Monday, July 12, 2010

Great Forgiveness, Great Love

In the seventh chapter of the gospel of Luke we read about a woman in verses 36-50 who came to Jesus as a sinner and left His presence transformed. This story is familiar to most people with even just a cursory knowledge of the Bible because the story is so poignant in its presentation.

It is important to note that the woman in this passage is not named. She is a prostitute who is well known in the town because of her profession. She hears that Jesus will be at Simon’s house. Simon is a Pharisee (a member of an ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law in both its oral and written form) who invited Jesus to his house to determine if He was truly the promised Messiah or a prophet.

The narrative indicates that the woman came into the house quietly and relatively unnoticed. She also came with a purpose – to anoint Jesus with her perfume. Given her trade as a prostitute, she would have had perfume in her possession but the kind of perfume that's indicated here is not cheap oil but a costly perfume. It's in an alabaster container. An alabaster container specifically was quarried and carved in Egypt. It was a refined kind of marble that would be made into this alabaster container and filled with a very costly perfume and then plugged shut to keep the fragrance from evaporating.

This woman had come to anoint Jesus’ head but upon seeing Him, she begins to cry. As she stands there, her crying turns to weeping. She is flooded with her sinfulness in the presence of Jesus. She lets loose with what Luther called "heart water." Her tears become uncontrollable and as she looks down she sees Jesus’ feet have not been washed, which was the customary practice in those days when a guest enters a house.

She kneels down and lets her tears wash Jesus’ feet. It is important to notice here just how much this woman is crying. Can you see the picture of the broken sinner at the feet of the One who can forgive? Here is this woman, sitting at Jesus’ feet in the house of a Pharisee expressing her gratitude for His forgiveness and she can’t stop weeping. She then lets down her hair to dry his feet because she has no towel. She was manifesting a kind of heartfelt, humble and shameless affection by her actions.

Once His feet were clean, it says she was kissing His feet. John MacArthur says the Greek word used for “kiss” here is “kataphileo” and it is an intense word. It is used in Luke 15:20 of the father's kisses when the prodigal son came home and he fell on his neck and kept embracing and kissing him. It isn't necessarily limited to the lips – it's a clinging, a tight embrace. It is the idea of an intense hug. The text says she continuingly kisses and hugs His feet. What an amazing picture of the outward expression of heartfelt and genuine gratitude.

Of course, Simon and the rest of the guests were disgusted by the woman’s actions given she was a prostitute. Simon actually states that if Jesus was truly a prophet, He would have known that a prostitute was touching Him and would have sent her out. Jesus uses this opportunity to explain to Simon and the rest of the house guests who were also most likely stunned by this event, how a person who is forgiven much, loves much. I do not believe there is another example in the Bible of a person whom Jesus says “she loved much” other than this woman. That is how powerful her display of emotion was in that room. She was literally bursting with love because of all she had been forgiven.

This story also echoes Jesus’ earlier teaching that He came to save sinners much in the same way a doctor comes to heal the sick (Mark 2:17). As you can imagine, Simon and the other Pharisees had a tough time grasping this truth because they believed they were holy before God and that “outward” sinners such as this woman have no place in God’s kingdom. This may have been one of the simplest truths that was the hardest for Jesus to convey because it hits the issue of pride and self-righteousness. Jesus was never a respector of persons in His ministry. He ministered to those who needed His forgiveness and truth be told, we all need His forgiveness. We may not be prostitutes but all of us have sinned much and need much forgiveness.

Have you come to Christ in faith and embraced Him and experienced this powerful and total transformation of forgiveness so that you're literally filled with joy and gratitude and love? Every Christian should be marked by that type of love because this is the defining attribute of a life that has been lost in Christ. At the very heart of the gospel is forgiveness. It is the single most important virtue because it is the very essence of all that we believe as professing Christians and enables us to forgive others. If you have not already, please come today to the feet of Jesus and let His forgiveness wash over you.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.” - Mark Twain

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