Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sin. Love. Forgiveness.-Lessons from an Examplary Sinner (Luke 7:36-50)

Why do I struggle with the credibility of my faith? Honestly, what is it that makes us right before God? How does sin affect my relationship with Him? These are the types of questions that involuntarily intrude our minds. Our response, must be to hold onto faith and live in the light of the Gospel.

Our passage today shows us how one women holds onto faith in the face of culture's view of her life of sin. Through her radical faith we are able to see how Jesus responds to a sinner who approaches Him in adoration. Let, her story speak into yours.


Let's Begin with Context.....
(reference Luke 7:18-34)

The blind were recovering sight, the lame were walking, the sick were healed and the dead were being raised to life. The work of Jesus had many people talking. People from everywhere came to hear him teach and receive healing from their sicknesses. This grassroots movement, that Jesus called the Kingdom of God, quickly became a threat to all that was in power.

Among these groups were the Pharisees; who throughout Jesus' ministry questioned the "yoke" of Jesus. The yoke of a Rabbi, in Jewish tradition, was the Rabbi's philosophy of faith. Essentially, how they interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures and the Law. Often, we find Jesus exchanging words with the Pharisees. Rather, than seeking confrontation,
 Jesus looks to guide them back to the heart of God.

In reality, this strikes at the core of Jesus' mission; restoring humanity's relationship with the Father. As we explore the Gospel, we will find that this mission was implemented contextually. For instance,  Jesus' plan to restore the heart of a Pharisee looked much differently than a sinful women approaching Him in adoration. Let's dive into our story to see how Jesus looks to restore the Pharisee and the sinful women.

The Exemplary Sinner and the Good Student
(reference Luke 7: 36-50)
After his teaching, Jesus was invited to dine at Simon the Pharisee's house. It was common, at the time, to host a banquet in honor of a famous guest teacher; just after a teaching out in the town or synagogue (Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary, 208). Yet, the story alludes that Simon's invitation was to discern if Jesus was truly a prophet (7:39). Essentially, Simon was looking to answer questions like, "under whose authority was He teaching under? In whose name, were the sick being healed and the dead being raised?" What Simon didn't know is that before dinner's was through Jesus would leave him with even more thought provoking questions to wrestle with.

Word began to spread that a banquet was being held in Jesus' honor. When a women, who had been living a sinful life, heard of this she grabbed her alabaster jar of perfume and went to the  banquet. Traditionally, commentators have called her a prostitute, but the text does not specify. Nor is she Mary Magdalene who is introduced as a new character in (8:1-3). Yet, what we do know is that her reputation precedes her (Bock, IVP New Testament Series, 141). The alabaster jar of perfume carries great significance to our story. From anointing priests for purification to preserving corpses, the perfume was used in Jewish culture for moments of sacredness. We learn from scholars that if the perfume was nard that price (per pound) for such a jar would be worth a year's salary (three hundred denarii).

So, we find the women, a champion of sinners, walking into the banquet to commune with Jesus.

"... as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them (7:38). 

She says nothing, but her actions says a thousands words. One, being scandalous. Scholars, tell us that it was common for spectators to gather around the banquet feast to listen to stimulating discussions led by the famous guest teachers (Bock, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 141). No, spectator would dare to disturb the conversations. Yet, in our story, the women crosses all cultural barriers by standing before Jesus, anointing him with perfume, and kissing his feet in admiration. A blazing expression of appreciation for Jesus' love. The same kind of love that can save a women from living a life of sin. In every way, this was a sacred moment.

Simon was appalled. He, in fact, questions Jesus' role as a prophet of God.

"If this man were a prophet he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-- that she is a sinner (7:39)."

 As we mentioned earlier, Simon welcomes Jesus into his house to investigate if he was a prophet of God. Craig Keener comments, "That the host allowed that Jesus might be a prophet at all suggests great respect, because Jewish people generally believed that prophets ceased after the Old Testament (IVP Bible Background Commentary, 209)." Despite, being threatened by Jesus' rise to power, Simon like every good student was seeking truth. With this in mind, Jesus knows that he must challenge his way of thinking.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (7:41-43)
  Brilliantly, Jesus uses Jewish culture to illustrate the heart of the Gospel. Scholars, tells us that unpaid debt would result in a life of hardship with imprisonment, temporary enslavement or the confiscation of goods (Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary, 209). Comparatively, a life of sin is a life of bondage. Jesus reveals to Simon a remedy. Using a parable, Jesus illustrates two Gospel principles: His authority to forgive sinners and the gratitude of a forgiven sinner.
What follows completely is a paradigm shift for Simon. Jesus points Simon to the women as an exemplary of faith.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (7:44-50)
 From scandalous sinner to exemplary believer, we find the women approaching Jesus in adoration.  Love compels her to express devotion to Jesus. "The strength of her love has caused her to be bold in expressing appreciation to Jesus (Bock, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 142)."   In light of her faith, Jesus extends forgiveness. Remarkably, Jesus shows Simon that no matter how dirty sin maybe, His capacity to forgive has no bounds for a sinner desiring rescue. This is grace. Powerfully, the work of grace releases us to live in light of the Gospel. Jesus, shows us this in His last words to the women, "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace (7-48-50)." 

Even, though their journey of faith looked differently, both the women and Simon were recipients of God's Redemptive love. Redemptive love is given to the women in three ways: 1) Jesus shifts cultures perception of her from dirty sinner to exemplary believer (7:44-47); 2) forgiveness is given in response to her faith (7:48); and 3) a word of assurance is given to live in light of the Gospel (7:50). Where as, Jesus' seeks to restore Simon's understanding of what it means to be a servant of God. Using the women as an example, He shows Simon that faith is not about piety. Rather, faith is about orienting our hearts and minds toward God. Like the women, we are to approach God in adoration.  Essentially, Jesus engages the women in her adoration and Simon in his curiosity. Where do you find yourself?

 Where do we fit into the Story?
 If you follow Jesus, you very well may connect with either Simon the Pharisee or the sinful women. How do you respond to the sin in your life?

Simon's approach to sin/sinners: Like a good student of the Scriptures, Simon very well saw sin as the actions that separates us from God. He would have practiced the Law faithfully. In response, to sin he would of offered sin offerings for the atonement of his sins (Leviticus 4) . But, along the way, he lost sight of how God views sinners. Instead of being a beacon of God's Redemptive love, his heart was stricken with judgment toward sinners (refer 7:39). Simon's distorted view of God's love took him off the path towards God. Jesus points Simon back to the path. Ironically, a women with a bad reputation, is used as an example to authentic faith. Her adoration for Jesus serves as an example to the heart behind a relationship with God.

The women's approach to sin: The women lived a life of sin. Within the religious community, she was shunned. Looking closely, we can see that the weight of this lifestyle was very heavy. We don't know much of the women's story other than how see's viewed in her community and how she engages Jesus in his presence. What's extraordinary about the women is her courage to approach Jesus in adoration. Regardless, of the religious community, the culture around her, and maybe her own shame she approaches Jesus in adoration; knowing if there was anyone who could "free" her of this life of bondage it would be Jesus. Crossing cultural barriers is the risk she takes to get Jesus' attention; to simply express her utter love. Sin, no longer had a hold on her. Faith, in Jesus, saves her; releasing her to live abundantly in light of the Gospel.

Regardless, how we view sin is vital to our relationship with God. Sin, distances us from God; which, is the antithesis of the Gospel. Yet, Jesus shows us in our passage today that His love can not be extinguished. Forgiveness is readily available to those who desire rescue. Jesus, extends forgiveness to the women because of her adoration (7:49). Inductively speaking, we can conclude that loving God is hating what distances us from Him. Remarkably, Jesus says it is the"faith" of the women that "saves" her. This Gospel principle is called "justification by faith." The teaching of this principle is foundational to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament church. Later, we hear from Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, " For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Rom. 3:28)."


Closing Thought

Therefore, we are not to live in shame of our sin. Yet, because of our love for God, we must hate what distances us from Him. An important Gospel truth to cling to is that we are made right before God by being people of faith. We are to adore Jesus out of gratitude of the cross. Remembering, that it was at the cross that He took on the cost of our sins upon Himself. And, in light of the resurrection we have a new identity. No longer, do we have to live with the shame of sin. In Christ, we are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light 1 Peter 2:9)."

In the words of Jesus: "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace." 



Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Way of Discipleship: Shaping Culture with the Gospel

I have come to realize that it is easy to get lost in the world around us. From technology to the chase for success, we tend to "lose ourselves" in OUR selfishness. We battle distractions. Instead of imaging God in the world, we image our culture. This is not a part of God's purpose for us. Rather, we are to shape culture by extending God's Redemptive love. Shaping culture for the Gospel means a commitment to be a servant of God and to love others. This is the call to living generously; spending yourself for the Kingdom.
Jesus demonstrates "this way" throughout the Gospels. He shows us that a true servant of God orients their heart and mind to the Father. As we read the Gospels, we see Jesus' sensitivity to those who were in need of Redemptive love. Essentially, Jesus' compassion came from a nearness to the Father and the Spirit. Let's begin to explore this life by studying Jesus in Luke 7:11-17.


Early in Jesus' ministry, he traveled through a town called Nain. As he approached the town there was a funeral procession developing; for it was the custom for people to abandon their activities to join in the procession (Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary, pg. 207). Commentator Darrell L. Bock says that the young man most likely died earlier that day, since Jewish tradition encouraged a quick burial in order to avoid ceremonial uncleanliness (IVP Commentary Series: Luke, pg. 134.) Through the large crowd Jesus notices a widow crying; the mother of the young man being carried out for burial. Jesus is "moved with compassion (NAS)." The NIV says, "his heart went out to her."

What was going on in Jesus' heart in this moment? What was he thinking? Essentially, we are left to wrestle with these questions together; leaning on what Scripture and history tells us. Scholars, tell us that within the Jewish culture, widows depended on the men of their family to support them. Without a male presence in her life this widow would have had to depend on the government. At the time, Rome was in power oppressing those living under it's rule. With the loss of her only son, the women's future may have not looked so promising. Knowing this, Jesus' heart breaks for her and is compelled to respond.

"Don't cry," are the words that he whispers; comforting her in her mourning. These words echo of his great Sermon of the Mount; "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). In a moment, of deepest pain and desperation, Jesus extends compassion to the widow. He makes his way to the coffin, reaches for the young man and says "Young man, I say to you, get up!" Immediately, the young man sits up and begins talking. Then, "Jesus gave him back to his mother. (7:15)."

 From the life of her son to a life of comfort, all was restored. In this moment, Jesus shows us that God's Redemptive love holistically (Spiritually, Emotionally, Physically) restores. In response to Jesus' example, how can we actively offer God's Redemptive love to the world around us? Here are a couple things to consider:

  • Nearness to God- Jesus was connected with the Father. The mission of the Father was always seen in him. Yet, as we see in the Gospels, Jesus intentionally spent time with the Father to fill him with the strength and vision to live on mission. Jesus' nearness to the Father/Spirit gave him a sensitivity to the world around him. We prepare ourselves to engage the world by drawing near to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Awareness of the Hurting-We make ourselves aware to those who are hurting by shifting our minds on the Gospel. Practicing preaching the Gospel to yourself throughout the day really shifts your mind on Jesus. When you become aware of someone hurting pray and consider how God wants to bring holistic restoration in their lives.  
  • Display Redemptive love- In our passage today, Jesus knew the brokenness of the women because he observed the women in her mourning. Then he responded by giving back her son; not only restoring his life, but her comfort of living. Like Jesus, prayerfully respond to the hurting with compassion. 
The end of the passage shows us how the crowds respond to Jesus' act of compassion. They saw this miracle not as an act of Jesus' divinity, but rather his role as a prophet of God. The crowd would of recognized Jesus as prophet, because of what they knew of the miracles of  Elijah (Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-37). What separates Jesus from Elijah and Elisha was his authority. The crowds proclaimed, “God has come to help his people (7:16).” Seeing Jesus as prophet was not wrong; but merely incomplete (Block, IVP Commentary Series: Luke, 134,136). What they did not realize is that he was God; coming to diminish the chasm (sin) that separated us from Him.  The proclamation of this truth became the mission of the disciples after the resurrection. We too share in this mission; living to share and display the gravity of the Gospel to the hurting.

James 1:27

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Final Thought

As we follow the way of Jesus, may we remember that it is our nearness to God that empowers us to shape culture rather than reflect it. Daily, as we go out into the world, let the Gospel be in the forefront of our minds. It will be it's truth that will release us into an abundant life; abandoning our ways to serve God and love others. Remembering, that God's love is holistically redemptive. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Way of Discipleship: a vision to be a person of generosity.

Live generously. This is the life we are called into; a journey we take once we step into being a disciple of Jesus. Being generous is often attributed to giving to others who are in need. Jesus calls us not to merely act generously, but to be generous.  Our identity is in Christ; who sacrificially gave his life for our rescue. From the incarnation to the resurrection, we see in Jesus a life that was devoted to restoring communion between God and humanity. We learn from the Gospels that Jesus creates a beautiful picturesque of God's love. By healing the sick, eating with sinners, forgiving the condemned, and dying on Calvary we see  in Jesus a love that is set apart from this world. It generously extends grace rather than condemnation, forgiveness rather than accusation; and mercy rather than uncompassion. With this in mind, we follow Jesus by offering grace, forgiveness and mercy to those around us. This generosity shows our obedience to God and our devotion to the Gospel.

Practically, what does it look like to be a person of generosity? What is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus?  These are the kind of questions that people of faith have been asking for generations. We learn that Jesus addresses these questions  throughout the life of his ministry. With the Scriptures at our fingertips, we are able to investigate Jesus as he develops his disciples to be the leaders of the Church.  By surveying the Gospels we can begin to answer these questions. The hope is we can come to a fuller understanding of what it means to be like Jesus; living selflessly, out of our love for the Father, for the sake of the Gospel, through the power of the Spirit.

The premise of this blog is the journey to pursue an understanding of  this hope. I invite you to journey along. Together we can follow in the footsteps of Jesus;  living generously in order that the world can see God.