The Sinner Who Would Worship, Luke 7:36-50 (Part 1)


There are two kinds of sinners in the world today:  those who know they’re sinners and those who don’t.  For instance, in Luke 18 Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector who both went up to the temple to pray.  He says the Pharisee confidently stood up and bragged about all his righteousness to God and named all the faults with everyone else that he never was guilty of.  On the other hand, the tax collector was too ashamed of himself to even look up to heaven and he could only plead with God to have mercy on him because he knew he was a sinner.  The tax collector knew he was a sinner and the Pharisee didn’t.  The tax collectors sensitivity to his own sin made him humble, and made him cry out to God for mercy.  The Pharisees pride in himself blinded him to his own sin, and his own need for mercy, and therefore kept him from ever asking for God’s mercy.

Jesus is Invited to Dinner (v36)

Events and parables contrasting these two types of sinners abound in the NT.  Our study today in Luke 7:36-50 contrasts another set of these two types of sinners.  This time we see a Pharisee and a woman who had “lived a sinful life”.  The occasion begins in verse 36 when Jesus, ever in demand socially, is invited by a Pharisee named Simon to come and have dinner at his house.  Jesus was always getting invited over – even by Pharisees (Luke 11:7; 14:1).  Sometimes it was for his honor, and sometimes, it was to try and trap him – as the Pharisees were often trying to do (Luke 14:1).  This may have been Simon’s intention, but, we don’t know that for sure because there were many among the Pharisees who secretly supported Jesus (John 3:1-2; 12:42; Acts 15:5).  Perhaps Simon was in Nicodemus’ camp and was hopeful that Jesus really was the Messiah.  If so, as we will see, Simon has some religious trappings to overcome first.

Let’s point out 2 things regarding verse 36.  First of all, Jesus knew his host’s intentions because He is God and as so He is omniscient.  He demonstrates His knowledge of all things – even men’s thoughts – throughout the Gospels and even in this passage.  Accepting the invitation demonstrates His grace and love, even when He knows evil motives lie behind their hospitality.

Second, we should note that Jesus didn’t just eat with “sinners and tax collectors”.  Liberal preachers really want you to believe that Jesus shunned the elite classes and favored the outcasts.  They desperately try to paint Him as some social rebel who tried to protest and take down the establishment.  But over and over again Jesus is found dining with the rich, righteous, and influential and not just the poor, sinful, and outcasts.  Why would He do this?  Because all men need salvation.

Sinner on the Scene (v37-38)

Well the dinner party gets interesting when a woman with a bad reputation arrives uninvited.  Notice verse 37 and 38 with me [Read].

Many theologians believe she had been a prostitute.  So when she walks through the door things get tense.  We might say she was the elephant in the room.  People were uncomfortable being in the same house with “that woman”.  It was improper.  I was asking myself this week, “What would possess a woman to barge in on a high profile dinner party she was not invited to, and most definitely not welcome at?”

Well, while studying I found out some context about the culture in that day.  Apparently, Pharisees like Simon here would have a dinner party with other prominent religious leaders.  And at these dinners these men would discuss everything from points of the Mosaic Law, to cultural and social ideas of the day to anything else that was important.  It was a place where weighty opinions were offered on all things going on in Jewish society.

Now the thing was these discussion dinners were often open to the public, and the doors to the house would be left open and room in the dining room around the walls would be available for anyone off the street to come in and listen to these heavy hitters talk.  It was a chance to literally be a “fly on the wall”, photobomb a Pharisee or two, and hear the who’s who give commentary on all things Jewish.

Knowing that helps us understand that this woman wasn’t exactly “barging in” and crashing Simon’s party.  As part of the public, she had a generic invitation to come in.  But still, it was awkward.  And it was only going to get more awkward.  She didn’t come to listen to Pharisees.  She came to worship Jesus.

Notice what Luke tells us she does.  First of all she goes to Jesus.  Verse 37 says that when she “learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house” she went to that house.  When she found out where He was she went to Him.  That is the call to all men, to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened”.  In John 12:32 Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself.”  In the Millennial Kingdom Isaiah 2 says all nations will come to Jesus the King of kings in Jerusalem to worship Him and hear Him teach.  The first thing she did was to go to Jesus.

Have you come to Jesus Christ?  Have you turned to Him and come to Him to receive His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life?  You have to come to Him at the cross, where He died for your sins.

Once she arrived – which made everyone uneasy enough – she started to act in a very bizarre way.  Luke says she stood behind Jesus at His feet, weeping so hard that the Lord’s feet were soaked from her tears.  Realizing this she used her own hair to wipe His feet clean, then proceeded to kiss His them, and finally pour the whole jar of perfume on His feet.  If the Pharisee’s conversation had put anyone to sleep they were wide awake now.  People had to be thinking, “What is Jesus going to do?”  “Is Simon going to throw her out?”  “She must be out of her mind!”  No, actually, when you worship the Lord Jesus Christ you are in your right mind.  There is nothing more right for your mind.  It is those who don’t worship Him who are out of their minds.

You might be wondering “How can she be standing behind Jesus and be near His feet?”  Because they didn’t eat dinner the way we do.  We sit in chairs with our feet under a table.  But their tables were low to the ground and rather than sitting, everyone would lie down on their sides/elbows on some comfy rugs.  Everyone’s heads would be near the table while their feet would be extended away.  So when she walked up behind Jesus His feet would be the first thing she encountered.

While everything she did seemed bizarre, it actually wasn’t.  It was customary in that day for a host to do 3 things for their guests when they arrived.

First, have their feet washed since the roads were muddy and dusty and everyone wore sandals.  This was done by the lowest servant in the home.  John the Baptist said he wasn’t worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.  This woman washed Jesus feet.  A person’s worship is only as real as their humility.

Second, a host would pour oil on their guest’s head.  Living in a hot, sticky, sweaty climate body odor is a problem and baths are few and far between.  It was part of hospitality to refresh someone by pouring oil atop their heads to provide a pleasant aroma.

And thirdly, a host greeted his guests with a kiss, a sign of hospitality, the affection of friendship.

The point here is that what she was doing was actually the customary way of receiving a guest in an honorable way, even though how she did it was quite unusual.  To underscore that point notice in the next verse that Simon was not offended by what she was doing.  Rather he was offended that Jesus would let someone like her do it.

Measuring Jesus the Wrong Way (v39)

It was probably Simon, the host of the party, who was most uncomfortable with what this woman was doing.  But, interestingly, he keeps his thoughts to himself.  Of course, our thoughts are never known only to us.  God knows our every thought.  Hebrews 4:12 and 13 say, “The word of God…judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  And so the Holy Spirit inspires Luke to tell us what Simon the Pharisee thought to himself as he watched this woman worship Jesus.  Verse 39, “…”

Notice what Simon is doing:  Simon dismisses the possibility that Jesus is a prophet.  He assumes that Jesus doesn’t know who this woman is.  But Simon is wrong.  Jesus does know who this woman is.  He knows who everyone truly is.

Two things.  First of all, Simon was right, she was a sinner.  But, his implication is that she was a sinner and he was not.  In identifying her as a sinner Simon was not identifying himself with her.  His assessment of her sin was as much an affirmation of his own righteousness.  He could be satisfied that he never had done anything she had a reputation for, and so he thought because he hadn’t committed her sins, he wasn’t a sinner.  He sat comfortably on his moral throne.  Oh, how he was in for a lesson.  There was not only a sinner at Jesus’ feet, but one face to face with Him too.

Application:  Do we think highly of ourselves because we think lowly of others?  Do we think that we’re not sinners, or bad sinners because we always see everyone else as worse than us?  There’s a reason it’s called “Looking down” on people.  It’s because we think we’re higher than them, better than them, looking down at them in their pitifulness while we sit high atop our moral stallion.  If our self-esteem is built upon the condescending criticism of others we have a Pharisee’s kind of pride.  We need to humble ourselves and confess such an attitude as sin.

Secondly, Simon makes the mistake of measuring Jesus with the wrong criteria.  He thought Jesus was like him as a man of God and would never allow such a sinful woman near him.  So since Jesus wasn’t acting like Simon expected Him to act – that is, like himself – he thought Jesus could be written off.

Oh how arrogant, and oh, how common, isn’t it?  How often do we think God is just like us?  How often do people dismiss God because they think they are more moral than He is?  God doesn’t measure up to their moral code so they think they are morally superior to God.  Desmond Tutu, a very liberal Anglican Bishop said he “would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven” and instead choose “the other place.” Or listen to Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists condemn God for genocide in the OT.  Or listen to people smugly judge God as evil for allowing evil in this world.  God is the Judge and all are accountable to Him – yet so many today think that God is accountable to them and that they are God’s judge.  But God says in Psalm 50:21, “You thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.”  God warns in Job 40:8, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

That is a very dangerous thing to do.  We need to be very careful that we do not begin to think that Jesus is supposed to be like us-  rather than us becoming like Him.  We are most susceptible to this when we are ignorant of God’s Word.  The Bible explains who Jesus is.  Unless we are informed by the Scriptures as to Whose image we are supposed to be conforming to, we are left with our own ideas.  Our own ideas.  Our image.  Our made up image of Jesus.  What we think Jesus is like.  Which usually means…. like us.  “You thought I was altogether like you…”  This is a bad place to be and studying the word of God, sitting under sound Biblical preaching is the only way to be Biblically informed, and not end up deformed spiritually.

Simon dismissed Jesus because Jesus was not like him.  He used the wrong criteria to measure Jesus.  He didn’t look at Jesus the right way.  But this was Simon’s problem with everyone.  He saw Jesus the wrong way.  As we’re going to see Simon saw the woman the wrong way.  And clearly, as a smug, self-righteous Pharisee, he saw himself the wrong way too.  Pride distorts your perspective so badly – of everyone else and of yourself.  It makes you see yourself as better than everyone else while seeing everyone else as inferior to you.  Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. But whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Do you allow this kind of pride in your heart?  Certainly none of us are immune from it, but, we must not allow it to have a home in us.  A spirit of pride will cause division, back-biting, grumbling, and snatch our peace away.  We need to pay careful attention to this Pharisee kind of pride in our hearts.  It won’t do for those of us who call on the Lord Jesus Christ – and it doesn’t honor Him.

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