A Time for Everything
What’s the worst thing you have ever done before? Think of that one thing that you never want anyone to know about. The thing you did that you want to take to the grave with you? Can it be forgiven?
Even more, think for a minute of the worst thing you think a person can do. We always have much more compassion on ourselves, or we always want to make an enemy of some other person or group of people. Can they be forgiven?
Maybe you might be thinking ‘If you only knew the things I have done! How could God ever forgive me for those?
Have you ever felt this kind of hopelessness and regret? I have. Have you ever pondered the darkness of your heart? I have and I want you to know that not only is this a common feeling, but it is a natural response when we encounter the perfect holy God. In fact, these feelings are evidence that God, in his love, has been showing himself to you. And that’s an important thing to realize, because everything around us and inside of is wants to minimize sin or redefine sin or ignore sin. Yet we must face it, even as our consciences tell us we should.
And when we do, we are left with the deep desire and search for forgiveness!
I believe in the forgiveness of sins! Do you? Do you believe it’s possible?
There are many good reasons why this phrase was included in The Apostles’ Creed, and it is important for us to look at what you and I need to do to experience God’s forgiveness.
But beyond all of that, we have to really ask ourselves if we truly believe our sins are forgiven, and if it’s even possible? And the early Christians found this question to be so important, that they included this line in the Apostles Creed to drive it like a merciful, durable, and scandalous stake into the ground of our confession and belief: “We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins!” So when others might turn back from this outrageous mercy or scoff at even the desire to be forgiven or when others are ready to quickly cancel fellow sinners because of their failures — we need to thunder this loudly again and again: we believe in the forgiveness of sins.
And we believe it’s possible, not just because it’s a good idea or even because we presume upon God to just forgive us. We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins because Jesus forgave sins. He is the only solid foundation for this belief! And He forgave sins in such a controversial way from today’s passage.
Now, I want you to go back in time and imagine the scene: there is a woman who living in a small religious town in the Middle East. But this woman isn’t like her culture, she is notoriously known as a sinful woman. She’s a defiled, degraded, disgusting, dirty woman. Now, imagine that she is surrounded with religious men who condemn her, shame her, and despise her. And all of this takes place over a dinner party…
This all started because one of the Pharisees, a religious Jewish leader, asked Jesus to eat with him. Jesus ate with everyone. He ate with such a variety of people; sinners, thieves, perverts, drunkards, etc. He never affirmed their sin, but they loved spending time with Jesus. So of course, the religious leaders tried to understand Jesus by having him over for dinner. And of course, Jesus took them up on their offer.
The suddenly, in the midst of their dinner and discussion, here came this woman, with a reputation as a sinner, perhaps, even a prostitute. She walked right into the house. This wasn’t permitted or allowable. This perverted woman walked right into a religious meal full of religious men. She walked to the door, she walked in the house. She was probably nervous, ashamed, and trying her best not to make eye contact. And the men would have stopped their conversation, shocked—an awkward moment staring at her. And she brought something that they can smell: very expensive perfume.
But the most amazing thing happened next, she made a beeline straight over to where Jesus was. She broke the alabaster flask of ointment, and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. She noticed that Jesus’ feet were dirty with the grime off the street. She got offended that the men had been rude to Jesus. In that culture, when a guest entered a home, a servant or slave would wash their feet. They didn’t do that. But she was washing his feet with her hair.
What she did was extravagantly costly. The perfume was extremely expensive — 300 denarii which was equivalent to the entire years wage of an average worker. It was probably a family heirloom, passed down like jewelry or some other valuable possession. This was her way to express the magnitude of her gratitude, love, and commitment to Jesus.
What she did was self-forgetful. In those days, her actions would be considered scandalous. They defied all norms. But because her love centered on Jesus, she was not in the least self-conscious.
What she did was wholehearted. There is deep emotion expressed in her action. Her act was intimate and personal. The lavishness of her generosity, the boldness of her deed came from the deep love she felt for Jesus.
Now of course, some of those watching complained that her action was wrong. This seems fair on the surface, right? Just imagine you see a friend spending her entire year’s salary on a gift to someone. You would certainly say: “This is wrong. If you want to give everything away, you should at least spread it around to a lot of charities.” This woman’s action appeared “over the top” and ‘extreme’.
And that’s exactly why Jesus stepped in to defend the woman with a remarkable parable and story to prove a point., “‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’”
What he is saying is: just imagine, if you have a debt of five dollars canceled, you would be grateful, right? Of course! But, if you have a debt of five hundred dollars canceled, knowing that it cost the individual something, you would certainly be thankful but would also want to show your appreciation some how. Even more, if someone cancels your debt of five million dollars, you would do whatever it took, even making a fool of yourself, to show your gratitude for such ridiculous generosity.
My friends, this is exactly why the woman poured perfume and tears on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And this is exactly the reason Jesus said the most outrageous thing: “Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Just think about that: “Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown” (Luke 7:47).
Her great display of love didn’t earn forgiveness. Jesus didn’t turn to her and forgive her sins because the amount of oil placed on his feet was just enough to tip the scales and earn her the right to be forgiven. It was out of her great gratitude for Jesus that she poured the oil on his feet, and Jesus underlined her very faith, shouting to all: She is forgiven! That’s a forgiven woman right there! What she’s doing, you don’t understand… but she’s been under the heavy weight of her choices, her sins, the things she has done… she’s been bearing the responsibility for all the ramifications of her life…. It’s been too heavy for her to carry… And she’s forgiven of it all. It’s all wiped away. It doesn’t exist anymore. And what you see her doing right now, as she is crying and snotting on my feet… is because she broken in gratitude. Her heart is so overwhelmed with unbearable love and unspeakable joy… I’m sure he just stared them down and said “Don’t you say a single thing to her!”
Just sit in that episode for a moment and hear Jesus say this to that woman… “Your sins are forgiven!” Now place yourself right there at His feet, and realize He says it to you as well: “Your Sins are forgiven!”
Illustration: The Mission Film
Do you realize just how momentous this is? Every other religion in the world tells you what you should do to pay your debt to God and earn forgiveness: go to purgatory and suffer, reincarnate through multiple lifetimes to suffer and pay God back, go to Mecca, do these things, give this money, do good deeds of penance, fight for justice, make the wrong things right, cancel the people you don’t like…
It actually remind me of 1986 film ‘The Mission”. It’s based on the tragic story of the Jesuit mission settlements in Paraguay in the 17th and 18th centuries. It it, is an unforgettable scene depicting this common view of repentance and forgiveness.
The story centers on Rodrigo Mendoza, a Spanish adventurer played by Robert De Niro. He had enslaved Natives and killed his brother in a duel. Now he wants forgiveness. He’s desperate for forgiveness. As a way to earn his forgiveness, he drags his heavy armor in a bag up a mountain. The weapons of his former life are quite literally the weight pulling him down as he pursues forgiveness. At one time, the sack gets stuck on bushes, so someone hacks it off and lets it fall below. But Mendoza climbs below again, reties it, and continues up the climb. Waiting for him at the top are the Natives who he has enslaved. They are afraid of him. They recall his kidnapping and killing their people. One of the Natives takes a knife over, shouting at and threatening to kill Mendoza. Though afraid, Mendoza does not react – instead he feels that he deserves death. Yet the Native does not kill Mendoza. Instead, he cuts off the sack and pushes it off a cliff into the river. Through this act, the Natives accepts this public act of penance and forgives Mendoza. The weight of his past life is lifted, and Mendoza, perhaps crushed by this realization, weeps profoundly. He is now forgiven. But it took a lot of work to get there.
It’s a moving moment…. And we can compare it to this Woman’s action in Luke 7… Yet there are 2 ways to view this… We must take a pause and ask ourselves, did Mendoza’s act of penance earn his forgiveness? Did the woman’s act of extravagant sacrifice earn her forgiveness? How you answer that question determines how you engage Jesus. If you think either of them earned their forgiveness through their acts of sacrifice, penance, and hard work, you wrongly think that you, too, can earn forgiveness. But if you believe that their acts of sacrifice were simply an expression of gratitude for the forgiveness already freely offered, that changes everything.
What drove Mendoza was a labor to earn the Native’s forgiveness. What motivated the woman was a labor of love due to Jesus and His forgiveness already, freely offered to her, regardless of how hard she worked. That makes all the difference! It changes everything!
Application: Any sin can be forgiven…
But here’s the thing, I bet that most Christians, maybe even most of you here don’t truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. I know I don’t fully.
Here’s what I mean: Just this week I heard 2 real stories of people’s struggle with sin. One was of a woman who struggled with cutting following her abuse. When she became a Christian, she was marvelously freed of it. Yet, later in life, when a time of intense stress came her way, she found herself on the kitchen floor cutting her arm. She sat there, alone and bleeding, feeling gross and horrible about herself. She didn’t know how to come out of such a traumatic moment. Then suddenly she realized, really it was the Spirit speaking to her, that she doesn’t have to bleed. That’s why Jesus died… So she would never have to bleed again. Jesus’ blood was stronger and thicker than her cutting… Now she had a choice, would she take the risk of believing this scandalous good news, or would she send herself into time-out for a few weeks until she felt worthy enough for forgiveness? Would she go again to Jesus for forgiveness and freedom, or would she take it into her own hands and work hard to earn it?
The other was a young man struggling with pornography. He went to his pastor and in fear, confessed his temptation, sin and addiction. The pastor gave the most scandalous response. “After the next time you look at porn, why don’t you get on your knees, close your eyes, and thank Jesus for dying for what you just did?” Well, of course, the young man was just as mortified as some of us are…. I can’t do that, he said. Why not, asked the pastor? Because, if I did that, I wouldn’t want to do it again… Exactly!
You see it’s much easier to believe you earn your forgiveness by how much you regret, roll around in shame and guilt, punish yourself, climb up the mountain, do penance, and even whip yourself. But it’s actually much harder to believe that Jesus forgives you of your sin if you come to Him!
So here’s my question, put all those people together and ask yourself: are they sinners?
Yes, they are.
Did they know that they were sinners and need Jesus to forgive them?
Yes they did.
Why then, did the woman pour out expensive perfume on Jesus? Why should the other woman and young man so boldly go to Jesus in their sin?
Because they know they are sinners, and they know Jesus forgave their sins, so they wanted to give him their treasure, their heart, their faith.
You see, we are all sinners and we all need God to forgive us. Only religious or rebellious people think they are not sinners and that they do not need Jesus. But the woman in this story knows she is a sinner, and because she knows Jesus forgives her sins, she loves Jesus and gives him her treasure.
You see, we are all in the same boat. Every man, every woman, is born in sin, enslaved to sin. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “No one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). We are totally depraved.
And you know what else, every single one of our sins deserve the righteous wrath of God. God cannot be God if he simply excuses or overlooks our wickedness. He doesn’t just turn His head, shake his hand and forgive. Judgment must and will be served.
But, for every single person who believes in Jesus and turns from their sin, judgment has already been served — when the Son of God absorbed the wrath of God so that the children of God might be reconciled to God. In Christ, God has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14).
And in light of that, from a heart of shocked gratitude we live our lives for God’s glory. We pour our love out on Him. We live different in joy. We give our whole selfs away in gratitude.
This means that all and any sin can be forgiven… not in and of itself, but because of the work of Jesus on the cross. Do you believe that? Or is there a hesitation in your heart and mind? Do you still find it hard for yourself or others to be forgiven?
You see, when Jesus Christ came as the atoning sacrifice for sin, God provided a way for you to be forgiven. Jesus’ death brings an end both to sin’s condemnation of us and controlling influence over us. Through Christ’s death, those who believe are granted undeserved forgiveness. Undeserved forgiveness! Undeserved forgiveness for every single one of them!
You know what that does? Just like the woman, we will live extravagantly for Jesus. Our gratitude and astonishment at this, is directly connected to the how much we understand the seriousness of sin and the cost of forgiveness. To the extent that you think little of the seriousness of sin and its effects, you will think little of the sacrifice of Christ. You will think you don’t need forgiveness. But, for some, to the extent that you think high of the seriousness of your sin and its effects, you will think high of the sacrifice of Christ. If that is you… you are the forgiven one!
And if you are feeling guilty right now for not thinking much of the seriousness of sin, don’t grovel… go to Jesus. He can forgive you, even for that. In fact, any sin can be forgiven.
And that’s a dramatically different belief than the cancel culture around us today. We live in an absolute flood of forgivelessness. People all around us, especially on social media, wait, eager and expecting for our next slip and error, to unleash the full weight of anger, hostility and so-called justice.
Yet, as Christians, we believe something wild, scandalous, unbeliveable, and earthshaking… we believe in the forgiveness of Sins, because Jesus forgives sins. No one else does.
We believe that if you “confess [your] sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive [you your] sins and to cleanse [you] from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We believe that “he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14). We believe that what Jesus said to that woman, applies to all who come to Him: You are forgiven. We believe that Christ will plead our cause. We believe He bled for us, He died for us. He executed judgment for us, receiving the full weight of justice on our behalf. We believe that we, even we, can be forgiven. We believe all of this because on that very Cross, He screamed out over all our sins, over all our struggles, over all our attempts to earn forgiveness: He screamed out: It is finished!