On the Road with Jesus: The Cost of Devotion, the Price of Forgiveness

We’re continuing our journey with Jesus and His disciples in Luke’s gospel. In this post, we’ll look at what it cost some to follow Jesus.

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him 500 silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 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 of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

— Luke 7:36-50

Luke gives a lot of detail to what might be called minority groups in his gospel, including women. In fact, in Luke 8:1-3 we read this:

Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.

In our passage today, we see an example of this. We see a woman invite herself to a banquet to show her devotion to Jesus. How did she get there? She likely took advantage of the law that allowed those in need to attend such events to receive the leftovers. In this case, however, it’s clear her motivation was to see Jesus.

She brought what was probably a very expensive bottle of perfumed oil. These were often bought and saved for specific and/or special occasions. The bottle would have had a long neck that had to be broken for the oil to be poured out. The woman (who is unnamed here) deides this is the best of all occasions to use the oil. She stands behind Jesus at the table weeping, her tears wetting His feet. She then dries His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with that most precious commodity she had–the oil.

It’s clear that she doesn’t speak (at least Luke doesn’t share it if she did). She just performs this simple act of devotion. And Jesus, as He often does, transforms it into a moment of both salvation and teaching. While this woman is wiping, kissing, and anointing Jesus’ feet, the Pharisee who invited Jesus is having a conversation with himself.

This woman is a sinner!
If Jesus knew who she was, he wouldn’t allow her to touch him.
Therefore, he can be no prophet.

Notice that the Pharisee (Jesus identifies him as Simon) thought nothing of the amazing act that was performed by the woman, but only about one thing–she was a sinner. Notice further that Simon did not speak those thoughts out loud. His attitude was, “If this man knew . . . .”

What does Jesus do? In short, He demonstrates that He does know. He starts with a simple statement: “Simon, I have something to tell you.” Then, Jesus begins as He often does–with a parable. He tells of a moneylender who had two customers who couldn’t pay the loan back. One owed 500 denarii, the other 50. Since they couldn’t pay him back, the moneylender canceled both their debts. A straightforward story. Then Jesus asks that question that goes to the heart of the matter:

Which of them will love him more?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? And Simon answers correctly (albeit somewhat reluctantly, perhaps knowing where this conversation is going). Simon answers,

The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.

After acknowledging Simon’s correct answer, Jesus proceeds to describe what really just happened. He contrasts the woman’s actions with Simon’s.

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.

Then He does what the Pharisee would consider unthinkable. He pronounces her sins, “which are many,” forgiven. Why? “Because she loved much.” What’s Jesus saying in all this? A few things:

First, He told Simon, “Yes, I know this woman, her sins, and her heart. And by the way, I know you as well.” Simon did not find Jesus worthy of the normal treatment one would extend to a guest in that culture. That alone showed a glimpse into Simon’s heart. The unnamed woman, on the other hand, thought Jesus worthy of exquisitely special treatment, giving all she had in a special service to Him.

Second, Jesus teaches that God’s forgiveness manifests itself in loving service. One who realizes the depth of the debt that was owed but forgiven cannot help but love the one who has forgiven the debt–and consequently will love others.

So, the question for us today is this: Do we really know the debt that has been forgiven us? It’s one thing to say, “My sins are forgiven.” It’s another thing to come face-to-face with the depth of our sin–and realize it’s no more because it was cancelled by Jesus.

This is another example of this statement: There is no sin too big, no misery too deep, that Jesus cannot forgive, heal, and redeem. When we feel overwhelmed with despair in our sin, we can hold tight to this truth..



On the Road with Jesus: Out of Time, Out of Hope?

We’re continuing our journey with Jesus and His disciples in Luke’s gospel. Today, we’re going to look at what happens when one begin to lose hope.

John’s disciples informed him about all these things. So John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” At that very time Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind. So he answered them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Look, those who wear soft clothing and live in luxury are in the royal palaces! What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.” (Now all the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

“To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

— Luke 7:18-35

Even the most ardent believer in Jesus will often reach a point in life when they struggle to have hope and question what they’ve believed. They may not be imprisoned–or they might. We all do. It’s part of our growth. This was even true of the Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptizer.

Out of Time, Out of Hope?

Let’s start with the basics. John the Baptizer had been put in prison. The gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us about him. They tell us that he came to announce the coming of the Messiah, and to prepare the people to receive Him. He lived a rather austere lifestyle. Matthew describes him like this:

Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.

— Matthew 3:4

So, people probably throught him rather strange. And his message didn’t help. He called people to repent, to turn back to God and be baptized as a sign of their repentance. He proclaimed that message to all: young and old, religious leader and layperson. He even proclaimed that message to Herod–and we’ll get to that in a bit. Matthew tells us,

He is the one about whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken: “The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”

— Matthew 3:3

His speech, mannerisms, and lifestyle resemble an Old Testament prophet like Elijah. Indeed Jesus acknowledged him as a prophet–and the crowds apparently acknowledged him as a prophet as well. So, it seemed that John was indeed doing God’s work, declaring God’s true message to the people. Then, he proclaimed his message to Herod, and everything changed. This is what Matthew tells us:

For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had repeatedly told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet.

— Matthew 14:3–5

So, here John is, stuck in prison for doing the very thing God called him to do! And that brings us back to our passage in Luke. Let’s look at the question John asked of Jesus through his disciples: ‘Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?”

Translation? Am I suffering here for nothing? Do you see me?

Isn’t that what we all ask at times? We get stuck in life. The storms of life are swirling around us. We feel like we are in chains. And we wonder if God, the one we have been believing, following, and serving, sees what we are going through. And the implied (if not asked directly) directly is, “Will you get me out of this?” For too long, Christians have found such questions uncomfortable. We feel embarrassed to even let the question enter our mind, let alone ask it!

John the Baptizer wasn’t afraid to ask. Or maybe he was just desperate enough to ask. That should give us hope. What should give us even more hope is the response Jesus gave him. Luke notes that Jesus had been engaged in ministry when the discples of John arrived. We read, “At that very time Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind.” And surely John knew of the reports of Jesus before he was put in prison. So, Jesus answers the men who were sent:

Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

When Jesus instructed the men to tell John what they had seen and heard, could it be that that witness would trigger John’s own recollections of reports about Jesus? Jesus is subtly telling John, “You proclaimed me as the Messiah. These are the things Messiah is to do.” In a short phrase, as he told the woman of Samaria, “I am he.” When we are in the same boat, we can look back and remember what we have seen and heard, how the Lord has been good.

Not Fitting In

The thing about Jesus and John is that neither fit into society’s mold (especially the religious leaders’ mold). The Lord works in ways we don’t expect Him to. This is Jesus’ point when He compares that generation:

They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’

Jesus and John refused to play the games that people wanted them to play. Often, when we are serving the Lord the most, we don’t fit in either. In fact, we should sense that we don’t fit in. Why? Because this world is not our home. We weren’t created for this fallen, sin-stained world. But we are here. And we wait for Him in hope. And while we wait, we proclaim and live His message faithfully. Tell them what you have seen and heard. And in the end all things will be made right.

On the Road with Jesus: Living in the Kingdom (Pt. 2)

We’re continuing our journey with Jesus and His disciples in Luke’s gospel. Today, we’ll finish our discussion of Luke 6 by looking at the second half of Luke 6:17-49. There we read:

[Jesus said,] “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”

He also told them a parable: “Someone who is blind cannot lead another who is blind, can he? Won’t they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while you yourself don’t see the beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles.The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I tell you?

“Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice—I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed!”

— Luke 6:37-49

In this second half, we’ll see that Jesus continues to talk about life in the Kingdom. Not only are we to go the extra mile toward people, but we are to be careful we evaluate and judge people and circumstances.

Living in the Kingdom (Part 2)

Verse 37 (along with Matthew’s account in Matthew 7:1) is one of the most often mis-quoted and misundertood verses in the Bible. It’s often objected, based on this verse, that Christians can’t make any moral judgments. But this is not the intent of the passage at all. If you recall, verse 36 reads, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Verse 37 is an explanation of what that looks like when dealing with others.

What does it mean to be merciful in this context? It means we refrain from judging motives and intents of the heart. It means that now is the time of grace, redemption, and restoration. Judgment will come later for those who refuse God’s offer of grace and salvation. If we look at the next verses we see the real point of verse 37. The second half of verse 38 reads, “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Now, does this passage mean that we overlook sin, especially in the Body of Christ? Absolutely not. The goal, however, is the restoration of the offender. And what did Paul say about that?

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

— Galatians 6:1–2

Notice how the brother who is “caught in any transgression” is to be restored: in a spirit of gentleness. The next sentence is often misinterpreted. When we read, “Lest you too be tempted,” we assume Paul is referring to the same sin that the “brother” was ensnared in. But that’s not necessarily the case. The bigger temptation here is to feel superior to my brother. What’s the solution to that? The implication is that walking in a spirit of gentleness will curb that tendency.

What’s the point of the parable in verses 39-42? Simply this: Both of the brothers (the one with the speck and the one with the log) are blind. One is not “more blind” than the other. If I think I am less blind than you (that feeling of superiority), then I am apt to try to “lead” you. My blindness will lead us both astray. Again, Jesus is not proclaiming a “judgment free zone,” in the sense of overlooking sin. He is, however, talking about how we approach sin. And we are first to examine our own heart and motives when dealing with an errant brother or sister.

Jesus also tells us in verses 43-46 that the attitude we display in relation to people comes from the condition of the heart. The implication here is a tough one. The question must be asked, “Can a Christian, who has been saved and redeemed, who has encountered the Savior, be critical and condemning of others?” It would be tempting to say “no.” But only God knows the heart, and the Lord knows who is His. But, the question does deserve some serious consideration. Over and over in the New Testament we see that salvation always leads to fruit.

Finally, Jesus tells us that those who hear these words (who let them sink into their heart and soul) and who puts them into practice will be like one who builds a house on a foundation made of rock. With such a foundation, there is no erosion (like in the sand), and the house stands strong against the storms of life.

As believers, we need to remember that we are on the same journey as fellow believers. We are all blind apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit. Superiority or haughtiness, condemnation or a critical spirit have no place in the life of a believer.