Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Closed Mind - Open Heart

Luke 7:31-50

In our study through Chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel, the gospel writer has been pointing out different mindsets when it comes to the Messiah. Earlier in the Chapter we saw a Gentile enemy of Israel, a Roman Centurion, express radical faith and great respect for Jesus. After healing the man’s servant, Jesus remarked that he hadn’t found such faith even in Israel. To illustrate that point today we meet a Pharisee up close and personal. As much as Israelites would have hated Centurions, they would have feared and respected Pharisees. They were the religious superstars of their day. They set the standard of behavior for those who wanted to be in good with God. And they were hypocrites who were about as far away from God as you could get—substituting human achievement for an admission of their true character and throwing themselves on God’s mercy.

Today as we begin, Jesus has just heard from the disciples of John the Baptist who had heard about what Jesus was doing but was more concerned about what He was not doing: overthrowing Rome. So Jesus told John’s men to observe and listen, and they would find that Jesus was doing exactly what the Law and Prophets foretold the Messiah would say and do. Jesus took the opportunity to explain that John was not what was expected, just as Jesus is not what was expected—but that John had the greatest job ever granted to a human: to announce the coming of the rescuer. By the way, that’s a job that’s given to us as well.

So we pick up the story as Jesus calls out the attitude of the heart when it comes to reacting to John and Jesus:

31 – 35

In essence Jesus is saying: “It doesn’t matter what I or John the Baptist does or says, you aren’t satisfied.” It seems in the context that Luke is focusing on the religious leaders. In the prior verses he states that the Pharisees rejected John’s baptism and the plan of God for themselves. In the next story a Pharisee acts in a self-righteous way and doesn’t recognize his need of forgiveness or the source of forgiveness in the Messiah.

In this parable the religious leaders are the children who sit along the sides at recess. No matter if the kids play a happy tune or a funeral dirge—they won’t come and play. John led a strict lifestyle, yet they said he was possessed. Jesus hung out with all kinds of people the culture would have called “sinners” and they claim He is a sinner Himself.

Notice the bottom line: that in the end, the results of following John to worship Jesus will show to be the true way. The results (“her children”) will be forgiveness and healing.

I find it the truth that for some people, no matter how you present the gospel, they just won’t engage. They sit like sad children on the sidelines and won’t even consider whether the claims of Jesus are true or not. Today we see two extreme ways of trying to reach people—either the “fire and brimstone” approach – “sinners in the hands of an angry God” way of scaring people into the kingdom. Then there’s the “Love Wins” approach where the idea of sin and hell are completely ignored in favor of a watered-down gospel message.

First, I don’t think either approach works well. Not really. Fearful people will take out fire insurance and then stay as far away from you as possible. Or they’ll fall into legalism, afraid that if they step a little out of line God’s going to zap them. The “Love Wins” approach creates make-believers who glom onto the church but never repent and seek forgiveness.

So what do we do? We take the balanced approach. We’re both honest and loving. We’re honest about the fact that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” and that “the wages of sin is death” but at the same time “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We are honest and prayerful in our approach.

Next, Luke demonstrates Jesus’ parable acted out in real-time at the house of Simon the Pharisee.

36 – 38

We don’t know if Simon was truly interested in the gospel like Nicodemus in John 3 or was trying to trap Jesus. I have a feeling that he was more like the children in Jesus’ parable—sitting on the sidelines, curious but unengaged. Jesus won’t let him stay there long.

When a well-known person came to dinner the door to the house was often left open so that others could come and listen. It would not have been unusual people to be present, but it was unusual for this woman to approach the guest of honor.

Jesus would have been reclining on one side with His legs stretched out behind Him, so the woman would have had access to them. We don’t know exactly what was in the alabaster jar but it is possible it was nard or myrrh, both of which were used in burial rituals. Both are also very expensive. Nard would have cost a year’s worth of wages. So here she is, crying, her tears dripping on Jesus’ feet. My guess is that she really didn’t know what she was going to do and seeing the mess she was making, bends down and uses her long hair to dry off the feet. Then, in an act of extreme honor, anoints His feet with the oil. We learn in a moment that the reason for her tears was over her condition. She has come to Jesus out of her desperation and brings the most precious thing probably in her possession as an offering, perhaps.

39

While all this is happening Simon starts to think to himself that Jesus could not be a real prophet because real men of God don’t hang out with or let “sinners” touch them. He’s projecting his own sense of what is right onto Jesus. Perhaps at this point Simon is making up his mind to reject Jesus as a prophet or as the Messiah.

Jesus intervenes into His thoughts to challenge everything Simon believes to be true.

40 – 43

It’s always dangerous when Jesus wants to say something. Simon should have known something was up and that he was being set up—but Jesus wants the point to hit home, so instead of just coming out with it, Jesus softens the ground of Simon’s mind up a bit with a story. It’s kind of like when Nathan the Prophet was trying to get David to admit to the affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent killing of her husband. Nathan didn’t come out and accuse David, he led him through a story to where he could see the point absent the context.

Here Jesus tells the parable of two people—the one who was forgiven a bigger debt would appreciate it so much more. The point Jesus is going to make to Simon is that there are in the room two people who owe a debt to God. One knows how big that debt is and appreciates the forgiveness. The other doesn’t know the seriousness of the debt, or that he owes one at all.

4 – 48

Though Simon wasn’t required to do the things Jesus says: wash the feet, give a kiss of greeting or anoint the head with oil—they were all gifts of hospitality and affection. They connote a relationship. The woman had essentially done all three—out of her deep sorrow over her condition (weeping), and her deference, respect, affection, and longing for relationship (anointing and kissing of the feet).

The idea here isn’t that Simon had little that needed to be forgiven, it’s that he thought he had little that needed to be forgiven. In some ways that is the most dangerous situation to be in. Our problem as humans is we don’t realize how pure God is and how sinful we are in light of God’s purity.

This was especially hard for Simon because, as a Pharisee, he had constructed a system of rules that, if followed, gave him a false sense of security. It’s always a problem when we determine the rules of right and wrong in a universe we didn’t create. You may not realize it, but you’ve likely done that same thing. You think, well, I’m not as bad as that person so I must be more okay with God then them. We are in fact just like the man who owed 500 denarii (20 months’ wages). It’s just that we throw away our credit card statement (God’s Word) instead of reading it.

As He did with the paralyzed man in Chapter 6, Jesus simply states that her sins are forgiven. Why can He say this? It’s because He knows He is going to die on the cross for her. He will pay the price for her sins. But, you say, she isn’t a Christian. Well, look to the next verses.

49 – 50

Two things here:

  1. Only God can forgive sins so they are at a decision point. Do they acknowledge that Jesus is God, or reject Him as an imposter and blasphemer or a kook? It’s a choice we all have to make at some point: was Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord?
  1. Look at what “saved” the woman: her faith. She had placed her life into Jesus’ hands. She didn’t know all the theology, she just knew that she lacked, she wanted something better and knew the only way to get it was to put the trust (faith) of her life in Jesus.

That’s all salvation is. The Lord will work out all the intricacies of her specific salvation later.

So I guess the bottom line from this section of Chapter 7 is this: don’t presuppose what Jesus is about and don’t presuppose your standing with God.

Come to him much like this woman did:

  1. She recognized she had sin in her life (tears)
  2. She brought everything to present to Him (the expensive oil – representing I think her entire life in a way)
  3. She openly repented
  4. She bowed before Jesus
  5. She acknowledged his death (the oil on his feet as preparation for burial (see also John 12:3-7)
  6. She participated in that death by wiping away the tears and smearing the oil with her hair

I know it’s symbolic and I don’t want to read too much into it, but the steps for us are the same.

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