Finding God’s Forgiveness
A legend that says long ago, there lived a chieftain, known not only as a strong warrior but also a wise leader who gave his people laws which guided every aspect of life. He enforced these laws strictly, and had a reputation for uncompromising justice.
One day it came to the leader’s attention someone in the tribe was stealing. He called his people together. “You know the laws are given to help you live in peace,” he reminded them. “This stealing must stop. We all have what we need. The penalty for theft has been increased from 10 to 20 lashes.”
But the thief continued to steal, so the chief called the people together again. “Please hear me,” he pled with them. “This must stop. It hurts us all when one steals from his neighbor. The penalty has been increased to 30 lashes.”
Still, the thief continued to steal. Once more, the leader gathered his people and spoke to them. “Please, I’m begging you. For your own sake, this has to stop. The penalty has been increased to 40 lashes.” Those who were near saw a single tear run down his cheek.
Finally, the day came when the thief was caught red-handed. As the leader arrived and the crowd parted, the shock hit him. The thief was his own mother, old and frail.
What will he do? the people wondered aloud. Will he uphold the law, or will he sacrifice justice for the love of his mother?
This is the problem of forgiveness.
The Bible tell us the God of the Universe is all powerful, all wise, and perfectly just. He’s given us His moral laws to help us live in peace. In His perfect justice, He encourages us to do what is right and decrees sin be punished severely.
But each and every one of us stands guilty before Him. We have all deliberately done what we know is wrong. And yet He still loves us- even more than this chief loved his frail, elderly mother. God’s Law demands punishment- God’s love desires forgiveness. Justice demands the guilty be punished, but love longs for some way to save the sinner from condemnation. How can you find forgiveness and yet still meet the demands of justice? How can you and I find God’s forgiveness?
This is what I want to talk with you about this morning. Jesus Christ offers us a solution to this problem which can be found in the story of Luke 7:36-50. Let’s begin with vs. 36-38.
Finding God’s forgiveness involves understanding 3 important truths:
I. YOU’VE GOT TO ADMIT YOU NEED GOD’S FORGIVENESS (v. 36-38)
Before you can experience God’s forgiveness, you have to humble yourself enough to confess your need for His forgiveness.
Evangelist Eddie Martin once conducted a crusade in Bluefield, West Virginia. At the altar call a well-dressed woman came forward.
It was Rev. Martin's custom to have them repeat the sinner's prayer with him. He took her hand and prayed, "Dear Lord, I know that I am a sinner. I know I can't save myself. I need forgiveness for my awful sins. Please [forgive] me, Jesus." But as he prayed, she was silent. He asked her, "Don't you want to be saved?" She said, "Yes, I want to be saved, but I'm not a sinner." "Then you can't be saved," he said. "Jesus only died for sinners." "But Rev. Martin - I'm a good sinner!"
Luke introduces us to a couple of sinners in this passage—one a “good” sinner, and the other a “bad” sinner.
First, there is Simon, whom we are told is a Pharisee= a separated one, known for strict adherence to the law, and separation from all sin. The Pharisees are the much-holier-than-thou people of Jesus’ day, and they don’t get along with Him very well. He isn’t impressed with their self-righteous attitudes, and they aren’t impressed with His rejection of their religious rules and regulations.
So why does Simon invite Jesus to His home to dinner? Maybe he wants to test Jesus to find out if He really is a prophet of God (notice the words of v. 39: ….if He were a prophet...). Maybe he’s seen the miracles of Christ, and heard His teachings, and he just can’t figure Jesus of Nazareth out. One thing seems obvious: Simon has no inclination to ask Jesus for forgiveness.
The other person we meet in this story is nameless, simply called a woman in the city, who was a sinner (v. 37). The Bible doesn’t tell us what sin she is guilty of, everybody in town knew. In fact, it shocks the crowd when they see her dare to come into Simon’s home.
Imagine her coming to Him as He sits among all of these upstanding, religious people, and does what no self-respecting woman of her day would ever do- loosens her hair, weeps over His feet, wipes them with her hair, and kisses them. She takes an alabaster container of very expensive ointment, and displays her reckless devotion to Christ by pouring the precious ointment not on His head but on His feet.
Perhaps she is testing Jesus in a much different way than Simon. Perhaps she asking by her attitude and actions: can one as sinful as I still be forgiven?
You probably couldn’t have found two people so utterly opposite as Simon the Pharisee and this sinful woman, and yet here they both are, near Jesus, not by accident (Jesus never does anything by accident) but according to His plan and purpose. In spite of all the differences between the two, they both have one thing in common—they both need God’s forgiveness.
We still have both kinds of people with us today.
There are many moral, self-righteous people who really don’t sense their need for forgiveness.
They tell themselves, “I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’m not as bad as a lot of other people. I come to church and try to treat people right. Surely God doesn’t expect more than that, does He?”
There are others whose conscience plagues them. The ghosts of their past and present sins haunt them, and they wonder how God could possibly forgive them for what they’ve done. They have heard about the mercy of God, but they dare not hope it is for themselves.
Simon and this sinful woman demonstrate that you are never too good nor too bad to need God’s forgiveness. The question is: will you admit your need for His forgiveness?
One Sunday morning long ago, two men knelt at the altar of a church-- one a convicted criminal who had recently been released from prison, the other a judge who sent him to jail for 7 years.
After the service, the judge was speaking with the pastor and asked him, "Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the altar this morning?" The pastor replied, "Yes, but I didn't know that you noticed." Then the judge said, "What a miracle of grace." The pastor nods in agreement. "Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace for Christ to forgive such a criminal." Then the judge said "Pastor, I was not referring to the criminal, but to myself. You see it did not cost that criminal much to get converted when he came out of jail. When he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. But look at me. I’ve lived a good moral life from my youth, went to church every Sunday. Nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that criminal.[i]
Before you can be sure you are forgiven by God, you must do what this sinful woman did—you must admit you need God’s forgiveness. Then you are ready for the next step:
II. YOU MUST RECEIVE GOD’S FORGIVENESS BY HIS GRACE (v. 39-42a)
Two boys discovered a new word to use when upset with each other. Their mother was shopping with them when suddenly they became angry with each other. "I hate you!" and "I hate you, too!" they yelled back and forth. "That's not very nice," their mother said. "I'm certainly not going to take two little boys who hate each other to McDonald's for lunch." Five-year-old Jamie quickly backed down. "I don't really hate you, Billy." But Billy, with the clear logic of three years, responded, "I still hate you! Cuz’ I'm not hungry."
You and I are like these boys sometimes: our forgiveness is conditional. It’s almost as if we forgive people only when they show they are worthy of our forgiveness. This passage teaches God’s forgiveness is based not on our goodness, but on His grace.
Jesus seems to be failing Simon’s test. As this sinful woman wipes Jesus’ feet, I can see Simon stroking his beard, thinking Aha! if Jesus was a true prophet, He’d know what kind of sinner this woman is, and He’d send her slithering back to whatever sewer she crawled out of.
In Simon’s mind, sinful people don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, and He’s right. Where He makes his mistake is in thinking that sinful people cannot receive God’s forgiveness.
Jesus, of course, knows what Simon is thinking, so He takes advantage of this teachable moment by telling a parable in vs. 41-42a. Notice some key truths here:
Both debtors owed a debt they couldn’t pay. One owes more-10 times more—but they’re both too broke to settle up. These debtors represent sinners like you and I: God’s justice demands payment for our sins. You may not sin as much as somebody else, but you’ve sinned enough to rack up more debt that you can ever hope to pay back.
The creditor graciously forgives them both. Notice the word freely. The debtor doesn’t have to forgive the debt. He could have them thrown into prison, or even sold into slavery. But instead he graciously forgives them both. His grace is a picture of God’s grace.
Now let’s be sure we get the full impact here of what Jesus is saying; God doesn’t forgive us because we deserve forgiveness. God forgives us because of His grace.
Ro 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for us because we were good enough to go to heaven—He died on the Cross because we were bad enough to go to hell.
God’s grace doesn’t mean our forgiveness came cheap. It cost Jesus His life to purchase our pardon. To receive that pardon you must believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Paul put it this way in
Eph 2:8-9 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
God’s grace is the foundation for our forgiveness. His grace sent Jesus to suffer and die to pay the debt which justice demands for your sins. His grace provided the plan for all who believe to be saved,
Ro 3:26 …to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Again, there are a lot of people like Simon today who have a hard time with God’s grace.
They think in terms of earning God’s forgiveness, as if somehow good people deserve to be forgiven, and bad people deserve to be condemned. But Jesus makes it clear: all of us deserve to be condemned.
I wonder how many of us can relate to this sinful woman: nothing to bring Jesus but all of her guilt and shame, somehow mustering up the faith to believe Jesus will still forgive her even though she done wrong, clinging to His grace as her only hope for forgiveness.
This morning you can receive forgiveness by His grace for your sins.
When a person works an 8 hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy that is a prize. When a person receives recognition for his service that is an award. But when a person is incapable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—this is what we mean by the grace of God. [ii]
It is by God’s grace we are forgiven. But you need to also understand that by God’s grace
III. FORGIVENESS CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE. (v. 42b-50)
Forgiveness can change your life.
The famous psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger wrote that if he could convince the patients in his psychiatric hospitals that [all] their sins are [truly] forgiven, 75% of them could walk out the next day.
You don’t have to be a mental patient for God’s forgiveness to change your life. But you do have to welcome Jesus into your heart.
Jesus asks Simon a very important question at the end of this parable: which of them will love him more?
Do you notice the change of heart forgiveness brings here? How do you suppose these two debtors felt toward their creditor before he forgave their debt? Love probably doesn’t describe their feelings. When you owe somebody more money than you can pay back, you may resent them, you may fear them, but you won’t love them, will you? But when the person you owe more than you can repay graciously forgives your debt, your feelings are likely to change.
If they forgive you a debt of $50, you might say he’s a pretty good old boy! I could learn to like him. If they forgive you a $1 million dollar debt, how much would it touch your heart?
Simon, who will love him more? Simon gets the right answer, but he still fails the test. Jesus came to Simon’s house to offer him forgiveness, but Simon refuses to welcome the only One Who can forgive him. It was customary in those days for the host to provide water for the weary traveler’s feet to be washed, oil to anoint his head with, and a kiss to greet his guest as a friend. Simon refused to welcome Jesus into his home or into his heart, and so he never changed—he remained the same self-righteous, stubborn, unforgiven sinner as before.
But this woman who barges into Simon’s house is a different story.
At some point she hears Jesus preach the Good News of God’s forgiveness. At some point she repents and trusts Christ as her Savior, and her life is changed. She shows by her actions she has welcomed Jesus into her heart, and her life will never be the same.
Luke leaves Simon and his other guests stewing over Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, but he leaves us with Jesus’ words to this woman that changed her life in vs. 50: Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.
Forgiveness can change your life.
Unfortunately there are many people like Simon, who are good moral people, good religious people, but they’re lives have never been changed by God’s forgiveness, because they’ve never welcomed Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives.
On the other hand, there are those who repent of their sins, and welcome Jesus into their heart as Savior and as Lord, whose lives are changed forever by His forgiveness. They are the ones who go in peace, because their faith in the Lord has saved them.
The real truth is that God’s forgiveness will change your life. When you are truly forgiven, you will love Christ enough to follow Him, obey Him, and adore Him. There are many people who claim to know Jesus, claim to be saved, claim to be forgiven, but the real proof that you have found God’s forgiveness is a changed heart and a changed life.
Has God’s forgiveness changed your life?
The wise chief had sworn to uphold the law of the tribe by punishing a thief—his mother. He speaks to his people: “There must be 40 lashes; the pain this crime has caused is too great.”
With a nod, the guards lead the old woman forward. One gently removes her robe to expose a bony and crooked back. The appointed man steps forward and begins to unwind the whip.
At the same moment, the chieftain steps forward and removes his robe, exposing his broad shoulders. Tenderly, he kneels down, wraps his strong arms around his dear mother, shielding her with his own body. He whispers gently against her cheek, as his tears blend with hers, as the whip comes down again and again.
Jesus Christ took the punishment you deserve for the sins you committed, so that you could be forgiven and changed by His grace.
Have you found God’s forgiveness?
Are you willing to admit you need His forgiveness?
Are you willing to receive God’s forgiveness, not by your works, but by His grace?
Are you ready to let God’s forgiveness change your heart and your life?
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve carried the burden of your guilt, it doesn’t matter how far from God you’ve run, you can come back and be forgiven if you will come to Jesus right now.
Won’t you come today, and find God’s forgiveness?
[i] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 257.
[ii]Clip-Art Features for Church Newsletters, G.W. Knight, p. 53 10,000 Sermon Illustrations