Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Luke 7:36-50 Forgiveness and worship (part 2)

In an earlier post, I made some observations on Luke 7:36-50, which tells the story of a sinful woman who worshiped Jesus by anointing his feet while he was eating at the home of Simon the pharisee.  In that post, I focused on the fact that an experience of forgiveness is key to having a right heart in worship.  

Now you may be thinking, If I need to have an experience of forgiveness in order to worship with a right heart, how does that happen?  Do I need to go out and do something wrong so that I can come to Jesus for forgiveness in order to be a true worshiper?  Or do I just keep looking back to that day when I became a Christian and received the forgiveness of my sins?  

Well, lets examine the case of this sinful woman.  How did she experience the forgiveness of Jesus that filled her with such love and enabled her to be a true worshiper.

I think the answer is in v. 48.  After speaking to Simon, Jesus turns to the woman and simply says, “Your sins are forgiven.The woman experienced forgiveness as she came into Jesus’ presence and worshiped him.  If she had not been there at his feet worshiping, she would not have heard him turn to her and say:  Your sins are forgiven.

Now think about this:  Jesus has just explained to Simon that the reason this woman has honored him so beautifully is because she has had a deep experience of his forgiveness.  And then he turns to her and says, “your sins are forgiven.”  

Doesn’t that seem strange and out of place to you?  Aren’t we caught in some circular reasoning here?  If she had already been forgiven and this was the source of her worshipful heart, why does Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

It may sound convoluted, but not only is an experience of forgiveness the  SOURCE of a right heart in worship, it is also the RESULT of a right heart in worship.  We can only worship the Lord with a right heart as we experience his forgiveness, causing us to overflow with gratitude and worship.  And it is when we worship the Lord and focus on the forgiveness that he has objectively given us that we experience subjectively that forgiveness.

Here is what I believe is happening:  The woman had come to Jesus to worship him, to honor him and to show her love to him.  She came because she knew who he was.  She knew he was the friend of sinners.  We don’t have any details of how she knew who Jesus was, but she knew that she was forgiven.

Her actions go beyond just repentance and seeking forgiveness.  They are the actions (as Jesus himself pointed out) of someone who had been forgiven much.  And yet it is as she worships him that she experiences that forgiveness. 

You and I as Christians have been forgiven by the Lord Jesus.  We know what it is to be forgiven.  I’m sure that if I were to ask any solid christian he or she would say, “I know that my sins are forgiven”  We know that Jesus died as our substitute.  He was punished for our sins.  He paid the price for our sins out of his great love for us.  

But what a difference between having your sins forgiven, and being in Jesus’ presence, worshiping him, and hearing him say (and say often), “I paid for your sins because I love you.  Your sins are forgiven, Bryan!” If we are never in his presence in worship, we’ll never hear those words.  If this woman had not come to Jesus in worship, her heart filled with love because of his forgiveness, she would have never heard, “Your sins are forgiven!” 

When we experience Jesus and his forgiveness for the first time, that should cause us to want to get back in his presence again.  And when we are back in his presence again, we will be in the presence of the Holy Son of God.  As we meditate on him and who he is and his holiness, we will experience all over again that forgiveness that he is constantly pouring out on us because of his cross.

It is when you are in his presence in true worship that you experience his forgiveness.  You are already forgiven, but to be a true worshiper, you must experience that forgiveness in his presence.

Why do we struggle with being true worshipers?  It isn’t because we haven’t been forgiven. And it isn’t because we haven’t been forgiven a great enough debt.  Our sin debt is every bit as great as this woman’s.

I believe we struggle with being true worshipers of Jesus because unlike this woman, we do not come often enough into the presence of the friend of sinners.  We are so busy with other things, we have no time for worship.  Or we come as Simon did, trying to impress him with who we are or what we’ve done.  We try to come across as such great worshipers.  Instead of just waiting in his presence, meditating on the tremendous privilege that is ours to even be there at all.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons

Luke 7:36-50 Forgiveness and worship (part 1)

Luke 7:36-50 tells the story of a sinful woman who worshiped Jesus by anointing his feet while he was eating at the home of Simon the pharisee.   The woman is an example of one who truly worships the Lord Jesus, as she wipes her tears from his feet with her hair.  Simon is an example of failure to worship.  What does this scripture passage teach us about how we can worship the Lord with a right heart?

The main thrust of Luke’s account of this incident is that experiencing God’s forgiveness is an important key to having a right heart in worship.


The contrast between the sinful woman and Simon

Both Simon and the woman were offering something to Jesus.  Simon was offering the meal.  The woman, on the other hand, was there to offer Jesus the alabaster flask of ointment.  But as the story plays out, the contrast in Simon’s heart and the woman’s heart is striking, and what reveals this difference is what happened that night that neither one of them intended.

When the woman brought her alabaster flask, I don’t believe that she intended to break down in Jesus’ presence, weeping.  This wasn’t some orchestrated performance.  But there she was–a “sinner”–in the presence of the man who had come to be called “the friend of sinners”, and she couldn’t contain herself!  And the love in her heart was laid bare as she worshiped the Lord Jesus.

Simon as well never intended to have to deal with the presence of a sinful woman at his dinner party doing something that he considered scandalous.  And even though his heart isn’t publicly displayed like the woman’s, his thoughts reveal what is in him.  Verse 39.  He’s thinking:  If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.

The difference between these two hearts is in their FOCUS.  The woman is focused on Jesus.  She is in his presence.  She loves him–“the friend of sinners.”  She isn’t thinking… “is he going to like my offering?”  “Am I doing this right?”  “Will he be impressed with me?”  No, she is broken.  She is overwhelmed by the mercy and kindness that characterizes the person of Jesus in his relationships with people like her.

Simon, on the other hand, is focused on himself.  “Jesus should know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him.”  He is unconsciously making a comparison between himself and the woman:  “I am not the sort of person that this woman is.”  “Jesus should know that she is a “sinner”.  In other words, “I am not a sinner,” at least not in the sense that this woman is!”  

Both Simon and the woman brought an offering, but one had a heart focused on Jesus, the other was focused on himself.

I think we all know how easy it is to perform an act of worship, whether it is in a worship service at church, in our personal devotional time, or some other religious activity, and our focus is not on Jesus, but on ourselves; and even when we are analyzing and criticizing others, our focus is still on us.

The source of a right heart in worship:  An experience of forgiveness

Jesus reveals what is in Simon’s heart by telling a three-sentence parable in verses 41-42.

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?

 Simon, apparently oblivious to what Jesus is doing, answers correctly, “The one who was forgiven more debt.

Jesus with this parable is showing Simon the source of a right heart in worship.  And the meaning of the parable is clear: 

The greater the experience of forgiveness,

the greater the love that will be shown to the forgiver. 

We know from other Scripture that Jesus is not comparing here the SIN DEBT of Simon with the sin debt of the woman.  Rom. 3 says it over and over:  “No one understands…no one seeks for God.  ALL have turned aside; together they have become worthless…for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Simon is not less a sinner than the woman is.  If that were the case, Jesus wouldn’t confront him at all about his heart problem, Simon would simply be worshiping in proportion to what he had been forgiven.  

What Jesus is comparing here is the EXPERIENCE of forgiveness.  Both Simon and the woman owe an infinite sin debt to God.  The difference is that the woman has seen her sin and received Jesus’ forgiveness, and Simon hasn’t seen it!

Look also at what Jesus says in v. 47

Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Jesus isn’t saying here that the woman earned forgiveness through her great display of love to Jesus.  That’s what it sounds like in most English versions.  But Jesus said the exact opposite in his parable.  The love that the debtor showed to the moneylender was because he had been forgiven the debt, not something that he did to earn the forgiveness.

One author paraphrased Jesus’ words this way:  She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful.  The greater the experience of forgiveness, the greater the love that will be shown to the forgiver.

Both Simon and the woman have brought something to Jesus.  Simon offers a dinner party, the woman offers the alabaster jar of perfume, but because her heart is right, and because of her greater experience of forgiveness, the woman HONORS Jesus because she truly loves him, whereas Simon DISHONORS him.

Jesus points this out in vs. 44-46.  He mentions three specific ways that Simon dishonored him and the woman honored him.  All three of the things that Jesus mentions were common practices in that day.  They were simple ways of showing hospitality to a guest:  washing his feet, greeting him with a kiss, and anointing the head with oil.  

When Jesus points out that Simon did not offer these things, he isn’t complaining about Simon’s lack of manners.  He is trying to show Simon his heart problem.  Simon failed to honor Jesus because his heart was wrong.  The woman on the other hand, without even consciously trying, honored Jesus because her heart was filled with love.  She washed his feet…. with her tears.   She anointed him… with the perfume that she brought.  And her kisses, far from being a mere formality, were the humble kisses of a forgiven sinner.

What Jesus is showing us is that when our heart is filled with love for him, worship is not about “getting it right”–raising your hands and dancing, or not raising your hands and not dancing–It is about a genuine honoring of our Savior, Jesus, the friend of sinners.  And when our heart is right and filled with love for him, he will be honored.  Our focus will be on him, and not on ourselves.   We will do the right things in his sight, even if they aren’t right in the sight of others.

I’ll have more to say on this passage in future posts.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Romans 1:18-25 The blessing of giving thanks

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

In a previous post, I talked about why thanklessness is a sin.  You can read that post for more detail, but here is a summary:   My starting point was the following definition of thankfulness…

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

The reason thanklessness is such a sin is that the real benefit we have all received from God is everything pertaining to our existence.  He is our creator, and everything we have, even our very life-breath comes from him. Not only have we failed to thank God for these real benefits, we have also failed to acknowledge the goodness of God in giving them to us.

Everything around us in the creation proclaims the infinite goodness of God!  To reject that and to scorn the Giver of life and existence is to scorn his infinite goodness.  Scorning an infinite God is an infinite sin, and a sin that is worthy of infinite condemnation!  That is why Romans 1:21 says that God’s wrath is being revealed against men for their failure to give thanks!

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened

As I thought about this verse, I began to wonder:   If God’s wrath comes when we fail to give thanks, then is it possible that there is a tremendous blessing that comes when we do give thanks?

I think there is a blessing that comes from thankfulness.  Giving thanks is a blessing because the joy and gratitude and happiness that we feel when we are thankful isn’t primarily from the benefit that we have received, but from the goodness of the one who gives us that benefit.

This is the real blessing: We are able to consciously experience the goodness of God.  Ultimately, BEING THANKFUL is a blessing in and of itself!  There is the joy and happiness and satisfaction of witnessing daily the goodness of our wonderful God and Savior, the Lord Jesus.

So the question is, how can I begin to walk daily in the blessing of thankfulness?  How can I experience the joy and satisfaction of being thankful?  Do I just walk outside and look up at the stars, or at the beautiful autumn leaves, or at the glories of creation and thank God for my existence?

The problem is that just as those pagan gentiles in Romans 1, you and I (and the religious jews in Romans 2), are ALREADY under the condemnation of God for our FAILURE to give thanks.  If the only thing you do to try to remedy this problem of not giving thanks is walk outside and look up at the stars and be grateful for your existence, you will be looking at the revelation of a holy and just God who says that he will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Because of the wrath of God that we deserve, we cannot become thankful people just by making a list of the blessings that God has given us:  like your family, your job, the turkey you ate this past Thanksgiving Day, etc., 

There is only one way that we can become thankful people, and that is through the cross of Jesus, our Savior.  Jesus took upon himself at the cross the wrath of God that we deserve for our thanklessness.  Think about this, God himself took on human flesh and suffered the just penalty for our rejection of him.

When God did this, it was a far greater display of his goodness than the creation of the entire universe.  Through the creation, God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen, but through the cross, God’s justice and his grace are clearly seen.  

We criticize these pagan gentiles for their failure to see God’s gracious benefits to them in creating them for his glory, and yet so often we fail to see God’s grace and love displayed to US when he REcreated us for his glory, at the cost of his own Son, Jesus.

So how can we experience the blessing of thankfulness?  We do it by living a cross-centered life.


Thank God every day for the Cross

I began a practice some time ago that should be second-nature to all of us as Christians, and that is to thank God every day for what he did for us at the cross.  I’m sad to say that I don’t yet have this godly habit ingrained in my life like I wish I did, but by his grace, I will!  May not a day go by that I don’t thank my Lord for his death for me on the cross.  

I need to keep this always before me, that I am a sinner, deserving of God’s condemnation, but instead receiving his mercy.  I deserve hell, but I get heaven.  I deserve separation from God, and instead he adopts me into his family and cherishes me as he does his only begotten Son!!! Imagine the difference it will make in your life if you are meditating EVERY DAY on the wonderful grace of Jesus expressed to you at the cross!

And as I thank him for my salvation, may it remind me not just of the fact that I am SAVED, but of what an infinitely GOOD God he is!  


Thank God for good gifts  

Every good gift that comes into your life is due to the cross of Christ!  When God blesses you as his child with ANYTHING, no matter how small, remember this.  If Jesus hadn’t died on the cross for you, he would not be blessing you now with that meal, or that car, or that relationship, or anything.  Let every good thing that comes into your life remind you of this.  It is all because of Jesus’ cross.

You may wonder, “But what about those who are NOT followers of Christ?  Where do the benefits in THEIR lives come from?”  The answer is the same, from the cross of Christ, and just like the pagan gentiles in Romans 1, those who are not followers of Christ will be held accountable for their failure to give thanks to God for everything that they have been given.


Thank God for difficulty

Not only are the good things that come into your life through the cross of Christ, so are the difficult things.  Peter said in 1 Pet. 4:13, Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  God has promised us that our sufferings are not without a point.  He promises in 2 Cor. 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

There is a pernicious lie in the church today that a life of obedience and submission to God means that everything will go well for you, you will never suffer.  But the promise of the gospel message of the cross is that we are blessed to share in Christ’s sufferings, and for that we can be thankful!  

Sometimes God removes his temporal blessings to show us that the greatest blessing we have is  HIMSELF!


Get rid of distractions from the cross

Finally, and probably most important of these four suggestions, is to rid your life of everything that is a distraction from the cross of Christ.  We fill our lives with so much activity, with so much entertainment, with so much busyness that we simply don’t have time to live a cross-centered life.  Even God’s good gifts can become idols in our lives if they keep us FROM God rather that directing us TO God.  

Don’t expect to become a thankful person just by adding these first three suggestions to a life that in all other respects shows no desire to know God as he has revealed himself at the cross of Christ.  The overall movement and direction of your life must be toward Jesus if you are to live a cross-centered life.  

When Jesus died on the cross he accomplished our RECONCILIATION with God.  That is the gift he has given us–the way is opened once again for us to have fellowship with God.

Would you not agree that the greatest thanklessness that a person could express would be to fail to appreciate and use and enjoy the gift that they have been given?  Which hurts more, kids?  When your brother or sister unwraps that toy that you spent all your allowance to buy and immediately begins playing with it, but forgets to say “thank you”?  Or when he opens it, and then casts it aside disinterested, looking for the next present?

Do you want to be a thankful person?  Enjoy the gift that God has given you–HIMSELF!

I heard about a missionary wife who had been without her husband for almost 10 weeks as he toured in the churches.  On the day he was to arrive home, a huge package arrived for this lady by delivery truck.  It was from her husband.  She was so disappointed.  She didn’t just want a present, she wanted HIM, and when she opened the box… out he popped!

That’s what God has done for us.  He has reconciled us to himself.  He has given himself to us!  What goodness he has shown us!  Let us thank him!


This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.