Now we're turning in our New Testament to Luke's gospel chapter 7, please, for our Bible reading. Luke chapter 7 verse 36 through to the end of the chapter, verse 50: "And one of the Pharisees desired him", that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, "that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat", or to eat. "And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace".
Just for a moment, let us bow in prayer together and ask the Lord's help in the preaching of His word tonight: Father, we thank You for the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and for their distinctiveness in how they set forth for us the life and the ministry of blessed Lord Jesus. Lord, we are thinking especially of this incident before us tonight that we have read, and we pray that, Lord, You would take Your word, and indeed the personalities that are graphically described for us in this account, and apply the truths to our hearts that we need to hear - truths that are so needful for our own lives. Lord, we don't know really, in a sense, how people here tonight stand before You, You alone know that - but we pray for those who are, perhaps, without the Saviour as their Saviour, that tonight they would be found at His feet and have a story to tell from this evening of how they met Christ, and trusted Him, and had their sins forgiven. But Lord, perhaps for those who have grown cold in their faith, may they get back to being low at the feet of the Saviour. For all of us who might already be saved and seeking to walk in fellowship with Christ, may You warm our hearts again as we remember that day when we found Christ to be our own. So Lord, help us, and give a full portion of Your Spirit to the preacher and to those gathered here tonight, we ask these things in the Saviour's name. Amen.
There are three figures, really, that strike us from this story and they are graphically depicted for us. First of all we meet a religious man, he's Simon the Pharisee, and he invites the Lord Jesus to his home for a meal. Now we don't know whether he really was interested in Christ, genuinely, or whether or not he was one of these religious folk that were trying to entrap Him with some difficult religious questions, to get Him to say something that He might regret, and that they could accuse Him of saying something guilt-worthy.
Then we have an immoral woman, she's just called 'a sinner', we don't even have her name - but as we will see a little bit later on, she obviously was an infamous character in this society. Everybody seemed to know a lot about her. Then thirdly, we have the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We have a religious man, an immoral woman at the feet of Jesus, and then the loving Saviour who forgave that immoral woman just there, right at His feet.
The story, really, as we read it, it lives without much explanation or imagination. Though we have before us one of these characters being an immoral woman, Luke, the beloved physician, doesn't intrude unnecessarily into her hidden, private life and the depths of this woman's sin. Rather, what we have before us this evening is the story of a conversion, a woman whose life was turned around because of the Lord Jesus, and because of His grace in her own experience. Really it's the emphasis of the gospel of our Lord Jesus, what we are preaching tonight, what we live for and stand for. The gospel doesn't ignore our sin, it causes us to face sin, but it doesn't make us morbidly concentrate over it in a hopeless manner - it takes us from our awful sinfulness, to see a wonderful Saviour who can deliver us from whatever deep dyed sin we have been involved in.
So the title I have taken for my message tonight on Luke chapter 7 is: 'A Great Sinner, but a Greater Saviour'. This story could be your story this evening: seeing your sin, but looking to Christ and finding in Him a solution and salvation. If that does happen to you tonight, you need to go the way of this woman. You need to encounter two facts. The first is that, like this woman, you are a sinner. Maybe you find that hard to take this evening? You might ask: 'Well, how big a sinner was this woman?'. Let me say, before we go on any further, don't confuse this woman with other characters in the New Testament story. This was not Mary Magdalene, out of whom was cast seven demons; neither is it Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus - though the accounts related to those two individuals are quite similar to this one, this took place in a different venue at a different time, and was performed in a different manner. We don't even know this woman's name, she is just simply called 'a sinner'.
Now, the insinuation of that title is that this woman was guilty of a deep vice that earned her the label 'a sinner'. The inference is that this woman was a professional sinner, in other words: sin was involved in her everyday occupation. She gleaned a living, her livelihood came from the wages of sin. It appears that people in her district, and those who lived on the streets where she plied her trade, could tell you straight off how she earned this title 'a sinner'. The wives of husbands who had been lured into her honey trap could testify to her shame. She was most likely a woman of the night, she was a harlot, a prostitute - but please, don't condemn her yet. As you are looking at her now in this awful condition that her sin has got her into, remember - this is a good lesson to do to anybody you see in our streets in our land - this woman was some mother's child. She once had been nursed in the bosom of her mother, maybe she was brought up in the faith of Israel - she had been taught the Ten Commandments, particularly the one about adultery. She went to the feasts, and the Passover, and all the rest. She knew what sin was, she knew what salvation was - but somewhere, in her youth perhaps, she forsook the guide of her youth and forgot the covenant of her God.
Now that happens to many. Maybe you are here tonight, and that's you: you had a good upbringing, but you made decisions - and maybe you haven't gone as far in sin as this woman, but you have forgotten the guide of your youth, and forgotten the covenant of your God; and that has got you into untold problems. Most likely that's what happened this woman. She was one of the women that King Solomon warned his sons about in Proverbs chapter 2, when he said: 'For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead'. She was a professional sinner, she was a harlot, a prostitute - but you know, you don't have to be a prostitute to be a professional sinner! You can be a publican - and I don't mean a publican in the Bible sense now, I mean a publican in the modern sense. You can make men into drunkards, and you're making money out of it. You can be a bookie, and you're causing men to flutter away their little wealth that they have, that should be clothing their children and feeding them, and covering their heads with a roof - and you're making money out of it, you're a professional sinner, thieving off men and women. You can be a professional sinner as a paramilitary - and there have been many of those down through the years in our own province, and some of them are still about even though they're meant to have gone away. They're still here, and they're still racketeering, they're still making money, they're still shooting people for punishment.
You could be a dodgy tradesmen, that makes you a professional sinner. You're wiping people's eyes with the jobs that you're performing that are not up to standard, or you could be a shark businessman - and there are many of those. Maybe you're diddling the taxman, maybe you're not paying a hundred pennies to the pound, maybe you're overcharging people, maybe you're not paying people back - you're a professional sinner! I have to be careful what I say, but there's plenty of politicians who are professional sinners. They say one thing and do another, they let down the people that voted them in. There are lawyers who are professional sinners: they tell lies to get people who they know are guilty off the hook. It has to be said - and if you've cable or satellite TV you'll know all about this too - there are tele-evangelists who are professional sinners. They're good living for a living - but you don't have to be a television evangelist to be like that, you could be a clergy man in a pulpit, or a pastor and a preacher. You're only in it for what you can get out of it. Those are professional sinners!
So let's not be down tonight on the harlot and the prostitute, and let's remember that we could be in all sorts of careers and professions, and we are making a living out of iniquity! She was a professional sinner, and many are today. She was also an infamous sinner: she was known for all the wrong reasons. I imagine that shame was written all over her face and her whole demeanour. Even Simon, this religious Pharisee, who really probably wouldn't have known her, personally at least, from her profession, knew what her job was and recognized that this was one of the ladies that no respectable individual would touch with a bargepole. They wouldn't even be near her, let alone fraternise with her! So here was a woman who would have been labelled by all and sundry, she would have been treated as an outcast and a leper.
I think, if you can find it at all in your heart tonight, you should feel a little bit of pity for this woman. Yet, that being said, we have to believe she was an enthusiastic sinner. Now I know that girls in these days of our Lord Jesus Christ, and even today, often feel compelled into a trade like this because of financial straits, economic circumstances, maybe to feed their children and so on - or maybe a pimp, or a husband, has violently forced a young girl to do the likes of this in order to feed their own vices and sinful habits. Our Lord Jesus, I'm sure, had pity and mercy towards this woman - but please notice: He never excused her sin! Never! You see, the Lord Jesus can't do that, He's righteous, He's just, He's holy. Whilst He is a merciful and gracious Lord, He says Himself: 'Her sins were many'.
She was an enthusiastic sinner. Now she might never have chosen this way of her own volition, she might have been forced in it because of a lack of money, or because of some forceful dominating person in her life - male or female - but the tragedy is: this one, who perhaps had been abused, was now an abuser. She was now a thief of other women's husbands, she was now a thief of the purity of young men. What a tragedy that is, when the abused becomes an abuser. It was Bishop Hall who said that: 'That long hair of hers, I fear, was the net which she was wont to spread to catch her amorous companions'. She trapped them! You know, there's a lesson in that for us tonight, because though things might happen to us in our life that are not of our own volition, that we never asked for or looked for, often those things can thrust us into a lifestyle that is sinful. Often we can come to abuse others because we ourselves have been abused. Now I'm not necessarily condemning you for that in one sense, but we need to live up to this fact: sin is sin in God's eyes, and often hurt people hurt people.
Are you one of those hurt people tonight? This woman was a professional sinner, an infamous sinner, an enthusiastic sinner, and everyone would have known about her - but this is the marvellous fact of this story: the Saviour knew all about her. Can I say to you this evening: whatever your circumstances might be, whatever type of sinner you are, the Saviour knows all about you too. Everything! Now imagine this: the Lord Jesus knew everything about this woman - even the things that she had forgotten, He knew about! The Lord Jesus allows her to wash His feet, He allows her to wash His feet with her tears knowing what those eyes would have looked upon. He knew the illicit kisses, the filthy language of those lips that were now kissing His holy feet. He knew the lust, the sinful desire that filled her heart, the heart that was now loving Him and pouring affection out at His feet - and what does the Lord Jesus do? Does He cast her away? He receives it all! It's remarkable, isn't it?
Now, we know that this woman knew she was a sinner - but even though she knew she was a sinner, the Lord Jesus Christ knew even the sins that she had forgotten, or the sins that she never cared to recognize; yet our Lord Jesus Christ never cast her out! It's magnificent! Now, why was that? Well, here's the reason, it's very simple: this woman knew she was a great sinner, but she had now come to realise that Jesus Christ was a greater Saviour - hallelujah! Now, we believe, according to the chronology of the Gospels, that this incident took place right after the Lord Jesus spoke these words: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light'. It is very possible that this woman had heard those blessed words from the Saviour's lips, and she received that invitation, and she came to Jesus weary, worn, and sad - and He took her sins away!
Now, even if she didn't hear these words literally, one thing I believe is sure: she heard those words in the Saviour's heart, and they were communicated to her heart. The Lord Jesus still speaks from His heart tonight to your heart, He says: 'Him or her that cometh unto me, I will in no wise', no way, 'cast out'. He doesn't qualify how you come to Him, how much sin you have, or how much righteousness - He just says: 'Whoever comes to me, I will not cast out'. Praise God that she wasn't the first harlot that got this message, and she'll not be the last either. The Lord Jesus Himself said: 'Verily I say unto you, That the publicans', and that's tax collectors, 'and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you religious fellows'. That's the wonder of God's grace, that it's often deep-dyed, professional, infamous, enthusiastic sinners that get this message of grace quicker than the religious folk!
She knew she was a great sinner but, praise God, she had come to learn that Christ was a greater Saviour. So like this woman, you're a sinner - but you need to realise secondly: like this woman, you can have a great Saviour. Now picture her: she is behind the Lord Jesus, and she is weeping, and she's washing His feet with her tears. I can imagine her just now: she's gazing at those feet, now I don't think those feet were beautiful to look upon. I have just come back from Israel, and I'll tell you: it's astounding the miles upon miles that our Lord Jesus walked day in, day out, across Judaea, around Galilee. These feet of His would have been worn and torn from treading those desert paths. There were bloody feet, they were calloused feet - but not only were they bloody, they were beautiful; not only were they calloused, they were compassionate. The old prophet Isaiah said: 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation' - it was talking about the Saviour there in Isaiah. His feet are beautiful because of the message of peace that He preaches - and oh, how this woman needed peace!
There's a lot of people like that in our world tonight, and maybe you're one of them: your heart is wracked by unrest, it is broken, it is tortured, your mind is turned on its head and you just can't get any rest in your life. No satisfaction, no emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual peace! I don't know whether this woman was struck at the rugged appearance of the Lord Jesus. Maybe she thought: 'Men in King's palaces wear fine clothing, but here is this man who is the Son of God and He's despised, He is rejected of men, He is a man of sorrows. He's only got one tunic, He has no money of his own, He has no house to call His, He has no pillow to place His head upon - even when the foxes have holes, and the birds have nests, the Son of Man has nothing!'. Maybe she was reasoning to herself that the religious establishment that was shunning her because of her immorality was also shunning Him, and He is the spotless, sinless Son of God! I don't know, but whatever suffering she knew of the Lord Jesus Christ then, whatever rejection she perceived in Him then, it was nothing to compare with what was to come - for this Lord Jesus Christ was going to go all the way to the cross for this woman. The poet says:
'She knew not the bitter way
Those sacred feet had yet to tread,
Nor how the nails would pierce one day
Where now her costly balms were shed'.
We're not sure how much she knew about that, but there's one thing we can be sure of: that immoral woman saw the Lord Jesus as her Saviour from her sin - that's absolutely certain! Do you see Him as that tonight? Personally, do you see Him as your Saviour from your sin? Maybe you're here this evening and you haven't really got a grip of your awful sinfulness in the eyes of God? You mightn't have gone into the extremes of this woman, but you've done many a thing and your sin is not breaking your heart! Well, if that's the case, come with me for a moment and climb the hill called Calvary, and see the sinless Son of God, and He's hanging on the rugged cross - and behold, your sin, your sin on Him! There He is dying:
'See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down'
Crown of thorns, nails in His hands, nails in His feet, spittle running down His face. He has been buffeted, He has been beaten, He has been bruised, He has been flogged - but there is more going on on that cross. Isaiah says: 'He was wounded for our transgressions', our sins, 'he was bruised for our iniquities', our sins, 'the chastisement', the punishment, 'for our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed'. That was the cost of this woman's peace - she maybe never even contemplated it, didn't understand it, maybe like you here tonight. You might not have a breaking heart over sin, but if you look at the Saviour, surely as you look at Him there with your sin upon Him - does your heart not melt, does it not break?
'See how patient Jesus stands,
Insulted in His lowest case!
Sinners have bound the Almighty hands,
And spit in their Creator's face!
With thorns His temple gored and gashed,
Send streams of blood from every part;
His back with knotted scourges lashed,
But sharper scourges pierce His heart'.
'What are those?', you say - your sins! My sins! That's the real pain that He felt on the cross when He was judged, and His soul became an offering for our sins! My friend this evening, if you come to His nail-pierced feet, just like this woman came before His feet, He will receive you as He received her. Just silently He looked at her and He spoke to her and said: 'Thy sins be forgiven thee'. Then later on we see that He spoke to her and said: 'Go in peace' - the peace you've always been longing for and searching for in all the wrong places!
'Down at the feet of Jesus,
O that happy, happy day!
My soul found peace in believing,
And my sins were washed away'.
Can you tell that old, old story? Is it yours? Like this woman, you are a sinner; like this woman, you can have a great Saviour - but perhaps, like Simon the Pharisee, you may not think that you need to be saved. You see, that was a problem here, and it's maybe a problem in your life. Many people, particularly religious people, think like this: they think such great forgiveness is only for great sinners. You hear people say this: 'This saved business, this born-again stuff, well, that's for people who have really gone headlong into sin. I've got my church, and I've got my religion, I don't need that! That's for people that never had a faith at all!'. Now I will grant you: you might not, and more than likely have not, sinned like this woman; you have never been involved in prostitution. You might never have sinned to the extent of this woman, she was an enthusiastic sinner - but the Bible says very clearly that you are a great sinner, just like this woman.
'Hold on a minute! That doesn't make sense!', you say. Well, the Bible says there is no difference, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 'But that doesn't mean, surely, does it, that we've all sinned to the same extent and extreme?' - well, let me tell you this, look at Simon the Pharisee, here was his problem: he was blind to his great sin. Now don't you think for one moment that Simon's problem was that he didn't have any sin - far from it. Or don't think that he didn't have enough sin to feel his sin, and to feel his need of a Saviour - the only difference between Simon the Pharisee's sin, and this immoral sinning woman's sin, was that Simon's sin was more acceptable, Simon's sin was more respectable in society and in the religious establishment.
You see, Simon's sin was his own self-righteousness. He thought he wasn't a sinner, and he thought he didn't need a Saviour - and there's many a one like that in our province tonight, maybe even in this meeting. So the Lord had to tell a story to him - the Lord knew what he was thinking, by the way, that shows He was God. The Lord asked his permission to tell this story in his house, and the Lord tells him it. It's the parable of the two debtors. The Lord says there were two men, each had a debt. One owed 50p and the other 5p, neither of them could repay their debt, and so their debts were cancelled. The Lord Jesus asked Simon: 'Which borrower would love the lender more?'. Simon answers correctly, he says: 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more, the one who was forgiven the 50p'. By answering that way, Simon condemned himself - the reason being that when the Lord Jesus came into Simon's house, boy did He get a cool reception. He didn't attend the usual courtesies of the day, which was to wash a visitor's feet, to kiss their cheek, to anoint their head with oil - but there was an immoral, sinful woman who did all three when Christ came into Simon's home, why? Because this woman knew she needed forgiveness, this woman knew that Christ was the one who could forgive her! The problem with Simon was that he had no consciousness of both those things. He didn't realise he was a great sinner, he didn't realise that Jesus was a greater Saviour - he didn't feel like a great sinner, and that could be your problem tonight.
Don't make that mistake. The Lord said: 'To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little' - now please don't misunderstand that verse, and many Christians do. That verse is not suggesting that Simon the Pharisee was not a great sinner, it's suggesting the opposite: he didn't realise how great a sinner he was! That's why he couldn't love the Lord Jesus much. He never truly got to the point of acknowledging his guilt before God. Now, this is the message of that parable: we are all great sinners, all of us. We're all 50 pence debtors, but we don't all see it, especially religious folk! You see, harlots see it quicker, don't they? That's why they come to Christ quicker! We not only are all great sinners, but we can all know great forgiveness, and we can all come to the point of loving Christ greatly - every one of us.
Someone said: 'When God can't get religious leaders to appreciate Christ, He gets harlots to do so'. How true that is. It was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform that helped anaesthetise patients who were under surgery, who was lecturing in Edinburgh University, and he was asked by the students near the end of his career: what was the greatest discovery he had ever made? They were all expecting him to say, 'The discovery of chloroform', and to their surprise he said: 'My most valuable discovery was when I discovered myself a sinner, and that Jesus Christ was my Saviour'. We sang 'Amazing Grace' at the beginning of our meeting, it was written by a man who was a wicked slave trader - but God saved him. In his testimony he says these words: 'I was a great sinner, but Jesus Christ is a greater Saviour'.
It wasn't her tears for her great sins that saved this immoral sinner woman, but it was her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ - 'Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace' - faith in the greater Saviour, greater than all her sin. Have you realised tonight, like this woman, you're a sinner? Have you realised that, like this woman, you can have a great Saviour? Or are you like Simon, you don't think you need to be saved? Oh, that tonight every one of us would get to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ with whatever sin we have, and put our faith in Him, believe in Him, accept from Him the forgiveness that is there for the asking.
Let's all pray. 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all' - will you give Him that tonight? Say: 'Lord Jesus, I confess my great sin, but I believe in You, the greater Saviour. Save my soul now and for eternity', and He'll hear you, and He'll do it instantaneously. Lord, help those who might be here without Christ, those who are perhaps listening to this recording. Oh God, we pray: save souls tonight, whether they be great sinners in immorality like this woman, or whether they be great sinners like Simon the Pharisee in self-righteousness, who don't even see their need. Save souls tonight, we pray. Those of us who are saved say, 'Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul'. May we be enabled, before love so amazing, so divine, to give our souls, our lives, our all for Him. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at the Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "A Great Sinner, But A Greater Saviour" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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