved in sexual immorality as the bad people and those who are monogamous or chaste as the good people.
In other circles, however, the bad people are those who judge others for their promiscuous sexual behavior, and the good people are those who don’t judge other people.
The reality, however, is that from God’s perspective, there are no “good” people. God alone is good.
Romans 3:10 – “There is no one who is righteous, no not one.”
Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
That is the conclusion that the Apostle Paul reaches after considering both very religious people and those who are total pagans. Every human being is in desperate need of God’s grace. Every human being faces a horrific future without His forgiveness. We are all facing a 40-year prison sentence; we are all dying of thirst in the desert.
Now, the fact that we are all equally sinners doesn’t mean all sins are equal. Some sins have a much more negative impact upon our lives and the lives of people around us than others do.
Adultery is worse than lustful thoughts. Sticking a knife in someone’s chest is worse than yelling hateful words at him. The problem is that those who just have lustful thoughts and speak hateful words often don’t realize the extent and depth of their sin and don’t recognize their need for grace and forgiveness.
Those who get caught in an affair or who are arrested for murder often are much more aware of their need for grace and forgiveness. They are often much more like the sinful woman.
But, if your sins consist of “only” bad thoughts and words, there is a tendency to be like the Pharisees and to see yourself as not really as much of a sinner as that other person.
Oh, you may have some awareness of your need for grace and forgiveness, but it is seldom the desperate hunger for grace and forgiveness a “bad sinner” often feels. And it is that desperate hunger for grace and forgiveness which provides fertile soil for our love for God to grow.
Yet, you don’t need to be a “bad sinner” to have a desperate hunger for grace and forgiveness. You just need to have an awareness of sin and a realization of the extent and depth of that sin. When you do, your experience of God’s grace and forgiveness will fill you with a gratitude that will naturally cause your love for God to grow.
In fact, as Christians, we should be continually growing in our understanding of the extent and depth of our sin, so that our gratitude and love continue to grow.
My friend Joe became a Christian ten years ago. Shortly after that, he wrote down a list of all the sins he had been committing, which helped him be grateful for the grace and forgiveness he had experienced through trusting in Jesus.
The other day, he sat down and wrote out another list of sins he had been committing and was surprised to find out that it was almost twice as long as the list he had composed ten years ago.
He said to me, “Dan, what is going on? I thought I was becoming a better person, but I think I am sinning more than I was before I became a Christian.”
I said, “No, you are not, Joe. Compare those two lists. You no longer do many of the things on that old list: Getting drunk once a week, watching porn movies, cheating on my income taxes – those things are not on your new list at all. Being sarcastic sometimes is not a good thing, but it is much better to realize it is a sin than to not realize that. Most of the current sins you have identified should have been on your old list as well, but back then you weren’t even aware they were sins. Joe, the more you grow as a Christian, the closer you get to God, the more you will become aware of the extent and depth of your sin. And that means the list of sins you identify in your life will probably get longer and longer.”
I think we see that in the life of the Apostle Paul. Early in life, he was a Pharisee – likely a more devout Pharisee than Simon. He followed all the rules and saw himself as being morally superior to pretty much everyone around him.
And then, he found the Lord; or actually, the Lord found him and literally knocked him off his horse. At that point, Paul started realizing that he was not such a wonderful person after all. In fact, near the end of his life, he would say:
1 Timothy 1:15 – This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them all.
Note, he doesn’t say “was the worst,” but “am the worst” (present tense). What in the world was Paul talking about? Well, by this time Paul had been faithfully serving the Lord Jesus for about thirty years. His love for God and his hatred of sin were certainly greater than almost anyone who has ever been on this planet. How could he consider himself “the worst of sinners”?
Well, for one thing – before he became a Christian, Paul had led the persecution of the Christian church, which was then in its infancy. He arrested Christians and had even given his approval for the murder of Stephen.
As soon as Paul became a Christian, he knew he had been wrong. He realized he had opposed not only Christians, but God himself. I believe as the years went by, Paul realized more and more what a terrible sin that had been and how his pride enabled him to think what he was doing was right.
Though Paul knew God had forgiven him for his sin, the horror of what that sin involved continued to grow, which made the grace and forgiveness he experienced even more wonderful.
Yet, I don’t think Paul believed persecuting the church was his only sin. In Romans 7, Paul talks about his continual struggle with sin, even as a Christian. That included (verse 7) his battle with coveting, with desiring things that really didn’t belong to him.
This is one of the sins of the heart that no one else knew Paul had. It was a sin that, for a time, Paul didn’t even think was a sin. I suspect as the years went by, Paul saw more evidence of covetousness, pride, selfishness, lust, sloth and other sinful attitudes in his life. He was very much aware of his sinfulness.
He realized he desperately needed the grace and forgiveness that God provides through Jesus. He needed it just as much as the prostitute did. In fact, Paul would say he needed it more than she did because he was far more aware of his own sin than he was of anyone else’s. And Paul knew God had given him free and full forgiveness. Because of that he has gratitude toward God, and his love for God continued to grow.
Friends, here at CBC we celebrate the amazing grace and forgiveness that is experienced by all who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. No matter who you are or what you have done, that grace is available to you.
Yet, we also want to remember that we are continually in need of that grace!
As Christians, we are, as Martin Luther used to say, “simultaneously saints and sinners.” We need forgiveness, not only for our past sins, but our current sins and future sins as well. No matter how devout and disciplined we are, each of us will continue to be in need of God’s grace and forgiveness every moment we are here on earth.
Thus, it would be silly to think that somehow we are not as “bad” as people around us, and it would be foolish to forget how desperately we need God’s grace and forgiveness.
Our hope is that recognition of our desperate need, combined with our experience of His gracious forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, will produce a deep gratitude in our lives. And then that gratitude can grow into love.
1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us.
Friends, as we remind ourselves of Jesus and His grace, may our love for God grow. As we think about who Jesus is, of what He has done, is doing and will do for us, may we come closer and closer to loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind!