Radical Forgiveness – Give It!

The Radical Forgiveness Series
  • Forgiveness can be a difficult subject for many of us. We can find it hard to forgive others for things they have done to us. When it comes to our own past mistakes and failures, we can find it hard to forgive ourselves or to grasp that God forgives us completely. It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said His followers would actually live, and what their new counter-cultural lifestyle would actually look like. We hope that this Series helps you engage and live in freedom as we take a look at what the Bible has to say about radical forgiveness.
2. Radical Forgiveness – Give It! (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Once we have been forgiven by God, our responsibility is to forgive others as well.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • Jesus reaches out to everyone – the unrighteous, the righteous and the self-righteous – with the gospel. (Luke 7:40-46, 47 & 48)
  • Those who receive God's forgiveness can give love and forgiveness back out. (Luke 7:38, 48 & 50)
  • A hard heart that rejects Jesus can neither receive nor give forgiveness. (Luke 7:44-47)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • How is Jesus' offer of the gospel of grace non-discriminatory?
  • How is it possible for one who has received God's forgiveness to give love and forgiveness back out?
  • What is the outcome for one who rejects Jesus' message of grace?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why did Simon invite Jesus to his house for a dinner event? (read Luke 7:28-35 for the background)
  • Who was the “woman of the city” who came to Simon's house? What was her reputation?
  • Why did Simon consider this woman to be a “sinner?”
  • What did Simon think about himself in contrast to what he thought about the woman?
  • Why did the woman come to the party?
  • Describe how the woman honored Jesus.
  • Describe how Simon dishonored Jesus.
  • What happens to the debt one has if it is forgiven?
  • Did the two debtors deserve to be forgiven their debts? Why did the moneylender forgive the debts?
  • What is the meaning of verse 47 and how does it relate to the woman? To Simon?
  • How did Jesus treat the woman? How did He treat Simon?
  • What is the answer to the question Simon's guests asked in verse 49?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What is an appropriate response to Jesus for having been saved by Him?
  • How might your response to Jesus be like that of the woman in the story?
  • What is so noteworthy about how Jesus interacted with both the woman and Simon? What does that mean to you?
  • What does it mean to you to be forgiven by God for your sins? How does being forgiven transform you?
  • Do you realize the extent of your sin and sins? Can Jesus forgive all of your sins? And what does it mean for you in your life that He can forgive all your sins?
  • What place does faith play in obtaining forgiveness of sin from God?
  • Once forgiven, how should you act towards others?
  • Can you love and forgive much?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
We saw in the prior Notes that forgiveness is all about sin, that forgiveness removes sin, sets free, and restores relationships. And we saw that forgiveness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection; Jesus' death paid the price of your and my sin and provided the way back to God. So, “getting” forgiveness requires a realization of one's sin, a turning away from that sin, and a turning toward Jesus to accept His gift of forgiveness. Once forgiven from sin, what is one to do? And how is one to live? These Notes deal with the first of these two questions, and the next Notes in the Series will deal with the second question.

In Luke 7, verses 36-50, we have a scene in Jesus' life that provides us with a picture of transformation, and of what one is to able to do once having been forgiven. The backdrop to the scene is that Jesus has been ministering in the region of Galilee, preaching and sharing the gospel message; and while doing so, He has performed many miracles including physical healings, casting out unclean spirits, and even raising a young man from the dead (Luke 7:11-15). Needless to say, the word about Jesus spread over the entire region. Even as these things were happening, the Jewish religious authorities, and particularly the group known as the Pharisees, did not accept or listen to Jesus, but in fact determined that He was a blasphemer (Luke 5:21), that He mingled and spent time with sinners who should be avoided by the righteous (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30), that He violated the Jewish laws (Mark 2:24; 3:1-6; Luke 6:2, 7), and that He was a threat who must be dealt with (Mark 3:6; Luke 6:11; 11:53 & 54).

The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism that stood for strict observance of the Mosaic law, but also of the interpretations and applications of that law as determined by the oral traditions from the past and their own study and statements. The Pharisees were, in a word, legalists, and were so to such an extent that they would not be seen with, touch or mingle with sinners if doing so could be avoided. They were thus “separatists” in the sense that they desired to be separated from uncleanness and unrighteousness, and from anything that was not in conformity to God's laws. However, in seeking these things, the Pharisees, of which there were perhaps several thousand in Jesus' day, became self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental and ritualistic, even while they considered themselves to be spiritually correct and close to God and with a corner on His favor. Despite their self-righteousness, the Pharisees had a tremendous impact and influence on the masses who, though they often felt trapped by the rigidity of the Pharisaical approach, saw them as the protectors of Judaism.

Here then was this Jesus who was being hailed by the masses for His message and His miracles, and being called “a great prophet” in whose person God had “visited his people.” (Luke 7:17) Needless to say, such thinking was an anathema to the Pharisees, as this so-called “great prophet” did not adhere to their views, did not submit His teaching to them (Matthew 7:28 & 29), and was thus seen as a threat to them (Mark 11:27-33. Note that the Pharisees had similarly rejected John the Baptist and his message as well. Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 7:29 & 30, 33). Somewhere in Galilee during His itinerant ministry (Luke does not tell us where), a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house for dinner (Luke 7:36). Having dinner guests was not an unusual happening in that day, and a visiting rabbi was often invited so his teachings could be discussed over a common meal. And it was also a common practice for the doors of the home to be opened to the outside during the dinner, or for the dinner to be held in the outside patio, so that the public could “listen in” on the conversations; such dinner parties were thus a kind of public entertainment and an information source for the community, especially when a guest of some renown was the focus of the dinner. This was what happened in Simon the Pharisee's home on this occasion (see Luke 7:40 where we learn his name). But did Simon invite Jesus to dinner because he was a friend of Jesus? No. In fact, Simon invited Jesus for dinner to interrogate Him and secure evidence that could be used by the Pharisees against Jesus. One commentator termed the dinner party as an “investigation under the pretense of hospitality.”

Once at Simon's home, Jesus “took his place at the table.” (Luke 7:36) In Jesus' day, people typically ate dinner essentially lying down, leaning on their left elbows with their feet outward from the table. Furthermore, at a dinner party, guests were often placed by the host at the table (which would have been a low table as the guests were reclining) in such a way as to reflect the relative social status levels of the guests, and the customs of the day. (Compare Luke 14:1-11) Thus, for example, a Pharisee would not invite any “sinners” to dinner as he would not want to be with or be seen with such a person. But those actually invited would be seated in accordance with their level of standing and importance as viewed by the host. As the supposed “honored” guest, Jesus would have been given an important place at the table, but really only so that He could be observed easily and Simon and his friends could easily engage in conversation with Jesus.

So Jesus came and was seated, and the dinner party unfolded. Apparently, the holding of the dinner party was common knowledge in the community. The text does not tell us how this happened, but we can surmise that word may have been let out through Simon so as to bring attention to himself as an important leader in his community; in other words, his was a status play as much as a political play. In any case, we know the word got around about this dinner party because “a woman of the city” learned of it and came to the event (Luke 7:37). Who was this woman? The phrase “a woman of the city” suggests that she was a prostitute. Simon knew her and knew her reputation (Luke 7:39). She was a “sinner” and not invited, but she nevertheless came to see and hear Jesus. Based on what she did when she got to the event, it is clear that she had encountered Jesus' message and believed in Him; that she had been transformed from the inside out, and forgiven. So when she heard that Jesus was going to be at Simon's house, she saw an opportunity to come and be near her Savior. Her plan included getting close enough to Jesus to anoint His head with expensive perfume (referred to as an “alabaster flask of ointment” in Luke 7:37). This perfume was expensive as it was in the alabaster container which archeologists tell us were made in and imported from Egypt, the alabaster being a kind of marble. When she got to Simon's house, the woman came into the room where the dinner party was being held and instead of standing in the background, came up to where Jesus' feet were extending from the table, waiting for an opportunity to do what she came to do. Why did she want to anoint Jesus? As already noted, it was because she had been transformed; she had been changed by His message of love and forgiveness, and she wanted to honor Him with this act of worship. But she wasn't able to carry out her objective as she couldn't reach Him. As she stood there silently, she was weeping out of love for Him, and out of the wonderful and deep emotions of having been saved by grace. She couldn't help herself, and her tears were many (the Greek word indicates a “flood” of tears), and in sufficient amount that, not being able to anoint his head, she used her tears to wash Jesus' feet which were dirty from the walk to Simon's house. (Luke 7:38) As we learn later, Jesus' feet were still dirty because they had not been cleaned by His host or his servants (Luke 7:44). This woman, then, this “sinner,” used her tears to wash His feet; and having no towel, she then used her hair to dry off Jesus' feet. Jewish ladies were expected to wear their hair up as letting their hair down in public was a sign of moral looseness. Some rabbis even said doing so was grounds for divorce. So when this woman let her hair down, things went from bad to worse in terms of the social customs and perceptions of the day.

Picture the scene, then: a local prostitute, having insinuated herself into the dinner party of a prominent local Pharisee, was using her tears to wash the feet of a “famous” guest (her Savior!), and was drying His feet with her loosened hair. What a disgrace! And then to top it off, she kissed Jesus' feet and anointed them with her expensive perfume. (Luke 7:38) All the while, Jesus did not object in any degree whatsoever! Simon was shocked; and though he said not a word, his thoughts burned in his mind: “This travesty proves Jesus is no prophet, or He would have known this woman was a sinner and He wouldn't even have let her touch Him.” (Luke 7:39 – my paraphrase) One wonders what was the look on Simon's face as these things were happening, at his own home nonetheless! What was this woman, this sinner, doing. She had no place in his home, or in God's kingdom for that matter. God certainly had no place for her and her unrighteousness, much less forgiveness for her.

Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and, with a heart to minister to Simon as a lost sheep, spoke directly to him (Luke 7:40), and proceeded to lay out the story of two individuals who owed large amounts of money to a moneylender. One debtor owed the equivalent of about a year and a half of wages, and the other owed close to two month's wages. Neither could pay off their debt. But the moneylender cancelled the debts of both (Luke 7:41 & 42). After telling the story, Jesus asked Simon which one of the debtors would love the moneylender more? (Luke 7:42). Simon answered in what seemed to be in a hesitating way, perhaps not wanting to give what would be perceived as a wrong answer. Or just as likely, he spoke sarcastically, as to him the answer was obvious. In any case, he said it was likely the debtor who had owed more, to which Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:43) Did Simon feel relieved that he had answered rightly? If he did, that feeling did not last for long as Jesus turned to the woman and proceeded to indict Simon for his behavior and his unforgiving heart. First, Jesus pointedly said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44) Well of course Simon had seen her, and Jesus knew what Simon thought about her. But Jesus also knew that Simon did not, and indeed because of his unrepentant heart, could not “see” the real woman, the one who had been forgiven and invited into God’s kingdom, the one who was now able to worship and extend love. Jesus then proceeded to remind Simon that he had been a rude, disrespectful, and insulting host to Jesus. In fact, Simon had violated the norms of near eastern hospitality in three ways: he had not washed Jesus’ feet or provided the means for Jesus to do so; he had not greeting Jesus with a welcome kiss; and he had not anointed his head with oil. (Luke 7:44-46) And Jesus contrasted Simon's inaction and hardness with the woman's action, as she had extended all three standard courtesies to Jesus, though she was not obligated to do so. She had washed His feet with her tears, cleaned them with her hair, kissed His feet, and anointed His feet with perfume. (Luke 7:44-46).

The lesson for Simon, and for us, in the woman's acts had to do with forgiveness, and Simon was about to learn the lesson. After his indictment of Simon, Jesus told Simon that the woman's sins were forgiven, and that her actions of great love flowed from her being forgiven. On the other hand, Jesus said, the one who is forgiven little loves little. Jesus' point to Simon was that he had extended no love to Jesus or to the woman; he could neither “get” forgiveness nor “give” forgiveness even though he thought he was a forgiven one because of his being a staunch and committed Pharisee and a student of the Law and traditions. Simon had not received forgiveness by faith in Jesus because he had rejected Him; but the woman had received forgiveness, as Jesus confirmed by saying to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48) By saying that, Jesus was not forgiving her at that moment for what she had done; she had not “earned” forgiveness. Rather, Jesus was confirming that she was already forgiven and that such forgiveness continued in the present and into the future (the Greek verb tense used in the text means such). In short, the woman was “at peace” with God, and in her forgiveness she was enabled to reach out not only to Jesus in love, but to others, and to give forgiveness back out. Simon was not in that state; he was lost, self-righteous, judgmental, and unforgiving; and he refused to “see” that God in the Person of Jesus Christ was right in front of him, eating at his table. Simon had not invited Jesus into his heart, and was not forgiven as he refused to put his trust and faith in Jesus as the woman did. Moreover, Simon didn't even join in the question asked by the others at the table: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49) The answer should have been obvious to Simon, the expert in the Scriptures, as well as to the others at the table. And the answer was that only God forgives sins, and therefore, that Jesus was God Himself, the long awaited Messiah who came to save! Still focusing on the woman, Jesus again confirmed her state by telling her that her faith has saved her, and to go in peace. (Luke 7:50) The implied message to Simon and the others was that they, too, could be saved if they would put their faith in Jesus and be freed to love and to forgive and to give to others out of the abundance of their hearts … just like the woman whom Simon viewed as an outcast, unredeemable sinner. She was anything but that! Instead, she was now a welcomed child of the King, redeemed and forgiven. Forgiveness … she got it and now she could give it!
So forgiveness does more than free us from our sin. Forgiveness frees us to be able to give out love and forgiveness to others, and to love God with all our hearts. As my friend, John Fischer, author and writer of “The Catch,” wrote in the August 15 installment of The Catch,

We've been forgiven, so we forgive.
We've been loved, so we love.
We've been freely accepted, so we accept others freely.
We've been given mercy, so we are merciful.
We have escaped judgment, so we do not judge.
We've been welcomed in, so we welcome all.
The door was opened to us, so we left it open for others.
We are different people from what we were;
We are the embodiment of Grace Turned Outward.

Those words surely seem a description of the woman who came to Simon's house that day. If you accept Jesus' offer of forgiveness by repenting and believing in His death in place of yours, you will be transformed just like that woman. And that transformation will enable you, it will empower you, and it will compel you to give love and forgiveness back out in response to what Jesus has done for you, just as John Fischer's words above portray. That is true freedom, and that is what that woman had gained in her life. On the other hand, Simon remained in bondage to his sin, unwilling to see and hear Jesus or confess his own unrighteous heart. Because he could not accept Jesus, Simon could not accept the woman much less forgive her. Do you want to be like the woman in this story? Do you want to be enabled, empowered and compelled to love and forgive? You can be if you will give your heart to Jesus and allow His forgiveness to pour in and transform you. If you haven't taken that step of faith, do it today; don't wait another minute. Then turn grace outward!