Jack Graham - Jesus, Friend of Sinners
Our God is a God who delights to show mercy and to give abundant grace. The Scripture says Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And it's a good thing because we've all sinned and broken God's commandments. We are all sinners! And Jesus is the friend of sinners. Amen? Thank God, He is the friend of sinners because that means He loves you and me. In His life and ministry Jesus was always attracted to those who were broken by sin and the consequences of sin... the outsider, the outcast, even the outscoring of religion and respectable society. He associated with evil and sinful people, though He Himself was without sin.
The Scripture tells us that Jesus was... is holy and innocent and unstained and separated from sinners, and yet Jesus associated with sinful people because He is a loving Savior and He came to make right what's wrong with the world. And the story of the Bible... the story of the Gospel... the message of this passage before us is that He chooses to make us brand new. When we get to heaven we will worship Him forever because "He breaks the power of cancelled sin; He sets the prisoner free! His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood avails for me". And because He has chosen and called us... because He has chosen to love us, He calls us to love others even as we have been loved. And how have we been loved? Unconditionally, relentlessly, radically! And because He loves us and gave His love for us, He commands us to go into all the world and give His message of love and hope and grace to others. Because we have been forgiven so much, we want to tell others of this same forgiveness.
And this is never more stunningly clear than in the passage that we have before us today in Luke chapter 7. It's the story of a woman, a very sinful woman, who found forgiveness at the feet of Jesus. It all begins with a dinner invitation. Luke chapter 7, verse 36: "One of the Pharisees", his name is Simon, noted later, "asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table". Jesus is invited to this religious man's home, a Pharisee. You know, the Pharisees. Someone described them as men in whom the milk of human kindness had curdled; full of religion but empty of God and His love and His mercy. But Jesus goes to his home. Now we know that Jesus went anywhere He was invited. He always does.
Revelation 3:20 says "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with them, and they with Me". So any time we open the door and invite Christ in, He will come in. And so Jesus was often invited to places where respectable, religious people dare not go. In fact, earlier in this same passage in chapter 7 we're told that He was accused of dining with drunkards and of being a wine-bibber and drunkard and a gluttonous eater of meat; He was none of these things. But because He hung out from time to time with people who so desperately need Him, the respectable and the religious accused Jesus of being a sinner Himself. He was not! But Jesus also went to the homes of people like Simon the Pharisee. He was invited there and so He went.
Now we're not sure why Simon the Pharisee, invited Jesus to his home. Was it because of the popularity of Jesus? By now Jesus is well known as a teacher, a rabbi, potentially the Messiah. So it could have simply been the spiritual impact of Jesus. Maybe Simon, if we think the best of him, had a spiritual desire. He knew his religion was void of spiritual power and so he sees something in Jesus. He wants to get to know Jesus better. Maybe he sincerely wants to know if Jesus is the one, the Messiah. Was it curiosity... just simple curiosity that causes Simon who would have been somewhat a man of means. He obviously had a home and no doubt, a courtyard in his home where they would invite guests over. So was it curiosity? Was it hostility? At times in the Gospels we see that Jesus is set up by the religious types to trip Him up potentially, and to find fault in Him.
So maybe Simon drew Him in, in order to trip Him up. We don't know exactly the motive of this Pharisee for inviting Jesus to his home. But here's what we do know: that common courtesy was not extended to our Lord. It would have been common courtesy in a Middle Eastern home for dinner guests to have their feet washed. The lowest family member or potentially a servant would wash the feet. Of course, they wore sandals in those days and Jesus would, like others have walked through those dusty trails and muddy streets. And so when you were invited to someone's home, especially for dinner, someone would wash your feet as an act of generosity and kindness and just sheer courtesy. There might be a refreshing bit of oil or ointment for the hair just to freshen up.
And here's why, here's one of the reasons why you wanted your feet clean if you went to somebody's house for dinner, and that is because you didn't sit in chairs with your feet under the table, but you reclined at dinner. One of the things we do when we go to Israel is to have a Middle Eastern dinner and when we do this, we see how we actually recline on pillows. It's sort of like laying up in your Lazy Boy, you know, but on the floor. If I thought I could get up I would show you what I was talking about. But sort of reclining, you know, towards the table on an elbow, on a pillow, and your feet would be extended out from the table, so your feet would be exposed. And so dirty feet certainly would not be welcomed at your table. Jesus is treated poorly. He is insulted.
But then something absolutely shocking takes place. "And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment". Oil or perfume. So as Jesus is reclining with this religious crowd at the Pharisee's table, in comes this woman. Not a respectable woman, not a religious woman, but an unnamed sinful woman shows up. She is an uninvited guest. She had heard Jesus was in the house. I've always said when word gets out that Jesus is in the house, people who need Him will show up.
It's always been my prayer to make sure that we invite... that we welcome our Lord into this place because when He's in the house, people come. So Jesus was in the house. This woman heard about it and she crashes the party. This woman was a notorious, no doubt, well-known sinner. And the word for sinner here isn't a word which means garden variety sinner, but rather it is a word descriptive of a very wicked sinner. Most likely she was a prostitute, a harlot. Luke describes her as someone from the city. Literally someone who walked the streets. So this woman was a streetwalker, selling her body. Life had chewed her up and spit her out. She had a very bad reputation. She's one of the bad girls of the Bible and she's viewed by respectable society, much less religious society, as dirty, defiled. But she is drawn to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is a friend of sinners.
Somehow she knew, having heard Jesus speak, having watched Jesus work miracles in peoples' lives and touch people who were broken and diseased and defiled, somehow she knew that Jesus would welcome her there. She desperately needed forgiveness. And Jesus is the friend of sinner... the forgiver of sinners. So at first she stands at the side at the back of the room. She's just silently looking at Jesus. But then, overcome with emotion, overcome with gratitude, the tears begin to bubble up in her eyes and begin to pour down like rain from her face. She's sobbing in the presence of Christ. And so she is weeping. Why? Because of such deep gratitude. Certainly because of her past, maybe she's rerunning the terrible, regretful story of her life. She was some dad's little girl, but now look what she's become.
And so those emotions of regret and remorse are flooding her soul. She's broken by her sin. She can't forgive herself for what she's become. But then, overcome with gratitude for what Jesus had done for her in forgiving her, she rushes to Him and runs to Him and throws her sinful, sorted self at His feet for mercy and grace. Her tears are raining down on Jesus and she notices as her tears fall upon His feet, that His feet have not been washed and so she takes down her hair. Now in Middle Eastern culture in that time the hair was the glory of a woman. She kept it up and a woman was not to take her hair down except for her husband. To take her hair down in public would been descriptive of immorality in a very religious culture. It was considered shameful to let your hair down in public. But she doesn't care. She doesn't care about custom. She doesn't care about tradition. She doesn't care about what somebody else thinks. She's just overflowing with praise and adoration and love for the Lord Jesus Christ!
Her tears are flowing not only from her eyes, but from her heart as she realizes how sinful she is, and yet so... how so holy and wonderful and loving Jesus is! And her tears of repentance are cleansing her stained soul as she pours them out, repenting and worshipping. She is broken and ruined and ravaged by sin. Listen to this. Broken and ruined and ravaged by sin, but welcomed into the presence of Jesus. Her worship is lavish and extravagant and even expensive. She takes this flask of perfume... an alabaster box of expensive ointment and she pours it out on Christ. And then, shockingly to some, she begins kissing His feet. Luke tells us that she kissed His feet, and the word here is descriptive of over and over again, she's kissing His feet.
Did you know that in the Scripture worship means to bow down, to kiss the feet of God? She is a true worshipper, loving Jesus. She is generously and thankfully pouring out her life before the Lord. Somewhere, somehow along the way, she had an encounter with Jesus and she found forgiveness there. He changed her life. She was forgiven; she was free! But she needed to know from the word of the Lord Himself that she was no longer foul and dirty, a throw-away, but rather that she was whole and clean! So there, worshipping Jesus, she throws herself at His feet, and the aroma of perfume and praise is filling the house. She can't stop kissing Him. She has no shame; she has been forgiven by her dearest friend, Jesus the Friend of sinners. She is now a slave of a loving Savior, not the plaything of dirty, lustful men! Changed! The perfume of praise... anointing and adoration of praise is always the overflow of a heart... a life that has been made new.
Psalm 103:1-6, "is beautifully", ah, describing what takes place in us: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me. Bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns your life with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's". Jesus transforms our lives! We are saved! We are cleansed! Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool".
Jesus came into the world to save sinners like this woman, and like you and me. Now contrast this story to the second scene in this powerful moving drama, and here we then see the reaction and response of this self-righteous man Simon. Look at verse 39: "Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, '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'". Literally, she is a slut, she is a harlot. How could Jesus, if He is indeed a godly man, a prophet sent from God, how could Jesus not know what kind of woman this is? How could he receive from this filthy sinner such praise?
Now like a lot of people in church, he's saying this all under his breath. Notice it says, "He said to himself", he just mumbled, he just grumbling. He sees something, he doesn't like it. So Jesus, answering him, He said, "Okay, you wonder if I'm a prophet or not? Take this, Simon! Simon, I have something to say to you". And he answered, "Say it, Teacher". When I look at that I wonder how Simon the Pharisee said that. You know, "Say it, Teacher"! I mean he's been grumbling; he's been mumbling' he's been critical and caustic. But now, you know, piously he says, "Okay, say it, Jesus". Everyone is quiet. All we're hearing now is the sobs of a woman. It's awkward in the room, wouldn't you say? "Simon, I have something to say to you".
Simon was such a self-righteous man, but he also was a sinful man. He didn't love people. And he really didn't love God. He certainly didn't love people like this woman. So he assumes Jesus is unholy and ungodly, to be touched by such a woman. Why? Because Simon is like so many people today, religious people who think that salvation is for all the good people, all the respectable people, all the nice people, the people who have never really done that much wrong in the eyes of the world. He has this idea that religion is... that God loves only the good people, but immoral people and people like this woman are written off forever. Simon is without love; he is without mercy; he is without grace! Simon only saw her sin and her dirtiness.
And sometimes we look at people and all we see is what they are and not what they can be in Christ. So often we're more like Simon the Pharisee, pointing long fingers of accusation towards the very people who need our Lord the most. What about you? Are you building relationships with people that are far from God or you just hanging out with religious people? Now clearly the Bible tells us that we're to be careful about choosing our closest friends and associates and that our primary fellowship is with believers. But that is never, ever, ever... if we're like Jesus... to the exclusion of people who are outside, who are far from God. And therefore, we should always be working to build relationships.
Are you building relationships with people who don't know Jesus? Who need Jesus? With that gal who's sleeping around? With a guy who can't stay out of the bars? With that gay couple? It is that well-worn cliche that we are to hate sin but love sinners. We must always walk that fine line of standing up for truth and righteousness, protecting our families, for believing in the best for America and our country and standing... But so often we are known far more for what we are against than what we're for! How would you be different if you believed Jesus loves outrageous sinners? You see, all of us have sinned. This woman was a sinner and Simon the Pharisee was a sinner.
Some people are... She... Jesus said she was a big-time sinner. She sinned much. You know some people if you think about it... get this picture... are standing in a... maybe in a deep well, down in a huge hole. Others may be standing on top of a mountain range or peak. But the distance that separates them from the stars is still beyond imagination whether you're down in that hole or on that mountain. And the distance that separates a holy God from all who have sinned can only be bridged by the love of Christ and His cross! Simon the Pharisee represented religion without Jesus. Religion is cold and calculating and cynical and condemning towards sinners. Through religious eyes we see peoples' sin. "What do you see, Simon? What do you see when you look at this woman? Do you see just someone who is thrown away or do you see someone that God loves"? God's people must see through eyes of love and compassion. While we stand for truth and righteousness and godliness, may we do it never at the exclusion of the very people for whom Jesus came and lived and died and rose again.