Did you know that there are churches and organizations all across America and around the world that are reading out to women enslaved in the burgeoning sex industry? Prostitutes, escorts, exotic dancers, and strippers are being reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “That’s great!” you say. Yes, it is. Most Christians would agree that these women need to meet Jesus. But different Christians go about it different ways.
There is one group who attacks and demeans these women. They preach a “turn or burn” message. They tell the women they are wicked and evil and deserve only hell. One such Christian group decided to do some “strip club evangelism.” They set up picket lines outside, with hateful and derogatory messages on poster board signs. These messages were aimed not only at the women in the club, but also the men who visited it. After a while, two of the more daring individuals of this church went into the club themselves, and during a short break, stood up on their table and shouted “You’re all going to hell.” The bouncer kicked them out. The manager called the police. The Christians felt that they were being persecuted for their faith, and not a single dancer received eternal life.
But there are many successful ministries, who are rescuing the most women from their professions. They also go about it in a controversial way. Controversial, at least, among Christians. What do they do? They do not picket. They do not write letters to the editor. They do not stand on sidewalks near the nightclubs and preach fire and brimstone through a bullhorn.
No, the most successful ministries get two or three Christians, generally women, who go into the nightclubs and onto the street corners to develop friendships with these women and share the love of Jesus with them. Nothing too controversial there. But do you want to know how they get the right to be heard? These Christians pay the women what they normally would be getting paid. They pay the women for the right to share Jesus with them. These Christians go and ask permission from the managers to share Jesus with the dancers. They tell the managers they are not trying to close down the club. They just want to share the love of Jesus with the dancers. For all of this, their ministries are controversial, and receive much criticism from other Christians.
Some Christians look at these ministries and accuse them of supporting the sex industry. They say it’s like buying a drink for an alcoholic so that you can share the Gospel with him while he drinks. Other Christians say that the money being given to these women could be better spent by supporting missionaries overseas.
Still others says that it’s okay to share Jesus with them, but the goal should be to shut down the club, not just rescue women from it. Then there are those who say that Christians should not even befriend women in the club, but should look for opportunities to do so outside the club. A few argue that Christians should not even befriend such women unless they become Christians first.
I do not know for sure what Jesus would do. But one thing I know. Sinners, tax collectors, murderers, thieves, and prostitutes were all strangely attracted to Jesus. When they met Him, they loved Him. And the ministries, churches and organizations that go and meet the girls on their own terms, and share with them the love and forgiveness of Jesus, are seeing many girls delivered from their bondage to sin and their slavery to darkness. These women then turn around and share Jesus with other women, and the chain of redemption and reconciliation spreads like wildfire.
When sinners meet Jesus, sin no longer has its appeal. Sin no longer hold them captive. Instead, Jesus is seen to be irresistible. And I don’t say all of this to encourage you to go out into the bars, and the strip clubs and go searching for prostitutes to share the Gospel with. No, what I want for you first and foremost is to see yourself as Jesus sees you — a sinner who needs to love Him.
Luke 7:36-50 reveals three individuals, Jesus, a religious leader named Simon, and an unnamed prostitute. And though Jesus and Simon reveal two different ways of approaching this sinful woman, showing us how to minister to sinful people is not the main point of the passage.
The point of the passage is not to see how to minister to other sinners, but to see yourself as a sinner. To fully understand the truth of Luke 7:36-50, you must approach Jesus as this sinful woman approaches Him – as a sinner, who only wants to love Jesus. The account begins in Luke 7:36-38 by telling us that Jesus went to supper with sinners.
1. Supper with Sinners (Luke 7:36-38)
Luke 7:36-38. Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
Jesus was a popular teacher, and many Pharisees and religious rulers still hadn’t quite made up their mind about Him. So one of these Pharisees, as we read in Luke 7:36, decided to have Jesus over for supper. Maybe this Pharisee was just trying to get to know Jesus because He was popular among the masses, or maybe, as we saw in Luke 7:32, this Pharisee wanted to control Jesus. We do not know the Pharisee’s motives.
But as they were eating, Luke 7:37 says that a sinful woman, a woman in the city, otherwise known as a woman of the town, a prostitute, came to the dinner. Oftentimes, these dinners between religious leaders and authorities were public. The dinner was served to invited guests only, but anybody who wanted to attend the dinner could. So that there was room for uninvited quests, the dinner would often be served in the courtyard, or in some larger room that the people could gather in.
Why would people want to attend a dinner where they weren’t invited and wouldn’t get any food? Because it was a form of entertainment and instruction. They didn’t have television sets, they didn’t have radio’s. So people liked to come and see what the rich and powerful did, and in the cases where two or more religious authorities were having dinner, the people like to listen in on their conversation. Most often, such dinners turned to a discussion about the Bible and current theological issues. The religious leaders saw this as an opportunity to not only educate the people, but also show of their great intellect and wisdom.
One of the uninvited guests who showed up that evening was this woman of the town. And the text says she brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
What do you think it took for this woman to approach Jesus in this way? Can you imagine the humiliation she must have felt? The glares she must have endured? The proud, condescending stares people threw her way? As she cried, people got annoyed at her display, and maybe tried to shush her. You see, she wasn’t just crying. The Greek word is klaio. It means to sob, to wail out loud. There is a word in the Greek for silent crying, and this word is not it. As she cried behind Jesus, the tears landed on His feet. In those days, they didn’t sit in chairs at the table. They would recline on the floor, maybe propped up by a pillow under your arm, and their feet would be out behind them and to the side. So this woman is crying loudly, and her tears are so numerous, they fall on the feet of Jesus.
The feet of Jesus were filthy from the dust of the road. She recognizes the insult this was – for Jesus to be invited to dinner, but then not have His feet washed upon entering the house. So she begins to wash His feet with her tears, and wipe them with her hair. Her hair was a tool of her trade which she used to seduce men. In that culture, long hair was a woman’s glory, but if it was uncovered, it was her shame, because long, uncovered hair was the calling sign of a prostitute.
After she washes Christ’s feet with her tears, and wipes them with her hair, she anoints them with a jar of oil she had brought with her. The oil too was a tool of her trade. Proverbs 7:16-17 indicates that prostitutes used such oil and perfume to adorn herself and her bed.
Do you see what she is doing? She is using the tools of her trade to worship and adore Jesus. It is always wonderful to see someone who at one time used their skills and abilities to serve Satan, become a Christian and then turn and use those same skills and abilities in loving and serving Jesus.
Musicians who played in secular rock bands now using their talents to lead music in church. Former members of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle gang using their love and knowledge of motorcycles to minister to other motorcycle riders. People who used to make sports their god, now using their love of sports to teach these sports to children and share the Gospel with them. Those prostitutes and strippers I mentioned earlier who get saved, turn from their sinful ways, and many of them go back into the world they were rescued from to help rescue other women.
A lot of people think that when you become a Christian, you have to leave behind and abandon all your skills and interests. But that isn’t true. You should stop using your skills and abilities in sinful ways, and use them instead to love Jesus. Nevertheless, when this is done, there will still be people who complain and criticize. Look what Simon says in Luke 7:39.
2. What Simon Says (Luke 7:39)
Luke 7:39. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Simon knew what kind of woman this was. In fact, the Greek word he uses for touching has sexual overtones. He is thinking that it is improper for Jesus, if He were a prophet, to be touched by such a woman, for her touch is impure. Most people assume that Simon knew what kind of women she was because she had a reputation around town. But think it through. If everyone knew what kind of women she was, she would have been stoned to death. The law stated that adultery, fornication and prostitution was punishable by death (Deut 22:21-24).
Remember the story in John 8? A woman caught in adultery is brought out to be stoned to death, and Jesus rescues her by writing in the dust and telling her accusers that the one without sin may throw the first stone. If Jesus had told them they couldn’t stone her, He would have been breaking the Old Testament law. The law called for harlots and adulterers to be stoned. So why doesn’t Simon the Pharisee stand up and denounce this woman? It seems that if everyone knew she was a prostitute, he would stand up and say, “Away with this woman! Everybody knows she is a prostitute! Let us go stone her!”
Well, there are many possible explanations, but some pastors and teachers think that Simon knew what kind of woman she was by personal experience. He thinks in his heart, “If Jesus was really a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is. And if He knew, He wouldn’t let her touch him like that.” But how does Simon know what kind of woman she is? And if everybody knows what kind of woman she is, why doesn’t Simon denounce her?
Maybe it’s because he is guilty himself. When the law called for harlots and adulterers to be stoned, it says that both partners should be stoned. If Simon stood up and denounced her publicly, maybe she could have taken Simon down with her. Maybe he was guilty just like her. Maybe this was why she was in Simon’s house in the first place. Maybe this was why she was washing and anointing Christ’s feet. Maybe she was a servant in Simon’s household, but more than just a servant to Simon.
But whatever she was to Simon, here he is, looking down on her while appearing holy and righteous to everybody else. Frequently, the sin we accuse others of, we are guilty of those same sins. That’s why Jesus says before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye, look at the log in your own. Often, the sin we see in others is so easy to spot because the same sin is in our own life, and we look down on others to make ourselves feel better. This is one possibility with Simon.
There is another possibility though. While it possible that he is guilty just like she is, we should also consider the possibility that he is not guilty. Maybe she did have a reputation in the town of being a woman of the street. And maybe, though everybody knew what kind of women she was, Simon, unlike other Pharisees, had a heart of compassion and mercy. Not all the Pharisees were legalistic and strict.
But even if he had a heart of compassion for her and so doesn’t want to stone her, he is still condemning her and looking down his self-righteous nose at her. Whether he is guilty or not, there is no other way to read verse 39. He sees himself as righteous and the woman as a sinner. And verse 39 reveals Simon’s heart further, for now Simon thinks he’s better than Jesus.
Whatever Simon felt or thought about the woman, Pharisees were not allowed to even speak to someone like her, let alone touch them. To do so would make the Pharisee unclean. And so Simon looks at Jesus and the woman washing his feet, and thinks, “Some prophet he is. He doesn’t know what kind of woman she is, and if He did, He wouldn’t let her touch him like that.”
But in Luke 7:40-43, Jesus reveals exactly what kind of prophet He is. Not only does he know what kind of woman she is, and not only does He welcome her worship of Him, He has just read Simon’s thoughts. Jesus knows what kind of woman she is, and He knows what kind of man Simon is. So He tells Simon a story.
3. The Savior’s Story (Luke 7:40-43)
Luke 7:40-42. And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both.
The average pay back then was about one denarius a day, so fifty denarii is almost two months wages, whereas five hundred is almost two years worth. Both owed a debt to a creditor, but one debt was ten times larger. The problem was the neither one could repay their debt, so the creditor forgave them both.
It is obvious that Jesus is the creditor, and at the table with Him are two debtors. The woman thought of herself as a great sinner, but Simon thought of Himself as a pretty good person. He had probably sinned a few times in his life, but overall, he thought he was pretty righteous. But notice in the story that neither one could repay their debt. If a debt is too large to repay, does it matter how large it is? A debt of two months wages doesn’t seem that large, but the debtor was unable to repay it. Maybe he lost his job. Maybe he lost his health. Maybe he had no possessions to sell. No income at all to pay of a debt. In such a situation, it doesn’t matter if you owe $5000 or $500,000, you can’t repay the debt. And back then, there was no such thing as declaring bankruptcy. An unpayable debt is an unpayable debt, whether it’s large or small.
And I doubt Simon knew it and this is not Jesus’ point, but only one sin is an unpayable debt. James 2:10 says that if we keep the whole law, yet stumble in just one point, we’re guilty of breaking all of it. Simon doesn’t realize it, but he is just as much of a sinner as the woman is. He has just as big of a debt as she does.
You see, it’s not about how much we do or do not sin. It’s about how much we recognize our sin. And more we recognize our own sin, the more we will love Jesus because we will see how much we have been forgiven. This is what Jesus wants Simon to realize when He asks Simon the question at the end of Luke 7:42.
Luke 7:42-43. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”
Christ’s attitude toward sin is interesting. While He does want us to sin less, more than that, He wants us to own up to our sin, and confess our many sins, and turn them over to Him. He wants our sin. In Luke 7:44-48, Jesus turns to the woman and makes the point of this whole passage very clear. Jesus wants us to serve Him our sin.
4. Serving Up Sin (Luke 7:44-48)
Luke 7:44-46. Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.
Jesus has just told the parable of two debtors – one owed fifty denarii, the other five hundred. Which one is Simon? Which one is the woman? I think most of us assume the woman is the big debtor, and Simon the little. But I am not so sure, especially when we read Luke 7:44-46. These verses show us that there is no such thing as a “little debtor.” There are only people who think they are little debtors. Everybody is a big debtor, but some people think they are little debtors.
Everybody has an infinite, unpayable debt to sin to God, but many people are blind to their own sin and think of themselves as “pretty good people.” Simon is a great example. He looked down on the woman, but Jesus points out in Luke 7:44-46 that Simon had committed some pretty big sins himself, and these in just the last fifteen minutes. What did he do? He didn’t show Jesus the common courtesy of washing Jesus’ feet when he came into the house. He didn’t welcome Jesus with a kiss. He didn’t anoint Jesus with oil. Basically, Simon neglected Jesus to the point of insult.
Had the woman sinned? Of course she had. But while hers were obvious to everyone, his sins were sins of overlook and neglect. Hers were sins of commission – she committed the evil she was not supposed to. But his were the sins of omission – he failed to do the good he ought to do. G. Campbell Morgan says that if anything, Simon’s sins were greater than the woman’s. “The sins of the spirit are always more heinous than the sins of the flesh. The sins of…pride and self satisfaction, are more deadly…than the sins of the flesh ever were, or can be.”
So what is the difference between the big debtor and the little? The only difference is an awareness of sin. They were both big debtors, but the woman was aware of hers. And only when we become aware of our huge debt, and only after we hear of the total and complete forgiveness offered to us by Jesus Christ, do we come to Him – like this woman – out of great love for Him. This is what Jesus explains in Luke 7:47.
Luke 7:47. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Let me ask you a question. Which comes first – love or forgiveness? In other words, do you love because you have been forgiven, or are you forgiven because you love?
Curiously, the answer from Luke 7:47 is both. The first half of verse 47 says the woman was forgiven because she loved much. Verse 48 implies the same thing when Jesus forgives her sins as a result of her love. But then, there is the second half of Luke 7:47 which says that love follows forgiveness. This was also implied back in verse 42 where the love follows the forgiveness.
So which is it? Do you love God because you recognize how much He has forgiven you, or do you learn of your great forgiveness because you have loved much? The answer is both. It’s a circle. The more you love Jesus, the more you see how sinful you are. And the more you see how sinful you are, you learn how forgiven you are, and the more you see how forgiven you are, the more you love Jesus, and the more you love Jesus, the more you see how sinful you are. And it just keeps going.
And so the closer you get to Jesus Christ, the more aware of your sin you become, and the more aware of His forgiveness you become, and so you end up loving Jesus more. Paul, near the beginning of his ministry, said that he was the least of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). There were twelve apostles who led the church, and he was the least among them. Then, later in his ministry, he said that he was the least of all the saints (Eph. 3:8). Of all the Christians in the world, Paul viewed himself as the least. But late in Paul’s life, when his love for Jesus was greater than it ever had been before, he looked back over his life and called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
Do you see? The closer you get to Jesus, the brighter His light shines in your life, the more aware of your own sin you become. People say all the time that the longer you live the Christian life, the less and less you will sin. That may or may not be true, but one thing I know for sure. Nobody who truly loves Jesus will ever say that they have arrived at sinless perfection. Nobody who loves Jesus more this year than last year can truly say that they sin less this year than last year. It seems to me the more we love Jesus, the more aware of our sin we become. And the more aware of our sin we become, the more we love Jesus because He has forgiven our great debt.
Most people try to make themselves feel better by criticizing and looking down their noses at others. We try to cheer ourselves up like Simon. “Oh, she is such a sinner. I’m glad I’m not as bad as her.” We compare ourselves to people like prostitutes and drug addicts and say, “I’m sure glad I’m not as bad as them.”
What does Jesus say in verse 47 though? If you want to feel better about yourself, don’t see yourself as better than other sinners. Instead, see yourself for the huge sinner that you truly are, and then look at how much God has forgiven you. Don’t try to hide your debt to God. Own up to it! Claim the forgiveness of that debt through Jesus Christ. That’s how you will feel loved, and that’s how you will learn to love. If your love for God has grown cold, it might be because you have forgotten the great debt you have been forgiven.
In Luke 7:48, Jesus tells her that her sins have been forgiven, and she responds by believing in Him for eternal life. This sinful woman becomes a saint.
5. From Sinner to a Saint (Luke 7:48-50)
Luke 7:48-50. Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Notice that it was not her love that saved her. She received salvation because of her faith in Him. In verse 48, He pronounces forgiveness upon her. Christ receives a bit of criticism about this in Luke 7:49, for only God can forgiven sins. But that is exactly who Jesus Christ is – God come in the flesh. Earlier Simon raised the question in His own mind as to whether Jesus was even a prophet. Here, Jesus shows that He is much more than a prophet, He is God come in the flesh, and He has come to forgive sinners like you and me. And not just forgive us, but give us eternal life through faith in Him.
This woman’s faith saved her. She believed in Jesus for eternal life, and He gave it to her, and full and free forgiveness came along as part of that salvation package. And certainly, she now loved Jesus even more, and Jesus tells her to Go in peace.
This woman found her rest that day. Have you? Don’t be Simon. Don’t look down on people as not being as pure and righteous as you are. Recognize instead, that like the woman, you are a big debtor. Come and love Jesus. Confess your sins to Him. Weep and wail if you must. Be broken before Him. Give Him your sin. And let Him say to you, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”