Whenever I'm downtown, I like to go to Yorkville and take a look at some of the trendy shops that they have there. I'm often amazed by how much some of the items cost. That's why I go to look. I've never bought anything there yet, but I've sure gone away with my jaw pretty close to the ground.
I've learned a couple of principals that have come in really handy in my shopping life. First, if the owners insist on calling it a boutique instead of a store, I can't afford it. I'm just not a boutique sort of person. I can look, but I sure won't be buying. It's probably best for me to stay away from boutiques.
The other lesson I've learned is that there are two types of people in this world. There are the Costco people, and then there are the Holt Renfrew people. There are the people that shop at Eddie Bauer, and then there are the people that shop at Eddie Biway. If you're the first type, don't even bother shopping at the other kind of store. You'll just end up frustrating yourself. It really doesn't even matter how much money you have - you just need to stick to your kind of store. Or boutique. Whichever one you fancy.
It occurred to me this week that the same is true when it comes to God. You've got what I'll call your religiously upscale people. You know what I mean. They have it all together. They're holy. You can almost see the halo around their heads. This past week, I had my ducts cleaned at home. The guy comes out midway through the job and says, "Excuse me, are you a minister?" I said, "How can you tell that from cleaning my ducts?" He said, "It's amazing what you can find out about someone by cleaning their ducts." He then went on to say, "In some houses, there's just a sense of calm. You can tell that there's a peace there." I told him, "That's not because I'm a minister. That sense of peace and calm is because the kids are playing outside." Do you know this sort of person? People suppose that there is just a sense of calm and order and peace and tranquility about them. Let's call these the religiously upscale people.
Then you've got what we'll call the religious bargain hunters. They shop at the churches where you have to bag your own stuff, or at least pay five cents a bag. You know what I mean. There are some people that look like they don't belong in a church. They don't really mix well with the religiously upscale.
The thing is, sometimes these religious bargain hunters feel guilty. They feel like the religiously upscale are looking down on them. You get the sense that they know that they've messed up and that they need forgiveness, but there's no way that they're going to go to where the upscale religious people go. If they do, they'll just end up broken, beat-up, and burnt-out. They don't belong. They just don't have it all together.
Today we're going to look at one of these people. We've been looking at the Bible at some of the reasons why people came to Jesus. Today we're going to look at a story of a woman in the Bible who was radically changed by Jesus Christ. She didn't really belong. But her story is an important one, because Jesus reached past the categories that divide the two groups of people. Jesus eliminated the false categories and saw a heart that needs Jesus. She offers hope to me, because I believe Jesus doesn't care whether we look like we belong in church or not. Jesus wants to reach out to us anyway.
This is an important story for us to hear, because in reality, we're all in the same boat. As we'll see in the story, we may look very different. But we all have the same need. We all have the same problems. We all feel a sense of shame, we all carry a sense of guilt, and we all lack the power to change. This story teaches us that Jesus can erase our shame, eliminate our guilt, and empower us to change.
The story is found in Luke 7, beginning in verse 36. I want to give you a bit of background to the story. The story's set in the house of a man named Simon, who is called a Pharisee. Pharisees were a group of people in that day who were very strict religious people. They voluntarily agreed to a lifestyle of prayer, purity, Sabbath observance, and tithing. They were very zealous and very religious people. Now, in that day, it considered meritorious to invite a visiting rabbi over for dinner. People thought that it would get them more points with God. So Simon invited the visiting rabbi over, whose name was Jesus.
It sounds kind of strange to us know, but dinner in a prominent house in that day could be somewhat of a public affair. Needy people were allowed to visit the house and to sit around the walls for two reasons. When the guests were done dinner, then the needy people could eat the leftovers. But there was another reason. While the guests were eating dinner, the needy people could hear the conversation and benefit from what was said. This was especially important when somebody important was over - somebody like Jesus.
What can this story teach us about Jesus? No matter who you are, in what category you place yourself in, Jesus can meet your three deepest needs...
1. JESUS CAN ERASE YOUR SHAME
That's the first thing Jesus can do for you. Jesus can erase your shame. Imagine this scene. The room is full of all these people. Jesus is reclining on a couch, with his feet out behind him. People in that room begin to hear quiet sobbing, and they look to the back of the room and see a woman - but not just any woman. We don't know what she had done, but she's identified as a sinner. Some people think she might have been a prostitute. We don't know for sure, but we do know that she's somebody with a reputation. She was somebody that wouldn't have been received too well at this Pharisee's house. It took incredible courage for her to be there.
But then this woman does something shocking. She breaks open this beautiful jar filled with perfume, kneels behind Jesus, anoints his feet, and wipes them off with her hair. She's just broken two taboos that they had in those days. Rule one: women don't let down their hair in public. Rule two: women don't touch men in public. She's taken an incredible risk by even appearing in the Pharisee's house, and now she's breaking all sorts of taboos and drawing attention to herself.
How would you have felt if you were this woman? What would you have been thinking as everyone turned around and stared? You'd probably feel fearful, a little anxious. You'd wonder whether you were about to get kicked out of the house or not. I'd be scared that somebody was going to get up and tell Jesus all the things that I had done.
The host, in fact, was thinking pretty negative thoughts about this woman. He thought, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him" (Luke 7:39 The Message). But Jesus then told a story that completely erased her shame. Jesus wanted to erase her shame, to put her at ease, to let the Pharisee know that he needed forgiveness just like she did. When we come to Jesus, Jesus wants to erase our shame.
The story is of a man who loaned money to two people. He loaned one man 500 pieces of silver. A piece of silver was worth about one day's work, so this would amount to tens of thousands of dollars. To the other man, he loaned fifty pieces of silver. This would amount to a few thousand dollars. Neither of the people were able to repay him. At this point, the man who was owed the money had many options. He could have had both of them placed in prison. But he didn't do this. Jesus said, "He kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts." Then Jesus asks the clincher question: "Who do you suppose loved him more after that?" (Luke 7:42)
The answer's obvious. The more you're forgiven, the more you're grateful. But I love the way the Pharisee responded: "I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt" (Luke 7:43). I love the "I suppose" part. Talk about a reluctant answer. Jesus replied, "That's right," and he then did something beautiful.
In front of all the guests, Jesus turned to this woman who was on display and eased her shame. The reality is, Jesus said, Simon and the woman weren't that different. Both needed forgiveness. If you carry the parable over and apply it to them, both were in a debt that they couldn't repay. Sure, the woman owed more, but both owed something.
But there was an important difference. Simon refused to wash Jesus' feet. That would be like forgetting to take someone's coat when they came to visit your house. It was common courtesy. But the woman washed Jesus' feet with her hair and with her tears - what someone has called heart water. Simon maybe felt that he was too good to offer Jesus hospitality, but the woman didn't. The woman was so full of gratitude that she couldn't help but express it to God.
Simon refused to give Jesus a kiss of greeting. That would be like refusing to shake someone's hand. But the woman kissed Jesus' feet again and again. She couldn't help but express her love for Jesus. Her love came because she had heard what Jesus taught, and believed what she had said.
Simon refused to anoint Jesus with inexpensive olive oil on his head, as was the custom when you received guests. But the woman anointed Jesus with costly perfume. She went to great expense to honor Jesus.
Jesus looked at Simon, who was a professional religious person. When people asked him what he did for a living, he could say, "I'm religious. I'm full-time. I spend all my time being good." And Jesus looked at this woman, who was known as a sinner. In effect, Jesus said, "Don't put her to shame. It's not about shame." Jesus looks at us, no matter what we've done, and no matter how unworthy we feel next to other people. Jesus wants to ease our shame.
This is so important that I want to lift some principles from what Jesus did. JESUS CAN LOOK PAST MY PAST. There's nothing that you've done in the past that could possibly make Jesus reject you. There's stuff in my past that I'm ashamed of. But it doesn't seem to matter to Jesus. There's probably stuff in your past that you're ashamed of too, but Jesus can look past your mistakes. He can look past your shame. He didn't come to point his finger at you. He came to love you, to embrace you, to receive you.
JESUS CAN LOOK PAST MY SITUATION. This woman had nothing going for her. She had a reputation. He was a woman in a culture that looked down on women. She wasn't even supposed to be there. It's like a lot of us feel. We feel like we're trapped in impossible situations - impossible relationships and impossible jobs. But Jesus looked past that. Jesus looked past the fact that she really shouldn't have touched him, really shouldn't have let her hair down. Jesus looked past the fact that she wasn't the one throwing the party. Jesus can look past your situation too.
JESUS CAN LOOK PAST MY RELIGION. Simon was religious to an extreme. He would have fit in any synagogue. He would be like the guy in church who's never missed a Sunday since his mother took him home from the hospital. She would be like one of my friends who showed up at church in a T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes under one sleeve and a case of beer in the car. Jesus looked at both of them: a religious nut and somebody who had never darkened the door of a church. It didn't seem to matter. Jesus can look past my religion. He can ease my shame.
When you come to Jesus, the first thing that Jesus will do for you is to take away any fears that you have in approaching him. His invitation isn't conditional on how well you measure up, and how many good things that you've done. His invitation is for you no matter how much you've messed up, and no matter what you've done.
I didn't know this until last week, but the event right before this happened was when Jesus issued an invitation to follow him. That invitation is found in Matthew 11:28-30. Let me read those words to you:
Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
In all probability, there was a woman in that crowd who was carrying heavy burdens, who needed rest. She was carrying a load of shame, and she came to Jesus. Jesus took away her shame.
If you're not ashamed over some things that you've done, you're just not thinking hard enough. We all have reason to be ashamed. Jesus sees that, but he looks beyond our shame. That's the first need that Jesus can meet. He can erase your shame.
There's a second need that Jesus can meet in your life:
2. JESUS CAN ELIMINATE YOUR GUILT
Notice the next thing that Jesus said to this woman. He said in verse 48, "Your sins are forgiven." This would have been incredibly shocking for the Pharisee to hear. Only God can forgive sins. He didn't realize that Jesus is God. But Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven." And then he said the words take on a whole new meaning when God has forgiven you: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).
Everyone in the world needs to hear those four words: "Your sins are forgiven." Why? We've all blown it. There's not a person in the world who doesn't need to be forgiven. A lot of us spend our time paralyzed by guilt. We feel overwhelmed because we've let God down, and we've let others down. We feel terrible because of the mistakes we've made. We've all messed up. We've all made mistakes. None of us is perfect. We don't measure up to our own standards, never mind God's. So we all need forgiveness.
Guilt is an incredibly paralyzing emotion. Probably the worst one of all. It paralyzes you. It robs you of your energy, your strength, your joy. It destroys relationships. No telling how many marriages have been destroyed by guilt or guilt manipulation.
And it harms your body. Our bodies weren't meant to carry a load of guilt. Studies have shown that fifty percent of the people in hospital beds right now are there because of a stress related illness primarily for unresolved guilt or anger. I'm not saying that all suffering is caused by guilt. It is not. But a lot of it is.
The amazing thing is that God can look at you, no matter what you've done, and say, "It's not a problem. It's been forgiven. Don't even think about it. Go in peace." Jesus can eliminate my guilt and forgive me today.
I did a bit of research into the words that Jesus used. When he said, "Your sins are forgiven," he used the perfect tense. That means that her forgiveness was an accomplished fact. It wasn't conditional; it wasn't in process; it's been done. It would be like saying, "Your debts have been cancelled. You owe nothing." That's what it's all about. It's just like a banker walking up to us when we can't pay our mortgage and rather than foreclosing, he writes of the debt. It's cancelled. We owe nothing.
The Bible is very clear that...
1. Jesus forgives you instantly
Jesus is quick to forgive. He doesn't sulk first or give you the silent treatment. He doesn't let you suffer a while. That's the way that you and I forgive, but it's not the way that Jesus forgives. Jesus doesn't delay. He doesn't have to think about it. The moment you ask for forgiveness, he answers. What a deal!
2. Jesus forgives you completely
Completely. That means every sin that you ever commit in your life - past, present, and future. Colossians 2:13-14 says, "He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." When Jesus was nailed to the cross, your sins were nailed to the cross as well. It's forgiven. It's instantaneous and it's complete.
We sang a song the other week. It's a song that goes, "My sins, oh the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more - Praise the Lord, pra ise the Lord, oh my soul." It's an amazing thought. Jesus doesn't forgive us partially. It's not like he says, "I'll forgive you this much, but you're on your own for the rest." When Jesus forgives us, he forgives us completely.
When God wipes out a sin, he doesn't just forgives it, but he wipes it out. The verse we just read said, "He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it." Psalm 103:12 says, "He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west." You may not have forgiven yourself, and others might not have forgiven you, but God has. He's forgiven you completely.
3. Jesus forgives you freely
You'll never be able to earn it. You'll never be able to deserve it. It's a gift from God. It's free. You'd never be able to get it any other way, but you can get it for free - just for asking.
Listen to Romans 3:22: "We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done." I love that verse. How can we receive this forgiveness? It's not anything that we do. It's simply "when to trust in Jesus to take away our sins." It doesn't matter how good or bad you've been. It's only about whether you've received his free gift of forgiveness.
It doesn't matter whether you were extremely wicked, or conventionally good. It doesn't matter whether you're a church-going religious person or a person with a reputation you'd love to live down. You need forgiveness, and Jesus can provide this forgiveness to you - instantly, completely, and freely. He doesn't minimize your guilt. He eliminates it.
You do not have to live with your guilt. Even if there were no such thing as heaven it would be worth becoming a Christian just to have a clear conscience. Because He forgives completely, and instantly, and freely.
When you really grasp that one of the ways he changes you is that he sets you free from guilt, there is only one logical, rational response. To understanding that God's forgiveness is complete, free and instant, there's only one logical response. Utter amazement! Utter amazement and gratitude that God would love you that much.
When I think about myself, knowing me as I do and knowing my past, I'm amazed that God would love and forgive a heart like mine. If you come to Jesus Christ honestly and say, "I don't want to stay the same anymore. I want to be a different person. I want to change," he will first erase your shame. He will, second, eliminate your guilt. But Jesus can also meet another one of your needs...
3. JESUS CAN ENABLE YOU TO CHANGE
If you've ever tried to change by yourself, you know it's impossible. I don't know how many times I've tried to be more loving, more patient, more gracious. I've got a whole list of qualities that I want fixed, but it seems hopeless. It's like what Paul wrote in Romans 7: "I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate...When I want to do good, I don't. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway" (Romans 7:15, 19). We try and we try, but it seems impossible to change. At times it feels like it's time to give up.
But it's not impossible with God. God can change you from the inside out. Everything about you can be different. That's the story of what Jesus does. It's all about changed lives. Jesus takes people who are in hopeless situations, people who are discouraged and weighed down with guilt, and he changes them. Not just cosmetic change. It's not a little tinkering here and there. Jesus can change your heart. He can change the very core of who you are.
Imagine you have an old wreck for a car. The doors are fallen off. The transmission's shot. The muffler is broken. It takes you ten minutes to start. Imagine I gave you a choice: we can fix up that old beater. We can replace the muffler. We can fix the doors. We can put in a new transmission. You'll have a fixed-up old beater - but it'll still be an old beater. Or I can give you a new car - never driven, fully loaded, with the odometer at zero. Jesus doesn't fix us up. He makes us new. Jesus can enable us to be completely new people.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that we have to get our act together before we come to Jesus. But you don't have to change before you come to Jesus. This woman didn't. She believed, and then Jesus changed her. She wasn't forgiven because she changed; she changed because she was forgiven. A clean-up of life comes after forgiveness. All you have to do is to come to Jesus today - just as you are - and he can completely transform you from the inside out. He can erase your shame. He can eliminate your guilt. He can give you a fresh heart and a fresh start.
The world doesn't operate that way. You can't get a loan unless you don't need it. You can't get a job unless you have experience, but you can't get the experience unless you have a job. But God doesn't operate that way. The people who get forgiveness are the ones who need it. It's why Jesus came. It's what Jesus wants to do for you.
Ezekiel 11:19-20 says, "I'll give you a new heart. I'll put a new spirit in you. I'll cut out your stone heart and replace it with a red-blooded, firm-muscled heart. Then you'll obey my statutes and be careful to obey my commands. You'll be my people! I'll be your God!" (The Message)
The Bible says, "Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I don't care if you're a religiously upscale person, or a religious bargain-hunter. I don't care if you've got it all together, or if you feel that your life is almost falling apart. You need to have Jesus meet your three deepest needs. Jesus can erase your shame. He can eliminate your guilt. He can empower you to change. All you have to do is ask. You can be forgiven today.
I want to ask you a question. What shame are you carrying? What are you so ashamed of that you don't want anyone else to know? Maybe it's even public knowledge. Maybe you're ashamed because everybody does know. Jesus can erase that shame. You don't have to be ashamed anymore.
What guilt are you carrying? Jesus came to carry that guilt. He came to forgive you - instantly, completely, and freely. He came to make you a new person, to give you the power to change.
If you want to receive forgiveness, please pray this prayer with me:
Father, as we pray, we realize we're all in the same boat. We all need your forgiveness. We all need what Jesus has to offer.
I come to you today, just as that woman came to Jesus. I come just as I am to worship Jesus. I come just as I am, just as he invited. Lord, I want to follow you. I want to become a new person. Take away my shame and my guilt, and give me the power to change. I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.